Mere Christianity Summarized, Part 2 (Book 2: What Christians Believe)

Mere Christianity Summarized, Part 2  

(Book 2 : What Christians Believe)

Christians believe God created the universe, like a man painting a picture. God made the world, but a great many things have gone wrong in the world. And that God insists quite loudly on our trying to put them right again

There is often the argument (as was Lewis’ when he was an atheist) that the world is just so cruel and unjust, how can there be a good God out there? This question took Lewis back to the thought of moral law. How did he even have the idea of just and unjust? Cruelty and kindness? If it weren’t for God placing that inside of him?

Lewis contends that atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe had no meaning, we should have never found out it has no meaning. Just as if there was no light in the universe and creatures were without eyes, we would never know that there was dark. Dark would be without meaning

Then there is another view that is too simple along with Atheism. That there is a good God in heaven and everything is just all right. In other words, these people make Christianity and religion too simple. They don’t deal with any of the facts of all the wrong in the world and the need for justice and redemption and sin and salvation. They just think that there is a good God in heaven who made the universe. Period.

Not only is reality not simple, it is often quite strange. You would have to be purposefully oblivious to the reality of our world to look around and believe that everything is all right! Human beings walking around the planet understand that there are things that are bad and meaningless.

Christianity explains there was a good world created that has gone terribly wrong. But, there is still a thought and remembrance of how it should be. And we can actually look at the fact that bad things help prove the existence of good. And not only the existence of good, but that good is on a higher level than the bad. Because in order for it to be bad, there must be something good for it to have gone off against.

There is no badness just for the sake of badness. Even the most evil thing is some sort of good perverted.  For example, even people who seem to do cruel things just for the sake of being cruel (sadists), do so because in some way there is a sexual perversion. They get aroused in the cruelty they commit. Which means there had to be a normal sexual standard, which is good, to be perverted, in order for them to have this arousal.

Even someone who seems to be happy when they do bad things…they get pleasure out of the bad things. The pleasure is the goodness and they’ve perverted the way in which they get that pleasure. There is no evil without good. All bad is, is a perversion of something good.

Christianity believes that it’s a civil war. That the evil was created by the good. And that there is now a Civil War going on and we, people, are in the territory occupied by the rebel. We are in enemy occupied territory and the rightful king has landed. And is calling us all on a great campaign of sabotage!

Christianity says that the prince of evil is the one reigning this world for this time. This raises a couple of questions. This would be odd that this would be within the will of a good God. On the other hand, if it’s not within His will, it raises the question, how can something happen outside of a God’s will who has absolute power?

However, anyone who has been in a position of authority can see how something can be BOTH in and out of your will. For example, a mother tells her children I’m not going to be coming up here and making you tidy up the playroom every single night. You must learn to have the responsibility to do that on your own…So, the mother comes up one night and there are toys all over. It was not her will that the room be a mess, however it was in her will that the children have the responsibility to keep the play room clean on her own.

This is what God did when He created humans to have free will. You may ask, why would he go and do such a crazy thing like that? Give free will to a race of people who will use this will to do many terrible and evil things. But, you must thing of the other side of this coin as well. The only true joy and happiness comes is through free will. The love and happiness and joy that God wants for everyone through being united with him is by choosing to be united with Him and to one another.

Of course God knew what would happen if people choose to use their free will the wrong way, but apparently He thought it was worth the risk. Now, you might disagree with God for giving free will. However, the only reason you can disagree with God is because He gave you the reasoning power to disagree with Him. So, it becomes somewhat absurd to disagree with the one who gave you the power to disagree with Him.

Now, the more powerful a creature, the more wonderful it can be when it uses its free will for good and the more terrible it can be when it uses its free will for evil. Which is how we get to Satan.

How did Satan go wrong? We can speculate it was his desire to be God. To put himself at the center and first. This was his sin and this was the sin that he passed onto the human race. Out of this thought that we can be happy apart from our maker. That we can make something of life without God, is where all the tragedy of history has come from: war, poverty, slavery, prostitution. These are all in an attempt to do things outside of the way the maker intended.

You may wonder, “Why can we not have happiness apart from God?” Think of a car. A car is designed to run on gasoline. You can’t put anything else in it to make it run. Well, God designed humans to run on Himself. He is the fuel that we burn. He is what is supposed to fuel our spirits and our souls and without him we don’t run….at least not properly.

God left us conscience, though. The sense of right and wrong. And all through history there have been people, some trying very hard, although not completely succeeding, to obey it.

God has also given, what Lewis calls, “queer dreams.” The stories scattered all throughout heathen religions of a god who dies and comes to life again. And somehow in that is redemption and new life is given to men.

Also, God picked one particular people, the Jewish people, and spent several centuries hammering into their heads what kind of God he was. That there was only One of Him and that he cared about right conduct. This is the Old Testament. It gives an account of the hammering process.

Then, the most shocking of all…Jesus comes, claiming to BE God and to give life. Claiming to be the one who will come back to judge at the end of time. And a claim that we often overlook, to forgive sins. Think about this, we can forgive someone for something they do against us, but we can’t forgive someone for something they have done to someone else; i.e. “I forgive you that you hit your sister.”

But, that’s just what Jesus did! Which of course would only make sense if He was indeed God and he was forgiving the sins of the laws that were created by Him. The moral laws of the universe…because He was indeed God!

Christ says He is humble and meek and we believe Him. As do most non-Christians. They don’t argue these claims. Yet, if Christ was not God, humbleness and meekness would be the last characteristics’ we would assign Him….as He goes around forgiving other people’s sins and claiming to be the living God….therefore he is only humble and meek if He is indeed God….

Lewis is arguing against is anyone who says, “I accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but not as God.” If Jesus is not God, he is not a great moral teacher; maybe he tells some good stories, but not a great moral teacher. In fact if Jesus is not God, he is pompous and arrogant and saying things that are absurd for any man to say. (As Lewis so delicately puts it, he would be insane up there on the level with a man who believes himself to be a poached egg).

Jesus is indeed God or He is a lunatic beyond all lunatics or He is the devil of hell. Lewis says, “Either this man was and is the son of God or a mad man or someone worse….You can shut him up for a fool. You can spit at him and kill him as a demon. Or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But, let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about Him being a great human teacher. He has not left that door open to us. He did not intend to.”

The Christian belief is that Jesus is God landing in this enemy occupied territory in human form. And that as important and profound as His teachings are, the most important part of the whole story is Christ’s death and resurrection. Which brings us to the question, “How does Christ’s death on the cross put us right with God?”

Lewis says that before becoming a Christian, he thought you had to believe only one theory of why Jesus died on the cross. That God wanted to punish man for joining with the great rebel and therefore Christ came to take our place, so that God would let us off.

But he goes on to say, “What I’ve come to see is that neither this theory nor any other is the central belief of Christianity. The central belief of Christianity is that Christ’s death somehow put us right with God. It has given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did this is another matter. There are many different theories as to how this works. What all Christians agree upon is that it does work.”

We believe that the death of Christ is just that point in history where something absolutely unimaginable from the outside shows through into our own world. And since this is beyond our comprehension, the biblical writers have created different pictures to help us represent and understand what it is like, what Jesus did. But these pictures do not take the place of the actual even that occurred. Just like pictures in math help us to understand a certain formula, but the mathematical formula is in and of itself true, while the pictures merely represent it.

Christ was killed for us. His death has washed out our sins. And by dying he disabled death itself. That is the formula. That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed. Any theories we build up, as to how Christ’s death did all this are quite secondary.

However, there are different theories worth looking at. One is that we are being let off, because Christ bared our punishment for us. On the surface you say, “Well, why did he do that? If God was going to let us off, why punish an innocent person for us, instead of just letting us off?” And this would seem quite absurd if you think of it is another man standing before a judge for you.

However, think of it a little differently. Think of it as a debt. And the person who has the assets to pay for it, paying for it in the place of the person who has no assets.  So exactly what hole had man got himself into to owe this great debt?

He had tried to set up on his own, to behave as if it belonged to himself. In other words, fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement, he is a rebel who must lay down his arms. Laying down your arms, surrendering, realizing you have been on the wrong track and get ready to start life over from the ground floor.

This is what Christians call repentance. To repent is more than just saying you’re sorry, it’s changing who you’ve been this whole time, a selfish person. It means killing part of yourself.

Here’s the problem: Only a bad person needs to repent, but only a good person can truly repent. The only person who could do it perfectly would be a perfect person and he would not need it. You cannot go back to God without this repentance, because without repentance you’re asking God to go back, without really going back. The very need for repentance makes us unable to do that repentance.

So, the only way we can do truly repent is if God helps us? But what do we meant that God will help us? It means that God puts a little of Himself into us. We can love and we can reason because God loves and reasons.

But, then there is the problem of the fall. Without the fall, it would be all smooth sailing. But because of the fall, we now needs God’s help to do something, that within His own nature, God never does. To surrender, to suffer, to submit, to die. So, the place that we need God’s help the most, God cannot help us because it’s not in his nature.

But suppose, God became man. And this man that now had human nature would be able to help us.  He could surrender His will and then suffer and die because he is man, and he could do so perfectly because He is God.

The only way we can successfully repent is by sharing God’s dying. And the only way God can die is if He becomes a man. That is the sense in which he pays our debt and suffers for us what He needs not suffer at all.

So, one picture of what Jesus did is the atonement. But remember, it is only one more picture, do not mistake it for the actual event, for the thing itself.

The perfect surrender and humiliation were gone through by Christ. Perfect because He was God. Surrender and humiliation because He was man. Christians believe if we somehow share the humiliation and suffering of Christ, we also somehow share the conquest of death and find new life after we die. And in it become perfect and perfectly happy creatures.

There are three things that spread the Christ life to us: baptism, belief and communion. (At least that’s the ordinary methods. Lewis says he is not trying to say there aren’t special cases where it is spread by different methods, but these are the three typical ways). – – Lewis says while this seem quite odd and he doesn’t understand why these three things are a part of new life, if he didn’t know it was true, he would also find it quite odd about the way (our natural) life is brought about in the first place!

Lewis says the reason he believes these three things are true is because Jesus taught them. However, these three things do not take the place of trying to copy Christ in our lives; which must be the main goal of any Christian. And in this way Christianity is different from all other religion. For you are not making it, you are not being good or kind or loving or become a better person on your own; you are only keeping up a life you got from someone else.

In the same way a Christian can lose the Christ life that was put in him. He has to make efforts to keep it. Even the best and most dedicated Christian is not acting on his own steam. He is only keeping up and nourishing a life that he could have never acquired on his own.

This does not mean a Christian is man who never go wrong. But, he is a man who is able to repent, to pick himself up and begin over again.

A Christian does not believe that his good deeds come from himself. “A Christian thinks any good he does comes from the Christ life inside him. He does not think God will love us because we are good, but God will make us good because he loves us.”

Christians believe quite literally that Christ is operating through them. That the whole mass of Christians are the physical organism through which Christ acts. We are his fingers and muscles, the cells of his body. We are the body of Christ.

Some might wonder why Christ came in the way he did. Why is Christ not landing in force? Why is God not just taking over? Is He not strong enough to take out the enemy?

Well, Christians believe that He will land in force. We just don’t know when. In the meantime, He is giving us the chance to join his side freely.

People who ask God to invade and take over now, don’t necessarily realize what they’re asking. “When the writer walks on to the stage, the play is over…When God comes back, the world is over…God is going to invade alright, but what is the use in saying you are on his side then, when the whole natural universe is melting away?” Think of it this way. Imagine a soldier has been fighting for one side of the war the whole time, but when he realizes the other side is winning, so he tries to go to change ranks. It is too late then!

When God coms back, fully revealed, it will be so aweing, it will either inspire irresistible love or irresistible horror in each creature. But either way, no one anymore will deny Him. It will be too late then to choose your side. It will not be the time for choosing, it will be the time for discovering which side we have really chosen. 

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Mere Christianity Summarized, Part 1 (Book 1 : Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe)

So it has been a LONG time since I’ve posted. I am a teacher and summer should allow me a lot more free time, but somehow it seemed to actually get busier this summer! I taught summer school and took two courses for my license renewal. And then I always try to spend extra time with friends and family and….well, somehow summer has already come and gone. But, I am hoping with a more consistent schedule with being back to work full time and the kids back to school; I will get back to blogging a few time a month.

So, I have thought for a while that I would like to give a very clear view of my beliefs and the essentials of Christianity. But, whenever I try to do so, I feel that I am not very clear or I leave something important out. Then, I got to thinking about C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity.” This book was originally a series of radio broadcasts done in the 1940’s by Lewis and then compiled into 3 separate books and finally brought together into one book known as “Mere Christianity,” divided into three sections: Book 1: Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe, Book 2: What Christians Believe, Book 3: Christian Behavior, and Book 4: Beyond Personality: Or the First Steps in Understanding the Trinity.

In this book, Lewis builds block upon block to explain good reason to believe that there is a God, then that that God is the Christian God, what exactly Christians believe and finally how Christians should strive to behave. And knowing that Lewis does a far better job of clearly laying all of this out, I have decided to use my next several blogs to summarize Mere Christianity as best I can.

While I know I am not an expert, I have compiled outline notes on the book and taught it to an adult Sunday School class over a period of almost a year. In addition, I am re-reading (or more accurately re-listening) to the book now as I complete these summaries for the blog. My hope is that these blogs might inspire some who are already Christ-followers to feel more confident in their faith as they see that there is sound reason to believe in the Christian faith and that some who have never made the decision to make Jesus their Lord and Savior would see that it is truly the most reasonable and sound decision you could make when seeking out the truth of what this life and this universe is all about.

So, without any further introduction, I will begin my summary with Book 1.

Mere Christianity Summarized, Part 1 (Book 1 : Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe)

I want to begin with one of my favorite quotes from the book. “Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms.”

How do we get to this place? A place where we are in an enemy camp and God is on the opposite side? And how do we change camps and become right with the Lord?

Let’s start at the beginning. Let’s start with The Law of Human nature. The law of human nature, the law of right and wrong, moral law; this law that all people seem to intrinsically have.     

While at first you may say to yourself, I’m not so sure if all people, or even if anyone, has this law inside of them, I believe that there is much reason to show that all humans have the choice to obey or disobey these laws.

Throughout history and different civilizations there seems to be a basic moral law known by all, even if there are some differences in how it seems each civilization puts it into practice.

For example, think of what a completely opposite type of morality would be: a society where people are admired for running away in battle, or for a man who felt proud of double crossing others who showed kindness to him. This is of course almost impossible to imagine, because inside each one of us is the moral law telling us how wrong these things are.

And this law is much more than just herd instinct. Imagine you hear a man cry for help and see him struggling to stay above the water, due to the herd instinct, you will want to help and feel instinctively that you should help. But due to the self-preservation instinct, you’ll want to not help. You will feel the instinct to get away from the danger.

But then you feel a third thing…and this is the human nature. You will feel that it is the right thing to do and you ought to help the person who is crying out and could drown. You see this human nature is judging between the two instincts and deciding which one is right.

It is also something much greater than just morals taught by a teacher or parent. For if it were just this, then all such teachings would have to be looked at as equal. We would not be able to look at Christian morality as any better than Nazi morality. It would be to each his own. However, this is not the case. We feel that one is better than the other. Why? The reason you lean more one way than the other is because there seems to be some ultimate moral law that you are weighing the choices against in the first place.

So, if we can agree that there is a law of nature, it must be pointed out that none of us are really keeping the law of nature. We all fail to practice from time to time the type of behavior we expect from others.

We always have great excuses when we do this: I lost my temper because of the bad day I had at work, when I operate in the not so up and up business it was when we were on really hard times, when I promised to do that it was before I realized all that was involved….But we would not except those excuses from somebody else.

It’s not that we don’t believe in the law of nature. It’s that we believe in it so much that when we don’t meet it we shift the responsibility to someone or something else. Anything to keep from admitting that we didn’t meet it.

However, when we practice the moral law and show kindness or love to others, we pat ourselves on the back and say, “that’s who I really am. Look what I did.” Because again we do believe in human nature and want to show when we follow it.

An important distinction to make is that the law of human nature is different than a scientific law. For example, the law of gravity tells you what a rock ought to do and does every time; if you drop it, the rock will fall. But, the law of human nature tells you what humans ought to do, but don’t do. In the case of the rock and gravity, you just have the facts. You drop the rock it falls. Law of gravity.

In the law of human nature, you have the facts plus something else. The facts of how humans actually behave. And then something else, human nature, how they should behave. For example, if you are getting onto the subway and someone accidentally trips you, you might be mad for a moment, but once you realize it was accident you won’t be mad anymore. Even though it might have hurt….But, if someone sticks out their foot to purposely try to trip you, even if you see it and walk around it, you will be upset. It goes beyond the facts of whether you were tripped or not tripped, hurt or not hurt, it goes to the fact of knowing that there was something right and something wrong.

What does this natural law tell us about the universe we live in?

One view is the Materialist view – pretty much the evolutionary view of how things came to be. This view becomes problematic though. Because in this view you either have to believe that there was some sort of matter that is eternal. Something that has always been existent. That eventually combined with the right something else to start a process that created our universe and eventually developed life. Or you must believe that the something came from nothing. That at one point in time there was absolutely nothing and spontaneously something formed out of that nothing to begin the evolutionary process.

The other view is the Religious view – The universe was created by a higher being, with some purposes unknown and some purposes known. That this higher being wished to create others like Himself, in the sense that they have a mind.

So, we would ask ourselves what is the best way to conclude if this higher being exists. Now simply observing the universe would certainly begin to point us in this direction. To see that there is some sort of master artist or painter behind all that we see. However, this would not shed too much light on who this higher being is. Just as the way an architect could not show himself within the staircase or wall of a house he built.

The beauty of the world the universe does put to the existence of a higher being, but not to what this higher being is like. The only way left for that higher being to show Himself is within ourselves. And that’s exactly what He does through the moral law. Now we must ask the question, “What does the moral law teach us about the character of the higher being?”

From the moral law we find out that the Being behind the universe is intensely interested in fair conduct, right play, unselfishness, courage, good faith, honesty, truthfulness. Therefore we should agree with the account given by Christianity and some other religions that God is good.

Remember, not good in a soft way. Good in a hard as nails way. Because the moral law does not tell us to do the easy, soft thing. It tells us to do the right thing. Even when it’s hard or difficult.

So, on one hand we believe in this good God because we believe in this moral law and the things it says are right and wrong. On the other hand, we want this Higher Being to excuse us personally when we go against this moral. But, deep down we know that unless this higher being does not excuse, but is against all things that are done that are night right, then He truly couldn’t be called good.

It then gets really complicated, because that higher being would hate most of what goes on in this universe because most of what goes on is not good and does not follow the moral law. Without this higher being who is good, our case is hopeless because then the universe is not governed by this overarching goodness and moral law.

But, with this higher being, who is ultimately good, our case is hopeless again because daily we make ourselves more an enemy to this higher being because of the way we behave that does not match up with the goodness of the moral law that He put inside of us.

Christianity only matters after you have realized that there is a moral law and a power behind the moral law and that you’ve broken that law and put yourself wrong with the higher power. After all this, and not a moment sooner, is when Christianity begins to talk.

Christianity does end in comfort. But, starts in the dismay we’ve been describing.  There is no point in going straight to the comfort until at first you go through this dismay that you need to be comforted from.

Stand if You Would Get Shot for Jesus

A year or so ago I shared this writing with my adult Sunday School class the week after my pastor preached a sermon and gave a challenge that will be explained below. It brought about great thought-provoking conversation and I hope it will cause you to stop and think as well.

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Our pastor was concluding his sermon. It was both a thought provoking and emotion-educing sermon. A call to live your life in a way that matters; big in the eternal perspective. He was wrapping it up with a headline drawn from the recent news; College students in Oregon willing to be shot in order to pronounce their allegiance to Jesus Christ. These students are now spiritual heroes. In their last moments on Earth, they have taken a stand that will echo for all eternity. I am awed by their commitment. I am deep in inner-reflection as I consider just how deep my allegiance to the Lord really is. Then he drops the bomb, “If a gun was in your face and you would still say, “I’m a Christian,” I want you to stand up.”

My emotional instincts are screaming at me to get on my feet. But, my mind is telling me, Be honest, you can not, with any certainty or  sincerity stand up right now.

I pick my head up to look around. I figure there must be dozens of people throughout the sanctuary grappling with these same feelings, wrestling with this sobering challenge pastor has just laid before us. But, wait…..

WHAT! SERIOUSLY! As I scan of the sanctuary, it seems as if I am literally the only person still seated.


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I would just like to take a few minutes to share why it concerns me that I was the only person seated in the sanctuary that day. And this comes from no place of judgment, as this has been a rough week this week, and I believe it was in large part due to the fact that I have not stopped struggling with the fact that I couldn’t stand. That in my heart of hearts, I know I should be ready and willing to live and die for Jesus, but that I don’t know that I’m there yet. So, if every other person in the sanctuary was certain of what they would do with a gun in their face, I guess you could say my words come from judgement, but from envy.

However, my gut tells me that there might have been more than a few who had some of the same thoughts and feelings as me. And if so,  this is for you. Or, maybe for some who popped up without fully thinking about the reality of that promise; I hope that these words might spur you on to contemplate what that stand meant.

 

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As I said, as far as I could see all those in the sanctuary where standing, including the teens. After each sermon I typically ask my teenage daughter about what she learned and how it applies to her life. So, after this sermon I asked her about how she felt about the challenge pastor had given at the end of service.

Keep in mind, my daughter did stand up, but she told me, “I didn’t want to stand up. I mean, I knew what I would want to do, but in that situation I don’t know what I would really do.”

My 13-year old daughter had just processed an emotional moment at church and articulated her true thoughts and feeling. I was very proud to say the least. She had also just stated precisely my first layer of thinking when I chose to stay seated last week. Pastor did not just ask if I’d like to have the courage to stand with a gun in my face (to which I could have answered yes adamantly), but in essence, would I commit to doing so. And in that situation, do I really know what I would do? Does anyone really know? And how does standing amongst this of this sea of people who are all standing make my commitment any more real?

 

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Let me share some of the reasons for doubting that I truly know what I would do in that situation. First of all, it is a panic situation. One full of feelings, emotions, stress and terror that I have never experienced. It’s really unfair to say I am certain of how I would handle it.

I do know that in situations where great consequences are sure to come from the choices made, the best and worst in people tends to brought out; in some, the most extreme courage to do what is right no matter what the cost, and in others, the greatest of cowardliness to save their own butt regardless of what will happen to anyone else. Now I know which group I want to fall into, but I cannot say for certain  in which actuality I would.

I do know my track record in panic situations and it is not too hot. You can ask my wife about  time I cut my hand while trying to pry apart frozen tacos with a knife. (I know, brilliant…) The cut was just bad enough to maybe need a stitch or two. However, as I sat on the floor holding a towel on my hand and trying to stop the bleeding, I kept telling her over and over how bad it hurt and that I thought I was going to pass out from the pain. Or ask one of my former students how well I do in pressure filled moments. At recess, she hit what we thought at the time was inside her eye (but thank God, turned out to be just above her eye)on a piece of metal fencing.  The wound was gushing blood. I told another teacher to call 911 (the only good thing I did) then promptly took her into the building and sat her right in the doorway of my classroom….. A spot that every other 5th grader entering the building from recess had to walk by and had a great view of her as the puddle of blood formed below her as they walked by.

 

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As I sat in my seat in the sanctuary last week, eyes closed, hoping that if it looked enough like I was in deep prayer not too many of those around me would judge me for not standing, the even scarier thought popped in my head of what would happen if the gun was to my face and I was actually thinking clearly.

If I was thinking clearly, would thoughts of Jesus have been what was running through my head? I like to believe he would be, but I can’t help but think of some of the other possibilities as I lay on the floor with the dead bodies of those brave enough to stand for their faith just feet from me.

I get a clear image of wife in my mind, then my teenage daughter,  my 5-year old son and my baby girl barely 2 years old. If I stand, I am not going home to them tonight. If I just stay put on the ground I will tuck my three children into bed and hold my wife as I fall asleep.

 

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And then there is another possibility. Might my fears of what is to come if I do stand and take the bullet rush to my mind. I mean, I believe that after death I will spend eternity in the Kingdom of Heaven.  If I didn’t, I would live a very different life. I believe, with all my faults and sins; my life and the choices I make demonstrate my trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and point me towards life everlasting.

However, although it is a matter of much prayer and much pleading, when it comes down to it, eternity scares me. First off, no matter what is going to take place forever, the very thought of forever brings me fear. Secondly, there is the thought that of, what if I’ve been wrong about the whole Christianity thing? That thought that when I die, that’s it…….terrifies me. I guess when it comes down to it, I am scared of the unknown. Because no matter what we say or think about eternity, what takes place after we breathe our last is unknown, until, well…..until we actually breathe our last. So, I wonder, with all of my fears of eternity, would I still stand?

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And then I get to maybe the most rational thought of all. We all believe that Jesus shows us the extent of God’s forgiveness with stories like the Prodigal Son. With his promise of paradise to the thief who hung next to him on the cross. I’d venture to say that we all believe someone in that situation in Oregon who did not stand; yet genuinely repented at a later time, would be forgiven.

So, if as I ways lying there with gunshots still ringing in my ears, and my mind happened to be clear enough to think all of that through, to tell myself that I can save my life and still be forgiven by Jesus; I am afraid I might not have stood.

 

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As I continued to try to process the question asked by pastor this week.  As I wrestled with the haunting thought of would I be willing to be martyred for Christ; I seemed to keep coming back to the a slightly different question: Will I daily take up my cross? I hope that being asked about whether or not we would make the ultimate sacrifice theoretically does not in any way keep us from making daily sacrifices in reality. Might we face physical persecution or even death for our faith? Yes. But we will certainly daily be granted opportunities to live a BIG life that require us to sacrifice by not making the easy choice. YES!

How often do I fail to sacrifice my fear in order to share Christ with co-workers? How often do I fail to sacrifice my selfishness in order to spend more time with my family? How often do I fail to sacrifice my laziness in order to take a shortcut at work? And the list of questions that hit a little too close to home could go on and on.

And so my challenge to myself, and to anyone else who left last week burdened by pastor’s question, is that we might share, first with God, and then with another human being who will hold us accountable, something that we know we must begin doing, stop doing, or do more consistently, in order to truly daily sacrifice for the sake of Christ, and to live a life of eternal significance. And once, with the help of the Lord and our accountability partner, we start to find ourselves achieving sacrifice in that area, we move on to the next and the next and the next.

And for me, maybe, just maybe, if I were truly in a situation where my faith was going to cost me my physical life, I would be so used to my daily sacrifices for Christ, that the final and ultimate sacrifice would come a little more naturally.  
______ _____________ _____________ ___________ ________

The Day Jesus Came to Youth Group (Part 2)

As Courtney passed into a deeper stage of sleep she began to have a dream. She was standing on the top of a very tall building in the center of town.. But as she looked around she could not see downtown or the neighborhoods. In each direction was a scene from earlier in her day. All of the scenes were static and it seemed she was the only one who could move in the dream.

When she looked down from the building in front of her she could see the entrance to her school. Donald was holding open the door with a hopeful, but cautious smile and she and Ashley were in mid stride walking through it and giving him a cold stare. When she turned to her left she could see herself sitting with Derek at the cafeteria table glaring in the direction of Bo who had sympathetic expression as he walked next to a distressed looking Cassie. Behind her she saw Mr. Becket’s Biology class. She and Ashley were laughing while Allison sat crying. And to her right, she and Derek were in his bedroom, more undressed than dressed. As she focused in she could see that her eyes looked hollow, while Derek’s expression conveyed an animal like lust.

She spun around again and again hoping something would change, but to her dismay it all remained the same. Frozen images from her day. Except, she didn’t remember those facial expressions. Or had just not been able to see them? When she finally stopped spinning, on the roof, next to her, was her mom. Peacefully sleeping on the couch, just as she had found her when she returned home that night.

Courtney couldn’t take it anymore. Why was she the only one in here dream who seemed to be aware of what was happening?  “Is anyone else here?!” she screamed.

A calm voice that seemed to come out of nowhere answered, “I’m here.”

As she turned around once more she saw, well, me, Jesus.  I didn’t look to her how she remembered in the Sunday School illustrations. I was much darker skinned, much more rugged, but somehow, she new it was Me.

“Jesus, I can’t believe…what are you doing here?”

“Well, Cass. I think we need to have a little talk.”

“Sure Jesus, what about?”

“Cass, you know that I love you unconditionally. So, it is because I love you that I say this… You chide your friend for saying a cuss word, but you use your words to belittle those who are already beaten down at your school. You judge the motives of others, while lying to your mother with impure intentions. You call others slut and whore, while engaging in activities that are only less than sex in the technical sense.”

“Get the sexual immorality out of your own life so that you can see why Cassie allows herself to be objectified by the football players. Remove the unkindness from your heart so you can truly understand why Allison wears that mask. Stop pretending to be someone you are night so you can perceive the reality behind Bo’s affection for you. Quit being deceitful so you will grasp the pain that causes Donald’s awkwardness. Your judgment and lack of love has blinded you, Cassie! Let the scales fall off that you may truly see.”

“But, Jesus,” Courtney rebutted. “Aren’t your judgments of me kind of harsh. It is hard to be a Christian at a public high school. I mean, I am just trying to fit in while still doing this God thing.”

As Jesus replied, his words dripped with love and compassion, “Courtney, my beloved, you are not being a Christian at a public high school, you are being a Pharisee. When you awake, tomorrow will be today once more and you will find out that you are not the only one who has many reasons for the behaving the way they do.”

 


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

Courtney awoke the next morning and sat up in bed. She was happy it was Saturday. She was excited to eat breakfast with her mom, even thought she would never admit it. And she was very excited to be done with that dream from the night before.

“Courtney, what are you doing up there, honey? You are going to be late to school!”

What the…Courtney thought to herself. She grabbed her cell phone and checked the date. Friday, October 14th. That’s impossible!

As Courtney quickly got dressed, she told herself there had to be some sort of reasonable explanation. But, as she walked down the stairs, she had to stop and sit down. She was startled by the many voices speaking, just like the ones that had woke her last night. But this time the voices did not stay jumbled, they slowly cleared until Courtney could hear Donald, Bo, Cassie and Allison’ say one at a time, “Please help me!”

 

_________________________________

 

Courtney was visibly disturbed as she made her way to the kitchen.

“What’s wrong Courtney,” her mom asked?

“I’m just feeling kind of out of it, mom. Everything’s fine.”

“Okay. Are you going to have some pancakes with your brother and sister?”

“No, I will just grab a granola bar and a banana. Have to get to school early for a study session in Mr. Jones’ class.”

“Alright, but wait…”

“I know mom. Wait till I get there to eat. You don’t like when I try to eat and drive.”

Her mom smiled, “Love you Courtney, have a good day.”

“You too, mom.”

As Courtney was about to walk out the door, she stopped. Turned around and went over gave her mom a kiss on the cheek. “You really are a wonderful mom. Love you.”

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

While Courtney drove to school she replayed the words that Jesus had said in her dream, When you awake, tomorrow will be today once more and you will find out that you are not the only one who has many reasons for the behaving the way they do. But that was just a dream, right? Was she still dreaming? I mean, reliving the same day, that’s impossible. And then there where the voices in her head… Courtney felt like she was stuck in a movie on the SciFi channel.

As Courtney parked her car in the student parking lot she saw her friend Ashley pulling up. She waited for her to park and the two girls walked in together.

“Mr. Jones is just ridiculous,” complained Ashley as the two girls walked toward the building. “All this, ‘I’m just trying to prepare you for college’ crap. Give me a break. His wife left him last year and now he is bitter and has way too much time on his hand. A bad combination.”

Courtney was trying to focus on what Ashley was saying, but was starting to hear the barrage of voices in her mind again. “Yeah, I know,” was the only response she could muster.

“You okay,” Ashley asked, surprised her bestie had not joined in her tirade against Mr. Jones.

“I’m fine. Just didn’t sleep well last night.”

As the two girls continued toward the building, all of the voices scrambled up in Courtney’s head cleared away and she was left with only one, Donald’s. She turned around and saw him hustling away from a beaten down pickup that his mom had driven him to school in. She looked at first to see if he was speaking, but realized that somehow she must be hearing his thoughts.

I can’t believe I am here this morning. All A’s through my first two and a half years of high school, and now I have an 89% in Mr. Jones’ class. Would it be that terrible if I got one ‘B?’ But, of course mom has to remind me of how we have no money since dad decided to take off with his secretary and all we had to live on is her salary as a waitress. And if I want to get out of this town and go to college it is going to have to be on scholarships.

As the girls neared the door, Donald came racing past them and opened the door. “Let me get that for you,” he said, clearly nervous and almost dropping the large pile of books he now tried to balance in one hand while opening the door with the other. “Two lovely ladies like yourselves should always have the door held for them.”

As Donald held open the door his thoughts shifted, but they were still just as clear in Courtney’s mind.

Oh man, I must have just sounded like such a dork. I know it’s coming, the whispers to each other and then the laughing. But, maybe not. I mean, I know Courtney does go to church.

“Yeah, okay, thanks Donald,” Ashley said not hiding her irritation.

Ashley turned expecting Courtney to follow up on her verbal assault, but instead she heard a gentle voice say, “Thanks Donald, that was really nice. Do you want to walk us to class?”

“Um…yeah, sure. I’d love to.”

“What are you doing Courtney?”
“Just thought Donald might want to have someone to walk into the study session with.”
“Okay, whatever. You and Prince Charming go on ahead, I’m gonna make a stop in the ladies’ room.”

As Ashley walked away Courtney and Donald began to walk down the hall. She turned to Donald and said, “Don’t worry about her. She must’ve woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Now, let’s go see if Mr. Jones can manage to make our day miserable even before school officially begins.”

Donald snickered at that and delightedly walked down the hall with Courtney.

  

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

Courtney sat alone picking at a salad in the lunchroom waiting for her boyfriend Derek to come in. She still had no idea what was going on, but it was somehow clear that she was actually reliving yesterday. She had kept trying to convince herself that she was just dreaming, but when she stabbed herself in the hand with her fork to test her theory, the pain persuaded her this was actually happening. Everything was happening just as it had yesterday, well yesterday’s yesterday that is…It seemed as if the only one who had the ability to do anything different, to create change from what had taken place yesterday, was her. As she sat there lost in her own thoughts, a commotion from the corner of the cafeteria nearest  where she sat startled her.

“We’re gonna crush ‘em tonight!” yelled Brad, the running back and team captain of the football team.

“We’re gonna hit ‘em so hard they are gonna wish the game only had two quarters,” Marcus, a lineman, chimed in oh so intelligently.

Here we go again, Courtney thought. More of these guys’ screaming like wild animals. Living this moment once was more than enough.  

“And what do you say Bo!” Brad screamed trying to draw in the star quarterback who seemed to be trying to keep just enough distance to not be a part of the commotion, but not too much distance to offend his teammates.

“I’m sure we’ll win tonight, Brad,” answered Bo in a voice much quieter than the other players.

Just before Courtney’s mind began to attack Bo, it happened again. What seemed to be thousands of voices in her head all at once, quickly receded until only Bo’s remained.

Seriously, Brad. I love you guys like brothers, but really. This is just idiotic. I mean, the only reason I am playing on the team is to keep my dad happy. If I have to listen to his story about how ‘if he hadn’t blown out his knee he would have gone pro’ one more time, I might puke. And Lord have mercy, if I tell him that what I really want to be doing is focusing on my artwork…

Because, don’t you know that in my father’s brilliant mind that’s only for girls. Um…ever heard of Vincent Van Gogh, Michelangelo, and Leonardo De Vinci? Pretty sure those were all guys, dad. At least it’s only 2 more years living under his roof…but man two years can seem like an eternity.

 

Courtney couldn’t believe it! Bo the artist. So, that’s why the shy, humble attitude. He really didn’t even want to be playing.

“That better not be all you got!” Brad fired back.

Bo sighed, and raised his voice just slightly, and without much conviction said, “We’re gonna destroy them tonight!”

“Yeah, that’s right!” all the guys screamed and their voices turned into a loud chorus of “Whose house? Bear’s house!” The Brawling Bears being the high school’s mascot.

As the yelling grew louder Courtney’s face turned into a frown as she felt genuine sympathy for Bo.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

“What wrong babe?” Derek asked as he gave Courtney a kiss on the cheek and sat down beside her.

“Oh nothing, just kinda seems like Bo would rather not be a part of all that craziness over there. Look at how he is trying to stand off to the side. I feel bad for him.”

“Yeah, right,” Derek mocked. “Poor, innocent, Mr. Popular, All-State quarterback. I feel real bad for him.”

“I don’t know, I think you might have him figured wrong.”

Strutting over to the chanting, grunting, screaming crowd of players, walked Cassie. Being gameday she was of course dressed in her cheerleading uniform with a skirt that showed just how long her legs were.

And there were the voices again; quickly dwindling until only Courtney’s remained.

Time to put on a little show. Sure guys, smack my butt, I love it. Pinch it too,  never gets old….But, what else am I going to do. Never been good at much else. Barely passing yet again this year. And then of course there is, ‘Maybe next year,’ from Mrs. Clark when I tried out for chamber choir. And, ‘Well you could play on the JV team again this year,’ from Coach Saunders. I’m a junior, what will that look like me being on the JV volleyball team for a third year.

But, parade over here to these buffoons and they’ll notice me. They don’t care that I can’t sing, I’m not very athletic and that I’m stupid. They just like what they see and that’s all that matters….well, of course except maybe for Bo. But, if he really likes me, why doesn’t he ever say so?

_________________________________

“Wow, Cass, I can’t get over how good you look in your uniform,” one of the not so subtle jocks told her.

Cassie giggled and rubbed her hand over his chest, “And you look so strong in your jersey, Tyler. You gonna catch a touchdown for me tonight?”

“I’ll catch two,” he answered grinning.

“That’s cool, you go ahead and score for her. I’m trying to score with her,” another player threw in, laughing loudly at his own joke.

Courtney began to hear Bo’s voice again in her head.

Man that pisses me off. I hate how they treat her. I don’t get why she lets them talk to her like that. Doesn’t she know how beautiful she is? How funny and sweet she is when she stops putting on that stupid act. I just wish I had the nerve to go over there and stick up for her.

_________________________________

 

“She is such a slut,” Derek said to Courtney.

“Don’t say that,” Courtney shot back.

What? What’s wrong with you?”

“I gotta go over there. Sorry, Derek I’ll be back.”

“Hey, hold on, I wanted to talk about our plans for tonight.”

“Sorry, I’m hanging out with my mom tonight,” Courtney yelled over her shoulder as she raced toward Bo.

_________________________________

Courtney grabbed Bo by the arm and pulled him a little ways from the crowd. “Hey, Bo. Not sure if you know me or not. I’m Courtney.”

“Yeah, I know you. We are in Geometry together.”

“Okay, whatever. Just listen. I think you are a really nice guy. And deep down I think Courtney is a really nice girl. She is just putting on a show right now that she would rather not be performing in. And I think if you really like her as much as you say you do, you need to go over there and stick up for her.”

“Wait, but how do you know I…”

“Just cut the crap. I know. Everyone knows. It’s obvious.”

“Okay, I’ll go!”

As Derek started to walk back toward the crowd gathered around Courtney he turned back to look at Courtney in disbelief.

She smiled at him and added, “And I’m sure she’d love if you drew her one of your amazing pictures!”

The look of shock on his face was priceless.

 

_________________________________

 

“Come on, show us some of that Brawlin’ Bear pride, Cass. You know it’s our good luck charm,” Brad coaxed.

Bo pushed his way into the middle of the crowd.

“Courtney you don’t have to do that.”

All eyes turned to Bo.

“Look, these guys might just be joking around, thinking this is funny. But I know you don’t really want them looking at you that way, touching you. Why don’t you let me walk you to class.”

Cassie felt a relief rush across her that was unbelievable and started to walk toward Bo.

“But Bo,” Brad wined. “It’s our good luck ritual.”

“We don’t need luck with me at quarterback,” Bo shot back with quite possibly the most cocky statement he had ever made.

With stares of disbelief, the players watched as Bo and Cassie left the cafeteria, holding hands.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

As Courtney went into her class last of the day Biology, it was the first time she wasn’t worried about being bored to death by one of Mr. Becket’s lectures. Instead, she was completely focused on hearing what was really on Allison’s mind. Courtney did not have to wait long to find out.

She slumped down in a seat near the back with Ashley to her right and

Allison to her left. As she did, she expected to hear the barrage of voices as she had earlier, but instead she was able to immediately focus on in on Courtney’s thoughts. Must be fine tuning my gift, Courtney thought to herself and smirked. A smirk that would not last long.

I just can’t sit through one more class. Allison thought to herself. I mean, do these people seriously expect me to focus on school when my mom died over the summer? I hear all of the counselors and experts talking to my dad, ‘She needs to get back into a routine. Keep things as normal as possible. It’s the best thing for her.’ How do they know about what’s best for me? It wasn’t there mom who died!

The tardy bell startled Courntey, and Mr. Becket, always prompt, began his lecture immediately. “Today, class, we will be looking at how both dominant traits and recessive traits are contributing factors in offspring.”

She tuned him out immediately and concentrated on hearing Allison. And then my dad wants to start dragging me to church to hear about how much God loves me.  ‘It’s a place to help ease our pain.’ Year right! What a great loving God who let a mother of 3 die an excruciatingly paniful death from cancer.

Courtney was so intent on Allison’s thoughts she didn’t notice that Ashley was trying to pass her note until she heard, “pssst, psst, Courtney, here,” she whispered in a not so quiet voice.

Courtney opened the note and read it, Do you think it was the dominant or recessive trait that gave Allison pink hair.

Courtney saw Allison look at the note and she shot Courtney and Ashley both a piercing look, but somewhere just behind the death stare there seemed to be a trace of moisture.

Allsion’s thoughts came in a furry now, and somehow they were louder than any she had heard earlier that day. Almost as if Allison was managing to scream through her mind. And here we go again. Those two snobs think they’re so funny. And as if my mom dying wasn’t enough proof that there is no such thing as a loving God, Courtney confirms it.  All the church girl crap and then she looks down on everybody else. And she claims to serves the same loving God that killed my mom.

Now it was Courtney’s eyes that moistened. She knew that canceling plans with Derek earlier was really just delaying the inevitable. She had to break up with him. It was a relationship based purely on the physical. And it had to end. Now, as she thought about what she was going to do next, she realized she might be burning bridges with her best friend and boyfriend all in the same day.

She wrote back, in large letters, so that both Ashley and Allison could both see. Not cool Ash, cut it out.

Ashley quickly shot back in huge red letters, “What’s wrong with you? You gonna join the freak show?”

Ashley’s jaw dropped, when she read Courtney’s reply, Yeah, I think I will.

Then her surprise grew to disbelief as Courteny gave a note to Allison that read, Hey. I am just going to hang out with my mom and play some games tonight instead of going to the game. Wanna come with me?

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

When the door slammed Courtney’s mom looked up from the novel she was reading and checked the clock. Only 6:00.

“Courtney, sweetie, is that you?”
“Yeah, it’s me mom.”

“I thought you were going to the football game and then over to Ashley’s.”

“Change of plans,” Courtney answered as she and Allison entered the living room. “It’s family game night tonight. And I brought a friend.”

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

When Jesus had finished he peered into the crowd of teenage observers to watch their reactions. They varied from those who were still in a state of disbelief that Jesus had said a cuss word while telling His story; to those who were so entrenched in their double lives that they could feel nothing but bitterness toward Jesus for describing their lives with pinpoint accuracy; to those who showed remorse for not being the same person at school as they were at church, but knew they were not willing to pay what it would cost to change; to those who carefully contemplated how they were treating others and allowed a picture to form in their minds of who they would reach out to and how they would do it the very next day at school.

Without another word to anyone, Jesus walked out of the youth room door with his 12 disciples, crumbs still smearing the edges of their mouths, following close behind.

 

 

 

The Day Jesus Came to Youth Group (Part 1)

The worship set wouldn’t start for another fifteen minutes and the teens were eating the snack set up in the back of the youth room and standing around talking. Their youth pastor was telling his usual, not so funny jokes to a group of new freshman, the only ones who hadn’t yet heard his comedic charm.  As the talking began to die down and the countdown on the screen showed only three minutes till service would start, a large crowd of adult men walked in.

The youth pastor grew a bit nervous as he counted to himself , 1,2,3…11,12,13. Now he hadn’t recognized the first 12 who had walked in and headed straight for the snack table, but the 13th was unmistakable, it was Jesus! And the other 12 where of course his disciples. Before the youth pastor had a chance to get over his awe and walk over to greet him, Jesus came straight over and began to speak.

“Hello, John. How are you this evening?”

“Well, uhhhh, ummm, I’m fine.”

“That’s good. I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind giving me just a moment to speak to the teens in your youth group. I will keep it very short.”

“Well of course Jesus. Do you want to talk before or after we worship?”

“What do you mean?” Jesus asked. “Does worship ever end? Is it not within our hearts to constantly adore the Father who has given us life and everlasting love?”
Feeling quite chided, the youth pastor’s cheeks grew red as he answered, “I mean, I meant…before or after the praise songs.”
“Oh,” Jesus replied with a smirk on his face. “After will be fine. Nothing better than singing to my Dad.” Jesus’ eyes scanned toward the back of the room where the disciples were still greedily devouring the few remaining snacks. Jesus sighed and began to walk toward them. “I just can’t take these guys anywhere.”

After the praise songs had been sung, Pastor John got up and said, “Well guys, I don’t quite know how to make this introduction. But, the Lord of Lords, the King of Kings, Jesus Christ himself is here with us today! And he has asked to say a few words to you.”

Jesus walked up to the old music stand that served as a pulpit. He did not put down any notes, but began to quote from memory Matthew 7:1-5, “Do not judge or you to will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

He continued, “You come here on Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, and Wednesday. You read the Gospels that tell you of my words. You talk about love, love, love. Yet, the only ones you seem to love are those who are just like you, and this is only in small proportion to how much you love yourselves. How can you read my words time and again and not see that I loved the tax collectors, the lepers, the sinners, the promiscuous, the outcasts.”

With that, Jesus went and took a seat in the first row of chairs, took out his iPhone and began texting. All eyes were on him, waiting for him to say something more. But he just sat. Pastor John knew he had to do something. He couldn’t allow Jesus to only say such scathing remarks to his teens. They would be offended.

He went and sat in an empty seat next to Jesus and whispered, “Um, Jesus. I’m not trying to tell you what to do here. I mean, I get the whole Son of God thing and all, and I know you know better than me. But, um, well you were really hard on these guys. I mean they are just teens and all. Do you think, just maybe, you could say a few uplifting words to them before you go?”

Jesus looked up at the youth pastor. He saw into his heart. He knew he meant well and he spoke to Jesus out of genuine love for his flock. Jesus set down his cell phone and walked back to the front.

“Let me tell you a story,” Jesus began.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Courtney pulled on her black leggings and then put on a gray sweater, turned around and looked in the mirror. Nope, not long enough. She took it off and tried on a pink one. She tugged at the bottom a bit. At least an inch or two past her butt, should do. She knew it first had to pass the inspection of her mother as she left the house and then any of the teachers who actually cared about the new dress code policy the school had initiated that year.

She went down to the kitchen and grabbed a granola bar, a banana and a bottle of water and started to head out the door.

“Is that all you’re gonna eat for breakfast, honey,” her mom asked as she fixed pancakes for Courtney’s younger brother and sister.

“Yeah, mom. I’m in a hurry. I need to be to school early for a study session in History class. It seems to be Mr. Jones’ mission in life to destroy as many students’ GPAs as possible before he retires.”

“Okay, well just wait to eat that till you get there. I don’t like you eating and driving.”

“Yes mom,” answered Courtney with mock concern. “And I will make sure my hands are at 10 and 2 the whole way there.”

Mom chuckled and then added, “And isn’t that sweater a bit short to be wearing with those leggings?”

“It covers my butt. I checked it.”
“Yeah, as long as you don’t bend down, walk quickly or happen to be outside when there is a gentle breeze.”

“Ha ha, mom. The new rule clearly states that if a student wears leggings he/she must wear a shirt that completely covers his/her bottom. My bottom is completely covered.”

“You know what. You are a junior in high school. You drive yourself to school. You have a job. I guess you are old enough to figure out if your clothes are in dress code or not. But, if there is a consequence at school, you’re on your own.”

It seemed her mom had finished and Courtney started to head back to the door, but just as she opened it her mom added, “I mean, I’m not so sure you’d wear that outfit if Jesus were in the room. I’m just sayin.”

Mom’s favorite, Courtney thought to herself. The catch all. Would you do, say, watch, act like, treat your brother and sister that way, and now of course, wear that, if Jesus were in the room.

Not to be deterred, Courtney answered over her shoulder as she walked out the door, “Jesus is okay with my outfit. I asked him this morning while I was upstairs. Love you mom, see you after school.”  

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

As Courtney parked her car in the student parking lot she saw her friend Ashley pulling up. She waited for her to park and the two girls walked in together.

“Mr. Jones is just ridiculous,” complained Ashley as the two girls walked toward the building. “All this, ‘I’m just trying to prepare you for college’ crap. Give me a break. His wife left him last year and now he is bitter and has way too much time on his hand. A bad combination.”

“Seriously,” Courtney agreed. “Get a life. Go to the movies. Go on a date. Do something other than stay up all night dreaming up ways to make your students’ lives miserable creating more unnecessary work.”

As they neared the door, a boy came racing past them and opened the door. “Let me get that for you,” Donald said, clearly nervous and almost dropping the large pile of books he now tried to balance in one hand while opening the door with the other. “Two lovely ladies like yourselves should always have the door held for them.”

“Yeah, okay, thanks Donald,” Ashley said not hiding her irritation.

“Ya know, Donald, it is 2015, most girls really don’t mind pulling the handle of the big heavy door and walking through it them self,” added Courtney.

The girls walked quickly through the door and headed toward Mr. Jones’ room.  Donald, who struggled more than a bit in taking social cues, quickened his step to keep up with the girls.

“Ummm, sorry, I just thought…” Donald’s apology trailed off and he decided to give it another try. “So, Mr. Jones sure is laying it on thick this year. These study sessions are the only way I can keep up.”
“Really, Donald give me a break,” answered Courtney. “What’s your GPA, like a 5.9?”

Ashley decided the subtle hints weren’t worked with Donald and said, “We’re gonna stop in the restroom on the way to class, can you maybe not follow us into there.”

Donald’s head dropped as he slowed his pace to continue down the hall. “Yeah, sorry. Didn’t mean to bother you. Sees ya in class.”

As the two girls entered the restroom, Ashley continued the verbal assault. “Seriously, that guy is something. He could get straight A’s in his sleep. His in #1 in our class. I think the only reason he is here for the study session is because he actually likes to be in this building and wanted to get in as early as he could. And you know the only reason that dork held the door for us was so he could look at our asses while we walked by.”

“Butts, Ashley, butts,” corrected Courtney. “You know I don’t like the foul language.”

“Whatever, Ms. Church Girl.”

“Well,” Courtney added laughing. “At least he got a nice view, because I know my back side looks good in these leggings.”

The girls were still having a good laugh at Donald’s expense as they left the restroom and walked down the hall to the study session.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

Courtney sat alone picking at a salad in the lunchroom and waiting for her boyfriend Derek to come in. The lettuce in the salad was on the verge of turning brown and she counted a grand total of three pieces of chicken, but out of the options the cafeteria offered, it was the best she could do.  As she sat there lost in her own thoughts, a commotion from the corner of the cafeteria nearest where she sat startled her.

“We’re gonna crush ‘em tonight!” yelled Brad, the running back and team captain of the football team.

“We’re gonna hit ‘em so hard they are gonna wish the game only had two quarters,” Marcus, a lineman, chimed in oh so intelligently.

Sounds that were somewhere between grunting and barking could now be clearly heard from the huddle of barbarian football players getting themselves amped up for tonight’s game.

What idiots, Courtney thought to herself. God I know you are a lot smarter than me, but it seems like the world would be a little bit better place if you hadn’t allowed those guys to be created.

“And what do you say Bo!” Brad screamed trying to draw in the star quarterback; who seemed to be trying to keep just enough distance to not be a part of the commotion, but not too much distance to offend his teammates.

“I’m sure we’ll win tonight, Brad,” answered Bo in a voice much quieter than the other players.

And there is the worst of all, humble, quiet Bo. Courtney’s thoughts continuing to throw daggers at the group of jocks, but now specifically honing in on Bo. Gets all the glory of being the quarterback. But, stays just to the edge of all the other players. I can see right through his pious act. It’s just his way of bragging. Look at me, not only am I a the best quarterback in the conference, but I’m just a quiet, down to Earth guy. Yeah right!

“That better not be all you got!” Brad fired back.

Bo sighed, and raised his voice just slightly, and without much conviction said, “We’re gonna destroy them tonight!”

“Yeah, that’s right!” all the guys screamed and their voices turned into a loud chorus of “Whose house? Bear’s house!” The Brawling Bears being the high school’s mascot.

As the yelling grew louder Courtney noticed Bo slowly backing away from the group. Good grief, she thought. None of these guys will ever amount to anything more than a bunch of townies. I can just see them now. All in their mid 40s, sitting around at a the run-down diner talking about their “glory days.” And look, there’s Bo. He’s the one serving the coffee!

The thought of Bo in an apron handing out mugs of coffee to pot bellied, balding, former football players made Courtney chuckle to herself.

 

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“What ya laughing at babe?” Derek asked as he gave Courtney a kiss on the cheek and sat down beside her.

“Oh nothing, just thinking about the wonderful future those buffoons in the corner are going to have once they are no longer star high school athletes.

“And look who’s joining them now,” Derek said.

Over to the chanting, grunting, screaming crowd of players, strutted Cassie. Being gameday she was of course dressed in her cheerleading uniform with a skirt that showed just how long her legs were.

Courtney snorted, “Yeah, I have to wear a shirt that covers my butt completely when I wear leggings, but she can wear a skirt that hardly covers her.”

“Yeah,” agreed Derek. “If you are in any way a part of the athletic program here at the amazing intellectual intuition of Morrisville High you can pretty much get away with murder.”

_________________________________

“Wow, Cass, I can’t get over how good you look in your uniform,” one of the not so subtle jocks told her.

Cassie giggled and rubbed her hand over his chest, “And you look so strong in your jersey, Tyler. You gonna catch a touchdown for me tonight?”

“I’ll catch two,” he answered grinning.

“That’s cool, you go ahead and score for her. I’m trying to score with her,” another player threw in, laughing loudly at his own joke.

Cassie didn’t even seem to blush at the comment, but just giggled and flipped her hair.

_________________________________

 

“She is such a slut,” Courtney told Derek.

“They say she spends more time on her back than Michelangelo painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel,” Derek added.
_________________________________

“Come on, show us some of that Brawlin’ Bear pride, Cass. You know it’s our good luck charm,” Brad coaxed.

Cassie giggled again, flipped up her skirt in back, and sure enough there on the spankies, right on Cassie’s derriere, was the picture of a bear in boxing gloves. The players performed their weekly ritual, each either giving Cassie’s backside a little slap or pinch. And although, her giggles continued throughout the ceremony, they seemed to grow a little more forced with each groping from the jocks.

 

_________________________________

 

“Whore,” Courtney’s hissed.

“Oh, forget about her. Let’s talk about something else,” Derek said.

“Okay, what do you want to talk about?”
As Derek began to speak, his hand began to slowly run up from where it had been sitting on Courtney’s knee to her thigh. “Well, like, what we are going to do after the football game.”

“What did you have in mind?”

“Well, my parents are out of town this weekend. So, I thought maybe after we go to the football game, you might want to come over and hang out.

“Derek,” Courtney replied grabbing his hand that was getting dangerously close to an area past her leg completely. “You know I am waiting till I get married to have sex.”

“I know,” said Derek sliding his hand out of Cassie’s and continuing his attempt upward. “But, we could do some of the stuff we did that night in your basement when your parents had fallen asleep upstairs watching a movie. And maybe try a few new things. There are lots of things besides sex, you know.”

Courtney giggled as Derek’s hand finally reached its destination and she answered, “Sounds good to me. I will just tell my mom I am going over to Ashley’s after the game.”

With their plans set, the bell rang. Derek walked Courtney to class and Bo, the only player to not have his hands on her Brawling Bear emblem, walked Cassie to class.

 

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Courtney went into her last class of the day, Biology. She hated biology. The only thing that made the class bearable was that Ashley was in there with her. She slumped down in a seat near the back with Ashley to her right. To her left sat Allison. Allison wore all black, sported hot pink hair and had more piercings in her ears, nose, eyebrows and tongue than seemed humanly possible.

The bell rang and Mr. Becket, always prompt, began his lecture immediately. “Today, class, we will be looking at how both dominant traits and recessive traits are contributing factors in offspring.”

Ashley and Courtney looked at each other and rolled her eyes.  Ashley shot a glance at Allison, who seemed to be genuinely interested in Mr. Becket, and smirked. She took out a piece of paper, wrote a note and passed it to Courtney.

Courtney opened the note and read it, Do you think it was the dominant or recessive trait that gave Allison pink hair.

Courtney wrote back, I’m not sure, but with Halloween coming up it must be nice not to have to buy a costume.

Both girls laughed at this. And while stifled enough not to catch Mr. Becket’s attention, it was loud enough to draw a glance from Allison. And when Ashley passed back a note back that said FREAK in large, squiggly red letters and pictured Allison riding a witch’s broom, Allison was watching. She shot Courtney and Ashley both a piercing look, but somewhere just behind the death stare their seemed to be a trace of moisture.

 

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Courtney got home two minutes before curfew that night, feeling pretty lousy. She had taken things even a step further than last time with Derek and wasn’t feeling particularly great about it. Not to mention that she had lied to her mom and told her she was at Ashley’s. With all this on her mind, and a terrible headache, she was really not in the mood to make small talk.

Courtney took off her shoes as she as she came through the door and attempted to tip toe her way through the living room, where her ever devoted mother slept. She would never go up to bed until Courtney was home safe and sound. But, she never could actually quite keep awake, so it made her feel better to at least be downstairs when Courtney got home, even if she was off in dream land.

As Courtney carefully tiptoed past the couch and was nearly to the stairs, she

happened upon a squeaky floor board. Her mom sat up and rubbed her eyes, looked down at her watch and smiled, “Just in the nick of time, huh honey.  How was Ashley’s.”

“Good mom. But, my head is really hurting. I am going to take some Tylenol and get to bed.”

“Okay, sweetie. Maybe we can eat breakfast together in the morning and I can get a little more detail than ‘good.’”

“Sure, mom. Sounds great.”

“Hope your head feel better Courtney. Love you honey.”

“Love you mom. Good night.”

Courtney went upstairs and took some Tylenol and got in her pajamas. As she laid down her head was still pounding. She tossed and turned trying to find a position where her head would feel a little bit better, but it was no use. Finally, exhausted, head still throbbing, she fell asleep.

As Courtney lay sleeping, she woke suddenly in a fright. She thought she heard something that sounded like lots of people talking at once. So many that it was impossible to hear what they were saying. She looked around her room. She was alone. All was okay. Must have been a nightmare. But, man, did her head still ache.

She laid her head gingerly back onto the pillow. And even with the pain, she quickly fell back to sleep.

Eternity: The Ultimate Comfort

My family visits at a nursing home each month. While we’re there I present a message, my teenage daughter dances, my first grade son reads a book or shares a poem, my wife keeps our youngest daughter from interrupting what everyone else is doing 🙂 and at the end we just visit with the residents. The last time we went Jasmine danced to the song “Tell My Heart to Beat Again,” by Danny Gokey to set up my message. If you’re not familiar with the song, take a minute to click the link and listen before you read this blog.

htpps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=13wFGffg

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You may recognize that name Danny Gokey from American Idol. Gokey finished third place on season eight of American Idol. What you might not know is that just a few weeks before Gokey auditioned for “American Idol,” his wife died unexpectedly during a routine heart surgery.

Which then makes the story behind the inspiration for this song all the more amazing. Gokey tells the story of a pastor in Ohio who had a heart surgeon who went to his church. The pastor wanted to see a heart surgery actually take place. So, the surgeon pulled some strings and the pastor was there watching as they opened up the patient’s chest cavity and took the heart out to work on it. Now before they can close the patient’s chest back up, they need to restart it. But this time the heart wasn’t restarting.

And the surgeon did something completely out of the ordinary, that blew the pastor’s mind. He got down on his knees and said, “Mrs. Johnson, this is your doctor. We have fixed your heart. There is no longer anything wrong with it. Mrs. Johnson, if you can hear me, I need you to tell your heart to beat again.” And then, as if on cue, her her heart began to beat.

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We have all had our moments in life when it seems as if our heart has actually stopped beating.  When something is happening that is simply too great to bare and it feels like life may no longer be worth living.

As the powerful opening lyrics of the song put it:

Shattered, like you’ve never been before

The life you knew

In a thousand pieces on the floor

Words fall short in times like these

When this world drives you to your knees

You think you’re never gonna get back

To the you that used to be

 

It may be a cancer diagnosis. The loss of spouse or a child. Opening the mail and taking out a letter that explains your house is being foreclosed. Being let go at work and having no idea how you will support your family. Having your spouse walk out on you without warning. Driving home from the your office’s Christmas party and seeing the flashing lights poll up behind you when you know you’ve had too much to drink. Trying for years, but never being able to conceive. And the list could go on. I am sure each person in the room could certainly tell their own story.

For most of us, though, somehow or another, we all survive our most terrible moment. We find the strength to go on. We resolve to never be in that position again. We decide to allow our terrible moment to motivate us to do some sort of good with our life moving forward. Our heart does indeed beat again.

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Today, I want to talk about the moment for Jesus’ disciples when their world came crashing down around them; when it seemed like all they had been living for had been taken away. And I am of course referring to when Jesus was crucified. But, then we all know the rest of the story. Three days later, Jesus was raised again! And the disciples’ tragic moment quickly turned to joy and they were rejuvenated with the strength to press on. Yet, there was something more to their strength to move forward; something way beyond the way in which most of move on back into the ordinary day to day routines that we were accustomed to before our moment of tragedy. And this is what we need to pay close attention to today: what gave the disciples such a  more powerful rejuvenation?

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First though, we need to start by going way back, far before Jesus ever walked the earth. Because we need to remember something that is often forgotten in our modern American churches. Jesus was Jewish. He was born into the history and culture and religion and traditions of the Israelites.  So, we must take a moment and remember this history.

The Jewish nation since almost their earliest time had been in a pattern of being enslaved by foreign nations delivered to freedom by the Lord, enslaved or exiled, delivered, enslaved, delivered…you get the picture. Going all the way back to the book of Exodus and the most well-known example, when God delivered the Israelites from the Egyptians, but only after the Lord convinced the Pharaoh with 10 plagues that He really meant business and then for an encore parted the Red Sea for the Israelites to pass through on dry land before having the waters come crashing back down on top of the pursing Egyptian Army.

From there the was the exile to Assyria of the Northern Kingdom and then the Southern Kingdom to Babylon. Then, after Cyrus of Pers took Babylon, the Jews were allowed to rebuild their temple in Jerusalem and many were allowed to return. A couple hundred years letter it was the Greeks who gained control of Jerusalem and over the next several hundred years,depending on the ruler, the Jewish people had varying levels of independence to practice their religion and traditions.

Now as we near the time of Jesus’ birth, the Israelites had been under Roman rule for about 60 years. And at this point we start to see a change in the expectations of the Israelites. No longer did they think they would they reclaim their freedom through simply God’s intervention in giving some extra daylight to win a war or his knocking over a city wall at the sound of a trumpet blast, but God would now send a Messiah to lead the Israelite people to freedom. This Messiah would be a conquering Messiah who would lead the Israelite people victoriously in battle and regain their freedom as a people.

But, even more than this, the Messiah would establish a Kingdom on Earth for God Almighty to come down and be with His people on Earth. For God to directly reign on Earth. And in doing that, He would save not only the Israelites, but through Israel, God would then save all nations. And when the Lord came to reign, God would establish a Kingdom on Earth where all was made right. Peace and love would reign supreme.

The prophet Amos talked of this time when justice would roll on like a river and righteousness like a never-failing stream.

 

Isaiah spoke of the day when (Isaiah 40:4-5):

4 Every valley shall be raised up,

   every mountain and hill made low;

the rough ground shall become level,

   the rugged places a plain.

5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,

   and all people will see it together.

 

Also also of a time when (Isaiah 11:6-9);

6The wolf will live with the lamb,

   the leopard will lie down with the goat,

the calf and the lion and the yearling[a] together;

   and a little child will lead them.

7 The cow will feed with the bear,

   their young will lie down together,

   and the lion will eat straw like the ox.

8 The infant will play near the cobra’s den,

   and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.

9 They will neither harm nor destroy

   on all my holy mountain,

for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord

   as the waters cover the sea.

 

This is the world into which Jesus came in to. And the claim of Messiah was not unique to Jesus. There was a self proclaimed Messiah, Simon of Perea who came shortly before Jesus. He rebelled against the Romans and proved himself a false Messiah when he was killed by the Romans. A few decades after Jesus’ death and resurrection came the First Jewish revolt, which was ended by the Romans in AD 70 when they completely destroyed Jerusalem and the temple. But, in 132 AD, the Second Jewish Revolt was fought and led by Simon bar Kochba, who also claimed to be the Messiah. There was even a short-lived Jewish state founded, with Kochba hailed as the Messiah-king, before the Romans once again squashed the revolt, killing hundreds of thousands of Jews and selling many more as slaves.

Now, it would seem odd to someone who follows the Christian tradition that someone claiming to be Messiah would come after Jesus, since we believe Jesus is indeed the true Messiah,  and in fact, the Son of God. But most Jews, and for that matter, most of humanity ever since, did not and have not realized Jesus’ true identity, because they missed what happened 3 days after the cross. They missed what turned the disciples dejection to elation; they missed what caused the disciples’ heart to beat again.

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But, before we get to the good news at the end of the story, we must look at just how tragic, just how devastating, Jesus’ death on the cross would have been to his disciples. We start with when the disciples first began to follow Jesus. And we must remember they had lives of their own. We know that a number of the disciples were fisherman, including Peter, James, John and Andrew. We also know that Matthew had been a tax collector. In addition, Simon is referred to as Simon the Zealot and we can assume he would have already been involved in some nationalistic leanings before meeting Jesus. We also know Peter was married because we hear of his mother in law in the book of Matthew. In addition, in 1 Corinthians, Paul is asked whether he also did not have the right to take a believing wife as did the other apostle and the Lord’s brothers and Peter. So, we can assume other disciples also had wives.

So, when these guys decided to follow Jesus, they dropped everything, left all they knew behind and simply went where Jesus went.

And then they spent the next three years side by side with Jesus. Talking with him. Eating with him. Following him wherever he went. Jesus was the disciples’ friend. They had spent three years with this man. They knew him more intimately then they knew their own families at this point. But, he was not just their friend, but the friend who had all the answers. Jesus had settled their arguments, taught them as their Rabbi, and calmed the raging storm when they were afraid. Jesus was the friend who everyone turned to when they weren’t sure where else to turn. The friend who made everything all right when there seemed to be no way out.

And more than a friend, but a teacher and Rabbi.  The disciples had listened to Jesus’ teaching for the last three years. They had bought into what he was teaching. They had heard the sermon on the mount and believed in the almost unreal expectations to not only love your neighbor, but also your enemy. To not only stay clear of adultery, but of all lust. To not only keep blood off your hands, but to keep violence from your heart and mind and angry words from your lips. And not only had they heard his teachings, but they had witnessed his miracles. They had seen him heal diseases and physical deformities and even rebuke nature itself. They had seen Jesus do the impossible time and again.

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Now, put this together with the backdrop of Israel’s history that I shared and the time and place Jesus came into. Jesus’ disciples had come to truly believe he was the Messiah. Peter declares this when Jesus asked the disciples who other people said he is and then followed it up with who the disciples said he was. Peter tells Jesus,  “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

They believed they were following the one who would lead the nation of Israel to freedom. The one who would overthrow the Roman rule and usher in the coming of God Himself to reign in their midst! Their expectation was that they would be a part of, and not just any part, but a ruling part of, this new kingdom. In Mark chapter 10, when James and John ask Jesus that one of them may sit on his right hand and the other on his left when he comes to glory, they are not talking of heaven. They are talking of the very near future when they believed Jesus would rule as the Messiah-king on Earth!

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And this thought of Jesus’ Messiahship had built to a crescendo as Jesus had come riding into Jerusalem on a colt for the Passover Celebration. This festival commemorated God’s deliverance of the Israelite people from Egypt. The religious fervor that was already a part of this weekend was incredible. And as the people laid down their cloaks in the street, shouting Hosannah and waving palm branches, the nationalistic zeal was palpable. This Jesus, the people had heard about, he might just be the one. And this might just be the time. And no one in Jerusalem believed this more than the disciples.

But, a short time after this triumphal entry, Jesus does something odd. Instead of claiming his throne and making a public declaration of being the Messiah, he washes the disciples feet and talks about a master being a servant and how to truly be great you must humble yourself as a servant to all. He then shares a passover meal with disciples. And during, it he breaks bread and drinks wine with the disciples, referring to it as his body that would be broken and his blood that would be shed. But the disciples just don’t get it! For Luke’s account tells how just after the bread is broken and the wine is drank, the disciples are back to arguing over who will be the greatest.

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And then comes the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus lays down his own will in order to take up God the Father’s. Yet, the disciples, even at this moment are still not yet willing to see what is destined to take place. They are unable to comprehend that Jesus will not rule as a conquering king, but instead will save humanity as a suffering servant.

As a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees came with lanterns and torches and weapons to arrest Jesus, Peter, still not understanding Jesus’ true mission, took his sword and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. At this point, if the disciples could not make it any more clear they had no clue, all fled and deserted Jesus. As a trial that was a mockery to justice took place, as Jesus was scourged and beaten, and eventually nailed to the cross, it would seem from scripture that except for  Peter who watched from afar and denied Jesus three times, and Jon who stood at the foot of the cross in Jesus’ last moments, the disciples where nowhere to be find.

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The disciples were utterly hopeless. They were lost. Their best friend, their teacher, their Messiah was dead and gone. They were grieving over the loss of one they loved and also mourning over finding out all they had believed was soon to take place, the promise of the prophets and the scriptures being fulfilled through Jesus as the long awaited Messiah, was not going to happen. And now what? Would the authorities come after them next? There was certainly a fear that gripped the disciples. We already heard of how all fled at his arrest. Then in the book of John, we hear how the disciples were meeting together behind locked doors in fear of the Jews. And once a bit of the fear had worn off, the overwhelming emptiness  set in of having what you believed to be truth completely and undeniably shown to be a lie. And with no thought of what else to do, the disciples simply went back to the lives they knew before Jesus, as John records that a group of disciples were back out fishing.

You see, the disciples were having a moment to make their hearts stop, without any reason to think that it would beat again. There was nothing to make them believe that they would see the promise of the Messiah fulfilled. Nothing to dull the pain of losing their best friend. Nothing to ease the sense of loss they felt of having chased a lie for three years.

But then, in the greatest comeback story of all time, in the  single most important moment in human history, the disciples hearts are jolted to life once more. As if the paddles where placed on their chests and the electric shock of the defibrillator put life is put back into their bodies. Or maybe, it was more like Jesus getting down on his knees and whispered to the disciples, “I am alive again. I have come back. I am no longer dead. I need you to tell your hearts to beat again.”

And once Jesus spoke these words, once they realized the resurrection was for real, the disciples hearts didn’t start to beat, but they pulsed with an energy they had never known before. When the women tell the apostles of the empty tomb, Peter and John race there to see for themselves. And when Jesus appears to seven of the disciples on the shore while they are fishing, as soon as they realize it is him they get their boat full of fish back to land as fast as they can, except for Peter who jumps out and swims! For the disciples cannot wait to hear what Jesus has to tell them next.

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You see, when that life is put back into us, when God takes us out of that dark place where we just don’t believe we can go on and we realize there is something greater to live for; we don’t just putter along, we hit the ground running. We find new purpose, new focus, new desire. And this is what happened for the disciples. For each of them went out after hearing Jesus’ great commission and began to tell others about Jesus’ death and resurrection with a fervor. And the only thing that could stop them from sharing this message was death. Tradition tells us that all of the disciples but John, who lived out his last years exiled alone to the island of Patmos,  all the other disciples, were martyred for their faith.

What changed for the disciples? What took them from hiding behind locked doors to boldly proclaiming the gospel? I think it is that after the resurrection, when Jesus restarted their hearts; the disciples realized that what they were now living for was not simply a better life on this earth, but for eternal life. What their heart now beat for was not taking up arms to be a part of a kingdom of this world, but to be a part of an eternal Kingdom where all will be made right through the redemption found in the sacrifice Christ made on the cross and the victory over death that came through His victorious resurrection from the grave!

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Now, when I started out this afternoon, I talked about the fact that we all have those moments when we wonder if our heart will beat again; when our world comes crashing down around us and we wonder if life is even worth living. And yet in these situations, we find a way to make it through; to press on and continue with our lives. Maybe even to turn our tragedy into triumph by making something good from our misfortune.

But, I also mentioned when I began that there was something different about the way the disciples bounced back then the way we typically do. And I think this difference was shown clearly in their willingness to follow Jesus even to death after they saw him resurrected. So, what was it? What was it that caused the disciples to not just press on with the day to day, but to boldly declare Jesus to all those they encountered.

I believe it was that when they saw Jesus after His resurrection, their focus changed. It changed from an earthly focus, to an eternal focus. You see, when we come back from our tragedies it is with a focus of moving forward with our lives. Making the most of the years we will walk this earth. Which is wonderful. And we should make the very most of every moment we have. However, the disciples had a different focus after seeing the resurrected Jesus. It was a focus to live the rest of their earthly lives to do something that would matter for eternity. The disciples no longer worried about what would happen to them as they walked this earth, because they knew where they were going when their time on earth ended. And they wanted as many people as possible to come with them.

And when we have our times when the worst seems to have happened, sometimes the only thing that can truly make it right is if this eternal promise is real. Think of the loss of a child. Sure, you may go onto have more children and raise a beautiful family. But, every Christmas, every birthday, every anniversary of your child’s death, the ache is there. But, what about in the eternal perspective? That child has been made new and whole and one day you will be reunited forevermore.

Your spouse has walked out on you. And sure you heart has stared to heal. And you may have even met someone new. But the scar is deep. And the trust issues are real. And you can never love quite as fully as you did before. Yet, in the eternal perspective, you are the bride of Christ. And he loves you more deeply then any spouse ever could. And he reaches out his hand and says I will heal you in part now, as much as earthly possible, but just you wait until one day after you have breathed your last and real life begins. You will hurt no more. You will will weep no more. And you will be blown away by a love that makes all loves you knew on earth seem like mere weeds in a garden of roses.

Or the terminal cancer diagnosis. You can come to terms with it. You can get get going on your bucket list. You can get your will in order. You can say all your goodbyes. But, then there is that thought, I’m really going to die. I am really going to close my eyes for the last time and no longer exist.  However, the eternal perspective says something much different. The eternal perspective says that when you close your eyes for the last time here on earth it is not a period, but simply a comma. And what comes after that comma is true life. What happened here on earth was just a mere shadow of the real thing. The real thing that is beyond our wildest dreams and imaginations that we can not even begin to comprehend.

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And so, I ask you today, do you have the eternal perspective? Do you believe its real? Are you able to have peace in life when the moments come that make you feel like you heart has stopped beating? Not because you simply push on with a new determination to live this life to its fullest, but beaus you know there is something so much greater than this life waiting for you. Are you sure of where you will go when you breathe your last?

The Bible says being sure of this is very simple. Romans 10:9-10 tells us, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in you heart that God raised Him from the dead you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified and with your mouth that you confessed and are saved.”

In order to have the eternal perspective you must have faith in the one who holds eternity in His hands. You must tell God that you understand he is God and you are not. That you know that you have sinned against him. Done things that you knew where wrong. Chose to be your own god and make your own choices instead of allowing him his rightful position as God and letting him lead your life.

And you must understand that these choices you made were sinful. And that a Holy God cannot be in relationship with sinners. And there IS no way that on your own you could earn your way back to God or cleanse yourself of your sins.

But, this eternal God is not only Holy, but also loving. And he sent Jesus, God’s son, to this earth. Jesus came and lived a blameless life.He died and rose again. And in his death, he took all of the sins of the world upon him. And in his rising, he conquered death once and forevermore, so that all people may have the chance to spend eternity with the Lord.

But, God is not a God who forces. No, in his love he gives us the freedom to choose. And in order to have the promise of eternity we must choose to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior. We must choose to willingly lay down the agenda we had for our lives and take up his agenda. And in doing this, we are taken in by the Lord as a son or daughter. And he will be with all of the days of life; but even greater than that, when the days of our life are over, we will go to be with him for all of eternity.

 

 

 

A Modern Day Parable on Faith

A Modern Day Parable on Faith

“To what can I compare faith?” Jesus began to the crowd sipping their lattes outside Starbucks. “Faith is continuing to make the sponsorship payments for your Compassion child, even after taking a pay cut at work. Faith is staying in your marriage, even when it seems like things will never improve, because you trust that in the long run God will bless you, and your marriage, for sticking it out. Faith is being sure you knew my Father’s will, then seeing things go completely different then you had hoped and still saying, I trust in your plan and purpose Lord. Faith is accepting a new position knowing it will be a significantly smaller salary than your current position, because you truly believe in the mission of the new company.”

With that, a man in a tailored suit sipping a $5 Carmel Macchiato quietly slipped into his BMW and headed off to the job as a Power Broker that he loathed. Jesus went on, “How can I make you understand faith? It is like a man who had to drive through a depressed part of town on the way to work each day. Each day he drove by a man holding a sign saying, Down & out on my luck. Will work for food. The man on his way to work judged the one holding the sign. In fact, he would take an alternative route some days that took longer, just so he did not have to see the man. But as time went on, a feeling formed in the pit of his stomach that he could not ignore whenever he went by the raggedy man. Until one day when he was leaving his house for work, the man made a ham and cheese sand which. And when he came to the man holding the sign, he rolled down his window and handed it to him. And his faith grew.

He continued with the sandwhiches out the window for several weeks. Until that feeling consumed him again. And he looked up at our Father and asked, “Are you kidding me?” This time the man left for work 20 minutes early and when he came to the man holding the sign, he parked his car. He got out and asked if it was okay if they ate a sandwhich together this morning. The two men ate together. No longer did he pity the man who held the sign, but he loved him. And his faith grew”

The crown had begun to thin, but Jesus was apparently not taking the social cues too well and continued, “No God,” the man said driving into work that day. “Nope. Don’t know him that well. Not sticking my neck out for him. No, Lord, no way.” Yet he found himself at his boss’ desk that day. And he heard the boss telling him, “You don’t even have to bring him in for an interview. It’s just a cleaning position. If you recommend the guy, he can start Monday.” And his faith grew.

“No longer does the man ride alone to work. But each day he rides with the man who used to hold the sign.”

Jesus looked out at the thinning crowd and new that some of their hearts were still hard. “I tell you the truth faith that is not tested will wither and die like a flower that receives no rain. If your faith does not force you beyond yourself, you have no faith at all.”

A woman in the crowd holding her baby and thinking of all of the safety issues with actually having a homeless person in her car spoke up. “But Jesus, each person’s faith is a little different. Your story is very touching, but you don’t expect everyone to have faith like that…do you?”

Jesus looked upon the woman with love. For he knew how she loved her baby with a beautiful and selfless love. But, that she had justified not being stretched in her faith because she put her child before God. He began to speak, “There was a Nazarene church headed by a pastor who longed to do more than preach practical application sermons to the regular attendees before taking his scheduled Sunday afternoon nap. Stepping out on faith he went before his board with a plan to do more. With much coercing, he convinced his board to approve the purchase of a small abandoned building right next to the church property.  The building would be turned into a community center to hold evening activities for the youth who were turning more and more to delinquent behaviors.

With the building purchased, the Pastor now needed someone who could see his vision and get the program rolling. He knew the perfect person. A member of his church board was in a high-level management position. He was amazing with planning and organization. He tithed 25% of his large salary to the church. He and the pastor went and walked through the newly purchased building one evening and talked of his heading up the programming for the youth. He replied to the pastor, “I would love to, but I often hold evening meetings at work. And besides, with my knowledge of running an organization, there are far too many unanswered questions at this point as to how this program will actually work to think it will get up and off the ground. I just couldn’t even think of taking this on without there being a more solid foundation.”

The pastor was not discouraged. He had another amazing choice in mind. She was currently a stay-at-home mom, but had been a middle and high school teacher and a principal before having kids. She would bring an amazing knowledge of how to interact with the youth. As the woman and the pastor walked through the building the pastor told her, “I know you have your hands full with a preschooler and a toddler at home. But, since it is in the evening I thought your husband might stay home with the kids or you can even bring them here! Start them early serving others.”  She answered with a chuckle, “Oh Bill could never handle the kids on his own. He can hardly take care of himself.” Then, she became much more serious, “And I could never bring my kids around ‘those kids’ who would come here in the evenings.”

The pastor had been sure that one of his top two choices would accept and was doing his best not to become discouraged. That evening he sat in his office trying to think of a third choice when he heard a knock. A woman walked in who lived in the community and had recently begun attending the church after coming to receive a free backpack for her oldest of 3 children (all by different fathers who were long gone by now). “Pastor, “ she began. “I know I’m new to the church. But I heard about the community center and that you needed someone to head it up and I wanted to volunteer. I don’t really have no experience except that I grew up in this community and am raising my 3 kids here. So, I get were the kids around here are coming from and I know they just need someone to love on them and to learn how much the Lord loves them. Just like I needed. I will have to stop my evening hours at the restaurant and bring my own 3 with me, but like you always say if we doing God’s will He will provide what we need.”  The Pastor wiped away a tear and smiled at his knew community center leader.

Jesus turned to the woman holding her baby, “Which of the 3 showed faith?”

“The one who was willing to lead the programming at the community center,” she answered.

“Go and do likewise,” Jesus responded.

Of those left, a few walked away sad for they had many important things planned that they could not lay aside. But, as Jesus walked away past the Nail Salon and Smoothie King, he turned to see a small crowd still following him.

 

MLK Jr. – 5 Truths (Truth 5)

Truth 5: God is pleased with us when we try, even when it doesn’t end the way we would like.

I have to be honest, this is my favorite of the truths. I have a CD set of some of Dr. King’s most influential sermons and speeches. And this truth comes from a sermon near the end of the set. But, the first time I heard it, this sermon became my favorite. And by now I must have listened to it dozens of times.

The sermon is entitled “Unfulfilled Dreams” and was delivered at the Ebenezer Baptist church on March 3, 1968, just a month before King was assassinated. And his sermon immediately gets to the point,

          “I want to preach this morning from the subject: “Unfulfilled Dreams.” My text is taken from the eighth chapter of First Kings. Sometimes it’s overlooked. It is not one of the most familiar passages in the Old Testament. But I never will forget when I first came across it. It struck me as a passage having cosmic significance because it says so much in so few words about things that we all experience in life. David, as you know, was a great king. And the one thing that was foremost in David’s mind and in his heart was to build a great temple. The building of the temple was considered to be the most significant thing facing the Hebrew people, and the king was expected to bring this into being. David had the desire; he started.

           “And then we come to that passage over in the eighth chapter of First Kings, which reads, ‘And it was in the heart of David my father to build a house for the name of the Lord God of Israel. And the Lord said unto David my father, ‘Whereas it was in thine heart to build a house unto my name, thou didst well that it was within thine heart.’’ And that’s really what I want to talk about this morning: it is well that it was within thine heart. As if to say, ‘David, you will not be able to finish the temple. You will not be able to build it. But I just want to bless you, because it was within thine heart. Your dream will not be fulfilled. The majestic hopes that guided your days will not be carried out in terms of an actual temple coming into being that you were able to build. But I bless you, David, because it was within thine heart. You had the desire to do it; you had the intention to do it; you tried to do it; you started to do it. And I bless you for having the desire and the intention in your heart. It is well that it was within thine heart.’”

I am only 33, but I guess I am an old soul, because this greatly resonates with me. I have already come to the realization that there are so many grand schemes, so many idealistic notions, even so many plans we believe are inspired by God; that simply do not come to fruition. Whether it is because of a lack of resources or because we go from being single to married or from childless to parents or the neigh-sayers dissuade us  or our waning passion for what we once held dear or if life simply keeps going on day by day and we wake up one morning and realize we have done so little of what we had planned and dreamed.

You see, Dr. King had spent the last decade dreaming of and protesting for and speaking about a beloved community where all men would love and respect one another based simply on their being human, instead of judging them based simply on their simply being a different color. And while all seats on busses were now open to all people and lunch counters had been desegregated and anti-discrimination laws had been passed, King realized that changing ordinances was much easier than changing  a man’s heart. And in spite of all of the legal victories, America was still a very divided nation.

And not only this, but as King cried out for a peaceful war on poverty be waged here in America and for an American withdraw from Vietnam, he felt the stinging rejection of those who thought he was going too far. And for the first time in his public career, it was doubtful that  King held the support of a majority of Americans. And with the rise of a more militant black power movement and young charismatic leaders like Stokley Carmichael, it was even doubtful that he was still the most prominent leader in black America.

And it was with all of this weighing on his heart and mind that King went on in his sermon to call life “a continual story of shattered dreams.”

You might be thinking this is a strange truth for me to end with. Quite a depressing note to conclude with. But, you see, why I love this sermon and why I love this truth, is it doesn’t end with the fact that many of our greatest dreams will never be fulfilled. It doesn’t conclude with the reality that many of our best intentions to do majestic things for the Lord fall far short of what we intended. Instead, Dr. King goes on to reiterate that in the end God will bless us for the effort. God will bless us because we tried. God will bless us because He knows that in our heart we truly wanted to make that dream a reality, that deep down in our soul we truly wanted to fulfill His will for our lives. King goes on to say to his congregation,

          “And each of you this morning in some way is building some kind of temple. The struggle is always there. It gets discouraging sometimes. It gets very disenchanting sometimes. Some of us are trying to build a temple of peace. We speak out against war, we protest, but it seems that your head is going against a concrete wall. It seems to mean nothing. And so often as you set out to build the temple of peace you are left lonesome; you are left discouraged; you are left bewildered.

          “Well, that is the story of life. And the thing that makes me happy is that I can hear a voice crying through the vista of time, saying: ‘It may not come today or it may not come tomorrow, but it is well that it is within thine heart. It’s well that you are trying. You may not see it. The dream may not be fulfilled, but it’s just good that you have a desire to bring it into reality. It’s well that it’s in thine heart.’”

And when we fight the good fight, when we keep on trying in this life to do the good work the Lord calls us to, even when we fall short, the Lord accepts us because we tried. And one day all will be made right. One day for all who have bowed their knee to Jesus Christ and proclaimed Him Lord and Savior, there will be no regrets. There will be no sorrow. There will be only the eternal love and acceptance of the Lord.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

As I conclude these 5 truths, I just want to quickly review these each of them. I also want to encourage you to pass on both these truths and others that you know about this great man, so that he might be known as more to the next generation than just the “guy who gave the I Have a Dream Speech and gets us a day out of school”:

Truth 1: Our lives are not our own to do with whatever we wish. We must follow the Lord’s calling and will for our life no matter where it takes us.

Truth 2: We can lean on the Lord’s promise that He is always with us to get us through the difficult trials of life.

Truth 3: Whatever we have to forgive others for and love them in spite of, we are forgiven of much more and God’s love is much greater.

Truth 4: We must do what we know is right, even when it leaves us alone. We must seek to shape other’s views, not be shaped by the most popular view of the time.

Truth 5: God is pleased with us when we try, even when it doesn’t end the way we would like.

MLK Jr. – 5 Truths (Truth 4)

Truth 4: We must do what we know is right, even when it leaves us alone. We must seek to shape other’s views, not be shaped by the most popular view of the time.

As with any public figure, Dr. King’s popularity ebbed and flowed during his time in the spotlight. But there may have been nothing that caused him more criticism then when he took a stand in opposition to the Vietnam War. Some labeled him a communist. Those who already opposed him saw it as an opportunity to point the finger and say, “I told you so. We’ve been saying this guy is no good all along and this finally proves it.”

What might have hurt the most though, was that even many of those who supported him as a Civil Rights leader, even those who were in the movement with him, found fault with his going public in his criticism of America’s part in the war. They said he needed to stay in his own lane. Stick to what he knew. Others told him he was hurting the cause for equality for black Americans by speaking out against the war.

And King was one who liked to be liked. He was always the peace maker for SCLC. He kept an eye on polls that tracked his approval rating. King wanted others to think highly of him. Yet, when it came down to it, when push came to shove, he knew staying true to his conscience was more important than popularity. In November of 1967 King spoke on the domestic impact of the Vietnam War at the National Labor Leadership Assembly for Peace. And at the end of his speech he addressed the opposition he was facing.

          “When I first decided to take a firm stand against the war in Vietnam, I was subjected to the most bitter criticism, by the press, by individuals, and even by some fellow civil rights leaders. There were those who said that I should stay in my place, that these two issues did not mix and I should stick with civil rights. Well I had only one answer for that and it was simply the fact that I have struggled too long and too hard now to get rid of segregation in public accommodations to end up at this point in my life segregating my moral concerns.

          And I made it very clear that I recognized that justice was indivisible. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. And then there are those who said ‘You’re hurting the civil right movement.’ One spoke to me one day and said, ‘Now Dr. King, don’t you think you’re going to have to agree more with the Administration’s policy. I understand that your position on Vietnam has hurt the budget of your organization. And many people who respected you in civil rights have lost that respect and don’t you think that you’re going to have to agree more with the Administration’s policy to regain this.’ And I had to answer by looking that person into the eye, and say ‘I’m sorry sir but you don’t know me. I’m not a consensus leader.’ I do not determine what is right and wrong by looking at the budget of my organization or by taking a Gallup poll of the majority opinion. Ultimately a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.

          On some positions a coward has asked the question is it safe? Expediency asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? But conscience asks the question is it right? And there come a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”

As with the previous truths we have taken from Dr. King, this truth is founded in scripture. In the book of Acts the apostles are out preaching of the resurrected Christ. An angel comes and lets them out of prison and the apostles immediately go back to breaching in the temple. The high priests would have none of that and they send the captain of the temple and his officers to round up the apostles and bring them in. The high priests demands that the apostles stop teaching the name of Jesus. And in verse 29 of chapter 5, Peter gives his reply, “We must obey God rather than men.” Just for good measure the high priests had the apostles beaten and charged them one last time not to speak the name of Jesus before sending them away, to which verse 42 shows the apostles reaction, “every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.”

On the contrary, seeking the approval of man above God is one of the main points of emphasize in Jesus’ frequent scoldings of the Pharisees. John 15:42-43 says, “Many people did believe in him, however, including some of the Jewish leaders. But they wouldn’t admit it for fear that the Pharisees would expel them from the synagogue. For they loved human praise more than the praise of God.”

There are times when we must take a stand for something we know will be unpopular because we know it to be right, and when we stand for what is right we obey God rather than man. It may cost us popularity, a friendship, some money, or even a job. But, these types of stands, ones that put our backs against the wall and even alienate us from others, are the ones that drive us deeper into the arms of the Lord. These stands are the ones that solidify and deepen our faith.

As Christians we know that in order to speak the name of Jesus and stand firm on the principals of God’s word, we will at times stand alone.

MLK Jr. – 5 Truths (Intro & Truth 1)

Introduction:

Sunday, January 15th was Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday and my church hosted a community event in remembrance of this great man. And it was wonderful. It brought congregants from five different churches together, crossing both racial and denominational lines. That evening I stood in the sanctuary thinking how pleased the Lord was to see His people with different shades of skin, different backgrounds and different theological leanings all coming together to celebrate MLK Jr and what he stood for. At church that evening there was a focus on the fact that Dr. King was first and foremost a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And also a focus on his call for peace, equality, unity and brotherhood. All truths Dr. King eloquently vocalized in his most famous “I Have  a Dream” speech. And those ideas indeed still resonate today, just as they did nearly 55 years ago.

As I drove home from the service that evening, I felt blessed to have been a part of it; a part of a coming together that surely pleased the Lord and would have pleased Dr. King, himself. But, I also started to think to myself that there is so much more to this great man that I am afraid will soon be all but lost if we do not take the time to remember, especially at this time of the year, when we celebrate both the MLK Jr. holiday and Black History Month.

Twelve years ago when I graduated from college I took a job teaching on the west side of Baltimore. Needless to say, I did not look like most of my students, nor the residents of the neighborhood. And I felt is was important to learn about, and to try to understand at least a little bit of black history. As I began to read starting all the way back with the first Africans being brought to America as slaves and leading all the way up to current history, I became fascinated with the life of Dr. King and the entire Civil Rights movement.

Over these past twelve years, as I have read about this time period and MLK Jr. in particular, I learned that there is much to this man that does not typically ever get talked about, that all people, but especially those who call themselves followers of Jesus Christ, could learn from. I would like to point out just a handful of these, as over the next week or so I will post five (of the many) important truths I think we can take from Dr. King; starting with Truth #1 today.

 

Truth 1: Our lives are not our own to do with whatever we wish. We must follow the Lord’s calling and will for our life no matter where it takes us.

In what is probably still the most thorough biography on Dr. King, “Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference,” author David J. Garrow focuses in on Dr. King’s belief in this truth for his own life throughout the book. Dr. King did not feel like he had chosen his role as leader of the Civil Rights movement, but that it was his calling. In  fact, King himself said:

               “History has thrust me into this position. It would be both immoral and a sign of   ingratitude if I did not face my moral responsibility to do what I can in this struggle.”

You see, as the name of the book suggests, Dr. King saw his role in the struggle for equality as his cross to bear. He saw the suffering  he faced throughout his life as redemptive suffering. And he marched on as the drum major for justice, knowing that with every beat of the drum, his own death was not just a possibility, but a probability.

It was not a human calling, but it was his destiny. King was destined to lead the struggle for equality for Black Americans, and not only black Americans, but for all the impoverished and oppressed of America and even the world. MLK Jr. did not take Jesus’ words metaphorically, but literally when Jesus said:

               “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.” (Matthew 16:24-25)

We must learn from this truth, from the example of Dr. King and ultimately the example of our Savior. There are many times where we have an abundance of choices in our lives. Many situations where there are multiple good options. But there are also times in our life when we come to pivotal moments where it no longer becomes simply a choice, but it becomes a matter of answering the call of our destiny.

I’ve heard it called the “rich man moment,” referring to Luke chapter 18, when the rich young ruler comes to Jesus wanting to inherit eternal life. After affirming to Jesus that he has followed all the commandments, Jesus tells him that he still lacks one thing. He must sell everything he owns and give it to the poor and then indeed he will inherit eternal life. But, the young ruler just couldn’t do it. He couldn’t give up his wealth to truly say yes to Jesus.

And when we come to our “rich man moment,” as each of us inevitably will,there are not a lot of choices, in fact only two. Yes or no. And in this type of moment to say yes is simply right and to say no wrong. To say yes is to answer the Lord’s call for that moment in our life and to say no is to harden our hearts to His will.