Thursday, April 28, 2011

Easter happened, now what?

Is there anything different? Another Easter has come and gone and life has seemed to continue on as always. Our lives are busy once again with the daily rigmarole of our work and family lives. The Royal wedding has captivated half the world, while the NFL draft in a Lockout scenario has captured the other half. People are still endlessly debating whether Obama is a natural born citizen, and my beloved Chicago Cubs are back to their losing ways. The question that hauntingly lingers within me is “has anything changed?”

In my position I have an opportunity to talk to many people who are struggling with different kinds of addictions, and the question for them is “does the resurrection of Jesus change anything?”

Looking out at the world of greed where billions of dollars cannot be shared agreeably among NFL owners and players, many who live in poverty are left asking “has the resurrection of Jesus changed anything?”

Those who are lost, lonely, struggling, or sick are all left wondering “does the resurrection of Jesus change anything?”

The truth about the resurrection of Jesus Christ is much greater than we have given it credit. Many understand that the resurrection of Jesus means we will be resurrected with him when we die. But what if I told you there is a more immediate consequence to this miraculous centerpiece of Christianity? What if I told you that Jesus is ready to resurrect your life right here and now?

I am not saying that Jesus is going to immediately lift you up into heaven. What I am saying is that many of us are dead as we speak. Many of us are living dead lives. Jesus died and rose to life, but we are still living the dead life that we have always lived and nothing has changed.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10).

Too often we observe the resurrection of Jesus thinking that it has no real bearing in our present life. We live our life waiting to be set free, waiting to be healed, and waiting to have new life. The problem with all this waiting is that Jesus has already laid the groundwork so that we may experience these things now.

We have become like Israel waiting on the banks of the Jordan too afraid to grab the Promise Land that God has already given us. Now I do not want to be accused of saying that if you have Jesus you will be successful in whatever you do, or that you will never be sick, or that you will never have trouble. The truth is you will have trouble in this world (John 16:33).

Life does not become easy because of the resurrection, but life does become different. Everything we were and everything we thought we knew about the world is put to death, and with Jesus we have a new way of living, a resurrected way of living. We become a new creation the old is gone and the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Easter changes everything. We are being called to be changed, to be made new, to be resurrected. If you find your life the same, it is because you haven’t give it over to Jesus. If you find you are still dead, it is because you haven’t been resurrected through faith. If you find yourself in the same old situation of addiction, loneliness, and failure you haven’t cried out to the savior.

May you begin to live your life new! May you weed out the dead parts of your life and experience the new resurrected life that Jesus has given you here and now!

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Easter shuffle

Easter Egg dyeing, hiding, hunting, eating, candy, pictures, dinner, guests, events, and more. No wonder a bunny has become the mascot for Easter because it seems we are hopping from place to place.

There are many holidays that make people’s lives and homes more busy than normal. Being a pastor Christmas is certainly a busy time, but Easter seems to take the cake as far as being having much to do and not enough time to do it. This year was less busy than last because it did not come with the addition of funerals as it did last year. However in one week there is a Maundy Thursday service, a Good Friday service, an Easter Egg Hunt on Saturday, and Easter service on Sunday.

With all this running around it is easy to forget why we are doing what we are doing. While spending time with family is wonderful, hosting Easter Egg hunts is fun, and chocolate is sometimes downright necessary, all this falls terribly short of the reason Easter is even observed.

Sometimes our good intentions, our visiting guests, and our planned events can get in the way of why we even bothered in the first place.

Chocolate falls short of Christ, events fall short of the love of God, and even family pales in comparison to the resurrection of Jesus. While all these things are good, the Son of God raising from the dead is central. We get so worn out from the season we are relieved when it is over. I know after Sunday’s Easter Service I breathed a heavy sigh of relief looking forward to some much needed rest.

Easter is not supposed to bring us to the brink of death, but to the resurrection of Christ, but our own overloaded schedules fog the scene of the empty tomb. Fortunately Easter is not over. Easter is not a day but a season. We are now in the time of celebrating Jesus coming up from the dead. Now that the hustle and bustle of Easter Day has settled down we are invited to slow down and celebrate the Easter miracle. As we have 40 days to prepare ourselves for Easter in the season of Lent, now is the time to celebrate for 50 days the exemplified love of Jesus the Son of God.

So let us all have a time to slow down, to approach the tomb of Jesus, to carefully observe the empty grave, and to rejoice in the risen Lord. May the God of new life give you new life in this wonderful time of Easter!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Dead Man Walking

“Dead man walking.” That is the phrase shouted as prisoners in the movie The Green Mile are led to their execution. In the gospels Jesus calls us to pick up our cross daily and to lose our life (Luke 9:23, 24). When I read those haunting words of Jesus I think about The Green Mile, I think about the reality that I have given my life away, as Paul says in Galatians 2:20 “I no longer live.” When we cling to Christ we become dead men/women walking. But why must we die?

Dying changes everything. If you knew that your life would cease by the week’s end that would change everything. For the first time you would truly see the cheapness of money, wealth, success, possessions, and status. Henri Nouwen in Reaching Out says that we all subconsciously are living with the false assumption that we are immortal. Even though we all admit we will die, we truly do not believe or comprehend its meaning. In fact, we build our lives up to avoid the thought or reality of death.

However, if we are brave enough to face our death we become free. If we can confront our own mortality we see the passing purposeless in this world’s treasures. If you knew you were dying soon you would not be so tight fisted with your money, you would not invest so much in office politics, you would not compromise your character for promotion, and you would be free from the world’s temptations because you would know that you were soon leaving it all behind.

Jesus calls us to lose our life so that we too may be free of this world’s temptations. We are called to be dead men/women walking. We are called to be free to pursuing nothing else but God’s Kingdom and his righteousness (Matt. 6:33). We become free to keep our mind on things above (col. 3:2), we are free to pour love, grace, mercy, and generosity on our neighbors, and we become free to worship God without restraint.

Too many times we want to preserve our life, but that simply imprisons us and prevents us to be free.

Take up your cross. May people see your faith and proclaim “dead man/woman walking” may everything change because you have died, and rose again in Christ Jesus our Lord!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"Not in my neighborhood!"

Nearly everyone in the U.S. is feeling the hurt of their emptying wallets as they fill their gas tanks. Again gas is at $4.00 a gallon. It would be cheaper to run our cars off eggnog or premium chocolate milk than gas. We Americans appreciate the value of a good deal, and it certainly feels like we are not getting one at the gas pump.

Basic economics suggest that supply and demand dictate prices. When demand is greater than supply, prices rise; when supply is greater than demand, prices drop. Therefore, many have sought to end the high gas prices by creating higher supply through drilling on U.S. soil. This has left many outraged protesting “not in my neighborhood!” Others suggest that the best way to manage cost is to decrease demand by using less, and again people have shouted “not in my neighborhood.” Many are demanding something to be done about gas prices, as long as it is done somewhere else and at the expense of someone else.

This attitude of “not in my neighborhood” has really been disturbing my heart over the last couple of years. I feel the problem of the “not in my neighborhood” mentality is of greater concern than whatever the price of gas will be.

When I came to Lynhurst Baptist Church almost two years ago I heard many in the community express their desire for the church to help with the hurting neighborhood. Many of these voices were non-attending neighbors who had great concern for the area. When Hope Garrett and Restoring Lives West and the church acquired a dilapidated home to restore for office use to help teenagers and young adults through crises and homelessness we were surprised by the reaction of some neighbors. The very neighbors who were quick to encourage me to help the neighborhood, were the very ones who opposed our work. While the opposition agreed to the need and ministry that Restoring Lives West was doing, they protested “not in my neighborhood.” We were blessed to have many neighbors support the ministry and its location, but I was shocked at the mentality of those who expressed concern for the neighborhood when I first arrived to Indianapolis refusal to support us.

I think most of us want lower gas prices, better schools, less violence, helpful programs for those in trouble, but we do not want these improvements come at a cost or sacrifice to us. We want lower gas prices, but we don’t want drilling in our neighborhood, we want better schools but we don’t want more taxes, we want God to transform lives of criminals, but not next door. We have become a people who want everything and want to give up nothing for it. I see the world suffering and full of brokenness because we are so unwilling to give up the very little we have to gain something so much more. We have forgotten to look beyond ourselves, beyond the now, and beyond comfort.

We see this in the scriptures. Jesus travels to a town by the name of Gerasenes (Luke 8:26-39). There was a man who was demon-possessed who lived in graves. Jesus freed the man by casting his demons out into a herd of pigs. When the demons entered the pigs they all ran off a steep bank and drowned. While I am sure the people of Gerasenes heard of Jesus before, and I am sure many were excited about the healings that he could perform, but to this town the cost was too much. Healings were good, the message of Jesus was good, his offer of life was good, but they were not willing to give up some measly pigs to allow something greater to come.

We need to look at our own world. We need to look at our lives and examine what it is we have been unwilling to sacrifice to allow God’s redemptive Spirit to work. We need to make sure that we are not surrendering spiritual restoration for a herd of pigs. We need to open our neighborhoods and our own doors and say “yes! In my neighborhood!”

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Do we need church?

Is church necessary to be saved? I think it is a question that we ask ourselves. This questions has produced many standby answers from both ends of the spectrum such as “God commanded it so you must worship at church” or “you can worship God anywhere so you don’t need church” “we are saved through faith so it is not necessary” or “it is good for some and not for others.”

There are many available answers to such a controversial subject. However, I believe whatever answer we create to satisfy the nagging question of duty, attendance, and salvation will be insufficient. I purpose that the very question itself makes it impossible to have a sufficient answer. Having the right question is just as important as having the right answer. The right question can lead us to right answers, but inappropriate questions have power to completely drive us off course. The Pharisees understood the power of the misleading question and many times tried to trap Jesus with their questions. In John 8 a woman who was “caught in the very act of adultery” was brought before Jesus so that they may catch him in a trap. They reminded Jesus that the law says someone caught in adultery should be stoned to death. Basically the Pharisees were asking Jesus if they should follow the law or not. Again Jesus was asked another question in attempt to trap him in Matthew 22 when he was asked if the Jewish people should pay taxes or not. At the time Rome was in charge and Caesar was a self proclaimed god and an enemy of the Jewish people. When Jesus was asked this question he was basically being asked “do we obey God, or Caesar?

In both instances Jesus refuses to answer the question. Instead Jesus gives a completely different answer that breaks outside the boundaries those very questions made. When asked if the woman should be stoned Jesus answered outside the boundaries of the question of law and obedience and gave an answer that was centered on grace and mercy. When Jesus was asked about the taxes Jesus answered outside the boundaries of honor and gave an answer that was centered on ownership.

When we ask if church is necessary we are basically asking a law based question about salvation. If we are honest we are simply trying to discover the bare minimum we have to do on order to be saved. A satisfying answer can never to be given to such a question because it is the wrong question with wrong motives.

It is the wrong question because we mix love and grace with law and punishment. The question is also wrong because of this word “saved.” This word “saved” has too often limited our understanding of what God is doing. The calling of Jesus was not simply to be saved, but to be restored, made new. This is why Jesus says “follow me.” If Peter’s response to Jesus’ call to follow him was “I have faith in you to be saved, but I will not follow” Peter would have missed out on the restoring life Jesus was offering. Many of us think we can “believe” in Jesus and stay put. Jesus bids us to follow so that we may be saved, and more, that we are made new. The pursuit of our life is not to be “saved.” The pursuit of our life must be to follow Jesus so that he can do the saving and the restoring.

The question may be better asked “Do I need to go to church to follow Jesus to experience restoration?”

That question is still not perfect and needs more editing, but we are closer to the truth. What do you think? If you are following Jesus than do you need church to be restored? And what else do we need to change to ask a more theological accurate question?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Danger: New Parent

Reduced sleep patterns, irritability, altered diet, diminished vocabulary, hormonal imbalance, euphoric emotions, change in habits, late nights, vomit, incontinency, bottle always in hand; these are all indicators that you are a new parent. As of 9:28 pm on March 28th I entered into the wonderful and fearful world of parenthood when Maya was born. The weight of great responsibility was laid on my wife and me at 7lbs and 14 oz. We were told of the joy, of the tiredness, of the heart ache, and love. Most of all we were told about how everything would change.

A lot has certainly changed As I aforementioned, sleep has changed, diet has changed; I find my vocabulary changing as I refer to myself as da-da, and speaking intelligible gibberish. My wife and I find ourselves getting excited over burping, pooping, and ridiculously small socks. The color pink has ferociously invaded my house, along with burp rags, bottles, diapers, and wipes. The few places we have taken her have been filled with sounds reminiscent of a firework show as people stop us to audibly express the cuteness of our daughter with “ohhh” and “aww.” I find myself deeply in love with someone I hardly know, a love only rivaled by my wife. My arms seem to have developed a new calling in holding and rocking her, and when I am at work they feel the void of their missing purpose. I find great pride in showing her off as if I accomplished some mountainous feat, even though it was God who favorably arranged the genes.

Much has changed, but not everything. I still find myself deeply in love with my wife. I still feel greatly called to ministry in the church, and I still suffer from an unhealthy addiction to boring ecclesial literature. I find it pleasantly surprising that while much has changed, much still is the same. I find it refreshing that even though I have learned much and have much to still learn, I have not changed everything, in fact it seems that the ability to love and care have always been within me. I may change my perspective after some months, weeks or even days, but I find that this responsibility to love and nourish was built inside me from the beginning by our good Creator and was only looking for a way to express itself. I think that is part of the mystery of life. Many times we become too afraid or too doubtful to attempt great things because we believe we first have to be changed into something we are not. The truth, however, is that we are already made good and capable of great things through faith. The wonderful reality is that God has already given us the ability to love greatly and practice mercy; we only need the occasion, the opportunity, and the chance for it to be brought out of us.

Imagine that you already have what it takes to ensure justice, to display love to strangers, to give yourself, your resources. You already have all you need through the grace of Jesus Christ, you only need the opportunity to have it brought out of you and God is waiting to give it to you. When God does this undoubtedly things will change, and maybe as a result you will change too, but we do not have to wait for change before we can attempt great things, because God has already put his Spirit in us.