Feeling foolish?

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes . . “ – Romans 1:16

The book of Revelation foretells destruction of everything man-made – governments, idols, economic systems – all created by the human mind and effort. In spite of learning, technology,  and advanced civilization, everyone described in Revelation 13 is conned by a charismatic, but deceitful, world leader, except the followers of Jesus.

Following Jesus is not a second-rate way of life. The way of the world can seem more intellectual, more complex, or more rational, but only the way of Jesus will bring what we need most – peace with God and peace in our souls. Jesus is the way of life, light, and truth.

Why do so many not see that? Why are the people described in Revelation so easily deceived by the world systems? Hear Ravi Zacharias: “A man rejects God neither because of intellectual demands nor because of the scarcity of evidence. A man rejects God because of a moral resistance that refuses to admit his need for God.”

Many in today’s world try to make Christianity appear foolish and Jesus’s followers as intellectually lacking. But, if Ravi is right, it’s not a matter of evidence, it’s a matter of the heart. A willingness to believe truth has to be there before truth can be clearly seen.

As Christians, we must be committed to knowing truth. At the same time, we should know that, while Christianity is intellectually defensible, it is about so much more than that. It is acknowledging the Creator and his right to our worship and allegiance. Once the submission barrier is crossed, truth becomes clear. Only God and a willing heart can make that happen.

A wise man may look ridiculous in the company of fools.” – Thomas Fuller

Disease

“But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.” – Malachi 4:2

We have treatments for many illnesses these days: medicines, pain killers, physical therapy, even surgeries when the simple fixes don’t work. Then there are things that aren’t so easy to treat: cancer, psychological disorders, or even epidemic viruses that come suddenly on the scene.

For some in this world it seems nearly everything is untreatable. In less-developed countries, many people don’t even have aspirin, the nearest doctor may be miles away, and getting there is on foot. What to do when disease strikes and there is no treatment, no cure?

The crowds following Jesus in Bible times were in similar circumstances. They sought him out because they were sick or disabled and had no hope but him. When they pleaded for help, he responded with compassion, and they were made whole.

Some of us need that kind of healing in our lives today, don’t we? The kind for which there is no ready cure. Our needs might relate to our bodies, but often to our minds or emotions as well.

Most of us have some kind of dis-ease we face every day. What do we do? If there’s a treatment we can get from a doctor or a counselor, we need to do so. But sometimes what we are dealing with is something only God can heal.

If Jesus were here, we’d go to him just as the crowds did centuries ago.

Remember, he’s still here.

He’s still loving.

He invites us to bring our dis-ease to him. Let’s be as bold as those early followers and ask him to intervene today.

“The spiritual journey is the unlearning of fear and the acceptance of love.” – Marianne Williamson

Confused? Frustrated?

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” – Luke 24:32

If you feel challenged and confused these days, you’re not alone! Many are mourning the absence of life as they knew it and are wondering how things will change when everything settles down. What will the new normal look like?

After Jesus’ crucifixion, his disciples struggled with some of those same challenges. They’d believed Jesus was the Messiah. They’d followed and trusted him over several years, and now he was dead. They couldn’t imagine what their new normal would look like.

On the Sunday after Jesus’ death, two disciples were walking toward the town of Emmaus when a third man joined them on the journey. Luke tells us that their faces were “downcast”. Their new companion listened as they told him about the events over the past three days – Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion, burial, and their crushed hopes. And now, some were telling of an empty tomb, and that confused the situation all the more.

Don’t you love that Jesus. though unrecognized, was with them right then in their confusion and pain? Through Scripture, he began to make everything clear. And, when they sat down for a meal, he prayed and broke bread and at that moment they recognized it was Jesus who had been with them all along! He listened to their problems, taught them from Scripture, and revealed himself to them – alive!

Jesus is here in our confusion, too, and his mode is still to listen, teach, and reveal. Don’t you think we can trust that he will help make sense of whatever we are going through? I do!

“All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” – Julian of Norwich

Rethinking the Cross

“He has made everything beautiful in its time.” – Ecclesiastes 3:11a

I never expected to be wearing a gold cross around my neck. I heard all my life about the suffering of the cross and was told we should not trivialize its awfulness. I agreed because what they said was so logical. Then I changed my mind.

I read about the early church’s choice of the cross as its symbol. They chose the cross because it was the turning point of history. On that day, Jesus’ work was finished. The veil of the temple was supernaturally torn apart indicating the opening of the way for us to enter God’s holy presence. Early Christians could have selected a symbol other than the terrifying cross. But they didn’t. They chose the cross, I believe, because Jesus had transformed it from a thing of horror to a symbol of hope.

He does that! He takes messy lives and makes them beautiful. He changes murderers into saints, drug addicts into Good Samaritans, and the apathetic into enthusiastic followers of God. Satan thought he had used an instrument of torture to defeat Jesus that day, but no – Jesus had turned the battered, blood-stained cross into a thing of beauty.

I was involved in a women’s Bible study when I began to realize all this, and I told them about the change in my thinking about the cross. A short time later, they presented a simple gold cross necklace they had purchased as a gift for me. I wear it almost every day. The cross is beautiful because Jesus made it beautiful. And wearing it is a moment-by-moment reminder of whose I am!

“If the cross of Christ is anything to the mind, it is surely everything – the most profound reality and the sublimest mystery.” – John Stott

 

NOTE: Some of the most insightful teaching on the cross can be found in John R. W. Stott’s book, The Cross of Christ.

A Little Bit of Light

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12

I well remember being afraid of the dark as a child. Every sound seemed threatening and what I thought was hiding under my bed kept me wide awake. Turning on the light to check the dark corners was the only solution to my fear.

The darkness evident in the world today causes similar anxieties. But, there is a solution for those fears, too, and it is held in the hands of those who follow Jesus. 

Jesus told us he is the light of the world. That we can believe. He is true, right, and good. Then, he turned to his disciples (that includes those who follow him today) and said, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). What? Me? You? Yes. He has entrusted us with the awesome and sometimes scary responsibility of bringing light to dark places.

Light reveals what’s hidden in the darkness and it shows a way out of the darkness.* Many people think they know how to deal with the darkness around us, but, Jesus says his followers are the ones who carry the light of this truth: The solutions to the most basic problems in this world are found in him.

How are we doing as lights of the world? We might be tempted to back away when we realize that many people don’t want the hidden things of darkness to be revealed. Jesus warns us not to hide our light. Instead, he says we must hold it high, ready to warn of the dangers lurking in the dark and eager to lead those who are willing directly to Jesus, the source of all light and truth.

“Give light, and the darkness will disappear of itself”. – Erasmus

 

 

*Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Martino Publishing: Mansfield Centre, Connecticut,), 2011, p. 168.

He’s calling you.

. . . they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.”– Mark 10:49

Imagine being blind in a world where there’s no economic safety net. Every day someone leads you to a spot on the road where people pass by. You call out when you hear them coming, just hoping someone will have mercy and give you a coin or two. Imagine that life day after day. No change. Nothing to look at. Unthinkable boredom. No hope. Then you hear of Jesus and his miracles. Maybe, just maybe, he would give you more than a coin and everything would change!

When blind Bartimaeus heard Jesus was on his way to Jericho, he was determined to get his attention. So, he shouted, begging Jesus to stop, to be merciful, to respond to his need. He was so obnoxious that people around him asked him to quiet down. But Jesus heard his cry and spoke to some who were nearby, “Call him.” They went over to Bartimaeus and gave him this amazing message, “Take heart. Get up. He is calling you.” 

Bartimaeus got to his feet and allowed the men to lead him to Jesus where his life was changed in an instant. He could see! No more need for someone to lead him by the hand. No more need to beg in order to survive. No more mind-numbing existence sitting alongside the road. New life began the moment he met Jesus.

Where are you in life today? Jesus hears your cry and he’s calling you. He asks that you take heart, get up, and come to him. Only he can change your life!

“Faith is to believe what we do not see, and the reward of this faith is to see what we believe.” – Augustine of Hippo

Christian Privilege

“This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” – 1 John 2:5-6

We hear a lot these days about privilege, most frequently “white privilege”. We know it’s true, don’t we, that some of us grew up in more privileged circumstances than others? We had food to eat, decent clothes to wear. We had a safe place to live and got to go to school every day. 

We also know that with privilege comes responsibility. The Bible itself tells us that in Luke 12:48, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted much, much more will be asked.” It’s a biblical principal we must take seriously.

In light of that, think about this: As Christians, we have a far greater privilege than that which is afforded by our ethnicity, race, family stability, or the level of our education. We have the privilege of knowing and serving the living God! And with that comes greater responsibility than any social privilege might give us.

How do we live out that responsibility? We learn to yield to the Holy Spirit who will enable us to live as Jesus would if he were living our lives. We already know Jesus was confrontive with abusers, kind to children, compassionate toward the weak, patient with his followers, and enlightening to seekers of truth. His was the greatest privilege of all – after all he was the Son of God! He showed us how to live out privilege through humility and self-sacrifice.

The good news is that Christian privilege is available to all, no matter religion, race, gender, or intellect. If we know that, we have a responsibility to spread the word!

” . . . life’s joys are only joys if they can be shared.” – Ravi Zacharias

 

Critic or Companion?

For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. – Psalm 103:14

“God’ll get you for that.” That was a supposed-to-be-funny, but semi-serious, retort when I was growing up. I think it was a view of God that many in my generation shared. God was just waiting for us to step out of line. Hard as I might try as a teenager, I knew I stepped across that line too many times. I kept waiting for God’s hammer to fall. 

Do you ever feel that way? That you really can’t measure up to God’s standards, so you might as well quit trying? If that’s your mindset, you may need a new view of God.

Yes, he is holy and wants us to live in ways that honor him, but he knows we are weak and will fail. That’s why he sent Jesus to live the perfect life we cannot live and to die and be raised to pay for all within us that falls short of God’s standard. Does that sound like a God who’s just waiting for us to step out of line so he can zap us? No! It sounds like a loving God who made a way for us to become better over time – not by our own efforts, but by the power of the new life he gives us through Jesus. 

It may be our view of God needs to change to be more consistent with the God Jesus revealed. As we walk with him, he guides and grows us. When he finds something to correct, he always does it lovingly. He is never out to catch us in a fault, but to help us overcome it.  

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. – A. W. Tozer

Saying “no” will break my heart.

Blessed is the one you choose and bring near,
    to dwell in your courts!
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house,
    the holiness of your temple! 
– Psalm 65:4

Do you want to know how God really feels about you? Are you a bother to him? A pest? Do you talk too much? Ask for too much? Say the wrong thing? Take a deep breath. He’s saying something like this to you right now:

I want you to be near me. You can talk to me. You don’t have to stay in a corner or try not to be seen. Come closer. Stay close. I’m in love with you. I want you with me always.

“He will rejoice over you with gladness;
 he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.” – Zephaniah 3:17

And, if that’s not enough, Jesus whispers, too:

I am your shepherd, your teacher. You can hear best when your heart is quiet and when you stay within the range of my voice. Stay close enough to hear me. 

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” – John 10:27

Finally, the Holy Spirit asks in his own way:

I’m reminding you that you are invited to the dance. You are welcome at the banquet. Please come. I love you so much that, if you say “no”, it will break my heart.

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” – Ephesians 4:30

Are you convinced yet of God’s love? Be brave and get a little closer. 

Our doubts do not destroy God’s love, nor does our faith create it. It originates in the very nature of God, who is love, and it flows to us through our union with His beloved Son.”  Jerry Bridges

Longer Prayers

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. – Mark 1:35

Don’t you wonder how Jesus spent all night in prayer with the Father? All night?

Years ago, when I had a severely depressed friend, I promised to spend an hour in prayer for her, pleading with God to meet the deepest needs of her heart. In about ten minutes, I had said all I had to say. But I had committed to an hour, so I expanded my prayer, repeated some things, and paused more often. It felt like a very long hour!

So, praying all night seems impossible to me! And the gospel writers indicate that it was Jesus’ habit to spend long hours in prayer.

Then I realized that for Jesus and God it was, very likely, a two-way conversation. Jesus talked and God responded, like a loving father and son would do. If you’re with someone you love, there are times when you talk and talk, then wonder where the time went.

That’s probably what it was like between Jesus and God. Intimate conversation. And God, with his heavenly perspective, giving direction, guiding Jesus’ ministry, telling him what to do next.

Jesus showed us how we humans can relate to our Father in heaven. Prayer is a big part of that: Asking for and then receiving direction, comfort, hope, empowerment, and provision. If it’s lovingly intimate and involves both speaking and listening, our short prayers tend to get longer. Jesus showed us what to do. It’s up to us to figure out how – through relationship with the One to whom we pray.

O, let the place of secret prayer become to me the most beloved spot on earth.” – Andrew Murray