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.





Changing the question

23 06 2014

With all the discussion about faith in culture, we need to pause and make sure we are answering the right question.

It is not “How should Christians respond to [insert social issue]?” That answer is well documented on blogs, Facebook and Twitter. Thanks to Google I can get over a hundred thousand “answers” (one topic gave me 1.2 million).

As I look across the last 2,000 years I notice cultures and social issues change. The one question that stays the same is: “Who do you say I am?”

Matthew (16:13-28), Mark (8:27-38) and Luke (9:18-27) all share the same story. First, Jesus asks his disciples who do people say he is and they give a variety of answers. Then, he asks who they think he is and Peter is given credit for getting it right calling him the Messiah (the Saviour promised by God). After Peter’s declaration Jesus talks about his death and resurrection. This alarms Peter. He got it right earlier but now tries to reason with Jesus and clearly gets it wrong. Jesus ends by telling them what it means to be his disciple and it will not be easy.

This captures a dynamic I see today. First, there are many opinions about who Jesus is. Christians believe he is our Saviour. We understand Jesus’ death and resurrection is central to our salvation and enables us to have a personal relationship with God. However, Christians can get off track and unintentionally minimize the significance of the cross and empty tomb. Hopefully we are in a place to hear Jesus, refocus on following him and accept it will not be easy.

My challenge for those who are Christians is to get Jesus back into the discussion. Not about what Jesus would say about [insert social issue] but about the importance of his death and resurrection. Social issues will come and go. We know the Church will be around until Jesus returns. Let’s sharpen our focus and have a serious conversation about who Jesus is. Everything flows out of our relationship with him.

For those who are not Christians, I invite you to seriously look at this person in history. Who do you say Jesus is? I invite you to consider he is who he claimed to be. I understand the Church can get off track because we are imperfect people. Thankfully we have a gracious God. How do I know God is gracious? His willingness to die for us (the cross). Why should we care? His power and authority (the empty tomb).





What is bigger?

18 05 2013

I heard about a great website, iamsecond.com.  It has videos of a variety of people who declare “I am second” with God being first.  The videos are powerful and for those of us who are Christians they make perfect sense.  For those who are not Christians, I think the site does a great job of building a bridge and encouraging people to consider the possibility of being second.

When we look at the world, we see the ugliness of sin.  The escape of three women who had been held captive for a decade is one extreme example.  Each one of us have personal stories that make us cry or make us so mad we want to scream at the world.

That is where I found myself Friday afternoon.  I sat with a group of leaders wrestling with an ugly situation involving some of our people.  There was sorrow, anger, frustration…and the big question “why did this happen?”  Good leaders take it personal and look in the mirror to see if it was something they did or didn’t do.  They blame themselves and desperately want to fix it.

The easy answer is to tell everyone to become a Christian.  Of course the recent story of a Christian musician being accused of trying to hire a hit man to kill his wife might make some skeptical.  I prayed Saturday morning needing answers and thankfully God nudged me.

When we are focused on something larger than ourselves, we seem to get it.  If some catastrophe hits a city there are two choices.  Those who chose to focus on their community come together and great things happen and amazing stories are told.  Those who chose to worry about themselves loot.

I have a bias.  Jesus perfectly demonstrated what it meant to live a life focused on something bigger. It is amazing to mediate on the idea of God making our well being bigger.  Jesus didn’t have to die for us.  He chose to die for us.  He lived a life saying “not my will but your will be done.”  Even non-Christians are humbled by his life and point to his example.  Everyone can agree he lived for something bigger than himself.

When do Christians get it wrong? When we start worrying more about ourselves and stop caring about those around us.  When our needs and sadly often our wants become bigger.  We need to remember the one we follow.  He set the standard and promises to help us meet it.

This seems to be a universal principle.  I played through a variety of situations.  When we are focused on something bigger than ourselves, we act appropriately.  When we are focused on ourselves, we hurt others.  You can apply this to marriage, work, friendship…any area of your life.

Monday morning I will have the opportunity to sit back down with this group of leaders and offer my contribution.  It will need to be something that can be understood by everyone regardless of their faith.  It will need to be tangible.  I think I have the seeds of something good.

For those of us who are Christians, the world desperately needs to see that we are “second” and we are focused on something bigger.  For those who are not Christians I would ask you to consider what is bigger in your life.





Pure Joy

29 01 2013

Have you ever had a bad day?  I know.  It was a silly question.  We all have bad days.  Some have bad weeks and others face years of struggle.  The longer we live the more we understand that life is not fair and suffering is a reality we must deal with.  Most people intellectually understand we need to respond well during difficult times.  To help us feel guilty we see stories of someone who has it way worse than we do but handles it with much more grace and dignity than us.

To increase our guilt the Bible seems to support this high standard of handling difficult situations with a positive outlook.  Take a look at what James said in his letter:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,a whenever you face trials of many kinds.” (James 1:2 NIV)

I did a study of the verse and while the translators who wrote the NIV used the word “pure,” if you look at the original Greek the letter was written in you could also use the word “all.”  Imagine having a perspective of all joy while facing a trial.

So if you are a “good” Christian you walk around with a fake smile and praise God for the trial you are going through.  But what if the Bible is right?  What if there is this joy that is all-encompassing you can have as you go through a trial?  I believe that level of joy is available and waiting for us.

To get there we need to take two steps.  First, we have to believe this was not the way God wants things to be.  For proof just look at his reaction in Genesis Chapter 3.  We live in a fallen world.  This is why one of the pictures we use is the picture of God redeeming us or saving us.  This is why we look forward to Jesus returning.  We don’t expect Jesus to just stop by Wal-Mart on his way to Jerusalem.  We expect Jesus to bring an end to this fallen world and restore creation to God’s original plan.

Second, we need to see God’s response was to become personally involved and face suffering directly.  Jesus faced a wide range of pain and suffering before ultimately facing the cross.  Bottom line God gets it.

That’s when it hit me.  Those moments of all-encompassing joy happen in those intimate times of prayer when I am crying out to God and he hugs me and I know he understands.  The hug feels like a deep inner peace wrapped in compassion.  It is powerful.  In that moment my perspective changes and I am able to have a joy that puts things into perspective.  I am also reminded that Jesus’ death was not the end of the story.  He conquered sin and death and put suffering on notice that it’s time is limited.

I know there are a wide range of responses to what I just said.  For some they fully agree and have experienced those hugs.  For others they have lost that sense of connection with God or are angry with God and the last thing they want is to have God hug them.

Books have been written on this topic and a short devotional will not answer everything.  I would tell you that trials are the point where theology (our understanding of God) and practical life meet face to face.  We are forced to come to terms with what we believe about God and ourselves.

For those of you who have experienced those hugs I encourage you to spend some time thanking God.

For those who need a hug I encourage you to take a systematic theology class….not really.  I encourage you to not give up and to seek God in the midst of your trial.  It may mean talking with someone about what you believe and adjusting your understanding of God.  You may have to wait a little longer with confidence that at just the right time God will give you that hug.  The peace is amazing, the compassion is phenomenal and the love in incredible.

God is good.  I believe it.  I have experienced it and I hope you will too.





But I have prayed for you

23 03 2012

Sometimes life is hard, really hard. As a Navy Chaplain I have walked with people down some very difficult roads. One of the hardest parts of facing difficult situations is dealing with “why.” Why did it happen? Why am I going through this? Many people assume it is God’s will or a part of God’s plan. Others attribute it to fate. I disagree with both of those perspectives.

Christians believe something went terribly wrong in the world. We call it the fall of humanity. It is described in Genesis chapter three. We see Adam and Eve choose to violate God’s command. The results are ugly. The very next chapter tells the story of two brothers, Cain and Able. Able does everything right but is murdered by Cain. Very early in the Bible we see evil and unfairness.

God’s response was to stay involved. In fact, God is personally involved. Christians believe Jesus is more than a man. We believe he is God who became a man. Jesus faced the evil and unfairness of this world. The verse that hit home for me this week was when Jesus was talking to Peter (aka Simon) just before he faced the cross. He told him:

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-34)

Just as Jesus had to face the cross sometimes we have to face difficult circumstances. Peter would blow it. He would deny he even knew Jesus when Jesus was facing his darkest hour. But Jesus had prayed for him. Jesus was watching over Peter and knew that he would make it. He also wanted Peter to know he expected him to help the other disciples. Peter was the leader Jesus had chosen. He would walk with Peter through the difficult circumstance and Peter would be the leader he was suppose to be.

I like the way the Apostle Paul put it. He said “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28). This is a better perspective. This paints the picture of God being able to enter into the evil and unfair situations in our life and redeem them. He takes a bad situation and brings good from it. It wasn’t his plan for that to happen. He just doesn’t let evil and unfairness have the final word. He gets the final word.

Jesus is treated unfairly and experiences the consequences of evil men. He is not a distant God but a personal God who understands the realities of this life. You and I hate evil and unfairness but we only understand a small part of the larger picture. God sees the big picture and I promise his heart breaks in ways we can’t imagine. His deep love for us is why he got involved and why he faced the cross.

Why doesn’t God just make everything okay? I don’t know and God doesn’t seem interested in answering why. He just prays our faith won’t fail.

God promised to make everything right one day and in his timing. Until that day I trust him and I follow him. I commit to getting personally involved and I am going to pray. When someone makes a mistake, I will help them get back up and encourage them to become the person God knows they will be. Will you join me?

Of course we will need people who will pray for us. We need people who will get involved in our lives and when we make a mistake encourage us to get up and continue becoming the person God knows we will be.

How does all of this happen? It happens with a God who is personally involved, who has prayed for us and encourages us to keep going.