Thursday, April 30, 2009

Hope to Hang Onto

“No good deed ever goes unpunished,” an acquaintance of mine recently informed me.

Do you ever feel that way? You go out of your way to help someone, and they stab you in the back.

Or maybe, you take a leap of faith and you end up with your face planted in the ground.

It really seems unfair.

Jeremiah was a very unpopular spokesman for God back in the sixth century B.C. He repeatedly warned the people living in Jerusalem that they were going to be invaded by the Babylonian Empire.

He claimed that the only way to survive would be to surrender to this superpower; otherwise the Babylonians would utterly destroy their city.

The leaders in Jerusalem didn’t like Jeremiah’s message (he wasn’t so thrilled about his calling either).

Sometimes, doing the “right thing” causes discomfort in ourselves and/or others.

But even in the midst of pain and sorrow, there is hope.

Romans 8:28 states “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”

Later on in that same passage of scripture we find:

“Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.”

Even though we may not know why things happen, we can know that God does love us, and He is somehow always at work around us.

He’s re-creating this world into what He has always envisioned it to be.

Someplace where we all can live together in peace and love.

God is the architect; His plans will one day unroll, and we’ll see where each of us has fit into His design.

Let us not give up hope.

Related Verses

Jeremiah 38:1-14, 20-22

Now Shephatiah son of Mattan, Gedaliah son of Pashhur, Jehucal son of Shelemiah, and Pashhur son of Malkijah heard what Jeremiah had been telling the people. He had been saying, “This is what the LORD says: ‘Everyone who stays in Jerusalem will die from war, famine, or disease, but those who surrender to the Babylonians will live. Their reward will be life. They will live!’ The LORD also says: ‘The city of Jerusalem will certainly be handed over to the army of the king of Babylon, who will capture it.’ ”

So these officials went to the king and said, “Sir, this man must die! That kind of talk will undermine the morale of the few fighting men we have left, as well as that of all the people. This man is a traitor!”

King Zedekiah agreed. “All right,” he said. “Do as you like. I can’t stop you.”

So the officials took Jeremiah from his cell and lowered him by ropes into an empty cistern in the prison yard. It belonged to Malkijah, a member of the royal family. There was no water in the cistern, but there was a thick layer of mud at the bottom, and Jeremiah sank down into it.

But Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, an important court official, heard that Jeremiah was in the cistern. At that time the king was holding court at the Benjamin Gate, so Ebed-melech rushed from the palace to speak with him. “My lord the king,” he said, “these men have done a very evil thing in putting Jeremiah the prophet into the cistern. He will soon die of hunger, for almost all the bread in the city is gone.”

So the king told Ebed-melech, “Take thirty of my men with you, and pull Jeremiah out of the cistern before he dies.”
So Ebed-melech took the men with him and went to a room in the palace beneath the treasury, where he found some old rags and discarded clothing. He carried these to the cistern and lowered them to Jeremiah on a rope. Ebed-melech called down to Jeremiah, “Put these rags under your armpits to protect you from the ropes.” Then when Jeremiah was ready, they pulled him out. So Jeremiah was returned to the courtyard of the guard—the palace prison—where he remained.

Romans 8:31-39
What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.” * ) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Theme Park Utopia?

Even though I’m not a big fan of roller-coasters, I love theme parks.

At least, I think I do.

I have to remind myself of this fact every time I step into the swirling masses at the entrance gate and get sucked in to a land of “fun, food, and attractions”.

Kathy and I visited SeaWorld in Orlando last week. We had a great time, but we had one complaint. We felt there were far too many “human performers” at the shows. I came to see the majesty of Shamu, the giant killer whale, not a two hour (ok, ok, ok, five minute) video of a kid who yearns to be a SeaWorld trainer.

The last show we saw had trainers ( aka “human performers”) in brightly colored outfits bungee jumping off platforms, along with some token dolphins doing flips, and two squadrons of brightly colored parrots flying inches above our heads in the bleachers.

Simultaneously. No joke.

Talk about information overload. It was almost enough to push someone with ADD over the edge.

(For what it’s worth, I thought that having a trainer bungee cord OFF the pair of dolphins that she was surfing on top of was pretty darn impressive.)

Why do theme parks feel like we have to be entertained to the point of nausea? Why do we pay (A LOT OF) money to end up burned out? Why do we put up with food that we would typically send back to a kitchen?

Because it’s supposed to be fun?

The most enjoyable part of the day for Kathy and I was when we were by ourselves looking at an ENORMOUS walrus in an enclosure. It swam up to where we were, looked at us, and began whistling.

Yes, walruses (walri?) whistle. (Ex. )

We were spell-bound.

That moment, filled with wonder, was worth the price of admission. We didn’t plan it, and SeaWorld didn’t contrive it; we simply were blessed by it.

I guess what Disney and these other parks have yet to discover is that true joy cannot be packaged, marketed, and sold. I see lots of tired, stressed out, and generally unhappy people at these parks. Many come because they think they’ll get a boost or feel refreshed.

Me? I usually need a vacation after the vacation.

Maybe the answer is not found in theme parks, souvenirs, and lousy fast-food. Maybe true joy is found in relationships instead of “stuff”.

Where does your joy come from?

Relevant Verses

Psalm 4:7-8 You have given me greater joy than those who have abundant harvests of grain and new wine. In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O LORD, will keep me safe.

Psalm 30:11-12 You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy, that I might sing praises to you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever!

Matthew 11:28-30 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Turn the Light On

“Mind and body don’t get along at all. It is the mind that says to the body, or to the hand, “Don’t turn that light on!” when you get up in the middle of the night and it’s pitch black. The hand says “What? Don’t turn that light on?! You should have more sense than that!” But the mind is really … egotistical. “I know my way around this house! Don’t turn the light on!” Meanwhile, the toe is saying, “No. Turn the light on. Turn the light on, will you please? I’m not going through this again!” -Bill Cosby

Light is not the absence of darkness.

Have you ever really thought about light? I mean, have you ever just pondered the miracle of what light is, what it does, how it works?

Look around you. At first glance, the world may seem static (unless you’re driving as you read this in which case I beg you to STOP READING).

Anyways, at this very moment, particles of light (photons) are zipping all around you at a fantastic rate of speed. Innumerable photons are bouncing off everything around you, and then hitting your retina, allowing you to “see”.

Light is not static. It is fluid and constantly in motion.

Light might as well be a verb instead of a noun.

Jesus often used the analogy of light when He described His Identity:

Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” -John 8:12

“Jesus shouted to the crowds, “If you trust me, you are trusting not only me, but also God who sent me. For when you see me, you are seeing the one who sent me. I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark.” -John 12:44-46

For those who are followers of Jesus, there is no brighter moment in history than Easter morning.

He turned the lights up. Way up.

Easter is a time of celebration because Christ-followers believe that the power of death (darkness) was defeated by Jesus at the cross, and then utterly destroyed by His resurrection from the dead three days later.

His light continues to shine as those who follow His path continue to fix their gaze on Him.

This Easter, may we choose to walk in the light, and may His light and love reflect off us into a darkened world that hungers for Peace, Hope, and Joy.


Related Verses
John 20:1-10

Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed— for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. Then they went home.

John 1:1-18
In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.
God sent a man, John the Baptist, to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.
He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.
So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.
John testified about him when he shouted to the crowds, “This is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘Someone is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.’ ”
From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. But the one and only Son is himself God and is near to the Father’s heart.
He has revealed God to us.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

When Jesus is a Stranger

I heard a lot about Jesus growing up, but it wasn’t until one day during my senior year of high school that I actually invited Him to walk with me on my journey.

Oh boy.

I thought at first that He must have misunderstood me. You see, I just wanted someone cool to hang out with.

He had other ideas.

He said, “Let’s go THIS way.”

And my life has never been the same.

I’ll be the first to admit that the reason I have joy, hope and peace in my life is because of my relationship with Jesus.

But I’ll also admit that while getting “saved” is the easiest thing for someone to do (for us at least; it cost Jesus His life), actually living as a follower of Jesus is utterly impossible without divine intervention.

It takes the miraculous work of God to begin to untwist our selfish hearts so that we can truly love Him and others.

It’s not easy to follow Jesus.

The first disciples lived and worked alongside Jesus, and yet at times He seemed a stranger to them.

Peter even rebuked Jesus when Jesus shared the full extent of His mission; That He would be killed and then raised from the dead.

Jesus’ reply?

Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” (Matthew 16:23 NLTse)

That’s sometimes how I have felt about Jesus as I have travelled this journey of life.

I have this idea of who Jesus is, and then He comes in and turns it up on its head.

As my friend Matt puts it, “We build this house of cards and proudly show it to God. He nods, and says, “That’s very nice.” He then takes a deep breath and says “Watch this …”

Is that what many of the first disciples felt during the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Morning?

Does Jesus appear a stranger for a while because we simply cannot wrap our minds around what He is doing? Or maybe we just don’t want to know?

Maybe we sometimes want to say “Lord, please just leave me alone.”

It is hard to follow Jesus when He leads us into unfamiliar territory.

We can take comfort, however, in the fact that He DOES indeed know where He is going, and that He really does want us to be with Him.

Even though the road is hard.

Especially because the road is hard.

As Palm Sunday approaches, we will touch on these thoughts of when Jesus seems a stranger.

Relevant Verses
Matthew 16:21-27

From then on Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead.
But Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things. “Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!”
Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? For the Son of Man will come with his angels in the glory of his Father and will judge all people according to their deeds.

John 12:12-36
Jesus’ Triumphant Entry

The next day, the news that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem swept through the city. A large crowd of Passover visitors took palm branches and went down the road to meet him. They shouted,
“Praise God! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the LORD! Hail to the King of Israel!”
Jesus found a young donkey and rode on it, fulfilling the prophecy that said:
“Don’t be afraid, people of Jerusalem. Look, your King is coming, riding on a donkey’s colt.”
His disciples didn’t understand at the time that this was a fulfillment of prophecy. But after Jesus entered into his glory, they remembered what had happened and realized that these things had been written about him.
Many in the crowd had seen Jesus call Lazarus from the tomb, raising him from the dead, and they were telling others about it. That was the reason so many went out to meet him—because they had heard about this miraculous sign. Then the Pharisees said to each other, “There’s nothing we can do. Look, everyone has gone after him!”

Jesus Predicts His Death
Some Greeks who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration paid a visit to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee. They said, “Sir, we want to meet Jesus.” Philip told Andrew about it, and they went together to ask Jesus.
Jesus replied, “Now the time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives. Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity. Anyone who wants to be my disciple must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves me.
“Now my soul is deeply troubled. Should I pray, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But this is the very reason I came! Father, bring glory to your name.”
Then a voice spoke from heaven, saying, “I have already brought glory to my name, and I will do so again.” When the crowd heard the voice, some thought it was thunder, while others declared an angel had spoken to him.
Then Jesus told them, “The voice was for your benefit, not mine. The time for judging this world has come, when Satan, the ruler of this world, will be cast out. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” He said this to indicate how he was going to die.
The crowd responded, “We understood from Scripture that the Messiah would live forever. How can you say the Son of Man will die? Just who is this Son of Man, anyway?”
Jesus replied, “My light will shine for you just a little longer. Walk in the light while you can, so the darkness will not overtake you. Those who walk in the darkness cannot see where they are going. Put your trust in the light while there is still time; then you will become children of the light.”
After saying these things, Jesus went away and was hidden from them.