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).





Life on Purpose

26 01 2014

Have you ever come to the end of a week and you ask yourself “what did I accomplish?” I usually say this after a week that may have been busy but not productive.

One bad week is not the end of the world but what if after a month, a year or even a decade you felt you were busy but not effective.

If this happened in our professional life, we may be in danger of losing our job. If it is in the pursuit of our education, we would have lots of classes but no degrees. We see the need to have a plan and be focused so we can feel productive and accomplished.

What about our faith? It is easy to take this area of our life for granted. Often when someone mentions reading their bible they use the “whatever passage I open my Bible to” approach. While there is nothing wrong with that, it can result in our faith becoming stagnate. When it comes to church we either say yes to everything because we feel we have to or we don’t do anything because we have no passion or focus.

When I talk about having a plan and being focused, I am not talking about something you generate. There is a classic joke “if you ever want to make God laugh tell him your plans.” So what am I talking about? I am saying we should be like Jesus.

Please read Matthew 16:21-28. In this passage Jesus talked openly about the plan he was on earth to accomplish. Peter pulled him aside to correct him and Jesus told him “you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns” (verse 23 NIV). Jesus went on to say it would be pointless if you gained the whole world but lost your soul. He said this with a warning if you choose to follow him you need to be willing to face hardships.

Jesus lived a life of purpose and focus. He had confidence and trust in his Father. He invites us to do the same. The only way we can do this is if we are intentional. Life can be busy and it can also be distracting. The result is our faith being set aside while we continue to be busy. In the end we feel frustrated because we have a feeling we are missing out on something better.

You and I have the incredible opportunity to make a difference in this world. We can only truly be effective if we are being faithful to what God has called us to do. This means that from time to time we need to pause and look at what we are doing. It is easy to get distracted and get lost in the business of life.

I encourage you to take some time this week to look at your personal time with God. Are you letting God lead and guide you? Does your prayer time include time to listen for God’s direction? Do you have a solid knowledge of the Bible? If you go to church are you serving? If you are serving why are you serving? Is it just because you feel guilty or is it because you are serving God with the gifts he has given you.

The result will be that you may need to adjust some of your day to day activity. You may need to be more intentional about how you read your Bible and what you do in the community. It will be worth it as you begin to see God at work and get the huge privilege of being a part of it. So let’s commit to living life on purpose.





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.





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.