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).





Talk, talk, talk, #talk

16 04 2014

Do you ever feel like everyone has something to say but no one is really listening? We can have a hard time listening especially if we are talking to someone with a different point of view. I am guilty of formulating my response and just waiting for them to catch their breath so I can start talking instead of really listening and trying to understand them. Of course social media does not help. Just as you are scrolling down the news feed or tweets you get the little icon that tells you there are new stories and new tweets.

We keep talking but are we slowing down to listen? This weekend we will celebrate Easter. This is the central story of the Christian message. There will be lots of tweets and posts. There will be stories on the news and shows that will put their spin on the story of Jesus. Some of us will go to church and participate in special worship services. We will eat lots of chocolate (hopefully) and then Monday will come and we will be back to our normal routine. In all the busyness what will we hear?

In Matthew 13:15 Jesus quotes the Prophet Isaiah right before he explains a parable he told in verses 3-9. He says, “For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.” (NIV)

Easter is the most incredible event in human history. We believe God came and walked with us. In order to have a right relationship with us, God took our punishment upon himself. He died for us demonstrating how much he loved us. He rose from the dead demonstrating his power over sin and death. He did all the work and asks for us to put our faith in him.

It is a simple but profound message.

My prayer is that we will take time to truly listen to the story of Easter. We may have to be honest about areas of our heart that have become calloused. Do we have areas of our lives where we have stopped listening to God? Have we closed our eyes to things that we need to look at? As we soften our hearts, open our ears and eyes we will receive the healing that comes from the power of who Jesus is and what he did.

If you need a starting point read the parable Jesus shares in Matthew 13:3-9. He explains it in verses 18-23. Pray and ask God to reveal the condition of your heart. I have a chapter dedicated to this in the Discipleship Curriculum I have on my Discipleship/Mentoring page.

This devotional is as much for me as it is for you. We all need to be mindful and slow down to listen. I hope you have a great Easter and we are refreshed and healed as we listen. He is Risen!





Just an ordinary day

18 04 2013

For the United States Monday was a terrible day. It was a reminder of people’s capacity to do evil. It was also a reminder of people’s capacity to do good. Many ran towards the scene to help demonstrating compassion and courage.

As Christians we see these acts of good and evil and it reminds us what the Bible teaches. In Genesis 2 God offered Adam and Eve a beautiful creation with an understanding they would trust and obey. True trust and true obedience requires the ability to choose to not trust and to not obey. God placed a tree in their midst that would allow them to make that choice. They were told to not eat from a tree known as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Notice it was not called the evil tree. It was a tree with a fruit on it that if eaten would cause us to trust in ourselves more than God and would lead us to set up our own rules rather than obey God’s. Chapter 3 tells us Adam and Eve choose to eat from the tree. Fast forward and we have Monday.

Thankfully God did not give up on us. In fact, God loved us so much he went the full distance and died for us. Thankfully that was not the end of the story. Just weeks ago we celebrated Easter and God’s victory over sin and death. There is this hope Christians have that the evil of this world is limited. We are hopeful because God offers to transform us. As we choose to trust and obey God, we see our lives changed. Hope becomes our calling card. God established the church to be a gathering place for those who have been transformed with the understanding we would go out and make this world a better place.

By now you should be trying to figure out what my title (Just an ordinary day) has to do with what I have shared so far. I am glad you asked.

What if those who were responsible for the evil on Monday had encountered Jesus? What if there was a healthy church with people who reached out in their neighborhood? What if they made a commitment to trust and obey God?

They would have been transformed and Monday would have been just an ordinary day.

If you will offer me a little grace I would like to push us. Sadly in this world there are places where Monday would have been just an ordinary day. Places like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other places that don’t make the news in the U.S. face events like Monday far too frequently. When Americans hear those stories, we are saddened but quickly move on and worry about dinner. What if there were healthy churches there? What if lives were transformed? What if they had hope?

As Christians we have a powerful message. Let us commit to making our churches healthy. Let us reach out and make our communities better places. Let us also commit the next time we hear a story of a bombing in another part of the world that we will pause and pray just as hard as we prayed Monday remembering that God loves the world and the church is global.





Humbled

6 04 2012

As a Christian I believe Easter is the greatest event in human history.  Jesus demonstrated the full depth of God’s love and full extent of God’s power.  I believe God first hinted at his plan to redeem humanity as he faced the reality Adam and Eve’s disobedience.  He said to the snake, “He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)  He intended on defeating sin and death in complete and powerful way.

God began laying out his plan in the Old Testament. When Peter wrote about the Old Testament he said:

It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven.  Even angels long to look into these things. (1 Peter 1:12)

I love the idea of angels longing to look into what God was planning.  Before Jesus people had faith God could redeem.  In fact there were lots of examples of God redeeming and demonstrating his power.  After Jesus we know God can fully and completely redeem.  We say actions speak louder than words.  Easter was God’s actions shouting and confirming what had been said.

The author of Hebrews captured it well:

Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him (Hebrews 5:8-9)

God demonstrated that sin not only hurt us but it hurt him as well.  When God asks us to be obedient, he is not asking us to do anything he has not done.  Easter is both powerful and humbling.

The night Jesus was betrayed he said to his disciples, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.  For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 22:15-16)

Jesus knew facing the cross would be the hardest thing he would ever have to face but, by facing it, he knew what would be accomplished.

My prayer is each one of us would have an opportunity to reflect of the deep meaning of Easter.  I pray we would encounter a loving and powerful God who redeems.  As we experience that redemption God invites us to follow him.  May our actions speak louder than our words as we humbly follow Jesus.