Sunday, March 31, 2013

Death a Two Way Street

We often make people and animals the target of our jokes. I read one the other day that is a prime example. It goes like this, “Why did the chicken cross the road? To prove to the possum that it could be done!” Regardless of our assumptions the truth is, possums are smart animals. You wouldn’t think so because you hardly ever see one except when it’s dead on the road. But possums, it turns out, are smart. They won’t enter a hole if there’s just one set of tracks going into it. They know there’s something in there and it can’t be good. But if there are two sets of tracks, the possum will enter and not be afraid. The message of Easter is that we can enter the grave and we don’t have to fear death because there are tracks leading out of the tomb. Jesus made sure of that. Paul confirms it further in his proclamation: "Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?" In essence the message we need to hear on Easter is that Jesus has risen! This gives us great hope. As Phillip Brooks states, “Let every man and woman count himself immortal. Let him catch the revelation of Jesus in his resurrection. Let him say not merely, "Christ is risen," but "I shall rise." Christ’s exit from the grave is our greatest prospect for the future. Although there may be those who choose to believe that He is still being held captive by death in a tomb somewhere, we know He is very much alive. If not, then we have no hope for He has nothing to offer us. If He remains dead we have as much provision as He does. However, I choose to believe that He is alive and because of that truth, He is “able to do exceeding abundantly above what I ask or think.” The great spiritual warrior, Andrew Murray offers his own defense by declaring, “A dead Christ I must do everything for; a living Christ does everything for me. “ His ability far exceeds that of mortal man. In the words of John Stott there is a great paradox related to humanity and our Redeemer, “We live and die; Christ died and lived!” Yet in life and death He made it possible for every believer to face their own physical demise with the assurance that the grave is not the end but only an entrance into a greater life because the resurrection assures us that death is a two way street.

Monday, March 25, 2013

From a Hero to a Zero

It was on Palm Sunday that Jesus made his arrival into Jerusalem.  He entered the city amidst loud voices hailing Him as King. Palm branches and garments were laid in the street—a customary way to honor royalty. It appeared as if the Son of God had reached the apex of His ministry and the people were finally being introduced to their promised deliverer; the one who was to fulfill the dream of every Jew and free them from Roman oppression. However, illusive dreams have a way of abruptly disappearing.  Just five days later Jesus is arrested, illegally tried and sentenced to death.  And the irony of it all was the same crowd which days earlier wanted to crown Him, now is crying “crucify Him.”  The result being, in their eyes Jesus went from a hero to a zero. How did this happen? The explanation lies within the culpable nature of humanity. Although created in God’s image we remain a poor judge of character, especially when such judgment is rendered through the eyes of our own selfish whims and desires.  To the casual observer He was no longer able to deliver on their presupposed visions of grandeur so as a status symbol He became nothing. In disappointment they failed to realize that God’s plan never involved His being crowned but crucified. This means the cross was not a mistake but a mandate. This truth was something Jesus had being trying to convey for months—“If a grain of wheat is to live it must die; to be great you become small and to be rich you become poor.” True greatness and eternal popularity is not to be found in the accolades of human voices and finite characterizations. Rather it is achieved through obedience.  While Pilate, the priests and the people reduced Him to a mere criminal, He remained cool, calm, and collected. He knew there was a greater estimation of His character that trumped them all. Throughout the corridors of eternity He was being hailed not as a zero but a hero. If you listen carefully you will hear it for yourself, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”  It is not the voice of the crowd but the Creator that matters.  Jesus knew this and so should we.  As obedient followers we will always be underestimated and maligned. However, whether the world is silent, sarcastic, or sinister remember God is always speaking. In that voice you might just find that you are listed not as a zero but as one of His heroes.  Imagine that! 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Power of a Unified Effort

A few days ago while in Israel some friends and I decided to take a stroll into the old city.  We had a wonderful time looking at the sights and shopping for bargains.  One of those good deals we ran upon was water—six two liter bottles for $5.00. A young pastor in the group knowing that was a great price decided to buy a pack.  He paid the storekeeper snatched up the water and we were on our way again.  While the purchase was well worth the money, the only concern I had was “how is he going to carry those all the way back to our hotel?” At first it did not appear to be a challenge but after walking only a short distance he realized this was going to be much more difficult than he had imagined. After seeing him shift the weight from one arm to the other, I offered my assistance. However, before transferring the burden from his hands to mine, a wonderful thought came to me.  “There are six bottles of water and there are six people in our group.  Why don’t all of us take one and that will solve the problem.” We distributed to each team member their allotted burden and continued on our merry way. While the purchase was far too heavy for one person to bear, the load was greatly minimized when spread among the multitude. This problem was the same dealt with in the Bible when the paralytic needed to be transported to Jesus. He was in great need of a miracle but could not walk. Four of his friends knowing he needed assistance decided they would pitch in share the burden and make sure he got into the presence of the Lord. The outcome was miraculous. We are called upon to “share each other’s burdens thus fulfilling the law of Christ.” Knowing this, we come to understand two things:  when we are need we should not hesitate to enlist the help of others; even greater when others are in need we should always be willing to provide a helping hand because there is power in a unified effort. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Need for Adjustment

There are times when my back gives me problems.  It can do great for several months then suddenly an old injury reoccurs when I bend the wrong way or pick up something I should not pick up without using the proper technique.  When this happens I call my chiropractor and set up an appointment.  He checks me over and normally says, “You have some things out of alignment.” He proceeds to give me an adjustment.”  In about two sessions I am feeling fine again.  The same holds true with many areas of our prayer life. Normally we get out of alignment when we pick up too many burdens or we bow the wrong way. That’s why Jesus gave us a model to follow. He said pray like this, “Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” In this admonition He gives us the object of our prayers which keep us from twisting and turning in the wrong direction.  He gives us provision which keeps us from spraining muscles trying to provide for ourselves.  He gives us freedom which keeps us from bulging discs and the possibility of ruining our posture by carrying the unnecessary guilt of sin. He gives us protection which keeps us from dislocating our joints by trying to maneuver through temptation.  So often we find ourselves needing an adjustment not because of the lack of prayer but the use of improper techniques.  This brings to mind the originating cause of my first back problem.  It came as I was putting my infant daughter to bed.  She was far from being too heavy for me to carry, however when I went to lower her onto the pillow rather than bending my knees I extended myself over the bed and suddenly a sharp pain shot through me. Simply stated, I had used the wrong technique. The periodic reoccurrences of my injury remind me of the constant need for adjustment and realignment. The same holds true of my spiritual life.  More frequently than I wish to admit I find myself praying unproductive prayers due to my abandonment of the prayer model Jesus provided. This wonderful mode of communication was never meant to be a burden but a blessing. When we find ourselves praying without praising, begging without brokenness, fretting without forgiveness, and tempted without trusting we have gotten out of alignment. It’s a common injury that comes with a common fix—an adjustment. While my chiropractor does wonders for my back the Holy Spirit does the same for my spiritual life. His hand placed in the appropriate spot provides the needed relief that brings me back into alignment with God’s predetermined will for my life. The same holds true for all who seek Him.   

Sunday, March 3, 2013

A Supernatural Blush!

At present I am on my eighth pilgrimage in Israel. This is a place that always creates a spirit of excitement within me. So much happened in the short three and one half years of Jesus' ministry here. His daily teachings, countless miracles, and servant's heart made Him an instant success and the subject of everyone's conversation. Today we went into Cana the place of the wedding miracle. Jesus who was one of the guests by invitation found Himself in the middle of a delimma. The host for the grand occasion had run out of wine. Now you might come up a little short on the cake, the peanuts, or the strawberries without little notice but the wine, that was another matter. A shortage here was one of the most embarrassing things that could ever happen. It would be the talk of the town long after the reception was over, unless there happened to be a subject of greater interest that caught the eye and ear of the beholder. And as destiny would have it that is exactly what happened. Mary knowing the crisis of the moment asked Jesus to intervene. While hesitant at first He complies. He asks the servants to fill six pots with water. They are confused but decide to obey after hearing the stern words of a woman who is determined this day will not end in humiliation. Those words were "whatever He says to you do it." Their obedience coupled with the divine touch of Jesus resulted in a miracle that is still being talked about today. The casual reader might ask,"what happened?" I think the poet, Alexander Pope capturing the beauty of the conversion of the water into wine, said it best, "The conscious water saw its Master and blushed." The Holy Spirit did not choose to discuss the actions of Jesus, therefore we do not know whether He prayed, touched the waterpots or simply just gave a command. That's really not important. However, what does gender significance is the elements obeyed. Indeed the water blushed. So how does this relate to us? The importance lies in the fact that we have needs and Jesus when invited to participate has the answer. Yet even greater is the role of obedience in the midst of our crisis. If liquid nature yields to the omnipotence of God, changes it's color and it's purpose, how much more should we as spiritual beings learn to blush before His awesome presence. Admit it, would you not rather hear about the miracle than the mess; see the color of wine rather than embarrassment? It all changes when we give heed to the words of Jesus which create within us a supernatural blush.