Sunday, June 28, 2015

Matthew 11:1-6: The Presence of Christ

Every Sunday churches around the world advertise that people can come and "experience the presence of Christ." Assuming that this is a claim that suggests that the living Christ is actually there to be "experienced," I wonder how can we be sure? Is there any way to know that the risen Lord is present in a gathering or life of a person?

In Matthew 11:1-6, John the Baptist sends two of his students to ask a similar question. He wants to know if Jesus is, in fact, the long awaited Messiah, or if they should get back to waiting. He wants to be sure that the Messiah is truly present with them.

Most scholars note the oddness of this line of thinking. After all, it is he who previously baptized Jesus, it is he who saw the dove descend upon him and remain with him. It is he who also cries out, "Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" But now, behind prison bars, he is crying a different tune, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?"

What John really wants is proof that the Messiah is truly present with them. Be he, as many still do, did not understand what proof is. John's idea of proof was for Jesus to do all the things that fit into his (John's) Messiah category. Therefore if Jesus would've overthrown Caesar, established a kingdom in Jerusalem, reclaimed what was rightfully Israel's, maybe then John would've had his "proof."

But he wouldn't have had the Messiah.

And when we want Jesus to accomplish all of our goals, whether individual or corporate, and use the success of their accomplishments as our proof, we, too, might have what we are looking for, but we will not have the risen Lord.

Rather than looking to see if Jesus will check off all the boxes on the "Messiah to-do list." What John (and us) should have done is witness how Jesus was being the Messiah. Rather than saying, "The Messiah will conquer oppressive forces this way." John could have marveled at how the Messiah was going about his conquering business. Then he would've have had his proof. For the proof is in the transformed lives.

"...the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them."

Or, as Charles Spurgeon puts it, "Christ is always best known by his works, and in his people especially; he is seen in their lives."

We can be sure that Christ is present in any gathering that invites him in to be their Lord, and follows him into an experience of salvation that transforms their current life here on earth. Where and when that takes place, we can be confident that Christ is in present there.

Monday, June 1, 2015

In My Solitude

All man’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone. - Blaise Pascal

I'm sure Pascal was engaging in a bit of hyperbole, but he is certainly on to something. Just try and sit in solitude and silence for 30 minutes, you will quickly find yourself trying to engage. You will grab your phone to check the time, your mind will be flooded with everything else that needs to be done. You will feel as if you are wasting precious time, and your mind will thrash about until you become sufficiently engaged. I heard a colleague say, "We have become human doings rather than human beings." How true.

But how might this reveal a person's source of misery? Well, to be able to sit in silence and solitude and enjoy it is to be at home with who you are, rather than what you do. It is to discover that life goes on without you just fine. It is to see yourself through a proper perspective and learn to accept what you see, and to do so with joy.

I have recently began practicing the discipline of solitude and silence. I was amazed with how difficult is was for me to simply sit still, and be. Almost immediately my mind started creating 'to do' lists. At once I felt what I was doing was useless. But as I persisted I made an amazing discovery. Everything is okay! I don't need to worry, or fuss, or anything like that. Everything is okay. 

I didn't discover that all was well in a strangely disenchanted way, but I discovered the presence of God in my moment of solitude. It's as if the forced withdrawal, and the quieting of all other voices (mostly my own) that call out to me allowed the calm unassuming voice of God to be heard. God will not shout at us, after all. He will not shuck and jive to get our attention.

So while solitude appears as loneliness, it is not. While silence appears to be a sound void, it is not. God is there, and God speaks.

It is this discovery that pulls a person back from the clutches of misery (I must do) into the satisfaction of God's love and care where we are invited to just be. What a relief to discovery that we do not have to manage everything. How comforting to know that we can rest, like children, in the reality that God will take care of "it" and us.

Drop thy still dews of quietness,
till all our strivings cease;
take from our souls the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess 
the beauty of thy peace.

Breathe through the heats of our desire
thy coolness and thy balm;
let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,

O still, small voice of calm!
- John Greenleaf Whittier

CS Lewis on Reading

Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realize the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors. We realize it best when we talk with an unliterary friend. He may be full of goodness and good sense but he inhabits a tiny world. In it, we should be suffocated. The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will see what others have invented. Even the eyes of all humanity are not enough. I regret that the brutes cannot write books. Very gladly would I learn what face things present to a mouse or a bee; more gladly still would I perceive the olfactory world charged with all the information and emotion it carries for a dog.
An experiment in Criticism. - C.S. Lewis

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Worthy Discipline from John Ortberg

If you want to really experience the flow of love as never before, the next time you are in a competitive situation [around work or relationship or whose kids are the highest achieving or looks or whatever], pray that the others around you will be more outstanding, more praised, and more used of God than yourself. Really pull for them and rejoice in their success. If Christians were universally to do this for each other, the earth would soon be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God.

- Soul Keeping by John Ortberg

Monday, May 18, 2015

Bread and Water: Isaiah 30:20

There are few things as necessary to life as food and drink, but let's get more specific and say bread and water. These are staples that are necessary for humans to receive nutrition for growth. They provides energy and nourishment, relief and satisfaction. They are good things, and without them we would certainly die. 

It is shocking, then, to see these two human necessities compared to adversity and affliction in Isaiah 30:20. 

"Though the Lord may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher."

In a culture that avoids adversity and affliction like the plague, indeed a culture that has learned to view them as harmful, the prophet tells Israel that these things can serve as gifts from the Lord. 

Though all adversity and affliction are not from the Lord, it is wise to receive them with thankfulness when they are. For in the same way that bread and water nourish and replenish our weary bodies, adversity and affliction can fortify out weary souls and shape our character. 

Indeed, they might just serve as the catalysts that open our weary eyes to the reality of our Teacher's presence with us. 

When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Marathoning: What I Learned

This is a reflection on what I learned during the 6 month period when I trained for The Flying Pig marathon.

1. You have to see why running a marathon might be a good thing. 

Without this the chances of sticking with a training program are slim, particularly during the cold winter months. 

2. Mind must master body. 

Many people are unwittingly governed by their bodily desires, food, sex, sleep, you name it. When training for a marathon you (your mind) must take the seat as governor and dictate to your body how things will be. This is difficult, especially for those who have long been the slaves of their bodies. It is a monster to subdue, tame, but eventually you can make it an ally. But it's foolish to think you can conquer 26.2 miles while incapable of conquering pie and ice cream.  

3. Share your vision of running

This step was important for me, because several people who were running it (or had run previously) become a type of accountability group to me. They would check to see how training was going, and give small but helpful words of encouragement. 

4. You are training, not trying. 

Words are important. When aiming for a goal that causes us to go through a process of transformation, it is important that we understand the process as training, not trying. Training involves gradual steps that move you towards the goal. Training causes transformation over time. Trying involves tackling the goal, often unprepared; it is a sure way to fail. When I started cramping up around mile 18 I could say to myself, "This is what you trained for..." I knew my body could do what it was telling me it could not do. 

5. Don't go back 

Finally, there will be a great temptation to return to the pre-training person who was ruled by the body. Continue to live the new disciplined life you've acquired. It doesn't necessarily mean you run another marathon, it does mean that you keep your mind as governor. If your mind governors your body, and your mind is connected to that which is good and right, you will keep achieving things that you once thought were impossible. 

Thanks for reading. 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Flying Pig Day: Done!

I've been working towards this day for about 6 months. It was my first (and last) marathon. My legs started locking up around mile 18, but I made it. From 18 to the end I silently cursed at all the people yelling, "You can do it 2040! Come on, finish strong!" So I apologize to those several thousand people. 

So I've checked running a marathon off my bucket list. Next up is... We'll see. 

I was so tired I was asleep standing up, I guess. In the picture next to me is a very inspiring human being named Scott. The man's story is moving... so moving it would be improper for me to share it. 

The end.