The Tale of Two Crowds

1 04 2015

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

That is the opening line of “A Tale of Two Cities” written by Charles Dickens in the 1850s. It was about the two very different worlds of the rich and the poor during the time leading up to the French Revolution and the brutality of those two worlds colliding.

The idea of two different worlds colliding is what it feels like in the week leading up to Easter. Palm Sunday shows one crowd praising Jesus.  Then, just a few short days later another crowd is shouting for his death.

When Matthew tells the story of Palm Sunday, he mentions a prophecy told in Zechariah 9:9. It is a great reminder that God’s plan will never be swayed by the crowd. Events were unfolding according to God’s will to redeem humanity.  (Matthew’s account is found in Matthew 21:1-11)

While God may be unchanging, we are very easily swayed by the crowd. If you ever read social science experiments you will see that under the right conditions we can be made to do almost anything. It is kind of scary. Just last year Facebook got in some hot water when it was revealed that they had been manipulating news feeds to see how it would impact people’s posting habits.

That leads to our second crowd. Mark 15:11-15 tells us that the people who shouted “crucify him” had been stirred up by the religious leaders. Even though Pilate knew they were being manipulated, he went along with it and satisfied the crowd’s insistence to kill Jesus.

It is a stark reminder we live in a fallen world. We actively and passively rebel against God and we can be lead down that path very easily. Of course, we always believe it will not happen to us.

That is what Peter thought. In Mark 14:29-31 he said even if everyone else deserted Jesus he would not. I believe Peter had very good intentions but as we watch the story unfold those good intentions fail. He falls asleep when Jesus needed him to pray (Mark 14:33-40). He got violent (John 18:10) and he denied him when the pressure was on (Mark 14:66-72).

Peter is just like you and me. We often have good intentions but in the pressures of life we find ourselves defeated just as Peter did.

Luke 22:31-32 gives us more insight into what happened with Peter. Jesus warns him that Satan wanted to shift Peter like wheat. Jesus also told him that he had prayed for him. What an amazing picture! Jesus praying for Peter.

On this side of the Easter story the picture becomes even more amazing. Hebrews describes Jesus serving as our mediator (8:6, 9:15, and 12:24).  Paul will remind Timothy of that reality in 1Timothy 2:5. We have access to God in a profound and powerful way. WOW!

This is what we are celebrating on Easter. Jesus did the work to restore our relationship with His Father conquering both sin and death.

My prayer for each of us is that we will pause and reflect on the significance of Easter. It will require facing our part in crucifying him. It will also be an opportunity to celebrate the one who was not swayed by the crowds but instead focused on his Father’s Will and extends an invitation to us for a new life and the privilege of being in His crowd.





Unfairness

1 05 2013

I love that the Bible is willing to say what we are thinking. The book of Ecclesiastes does a great job of capturing a common frustration.
Chapter 9 verse11:
“I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.”

This verse is a stinging reality. A great person loses their job while an incompetent person is promoted. A phenomenal singer never gets their big break while a mediocre singer becomes a star. As I was thinking of a third example, it was humbling because many of the struggles I could mention would be painful to others.

Life is not fair. I struggle in those moments and try to figure out what I did wrong. Maybe I didn’t pray hard enough or there something I should have done differently. Of course, I know I am reading too much into it but sometimes there was something I could have done differently making the waters muddy. It can be very frustrating and can drive me crazy if I let it.

Here is the interesting part. The Bible does not try to answer why these things happen. Instead it just lays out the picture and lets us see reality. Acts 12 captures this. The beginning of the chapter starts with the Apostle James being killed and Peter being arrested with it being clear he would face the same fate. The church prays and Peter is miraculously released from prison. Did the church not pray for James? Were they suppose to do more? Could James have been saved? The Bible is silent. It just tells us that James was killed and Peter was saved.

This is when our faith is stretched to its limits. Those of us who have been around the block can quote Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” The question is, when we are alone and truly honest with ourselves, do we believe it?

I keep coming back to yes.

It is not because things always work out for me. It is because when I look at the world without God, there is harshness and a lack of depth that I reject. When I look to God, I find a depth of love and peace that grounds me and a hope that sustains me. The result of an unfair world is my focus is sharpened, my relationships become deeper and I become stronger. In other words, God and I get the last laugh.

We all know someone who is facing a frustrating and unfair situation. Would you take some time to pray for them? Yes, we should always pray for a miraculous intervention like Peter received. We should also pray for God’s love and peace to shine through and for the person to grow and mature remembering “time and chance” will be overcome by love and eternity.





Jumping on the Bandwagon

20 01 2013

Yep. I am going to do it. I am joining the conversation about Lance Armstrong and not just because he has the same last name as me. I am joining because I believe it is critical for Christians to speak to the issues of life. We are not just a religion to make you feel good on Sunday mornings. We have good answers to the issues we face.

As I have matured in my faith I have learned the importance of transparency or “what you see is what you get.” Imagine if Lance had believed in being transparent when he was first tempted to try doping. Imagine if the first time he was accused he came clean and admitted it. From the news it appears doping was wide spread in the cycling community. Lance could have been a leader who brought integrity to the community instead of being the leader who perpetuated the problem and in the end brought disgrace to the community.

If you study Jesus’ interactions you will notice Jesus’ compassion for the person who was sincere and authentic. You will also notice that he always saw through the person who was trying to look good or hide their true motives. Jesus challenged those around him to be transparent.

I believe Jesus hinted at this in the Sermon on the Mount. In the first eighteen verses of Matthew chapter six Jesus challenged us to give, pray and fast in secret. I know “in secret” sounds like the opposite of transparency. However, think about it. If you are doing the right things for the right reasons that will naturally come out in every area of your life. Doing the right thing for the right reason is the byproduct of having a right heart. Having a right heart enables us to be transparent.

But we are human and we blow it. Sometimes we even lie. In steps the Bible. I love that it shows the nitty gritty reality of life. At the time the Gospels were written, Peter was “the man.” He was the one Jesus turned the reins over to. He was the “Lance Armstrong” of the church. You would figure he would want to manage his image. Instead we are told about his failure. When Jesus needed him the most, Peter lied that he even knew Jesus. How do we know this? Because Peter was open and honest about it. Most scholars believe Mark would have talked to Peter as one of his primary sources. At one level I believe Peter wanted it mentioned because for him it was not about him but about Jesus. Honoring Jesus was his focus. I don’t believe he cared what people thought about him. This gave him great flexibility to be transparent. Did he make a mistake? Yes, but he was willing to be transparent about it. This allowed him to deal with it (John 21) and move forward with his life.

It comes back to being focused on the right things for the right reasons. If you think about it when that happens you are not concerned with what people think about you. You are not concerned about maintaining a certain persona. You get to be yourself. That enables you to be a true leader.

Lance’s interview comes as we prepare to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. If you look at his life you will see he was not perfect. However, I would offer he tried to stay focused on the right things for the right reasons. We honor his life and his accomplishments. I believe the reason he could do that was because of his faith and focusing on Jesus.

This time next year Lance Armstrong will be old news. We will still be pausing to honor Martin Luther King Jr. I can’t promise we will ever make a holiday to honor you. I can promise that as you seek to do the right things for the right reasons you will become more transparent. As you become more transparent you won’t worry about the things that don’t matter in the long run. This will give you the freedom to make a real impact that will last. You will be a true leader.

For Christians this is our reality. This is what our faith teaches. I know it is much easier said than done. Remember we were not promised easy. We were promised it would be worth it.