Eating Death

Eating Death

On my way to work, this morning, I noticed a “committee” of buzzards (yes – a group of buzzards is a “committee”) sitting on street lights, brooding above a dead road-kill possum they obviously wanted for breakfast, but couldn’t reach because of the morning traffic.

I hate buzzards.  Actually, that’s an understatement.  I loathe buzzards.  They repulse me.

Buzzards – also known as vultures (We call ’em buzzards in the South!) – live on death.  They can be frequently spotted along country roads and highways, dining on recent road kill.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve ridden a motorcycle in the country, and encountered a “committee” of buzzards feasting on a carcass in the middle of the road.  No matter how loud my bike is, or how many times I honk my horn, buzzards always wait until the last minute to get out of my way – not willing to risk stepping away from their meal and losing it to another buzzard.  And, every single time, one of the buzzards seems to fly straight at me, swerving away at the last possibly moment.

I’m disgusted by buzzards.

There’s one more terrible thing about buzzards.  A buzzard’s primary self-defense is to projectile vomit when it feels threaten.  Since the only thing a buzzard eats is dead, rotting road kill, then the only thing they can vomit is regurgitated, partially-digested death.

Disgusting.  Really.  So gross!

As much as I hate – I mean loathe – buzzards, if I am completely honest, I’m a bit of a buzzard, myself.  I feast on death every day.  I bet you do too.

Negativity.

Anger.

Judgement.

Criticism.

Self-condemnation.

Despair.

Disappointment

Envy.

Shame.

Fear.

Everyday, life presents an endless, all-you-can eat buffet of rotting, stinking death and despair.

And, I’ll confess, sometimes, if Imm not very careful, it spews out on others.

What a disgusting image!  And, unfortunately, accurate.

Maybe I should be more careful about what I eat.

Character Development vs. Sin Management

Character Development vs. Sin Management

Last night was my weekly Bible Study.  Our focus was chapters 46 and 47 of Genesis, and specifically on Joseph.  Joseph is often considered an example of great character and integrity, standing strong in the face of betrayal, temptation, false accusation, and hopeless circumstances.  And, yet, by chapter 47, Joseph seems to have lost a bit of that strength of character, possibly corrupted by the immense political power he held.

As we were wrapping up the class, a young attendee asked a particularly astute question; “When God raises someone to a position of importance, why doesn’t God also give them the character they will need for that position?”  What an excellent question!

We can all think of individuals who have risen to place of stature – athletes, politicians, celebrities, pastors, etc –  who lacked the character needed, and ultimately “fell from grace.”  It is tragic to watch, and often results in widespread collateral damage.

My response to the question was, “I think that character is our responsibility.  God has given us free will, and the ability to make good choices.”  Then I got on my soap box, saying something like, “This is a major failing of the Church.  We have focused entirely too much on sin management, and far too little on character development.  The Bible calls and instructs us to help people become people of character.”

Clearly the Bible addresses the problem of sin.  Undeniably, sin separates us from God. Clearly sin matters.  But, is that all there is?  Is being a disciple of Jesus just about being saved from sin and striving to avoid it (and possibly taking some kind of sick joy in spotting, judging and condemning the sins of others)?

I believe that the primary role of the Church is helping people grow to full stature in Christ, which is primarily about developing a godly and Christ-like character.  The Bible clearly talks about growing to maturity in Christ, and all that entails.  We wouldn’t have nearly so much sin to manage – in my opinion – if we spent more time developing godly characters.

As I ate my sandwich today, three high school seniors were sitting at the table next to mine – two young men and one pretty young woman.  I was not intentionally eaves-dropping.  Honestly, I was minding my own business.  But, the young woman was speaking loud enough for anyone and everyone to hear – whether they wanted to or not.

Her first comment was about abortion, saying she would get one if she had to, and that she’s already had one “twelve day scare.”  She then announced that she needed to go for a drug test today, because she is still on probation after being arrested six months ago.  I didn’t hear her say what she was arrested for.  She then mentioned the number of classes she has skipped this year, and that her best friend is a “stoner.”  All of this was shared in less than 15 minutes.

Honestly, I really wasn’t eaves-dropping!

What shocked me was how casually she made her comments, and how little her friends reacted.

I recognize that I am an old man, a pastor, and that I live in a church bubble.  And, please believe me when I say that my intention was not, is not, to judge her.  I’m not saying she is a “bad person.”  But, she did seem to lack any sort of moral compass, or any clarity about right and wrong.

I just left my lunch feeling really sad for her.  I certainly said and did a lot of dumb things in my younger years (and a few more recently!).  But, I sincerely believe that I have always known right from wrong.  I don’t think this young lady knows the difference.  And, I’m sad for her.  I’m not judging her.  I’m sad for her.  My point is not to call attention to her sins, but to wonder about her lack of moral development.

Who failed her?  Her parents and extended family?  Her teachers?  Her peers?  Society?

Or, the Church?  Isn’t that our job?

Maybe she’s never been to church.  Maybe she was just trying to impress her male friends with her stories.  Maybe she comes from a bad home or a troubled past.  Maybe she will grow up – I hope so.

The point of all of this rambling is simply to say that character matters.  Integrity matters.  And, I don’t think we – society, families, the Church – are doing such a hot job at developing people of virtue and character.

I can’t help but wonder if much of the world’s current woes and crises point back to a failure of character development.

We – the Church – have much work to do.

 

 

Restored – A message preached on Easter Sunday, 2017, at First Church of Coral Springs, to conclude a Lent series called “Restoration.”

Restored – A message preached on Easter Sunday, 2017, at First Church of Coral Springs, to conclude a Lent series called “Restoration.”

During the season of Lent, our theme has been “Restoration,” as in when someone takes something that is old and broken-down – an old house, an old car, an old piece of furniture – and takes the time to restore it into something new.  Similarly, we have said that is what Jesus did for us on the cross – taking the broken junk from each of our lives to the cross, where he restored us into something brand new.

            The Apostle Paul wrote,Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”  (2 Corinthians 5:17)

When humanity was completely ruined by sin, Jesus took all of the worthless junk to the cross.

As Isaiah says, “By his wounds, we are healed.”

            It takes someone with artistic vision and skill to do good restoration work, and today I am going to tell you about the greatest artist of all time.  He is the one responsible for everything that exists.  The Bible says that it took God seven days of artistic creativity to create the heavens and the Earth; the mountains and the valleys, the oceans and the streams, the stars and the planets, and all living things.  God made a fantastically beautiful creation.  But, the crowning achievement of God’s artistic project was humanity.  If you have ever been moved looking at a mountain, or a sunset, or the ocean, you should take a look at yourself!  You are God’s greatest work!

Genesis 1:26&27 says that when God created humans, he created us in his own image and likeness.  That means that there is inherent beauty in each of us, because we were made to be a reflection of God.

To take that a step further, God also created a special place for us to live – with him – for all of eternity, called Eden.  He created us by love, to be loved, and to love.  He intended to provide everything we need – eternal joy, comfort, belonging, acceptance, purpose and peace – for eternity.  In Eden, we would have perfect relationships with each other, with creation, with ourselves, and especially with God.

This was God’s intent for his creation.  But something went terribly, terribly wrong.

Since God created the first humans, we have always been hell-bent on NOT being the creation God intended.  Every generation has drifted further from away God.  The world has become an increasingly broken and damaged place.  We do not live in the creation God intended for us.

If you don’t believe me, just turn on the news any night.

Lisa Sharon Harper writes, “Humanity’s broken relationship with God is the cause of all other brokenness.”

            The Message version of Ephesians 2 says, “ It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us.”

Listen to that again – “It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us.”

God didn’t.  God didn’t just “do away” with us.  God didn’t give up.  If he had, that would mean that sin is greater than grace.  If he did, that would mean our power to destroy is greater than his power to create and restore.  If God intended creation – including us – to be a certain way, then you can be sure that God will have the final word.  God always has the final word – on everything!

In Ephesians 2, in The Message, Paul continues, “Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah.”

            Just listen to those words!

  • Immense in mercy,
  • With incredible love,
  • He embrace us.,
  • He made us alive in Christ,
  • He picked us up and set us down in the highest heaven in company with Jesus.

Here’s the image I want you to picture.  Imagine all of your sin and brokenness is the piles of old, broken junk, we leave at the curb for the garbage men.  It stinks.  It’s worthless.  It’s unrepairable – at least that’s what we think.  It’s embarrassing to look at.  But, before the garbage truck arrives, the Great Junk-Collector comes rolling down the street, gathering up all of our junk, seeing possibility and potential.  He throws in the back of his truck, and hauls it all to the foot of the cross.  That’s what Golgotha was – a great big garbage heap – metaphorically speaking.  He left it there in the dark of Good Friday, and the darkness of Holy Saturday, but when the sun come up on Easter morning, on the third day, instead of garbage, there’s a new creation! 

When God intends beauty, God will not be denied!

Makoto Fujimura writes, “Despite our fallen nature, God desires to reflect goodness, beauty, and truth in us.  God desires to refract his perfect light via the broken, prismatic shards of our lives.”  Makoto Fujimura

Listen to Ephesians 2 again, this time in the NLT version, “God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus… For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” Ephesians 2:4-10

            “You are God’s Masterpiece!”

The NIV version says that we are God’s “handiwork.”  The ESV version says that we are God’s “workmanship.”  I like “masterpiece” the best!

Think about a masterpiece.  Think of great works of visual art, like the works of Michelangelo.  Think about great, classic literature, like the writings of Shakespeare.  Think of great works of architecture – like the Taj Mahal, the Great Pyramids, the Great Wall of China.  Think of great epic films like the Ten Commandments, or The Lord of the Rings, or the Star Wars saga. Think of classic works of music, like those sung by Bob Marley! (I’m a big Bob Marley fan!)

All masterpieces, by master artists!  And, the Bible says that you are God’s masterpiece too!

Even when we, were mired in that old stagnant life of sin… He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ.”  And, we are, “his masterpiece.”

Peter Kreeft writes, “The block of marble is not the sculptor, and doesn’t see that he’s about to become a masterpiece… We’re the block of marble and God is the sculptor, and the chisel is…. everything.”

In preparation for today, I investigated the origin of the word “Masterpiece.”  It turns out that it comes from the middle ages.  Back then, when you wanted to learn a profession, you couldn’t go to a trade school or university.  You attached yourself to master of that particular profession as his or her apprentice.  Eventually, as your learned and mastered the skills necessary, you could present a sample of your best work to the local guild of masters.  What you presented was called a “master” piece.  It would be your best work, and would demonstrate that you had the knowledge, skills, and ability to be considered a master.

God is the original master artist.  And, he has demonstrated his mastery in you.  “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:10)

I think that’s the message of Easter.  No matter how broken your life has become, God has never given up on you.  Jesus carried all of our junk to the cross, and he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:6

Think about the verse …

When children bring us their artwork, we display it on the refrigerator, for everyone to see.  For some reason, some people take pictures of great meals, and post them on Facebook, or Instagram.  If we have valuable art in our homes, we put in a place of honor – on a mantle, a pedestal, or on the wall under a special light.  We display our masterpieces.  We show them off.  We share them with others.

God does the same.  Did you know that you are on display in heaven?  For we are God’s masterpiece… and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus… So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us.”  Did you hear that?  You are currently seated in heaven.  God points you out as his masterpiece.

When the saints, and angels, and archangels, drop by for a visit, he shows you off.  When people die, and go to heaven, and get their tour, the tour guides point to us as God’s personal collection of masterpieces.  You are his masterpiece, on display beside his thrown for all to see!

            Now you might be thinking…

  • I don’t feel like a masterpiece,
  • I don’t look like a masterpiece.
  • I just came to church because it’s Easter.
  • I’m only here because somebody made me come.
  • If that pastor knew me, he wouldn’t say that I am a masterpiece.

I don’t know why you’re here today.  I don’t know how you got here.  And, frankly, I don’t care.  I’m just glad you’re here.  No matter who you are, what you’ve done, or what has been done to you; while you, YOU, were still stuck in sin, Christ died for you.  Maybe some of you are still stuck in sin right now.

Please listen to me!  When Jesus arose on Easter morning, he made it possible for you to rise with him.  You might feel like junk – you might be junk – but you are God’s junk!  He made you.  And, he’s not done with you.

He made you.  He made you in his own image.  No matter what you have done to mess that up, God isn’t done with you yet.  God sees your potential. He sees the work of art you can be.

Max Lucado writes, God sees in you a masterpiece about to happen.

            While I was researching the word “masterpiece,” I discovered something else.  There are numerous theories and philosophies about what is required for something to be considered a “masterpiece,” depending on the “expert” and depending upon whether it is art, or literature, or music.  But, I noticed a common theme in my research.  I kept finding the phrase, “you just know a masterpiece when you see it.”

            I know you are a masterpiece, just by looking at you this Easter morning.  I know you are a masterpiece, because God’s Word says so.

It’s All About Me, and All This is for Me… (a.k.a. a pastor feeling a little snarky on a Monday morning)

It’s All About Me, and All This is for Me… (a.k.a. a pastor feeling a little snarky on a Monday morning)

READER WARNING:  THIS IS GOING TO GET PRETTY SNARKY.  READER BEWARE!

There’s an older worship song called, “Jesus, Lover of my Soul.”  The words of the verse are,

It’s all about You, Jesus

And all this is for You

For Your glory and Your fame

It’s not about me

As if You should do things my way

You alone are God and I surrender

To Your ways

For some reason, those lyrics pop in my head almost every Sunday morning, before or after worship (and, sometimes, during) as I listen to comment after comment, critique after critique, complaint after complaint…

“The music is too loud.”

“I like the upbeat songs – the ones we used to sing.”

It’s too cold.”

I couldn’t find a good parking space.”

“I don’t like liturgy.”

“Why did you move the…?”

Why don’t we…?”

“I don’t like doing communion, this way…”

“That message didn’t speak to me…”

“I prefer when we used to…”

“Someone is sitting in MY seat!”

“You didn’t announce…”

“The bulletin is wrong…”

“I don’t like the way the pastor dresses.”

“There were typos on the screen…”

etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc.

I think the song got it wrong.  The lyrics must be…

It’s all about ME, Jesus

And all this is for ME

For MY comfort and MY preference

It’s not about YOU

As if I should do things YOUR way

I alone matter and EVERYONE ELSE HAS TO surrender

To MY ways

Too snarky?  Or, too TRUE?!?

Don’t get me wrong.  I understand that change is hard, and that any kind of discomfort or distraction can detract from the worship experience.  As a designer and leader of worship, I aim for excellence in everything – from the parking lot to the pew, and everything in between.

But, give me a break.  Do you really think we can make everyone happy, all of the time?  Or, is it possible that all you care about is you?  “It’s all about ME, Jesus…”

Too snarky?  Or, too TRUE?!?

Though there are an infinite number of ways that we can sin, it seems to me the primary issue of sin is selfishness.  There is a selfish human tendency, in all of us, to want the world to revolve around ME.  Don’t believe me?  How much of your day do you think about yourself – what to wear, what to eat, who to talk to, what makes you happy, what made you unhappy, etc.?

Even my snarky irritation is ultimately about MY feelings and MY opinion and MY irritation.  Lord, forgive me.  “It’s not about me…”

Commenting on modern worship tendencies, the author of You Are What You Love, James K.A. Smith, writes, “Shouldn’t church be the place where we unlearn such narcissism?”

So here’s my suggestion, whether you attend my church, or not.  When you don’t like what’s happening, take a look around.  Does this appear to be a problem for others, or is it just you?  Or, is it just you and your close circle of friends, who always agree with you anyway?

I remember attending a worship service at a young adult conference some years ago.  The music was TERRIBLE!  I mean, really, really bad.  I hated it.  I can still remember standing there, not singing, and thinking hyper-critical thoughts about the musicians and the worship planners.  Then I looked around.  To my narrow-minded surprise, everyone else was singing and appeared to be highly engaged and deeply moved.

It’s true – I didn’t particularly like the worship experience.  It wasn’t MY preferred style, and it wasn’t the worship I would have planned if I was in charge.  But, I wasn’t in charge, and it wasn’t planned for ME.

Here’s my other suggestion.  If you have a complaint, don’t tell the pastor on Sunday morning.  Do you think the pastor is in control of the AC, or the volume, or the parking lot?  Do you think negative complaints will help him/her prepare to lead people into God’s presence and to proclaim God’s Word?  Is there, really, anything that he/she can do about it, on a Sunday morning, anyway?  The pastor is NOT in charge of the complaint department – ever, and especially not on Sunday mornings!

(I’m tempted to suggest writing down your complaint, and filing it in the large metal receptacle behind the church kitchen – the one labeled “Do not park in front of the dumpster.”  But, I would never say anything like that!)

Here’s my last suggestion.  Try to remember that you are the least important person in the room.  That’s right.  YOU.  YOU are the LEAST important person in the room.  JESUS is the ONLY person of importance in the room (which is why we gather to worship HIM in the first place).  In comparison, the rest of us are so insignificant that there’s no reason to bother ranking which of us is most or least important.  ALL of US are the least important person in worship – including the pastor.  Imagine how the worship atmosphere might change if we actually thought and acted like that.

So, if you are still reading, let me be clear.  I’m NOT saying that it’s NOT ok to share a concern, to name a problem, or to suggest a change.  Those who plan and lead worship, like myself, MUST be open to constructive feedback.  We can always improve!  And, for the sake or the worshipper and the ONE being worshipped, we should continually improve the worship experience.  If something can be fixed, and needs to be fixed, we should do our best to fix it.

But, unless it’s an emergency, please, PLEASE, don’t tell the pastor on Sunday morning.  And, unless it’s for the sake of the greater good, and it’s really just about you, maybe it doesn’t really need to said at all.

There.  I said it.  Sorry if that was TOO snarky.

 

 

The Road to Restoration: The 6th Sermon in a Series Called, “Restoration,” preached at First Church Coral Springs, on Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Road to Restoration:  The 6th Sermon in a Series Called, “Restoration,” preached at First Church Coral Springs, on Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017

In the year 1010 BC, King David and his army attacked and conquered Jerusalem, driving out the Jebusite inhabitants, taking Jerusalem as the capital of the Kingdom of Israel.

In the year 925 BC, Jerusalem was temporarily captured and pillaged by the Egyptian armies, led by Pharaoh Sheshonk I.

In the year 586 BC, following a long siege, the Babylonian army, led by King Nebuchadnezzar II, captured and destroyed Jerusalem, including the Jewish Temple, and the city’s prominent citizens were exiled to Babylon as slaves.

In year 350 BC, King Artaxerxes III and his Persian army captured Jerusalem and burned it to the ground.

In the 332 BC, Alexander the Great and his armies took Jerusalem.

In 63 BC, the  Roman army under Pompey the Great besieged Jerusalem, captured it, and made it part of the Roman Empire.

Over the course of ten centuries, Jerusalem had been captured and conquered, and battered and destroyed by one king after another, one army after another, usually leading to ruin, death, subjugation and destruction.

Then, in 33 AD, after three years of ministry, leading an army of former fishermen, tax-collectors and prostitutes, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of a poor carpenter, road into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey.

Fulton Sheen writes, “As one looks at the ancient sculptured slabs of Assyria and Babylon, the murals of Egypt, the tombs of the Persians, and the scrolls of the Romans columns, one is struck by the majesty of kings riding in triumph on horses or in chariots, and sometimes over the prostrate bodies of their foes.  In contrast to this, here is the One who comes triumphant upon an ass.’

As the Psalmist wrote, “His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of the warrior; the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.” (Psalm 147:10-11)

As Jesus began the last week of his earthly life, he was ready to publicly announce himself as the Messiah.  In order to fulfill the Prophet Zechariah’s prophecy of the Messiah, he rode a donkey into Jerusalem, where crowds of Jews had gathered to celebrate the Passover feast.  As he approached, the crowds recognized him, and the prophetic significance of what he was doing.  They spread their cloaks on the road, like rolling out a red carpet, for their new king.  They cut down palm branches, and waved them in the air, like we wave flags at a presidential inauguration.  And they shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

The word “hosanna” means something like, “Lord, save us.”  This wasn’t an acclamation for just anyone riding into Jerusalem.  No one had shouted Hosanna for the Babylonians, or the Persians, or the Greeks, or the Romans when they rode into Jerusalem.  This was not a welcome for just any king.  “Hosanna” was a shout for God’s chosen Messiah, coming to save his people.

But, save them from what?  Save them from who?  And, more importantly, save them how?

On that Sunday, everyone – Jesus’ followers, the Jewish crowds, The Pharisees and Sadducees, and the Romans – assumed that Jesus was doing what other conquering Kings had done, riding into Jerusalem to reclaim the crown and throne of the nation of Israel.  At that point in history, Israel was occupied Roman territory, ruled by a puppet pseudo-Jewish king named Herod, but really governed by a Roman governor named Pilate, and his army.  The Jews hated the Romans, and longed for the day that God would kick them out and restore Israel’s privileged place in the world.  They thought Jesus’ arrival was that day.

The Jewish crowds, gathered along the roads, imagined a new day of freedom and prosperity, with Jesus as their King.

The disciples imagined being seated in thrones at Jesus’ right and the left hand, places of privilege, ruling alongside the King of the Jews.

The Pharisees and Sadducees saw a false Messiah, a threat to their authority, and feared what could happen if the Roman armies felt threatened.

The Romans probably barely noticed, always ready to squash a rebellion with Rome’s military might, if necessary.

Though many must have realized that Jesus was fulfilling prophecy about the Messiah, by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, no one seemed to make the connection that conquering kings usually came with armies, riding on chariots or warhorses.

Jesus had a different agenda.  Jesus had a different crown and throne in mind.

Bill Hybels wrote, “Everyone who lined the streets had a different reason for waving those palms.  Some were political activists; they’d heard Jesus had supernatural power, and they wanted him to use it to free Israel from Roman rule.  Others had loved ones who were sick or dying. They waved branches, hoping for physical healing.  Some were onlookers merely looking for something to do, while others were genuine followers who wished Jesus would establish himself as an earthly king.  Jesus was the only one in the parade who knew why he was going to Jerusalem – to die.  He had a mission, while everyone else had an agenda.”

            Isn’t it interesting that we always assume that the solution to every problem is exerting physical power, accumulating wealth, gaining prestige and worldly importance, being the winner and defeating the losers.

Who’s important?  Rich people.  Powerful people.  Famous people.  How do we get things done?  Get someone elected.  Send in the military.  Leave it to Wall Street.

Haven’t we learned our lesson?  Through the years, we’ve watched one powerful person after another serve their own self-interests, unleash untold pain and suffering, and many fall from grace.  Why are we so enamored with thrones and those who sit on them?

Earlier this week, the President of Syria dropped chemical weapons, killing at least 85, and wounding hundreds.  We retaliated, by firing sixty tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian air base, each costing over $1.6 million – that’s nearly a billion dollars! Some have praised the US attack.  Some have condemned it.  Some have switched their positions.  Was it the right thing to do?  I don’t know.  I know I couldn’t have made that order.  But, I’m not in a position to make those decisions – thank goodness. In response, the Syrian army dropped more bombs on the same town, adding to the nearly 1 million people who have already died in that long Civil War and there are nearly 5 million Syrian refugees.  And, I am absolutely sure that many more people will die before this is over.

The citizens of Jerusalem had witnessed the same kind of death and destruction, in their day, that came with every conquering King and army.  Why did they think this time – another conquering King –  would end any better?  Why do we?

Jesus has shown us a better way.

John Stott writes, “The authority by which the Christian leader leads is not power but love, not force but example, not coercion but reasoned persuasion. Leaders have power, but power is safe only in the hands of those who humble themselves to serve.

Undeniably, Jesus was and is powerful – there’s no force in the universe more powerful.  But, Jesus demonstrated an entirely different kind of power – the power of sacrifice, service, and love.  Jesus was and is a king, undeniably.  But he did not intend to rule an earthly kingdom, but a heavenly one.  Jesus was prepared to wear a crown – but his crown would be made of thorns.  Jesus would be victorious – but first he had to be defeated.  Jesus was prepared to sit on an eternal throne, at the right hand of the Father, but first he would hang on a cross.

No one, during the excitement of Palm Sunday, could have imagined how the week would end – with Jesus, the King of the Jews, dying on a cross.

I suspect, if Jesus had wanted to sit on an earthly throne, he could have.  The Father would have let him.  He had the support and love of the people.  He could have called down legions of angelic armies to defeat the Romans.  He had the power and authority of God at his disposal.  He could have reestablished the nation of Israel, right in the heart of this broken, fallen, world, and ruled it forever.  Isn’t that what Satan had offered him during his temptation?

But, Jesus didn’t come to rule nations.  He came to heal the nations.  He didn’t come with power in order to ascend to a throne, but to descend into the depths of human suffering.  He didn’t come to defeat his enemies, but to forgive them.  He didn’t come to kill, but to be killed.  He didn’t come to inflict pain on his enemies, but to take on the pain and suffering of the whole world.

He didn’t choose the road that leads to success and achievement, fortune and fame.  He chose a road that led to the cross.  He didn’t come to rule us.  He came to restore us.  And, restoration wouldn’t come from sitting on a throne.  Restoration would require a cross.

As Isaiah prophesied, “By his wounds, we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)

As the Psalmist wrote, The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the exiles of Israel.  He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.  Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.   The Lord sustains the humble but casts the wicked to the ground.”  (Psalm 147:2-6)

            For the last 5 weeks, we’ve been talking about the ways Jesus can restore all that is broken in our lives and in our relationships.  But, let me be very clear, he took our brokenness to a cross, not to a throne.  While you and I may respect thrones, honor thrones, and even yearn to sit on thrones ourselves, there is no healing there.  Thrones put people on crosses.  Your restoration wasn’t even sent down from the throne of Heaven.

Restoration comes from a savior, who humbly rode a donkey down a road that led to Calvary.

Foreknowing, Causing, Allowing…

Foreknowing, Causing, Allowing…

In my Lenten small group, this morning, we were debating if God allows tragedy, causes tragedy, or both.  Though the word wasn’t used this morning, God’s foreknowledge also comes into play.  If God knows everything, then God knows what is going to happen in advance.  If God knows a tragic event will occur, does that mean God caused it?  Is foreknowledge the same as causality?

Undeniably, God has caused bad things to happen.  The ten plagues unleashed on Egypt during the Exodus would fit that category.  But, does that mean that causes ALL plagues and maladies?

Undeniably, God allows bad things to happen.  Every moment of every day, evil is at work around the world – war, crime, injustice, etc…  God allows that.  But, is allowing the same as causing?

Where is the place of free will and choice in this debate?  How much choice does God allow?

I, for one, believe in free will.  I believe that God gives us the gift and responsibility of choice.  We can choose to love him, serve him, and honor him.  Or, we can choose to be selfish, and do unspeakable evil.  And, of course, there are a wide range of choices, good and bad, in between. I believe that every human is capable of choosing remarkable good and unspeakable evil.

I also believe that God is intimately at work in his created world – blessing, sustaining influencing, hearing and answering our prayers, and, more often than not, redeeming for good the many, many things that have gone wrong.

Can God control the events of this world, like a chess player moving the pieces on a chess board?  Yes, of course.  God is God, which means God can do whatever God wants to do.  But, it seems to me that God has imposed self-limitations upon himself, in order that we have the freedom to choose.  We aren’t chess pieces.  We move ourselves.  We choose.

After all, love is a choice.  Relationship is a choice.  Obedience, really, is a choice.

I’ve heard it said, “Why did God allow…?  Why didn’t God stop…?”  When tragic things occur, such questions are inevitable.  “God, why don’t you intervene when you know something terrible is going to happen and people are going to suffer?”

But, my question is, if we believe that God gives us choice, and that we are responsible for our choices, and if we can connect someone’s choice to the tragedy-in-question, where would we draw the line?  What choices do we think God should allow?  What choices do we think God should stop?

Should God stop the drunk driver from running into someone innocent?  Should God stop me from adjusting my car AC, or changing radio stations, if that potentially distracts me and leads to the same kind of accident, and the same result?  Should God stop me from driving if I’m ever sleepy, irritated, distracted, in a hurry, etc.?  Should God stop me from riding in cars, at all, if I might be a potential distraction for the driver?  Should God just keep me locked up in my house – safe and sound – where I can’t be a danger to anyone but myself?

Where’s the line?

Do we believe that God is ultimately the cause and responsible party for every tragedy?  Or, is tragedy a reality of living in a fallen world where people make unfortunate choices?

I, for one, don’t blame God for the ill that happens in this world, or specifically in my life.  But, I do look to God to comfort my pain, strengthen my weakness, redeem my failings, and restore what get’s broken.

I do wonder, sometimes, why God doesn’t move a little faster.  Why does he take so long to answer my prayers, to give me direction, and to fix my problems?  But, those are questions for another blog.

Brotherhood

Brotherhood

I’m currently reading through the Old Testament book 1 Samuel.  Much of 1 Samuel tells the story of the rise of David, from boy-shepherd to shepherd-king of Israel.  David’s story includes his close friendship with Jonathan.

Chapter 18 says that these two men felt an immediate bond, and that Jonathan, “made a solemn pact with David, because he loved him as he loved himself” (1 Samuel 18:3)

Later, after  Jonathan’s death, David lamented the loss of his friend, saying, I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me.  Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women” (2 Samuel 1:26).

I’m working on a sermon, for this Sunday, on the importance of relationships and restoring broken relationships.  While I am not nearly as good at relationships as I could be – as I want to be – I truly believe that there’s nothing more important, more valuable, more beautiful than relationship.  Be it marriage, parent-child, friend, co-worker, neighbor, or teammate, people need each other.  We were made for relationship.

Mother Theresa said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other.”  

I’m particularly impressed with David and Jonathan’s friendship.

Someone told me, once, that they thought David and Jonathan must have had a homosexual relationship, as an argument to justify homosexuality biblically.  I remember reacting with hostility.  Honestly, the idea of David and Jonathan being gay doesn’t bother me (I’m sure someone will react to that statement!).  But, I don’t think they were gay – for a number of reasons.  For me, that’s not the point.  What bothers me is the idea that men who love each other, and openly express their love for one another, must be gay.  Why is it so hard to imagine two men feeling closer than brothers, as friends?

It’s interesting to me that at the last supper, John – who refers to himself as the “Disciple Jesus loved” – reclined against Jesus’ chest, sharing physical intimacy with his friend.

Maybe it is just a matter of cultural difference.  Maybe Middle Eastern men, at least in biblical times, were more comfortable expressing friendship and intimacy with other men, as friends.  After all, the Apostle Paul talks about greeting one another with a holy kiss.

Maybe we’re just less comfortable with that in our culture.  Maybe we fear male intimacy.  Maybe we fear giving the appearance of homosexuality.  Maybe it just doesn’t seem like the macho thing to do.  I don’t know.

My point is simply this – I love the idea that David & Jonathan and Jesus & John were close intimate friends.  I admire it.  I see value in it.  I want more of it.  I think all of our lives would be richer if we could have it too.

So, to all of my bros out there – thanks for your friendship.  To those bros that I love, and you know who you are – I love you!  To all of my bros, for whom I haven’t been as good a bro as I could or should – I apologize.

To all of my friends, male and female – I offer you a quote for you from Henri Nouwen,

“Friendship is one of the greatest gifts a human being can receive. It is a bond beyond common goals, common interests, or common histories. It is a bond stronger than sexual union can create, deeper than a shared fate can solidify, and even more intimate than the bonds of marriage or community. Friendship is being with the other in joy and sorrow, even when we cannot increase the joy or decrease the sorrow. It is a unity of souls that gives nobility and sincerity to love. Friendship makes all of life shine brightly.”