Tuesday, March 30, 2010

True Courage

Most of the time when I am running a little low on courage, I turn on Gladiator or Braveheart and I am inspired. Today, I have a different source of encouragement. I watched a documentary on lions the other day. A male lion came into a pride and ousted the older male lion and took over the pride. Now the lionesses “belong” to this new lion. The problem is that the new lion will kill all the lion cubs because they belong to the previous ruler and he cannot have children of another lion’s seed in his pride. In this documentary one of the lionesses had 2 cubs and sought to protect them by leaving the pride. The male lion then went after the cubs and tried to reattach the lioness to his pride.

It was riveting to watch this huge lion stalk these young cubs. It is not often that you see a male on the hunt. Most of the time, the hunt is reserved for the lionesses. As the lion attempted to strike and kill the cubs, the mother comes from nowhere to defend the cubs. Now the male lion out weights the female by 50%, but the female lion sent the male lion packing. This kind of courage is inspiring. This mother let nothing get in the way of protecting her cubs.

Recently, Anna and I both had the stomach bug, at the same time. This was an incredibly miserable experience. Let me remind you that we have three children who need to be taken care of: 6, 4, and 6 months. My wife reminded me of the lioness above. She found courage to fight through the illness and take care of her children and her husband. I have to tell you, I have never been more proud and impressed with my wife. You must understand that she has a fear of vomiting. The stomach bug is her personal version of a nightmare. And she battled through. She has never thought of herself as being brave, but in that moment she proved that she was. William Wallace and Maximus have nothing on my wife.

My wife’s sister one time said that bravery is enduring with style. I like this definition. We all go through things in our lives. Do we endure with style or whine our way through every bad moment? John 15:13 reminds us that the greatest type of love is the willingness to sacrifice your life for a friend. I have thought often about giving up my life for those I love. If the moment came, would I step in front of the bullet, would I lay down my life for another? I realized that this was a futile exercise. The reason is because; I so rarely sacrifice in the little ways every day. I do not participate in the progressive laying down of my life. This is what made my wife’s sacrifice amazing. She was not in danger of death, yet she laid down her right to be sick for her family. The thing is there are lots of people that do this sort of thing every day. Most of them go completely unnoticed or unappreciated. Hebrews 10:38 speaks of people, “of whom the world is not worthy.” These are the unnamed people who sacrifice in small ways every day. These are the people whose names will never be lauded in books or sermons, but who will be celebrated in Heaven with shouts of joy. These are the ones who endure with style.

My wife would tell you that she did this only by the strength of Christ. I think this is the point of laying down our lives. Only when we do this can we really experience the strength of Christ coming through. Every moment and every breath on that day was soaked in the active reliance of the power of Christ. Is she stronger now? You betchya. She now knows what it means to rely on Christ for every moment. Many of us, say we do this while really relying on our own abilities or strengths. We actively seek to avoid the situations in our lives that force us to rely on God and on Him alone. Therefore, we become crippled by our own abilities. We become crippled by our own lack of trust. We become crippled by our adequacies.

I read through Hosea recently and came across a verse I like. Hosea prophesied against Israel for prostituting themselves with foreign gods. I wonder in what ways we prostitute ourselves today. One of the ways modern and postmodern culture does this is by the worship of self and self sufficiency. Hosea 10:12-13 states, “Sow with a view to righteousness, Reap in accordance with kindness; Break up your fallow ground, For it is time to seek the LORD Until He comes to rain righteousness on you. You have plowed wickedness, you have reaped injustice, You have eaten the fruit of lies. Because you have trusted in your way, in your numerous warriors…” (NAS - emphasis added) Consider what this verse suggests. The root of their sin was trusting in their own strength, not God’s. We need to understand that our control is an illusion and true life is lived when we lean completely into the arms of Christ. This is what my wife did; this is what I hope to do.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Reason for the Season

This is an assignment I needed to do on the meaning of Christmas.

I want discuss the “Reason for the Season” of Christmas. I know this is a clichéd statement, but it is important that we take some time to think about Jesus. Most of us turn our attention to the wonderful nativity story recounted in Luke. This is a nice story and typically recalls wonderful romantic notions of our childhood. However, what this story expresses is a truth that we do not think about often enough. We read the nativity story and marvel at the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth, but we so easily forget to consider that at that moment God became human. Think about the juxtaposition of that thought. God became human. It is almost unbelievable to think that the divine came as a human. God was not just in the form of a man, He did not just fill a man, and He did not just take on the nature of man, for a brief moment in the history of time: God became man. Heaven must have been holding its breath at the thought. The Gospel of John has no telling of the nativity, however he does tell us in 1:14 that, “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (NAS) I want us to consider this thought as Christmas approaches.

For many of us our words mean almost nothing. We toss the word “love” easily in reference to our favorite sports team, television show, or cell phone. If I have loving thoughts for my wife, yet never speak these loving words, my thoughts to her are useless. Words mean something. The words we use towards our children and friends shape their lives. Just a quick complement can change someone’s day. Words to God also mean something. God could have thought the world in being. He instead spoke the world into being. When he thought creation was good, he said so. He did not leave us to wonder if creation was everything he thought it should be. When Jesus was baptized, he spoke words of affirmation over him. John’s Gospel relates Jesus to the Word. This places Jesus squarely in the center of creation. He was at creation and involved in creation. The creator became creation. The Word became flesh.

Even speaking the idea of flesh brings temporal notions to mind. Flesh is temporary and can be easily bruised. To think that the transcendent creative God became flesh is almost too much to bear. Jesus did not just enter into flesh; he became flesh. The popular song “What if God was One of Us?” by Joan Osborne deals briefly with this issue. What the singer does not realize is that God was one of us. He was tempted, he breathed, he hurt, and he felt joy. He did not endure this like one of us, he was one of us. This moment when the unimaginable happened is crucial for the salvation of humankind. God humbled himself to be one of us. Therefore, God showed himself to be infinitely concerned for humankind. He became relatable. And he showed us the way.

So what is the big deal with Christmas? It is one of the 4 most important moments in the history of humanity. God became more than words on a page, He became the Word in the flesh. Christmas provides us with an opportunity to contemplate this. It is more than the image of the nativity. It is the moment of the unimaginable. It is the moment when God became one of us.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

What is the Meaning

I am going to take a quick stab at the problem of pain. If you are struggling with some immediate pain right now, please forgive this post. This is not intended to deal with that scenario. There are no trite clichés to deal with this. I am writing this to help me make sense of life.

I do not fully understand everything. However, it is really easy to look around and see the pain and suffering of others and think “That is not fair.” It is normal to wonder why bad things happen from time to time. We may even wonder why some of the pain that we experience is worse than others. Why was one person born with a full house and another born with a pair of twos? The answer is, “I don’t know?”

I am going to take a step back from this issue briefly and discuss God’s character. We must first answer the question, “What is at the center of God’s character?” This question is answered for us in 1 John 4:8, “…God is love.” Keep in mind here that this is not saying that God loves (which is also true), but that God is love. God’s beingness (if that is a word) is love. God has other qualities for sure, but this one seems to drive the bus.

His love compels Him to seek our loyalty instead of forcing it. No one would say that someone loves me, if I force them to do so. Love must be a choice in order for it to be legitimate. Think if you got married to your spouse because, well she had to. It was written in her contract. For sure marriages were arranged like this at one time, but not now. No one in our modern western world wants a spouse who had to marry them. That would not be real love. (As a side note, what draws most of us together in marriage is not love either - it is typically self seeking lust.)

The only way that He can give us freedom to seek Him is by giving us freedom to not seek Him. Thus, the opportunity for sin arises. God did not invent sin. Sin is humanity’s desire to seek other things besides God. It is our abuse of freedom that has caused sin. This abuse had and continues to have terrible consequences. God will not subvert his character. We know from 2 Pet 3:9 that God wishes that all would come to repentance. However, this desire does not overcome His core character trait of love. Thus, sin enters into the world and grows. Creation bears the strain of sin. We see this in all the natural calamities and sicknesses. Human character bears the stain of sin. We see this in all the perversions of God’s original designs for humanity.

Because of this bad things happen. God does seem to intervene sometimes and other times He does not. I do not know why this happens; I only know that it does. One person’s prayer is answered and another’s is not. For a number of reasons, I firmly reject over simplistic notions of praying with faith.

This even seems strange to write, but it is God’s great love for us that allows our actions to have consequences. To some people this is almost paradoxical. Consider the notion of “tough love.” Sometimes people have to feel the full weight of their bad decisions to understand its effects. It is God’s love for us that drives this. He could come in at any time and save everything and everyone. He cares too much for us to force Himself on us.

Romans 8:28 states that, “All things work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.” Did you notice that, all things work for good for those that love Him? At the end of the process is where God always subverts human intention. God will not subvert our will, but he can and will subvert the effects of our will when we love him. Joseph’s brothers meant to harm and kill him. God meant for him to save his family from starvation. Joseph even says this as he realizes God’s design for his life. It had a greater meaning than just random suffering.

This is absolutely essential. We see things in such a temporal way. God sees the bigger design. The worst thing that can happen is for there to be suffering for no purpose. Without God, suffering has no redemptive power. With God, even the worst situation will be made glorious. How is that possible and is it worth it? Consider all the testimonies you have heard. I love it when God takes the broken manure piles of our lives and plants a beautiful garden. The point is not that bad things happen to us. The point is that those bad things have meaning beyond what we could ever hope for.

God subverts the desire for destruction that others have for us. Some people do seek to destroy. Consider that way God used Pharaoh’s desires to accomplish His will. Consider how the religious leaders’ desire was subverted to accomplish God’s design for Jesus life. Consider how the death of Stephen and the scattering of the church did not destroy the church, it GREW it. All things work for good.

The pain is not the worst thing. Pointless pain is. If we love God, there is no pointless pain. One of my concerns has always been that I would lead an insignificant life. I want my life to mean something. I do not mean that I have to be famous; I just want to have lived for something greater than self preservation. I want the pain to have a point. Loving God brings what nothing else can: significance. God’s love subverts the consequences of human sinfulness. In Christ, there is no nihilism. In fact, all things are un-nihilistic. In him all things have meaning. Our lives are consequential.

It starts and ends with God being love. Love drove Jesus to the cross. His love drives me to follow him. Love brings beauty when there was nothing beautiful. Love is the reason why there is hurt and pain. Love calls us into relationship with trust and loyalty. Love endures when the way seems cloudy and strange. Love makes every step firm and purposeful. Love drives fear and despair away. Thank you for God who is the perfect embodiment of love. Thank you for God is love.