Archive for March, 2008

That Was Then, This Is Now

            We work too hard to make everything too complicated.  As a lawyer I can say that my profession is part of the problem.  After all, that is how we make our living.  If you can understand me you do not need to pay me to explain the situation to you.

            The church, unfortunately, is no different.  For two thousands years we have worked to complicate matters.  It cannot be as simple as “take up your cross and follow me.”  Jesus’ time was so simple.  Modern man is so far beyond those simple times that we must need anew or more advanced Gospel to reach a new or more advanced generation.

            In other words, that was then, this is now.  We do not just need a savior—we need a new savior.  We need a Jesus we recognize.  The simple carpenter is not sophisticated enough for the modern businessman.  He cannot understand us; we can no longer understand Him.  And so, we create Jesus in our image.  He becomes a successful businessman—he becomes a modern ministry leader.  Without realizing it we have built our own golden calf and we are worshipping in front of it.  It is not idol worship because our golden calf looks like Jesus—that must make it okay.

            We need to get back to a simpler Gospel.  We need to get back to Jesus of Nazareth.  Jesus never rode in a car.  He never rode a bicycle.  He never flew in a jet plane.  Jesus never traveled more than a hundred miles from his home.  He never owned a gun—even though in modern day America Jesus is a rabid guns rights God.  Jesus, as far as we know, never owned land or a home.  He never used a computer.  Jesus does not have an email address, or a facebook page.  He never sent out a newsletter.  He never had his photo taken.  Jesus never wrote a word anywhere.  He is not a published author.  He did not own a television set—he had no television ministry.

            Yet, after three years He had managed to amass twelve followers.  Twelve men who knew him inside out.  Twelve men who left everything to follow Jesus.  Jesus hand picked them.  He trained them.  He gave everything he had to them.  They were his.  At the same time, one of the hand picked twelve betrayed him.

            Jesus was killed—so graphically killed that the handpicked twelve, who had recently become eleven, scattered and fled for their lives.  If they killed Jesus, what would they do to the followers who did not have the public voice of Jesus?

            Imagine our modern successful Jesus the Golden Calf, looking out from the grave to find the faithful are gone.  Not the stuff of newsletters and email alerts.  This moment would be the end of all of our ministries and businesses.

            Thus, it is obvious that Jesus measures success differently than we do.  Jesus lives in a realm we no longer recognize.

            These eleven men of Jesus came back together and changed the whole world.  The success of Jesus was measured in the second generation—those who came after him.

            Maybe we should throw away our rulers and learn to measure success by Jesus’ standards.

            Just a thought!



Martyrdom, Two Versions

            The world’s three major religions were all birthed in blood.  The first, Judaism, was born out of the blood of animals.  God showed Abraham that blood was required to bring atonement.  The secular leaders of the pre-Christian era realized the value of blood and were quick to shed it—human blood in sacrifice, human blood with little concern for any value of life.

            Out of this comes Jesus.  Humble from birth.  Unimpressive according to worldly standards, Jesus reached out across eternity and changed the paradigm for all men.  He showed us how to have a true relationship with God.  Jesus personalized God for all men.  He moved atonement from the blood of animals to the blood of a man and later men.  Jesus was the martyr whose blood established the Christian faith.  There would be more blood, also freely shed by men for the glory of God and the benefit of the Church.  Because He was a man and God, His blood was holy and pure and thus capable of atoning for all men.  From that moment God established the value of blood for the life of the Church.  The early saints often followed the example of Jesus and fertilized the Church with their own blood.  The blood of martyrs helped the church flourish and mature.  The Church was made great not just by the sacrifice of Jesus.  It was also made great out of those who followed the example of Jesus and laid down their lives for the glory of God and His true Church.

            Though few of us realize it, the blood of martyrs continues to give nutrition to the Church.  The distinction between Christian and Islamic martyrs is not so subtle.  Christian martyrs lay down their lives.  They do not kill others in the course of their martyrdom.  They do not take their own lives.  They lay down their lives.  They do not defend their own lives.  They choose to die rather than defend their own existence.

            Islamic martyrs are not commended for merely laying down their lives.  They are commended for taking their own lives and their honor is increased by the number they kill on their way to death.  They are not honored for passively permitting their lives to be taken.  The religion of Islam is thus also built on the blood—the blood of believers.  Like Christianity and Judaism, Islam understands the need for blood for atonement.  Unfortunately, they misunderstand the nature, the heart of God.  They fail to see that God cares so much for man that He will do anything to redeem man, within the confines of spiritual law.  He will let man wander away and give him a long life to give man time to find Him.  He does not end the life of man to honor Himself.  He does, however, permit some men to shorten their own life through laying down the most precious thing they have to honor Him.  Not to end the lives of others—but to lay down their lives that others might see the Glory of God in sacrifice.

            This critical distinction comes from the core of these religions and to the outside eye might cause us to all look the same.  After all, we all came from Abraham.  We all seem to celebrate death—blood is at our core.  We must, however, look beyond the blood to the core.  We must look to the values that support the theology of blood.

            Judaism’s blood is for atonement.  The sacrifices that Abraham made, the law that Moses was given, required blood.  This blood was not shed without purpose.  It was not shed for vanity’s sake.  It was not shed in anger or fear.  It was shed with divine purpose.  It was also the blood of animals only; there were severe penalties for the loss of human life.

            Christianity’s blood goes one step further.  It takes the atonement principles of Judaism and takes the concept of yearly atonement to an understanding of one man’s atonement for every man for all time.  The requirements of this blood are clearly defined in the life and teachings of Jesus.  Most everything He did was to help us understand the purpose of His death, the value of laying down your life—even when you are innocent and not deserving any punishment, especially not deserving death.

            Christian martyrs do not die for the sake of hastening judgment to nonbelievers.  They die to show the ultimate love and to bring others to the knowledge of salvation.  Islamic martyrs, on the other hand, die with the aim of bringing themselves to paradise while killing the enemies of God.  Therein lies the distinction—Christianity’s God reaches out to men to redeem them, reserving judgment for death.  Islam’s God looks to judge all men immediately, hastening death when it is necessary.

           Islam’s blood does not bring atonement.  In fact, one of the problems with Islam is that there is no atonement.  Believers live in constant doubt as to whether paradise is waiting for them.  This increases the likelihood that they will see the need to shed innocent blood—of course, there is no such thing as innocent blood to a Muslim because all non-Muslims are by definition infidels and therefore not innocent, but worthy of death.

            Therefore, at their core these great religions are different.  They have a different worldview that determines how man is redeemed and how God responds to man.  As much as we might wish that these two great forces were compatible, they are not.  Both seek world domination.  Christianity is looking for world domination through the conversion of souls through persuasive speech and theology.  Islam is looking for world domination through any means necessary, including killing off anyone who does not believe.

            Hardly a choice as far as religion is concerned.

Southern Justice–Preview

You can get a copy of the book by following the link in my blogroll.

 I am a lawyer. I am not always proud of that fact. When I look around the profession, there are many times when I am less than pleased with my choice of professions. It does not matter, however, because at the end of the day I am always a lawyer. I think like a lawyer. I speak like a lawyer. I evaluate the world around me like a lawyer. It has become who I amme. No matter how low my profession sinks, there will always be a couple of moments that rise above the norm and make me proud to be a lawyer. This story is one of those moments.  

As I write this he lies on his bed, struggling for his breath, looking sallow. His hair is almost gone, his skin hangs on his bonessagging as he lies back. The only sharp feature remaininghis eyes. Days from death and still his eyes betray the intelligence and compassion that have driven his life. I came to the bedside hoping to spend the last few days with him getting out the words that would never come when we were both proud men standing tall and well in the land of the living. Now that he knows he is headed to the land of the dead, he is not willing to let pride stand in the way of anything. So I sit here, wishing to make my peaceforced to let him make his. After all, it appears he will be speaking directly with the Maker before I will. So, I let him make his peace. 

Looking back I wish I had been more prepared for him to make his peace. The revelations moved from folklore that I had ignoredI was, after all, away trying to build a prosperous career in one of the most competitive fields on the East Coastto truth and courage beyond imagination. I found it hard to believe, and I grew up with much of the folklore. You might find it impossible to believe. That does not make this recounting any less true than it is.

Viewing Man With God’s Vision

God believes in man.  He created us in His image.  At Babel He recognized that we could do anything we put our minds to.  This is the way God looks at man.  No other religion looks at man this way.  Most religions have God separated from man with a gap that cannot be breached.  Christianity, however, has God bridging the gap and reaching out to man.  The Christian does not have separation from God.  He sees God as a person with whom He can fellowship.  Man is the ultimate created being.  He is the greatest work of God—there is no higher thing that can be created.  Instead we see human life as the final creation of God that should be respected above all the rest of creation.

We must learn to honor man the way God honors man.  God honors us in that He has given everything to redeem us.  God held nothing back.  He gave all He had to give to every man!  There is nothing God will not do to reach man.  He is visiting Muslims in their dreams—explaining who Jesus is so that men and women are converting without ever hearing the Gospel except that Jesus has visited their dreams.  Jesus has visited people in their homes and brought them to Himself.  He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to know Him.  That is how much God loves man—you and me.

If God loves man this much, how much should we love man?  Instead of judging man we should love man the way God loves man.  God loves man where he is—not reserving His love for those who are good.  God knows that love brings man to repentance.  Love brings deliverance.  Judgment brings judgment.  It causes man to put up walls.  Walls are what separate us from others, from God.  Love suffers no wrong.  It is patient, it is kind, it repays evil with good.  It is love and the joy of salvation that brings man to God.

Who But For The Joy Set Before Him…

The key to walking in the valley of the shadow of death is to fix your vision on the answer of the future.  We must, therefore, have a vision of the future that is based on the reality of God’s plan.  The instance we know what the future holds the present begins to be meaningless.  Where we are has nothing to do with where we are going except that it is a starting point.  The promise is for where we are going—the promise is not for where we are.

When we understand God’s plan for our life we can endure anything to achieve the plan.  I am not talking about having a small glimpse of the plan.  Jesus had so strong a vision of the redemption He was bringing that He was willing to be tortured and killed, in the most painful way possible, in order to bring the vision to pass.  There was no way to get to redemption without the pain and agony of the valley of the shadow of death.  Even death for Jesus was merely a shadow.  The vision was to conquer death once and for all.  To conquer death He had come under the shadow of death.  If He didn’t face the shadow and come under its sway, it was impossible to be able to achieve the vision. 

It is the same for us.  We must be willing to walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  We must be willing to endure the shame.

Diamonds are born out of pain.  While we all want to be a diamond, few of us are willing to live under the pressure that must come to crush the impurities out of the coal, in this case our souls.  Once the impurities are gone, the diamond has to be discovered and cut.  Few raw diamonds have great value.  Their true value comes from the cutting and shaping of the stone.  No part of the process is painless.  There is a loss of everything to get to the place of gain.

Diamonds are made against their will, with no input from the coal itself—other than the raw materials sacrificed. Perhaps it is a better comparison to look to athletes.  Every athlete has a choice.  He can work harder and become better.  He can walk away and remain as he is.  Those who pay the greatest price achieve the greatest gain.  In other words, the more pain, the more gain.  It is a simple formula, a rule that is engrained in the stone of physical laws that guide the path of a man.  So too with the Christian, the person seeking to be considered a person of faith, a person of whom the world is not worthy.  We are all faced with choices.  We all have the option of paying a greater price or settling for what we have here and now.  What makes all the difference in a person is whether they settle or whether they strive to become better.  Or, in the case of the Christian world, more like Jesus.

There was a saying popular in the Christian community in the last century—“What Would Jesus Do?”  The trouble with the statement is that true to our nature we did not want to know what Jesus did to become the diamond He was, we want to know what Jesus would do as the diamond to sparkle in front of the world.  Like true fallen creatures, it was about evaluating the life of Jesus through the rose colored glasses of most favored nation status.  We are after all, the new Israel, God’s chosen people.

Unfortunately for us, to be more like Jesus we need to understand the pivotal point of His being.  Sure He was the Son of God, sent to redeem us from sin.  Sure He lived a life without sin.  Sure He performed miracles, healing the blind, deaf, lame, even raising the dead.  Sure He was a great teacher, a philosopher.  Sure He radically changed the world as we know it.  Those facts are really without dispute in the Christian world.

Those facts are not, however, the core of His being.  The miracles and everything else are what radiates out from Jesus because of the core of His being.  And so, we are back where we began, wanting to know what would Jesus do without truly understanding the driving core behind how Jesus became who he was.

The key to understanding Jesus is to finally understand how He became the diamond He was born to be.  It is found in the book of Hebrews when the writer tells us that Jesus “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame,…”  It was not magic that made Jesus the driving force of history.  It was not only that He was the Son of God.  It is seen when He went to the Garden of Gethsemane and asked God to find another way.

We have all gone to the Garden and asked God for another way.  Most of us have begged for another way.  And then, even if God did not show another way, like water, we chose the easiest path anyway.  At the end of the path we found that life still goes on.  Good things still happen.  What we miss is that we did not end up in the perfect place of faith that makes us a hero of the faith.  We do not end up in the place where we become people of whom the world is not worthy.

The core of Jesus, where the mystery lies, is found in His response to God’s refusal to let Him choose the easiest path.  Rather, Jesus ended His plea for a better way with the understanding that He would do what God wanted rather than what He wanted.  In thirty-three short years, certainly not much time for a being who was here from before the beginning of the world, Jesus had learned to be a man and long for the things a man longs for.  He had learned to long for a long life.  He had learned to long for no pain.  He had learned to long for Himself rather than God.

We all fight these same fights.  The difference in us and Jesus is that He quickly, in a matter of hours, laid aside those longings and returned to do God’s will.  And therein is the secret to the core of Jesus.

Jesus went to the grave believing that He would be raised up and brought into the place of the vision.  The only assurance He had was the promise of His father.  There was no precedent for this event—never before had someone been raised from the dead.  That is of course other than Lazarus, but then Jesus had been the intervening act in that moment.

If these things were not so He would not have been in the valley of the shadow of death.  He would have been a player in a drama with a guaranteed ending.  It was not this way.  It was true because God had called it to be—Jesus had to accept it in faith.  It was guaranteed because it was the vision, the calling God had given Him.

Like the heroes of Hebrews 11, Jesus went through the valley of the shadow of death without seeing the fulfillment of his faithful vision.  The men and women of Hebrews 11 went through the valley of the shadow of death, and then died without ever seeing the fulfillment of their faith.  Yet, they died faithful.  That does not compute in our modern minds.  How can a life be faithful that does not achieve the goals we have in life?

That is the mystery of the Gospel and of the God of the universe we serve.  What is not is treated as though it is and often what is is treated as if it were not.  Now, that is a miracle worth serving.

Books Worth Reading

C.S. LEWIS--Mere Christianity; CLAIRE BERLINSKI--Menace in Europe: Why the Continent's Crisis is America's Crisis, Too; BRUCE BAWER--While Europe Slept: How Radical islam is Destroying the West from Within; DAVID LEVERING LEWIS--God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215; THOMAS SCHIRRMACHER--The Persecution of Christians Concerns Us All; PHILIP JENKINS--God's Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe's Religious Crisis

Top Clicks

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