Sunday, May 30, 2010

Running against Horses

I’ve been to two funerals and a wake last week and they were absolutely wonderful experiences.
Those were the first funerals I had ever been to. In each event I got to celebrate lives well lived, grieve with those who lost, have joy at the impact they make and wish that I would earn the same accolades when I pass into eternity as well.

Far from being glum and depressing (perhaps because they were African American Baptist and Nigerian affairs) they joyously celebrated the lives of Godly people who loved their families and served their communities. It’s rare when you are holding back tears one minute and then laughing uproariously the next, they were almost like weddings they were so happy.
These events were actually inspiring to me and when I left, I felt like I had known the person who passed for some time, even though that wasn’t the case.

At one, I heard a sermon preached on a little passage in Jeremiah that completely changed my view on suffering in life, and gave me pause about the hope that I have. For context, the sermon was preached by the son of the pastor who had died. It was very powerful in its simplicity – I’ll try to summarize.

"If you have raced with men on foot
and they have worn you out,
how can you compete with horses?
If you stumble in safe country,
how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?” - Jeremiah 12:5


Jeremiah was getting frustrated. God had called him to be his prophet to Israel, to get them to repent and pronounce the consequences if they didn’t. While Jeremiah had initial confidence in this task, his trust faded when things started getting very difficult. He is known as the “weeping prophet” due to his grief for Israel and the difficulty he endured at their hands (he gets thrown in a well and left to die at one point), and especially the troubling visions of its destruction in the book of Lamentations.

So like Elijah, Job and David, he gives his complaint to God when he is at the end of his rope The verse above was the beginning of God’s response. So why did I find God putting Jeremiah in his place so inspiring for my life now? Because it reminded me that I get tired easily when I run on my own power (fueled usually by my own pride). God hadn’t designed us to do anything worthwhile – much less ordained by him- on our own power. That is why Job, Jeremiah, Elijah, David, Moses, Abraham and everyone else whom we reckon as “righteous” has a similar conversation with God in which they laid their frustrations at his feet.

When we are worn out with the trials of life - our “men on foot,” that experience produces the diligence and humility in us to go to God so that we can race even against horses. I believe God was showing Jeremiah his weakness, warning him of the trials to come, and proving his faithfulness and wisdom by implying that it is possible to thrive and succeed in harder circumstances. By letting us and our desires get frustrated even in the “simple” things of this life, I think God is actually preparing us. We are stronger than we know if we depend upon him, and much weaker than we thought when we don’t.

Have you ever looked back on something and realized it was God who got you through it? Have you ever accomplished something and realized it was not on your own? By reminding Jeremiah that he is not doing as well as he anticipated, with trials still on the horizon come, I think God is actually being very fair and inspiring to him, though Jeremiah may not feel that way at the time. Sometimes the best advice or critique does not suit our ears upon first hearing. But the truth is there, God will not forsake us, and will actually bless us and empower us to endure and accomplish that which he has in store for us. However, we forsake ourselves when we don’t stop our striving and get coaching from Him.

I learn I run better and longer when following common wisdom, the advice of those smarter and more experienced than me, and in communion with others who are better. How much more so God, who is with us and will avail his infinite power, wisdom, and love to get us to finish the race and receive the crown of life He has in store for us.

So yeah, two funerals and one wake halve allowed me to see that over the course of these lives that impacted so many people - they raced against horses and won a reward in heaven. And we are expected to do the same. Be blessed.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Hope Floats

Before Jesus and his disciples got in the boat to cross to the other side; they were interrupted by two potential candidates to be His followers. The first was a Pharisee who told Christ that he will follow Him “wherever you go.” To which Jesus replied "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head."

This response was to let him know that it wasn’t going to be comfortable, easy, consistent or materially secure existence. Being a Pharisee was perhaps the most secure existence one could have in Jerusalem: you can’t argue with respect, influence, education, steady income and provision. People aren’t going to stop sinning and they were there to atone for them and legislate morality. Even Pilate and Herod were not as secure as the Pharisees, they were hated as symbols of oppression and had to beware the political schemes and machinations of the empire, rivals and even their own family members.

The other man, who also wanted to follow Christ but then first bury his father, was given a similar seemingly discomforting reply. The gospel does not make it clear whether either man got onto the boat with Christ, but when he and his disciples do set off, they are caught in a storm comes that has the power to sink the boat.

I think the order of events is significant here because we see the two biggest barriers to following Christ – trepidation and tribulation. Trepidation – the initial hesitance to leave behind, or make less important, the comfort and obligations of this life. Can we truly say that we count everything we take joy and pride in as “rubbish” as Paul states for the sake of knowing Christ? Those who approached Christ were used to “the things of the world,” and while that does not condemn them, Jesus warns them that in following him, he expects their priorities to be radically changed. So what can we let go of that impedes

Then there is the tribulation. When we actually get on the boat and go into open sea we can be coasting along fine but easily fall victim and feel exposed to unexpected storms. The storm came up as unexpectedly on the disciples as sea as it did those on shore. Yet, while it was seemingly much more dangerous to the disciples to at sea, they forgot that they were in the presence one that could silence the wind and waves with a word.

Like the disciples, and like the prophets and kings and men and women of God before them, we can look about frantically for where Christ is and wonder if he even cares that we are about to drown. David many times laments the lack of the presence of God. Moses and Elijah both poured out their frustration and bewilderment at their bad fortune and apparent abandonment. However, what did all those people do when they were at their wits end? They took it to God, albeit in self-justified anger, frustration, confusion and grief.

David wept and vented, Abraham sighed, Moses complained, Elijah whined and the disciples exasperated “do you not care that we are about to drown?”

Is there value in us being at our wits end and seeking God? I think God wants that frustration from us at times because it shows that we actually value the relationship. I think about all the people I’ve felt true disappointment in – those people were definitely closer than acquaintances. I don't want to make it sound as base as God wants to rile us up, but he wants to show us consistently that he is present, and that his will is as good as it is mysterious. However, ultimately it allows him to show us that he has infinite wisdom, and our best in mind. It may take us time after the fact to fully grasp that - be we have ample time as we are delivered and on dry land again on the other side of the sea, following Him to what lies ahead.

God bless

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Pissed Off & Sick and Tired

You ever get sick and tired of being sick and tired? I am sick and tired of watching born again Spirit-filled, whether you speak in tongues or not, children of the Most High God suffer. I know in this world we will have trials, Jesus promised that we would, but Jesus also promised that greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world.

I am pissed off that Jesus gave up His place in Heaven, came and lived on this earth, endured ALL He did in order for us to walk in freedom and we do not even believe that we can.

I am sick and tired of watching my Chrisitan Brothers and Sisters, especially my sister's struggle with areas of their past and life when God's Word tells us that we are to forget the former things and remember them no more because God is going to do a new thing in us.

I am pissed off that when we become saved that the Holy Spirit seals us, Jesus lives in us, yet we feel like we have to struggle with areas of our life. He is in us, He wants to deliver us, He wants to make us free, yet we are afraid to let Him.

I am sick and tired of "Chrisitans" judging other "Chrisitans" when they come to them admitting their sin, seeking healing and prayer, and they walk away feeling even more condemned than they were before. Have we forgotten that there was no good in us until Jesus came and set us free? That regardless of what we did or did not do, how much time we spent in the clubs and the bars, even how much time we did or did not spend in the church that we ALL were on our way to hell until Jesus found us. Yes, He found us because we were too busy trying to clean ourselves up and "get our life right" before we would go to church and give our life to the Lord.

I am just pissed off and sick and tired!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

National Day of Prayer Today!

Sorry, its been a minute...

I don't know if I'm going to make it to city hall today (didn't plan on it) but today I encourage and join with you all in praying for our nation. Not just its leadership but the entirety of civic life. I realized this morning how easy it is to lambast our leaders (some more than others depending on your political philosophy) but overall they need as much grace getting out of bed each day as we do.

One of my prayers today is that Christians will show an attitude of attention, respect, and restraint to our leaders while seeking to hold them accountable. Irregardless of our political beliefs, we belong to a faith in which the Apostle Paul encouraged slaves to not be disrespectful to their masters so that their masters may be converted by their witness of character. Paul was not supporting the insitatuion of slavery, but the reconciliation of man with God. We need to be keenly aware of the impact our individual witness and actions can affect an entire system for the kingdom of God.

Furthermore, we are called to be obedient and respectful to every authority in this world as they are placed there by God. Of course we do not have to on the points where they do not agree with God’s law, but again, there is as difference between the testimony of our character and the preferences of our minds. “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” Jesus said, after being asked if it was lawful to pay taxes, “and unto God what is God’s”. Jesus used the illustration that money was Caesar’s since it bore his image, but people are God’s since we are created in His image. In praying for others and our leadership, let us remember who we all belong to. The Caesar’s of our time need just as much grace as we do getting out of bed, Lord help us all to remember that we belong to you, and you want us to care for and pray for each other.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Surely He did!

Isaiah 53:4-6

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the
punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Its amazing how Isaiah wrote this more than 700 years before Christ and yet it describes him to a t. Likewise Psalm 22 prophesies the suffering of Christ:

16 Packs of dogs close me in,and gangs of evildoers circle around me; *they
pierce my hands and my feet; I can count all my bones.
17 They stare and
gloat over me; *they divide my garments among them; they cast lots for my
Yet even in the midst of such suffering we should be reminded of Christ's words to his disciples and to us:

I am the good shepherd.. and I lay down my life for the sheep….. The
reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my own life—only to take it up
again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.

I have authority to lay it down, and authority to take it up again.”
“I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of the world is coming.
He has no hold on me, but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I
do exactly what my Father has commanded me.”

(Jn 14:30-31)

Enjoy your Good Friday with the shepard who lay down his life to grant you an eternal one!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Passion 1

Yesterday I had a thought occur to me:

The biggest miracle in my mind that Jesus ever performed was never once doing his own will.

Seriously, I know he walked on water, healed the sick, released the possessed, spoke the truth with wisdom and authority and was resurrected from the dead through the power of the holy spirit - but all that would have been for naught if he "just wanted to do his own thing."

I don't say this lightly, I look at the state of my persistent rebellion against God, whether inspired by fear, laziness, pride or arrogance and I realize - I simply can't do this. I can't do what God wants me to all the time - its nigh impossible for everyone. And yet Christ did just that. I know some people who have the wrong concept of sin think "No big deal, I think Jesus was a good person" because Jesus is as good as or better than them or hundreds of thousands of other people on earth. However, ask the same person if they can go through a day without being self-centered or self-interested or continually ensure that their actions are at the prompting or benefit of someone else ahead of their desires.

So the reason I bring this up is today is Palm Sunday - the liturgy starts Joyous - the triumphal entry - and ends sadly and suddenly - Christ's betrayal, trial, and crucifixion. This reading stuck out to me glaringly from the bulletin and reminded me that through it all, Christ was in this for the glory of God:

"Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point death - even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
- Philippians 2:5-11

Paul is right, this is the facet of Christ that is most impressing me and and making me praise him is the fact that he did it all for the Glory of God, for 33 years whereas I can't be bothered to think of someone else for more than 3 seconds. Praise Him who did this for you and I, praise Him who did this with the end in mind of God's glory and our benefit. His greatest miracle is an everlasting one as he changes our hearts to do the same.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Preparing for Life's Trials

"I have told you these things so that in me, you will have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." -John 16:33

Why is it that we prepare for everything in life, except for our trials? We study for exams and quizzes, we save for our wedding, we save for vacation, we even save for the dream car that we always wanted as a teenager and plan to purchase in our mid 50's. When in reality, there is no guarantee that we will live until our 50's, be able to take a vacation, or even get married (I apologize to those of anxiously waiting and praying for your spouse.). Why don't we put that much time into preparing for life's trials? We know they are coming, yet we find ourselves preparing for them in the middle of them and at that point, it is no longer preparation, but mere survival. In John 16:33, Jesus tells us that we will have trials. What more do you need to know. It would be helpful to know when they were coming and what it is concerning, but we do not. However, we do know that we can overcome because he has overcome. Does us knowing that we will overcome make us complacent and keep us from preparing? I am not suggesting we worry, but maybe we should take some time getting ourselves ready. Questions or comments?