Monday, August 29, 2011

Jesus - why bother...

Last weekend, a big group of us worked on my friend's Sarah's house. Sarah has a loving husband, two kids and  - cancer. It would be cliche to say that she never thought it would happen to her, but there is really no other way to say it. We worked tirelessly in her house and yard to get it ready to be sold. They had to move to Baltimore to be close to her family and undergo treatment. This is the stuff that shakes the ground - the earthquake of an unexpected disease and the idea of mortality. It's like everything takes a shift and is seen through different eyes, as the battle for survival takes the forefront and everything else is tertiary.
Does it really matter that they don't know Jesus.
The pat Christian answer would be "Of course it does, because they have no hope of heaven!" While this may be a true statement, is Jesus really just assurance that things will be okay just in case something happens and you get sick or are involved in some sort of accident? This sounds shallow and made-up to me. Simply a way to get comfort in hard and confusing times. If this is the only reason for following Christ, why bother? Christianity is hard, so if all we are waiting for is the "sweet by and by" then I want out!
1 Peter: 2:2-7
Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk that by it you may grow up into salvation- if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. As you come to him, a living stone, rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: "Behold I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame." So the honor is for you who believe...

On Sunday, Fred asked us the question,
"Do we understand the Gospel and what it means for our spiritual growth?"

How basic, but how profound this question actually is. Without a proper understanding of the Gospel, there is really no reason for us to venture forward in this thing called Christianity - after all, it all rides on the idea of the Gospel.

Lets look back at the verse - "like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation..." This verse specifically implies that there is more than just an "after death" case for Christ. We are being told to long for spiritual milk - this is a NOW statement. Then it tells us what this "spiritual milk" will produce (again for the present). We are being "built up" so that we can offer "acceptable sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ". Here is the work of the Gospel; that through Christ, we are acceptable to God, a god who will in turn build us up! These are all present-tense statements. This is not just a religion by which we can get some sort of assurance for after we die, this is a purpose for life - a cyclical purpose. Verse 1 says "So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander." Put away these things (things in our human nature) - long for spiritual milk (a thing from God), so that we can grow, and in growing, bring Glory to the one who enabled us to grow through Jesus Christ. We believe in a God who wants us to be at our best, because when we are at our best, he is most glorified!!
So here's the rub.
Fred asked us:
Are you positioning yourself to grow?
Then, in typical teacher style, he gave us the how-to answers in the form of questions;
Are you creating space for God's word?
Are you creating space for community?
If not, why not?

As the year gets underway, and our time gets taken by our classes and busy schedules, let's make it a point to create space to grow this year. It will only happen if we are intentional about it... remember, we may have to sacrifice in some areas to make room for growth, but we have everything to gain from an all powerful God if we do.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Stones are heavy...

My family and I were vacationing in Maine this past summer and spent a lot of time at tidal beaches where the kids could play. With eleven foot tides, the beach is much different than what I am used to. For half the day, the beaches are wet sand and for the other half, they are covered with up to eleven feet of water. Also interesting, is the various sundry of rocks that cover the ocean floor, and are exposed when the tides are out. Maine is a glacial moraine. This means that toward the end of the Ice Age, much of Maine was covered by glaciers that had traveled southward across Canada. As the glacier melted, it left stones, sand and debris, from throughout the northern part of the globe. Many were worn smooth by glaciation, and all were different colors, shapes and sizes. My dad was an earth-science teacher and loves to "read" the stories in the rocks; where they are from, or how they came to look the way they do.
Of particular interest to me were the rocks that contained a large amount of iron in them. Not only were they rust red in color, but they were much heavier than all the other rocks on the beach.
1 Peter 2:4,5 
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  
We are stones. But I think this verse points out that we are not just the smooth stones that make up the majority of the rocky tidal beaches, we are the stones laden with ore - the heaviest stones. We are "chosen and precious". The older I get, the more I need to remember that I carry more weight in my influence of others. High school students carry weight with middle school and elementary, college students carry weight with high, middle and elementary and even begin to carry weight with those older than themselves, and this trend continues until life ends.
My actions are watched by those who see me as a "heavy stone". My opinions are valued in the same way, and my decisions effect more and more people. While this can be exciting, it is also humbling. My choices, and passions must be kept in check, for the benefit of my own spiritual health, as well as those in my sphere of influence. The stone that is my life continues to have more and more weight on other people - their lives, their decisions etc. Am I using that weight to build others up and serve so that in serving, others may do likewise because of my influence? Or am I piling my weight on others as I stay immature in my faith, and always expect those around me to serve my needs. A child has many needs, but they are also "lighter stones". We no longer have that luxury as we get older.
It is also humbling to know that as our weight increases, so does the burden we are continually stacking onto the cornerstone which is Christ. It is what Jesus has told us to do, and we are right in giving him our stones, but we need to remember the price that he had to pay for us to be able to do so.
Today - remember the weight you carry. Recognize the influence you have and embrace it. New students are moving into the dorms, new freshman are walking onto high school campuses for the first time, and all of them need a place to put some of their weight. Go out of your way to serve them, and just see what happens in your own life as you do.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


1 Corinthians 10:23 "All things are lawful", but not all things are helpful. "All things are lawful," but not all things build up.
WOAH... So basically, if something is not in direct opposition to scripture (or the law of the land - which Jesus says to also follow) then it is okay? Not necessarily. This is one of the pot-smoker's favorite verses. Mostly because it is easy to couple it with verse 26, For "the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof." and feel really spiritual as they take another long drag and sit back in a worn out lazy boy with a silly smirk, feeling very spiritual and Bob Marley esque... But I digress... It's easy to twist this one wherever you want it to go, but in the context in which it is written, it really only works one way.Paul is writing to the Christians in Corinth, which is a city much like Asheville, a place with many cultures and religions. Contextually, it speaks of eating what Jews would have considered "unclean" meats and then expands outside of the bounds of food into how to live in a diverse city such as ours. Check out verses 28, 29 and 30, and don't get stuck on the idea of clean and unclean food, but think more broadly about things like tattoos, dancing, smoking, etc.
28 "But if someone says to you, "This has been offered in sacrifice," then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience - I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else's conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why and I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?"
Here is crux. If I know someone (especially a non-believer) who believes that something is very wrong, such as dancing, drinking, tattoos, etc, then I need to abstain from those things so as not to lose their ear to the gospel of Christ. Everything keeps pointing back to that one thing - the Gospel. There is an old adage that says "If you cut off someone's nose, there is no use giving them a rose to smell." The Gospel is our rose, and if I let some little personal freedom get in the way of that, then I am counterproductive to what has set me free, and thus in rebellion to the freedom-giver, Jesus Christ... woah...
V:31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offence to Jews or Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved."
So here's the responsibility part. I need to know my Bible and my God so intimately, that I am sure of the freedoms He has granted for my life, and then I need to be ready at any moment, to give up any of those freedoms for His sake. This is not easy stuff - - following Jesus never is, as it always requires us to fight the nature in us that makes us want to hold on to every good gift - - no formulas, no rules, lots of grace. It is a two fold responsibility, that requires humility, discipline and willingness to give up any freedom for the sake of others knowing what I know...

"Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried."

GK Chesterton

Monday, August 15, 2011

Eagles and Roots

Ezekiel 17 tells the parable of the Two Eagles and the Vine. There are lots of connections to be made here to the Gospel, the kingdom of God, Christian growth, etc. But here's a crazy connection that I was just thinking about. We start off with one great eagle who plants a cedar on rich soil, and as the branch grows and it's roots mature, it notices a second eagle and "bends it's roots" towards that eagle. What has happened here is a loss of focus on the one who set it in place in the first place, and a change in focus toward something else.
Isn't this where we often find ourselves in our schools and jobs? The branch was placed in it's location for a purpose, that it may prosper and "learn", but that it would always stay what it was meant to be by staying connected. It is so easy to make our education, relationships or social circles the main thing. To "bend our roots" away from the source and try to get our nourishment from something other than what was intended.
We have been placed in specific locations for a purpose, to learn, to work, and to love others, etc. but if we try to get our fulfillment there through good grades, accolades from bosses, teachers, friends, etc. then we are going to dry up.
I remember watching MTV in high school to find out how to dress, what to say and what to listen to. I didn't see it as my moral compass or anything like that, it was just a guide to coolness. Looking back, I was basing my actions and appearances on people who have no idea what they are doing either! Their source is the thing they are creating for themselves. Try making your car go by filling it up with the air that it gathers as it moves down the road - it will eventually stop moving!
Try this today. In every situation, ask yourself. Am I handling this with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control (the fruit of the spirit)? If I keep my roots planted in these things, I will find myself not only finding my identity in what is good, but also staying constantly aware of my need for a Savior as I fall short time and time again... it may also guide you to your true identity - what an awesome by-product!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

thoughts from a jackrabbit: Thinking of you...

thoughts from a jackrabbit: Thinking of you...: "new"

Thinking of you...

A friend of mine was recently diagnosed with cancer and just underwent another chemo treatment. She posted on facebook how she felt after the treatment and was then barraged by friendly sentiments from the people she knew and loved. I quickly noticed, that my response was the only one that said that I was and am praying for her. Most said that she was "in their thoughts" or that their "thoughts went out to her". What an empty sentiment!! Sure, it feels nice to be thought of, but in an instance where intervention needs to happen, thoughts just don't cut it.
I read Nehemiah 1:1-3:14 this morning about Nehemiah rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Nehemiah was in the court of the Persian king Artaxerxes and finds out that the walls of of his native land, Jerusalem are in ruins. This troubles him deeply. In the long and short of it, he gets permission from the king to rebuild it and, even through much opposition, he makes it happen. But at the very beginning of chapter 1, right after he hears about the gates being in ruins, Nehemiah, prays. Verse 4 says "As soon as I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven."
Nehemiah, knew there was no way he could do this. Jerusalem was under foreign rule, and rebuilding the walls would be considered an act of rebellion, but he prayed in earnest about it anyways, and God delivered.
I know I pray for people, and I have seen prayers answered, but I still think I am a long way off from realizing how powerful prayer really is. I't like having someone more powerful than Donald Trump for a dad, and asking him for a BMW, but way bigger, of course. Let him know how important this is, show Him through your actions (Nehemiah fasted and prayed for days) and ask him. It's so much more than just giving someone your thoughts, its asking a king, THE King, to work for you. This is REAL stuff here, not some feel-good crap. If I really believe He has the power to answer, I need to pray accordingly.