Monday, August 25, 2008

It's Not Worth It Without Him

Have you ever imagined a scenario where your most cherished possession was ripped from your reality? Perhaps a loved one is taken tragically, a talent or ability is lost by injury or accident, a dream of personal accomplishment is destroyed by failed circumstances. Think about the pain and anguish of knowing that your object of love and affection is now gone with no hope of returning. Life perhaps would no longer have the same value as it did before. You would begin to view the world differently, perhaps always failing to recreate the joy in your heart that was felt when the reality of your love existed. I imagine there was more anguish felt at the recent Olympics than there was joy as many athletes failed to realize their lifelong dream of Olympic gold. The past 4 years, probably longer, have been spent with one goal in mind. The faces of defeat spoke volumes...this was not how it was supposed to happen. Life, for now, seems incomplete but most Olympic athletes will find the strength to move on. While their joy and happiness has been wrapped up in sport, for most, new purposes and happiness will be found after the sense of loss has passed. For all of us, our joy and purpose is wrapped up in something. We live, fight and pursue after it with all we have. But when we fail to reach it, many of us can transfer that pursuit to something new. We can find a new object of love. I have learned that I cannot. I am beginning to echo the sentiments of Paul in Philippians 3:8. I am growing to realize that this life has no value, nothing worth pursuing beyond Christ. As I think about this world, I count the objects of it as rubbish, dung, doo doo, in comparison to knowing Jesus Christ. My pursuit, my passion, my joy, my purpose is wrapped up in the person of Jesus Christ. If you take Him from me I have nothing left to live for. The question has been posed, "How would your life change if it was suddenly proven that Jesus Christ never existed." My answer? You just took my life from me. You have just ripped my most cherished possession from my reality. The difference between me and an Olympic athlete? I can't get over that loss. Praise be to God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ that He does exist, He is in control and one day I will spend eternity with Him. My life makes sense because of Him. It's not worth anything without Him. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Love = Burning Coals of Fire

Romans 12 gives us a picture of practical Christianity...specifically the marks of a true Christian. We are given instruction on proper interaction with others, reflecting a radical new mindset and lifestyle in comparison to the lost world. In verse 14, Paul begins to instruct us on a new perspective regarding people who are "unlovable", people who, in our flesh, we do not naturally love. But now, with the Spirit indwelling us, we are to begin living contrary to our previous natural tendencies. Those who gives us problems, those who "persecute" us are to be given the exact opposite treatment from us. We are to esteem them, rather than curse them. We are to resist the urge to destroy them with our words in the eyes of others. Our response should never be to seek to "even the score" with someone else. Paul says we are to live peaceably with all, and as much as possible, we are to serve all people in love without partiality, the most difficult being our enemies. This is not easy. This contradicts what I, in my flesh, want to do. But this teaching cannot be applied unless the beginning of the chapter is first applied. My mind must first be renewed. I must fight the desire to be conformed to this world...conformity to this world results in seeking revenge against my enemies. I must battle the world's methods of shaping my mind and instead allow God's Word to shape the way I think, feel and act. As this happens, my response to mistreatment will gradually align with God's will for my life. I will begin to feed my enemies when they are hungry, I will begin to provide them drink as I see them thirsty...the implication being I will begin to meet their needs when I see them, as opposed to feeling vindicated when they are in need. And the most radical aspect of this teaching? By doing this, I actually accomplish what I wanted to accomplish all along. When someone wrongs me, my desire is for that not to happen again, right? And so my response is to pay them back, a.k.a. punish them for their wrong doing towards me. But the result of that action is the beginning of a back and forth war of trading blows with each other, the opposite of what I wanted to do (make them stop) and the opposite of what the Bible tells me to do (live peaceably with all men). Scripture overs a better solution. It says that by serving your enemies in love you will "heap burning coals on his head." For years I mistakenly interpreted this to mean that by doing good to my enemy I would be able to make him angry, and in some way "get revenge" without actually "attacking" him. But this concept of heaping coals has nothing to do with making your enemy angry at you. This is a reference to an ancient Egyptian custom, whereby someone would carry a pan of burning coals on his head to represent the pain, shame, guilt and remorse he felt for his actions. Do you see what this means? By serving my enemy in love, seeking to meet his needs despite his sinful action towards me, the result will be remorse and repentance by my enemy towards me. Whatever harmful action he had done towards me will now stop (what I want) and the result is a peaceful relationship between me and that person (what God wants and what ultimately I am learning to want). May God continue to transform me so that I can serve my enemies in love and help lead them to repentance for their sinful actions against me and others. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Radical? Or Normal?

The book of Acts provides us with the historical account of the early church and the growth and movement of Christianity from its beginnings in Jerusalem. As I examine the pattern of the early church though I'm afraid our American Christianity fails to resemble the radical lifestyle that was being exhibited by our early Christian brothers and sisters. But was their lifestyle really radical? Passages like Acts 2:42-47 describe a group of people who were "doing life" together...they were selling their possessions so they could use the money to take care of each other. II Corinthians 8 describes a body of believers that were striving to live at the same economic level and were using their excess money to take care of others who were in need. The life they were living was reflected by an intense love for other people, to the point that they were willing to suffer financially if need be to provide for the needy. Radical? Maybe. But the more I read, the more I feel this was the normal response, the normal attitude of someone who had truly experienced the resurrected Christ. Scripture seems to indicate a radical transformation being the norm for those who follow Christ in regards to how they view the things of this world. In fact, I John 2:15 says that continual love for worldly things is a sign that someone has never truly been saved. Radical? Only to the lost. The life Acts describes for a Christian...a total abandonment of worldly possessions and pursuits of fleshy things for the sake of the Gospel was the normal average calling for a Christ follower. This type of lifestyle was not reserved for the extreme Chrisitan, it wasn't reserved for the over the top Christian, it wasn't reserved for someone who had gotten saved early in life and later down the road decided they wanted to make a bigger commitment. It was the average, normal calling for a Christ follower. In fact those who were not willing to turn their back on the things of this world were also unwilling to follow Christ. Luke 18 describes a rich young ruler who, because of his great wealth and possessions, turned his back on following Christ. Jesus' words are true, you cannot serve both God and money. A choice must be made. A true decision to follow Christ always leads to a transformed view of money. Zacchaeus experienced this radical transformation in Luke 19 where he gives half his money away to poor people and then gives back 4x what he had stolen. Radical? Or just the normal average response of experiencing Christ? Matthew 25 shows just how serious of an issue this is. Here we are told that when Christ returns all peoples and nations will be divided into two groups, with each having a different eternal destination. The criteria used for dividing the groups will be on the basis of how one took care of people in need. The implication? A true follower of Christ is one who truly seeks to provide for those in need by giving of his money...his time...his life. On that day that type of life won't be reserved for the radical will define the true Christian.