Thursday, March 23, 2006

When Passion Falls Aslee...zzzzzzz

"I am willing to die for you." Peter believed he was. (And someday he would.) But the night he said it was also the night he fell asleep on Jesus.
Jesus took his disciples, his followers, his apprentices to Gethsemane and told most of them to wait while he prayed. Peter, James and John, were invited to go with Jesus while he prayed.

Imagine it, the most agonizing moments in the entire life of our Master, and they get to be there. But what do these three heroes of the faith do? Take a nap. Jesus is pouring his heart out to the Father and, I believe, was looking for a little human companionship, support. Brothers who'd be with him in the dark moments of his soul.

Some of us make statements of great zeal and passion about how we feel regarding God, the church, Christ's love for us. But when crunch time comes, we blow it. We're asleep at the very moment Jesus calls our name on the bench and wants to put us in the game.

Lent can be a great time to wake up to God's leading in our life. Specifically our congregation has a scheduled a set of "revival" services this weekend to help stir up our spiritual passion, re-energize our walk with God, and deepen our commitment to be his followers.

If you live in the area, we'd love to have you join us at some of these gatherings. If not, I hope you will find time to let the Spirit shake the cobwebs from your soul, brush away the sleep from your spirit, and get in the game. Jesus needs you. His world needs you. Don't fall asleep on him.

Grace and Peace

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Laying Your Life Down

The story made the front page of the Ann Arbor News yesterday, Monday, March 20, 2006. I know because my kids each have a paper route and I'll often walk with them and check out the headline stories.

A man is facing death from his country. What is his crime? Murder? No. Abuse of a weaker person? No. Did he defraud or steal or take something that wasn't hi?. No. So of what crime was he guilty? He converted to Christianity.
The man's name is Abdul Rahman. According to the Associated Press, he was arrested last month after his family accused him of becoming a Christian. He is charged with rejecting Islam. He has been a Christian for 16 years. The prosecutor offered to drop the charges if Rahman would convert back to Islam. He refused.

Last night our family was gathered in the living room around the fireplace. Some were doing homework. Some were reading. Others were doing a crossword puzzle. As the kids have grown, we have had fewer and fewer of these opportunities. Soccer games, orchestra concerts, and other activities keep us running. So we really value these evenings when everyone is home on the same night.

Someone read Mr. Rahman's story. Then they read it out loud. Someone else asked, "Dad, can we all pray for that man?" We agreed that we'd come back together to do just that.

So later that night, right before the first of us would head off to bed, we paused, put down our books, turned down the lights, read some scripture (passages in Revelation that speak of the evil that lurks in the form of a "dragon", looking to destroy the children of God, and martyrs who overcome by the blood of the Lamb, the word of their testimony, and that they didn't love their lives so much that they wouldn't give them up, seemed particularly appropriate).

In their prayers, my kids prayed for this man's children, about the same age as my children. They prayed that his life would be spared. One prayed a particularly insightful prayer that the President and our representatives and our ambassadors would be able to help intervene on this man's behalf.

My wife and I agreed with those prayes, and then prayed giving thanks that in the tiniest of ways, we were able to share in his plight, maybe provide some minute amount of comfort to him through our intercession with the Holy Spirit connecting us half a world apart.

After we prayed, one of the kids asked, "Dad, do you think he will die?" The reality of the cost of following Jesus came home to them in a new way. None of us has had to face any decision in our own faith that seems anywhere near that dangerous.

Another asked, "Why can't he just say he converts and yet not really convert?"
I asked them if there were any Biblical precedent for how people in this exact same position had responded. We came up with a pretty good list. Peter & John, and Paul & Silas were all imprisoned for their preaching. When told to stop, they either refused or said things like "we must obey God rather than man".

The three Hebrew children in the book of Daniel, were thrown into the fiery furnace because they wouldn't bow down and worship another god. "Our God can save us," they said. "And even if he doesn't, we can't do what you've asked. That would be a betrayal to Him"

Daniel himself was put into the lions den because he wouldn't worship anyone other than God. Hebrews 11 gives a reminder that there were "others" who paid with their lives rather than do what they knew was wrong.

And then there are examples a little closer in time to us. People like Corrie ten Boom, a German Christian whose family helped hide Jews during WWII. Her sister and father paid with their lives. Corrie was one of the fortunate ones who was imprisoned, but lived till they were liberated by the Allies.

So we decided saying something we knew wasn't true to avoid punishment wasn't the answer. Such a response wouldn't be worthy of the heroes of the faith who had come before, or the God we worship.

How about you? How seriously do you take the call to follow Jesus in this Lenten season? How valuable is it to you? How serious are you about your faith? Are you willing to give things up to obey God's leading in your life?

I don't know how I'd respond to the choice to give up my life or renounce the faith. But I am challenged by the faith of Mr. Rahman. I want to be as committed to Christ as he is. I am asking for God's help today to do so. How about you?

Grace & peace.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Apprentice or Believer?

"Christian" - the word has more than one shade of meaning in our culture today. It could mean:

- A set of beliefs; believing Jesus was the one, true, unique Son of God, sent to redeem the world from our sin; that he was truly God and truly man.)

And that would be pretty good to believe right? Scripture and the creeds teach that.

But scripture says stopping at beliefs is not enough. ("The demons believe and shudder.")
It seems that Jesus intends something more for us than mere "mental assent".

When Jesus was performing miracles, a crowd gathered around him. A crowd that believed he could heal their diseases and drive out their demons. They would listen to his teaching. But that was about as far as the crowd would go.

So he started to hone in on a small group of 12, calling them to "follow me". When he was ready to send out this group of 12, listen to what they did:

"They went out and preached that people should repent. And they cast out many demons, and annointed with oil many who were sick, and healed them." (Mark 6:12-13)

This group didn't simply watch Jesus, they did what he did; they went were he went; they extended and multiplied his ministry. They became his apprentices. (Dallas Wuillard makes a case that we should stop using the word "Christian" because it has become so misunderstood and use the phrase "apprentices of Christ".)

Isn't that what he meant when he commissions them to "go and make disciples" (followers, apprentices), "baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all I have commanded you"?

They became "little Christs" or Christians. They became like franchises of healing, teaching, and preaching.

The world has seen too many "Christians" who are "Christian" in belief only. They knew the right stuff, maybe even read the Bible and went to church on a regular basis. But their lives didn't look at all like an apprentice of Christ. They never really franchised and opened up shop.
They simply knew the rules for starting a new store.

If you consider yourself "Christian", during this Lenten season I invite you to examine what being a Christian looks like in you. Ask God to search you and show you what He sees "being Christian" looks like in your life.

This radical call of apprenticeship and franchising isn't simply for a few. It isn't meant for the pastor and a couple of super Christians. It is the call He gives to all of us. "Follow me". "Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me."

The promise for all who become his apprentices is that he will put the Spirit of the Living God in their life; the same Spirit that empowered Jesus to do miracles. The same Spirit that directed Jesus to go where he went. The same Spirit that guided Jesus to teach and preach the words he said. That Spirit is available, offered, and desperately needed to be Christ's apprentice; to be a franchise; to be Christian. That Spirit is available to you!

If you say "Yes!" to this invitation, you will find yourself on the greatest adventure of your life; the road you were created to be on. The journey of a Christian.

Grace and Peace

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Hit By a Turkey

I have a friend who was recently traveling on one of our rural Michigan roads. It was a Sunday morning and the road was empty...except for a turkey. The next thing he knew, he and his mother had this wild turkey banging against their windshield. (I didn't think turkeys could fly enough to get that high!)

The force of the turkey shattered the windshield. They had glass on their lap and in their hair in the front seat of their vehicle. They were unhurt, and returned home, a little bit shaken. And with quite a story to tell! I have shared the story a couple of times and thought about it on my own a few more. Everytime I think of the picture, it brings a smirk to my face. Hit by a turkey. Are you kidding me?

This is the third incident my friend has had on this particular road. One time it was ice. Another was a deer. Those are unfortunate but not too unique. But hit by a turkey? (My daughters have been repeating the Gilmore Girls dialoguge where Rory complains she was "hit by a deer". "You mean you hit a deer?" a friend asks. "No," she explains, "the deer hit me!")

I think getting hit by a turkey might be a pretty good metaphor for life. I have friends who have been hit by "turkeys". A cheating spouse takes the kids and breaks up the family. A lump appears unexpectedly. The company decides to "downsize" you out a job to save the company (which does you no good when you're unemployed). A child makes crappy decision after crappy decision in a spiral of idiocy and the parent is left to clean up the mess.

I don't know where you turn when life hits you with a turkey. Some take a walk. Some spend some time in meditation or prayer. Some pick out their favorite song and turn up the volume till the windows rattle. I have to confess that a combination of those things have been helpful to me at various times.

One consistent friend for me during my "turkey times" is the Book of Psalms. Psalms are a compilation of prayers and songs that express a myriad of responses to the human condition. Psalm 22 is one of the best. Part of it is famous because Jesus is quoting part of it on the cross. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

The psalm ends on a note of hope and anticipation of God's intervention and ultimate victory. A common perspective of Biblical interpretation says that the writer in the New Testament quoting a passage from the Old Testament, expects his readers to know the whole passage, the context larger than simply the verse mentioned. Possibly Jesus knew, even while he was on the cross, that his demise was not the final chapter.

And maybe getting hit by the turkey isn't the last chapter for us either. May you find comfort in the midst of mourning and peace in the midst of life's turkeys.

Thursday, March 9, 2006

Getting at the Heart of Spirituality

"O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will." (Matthew 26:39b)

Ask anyone who has any thought about what Christianity is all about and you might get a variety of answers. Answers might range from subjects such as theology and belief system, to practices such as Scripture reading or worship. And all of these have a place within orthodox Christianity.

But ask me what is at the very heart of Christianity and this verse is it: "not my will but Your will be done". This was at the heart of Jesus' struggle: would he be obedient to the point of death, destruction, torture, humiliation and rejection? This was at the heart of his mission. Without obedience to the point of death on the cross, all the miracles and teachings would have been meaningless.

The struggle is so great that he comes back a second time restating the prayer: "O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done." This self-denial is at the heart of Lent.

Many people chose to use these 40 days of Lent to "fast" (forego a meal), or "fast" an activity (such as watching tv). Others chose take up an additional burden, such as spiritual reading, extra time in prayer or meditation, or finding ways to serve other people. The purpose of the fasting or the burden-bearing is to use that time and activity to contemplate the sacrifice of Christ for people.

If you take time to ponder Christ's sacrifice as you give up things of significance these next few weeks, or take on additional burdens, let these thoughts, fasts, or burdens be used by God to bring you into conformity with the prayer Jesus prayed. "Not my will but Thy will be done."

Where is the struggle greatest for you right now? Is it in the area of a habit? Is it in the area of a priority? Is it in the area of an attitude? A difficult relationship? Complacency in spirit? Offering forgiveness for past offenses? Accepting a situation in life you'd do just about anything to get rid of?

Let Jesus' prayer be your prayer: "Not my will but Thy will be done."
Let that prayer be like a beacon on your spiritual journey. It will always guide you back to God's will and blessing in your life.

Whenever you're lost, pray it and the Spirit will sustain you, carry you, forgive you, empower you, calm you, embrace you. That prayer is at the heart of Lent. It was at the heart of Jesus' mission. It is the way to the heart of Almighty God.

Grace & peace.

Saturday, March 4, 2006

Why Do Girls Scouts Sell Cookies at Lent?

A friend of mine asked me that question recently. (For those of you who don't know, Lent is the season for Christians, prior to Easter, when we willingly give up some "extra" in our life or take on some additional burden, for the purpose of reminding ourselves what sacrifice Christ took on for us.) This question was a reminder that often temptation comes from unexpected places. (My favorite Scout cookies would have to be either the Thin Mints or the Coconut Macaroons).

Another friend of mine and I were having a discussion on the opposite end of the equation the same day. We were sharing places where both of us have had disappointments and irritations. But he was able to notice the opportunity for touching lives of other people that he wouldn't have had and finally he said, "Maybe that's the price I had to pay to be able to help them." Sometimes opportunities for blessing come from unexpected places too.

So how 'bout where you live? Will you listen closely to the Spirit that speaks about temptations that sneak in unnoticed? Will you take a moment to examine the chances for blessing that spring out of the places you would normally complain about? "The unexamined life is not worth living." May we take time to be still and hear that still small Voice.

Grace & peace.