Silencing the Rocks, Shine series #2

As Jesus enters Jerusalem in what is known as the Triumphal Entry, He is surrounded by crowds who are praising Him as God’s true king. The religious leaders view this as blasphemy and demand that Jesus silence the crowd. Jesus’ response to the religious leaders is somewhat peculiar. Instead of a simply “no,” Jesus makes a statement about rocks crying out. His statement uncovers for us a great deal about our purpose on earth and the outcome if we choose to be a silent majority rather than a vocal public witness to who Jesus is.

 

Seeking the Lost, Shine series #1

Zacchaeus was a wee little man…a man whose life was transformed through his encounter with Jesus. As his story comes to a close, Jesus makes the declaration that He has come to seek and to save that which is lost – those who are like Zacchaeus was. Now, He desires to accomplish this through His followers and when He does it is one of the most joyous occasions in our lives.

 

Life: Meaning and Mystery

As a child I was fascinated by the television show, In Search Of. The show was hosted by the man who played Spock on the science fiction series, Star Trek, Leonard Nimoy. Each episode of In Search Of centered around Nimoy’s pursuit to uncover some mystery of life in a thirty minute show with enough time reserved for several commercials from the sponsors. These mysteries of life covered everything from the resting place of Noah’s Ark and the location of the tomb of Jesus to aliens, ufo’s and haunted houses. The show always fascinated me because in my childhood naivety I believed that Leonard Nimoy was the smartest guy in the world. How else could one explain his amazing ability to overcome every obstacle and provide all the answers the whole world was looking for? Sadly, my bubble has since been broken when I was informed that a whole team of people fed Spock his information. I must admit I was nothing short of crushed when this information first came to me.
Even though Leonard Nimoy may not have been the superhero I thought he was there is one thing he taught me that is absolutely certain, life is full of mysteries. Spock unveiled several mysteries for me, but there are still many questions which have been left unanswered. And there is one mystery which In Search Of never even sought to tackle. A mystery that has plagued the minds of mankind for centuries and though many have claimed to have solved the mystery still the search goes on generation after generation by a new batch of pioneers. It is the mystery of the meaning of life. What exactly is the meaning of life? How exactly do we find meaning in life? Is there really a purpose for our existence on this giant blueberry or are we simply just a product of an evolutionary process doing nothing more than existing, surviving and evolving?
Several thousand years ago the quest to answer some of life’s most pressing questions was tackled by a man who had all the resources necessary to perform an exhaustive search for the answer to this question. He had the brains; you could actually say he had been given a dose of divine wisdom. He had the money; if we were to transfer his assets into today’s standards it would be safe to say his wealth would dwarf that of Donald Trump or the Rockefellers. He had the connections; his friends consisted of queens, kings, princes, philosophers and the like from all across the known world. And he had the time; what else does someone who has a servant for every task do? He wasn’t limited by anything or anyone as he set out on his quest. And so he searched everything under the sun.
His conclusion at the end of his search may shock and/or annoy you. After this exhaustive search he emphatically proclaimed that everything is meaningless. How’s that for a show that will bring some high ratings to the network? Somehow I don’t think that’s exactly what we want to hear. His basic conclusion is as follows, “You want to know the meaning behind your existence, there is none.” He is not seeking to be overly pessimistic or sarcastic with this answer, simply realistic. If we can grab hold of this reality – that if the depth of our pursuit of meaning goes not deeper than trying to find our meaning in the monotonous repetition of the daily grind of work, or the futility of seeking to leave a legacy, or the pursuit wisdom gained through experience – then we will end up living a meaningless existence trapped in the monotonous drone of life as it ticks past us one second at a time.
Nothing satisfies. In his quest nothing that our seeker saw, discovered, attempted, produced, initiated, or concluded in his lengthy search brought lasting significance or personal satisfaction.
But his search didn’t go beyond this finite earthly existence. The search was conducted as if there was or is no God. If we live as though that is the case, true or not, then our lives are nothing but a monotonous repetition of complete meaninglessness.
I have no doubt many reading this are really pursuing being good people, trying to make the most of life and trying to find meaning in anything but God. You may look good, you may be very smart, and have great potential. You’re hoping there is a real light at the end of the tunnel. You may even keep telling yourself that it is life and happiness you’re pursuing, all the while ignoring the voice in the back of your head that keeps whispering yours is an effort in futility. As long as you keep your search earthbound you will find nothing but meaninglessness and monotony. The only way you will find meaning in life is in looking beyond this finite earthly existence to the Author of life. His name is Jesus Christ and He wants to bring meaning to your life. He says, “I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly.” How can he make that promise? Because He is, “the way – to find meaning, the truth – that reveals true meaning, and the life -we’ve all been looking for, no one comes to the Father except through Him.” Why would we want access to the Father? He is the Author of life. Not only did He create the heavens and the earth but He also created all of mankind in His image. It is through a relationship with Him, the one who made us, that we unlock the mystery of meaning in life. Without that relationship everything is nothing more than an exercise of futility.

A Must Read series #7: “Chapter 6: Doors of Opportunity”

message title: Chapter 6: Doors of Opportunity

message text: Revelation 3:7-13

message date: 05.16.10

These days it seems that everyone has a strategy, opinion, plan, or formula for how the church should look and operate.  However, only one voice really matters, the voice of the one who gave His life for the church, Jesus Christ.  The book of Revelation contains 7 letters to 7 churches in which God tells us what His church should look like in order to reflect His image.  He shares what to avoid and what to embrace as we reveal the image or our glorious Groom, Jesus Christ.  The church at Philadelphia had a unique opportunity to be a gateway to the gospel for the city and surrounding cities.  From this church we learn that God will open doors of opportunity for us to spread the gospel and we must be zealous about taking full advantage of those opportunities.

 

chapter six doors of opportunity outline 7

Growing Up On Commercials

            Growing up commercials taught me the basic truths of life.  If you are honest with yourself I bet they taught you some of the basic truths of life as well. 

            Here are some of the things I learned about life from commercials.  I learned that they don’t make things like they used to from a grandma who just wanted a big juicy flavorful burger from her favorite good old fashioned burger joint.  Instead she was presented with an overcooked undersized patty of soy meat that left her crying out, “Where’s the beef?”

            I also learned that the quickest and most surefire way to world peace is not nuclear disarmament, which was a big issue growing up in the 70’s and 80’s you may recall, nor was it through peace talks and treaties sanctioned by the United Nations.  The solution to all the fighting and hate in the world was much simpler than that.  All we needed to do was simultaneously get a Coca-Cola in one of the hands of every individual on the planet and a luminary of some sort; match, candle or lighter in the other hand, and then all together we sing in perfect harmony.  Suddenly all the fighting and conflict would melt away like an ice cube sitting on the dashboard of a car in the summer sun.

            Yet another truth illuminated through the wonder of television commercials was that someone could have saved Mr. Mick Jagger a lot of heartache and frustration had they just handed him a Snickers bar before one of his concerts.  Because everyone knows that Snickers satisfies you.  Apparently he didn’t watch commercials like I did because the poor guy was running around trying and trying and trying and trying to get some satisfaction and all he needed to do was turn on the tube for a few minutes and he would have seen testimonials from individuals who were facing the same crisis in life but averted a life of despondency by simply supplementing meals with an occasional visit to the vending machine.  I wonder if anyone has told him yet?

            Now that I’ve grown some and had the opportunity to put many of these truths to the test I’ve learned that some of these truths hold water and some don’t.  The truth that they don’t make things like they used to does hold water but sometimes that’s not such a bad thing.  I tried to bring about neighborhood peace as a boy thinking that if Coca-Cola had the power to bring world peace then surely it had the power to bring peace among my friends over something as silly as a girl.  But no amount of caffeine and singing could solve the conflict. 

            Probably the greatest disappointment was in my dear friend the Snickers bar.  Surely the testimonials of countless Americans couldn’t be wrong, but alas, either they were wrong or their sights were set lower than the mercury in a thermometer at an observation station in Antarctica.  Eating a Snickers every time I was discontent, frustrated or despondent left me with nothing but a few extra pounds and a mouthful of cavities.  Though some of you may love the occasional shot of Novocain followed by a pint sized jackhammer pounding away at your enamel leaving you with drool sputtering out the corner of your mouth that scenario has never found its way into my definition of satisfaction. 

So I was left wondering, with my good old friend Mick, if I could ever get some satisfaction.  But then I heard the testimonial of another individual who wasn’t heralding the wonders of a Snickers bar but of a man by the name of Jesus Christ.  Everything that all these products had promised and not delivered he claimed Jesus could deliver.  The liberation Christ promises is the same yesterday, today and forever delivering the same redemption today that our ancestors enjoyed.  In Him is the means to peace not only between individuals and nations but peace for the conflict within ourselves.  And when He has been welcomed to come and fill the empty shell we call life He will satisfy and keep on satisfying like no six ounce candy bar ever could.  Now that’s a commercial that someone should be airing on every station, every hour until everyone finally hears and believes there is no greater, or truer, truth of life.

Fear

            Fear is one of the most powerful influences driving our lives, and to varying degrees we all stare it down on a regular basis.  It is an influence that both draws and repels us.  We hate the fact that we are fearful and try to avoid those things which send a chill down our spine and cause us to freeze like a deer in the headlights, but at the same time we are almost hypnotically drawn to those things that strike fear in our hearts as though there is some hauntingly attractive quality about them.  It is almost as if we are puppets and fear is holding the strings, pushing away and drawing us back at its own demented impulse, and to varying degrees we find it painfully enjoyable.

            Fear is the thing that drives much of the amusement industry.  These puppet masters expend immense amounts of brain power and financial capital to perfect the art of pushing human beings just beyond the boundaries of their fear threshold.  Then we pay them for entrance into these ‘amusement’ parks just so they can take us to the brink, and we walk away calling that fun, further cementing our demented relationship with fear. 

            The same is true of several of the movie and television genres of the day.  Whether it be a ‘thriller’, ‘suspense’, or ‘horror’ puppet masters are once again sent to task with the goal of weaving a yarn that will take movie goers or couch potatoes just beyond the limits of their fears with the purpose of the audience walking away feeling entertained possessing what could almost be labeled a sense of satisfaction for sitting through the entire experience.

            Of course, these are controlled environments that give us a sense of power over our fears, a fact we must not overlook.  We are fine with our fears as long as we feel as though we are in control of the puppet strings, because then there is no overwhelming sense of imminent danger for us.   But what about those things we can’t control?

            Fear of the flu seems to grow each year since the outbreak of the avian flu just a few years ago and now with the H1N1 strain this year.  People wear medical masks and governments are hard at work on possible vaccines for fear that at any time the threat could become an epidemic if we human beings did not stay one step ahead.  Responses to such things vary.  Many are forced to face a fear that is beyond their control along with the questions in their lives they may not be ready to answer, so anxiety heightens.  Others just laugh and sweep such threats under the rug.

            The current instability in the Middle East and other parts of the world has stirred up chilling fears in many that rival those that suffocated many during the days of the Cold War.  Once again the threat of nuclear war is wreaking its havoc. 

            Still a greater fear, on a national level was stirred nearly a decade ago on the fateful day in September, 2001.  The reality that terrorism could invade our borders, hit many with a crippling force that has left many fearful to this day.  And though all were not crippled by fear all were impacted.  Thankfully, the fear drove many people to action, but even this action has at its roots fear, the fear that if something wasn’t done the same thing could happen again. 

            On a regular basis each of us is faced with situations and realities that force us to stare down our fears to varying degrees.  We are continually reminded that regardless of the marvels of medicine, we all must face our finiteness.  And ultimately, most fears we face find this reality as the source of their power.  They remind us we are not invincible, we are breakable and one day the system is going to shut down.  It may be in our sleep or while we are awake.  It may be long and painful or it may be short and painless, but we all will face the reality one day. 

            Jesus was keenly aware of the crippling power of fear in our lives.  It was something for which He wanted us to have the right perspective.  His comments concerning fear are both a source of contemplation and, for those who know Christ, a source of comfort.  He gives us valuable insight into the proper handling of fear when He says, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather, fear Him who can kill both soul and body in hell.”  God is not a puppet master seeking to profit from our fears, but the reality is that our Creator desires a relationship with us that only comes through a right relationship with Jesus Christ.  And if that is a relationship you are missing then all other fears in your life are child’s play.

sowing in tears, reaping with joy

I have been spending a lot of time for the last several weeks thinking about sharing Jesus with individuals who have yet to enter into a relationship with him. My focus has primarily been in two place within Jesus’ own teaching; his admonition to love our neighbor as ourself and the parable of the sower found in the gospel of Mark. I’ve been allowing these to just marinade in my mind along with my own life experiences and it has been quite a journey.
In the parable of the sower Jesus uses the metaphor of seed for the good news of new life through him. As one of his followers I am to scatter and scatter and scatter seed and like the farmer in his parable I need to be prepared that a large percentage of the seed is not going to find good soil and produce a crop. Any follower of Jesus who has ever done any measure of scattering knows this percentage to be true and also knows the heartache and discouragement that accompanies the process of being a scatterer of the seed of the good news that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life.

Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him. Psalm 126:5-6

That is why my reading of Psalm 126 was so encouraging this morning. It was a reminder that weeping often accompanies being a sower of seed. I don’t know how it couldn’t for a person who realizes what is at stake in this process. Few things break my heart like having someone who I have grown to care about dearly let me know that they don’t have any time for or interest in the God who has radically transformed my life for the better. As I think about that I can connect with the words of the psalmist when he writes there are those who sow in tears and there are those who go out weeping bearing seed for sowing. Jesus himself can been seen in this state when he looked out over the multitudes following him and said to his disciples that the fields (meaning people) were ready to be harvested and were filled with people who were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd they were wandering aimlessly.
But I was encouraged and inspired this morning as I read Psalm 126 because the psalmist says those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy. Lots of seed may be scattered and only a small percentage may actually reap a harvest, but when that harvest comes and someone actually recognizes and embraces their need for Jesus Christ it is beyond amazing, it’s indescribable! In a simple kind of way it’s like playing a horrible round of golf but having your best hole on number 18. That makes you long to come back for more. It’s not a perfect analogy but the motivation is very similar.
Bottom line, let’s not become overwhelmed and discouraged over all the tears we shed and seemingly pointless scatter of spiritual seed that we spread but encourage one another to keep our eyes on the joy that comes with the harvest. I can resolve myself to nothing less because the harvest is far to valuable and the stakes just way to high. I pray the same for you.

the power of a little light

A few years ago my wife and I toured Mammoth cave with some family. Throughout the tour our guide would pause and gather the group together to share some amazing fact about the caves or point out some unusual rock formation or simply tell one of those tour guide jokes we have all grown so fond of, but about halfway through the tour on one of our routine stops we found ourselves in this massive opening of the cave. It felt as though we were in a naturally formed underground cathedral of sorts complete with its own rock décor. My wife and I were ogling over the many finer points of the cave and not paying much attention to what the tour guide was saying when all of a sudden the lights went out on us. Though we weren’t aware of it, because we hadn’t been listening, this was part of the tour. Never in my life have I experienced such absolute darkness. In that split second before I realized it was all part of the tour I was overcome by the most haunting feeling of desperation. In the blink of an eye I had gone from the center of a group of people to feeling completely alone. One second my wife and I were pointing and commenting on some rock formation some 100 feet away and the next we weren’t even able to see our hands right in front of our eyes. I had an instant object lesson in what is means when people say that the darkness is so thick you can cut it with a knife. It was amazing to me how something intangible could suddenly become so tangible. I know it was only in my head but it felt as though the darkness had literally overcome me to the point of squeezing the air out of my lungs. It only lasted for a few short seconds, long enough for the tour guide to make his point with dramatic effect, before he clicked on his tiny little flashlight. Though this little light’s beam started out about the size of a quarter it illuminated the entire chasm invading every cleft and corner and casting shadows throughout the room. That same tiny little light that was so powerful in the confines of the blackness when turned on in the sunlight above was barely even visible. It was in the dark that the light was most appreciated and most needed.
lightindarknessOur little trip through the caves got me thinking, it is as if the smallest amount of light is infinitely more powerful than massive amounts of dark. It seems as though the more intense the darkness the more piercing the light, even the smallest beam. In the darkness light tends to have an almost hypnotic effect on all those who are within range of it’s glow. As if some alluring melody radiates from the light calling all to its warming embrace, and giving hope to those immersed in the darkness no matter how small the sliver of light.
Our tour guide’s flashlight was such a welcome sight that afternoon in the cave but not primarily because it was a light. I didn’t stand there and admire that tiny flashlight as we stood there in the darkness, none of us did. The flashlight was a welcome sight because of the hope that was found in that little beam. I realize I’m going to embellish a little here, but just humor me for a minute. Put yourself inside that cavern. When those lights go out and the darkness envelopes, the realization comes crashing in that without the presence of just a little light all hopes of ever exiting the darkness are doomed. With each passing moment hope is slowly disintegrated, but as that light comes on it is as if hope floods the scene. I realize that right now you are probably thinking, “It was a cave tour for Pete sake!” You’re right, but it paints a picture of the need for the hope that light brings into our existence. Life could not exist without the light of the sun, just as hope does not truly exist apart from the light of the Son. So if you are a follower of Christ let your light shine bright wherever you happen to be. Not so that people will look at the light and admire it, but because of the hope that it brings to those who are within its glow. And if you are not a follower of Christ and you find yourself in darkness, look around and know that the smallest amount of light is infinitely more powerful than massive amounts of dark so if there is light around you, you will find it.