Willing to Die

Jesus and his disciples were heading towards Jerusalem. On the way he warned them of persecution that was to come: “All nations will hate you because you are my followers. But everyone who endures to the end will be saved.”

They continued walking and arrived in the Gilan Province of Iran. They walked up to the courthouse, and Jesus turned to them and said, “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God. Everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven.”

They went on their way and came to Pyongyang, North Korea. As they passed by an underground church, Jesus said, “If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.”

They walked on to Nigeria, stopping in village after village where many had recently been martyred. Jesus encouraged the people there, then turning to his disciples said, “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. I have told you these things so that you won’t abandon your faith. For you will be expelled from the synagogues, and the time is coming when those who kill you will think they are doing a holy service for God.

“Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

My great-grandfather was an Armenian pastor murdered by Turkish Muslims for his faith. In the face of persecution, how significant the words of Jesus must have been to him!

In my super-safe-suburban-bubble, I don’t even fully grasp them. Yet I still hold back and complain and think, “these words of Jesus are too hard. Who can take them literally? Surely what he really means is…”

What words of Jesus do you tend to ignore?
What commands do you think are just too hard to follow?

Do you think believers in persecuted countries have an advantage over us? How so?

Dinner and A Lesson

Photo by dave.carswell

Once, a young man had the opportunity to go to lunch with a popular Christian leader he admired. The young man had anticipated the meeting for weeks leading up to the day, but as the meal progressed he found himself growing more and more disenfranchised by things the leader was saying and doing.

He was surprised to notice this Christian leader did not pray before eating and that some profanity was sprinkled into his conversation.

Finally, towards the end of the meal, he felt he must speak up and mention what was troubling him.

“Thank you for bringing those concerns to my attention,” the Christian leader said after a short pause. “But I must remind you that the things you find alarming are external and outward and not necessarily a reflection of the heart. Would you mind if I shared some observations I’ve made of you since we sat down, which by the way are commonly found in many good Christian people today?” he asked the young man.

“Certainly,” the young man said with a hint of nervousness.

“Since we sat down,” the Christian leader began, “you have not said one kind word to our waitress, not even smiled at her, or acknowledged in any way that she, too, is a person created in the image of God.

“Since we have sat down, you have mentioned story after story of how you serve God in your church, but you have not once acknowledged your personal need of Him, or expressed gratefulness for what He has done in your life, or praised Him for who He is.

“Since we have sat down, you have used all the current Christian buzz words, but you have not once mentioned concern for your neighbor, or the oppressed, or the poor. You have overtly shared how God has blessed you, but you have not cared to mention how you are in turn blessing those around you.

“You seem to understand quite well what it means to be a Christian, but I have not gotten the impression that you have spent much time with the Savior Himself.”

(Based on Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisee in Luke 11:37-44.)

Do you think we might have some things in common with the Pharisees of Jesus’ day?

Do you think we might care too much about some silly things while not caring enough about some of the most important things? What might those things be?

Why do we have a tendency to focus on the behaviors that come easily to us rather than opening ourselves up to God and allowing Him to perform “heart surgery” on us?

A Corporate Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, there was a promising start-up company. The CEO of this company was looking for investors, and a few people came forward who were willing to buy in. Nine months later the CEO asked for more investors, and several new people responded.

A year and a half later the company’s market value had skyrocketed, and the CEO wanted to expand again and asked for another round of investors. This time the CEO raised the needed capital so easily he actually had to turn some potential investors away.

Ten years later, the CEO called a business meeting of all the company’s investors. A couple hundred men and women from all across the country traveled to their common destination, wondering what this meeting was all about.

“This will come as quite a shock to many of you, but in three weeks our company will be absorbed into a large multi-corporation,” the CEO shared with the room of investors. “We are selling the company. We accomplished what we set out to do from the beginning, and our top analysts agree that in a few years there will be much less demand for the services we provide. In addition to that, our current market value has never been higher, and the board has decided it’s the right time to sell.”

“I want to thank you all for believing in us, some of you from the very outset, and I am extremely excited to tell you what I have decided to do when the board sells off our stocks: each and every investor will receive one billion dollars.”

Gasps and murmurs rippled through the crowd. There were mixed reactions. Most were speechless; their investment had not been that large, and they never imagined they could be billionaires. Others seemed confused, and a handful seemed upset.

One man stood up and addressed the CEO: “Hold on a second, I was one of your first investors. The risk I took was way bigger than those investors in the third wave. It’s not fair that they get the same as me. I deserve more.”

A woman near the man also stood and said, “With all due respect, I know I was one of your biggest backers. Why, I gave one-thousand percent more than some of these people! To only be getting one billion after twelve years of waiting… it’s not ethical. And I’m fairly certain it’s not legal. You’ll be hearing from my lawyers.”

“Please wait just a minute,” the CEO calmly said. “This might not seem ethical, but I assure you it is legal. The papers each of you signed when you made your investment had a clause clearly stating that I alone would have full discretion as to the parameters of paying back my investors. The only stipulation was you would receive back at least double your original investment, and I assure you that is the case for each of you.”

“It is fair. Who are you to say you deserve more and another deserves less? Do not forget, this has always been my company. The money you are receiving is due to my hard work, my ideas, my risks; there would be no payday if it was not for me.”

And so, many who felt like they themselves had given so much, were disappointed to only get back what they deemed little; while those who knew they had only given little, were overwhelmed with joy to be receiving so much.

(Based off of Jesus’ Parable of the Vineyard Workers, Matthew 20:1-16)

What do you think is the point of the story?

Do you ever find yourself comparing your Christian service and devotion to others’ and looking down on them?

Do you ever catch yourself acting like you deserve the blessings and grace of God?
Why do you think we can be like that?

What does Jesus mean when he says, “those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last”?

The 3 Most Important Words in the Bible

I recognize that the title of this post is bold, and it is somewhat silly to say I definitively know the three most important words in the entire Bible. I recognize there should be an addendum to this title, like ‘IMHO.’

So, in my humble opinion, let me offer what I see as the three most important words in the Bible…

“It is finished.”

The phrase itself is a highly significant one. It’s a statement you might make after wrapping up a term paper, or a major project; or words you quietly utter with relief at the conclusion of an incredibly awkward conversation; or something your Mom might have said at Thanksgiving when the turkey was finally done and it was time to eat.

It is even more significant because of who is saying it. Think about it like this: replay your favorite tough guy movies and their corresponding famous movie lines. Picture John Wayne with his slow drawl, saying, “Go ahead. Make my day.” Clint Eastwood, his hand hovering over his holster, “Ask yourself, do you feel lucky?” The Terminator peering over his 80s sunglasses warning, “I’ll be back.”

Those guys made their lines credible. Try to imagine Pee Wee Herman or Justin Bieber saying, “I’ll be back.” It just doesn’t work. It’s not believable. Sometimes the person speaking is more important than the words being said; the person, by virtue of who they are, gives what’s being said greater gravitas.

But what I believe makes these the most important words in the Bible is not only the words themselves or who said them, but the circumstances in which these words are spoken.

Jesus of Nazareth, the God-man who left heaven and lived a sinless life on earth, is being crucified by his creation. He has gone to the cross willingly, knowing this is part of God the Father’s plan to reconcile humankind to himself. He is taking upon himself the sins of the world, becoming as it were a liar, thief, adulterer, rapist, and murderer. As one theologian put it, “On the cross Jesus became everything that’s bad about us, so we could become everything that’s good about him.”

Right before he dies, he breathes out these words, “It is finished.”

It’s finished. It’s taken care of. You can’t do anything because everything’s already been done for you. But can you believe that?

Can you believe in the finality and totality of Christ’s work on the cross on your behalf? Even when you want to earn it or at least play some small role in getting it, can you just believe? Even when you keep sinning and don’t seem to be progressing, can you still believe?

It. Is. Finished.

Those three words changed the world. They’re still changing the world.

How have they changed your life?

Praying the Anima Christi

This is a Catholic prayer often recited after taking communion and dates back to at least the 14th century.

Rich and moving.

Jesus Carrying the Cross. Illustration by El G...
Image via Wikipedia

Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O Good Jesus, hear me.
Within Thy wounds hide me.
Suffer me not to be separated from thee.
From the malignant enemy defend me.
In the hour of my death call me.
And bid me come unto Thee,
That with all Thy saints,
I may praise thee
Forever and ever.
Amen.

The Elevator Gospel

If you were on an elevator with a complete stranger who asked you to explain the Gospel, what would you say? If you had only 30 seconds, had to reduce the Message to its simplest form, what would you say?

Another way to put it: if you could only share 2 or 3 verses from the Bible to explain the Gospel, what ones?

How do you understand the Gospel? How would/do you articulate the Most Important Message Ever?

What’s your Elevator Gospel?

Make Yourself Comfortably Uncomfortable

In certain situations, being comfortable is the worst thing possible.

If it’s Ice-Age-cold outside, it’s best not to get too comfortable.

If you’re working with extremely dangerous equipment that could easily alter your figure or your DNA, it’s best not to get too comfortable.

Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in The Sile...
Image via Wikipedia

Or if you find yourself sitting across the dinner table from Dr. Hannibal Lecter, it’s best not to get too comfortable.

In these cases and many others, being uncomfortable is a good thing…
it might even save your life!

We all like being comfortable, but we should recognize comfort can be a slippery slope. A little comfort is a good thing and enhances life. You could even argue a certain amount of comfort is necessary for survival.

But with too much comfort, something happens. Our senses become deadened, we slip into a coma-like, almost-vegetative state, and turn into medicated-zombies. Too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing.

When we like our comfort too much, we become obsessed with protecting and maintaining it… at all costs. We’re constantly on guard against anything that might rock the boat.

When we like our comfort too much, there’s no way we’ll do something that might make us uncomfortable. We have a tendency to walk through life half-asleep, with our head in the clouds.

When we like our comfort too much, we’re happy with how life is. We ignore the facts that we are not yet who we are to be, that the world is not yet what it is to be, and that we have an active role to play in these things coming about.

When we like our comfort too much, we’re not very interested in making a difference, of serving, of living for another.

We must remember we were not called by Christ to be comfortable or complacent. We were called to count the cost, to serve the least of these, to be living sacrifices.

The best thing for you and I is a healthy level of dissatisfaction. Of discomfort. Of longing for what is to come. At least enough to get us off the couch…

So how much discomfort can you handle? How much do you want?

Tu Eres Todo

This is our rendition of the Lifehouse “Everything” drama our youth performed for the wonderful people of the Dominican Republic. Not so easy to see what’s going on, but they did a great job!

Can you identify with any parts of this girl’s story? Have you run to Jesus for rescue?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E95es-AlSGc]

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not

*Photo credit Audrey Augur

I come to God on my terms and on my merits. I perceive my standing before God to be based primarily on what I have or haven’t done. I decide whether or not I am worthy to approach God. I alone judge myself, and I do not take God or His Word into account in deciding my verdict.

I am one of two men. I am either full of pride or full of shame. I am prideful if in this moment I have a good track record of being good, disciplined or loving. On the other hand, I am ashamed if in this moment I am acutely aware of my inability to steer clear of sin and selfishness.

I come to God on my terms and on my merits… How foolish I am!

Contrast my modus operandi with the experience of the Prodigal Son and his older brother found in Luke 15. Both brothers learn a valuable lesson. The younger son discovers his poverty and inability to save himself. He comes to recognize his absolute need for his father, and he comes crawling back praying for mercy.

The older son is stunned by his father’s grace and mercy to the prodigal and cannot comprehend it. Why does his father not lavish love and attention like this on him? Of all people, he deserves it! He is full of pride and grows angry at the lack of “fairness.”

The Father’s love: One brother felt sure that he would never be able to earn it again; the other brother felt sure that he deserved it more than anyone else. Neither realized it was unconditional and not contingent upon either one of them.

Regarding you and I, God our Father has not moved. All this time, He has been standing at the edge of the driveway, looking up and down the street, waiting. And when I finally turn to Him and begin walking and He sees me, He comes running to me. I did not earn His love. I did not suddenly prove my worth. He made up His mind about me long ago; He’s just been waiting for me to realize it and come home.

As the writer of Hebrews tells us,

Dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.

Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise.

Hebrews 10:19-23