Saturday, March 30, 2013
Friday, March 29, 2013
There is a tendency these days to de-emphaisze our sin and its cost - to focus on the pleasant happy portion of the gospel and to keep the less pleasant aspects out of focus. Too often, mainstream, best-selling Christian literature tells us the good news of Christ's "helping us towards wholeness," or His "granting us our hearts desire" - But what Christ did for us was so much deeper and so much more fundamental that to discuss such things in such a fashion is talk about Handel or Mozart as if they were mere ten bar jingle writers.
My friend Mark Roberts is writing a commentary on Ephesians. He is using a daily devotional he writes, or sometimes edits, as an occasion to work out many of the ideas and avenues he is pursuing in that effort. Back in January, he looked at Ephesians 2:1-3 and said:
There's no need to scream at the Apostle Paul as he begins Ephesians 2. He does not waste a moment getting to the bad news, and his news is really quite bad: "As for you, you were dead . . . ." Now that's not exactly news you want to hear from someone. It's also news that stirs up lots of questions: Dead? What do you mean? Dead in what way? How do you know I was dead? If I was once dead, am I still dead?
We'll get to these questions soon. For now, I want to note that bad news is an essential piece of the Christian Gospel, the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. If we don't grasp the bad news, we won't understand the good news. And if we don't feel the horror of the bad news, we'll miss the joy of the good news. Too often these days, Christians downplay the bad news because we don't want to put anyone off. But, by ignoring the bad news, we diminish the amazing goodness of the good news.It has often been said that had Christ died on Good Friday and there was no resurrection on Easter, Jesus would be just another nattering nabob with messianic pretensions. That is indeed true, but what I have not seen written is that had Jesus merely been resurrected on Easter morning, that would not be such a big deal either. After all, Jesus had already established resurrection as a part of His bag of tricks. Lazarus and his family were more than willing to testify to the power of Jesus to bring the dead back to life. No, there must have been something about Christ's death on Good Friday that made this particular resurrection something special. Without Good Friday, Easter would be just another miracle in the life of a man that made so many miracles.
In point of fact, if we shift our focus but a bit, the deepest miracle of Holy Week may not be the Resurrection. As we just said, this miracle was already firmly established. The real miracle may just be that Jesus died at all. Think about it. He was, after all, God Incarnate. He is the Alpha and the Omega - He was before and He will be after - he is the eternal God. How can that which is eternal die? How can that which is forever terminate? And more ominously, what could kill the eternal and omnipotent Creator of all things? Certainly not a few nails and a bit of suffocation inducing hanging.
|The Garden of Gethsemane|
Which brings me back to my visit to Jerusalem. I related the story of my visit to the Garden of Gethsemane to Lee Cook not long after I got back. Lee wrote of it in The Messenger. The facts are simple. I entered the garden gates and tears began to flow - unbidden. They did not stop, despite my best effort, until I left the confines of the garden and the attendant Church of All Nations. When Lee related my story, he spoke of my being overwhelmed with emotion, but I must confess that is an imprecise description of what I was experiencing. I had gone to the Holy Lands cynical about the spiritual significance of the various sites. I attached to them no particular importance. Their authenticity is, and always will be, in some level of doubt and a large part of the message of Christ was that our experience of God is not bound by time or place. This was not some mere overwhelming of awe or anything else.
Rather, what happened to me at the Garden was, I believe, a direct encounter with the Holy Spirit. This is something rare amongst the frozen chosen of the Presbyterian church, but it does happen. The best way I can describe it is that the Holy Spirit came up to me, grabbed me by the collar and shouted in my face, "THIS IS REAL!" My focus was sharpened with the understanding that the events described in the Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were fact. Hard, cold fact. These were not literary means of expressing deep theological concepts. This was not crafting a narrative because an essay would not do. These were real events, involving real people. And more, the way the Holy Spirit chose to shout that message at me was to give me a taste, the smallest possible portion, of the agony that Christ experienced in that garden and then crescendo-ed to a culmination on the Cross on Good Friday.
|Golgotha Chapel In Holy Seplechure|
Theologians have argued and argued about this cry of Jesus from the cross. Is He quoting Psalms merely to appear to fulfill prophecy? How could the Trinity be rent into multiple pieces? Can God forsake himself? It's a bit like analyzing the force vectors when a hammer drives a nail in a piece of wood, Who cares? What is apparent in the cries of the Psalmist and the cries of Christ is unbearable, unrelenting agony. This, then, is the force so great that it could kill the unkillable. My sin, and your sin, killed Jesus.
Many Good Friday services feature a ritual in which the congregants write sins they wish to confess on a piece of paper and they nail that paper to a cross. Most people feel relief from this action, But the symbolism runs deeper than we often realize. We are putting those nails into Jesus hands and feet when we nail our sins to the cross. We are killing Jesus because those sins are what killed Him. That was the source of my tears that day in Jerusalem - the shattering realization that I was responsible for the the very real agony that Jesus suffered.
|Light from the dome onto the Tomb of Christ|
What response can we possibly offer to such revelation? I am certain nothing I ever do can in any fashion merit the grace I am granted nor compensate Christ for the agony He suffered. But I must make the effort -- with the total commitment of all that I am and all that I have. Every time I sin, each slip I make, is another hammer blow on one of the spikes holding Christ to the cross - or driving the spear just a bit deeper into His side. I do not wish to be a part of that hideous scene anymore. I MUST give my all to overcome it.
Good Friday is the blackest day in history. But the blacker we understand it to be, the deeper our focus on that blackness, the brighter the dawn of Easter becomes. To truly appreciate Easter we must take the whole journey to that glorious morning.
Thursday, March 28, 2013
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Monday, March 25, 2013
Saturday, March 23, 2013
Friday, March 22, 2013
Thursday, March 21, 2013
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Monday, March 18, 2013
Saturday, March 16, 2013
Friday, March 15, 2013
As I’m learning how to use music as a way to find God, I have found myself seeking it in more and more places. Sunday morning worship is a highlight of my week, I have the Christian music station (channel 826) turned on every chance I get, I have started listening to only Christian CDs in the car, and I even like to walk past the Student Center at PEAK to see what our youth might be singing. As a result of all this wonderful music, I find myself singing throughout the day because the desire to worship is imprinted on my heart.
When I sing, my heart feels at home and seems to focus in a way that is difficult to describe. I think that is because we were created to be creatures of worship and when I am living out my calling I am at peace. My focus should be on glorifying Jesus, and on the work that he is doing in this world and in me, and music has helped me remember this.
When I listen to the lyrics of a song, and I can relate to the artist, it encourages me that I am not alone. Sometimes a particular song sticks with me throughout the day and helps me with challenges that arise. Other times an artist will sing about a struggle that her/she has gone through, or is currently going through, and I find my heart reaching out to him/her. There are other songs that remind me of particular people in my life and it leads me to pray for that person. Then there are songs that simply praise God for his majesty and make my heart rejoice.
Worship leads to prayer and prayer can lead us to worship, and at times they are hard to distinguish from one another. The point is that Jesus is giving me opportunities to focus on what is truly important in this life. He is using the musical talents of my brothers and sisters to bring about growth. I am so thankful that he blesses them with creativity to write songs because they have become such a blessing to me and our entire Christian community. My prayer today is that each of you would seek to find worship songs that give you hope, joy, peace, or encouragement and that music would help you to grow too.
Thursday, March 14, 2013
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Monday, March 11, 2013
When I was growing up, my family would attend several Dodger games every summer. Besides ordering a chocolate malt and singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game", my favorite thing to do was look through my dad's binoculars. I wanted to see the players up close. If I could see the faces of Mike Piazza, Erik Karros, and Hideo Nomo, my night was complete- I felt as if I had truly been with them in the action. My young self was content with a blurry, few second glimpse, even if it was from way up in the nose bleed section.
As I've gotten older, my perspective has changed. Occasionally, I'll go to a game and bring some binoculars, but the experience is quite different. The blurry images I see no longer satisfy, and the longer I try to find the right lens setting, the more strained my eyes become. I strive for a perfectly crisp image, but I never find it. What I am searching for is simply too far away.
As odd as this may sound, my experiences with binoculars at different stages of my life are similar to my relationship with the Lord. As a child, God seemed very distant and unreachable. I went to Sunday School and said my prayers each night, but I was talking to a "Being" somewhere far away. Being young, I was fine with this- I didn't know any better. My perception of God seemed crystal clear to naive eyes, but in truth, it was cloudy and fragmented.
I was in high school when I realized my "binoculars" for God were out of focus. Instead of recognizing His nearness and desire to know me fully, I kept Him at a distance. The binoculars became a crutch--- I thought that if I kept my image of God cloudy and fragmented, I would be able to avoid my sin and utter need for Him. My thinking was that if God was far away and blurry, I might be just the same for Him. And, I did not want to risk Him seeing me any closer. It was easier to live in denial.
Little by little, God chipped away at the binoculars I had at my eyes. He loved me enough to not allow me to sit far from Him any longer. He left the baseball diamond and climbed the stairs to meet me in my seat in the back row. Face to face, the binoculars were of no use. God became clear and in focus for the first time.
Is the Lord out of focus for you? If you're like me, He comes in and out of focus depending on seasons in life. But, what I've noticed time and again is when I draw near to Christ, He comes in focus, and His will for me is much clearer. It seems like common sense, but it requires discipline and action. Neither committees nor church attendance, nor acts of service, can bring God into focus as much as spending time with Him. Face to face. Heart to heart.
As the author of Hebrews writes, "let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water" (Hebrews 10:22).
Prayer: Lord- Forgive us for trying to keep You at a distance. May we draw nearer to You each day. Will You become the focal point of our lives, as we seek You and dwell in You. Be our focus. Amen.
Saturday, March 9, 2013
Friday, March 8, 2013
Thursday, March 7, 2013
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Monday, March 4, 2013
Saturday, March 2, 2013
Is it possible that "focus" is a two-way street?
In this post I answer, "Yes, it is possible." Here's some background.
Lee Cook has remarked that, despite the wide variation in his sermons, they all boil down to a single question: "What are you going to do about Jesus?"
To me, as I embarked some two years ago on the journey that has brought me from the Church of Sleeping In on Sunday to active membership at LCPC, a more crucial threshold question was: "What are you going to do about God?"
Prior to that time I had accepted uncritically the assertions of people like Richard Dawkins that life just kind of happened one day, and that humans were no more than a happy accident of natural selection acting on the progeny of tadpoles, meerkats, and caterpillars.
Then in 2011, an unlikely series of events caused me to reexamine (and ultimately reject) these assertions. Indeed, I was caught completely flatfooted by what I found. From the breathtaking complexity of the DNA molecule to the unbelievable fine-tuning of the cosmos, evidence of a supreme Creator -- of God -- surrounds us in every aspect of existence. Clearly there is a God.
Well, okay-- but now what?
Michael Novak pinpoints the problem in No One Can See God:
[O]ur senses cannot touch God. Neither sight nor sound, scent nor taste, nor touch, either. Our imagination cannot encompass Him, nor even bring Him into focus. . . . Our minds can form no adequate conception of Him; anything the mind imagines is easily ridiculed. The God who made us and out of his infinite love redeemed us and called us to His bosom is divine, not human. As such, He cannot be found using human perceptual equipment.
Yet I could not let the matter rest. Something -- what I now believe to be the Holy Spirit -- tugged relentlessly on me. I ached from what Barbara Brown Taylor has described as "the God-shaped hole inside of us" which "only God may fill."
Having been raised in the Presbyterian faith (though I wandered astray as a young teenager), I turned again to Christianity for answers. I read extensively in the literature known as "apologetics," writings designed to persuade and justify Christian belief. This process spanned many months. I came away from this literature with a profound conviction in the truth of Scripture and the reality of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, a conviction far more genuine than anything I had felt as a youth.
Now here's where the focus part comes in.
In the course of my reading I came across three verses from the book of John that rocked my world. They form a sort of chain that has astonishing implications. In John 14:6, Jesus states, "No one comes to the Father except through me." In John 6:44, Jesus says, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him," and in John 6:65 Jesus adds that "no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father." My mind boggled then, and it continues to boggle today. Could this actually mean that the Father himself is drawing me to Jesus? Me? Insignificant, unworthy me? Yet I can think of no other explanation for my journey of the past couple of years, and my insatiable thirst to know more. Talk about a humbling concept . . . the idea that God, himself, might choose to focus . . . on me!
Meanwhile, I have discovered that this journey involves asking "now what?" over and over again. R.C. Sproul puts it nicely in Chosen by God:
When we are converted to Christ, we use the language of discovery to express our conversion. We speak of finding Christ. We may have a bumper sticker that reads I FOUND IT. These statements are indeed true. The irony is this: Once we have found Christ it is not the end of our seeking, but the beginning. Usually, when we find what we are looking for, it signals the end of our searching. But when we "find" Christ, it is the beginning of our search. The Christian life begins at conversion; it does not end where it begins. It grows; it moves from faith to faith, from grace to grace, from life to life. This movement of growth is prodded by a continual seeking after God.
The more I explore and learn about Christianity, the more it seems there is yet to explore and learn, the more layers left to peel from the onion. Sometimes the complexity and the subtlety seem insurmountable. Yet I sense God's continued focus, drawing me forward. And I take some comfort in Søren Kierkegaard's musing in The Sickness Unto Death as to whether we shouldn't often hear this prayer:
"God in heaven, I thank you for not requiring a person to comprehend Christianity, for if that were required, I would be the most miserable of all. The more I seek to understand it, the more incomprehensible it appears to me . . . . Therefore I thank you for requiring only faith, and I pray that you will continue to increase it."