Like the disciples…

We were driving home from church Saturday night, and Jenny and I were trying to explain to David what “Big Church” was about that night—it had been about prayer for the “Persecuted Church,” and less a sermon than a prayer meeting, with the prayers guided by Paul and several of the church elders. It was pretty cool.

We explained to David that there were places in the world where it was dangerous to believe, because the people there did not like Christians, in some cases to the point of imprisoning them for their beliefs, in some cases killing them for their faith in Jesus. We told him how our church has missionaries in some of those places.

He didn’t know what a missionary was, and when we tried to explain it to him, he asked if they were “like the disciples.”

We thought about it for a minute, and while that wasn’t exactly what we were getting at, the kid did have a point. It seems to me the disciples were the very first missionaries, the first people sent out to show the world the love of Jesus.

And with the exception of John (the beloved), they paid the price for their unflinching faith.

I remember hearing my pastor in San Diego talk about that very thing on more than one occasion. He explained that except for John, they were all martyred.

Though it’s difficult to determine exactly the events of their lives (and deaths) which are not depicted in Scripture, there is a wealth of information available. A brief look on the web turned up the following details:

“The Deaths of the Apostles

Matthew suffered martyrdom in Ethopia, killed by a sword wound.

Mark died in Alexandria, Egypt, dragged by horses through the streets until he was dead.

Luke was hanged in Greece as a result of his tremendous preaching to the lost.

John was boiled in a huge basin of boiling oil during a wave of persecution in Rome. However, he was miraculously delivered from death. John was then sentenced to the mines on the prison island of Patmos where he wrote his prophetic Book of Revelation. The Apostle John was later freed and returned to serve as a bishop in modern Turkey. He died an old man, the only Apostle to die peacefully.

Peter,was crucified upside down on an x-shaped cross, according to Church tradition, because he told his tormentors that he felt unworthy to die the same way that Jesus Christ had died (mention is also made of Peter’s wife suffering the same fate).

James the Just, the leader of the Church in Jerusalem and brother of Jesus, was thrown down more than a hundred feet from the southeast pinnacle of the Temple when he refused to deny his faith in Christ. When they discovered that he survived the fall, his enemies beat James to death with a fuller’s club. This was the same pinnacle where Satan had taken Jesus during the Temptation.

James the Greater, a son of Zebedee, was a fisherman by trade when Jesus called him to a lifetime of ministry. As a strong leader of the Church, James was ultimately beheaded at Jerusalem. The Roman soldier who guarded James watched amazed as James defended his faith at his trial. Later, the officer walked beside James to the place of execution. Overcome by conviction, he declared his new faith to the judge and knelt beside James to accept beheading as a Christian.

Bartholomew, also known as Nathanael, was a missionary to Asia. He witnessed about our Lord in present day Turkey. He was whipped to death for his preaching in Armenia.

Thomas was speared and died on one of his missionary trips to establish the Church in India.

Jude, another brother of Jesus, was killed with arrows after refusing to deny his faith in Christ.

Matthias, the Apostle chosen to replace the traitor Judas Iscariot, was stoned and beheaded.

Barnabas, one of the group of seventy disciples, was stoned to death at Salonica.

Paul was tortured and then beheaded by the evil Emperor Nero at Rome in A.D. 67. Paul endured a lengthy imprisonment which allowed him to write his many epistles to the Churches he had formed throughout the Roman Empire. These letters, which taught many of the foundational doctrines of Christianity, from a large portion of the New Testament.”

It got me wondering. How far would I go to defend my faith? Would I take a sword to the belly rather than deny Jesus? Would I allow myself to be dragged along behind horses until I was battered and scraped to death? Would I suffer any of those fates for my faith?

The answer, of course, is “I don’t know.” Because I don’t. I’d like to say I would, but the truth is, there’s no way to tell unless something like that actually happens to me. I think of people like Cassie Bernall, hiding out in the library at Columbine, and when confronted by the killers, answered “Yes” to the killers when they asked if she believed in God. They shot her in the face at point blank range.

People say they probably would have killed her anyway, and that may even be true. But she didn’t know that.

My old pastor at Calvary Baptist once told me words to the effect that he hoped for the chance to be a martyr someday. So he would go on mission trips to places that gave him the best chance for that to happen. That seemed like some kind of crazy at the time, but now I wonder. Is it a bad thing to want the chance to pay the ultimate price for your faith?

Jesus did it for us.

No answers today, but the little gears in my head are turning. Just coming off a very long weekend with not a lot of sleep, so profound thinking is not something I’m capable of at the moment.

Just take a moment to think about what your faith means to you, and what you would do for Jesus.

How far would you go?

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The Unbuildable Bridge

Just thought of a picture, but maybe it’s really a little more than that.

A great country is divided into basically two sections, separated by a vast canyon. There are many smaller offshoots and fissures, but for the purposes of my illustration, we’re going to focus on what appears to be the two main sections.

Now, because the country is so divided, it actually ends up being much less great than it could. The differences in the two sides are many, but so are the similarities. So what eventually happens is that the people living in each divided half of the great country end up staring at each other over the vast canyon. Both sides know the country was not so divided once, but they can’t remember how to get back to that way of thinking, and living. They can’t remember how to pull the two sides back together.

Sometimes they shout epithets at each other, and always they’re thinking that each side knows a better way—the only way—to actually bring the two halves of the great country back together.

Eventually, one side or the other decides the best thing to do is build a bridge across the vast canyon. The bridge will be made of ropes, and it will be built by flinging ropes across the span, tying them off on either side, and then attaching boards for people to walk across, piece by piece. Eventually, they think, they will be able to not only meet in the middle, but also travel back in forth.

There’s a problem, though. Because the bridge is made of rope, there’s some swaying involved when you step out onto it. While it would probably be best to just step out and start building, step after step after step, it never happens.

People are afraid.

And instead of walking toward each other, building as they go, they cling to their own side of the canyon, and return to their epithet-shouting ways. They know what they need, and they even have a rudimentary idea of how to do it. So they throw their ropes, and instead of catching them on the other side and tying them off, they simply let the ropes slide through their fingers.

So the bridge remains unbuilt, and a canyon that could be crossed is instead returned to the status of obstacle. Common ground is forgotten. Similarities are not mentioned.

And compromise is not even considered…

Certainly a crudely drawn metaphor, but you get the point, don’t you?

I’m no politician, and no great thinker.

But as someone on the outside, it seems to me this partisan-ship we’re so concerned with is slowly killing the country.

There will always be struggles–that is one thing we can all be certain of. But instead of facing the struggles with a united front, we are more concerned with making people afraid and telling the country who is to blame for their fears.

And I wonder whatever happened to the principles this country was founded upon.

You can remove words from pledges, and even stop saying the pledges altogether. You can tell children and adults what they can and cannot say in schools and places of business.

But that doesn’t change the fact that there were and are certain principles the men who breathed this country into life took to heart that are no longer given so much as lip service because the “powers that be” are more concerned with offending someone than saying what needs to be said, and in many cases doing what needs to be done.

And that saddens me, because I believe this country–that powerful country I spoke about earlier–really is the greatest country on earth.

And I think that compromise, politically or otherwise, does not have to be something that’s feared.

This bridge can be built, if we are willing to do the work.

Monochrome

I think I knew I needed glasses for a while before I actually got them.

I would sit on the couch and have to squint at the Tivo menu to read what programs were recorded. Another time, I had picked some friends off at the airport and after I dropped them off I realized I could not read the small green street signs to navigate my way out of their neighborhood. I think it took me about 90 minutes to get home, and it probably should have been 15 to 20. I finally found my way to I-5, and ended up getting back on down by the airport–after I drove through Barrio Logan with the doors locked.

The point being, I could not see for beans, and I knew it. But I resisted getting glasses because I’d had perfect vision my entire life, and it was not possible I no longer did. Besides, glasses were for old people.

And then I realized, I am old people.

So I went to see an eye doctor my friend recommended, and after I got my glasses, I could not believe how much easier things got. I could read the titles from the Tivo menu from across the street–never mind across the living room. I won’t even mention how awesome it was to see street signs without stopping and squinting. Not that it helped me much with getting lost–anyone who knows me can attest to that.

But the short version is that once I finally broke down and sought help, I could see again.

I could see.

I think that’s what it’s like when we finally let down our guards, and let go of our inhibitions and preconceived notions about God and just ask him for eyes to see.

Eyes to see.

I can remember when I finally did that. It just got so frustrating to always have to see things in black and white, based on a set of values that I had accrued over a life jam packed with all kinds of nonsense–most of it created by the lies I allowed myself to believe about God, and about myself, and about the people I was continually made to interact with.

Black and white.

You’d think it would be easier to see things that way–in convenient terms that I understood the definitions for. And in some respects, regarding some things, it is easier. Evil is still evil, and always will be. God is still good, all the time, and always will be.

I think it’s in looking at everything else that we become blind. We become too concerned with labels, and less with the people we’re attempting to fit into our little one-or-two-word definitions. And if they do not fit into the little boxes we’ve created like

Christian
Liberal
Conservative
Good
Evil

then we close our minds to them, and they are simply

WRONG.

And to me, one of the worst things about it is that we deem ourselves worthy enough to judge the worthiness of others in regard to anything.

That is not–and never has been–ours to do.

God judges.

And no one is worthy. All have fallen short of the only judge that matters (Romans 3:23).

Who am I to judge anyone else’s commitment to Jesus? Who am I to hold it up to mine, and find it lacking?

What makes me think I can judge anyone else’s patriotism, or commitment to their family, or that my methods for disciplining my children are better than theirs.

The plain truth is that the world and the things in it are bright, so bright, and they fall over our eyes and cloud our perspectives until we ask and ask and ask God to take them away.

So we can have eyes to see.

To see each other the way He intended us to. To look at His people–even if they don’t believe–and realize he died for them just as much as we who now believe. Maybe even more.

Because He came not for the well, but the sick.

He came to give His life as a ransom for many.

He came to give us eyes to see–to see the world like He does.

Through the eyes of His father.

Sons…

I’ve been a parent for slightly over two years now, if you count the time before I got married as “parenting” time. In my mind, it does count, because I felt very soon after meeting my wife that she was going to be “it” for me. I knew she had a son, and that if I was going to be with her, that son would become as much my child as if I had been there at the “beginning.”

Becoming Dad to a boy that’s already had a good deal of the man he will become instilled in him has not been easy. His grandpa has been a tremendous and amazing influence on him, and my wife has taught him all she knows how to teach about being a good boy, and how to love people the way God loves them.
So when I entered the picture, it was a little bit like hitting the ground running. I feel like I really stepped in it much of the time with him, because I find myself speaking out of my own upbringing more often than not, and Lord knows there were a few issues there.

Even with that, though, we moved along in our relationship, and now I love that kid like I raised him from ground zero. But I guess in a sense, I did.

Our ground zero began when I fell in love with his mother, and realized I wanted to spend all the time I had left with her.

And then David had to break in a dad that had never been one before, which was (and remains) quite difficult for the both of us at times. So I’m learning as I go, and he’s learning as he goes. And I find myself feeling like he’s getting the short end of the stick a lot of the time. But I am also so thankful that he came into my life, and that I get a chance to know him, and to be his dad.

Now, John is here. I was here from the beginning with him. And when I saw him come out of my wife and enter the world, it was like nothing else I’d ever experienced. I just remember thanking God over and over again for bringing him into my life, and for getting my wife safely through the birth.

The past month, with all of us finally together in our home has been incredible, and such a blessing, even with all the difficulty, and all the “getting used to things” Jenny, David, John and I have all had to do.
There have been some moments of late when I consider the…responsibility I now have and it intimidates the heck out of me. I need to lead this family. I, who has not led anything, needs to lead a family.
My sons will look to me for so much, and not just to put a roof over their head. They will look to me to see how a man relates to his wife, and his children. They’ll want to know how he responds to blessings, and trials, and how he worships the God he professes to know. They’ll want to know a man’s attitude toward his work, and his church.

So even when I feel like burying my head somewhere well out of view of the world, I have to be transparent enough that they can see I’ve gone through some of the same stuff they have, and can hopefully offer them some small amount of wisdom.

And then I wonder what on earth I can do? I’m just a man. Not a pastor, not a teacher. At this point, not even a college graduate?

So what can I do?

I can love their mother with all I have, and let them see.

I can love them, each as individuals, and let them see.

I can love people, and let them see.

And above all else, I can love God—love Him with all my heart, soul, and mind, and let them see.

I think I have to start with that, and hope they do not judge me later on for the father I haven’t been. Rather, that they love me for the dad I am.

Because I love my sons so much that I end up just staring at them sometimes, wondering why I’ve been blessed, when there are so many wonderful and worthy people that have not been. I think about what the next couple of weeks hold, too, and I am amazed. This Saturday night, I get to baptize David. And soon after that, we’ll do a dedication of John. Our whole immediate family will get up there, and declare openly what God means to us, and to our family. Hopefully, John will one day choose to be baptized himself.

And you know, I can really get into the sentimentality of a couple of those sappy rock songs about parenthood now, too. Like “Heaven,” by Live. “With Arms Wide Open,” by Creed. Of course, both songs have become clichés by now. I didn’t understand and accept why until I was a parent. Until God made me a dad.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Now go look up those songs…

The Healing at the Pool

Jerry Bunte gave a really great sermon at Twenty4/7 last night, and the text he used was from John 5, verses 1 through 15. I woke up thinking about it this morning. I feel really lucky to be part of a church that always preaches the whole Word, and really gets people thinking, and praying. This morning, I turned directly to John when I woke up, and began my reading with that passage. My NIV translation refers to the passage as “The Healing at the Pool.” One of the earlier miracles of Jesus, and in my opinion, it was right after this when the Pharisees and chief priests of the temple really began to see Jesus as an active threat to their way of life.

“Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”

But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ”

So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”

The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.
Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”

The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.

The story goes that every once in a while, an angel would stir the waters of this pool, near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem. If you were fortunate enough to be the first person in the water after it was stirred, you would be healed. John does not specifically mention other instances of healing, but considering how many people would hang out around the pool waiting for the water to stir—having no idea when that might be—suggests it had to have happened at least a few times.

On the other hand, the word also could have spread through a sort of middle-eastern grapevine, and not actually ever have happened. Maybe it was some sort of mineral spring, and the stirring of the water was brought about through some sort of underground venting of air, or water of a different temperature that would cause the water to be disturbed. In any case, John only relates the point of view of the invalid.

I just love how Jesus asks him “Do you want to get well?”

The invalid doesn’t know who Jesus is at this point, and as far as John relates, Jesus does not identify himself–he probably just stepped carefully over and around the other sick and injured people and made his way this particular man. Think about what that must have been like for a minute. Here is a pool, surrounded by men, women and children in varying stages of illness, and probably dying in many cases. There would have been a lot of people, on a lot of mats. There would have probably been moaning, and crying. Praying, too—probably lots of that.

And all these sick, diseased, and dying people waiting for something to maybe happen. Waiting for just a chance to be healed.

I would imagine no one—no healthy person—would want to be anywhere near this place. It had to have been something like a leper colony (and I would hazard a guess there would have been a few lepers waiting to jump in the pool as well). Yet here comes Jesus, walking right into this place of sickness, right to this particular man. And asking him if he wants to get well.

I think that we can be so much like the invalid. We lie on our mats and wait for the water to be stirred. We wait for the possibility of a miracle, which we know we have a pretty good chance of never experiencing.
We wait for the miracle to come to us, instead of actively seeking it.

Of course I can only speak for myself, but in thinking about it, of course I’ve done that. I’ve certainly felt like an invalid for a large portion of my life—at least, a spiritual invalid of sorts. I’ve sat back and watched as things happened in other people’s lives and wondered why they hadn’t happened in mine. Wondered why every time things got stirred up, I was always the last one into the water.

I guess the question is: Did I want to be well?

The answer is that sometimes I didn’t. I was comfortable in my sickness, because I knew it, and knew what to expect of it. I knew all too well what life was like as an invalid, and was truthfully not that interested in the alternative. What would happen if the water was stirred and I got into the pool? How would my life change? What would healing feel like? What would be required of me after I was healed? And how would I stir the water? Somehow I always knew it was wrong to simply sit there and wait for it to happen. Yet that is what I did.

People say that God helps those who help themselves. I’m not really even sure how true that is, but I think it’s true that Jesus wants us to be active participants in our own healings. He will not arbitrarily step in and just go “Bam!,” like Emeril, scattering Holy essence over us as we simmer. And while he will kick things up a notch, he won’t do it unless we ask him to.

I think of the healing I began to experience once I answered that question from Jesus and was able to get off my mat and walk. It’s extraordinary, and not something I ever expected. I thought I’d be paralyzed for the rest of my life—paralyzed by fear, and complacency, and unforgiveness.

Paralyzed by addiction.

But when I took His hand and let Him help me off my mat, I was able to begin the process of healing (and make no mistake, it is a process, though I believe healing can and does happen instantly). I didn’t just skip off my mat like the paralytic in John 5.

I took a step.

Then another step. And another. I began to depend more on Jesus than on my mat. I was able to forgive the people in my life that I had nothing but bitterness for prior to Jesus. I didn’t fear death anymore, and I didn’t fear life, either. Complacency was no longer my crutch. And though I am not always as well as I’d like to be, when I am not, I usually only have myself to blame.

I think one of the greatest gifts we receive from Jesus is the opportunity to choose Him over ourselves, to “lean not on our own understanding,” as Proverbs says. And he desperately wants us to lean on His. So odd that it’s difficult to realize this, even as a person of faith. So every time I wonder if that’s true, I try and think about Calvary.

Who would do that for anyone? I wouldn’t. And whose water would I stir? The truth of that is I’m too concerned with watching the damn pool for myself. I suppose the question of the day is how do I get around that?

But even more than that; what will I do with the healing I received? Will I simply be grateful, and hold onto the truth of it for myself? Or will I act as the paralytic did in the last verse?

The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.

To me, that’s the key to the whole passage. After he was healed, he told people it was Jesus who had made him well.

My old pastor in San Diego said something once along the lines of “Everyone has a story, a story about their experience with Jesus. And even if it does not seem like as dramatic an experience as some, there’s another person out there who is waiting to hear it.”

Someone is waiting to hear my story—and your story. They need to hear it. They need to hear who made you well, so they can seek the same healing for themselves. It doesn’t matter whether or not you’ve been paralyzed for 38 years, or addicted, or abused, or if you’ve stolen, or lied, or cheated. These are all things that have kept us from stepping off our mats, and I suppose in a sense have paralyzed us.

Here’s my question to you, and it’s the same as Jesus to the paralytic:

Do you want to be well?

Jesus rewards perseverance. You find that everywhere in the bible.

So, comfortable as we might be on our mats, waiting for waters to stir, we can’t spend the rest of our lives there–I don’t want to. I’ve already been doing that for most of my life.

So do I want to get well?

I do.

How about you?

Here’s a Youtube video of a really great song that pretty well spells it out:

Healer

Remembrance

This morning on the way to work I played a CD I made with a bunch of worship songs on it I like. It’s hard going without and Ipod or MP3 player, but I manage. Anyway, right after I passed the big guns on 95, Third Day’s “Communion” came on, and while I usually bellow along with whatever is playing, this time I just listened to the words.

This is the body
This is the blood
Broken and poured out
For all of us…

And I thought about what had been going through my head last weekend when we took communion. I could actually remember it. All I could think about was that I was hungry and we were going to get some dinner after church.

To add to that, since David is no longer in kindergarten, he comes to “big church” with Jenny and I. That same night, we decided not to allow him to partake, not until he really understands what it means, and what he’s doing.

And this morning I thought about whether or not I understand what it means.

This is something Jesus tells us to do, and why to do it.

Do this in remembrance of me.

Is that why I do it? Or do I do it because it’s part of the church service, like the sermon? Obviously, last weekend, my head and my heart were both somewhere other than the sanctuary.

Do this in remembrance of me.

Remember me, standing in an olive orchard and facing a squad of soldiers and a traitor.

Remember me, chained to a post and whipped to shreds.

Remember me, sentenced to a death that’s supposed to be yours.

Remember me, nailed to rough wood with my arms outstretched.

Remember me, dying on a lonely hill.

Remember me, loving you so much I would not do it any other way.

Remember me.

I don’t know what it’s like for you, but for me it’s so easy to speed through church just like I do through work sometimes. I allow myself to forget why I go in the first place. It becomes almost like a job, rather than an act of worship, and a place to fellowship.

I set out the communion elements. I gather them up, and deposit the offering in the safe.

But why am I doing it?

This morning was a wakeup call.

Do this in remembrance of me.

Lord, forgive me my complacency. Help me to remember you when I set out the elements, when I consume them, and when I gather up what remains. Help me to do this in remembrance of you, from whom all blessings flow.

Depths of my heart

Sometimes, when I look into my heart, I see darkness.

Even today, knowing Christ, that is what I see. It’s true that I’m a new creation, but it doesn’t take much for me to fall into old thought patterns, belief patterns, and even sin patterns.

Because, at the innermost depths of my heart, I am not a good person. At least, that’s what I hear whispered in my ear every now and then. Seems mostly like when I think things are going pretty well.

But is that really true?

Am I a bad person?

What does God say about that? I know that when I made my decision for Christ I “put off the old man.” And was made a “new creation.” And even before that, I believed that God made me. Didn’t I? And isn’t it true?

So if God made me, and if I am a new creation, then if I think I am a bad person, isn’t that like saying God made me bad? And does God make bad people?

I think that maybe God makes people good, and for whatever their reasons are, people make bad decisions about their lives–I know I did, for a very long time.

So that being said, and with the knowledge that I’ve “put off the old man,” why is it so easy to remember the old man, the one with the heart of stone?

The one with darkness and ugliness at his depths.

Hard question to answer, but I think basically, because it’s hard to totally surrender to God. It’s easy to remember the old me–and to feel like him.

But

because I know Jesus is there, there really isn’t any darkness. In Him there is no darkness at all.

I am in Him.

And there is no darkness–even if it feels that way every once in a while.

I think of the Chris Tomlin song “Indescribable,” and the lyric that sums up Christ’s love for us, his beloved Children.

For me.

“You see the depths of my heart, and you love me the same.”

He loves us the same, even if when we look at ourselves we see darkness. He loves us the same, even if when we look at ourselves, we see ugliness.

He loves us the same.

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.