Friday, April 14, 2017

Hope Came Dancing on an Empty Grave

Death has Lost Its Rule to the King of Grace*

 

Our Christian faith hangs almost completely on the resurrection of Jesus. Yes, we need His death as payment for our sin, but if He is not alive and active in the world -- and most especially in our lives -- then that payment means nothing. It died when He did. It must be eternal.

And yes, we need His teachings to guide our lives in the right direction. But without His Spirit within us and love to motivate us, then His teachings are like the Law in the Old Testament -- they only remind us what we cannot do. And besides that, if Jesus isn't a Risen Savior, then we would be following a lunatic, a liar, or a legend (to quote Josh McDowell).

We desperately need the empty grave. But what does it all mean?


Many people think of God as a Judge. We fear the “Judgement Day” when we will be accountable for everything we have done wrong. And for many people, death is the gateway into that dreaded uncertainty.

We have a dilemma because we want justice, but we don’t want judgment. 


We need a justice that is outside of ourselves that comes from a higher place. Without that, there would only be my justice, and your justice – and Nazi justice, and ISIS justice, etc. When unjust things happen, that sense of “it shouldn’t be that way” rises up in us. We want justice for those that wrong us. But for ourselves – we want mercy. How can you have both, and who decides who-gets-what? If you want justice, there must necessarily be judgment. There’s no way around it.

Scripture tells us that God is absolutely holy, and we are the opposite of holy. 

We come screaming into this world innocent of understanding and completely selfish -- and we spend a lifetime trying to behave our way into better character. It isn’t easy and it certainly doesn’t come naturally.

There is only one solution for our condition. We need to be rescued. 

We simply cannot save ourselves. And so, a loving Creator, who has asked us to address Him as our heavenly “Father” reached down into human history and sent a substitute – someone to take the punishment for us. And in that moment on Good Friday, Jesus took your punishment, and my punishment, and laid it on Himself. He paid the penalty so that justice could be served.

With justice finally satisfied, we can move on to mercy. 

You see, God is indeed a Judge – but He is also a Savior. He didn’t abandon us to our rightful verdict of “guilty”. He made a way for us to be forgiven. When we accept the costly gift of God’s mercy by believing that Christ died for us, a miracle happens: Justice and mercy can co-exist.

But the miracles don’t stop there. A dead Savior is no good to anyone. 

Lots of people have given their lives for someone else. The resurrection is absolutely the foundation of the Christian faith. Jesus had to be who he said he was – a Risen Savior -- or he was just a crazy person who made outrageous claims and then died. End of story.

Historians cannot account for the survival of the first-century church. 

Persecution should have abolished the Jesus movement. But instead, another miracle happened – it grew stronger! Hundreds (perhaps thousands) of people in and around Jerusalem, saw a Risen Jesus. Not a ghost, but a person with a body that you could touch -- and He promised the same for anyone who believed in Him. 

As we approach Resurrection Day, we can celebrate that the only thing that was permanently abolished on Good Friday -- was a fear of death. 

He is Risen Indeed!



Great Resurrection Movies: "Risen" and "The Case for Christ" (in theaters NOW)
* "Rule" by Hillsong United

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Visiting "The Shack"



Finding God's Love in The Shack

I recently saw the movie based on the bestselling book “The Shack” (Windblown Media, 2007) by William P. Young. I confess that I did not finish the book when I first bought it back in 2007. At that time, the themes and storyline just didn’t resonate with me. But it is now 10 years later, and I am 10 years older.

If you are interested in pulling the characters apart theologically, you can go online and find all sorts of heretical accusations. But since it was not meant to be a documentary on systematic theology, I would like to tell you what I liked about it, and what I did find to be theologically sound, because there is much to commend it. As always, though, you see what you look for.

The ‘shack’ is a real building in the story, but it is a metaphor for our inner-life where we carry our secrets and our pain. The main character, Mack, personifies the problem of pain that many people suffer from as they wrestle with the “why?” of tragic events and the “great sadness” that follows. The movie quickly takes you to the heart of that struggle and the conclusion often rushed to, that God is not good -- and furthermore, he is to blame.

In my opinion, the movie did a good job of contradicting a popular and powerful assumption that God is indeed very mad at us humans and really doesn’t like us very much – an image of God that evolved from very poor Bible teaching.

In its place, the movie introduces the main character (Mack) who has suffered an unspeakable loss, to an ever-present, loving God -- who is at first shockingly portrayed as a black woman (Actress Octavia Spencer), but for a very good reason, that was easy to understand. He then encounters the relentless affection of Jesus as an understanding and loving “friend” (John 15:15), followed by the Holy Spirit (depicted as an Asian woman) who helps him tend a wild and beautiful garden that represents his life. Together, they help Mack to understand that God did not cause his tragic circumstances, but is there to hold him lovingly through his pain, and ultimately free him from its stronghold on his life.

The storyline is very much about the power of relationship – among the members of the Trinity itself, and the relationship of each member of the Trinity to us as individuals, and the unique ways God meets us in our need. Two scenes that depicted this beautifully were (1) The Holy Spirit character catching Mack’s tears and saving them in a bottle (Psalm 56:8: "You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottlYou have recorded each one in your book.") and (2) God and the Holy Spirit dancing joyfully together (Zephaniah 3:17: "...He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”)

As tempting as it might be to criticize the method and portrayal of God’s goodness and love for us in Young’s fictional story, I encourage you to see the movie with an open mind and an open heart tilted toward the non-believer’s barriers to faith.

I’m just saying … If even one person leaves the theater more open to the truth of God’s unfailing and costly love for us, then perhaps Hollywood did OK. It may not be perfect -- but nonetheless, encouraging for many who carry a “great sadness” and believe the lie that God doesn't care. 

The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you, 
 in his love he will no longer rebuke you, 
 but will rejoice over you with singing.

 I have a song for everything: "The Song of My Father" by Urban Rescue; "Amazed" by Phillips, Craig & Dean

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Praying Forward

January is often the month when we look back at what the previous year has brought to us, and we look forward to what we want for our lives in the New Year. We ponder lessons learned from the past and newly-gained wisdom for the future.

Moving forward with momentum.

 

In a world that offers no unconditional "do-overs," it is amazing that we as Jesus-followers are offered a fresh start every single moment, of every single day.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness."
(Lamentations 3:22-23)

Choose your default carefully.

 

If you are not intentional about setting your default thinking to the truth that God's Spirit within you is powerful and available, then Satan will convince you otherwise -- and you will unconsciously hand over the control of your thinking and behavior to him.

Sin is not just a "thing" we do or think. it is an entity, a power, an energy.

One of Satan's favorite activities is speaking lies into our hearts and minds. When negative thoughts come to you, you CAN choose not to believe them. You are not your thoughts, and you do not have to believe everything you think. Thoughts are just energy passing through you. Be intentional about which ones you believe and act on.

Plotting your course.

So, as you consider what you would like to have in your life in the coming year, be bold. Be courageous. Be audacious. You might even consider forgoing an itemized list of ideal outcomes, and instead, turn intentionally to asking simply for more of Him: More of your Father's loving ways, thoughts, and actions in your mind and heart -- toward yourself, and others. Then, praying gets really easy...

New Year's resolutions made easy: "Father, help me to want what You want."

Seek your Heavenly Father's presence in your life, the power of His Spirit, and the love of Jesus. He is with you, in you, and for you -- no matter what happens. Live like you're already loved! Remember God's deep affection for you. He thinks you that you are worth dying for. And that covers just about everything. 


I have a song for everything: "I Saw Me Through Your Eyes" by Britt Nicole; "Live like You're Loved" by Hawk Nelson

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Slow Dancing with Shadows


Do you ever find yourself grieving over something you feel like you will never have?

I call it "shadow dancing". 
It's like holding a loss -- a shadow --  in your embrace and allowing despair to slowly waltz you across a crowded room (to really sad music) where everyone else seems 
lovely and happy. 


Embedded Lies

There are so many lies in that picture -- where many of us choose to live (or at least visit on occasion).

Lie #1: The "shadow" that we feel we were denied often defines the quality of our lives. 

For example, if you didn't get the family you wish you'd had, you may feel irrevocably deprived and marred for life. But that's just not true.  Everything that is in our lives is part of God's mysterious tapestry.

I want you woven into a tapestry of love, in touch with everything there is to know of God. Then you will have minds confident and at rest, focused on Christ, God’s great mystery. (Colossians 2:2 The Message)

Lie #2: The good things on this earth that you feel you were denied are not as meaningful as you tell yourself. 

Our citizenship is not really here on earth. We are meant for so much more -- and justice will prevail because we worship a just and loving God. Your day will come in the future when all will be made right. But why wait?! You can actually fast-forward your thinking and go there now! Embrace where you are and what you have, finding the purpose and meaning that God has for you now. Claim your gift in the shadow of an unchanging God who loves you.


"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." (James 1:17)

Lie #3: God loves and blesses other people more than He loves and blesses you.

Nothing could be further from the truth. All through Scripture, God demonstrates His favor on people who are wounded and broken. Especially on wounded and broken people! Use what you have -- the good and the bad to find HIM. Shadows are pointers to the Light.

Shadows are Created by Light.

Instead of grieving the shadow loss, see it as just a vague representation of the blinding light that is surely yours if you know God. There is a perfect shadow to live under that provides the love you crave, freedom from the fear that may plague you, and the protection and comfort that is yours because Jesus took all that suffering for you. So stop borrowing it back and step into the Light of His Presence.

"Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the  
Shadow of the Almighty."  (Psalm 91:1)

I have a song for everything: "In the Shadow of the Cross" worship video (artist unknown).

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Upside of Humility

I live in a place with a lot of very smart people (Silicon Valley). That being said, folks here have much to be proud of, and may have heard more than one warning about ‘pride coming before a fall’ (Proverbs 16:18). 

And yet, with the world as our backdrop, how do we not go there? 

 

False modesty, or living “down” from our potential are certainly not attractive options. No one wants to spend their lives either feeling, or presenting themselves as “less than” just to avoid the pride trap. In fact, being proud of your humility is a flipside of the same coin.

In truth, the opposite of pride is not “false” humility (worshiping the "gift"), but rather, spiritual humility, which is worshiping the Giver.

It is exhausting and often detrimental to carry the burden of too much success – or, too much failure. 


We were not designed to thrive under that kind of conditional love and acceptance. There is actually a significant upside to living with spiritual humility that we don’t talk about nearly enough in our me-centered-culture.

The ancient Greeks came up with a plan to mitigate the pitfalls of (1) taking too much pride in success, and (2) becoming devastated by failures. They placed the outcomes (both negative and positive) outside of the recipient, and on to a muse (a third-party spirit), thus preserving their emotional well-being and good character. My point being that this is not a new problem – and that they were on to something.

God, in his infinite wisdom and love, made a way through this dilemma for us. 

 

It is through spiritual humility that we can see ourselves – the good, and the not-so-good – for who we really are: creation, not Creator. What a relief it is to be the creation and reflection of an amazing, magnificent Father who created us to glorify Him.

It's all about Him, and His glory. 

 

Now, before you write off God as a narcissistic cosmic being, consider the upside: If He loves Himself, and He made us in His image, then He quite naturally loves us – everything about us. Glorifying Him keeps our hearts “well ordered” as theologian C.S. Lewis puts it. (“Reflections on the Psalms” Harcourt, Brace, by C.S. Lewis, 1958). It takes the pressure off of us! We are much-loved children that cannot fully know the mind and intentions of an almighty Father. Loving and worshiping Him is for our benefit, not His. We are created to be held by Him, and not to hold our own life and everything in it all by ourselves.

Spiritual humility is grounded in perspective.

 

Step outside of yourself for a moment and consider what a speck you are on this earth, and what a speck the earth actually is in the universe. (To get a glimpse of this, you might enjoy a video by Louis Giglio entitled "How Great is our God".)

We are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14) with a God-shaped emptiness inside of us that only He can fill. 

 

Try filling it up with anything that is “all about you” and you may very well join the ranks of the ‘addicted’, because you will just want more, and there will never be enough.

I have a song for everything:  "How Great is our God" by Chris Tomlin

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Seeking God's Will...

... Just in Case You Need It.

 

At one time or another, most Christians have struggled to understand how to know the will of God. Sometimes, we question God's "willingness" to allow global suffering.


But other times it is far more personal: "How do I know what God wants me to do?"


We do not belong to a withholding God. He actually invented communication, and He is not distant or vague. However, He is omnipotent and there is at least one distinct condition you may not have thought of.

God will not tell you His will for you -- just for your consideration. 

In other words, if your request goes something like..."God, I'm not sure that I want to do your will, but I sure would like to know what it is ... just in case it suits me," you might want to think again. It doesn't work like that.

You must come to Him with a "Yes!" in your heart and on your lips before you ever know the answer to your question. 


Try to be as neutral you can. But, if you cannot help but want something desperately, then your prayer might be "Lord, help me to want what You want. Please open my heart and mind to You first, and my desire second."

God's will usually falls within 3 categories.


1. God's Providential Will -- What He has done and promised to do no matter what. Example: He was always going to send Jesus to us; He will always love you, etc.

2. God's Moral Will -- These are things you don't even have to pray about. The right and wrong you know from His Word, and your conscience, i.e., the moral code written on your heart dictated by His Spirit within you. It will always be His will that you do good and honor Him with your life.

3. God's Personal will for your life -- Ahhh, that's the tough part, you say.

Here's a hint: The more lined up your life is on #1 and #2, the easier it will be to discern #3.


Get to know the God who loves you, made you, and does indeed have a will and purpose for your life. If you are in-synch with His Providential and Moral will, His Personal will for you will be obvious.

"In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path" (Proverbs 3:6)

Pastor Andy Stanley gives some guidelines to lead you wisely into your next move: Ask the following questions...

In light of my ...

  • Past experiences
  • Current circumstance
  • Future hopes and dreams ...
What is the WISE thing to do? 

If your heart is lined up with loving God first, with "all your heart, soul (your ego), and strength" (Matthew 22:37), then you can pretty much do what you want to do and it will probably be the right thing.


I have a song for everything.

"Thy Will be Done" by Hillary Scott; "Completely" by Among the Thirsty



Saturday, August 20, 2016

Upside-Down & Inside-Out

It's Hard to Explain... 

 

If you have ever tried to explain your faith to a non-believer, you will surely have realized that there are things that make no sense at all to them.

As if the whole concept of Jesus dying for our sins and being raised from the dead is not enough of a stretch -- the underlying principles are even more counter-intuitive.

To name a few..

  • You lose your life to save it. (Matthew 16:25)
  • The least shall become the greatest. (Mark 10:31; Matthew 19:30)
  • To become great, you must be a servant. (Luke 22:26)
And my personal favorite...
  • To become free, you must surrender your will. (Galatians 5:1; 5:13)

It can be confusing.

The values and filters through which we live our Christian lives are the complete opposite of how the world does things and measures success. Often, though, the world's way must be tested first, before the hollowness of earthly acclaim sinks in. Finally, then, God can get a foothold in our hearts that can forever liberate us from the endless striving for the conditional love that the world dishes up in disappointingly large portions.

God is not impressed with our success and achievement -- apart from Him.

 

God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 
(1 Corinthians 1:27). 

And He did that for our benefit -- not His. The playing field is level in His Kingdom. We get the full measure of Him, in our dependence on Him -- and our individual giftedness (as compared to others) simply doesn't come into play. In fact, it can work against you because it is tempting to mistake the gift for The Giver. (John 15:5)

It really is upside-down and inside-out.

So, consider this: the "foolish" (humble or broken) person who turns his or her life over to the power of God is -- in important ways -- better off than the high-powered (and seemingly super-smart) person who never humbles himself to anyone, and lives and dies apart from God. Trusting God is not intellectual suicide, but it is intellectual humility.

It is ONLY about Love.

Our Father pursues us with His unfailing love in order to gain our love for Him in return. He doesn't want our outward behavior or success to define us. He alone wants to reign in our hearts, grounded in His unconditional love and steeped in His grace and forgiveness. Our faith is not based on what we can do for God, but what He has already done for us because of His great love.

We are inside-out people who live upside-down lives.

We are free from fear and the unquenchable need for approval. Our motivation is LOVE: for God (who loved us first!), and love for each other. And that is the Gospel in a nutshell. (Luke 10:27)

I have a song for everything.

 

"Inside Out/With Everything" by Hillsong United (Live from Miami - fabulous concert video with explosive ending!)

"Savior" by Steven Curtis-Chapman

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