Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Jesus Under House Arrest

For a long time, people thought the earth was the center of the universe. They thought this for two reasons: The stars, sun, and planets seem to revolve around the earth each day, and also, the earth does not seem to move when your standing on it. Pretty simple. I mean, any 8 year old could tell you that.

The church was especially adamant about this claim. After all, they felt they had scriptures to support it (Ps. 93:1, 1 Chron. 16:30, Ecc. 1:5). They were so adamant, in fact, that those who proposed theories or ideas that contradicted geocentrism were considered heretics. Many of these "heretics" were imprisoned and even executed.

This is why Galileo was put under house arrest... for life.

Heliocentrism--the model of the solar system in which the sun is at the center and not the earth--had been around for a while but the church had done everything it could to thwart it. Galileo pleaded with the church, claiming that heliocentrism was not contrary to scripture and that the church may not be interpreting the scriptures correctly. However, they still ordered him not to discuss or defend the possibility that everything revolved around the sun.

A few years later, Galileo wrote about heliocentrism in a book that really ticked the Pope off. He stood trial in 1633 and he was found guilty of heresy for making claims that the earth was not in a central, favored position. The Inquisition forced Galileo to "abjure, curse, and detest" his recent claims. All of his works--past, present, and future--were banned and Galileo was sentenced to spend the remainder of his life under house arrest.

A few days ago, I read something that Jesus said and it has echoed in my head ever since:

“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me" - Luke 9:23

Let's be brutally honest with ourselves for a moment...

Think about how we live everyday. If we were honest, we would admit that our days are spent trying to do things that we think will satisfy us. We want to do certain things, so we do them. We want to watch certain things, so we watch them. We want to have certain things, so we buy them. We want to say certain things, so we say them. We want to eat certain things, so we eat them. Truthfully, we are selfish, self-centered, self-consumed, self-absorbed, self-interested, self-seeking, and self-serving. Maybe, just maybe, there are moments in which we are altruistic and benevolent, but upon honest, longitudinal examination we see ourselves for what we truly are: narcissistic.

This presents a major problem: Jesus says that if we want to follow him, WE MUST DENY OURSELVES. If you want to follow Jesus you must forsake your possessions (Matthew 19:16-30). If you want to follow Jesus you must forsake your family (Luke 9:59-62). If you want to follow Jesus you must forsake your career (Matthew 4:19-20). If you want to follow Jesus you must forsake your desires (Phillipians 3:8). If you want to follow Jesus you must forsake EVERYTHING.

I can't do, say, buy, watch, and eat whatever I want! It's that simple AND that practical. I have to sacrifice my plans, relationships, dreams, and desires. I must choose to put Jesus first. I must choose to put others first. "I" no longer matters. "Me" is no longer my concern. When I choose to follow Jesus, I must wake up and choose to deny myself everyday.

A friend recently asked me what I thought it meant to "walk and live in the spirit." The answer is simple: it is to deny yourself. You can't say it any better than Paul did when he penned to the Galations, "Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh" (Galations 5:16). Not gratifying your desires IS walking in the spirit. Walking in the spirit is not gratifying your desires. Too bad we don't always walk the walk.

Instead, we go over our heads in debt. We destroy relationships with greed and envy. We are prideful and arrogant. We make a habit of eating food that we know is not good for us because we like it. We don't want to sit in the backseat, so we yell "shotgun" before our friend does so we can sit up front, without even considering what our friend wants. We stand outside at a store, all night, in the cold, on Black Friday so we can buy new stuff for ourselves. We spend our days doing whatever we can to make ourselves happy, comfortable, and fulfilled. We don't deny ourselves of anything that we desire. We treat ourselves like we're in some sort of central, favored position.

I feel that Jesus is doing today, what Galileo did almost 400 years ago. He is is standing before the church, pleading with us to see that our model of the universe is inaccurate. That everything does not revolve around us. That we are not the center of the universe.

He is not calling us to be in a central, favored position. However, we have scriptures to support this view of the universe, so anything else is heresy! After all, Malachi 3:10 says that God will pour out blessings on us until they are overflowing and 3 John says that we may prosper in all things. So we use these scriptures as excuses for getting what we want, for setting ourselves in the middle of everything. We take a few scriptures about blessings and prosperity out of context and use them as ammunition against the many things that Jesus says about sacrifice and surrender. We wage war against our very own savior. We are no different than the church Galileo was dealing with almost 400 years ago: we use scripture to justify our beliefs, as opposed to using scripture to construct our beliefs.

We put Jesus under house arrest.

We keep him confined in a place we don't really have to deal with him. Now, we can stay comfortable, but if we ever do need him, we know where he is.


As cheesy as this is, the Son needs to be the center of your universe. If you claim to be his follower, you have no other choice. If he is not the center of everything that you do, every single day, then you are not following. Period. You have to choose every day to follow him. In big and little things. It may not be comfortable or satisfying to your flesh, but thats what sacrifice is. He sacrificed for you, its your turn.

Every morning you must choose to take up your cross and follow Jesus. You must choose all day long to deny yourself. Why not start today? If you believe that nothing is better than knowing Christ, what's holding you back? "Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded EVERYTHING else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ." (Phillipians 3:8)

It took a while for science to convince the church that the earth was not the center of the universe. Actually, the Vatican didn't officially acquit Galileo of heresy until 1993--360 years after his trial, 354 years after his death.

How long is it going to take for you to realize you're not the center of the universe?

Hopefully, not 360 years.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Who's your daddy?

Kids can be ruthless. Look around,our schools, daycares, and sunday school rooms are filled with cruel, merciless, relentless, vicious animals. Elementary school students come home from school and tell some of the craziest stories. You ask them how their day was and then begin to tell the story of some irate demon-child that punched a nerd, choked a kitten, and kicked an old lady, all during recess--and then they say it was a good day. I haven't seen anyone get punched, kicked, or choked in a long time. Elementary school kids see it at least five times a week.

Not only do they kick and punch, but they say some of the most terrible things. When you're in elementary school, you can be made fun of for just about anything. Those mean kids are creative. They see you with your mom and for the next week they taunt you to the tune of "Nanni-nanni-boo-boo" singing, "Jeremy loves his mom! Jeremy loves his mom!" And if you're fat, just forget about it. The chubby kids get it the worse. Been there, done that.

When I was younger, we had a name for these physically, emotionally, and verbally abusive children. They were "meanies." They were meanies because they were mean. It's fairly simple.

I have noticed however, that when in the presence of a parent, even the most notorious and ruthless meanies act like perfect little angels. Meanies are only meanies when the other kid's mom or dad isn't there. You probably experienced this when you were a kid. Your friend would be really soft-spoken and respectful when you both were in the car with your parents but when you got out of the car and went to the backyard to play while your parents were inside, all of a sudden the demons in your friend resurfaced. When your parents weren't around he'd fight over toys, call you names, yell, levitate, perform the Exorcist headspin, and smother you with standard childhood threats like the classic, "I'm not gonna be your friend anymore!"

But not even the meanest meanie would treat you badly while your father was watching!

I sometimes wonder why God chose to call Himself our 'Father.' Many of us didn't have good relationships with our father. For over 10 million families in America, a father isn't even present. Some people live their entire lives and never even know who their father is. Fathers get drunk and beat their wives. Fathers abandon children. Fathers cause a lot of hurt and pain.

In his book Blue Like Jazz, Donal Miller says, "Today I wonder why it is that God refers to Himself as ‘Father’ at all. This, to me, in light of the earthly representation of the role, seems a marketing mistake." So, why would God, who could have chosen to relate to us in any way, choose to call himself 'Father'? Why would he want to be associated with such a group?

The most obvious reason is the fact that fathers are very important to us. We all long to be taught, protected, and loved by a father. Some of us have been. Others of us have not. If you've had a great father, God as 'Father' makes sense. You enjoy and understand a relationship with your heavenly father, because you've enjoyed the relationship with your earthly father. But even better, if you haven't had a great relationship with your earthly father or have never even known him, God offers something to you that you have always longed for. He offers to teach you, protect you, and most importantly, love you. God calls himself 'Father' because humans have a deep inner longing for a relationship with a father.

But there's another, perhaps, more important reason

God isn't only worried with how we relate to him, but he's very concerned with how we relate to others. A Pharisee asked what the two most important things for a Christian to do were and Jesus answered, "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself." Love God, love people. According to Jesus, both are equally important. I find it unlikely that Jesus would say anything is as important as loving God, but he did--love people.

What Jesus just said shows how concerned God really is with how we treat each other. Why is God so concerned with how you treat your neighbor? Because God is 'Father'.

Sometimes we don't reaize that the guy that we want to hit in the face is actually God's son. We thoughtlessly slander girls who God considers to be his daughter. We fight, argue, threaten, gossip, taunt, and ridicule. We hurt people, physically, and more often and even worse, emotionally. Even after we've grown up, we still act like grade school meanies.

We do this because we forget. We forget that the people around us have a father, and he is watching. You see, God didn't just call himself 'Father' so it will change the way we act towards him, but he calls himself 'Father' so it will change the way we treat his sons and daughters around us. You would never insult or hurt a friend while their earthly father was watching, so why do we do it while their heavenly father is?

Sure, you are God's child and you mean a lot to him, but you're not an only child! You can't forget the fact that the person sitting across from you is God's child too. You're surrounded by God's children. And he is watching you! Treat people the same way you would as if God were standing right in front of you--because, he is.

So, stop talking bad about God's child. Stop insulting his son. Stop alienating his daughter. Stop arguing. Stop making threats. Stop being selfish. Stop bullying God's children!

Just be nice…

You big meanie.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Talk doesn't cook rice.

Recently I heard someone tell this story:

Imagine a gymnast about to perform in the Olympics. The millions watching on TV, the thousands filling the stadium, and the prestigious judges are all waiting for the gymnast's performance. She enters the arena and walks up to the balance beam. A hush rushes over the stadium. In silence, the gymnast climbs on top of the beam and raises her arms. Everyone is expecting to see a inspiring display of skill and athleticism, but instead, she does something strange; she kneels down and wraps her arms around the balance beam. She lays down directly on top of it and just holds on. And she does so for about a minute. After the longest 60 seconds that any audience has ever experienced, she gets off the balance beam, raises her hands in the air, and smiles.

The crowd is silent. Then, out of the silence a few claps and cheers emerge. However, the only ones clapping and cheering are the people that are closest to her-- the gymnast's parents, friends, and coaches. The rest of the crowd is not impressed. They are more confused, some even angry. Feeling good about herself, the gymnast continues to smile.

The judges begin to display their scores. The first judge reveals his score: 0. The second judge: 0. The third also gives the gymnast a 0. All the way down the line, every judge gives her a 0.

She's shocked. "A zero? But I didn't fall off! I didn't mess up!" Her smile quickly disappears and her family's cheers fade. With a look of confusion and disappointment she walks out of sight.

Here's the thing... sadly, many Christians are just like this gymnast.

Many people who call themselves Christians have taken a step of faith--we have gotten on the balance beam--but just like the gymnast, we don't do anything once we get on it. Getting on a balance beam and doing flips, and turns (and all the other things gymnasts do on balance beams) involves risk. Standing on a beam and twirling about isn't a very comfortable thing to do. Jumping and flipping while trying to land on a surface thats just a few inches wide is not easy. There's a chance of injury and failure. Laying down and hugging it is much safer and a lot more comfortable. The problem with many of us Christians: there is no performance, no action. Its like we are scared of injury, afraid of failure. We'd rather avoid the negative possibilities and get in a more comfortable position. Our faith, like the balance beam, is not being used correctly. There's no action! Our feet never leave the beam.

And the audience is not impressed.

Who is the audience? The world. For the most part, the world hates, ridicules, and frowns upon Christians. No one in the world is applauding the church, there is no one cheering us on. No one except the one's closest to us--our fellow Christians. But the world is not fooled. Anyone can put themselves on a balance beam. I can do that! But I am no gymnast (don't let this strong, athletic, picturesque physique fool you!). In order for me to be considered a gymnast, I must do more than be seen on a balance beam; I must perform. I must prove with my action that I am a gymnast. Anyone can say they have faith and call themselves a Christian. Anyone can be seen in a church. But our performance, our action, shows the world what we really are. "A person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone." (James 2:24)

G.K. Chesterton once said, "Just going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in your garage makes you a car." Its not about where you stand, its about what you do.

Like the gymnast, many of us feel we can climb up on the balance beam and just get comfortable. I guess we think that will be enough to get our judge, being God, to just clap and cheer for us. We expect to be comfortable our whole lives, do nothing, and get to heaven and still hear God say, "Well done, my good and faithful servant." But how surprised we will be when God holds up our scorecard and it reads, "0." After all, we did nothing. The audience was watching, and we did not perform. We claimed to be gymnast, but we didn't offer any proof to the judge that we were what we claimed to be. Sure, we didn't fall off and we didn't mess up, but thats not good enough.

I feel like we spend so much time worrying about the things we shouldn't do, we forget that there are things that we should do. We're all about "don'ts" and not so much about "do's." But If you claim to be a Christian, you have to perform! And a Christian performance looks like this: to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts, share your food with the hungry, invite the homeless poor into your homes, clothe those that are cold, and be available to your own families (Isaiah 58 and Matthew 25). It is to perform tangible, real actions. Not just praying for people, talking about how you have compassion for them, and worrying for their spiritual well-being, but meeting their physical, tangible needs. We are commanded to love, and this is love! Love is not just a feeling or emotion. Where true love is, action will be also. Consequently, where there is no action, there is no love. Period. End of story. Some of us need to dust off that old DC Talk record and listen to "Love is a Verb" again. Some of us also need to dust off our Bibles and read John 13:35 and Matthew 22:36-40.

Check out what James said: "Dear friends, do you think you'll get anywhere if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, "Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!" and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn't it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?" (James 2:14-17, The Message). James said it: "Talk without acts is outrageous nonsense."

I just read this and it blew my mind. There's an old Chinese proverb that says, "Talk doesn't cook rice." Wow. It's so simple. But If you love rice as much as I do, that just changed your life.

Actions do speak louder than words. I've often heard of married women who are frustrated with husbands who say "I love you" but never show "I love you." Likewise, I've often heard of a world that is frustrated with Christians for the same reason. We're real good at talk, not so much at action. We know a whole lot of scriptures, parables, and theology. And I truly believe we are willing to give our lives for our faith. But in the words of Leonardo da Vinci, "Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do."

I hope those three words echo in our heads for the rest of our lives--we must do.

The world is hungry. And talk doesn't cook rice.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

People are not peas...

Pretty much everything we buy has a label on it. Can you imagine going to the canned vegetable isle at the grocery store and finding that none of the cans were labelled? There are hundreds of cans and every can is identical. You really want some peas but you have no idea which cans have peas in them. You don't want to risk buying a can and taking it home and opening it only to find something you don't want--like lima beans. There's got to be a label, a way to classify and describe each can. The label tells you if you want or like the contents of the can. Labels make finding what you want easier. We like labels.

The funny thing is we like labels so much that we put them on people. Think about the labels we give people. Someone who plays multiple instruments is "talented." Someone who doesn't say much is labeled "shy." A person lies to us and we label them a "liar." A person interrupts us and from then on they are "rude." We label virtually everyone.

I guess we label people for a lot of the same reasons we label cans. It makes finding what we want easier. Like the cans, we label people so there's no need for us to "buy" them and "open" them ourselves. This is especially true when it comes to the negative labels. We go about calling people annoying, rude, two-faced and other things we don't like so we don't have to invest in them. There's no risk involved. And it makes things much easier. The only problem; people are not peas.

These simplistic labels are insufficient and misleading. Who a person is cannot be defined in a word. However, so many times we label someone a "jerk" and because we avoid jerks we never learn that they're also funny, lonely, caring, and smart. Some of my favorite people now are people that I once thought were rude, mean, and conceited. I found that they weren't those things at all, but only because I really got to know them myself.

Labeling people gives us grounds to avoid and despise people. We like nice, not mean. We like fun, not boring. We like peas, not lima beans. So, everyone that we label "lima beans" we alienate and talk badly about. "Ewww," we say, "they're gross. I don't like them." We place less value on certain people and leave them on the shelf. Doesn't sound very Christ-like to me.

Jesus was probably the best example of someone who paid no attention to labels. Everywhere he went people criticized him for eating with 'tax collectors', hanging out with 'lepers', and defending 'adulterous women'. Jesus didn't care what they were labelled, as a matter of fact, Jesus didn't even seem to have a preference. He didn't pick and choose people based on their looks, occupation, or reputation. Jesus didn't alienate people because of past experiences. He was loving, accepting, and eager to know people and for people to know him. And it changed peoples lives. Remember the woman at the well?

Moses was more like us. He accepted and used labels. We can see this clearly in Exodus 3. God tells Moses to go to Egypt, and while he's there, tell Pharaoh what to do. Moses thinks this is a little crazy and responds to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” Essentially, Moses labelled himself. He basically told God, "In case you can't see my label, I'll just tell you. I am 'inadequate', 'incapable', and 'unqualified.'" However, God saw through that simplistic, insufficient, and misleading label.

Moses, like us, was so caught up with labels he even asked God what his was! Moses asked God, "What should I tell them if they ask me Your name?" He thought the Israelites would want a label, and he wanted to be able to give them one. He essentially asked, "God, what is your label?" God's answer shows how He really feels about labels. God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” Wow. "I AM WHO I AM."

God didn't say he was omnipotent, omniscience, omnipresent. He didn't list his qualities. He didn't say he was truthful, caring, and loving. He didn't want Moses to give the Israelites a list of traits and characteristics. He didn't say "I am this" and "I am that." He didn't give Moses a label. Why? Because He is so much more!

God said, "I AM WHO I AM." He did not say, "I AM WHAT I DO," "I AM WHAT I SAY," "I AM WHAT I LOOK LIKE," or "I AM WHAT YOU ASSUME I AM." And the same can be said of people. We shouldn't give people labels because they are so much more than what they say, what they do, what they look like, and what we assume they are. People are people.

We should be more like Christ and not so much like Moses. Remember, we're Christians, not Mosestians. We should be loving, accepting, and eager to know others and for others to know us. After all, people label you too.

We should treat people how Christ treats us. Christ doesn't love us because of what we do. He doesn't have compassion on us because of what we say. He doesn't measure our worth by what we look like. Jesus doesn't love labels. He loves people. He loves us because we are. And no label, quality, trait, or characteristic will ever change that.

It's amazing... He doesn't love me because I am this or that. He loves me, simply because, I am.

God, help me to love people like this.