Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Too much effort to discover some transcendent mindset causes one to become introverted. We begin to ask, “What must I do?” Thus, our very effort to become enlightened forces us away from God. To follow God is to obey Him, and obedience entails a life of outward, self-giving love. We do not draw away from the world to find God. A life of constant prayer does not mean that we are given reason to remove ourselves from the world. We must learn that our relationship with God does not depend on how often or long we can get away from “life” to enter into quiet time. Quiet time is good and necessary, but so is reaching others. Prayer and communion can happen in the midst of the ordinary. God can speak to us in the mundane. Does God work only in the mundane? Can I not have a miraculous experience in prayer? Surely we can, but if that is where we assume we must start, we walk right past God on our way to find Him. If we need a miraculous event, God knows and will provide. We need not try to conjure it up for ourselves.
We may even speak with God in our own language. Christ taught us to do so; therefore, it must work. It is God who will answer in the language that surpasses our minds' understanding but touches our heart in such a way we understand without hearing a word. Can God speak to me in an audible voice? Surely he can do all things. But, does this mean I am somehow closer to God than my brother or sister who has not heard His voice? Not at all. In fact, it might just mean that we were too stubborn to listen when He spoke to our heart.
Our eyes do not have to roll back in our heads as OMs flow from our mouths and we enter some semi-conscious state. God is not an elusive being that we must catch in order to speak with Him. We do not have to figure out how prayer works before we can partake in it. God knows how it works, and He will deal with any complications that it might take in order for us to connect with Him. In fact, He has already done so. Christ sacrificed Himself so that we might enter into a relationship with God. Let us not insult His death and resurrection by assuming that there is yet another task we humans must figure out before we can speak with the Father.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
We learn about who God is, not just so that we may emulate HIm in hopes of being holy. We learn of who God is so that when He instructs us to act, we might recognize His voice. Many live a religion that imitates Christ, at least in word and deed, yet these same people do not think it important to give one’s life over to Him, though they call themselves Christians. This is altogether a mistaken understanding of the faith Christ presents to us.
Surely we are called to be reflections of Christ, but a mirror reflects not by viewing and then morphing into its likeness but in reflecting the object's light. Similarly, we don't become like Christ through a "see and do" relationship. We become Christ-like when Christ offers Himself to us and fills us. Christianity is genuine only if Christ is intimately involved.
We do not reflect God by following law, by becoming what we think God is like, but by submitting to His guiding and loving Holy Spirit. If we live out our faith through Him, we are truly Christians and can say along with Paul, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Therefore it is with the heart that a person must be guided, not because the heart is somehow intrinsically pure, but because it is the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. Often we allow our minds to control the heart. When the heart is calling for us to cry out to God, to become indignant before Him, our minds tell us that this is not proper and that these desires are strange. There is a reversal that needs to take place; our hearts must inform our minds.
How is this possible? Even while I write of the importance of the heart, the mind, which is forever engaged in this realm as the part of us that gathers information, conveys this message into words. My mind is forever churning while the heart speaks to me in fleeting moments, in soft whispers that I not so much hear but feel. The mind is not the enemy. Rather, it is a powerful tool, even weapon. When used without a guiding force, when left to its own devices, it becomes a source of destruction, but it is not evil in itself. The mind is not something we must discard or transcend to realize Truth. It, too, is a gift from God, a part of the human identity that we need in order to be whole. However, the mind must submit to the heart for our being to function properly. This does not mean the heart is forever engaged while the mind whispers. This would be silly, for we could accomplish very little in our day-to-day tasks.
The task of allowing the heart to lead is not so much an active attempt to force feelings out of the heart at every turn of the day, but an active submission to God. For if we are truly born again, and if the Holy Spirit lives in our hearts, then it is not so much a listening to our own heart as much as it is a listening to His Holy Spirit. To recognize this voice, we must continually learn about its source, God. Through prayer, study, and living a life called to be holy, we can know more of Him. We can find freedom in submission to Him, for once He has our hearts and our attention, He will guide us to our purpose, a life hidden in Him.
Friday, July 24, 2009
God has a funny way of doing things and as it happens, I have come across many ideas in seminary that I have quietly reflected upon and then lamented that I had not heard them as a youth. These ideas have sat on a dusty back shelf in the corner of my mind, for I never imagined God would call me to share them with the group for which they were ultimately intended. Never say never. As the weekend progressed, I shared God’s desire to make us Holy. I wanted them to realize that our call to holiness comes not from a God who demands His people to jump through hoops because it pleases Him. Rather, it emanates from our God, who calls us to holiness as a means to demonstrate His love. Our potential lies in becoming like our loving Father, allowing Him to take control in order to show us adventures of which we could never dream.
As the talks unfolded, God spoke through me. I know I could not have reached these youths on my own. There has been nothing inside me for quite some time that was interested in youth ministry. But, as He often does, God wanted to share with me in an area of His work that I had written off long ago. Thus, one lesson that I received was a reminder that although my heart might not be called in a certain direction, it is important for me to praise God for the work He is doing in that area and never assume that what I am called to do is any more important than the work of my other brothers and sisters. However, that was not the biggest lesson God would teach me.
As the last night’s session came to a close, many of the youth stayed in their seats even after being dismissed. Many shed tears and shared with each other the feelings God had stirred within them. I know the Spirit of the Lord was there with us. We stayed as long as we could, but we had to be out of our meeting room by a certain time. Before we left, one youth pastor asked the group if any of them would care to say anything. One student wanted to share but did not want to do so in front of the entire group. A core stayed behind to hear from this young man, and my heart was racing to learn what he had to say. Because of this youth’s desire to share with only a select few, I assumed his testimony would be something that would sweep me off my feet. As he began to share, the anticipation grew and finally he told us of the sin that he had struggled with for some time. Because this young man told us in confidence His testimony, I too will keep it a secret. But I will share with you, with much shame, my initial reaction to his confession. I wanted to laugh. There was something inside of my human false self that told me that this was an insignificant problem. Since the sin was not sexual or harmful to others, I wrote it off as nothing, and my cynical old man wanted to surface his ugly face in laughter.
Here I sat thinking for a moment that this was unimportant just after telling these children that they could give over anything to their loving Father that was separating them from Him. It was a fleeting few seconds of ignorance that I will never forget, for as soon as this warped idea entered my mind, God cut to my heart to show me my error. Surely certain sins have more severe consequences on our lives than others. Surely some sins indicate a deeper sense of separation from truth than others. However, sin is not just a matter of outward effect. It is a cancer of the heart, the inner self. In a way I was reminded, and in a way I realized for the first time, why all sin is equal. This seemingly insignificant sin, an act, might I add, in which many Christians participate without regret, had kept this young man in hiding from God. This sin separated Him from experiencing the full love of the Father because this young man was serving this sin instead of God. It had plagued his heart so that he could not share in full relationship with his Father. I pray that I never again, even for a moment, assume that someone else's struggle is insignificant. Any sin that we allow to be bigger than God in our hearts is devastating to our relationship with Him. This young man let go of his that night, and God worked in an exciting and mighty way.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
I met Father Aldrich, a retired Episcopal priest, at a friend's wedding. Before we met face to face, we had already talked on the phone because we were going to work together at the wedding. I was officiating, and Father Aldrich was helping me administer communion. On the phone, he expressed to me his desire for us to talk about my decision to enter into ministry. He was interested to hear my thoughts about the faith that we share. To be honest, I was not looking forward to our encounter. Instead, I was intimidated. Here was a well-educated man who had been in vocational ministry for so long that he had retired. I was a boy not even out of seminary, yet he wanted to hear my thoughts. But when we met, he had so much love and joy in his eyes and smile that the wall I had built in defense instantly melted away. He did not spare me the difficult questions, but I knew that he was talking to me because he wanted to share his love with me. He did not want to prove himself nor challenge my opinions. He genuinely wanted to encourage me. When we parted ways, he embraced me as a grandfather would his grandson, and my heart was warmed. I determined then and there that I would try to model this man, for he was surely modeling Christ.
For those of you who are young, do not be so quick to build up barriers to protect your heart or defend your perspective. You may just pass up an opportunity to learn. For those of you who are older, be mindful that those young in faith or in age need to be encouraged and reminded that you love them before you attempt to teach them. You never know when a warm embrace might change someone’s life.
The church may not be in the condition that I wish it to be, but I am encouraged that there are men and women out there who, although they do not know me, care for me because Christ’s love fills their hearts. It is in their eyes and smiles that I see the church, the church of which I am proud to be a part.
Friday, July 10, 2009
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and every day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, O LORD my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death;
my enemy will say, "I have overcome him,"
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD,
for he has been good to me. Psalm 13
I really enjoy the times when God speaks with me in such a profound way that everything I learn of Him changes almost my whole view of reality. I have always assumed that the world around me is not actually reality, or at least my perception of it is not reality. The world that seems to spin without paying much attention to its Creator cannot be the real world. So, when God is revealing to my heart His furious love and constant involvement among a people that do not even realize He is there, my heart rejoices, and I feel that I am finally getting the big picture. But what of the times when God is silent? My confidence begins to spiral, and I find just how weak I am without Him. I begin to wonder if all that I had learned before was just something I came up with. How foolish of me to assume I could paint such a beautiful picture? But, nonetheless I question. Such a time of silence came not too long ago, and when I had gotten deeply into feeling sorry for myself, I began to realize how foolish I was being. So I asked myself, "Why would God be silent?" Does He want me to fall into sorrow? I think not." Does He want to remind me that I am helpless without Him? I think that is part of it. But maybe it is not just that He wants me to become somber and reclusive. Maybe He wants me to join Him in silence to enjoy what He has done for me. Maybe He wants me to take a retreat in which I calm my mind from its constant learning. Once, in the midst of a very stressful week at seminary, I said to a friend something that most would not understand except for those of us who were in this particular position. I said, “Have you ever wanted to take a vacation from all this, just take a break from all this Christian stuff?” Of course, my friend understood exactly what I meant, but allow me to clarify. I had been spending all day being stretched and then pouring my heart out to others. I was tired. I did not want to not be a Christian for a week or something like that, but I wanted a break from ministry work. At the time I assumed that was a foolish desire and that to be a “good” disciple, I could never stop. But, as He often does, God shattered my assumptions. Spending time with God does not always mean that I have to be engrossed in the Bible until I learn something new. Maybe God just wants me to enjoy what I already know. More importantly, maybe He just wants me to enjoy being in His presence.
Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth." Psalm 46:10
Friday, May 29, 2009
I, however, do not believe that human beings are capable of riding upon an exclusively emotional experience indefinitely . Although higher emotions do set humans apart as special creatures, we are also equally endowed with rational cognitive thought. Once the emotions erode, which they will inevitably do, reason begins to scrutinize the situation. If one is not prepared to think through the logical side of the faith, he or she often falls away. I believe that this precarious approach to faith is precisely the idea behind Jesus' parable of the seed that sprouted quickly but soon faded because it was not rooted in firm soil. If one roots his or her faith in emotion alone, he or she will not be able to satisfy the entire human capacity for thought. This sort of failing belief can be examined in everyday experience:
When hearing a good ghost story, many will experience chills and wonder if the story could be true. People can become so engrossed in the emotions aroused when hearing a ghost story that even the person relating the fantastical tale, someone who might have created the story himself and therefore knows that it is purely fictitious, may even begin to believe the story for a moment. However, it does not take long for human reasoning to take control and destroy any belief in the story. If there is no logical grounding for belief, many will never make it to the point at which logic has been satisfied and the leap of true faith begins. In fact, in the West, our logic has attained such a privileged priority that it does not take long before the white knuckled experience of a good sermon begins to fade, and, once again, I can speak from personal experience. It is this sort of battle of logic that left me emotionally unprepared to handle pain when I first had to confront it.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
The assumption that the answers to ultimate truth lie within philosophy is illogical since philosophy as a discipline has a beginning. Philosophy is a finite entity, and a finite discipline can not hold ultimate answers. Only that which is eternal can offer answers intrinsically. The questions of life existed before the discipline of philosophy developed. Thus, if the answers existed at the origin of the questions, philosophy could not have contained them. A true philosopher will utilize philosophy to scrutinize different ideas and to see if they can lead to answers. These ideas are not philosophy themselves but can be subjected to philosophical scrutiny. Therefore, no philosopher should exclude faith from the start, but should be open to the possibility that philosophy's natural conclusion is faith.
Monday, May 18, 2009
Others could not know the man Peter really was on the inside. To the rest of society, he was just another fisherman, but Jesus knew the brave and somewhat foolish heart that beat within the sun-worn man’s chest. When Peter looked up from his nets, he saw the Nazarene smiling at him. This was no ordinary smile; it was the sort of smile that a grandfather gives to the grandchild who is trying to act so grown and strong and yet has no idea how. This man whom Peter would soon call "Lord" had the look of wisdom. How did such a young peasant seem so knowing? Peter’s core was shaken. It was strange, but Peter knew that the Man who stood before him could do something no other could: He could see into his heart and know his desires. Jesus then commanded Peter to follow Him, and Peter’s longing heart leapt with joy.
The years melted away, and Peter’s Master had prepared His disciples for great things, but Peter was still anxiously waiting for the day when they would change the world. On their long walks through the valleys, Peter sometimes would drift away from what Jesus was teaching and back into the confines of his mind. There, Jesus was a mighty ruler, a political ruler, and Peter was His right hand man, fighting for the good of mankind. On one such day, Peter, in his imagination, was in the middle of raising an army of strong courageous men for his Master. Jesus cleared His throat, and Peter came back from his daydream. “Peter, listen, I must prepare you for what is to come.” Jesus placed His hand on Peter’s shoulder so as to keep his attention. “I must suffer greatly, and I will die and will rise on the third day.” Peter’s heart sank as his visions of greatness dimmed, “No, my Lord, this will never happen to you. We will protect you.” Before Peter could tell Jesus his new plans to spread their cause, Jesus’ kind expression changed into a stern one, “Get behind me, Satan.” Peter’s eyes filled with tears. At first, he could not understand why his Master would say such a thing. Jesus then explained to Peter that his humanistic desires and dreams were not the things that will win the war on sin. Although Peter’s motives were innocently wrought from his somewhat childish mindset and imagination, and although he wanted the best for his Lord, he was not thinking from the mindset that Jesus had been teaching him to use because he was too busy trying to have things work out Peter’s way and by Peter’s will. However, it was not the will of Peter that would prevail, but the will of the Lord, and if Peter wished to live a life worthy of his dreams, he would have stop living an internal life of bravery and adventure; he would have to start living a public life that mirrored God’s will. Then Jesus said something contrary to any of Peter’s preconceived notions on how to live life:
“If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” –Matthew 16:24
After all these years, Peter received his first glimpse into the sort of adventure Jesus was really planning for his people. It was far beyond any of his wildest dreams. He finally began to understand the magnitude of the adventure they were to embark upon. He also began to realize the bravery and courage he would need, and his inner warrior paled in comparison.
What an adventure would be ahead? The adventure of life in Christ: the life we are all invited into.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
Around the same time that I was becoming friends with Roy, a man who had lived almost five decades more than I, I met a man who had lived one less year than I. Twenty-tree year old Kentucky native Mick Allred revealed his heart to me the same day we first crossed paths. He was so desperate for God that the first mention of the faith brought tears to His eyes. Mick was in love with God, but Mick was uncertain that God was in love with him. The desperation to know God more was unmistakable.
So, within the matter of a few weeks, I had made friends with two men who were separated by fifty years and hundreds of miles. Their dispositions were quite different, but they shared a similar struggle. These men have never met. They have never talked to each other, and I am not even sure that I have ever mentioned either one to the other. However, they both revealed to me their inner struggles around the same time. Both men told me they felt inadequate and felt that they did not know enough of God and His love.
What a tremendous blessing!
Our desire to know Him more, our desperation to draw closer, is evidence that we are losing the self-centered heart, and with its fall, we are desperate to cling to Him. Our desperation is a driving force to focus steadfastly upon His love, and our poverty is our proof. We cannot separate ourselves from our selfish desires on our own; only the Spirit in us can do these things. What does it mean when we no longer want to be satisfied by our ignorance of Him? It means He is working in us. His love is infiltrating our being, and we, for the first time, realize we cannot live without it.
Both of my dear friends are still searching daily. Each man still hungers for more. However, there is no longer a fear of condemnation in their desperation, for they realize that it is a God given poverty.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. Matthew 24:12-14
As I enter into this discussion, I first have to appeal to my reader. While reading this essay, please be patient with my words, and remember that they are my words, not the final word. I will indulge in a little speculation in some areas that I, admittedly, do not fully understand. I am embarking on a journey that God has initiated, but I will not fully comprehend its meaning until I finish the course. My hope is that even if you disagree with my conclusions, you will use these thoughts as a springboard to launch yourself into deep contemplation. I have prayed over these thoughts and humbly submit them to you as one who appreciates the responsibility God has placed upon me as a teacher of His word.
When a person contemplates his or her inevitability, he or she will often find happiness in the outcome of our faith, the eternal life that is spent with the Godhead. However, many, if not all, even though they might embrace faith, find in their deep contemplations a sense of dread when the idea of death enters their minds. Even worse, for the atheist, there is no sense of joy for the afterlife, only a sense of dread that death is final. All people, thinking from the human perspective, dread the inevitable death that each of us must face unless we are taken up beforehand. I must conclude, as many before me have, that humanity is opposed to death because it is against our nature. This is evident from the account in Genesis. We are afraid of death because it is a punishment. If we did not dread the consequence of death, how would it be a punishment? Christ has conquered death’s power over us, but we still must endure death to receive the final reward of Christ’s atonement.
This unknown barrier keeps our joy about the afterlife forever in the heart but limits the mind’s capacity to grasp such a concept. The human brain responds to experience; hence, the mysterious nature of death breeds fear. Death cannot be experientially known until our lives end, and our minds have no guarantee of what will become of us afterwards since they cannot retrieve assurance from a prior experience. This is the human condition. I still consider myself a Timothy of the faith: I am young but willing to grow. Therefore, I know that more experienced Christians, those more mature in the faith, have a deeper understanding of what I am going to say. Many, I imagine, have passed through this phase of allowing uncertainty to have a degree of control over their mental grasp of eternal existence, even as they allow their hearts to experience the peace beyond understanding. However, I have a hunch that the uncertainty that is a condition of the human mind will remain with us to at least some degree until the end of this life. Otherwise, we become more than human. This is why Christians need a peace that is beyond understanding. Our minds cannot grasp fully the power from which the peace comes, for it comes from the heart through faith and pacifies the mind only after being realized through the faith of the heart: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).
Uncertainty is a product of the human condition, and there is no need to deny this. As philosophers and theologians have said for thousands of years, we are incapable of fully knowing most, if not all things for certain. The “knowing” I speak of is the “knowing” of the brain, a limited organ that receives data and processes ideas according to the experiences a person has had. We are constantly in the state of learning. Faith, then, is exactly that, unless we think in a hyper-Calvinistic sense. Faith is a “knowledge” of another sort, a knowledge of the heart. Therefore, faith is not a species of head knowledge that will supplant uncertainty, although it can guide us in a manner that enables us to deal with our uncertainty. Faith from the heart can inform our minds and allow us to comprehend that there is a greater understanding that supersedes the faculties of human intellect. Spiritual knowledge is a knowledge that we cannot learn but must receive from God.
Uncertainty, sometimes called doubt, has acquired a negative connotation in the mind of the Christian. We are taught that if we are uncertain about particular topics, we are somehow living wrongly. I must respectfully disagree. It is how we treat doubt that shows whether or not we are living properly. If we avoid questions by pretending we do not have them, we are not living honestly before our God and before others. When we hide behind a pretense of objective knowledge, we make others feel inadequate because they know in their hearts they have not found an objective truth that the mind can grasp. There is a God who loves us, but to know this is to understand it not with our brains but with our souls. The truth for any person of contemplation is that we can never fully comprehend the metaphysical by our own merit. We can never wrap up the existence of God in our minds. This is not to say that our mind is completely incapable of recognizing evidences of God, quite the contrary. However, our brain, limited to the space between our ears, limited by the five senses, limited by the finite time in which it has to learn, limited by its physical weaknesses, can never fully grasp the extent of our limitless God and His limitless love for us. Therefore, there is no shame in uncertainty of the mind.
As a parallel, let us think about another humanistic condition that we have made others believe to be evil. Many Christians treat temptation as if it were a sin within itself. However, was Christ not tempted in the desert by Satan himself? Otherwise, why would we call this biblical teaching “The temptation of Christ”? Christ demonstrates that temptation is not sin, but the manner in which we deal with the temptation that proves our heart.
Uncertainty, if treated incorrectly, can lead down a path of faithlessness, but if handled properly, can be a driving force for us to seek God out in everything. Doubt is not to be glorified, but it is to be acknowledged. Is it not uncertainty that lends power to faith? Is not faith, by definition, the act of overcoming the real uncertainty that lives within us? Would faith be faith if we had no doubt? Would it not be called objective knowledge? This is not to say, “Yes, doubt exists and you will just have to live with it.” This is to say that if we acknowledge before God and one another that doubt is a part of our lives, we can then accept God’s guidance to a path of understanding that usurps doubt’s preeminence. Faith is our trump card.
To live properly by faith, we must confront doubt without blinking. We must allow our faith to inform uncertainty, not the other way around. This is truly the power of Christianity. We must reverse our manner of thinking from head to heart, and make it a path of heart to head.
To make myself perfectly clear, I must mention something. Development of the mind is of upmost importance. If our purpose is to follow God, the One who gave us intelligence and reason, it would be odd for us to deny our mental capacity when thinking of God. It would be strange to turn the faith into something that is exclusively about emotion and has nothing to do with reason. Reason, however, is limited, and faith goes beyond what the mind can know. Therefore, although people often see doubt (or, should I say, uncertainty) as a flaw in someone’s faith, this is not entirely the case. Doubt is a product of the flawed mind, while faith is a divinely appointed ability. The origins of the two are from different sources. Therefore, faith and doubt exist on two separate levels. Doubt, therefore, is not a hole in the heart’s faith, but a product of the mind. Thus, if we think properly, we can allow faith to conquer doubt. However, if we see the problem of doubt as a lack in faith, we will forever attempt to pump up our faith instead of using it to defeat doubt. Think about it: If faith is a gift from God as Paul tells us (Ephesians 2:8), then how can we assume that it is faith that is weak. It is not the faith that is weak; it is our confidence in faith that is weak.
The best examples of how to live as Christians should come from our Lord. His faith is never clearer, other than the manner in which He lived every day of his life, than in his preparation for experiencing death. What is faith other than a submission of the human will unto God’s will? By submitting ourselves to God no matter the consequences and the uncertainty is to typify fully faith in Him. As Jesus prepared for death, He poured himself out before the Father. The manner in which God in Christ and God in the Father interact in the garden is beyond our comprehension. However, part of our Trinitarian belief tells us that the Godhead is in communion with Himself. The three parts of God interact in complete harmony, but, nonetheless, interact. We also confess that Christ was fully human yet fully divine. Here again, we lack full understanding, but we take this tenet by faith. As Christ struggles in the garden, we see His humanity so that we might relate. Christ calls out to God the Father and lets it be known that He is afraid of what is to come and does not wish to face this horrible death. Often, when another human has a similar experience, many Christians deem this a flaw. They ask, in effect, why anyone would tell God that he or she does not wish to follow the path He has set. However, we are told that Christ, in full honesty before the Father, admitted reservations. Although His humanity resists the unknown consequences of death, He submits Himself to the Father’s will, for, by faith of the spirit, He knows He will be victorious (Mark 14:36). The narrative of Christ’s death continues, and as He hangs upon the cross, He cries out to God: “At the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, "ELOI, ELOI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?," which is translated, "MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?" (Mark 15:34).
Here we come to a passage that the Church, at times, has struggled with, yet when considered carefully, it lends great comfort to many who suffer a sense of abandonment from God. As I study numerous commentaries, I find numerous explanations. I even find that some within the church prefer to ignore this verse. When I study this passage in Mark, I find that Mark does not offer much explanation. Thus, the reader must contemplate the passage, in which Christ quotes Psalm 22:1. Although this may seem a strange way of doing so, Christ is speaking to His father and acknowledging a final victory, even while he feels abandonment. However, it is a victory that He takes by faith because experientially, Christ does not feel God’s presence. At this moment, Christ feels completely abandoned by God. I imagine that the correct theology is that which maintains that Christ felt abandoned because He was assuming the full force of humanity’s sin; hence, God the Father had, for a time, to break His communion with God the Son. However, the important point to realize is that Christ, suffering greatly for us, did feel a separation from God in some manner, a sense of abandonment He had never experienced before. I cannot begin to imagine what sort of emotion and fear He had to endure at this moment.
(If you have not already done so, this would be a good time to read Psalm 22.)
Now, let me explain why I see this cry from the cross as a cry of victory. Although Christ, for the first time in His entire life, felt abandoned by God, the scripture He chooses to recite is one of ultimate victory. Many scholars would suggest that we should not be so quick in allowing the entirety of Psalm 22 to inform our understanding of why Christ said what He did because it diminishes the suffering of the Messiah. I respectfully say that this takes nothing away from His suffering. Christ’s intention has to be seen here. A famous commentator once said that if Jesus’ intention was to admit a full sense of despair without hope, He could have quoted a number of passages that demonstrate abandonment but do not end in final victory, yet this passage is the one He uttered in His final moments. Jesus did not, at this point, quote the portion of the Psalm that explicitly demonstrates final victory. Instead, He voiced the part that demonstrated exactly what He was feeling at that moment. Thus, we do understand that He is indeed suffering greatly, both physically and emotionally, and this is why I see these words as a cry of victory to which we, as humans, can relate. Christ seems to be saying that He does, in fact, feel abandoned for the moment, but He also, by faith, is suggesting that what is to come is the final victory of the Lord. It may seem peculiar to say that Christ felt abandoned by God; however, this is what the Bible says. Despite feeling completely torn from the Father, Christ believes God is still going to have victory. In fact, many of Christ’s sayings from the cross that appear in other gospels demonstrate more clearly His sense of victory. And as we read the rest of the gospel, we see that Christ’s faith was indeed valid, for He rose from the grave. We, too, should feel permitted to cry out to God and admit our fear and sense of abandonment. Then, our hearts will testify that He is in complete control and will have final victory in our lives. In the face of the unknown, faith can be damaged by our lack of understanding in its power. In truth, it is not doubt that should destroy faith. Faith is our strength to overcome the barrier of uncertainty and doubt.
This is the path that I am on, and a path that many have taken before me. The path of faith is better understood by a reversal in our thinking. We must allow our hearts to inform our minds. We must learn to give the heart’s faith knowledge the chance to overcome the head’s limited experiential knowledge. Pray that God would strengthen your faith and allow it to take the lead of your life.
Friday, May 15, 2009
There was one peculiar thing about the boys. Each left the house through an opposite door. The first time James had ever left the house, he exited through the front, and what he saw kept him from ever leaving any other way. He marveled at the four huge columns that supported the roof above the beautiful porch. He admired the handcrafted molding that surrounded the huge windows. It was a work of art. This is how he viewed his house and no one would ever change his mind.
The first time Paul had ever left the house, he exited through the back, and what he saw kept him from ever leaving any other way. He marveled at the outdoor chimney that was stacked from savannah brick. He admired the hand laid tile that formed the patio. It was a work of art. This is how he viewed the house and no one would ever change his mind.
One day the twins’ fifth grade teacher asked her students to describe something in their lives that they thought was a piece of art. Once it became apparent to the teacher that the twins both wanted to discuss their father’s house, she allowed the boys to do a joint project. The night before their presentation, the boys could not sleep. They were so excited to share with their peers and teacher the wonder that was their father’s house.
Almost in harmony, the boys told of the hard wood floors, the marble counter tops, the stained molding, the spiral staircase, the vaulted ceilings, and every other detail that was on the inside of the house. They were so excited they were running out of breath. The teacher stopped the boys to ask them about the outside of the house. The harmony ceased. James began to describe the columns and the large windows while Paul began to describe the outdoor chimney, and tile patio. James looked at Paul like he was crazy, and Paul was returning the look to James. Both children seemed so knowledgeable about the house. That is why the teacher was so confused. She could not see how two people so knowledgeable on a specific topic could have so much disagreement, especially when the two “experts” both lived in the topic at hand. It never occurred to the teacher that neither boy had ever seen the whole house.
Never stop searching.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
There was once a man who wanted to travel to a distant land where not many had ever been before. He had read that the land was treacherous and uncharted, and there was no way to explore this new land alone. He did not heed the warning and instead, went alone unprepared. He was a strong young man and had defeated every obstacle he had ever faced, but this trip would prove to be too much. He was flown to his desired drop-off-point and left alone to face the monstrous land. Five minutes into his exploration, the man found himself in quicksand. He tried with all his might to crawl out, but the more he struggled the more he sank. His eyes filled with tears. All he could think of was why he did not listen to the warnings. He thought he was invincible, but he was a mere man, and his end was near. Oh, how he wished for just one more chance. He screamed out for help, and, just as he did, a man stronger than he appeared in the distance. The man was standing on solid ground, beautiful ground. The desperate young traveler begged for the man to come help him, and the man threw the “would be explorer” a rope and pulled him out of the pit. The exhausted young man was out of the pit but was not on the beautiful grassy area that his rescuer was standing on. Instead, he remained face down in the stagnate, muddy area around the quicksand. The rescuer called out to the man, “Come with me. Stand by me on this solid ground, and I can show you beauty beyond your wildest imagination. There are many others that are in pits just like you were, and we can save them too. I want you to come with me. We can show them the beauty of this wonderful land together.” The young man picked his head up out of the mud to answer, “No, I am fine right here, and I do not plan on moving.”
Not only is this sort of life sad, it is insulting to the Savior. We do not have to wait for the life to come; we can walk with Him now!
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Without going into gross details, I want to share with you a time in my life that I often refer to as “the darkest time.” To make a long story short, I was in college when I first met sin's true face. It was at this time, when my heart was most troubled, that my problems were exacerbated by medically induced depression. Life was dark and there was no light to be seen. The louder I screamed at Him, the less I could hear God. Eventually, my diluted mind resolved the only cure for this life was death. Well, as you may have guessed, I never acted upon this foul urge that was slowly creeping in my thoughts. God saved me from my twisted mind and delivered me into a life I could have never dreamed: a life of beautiful events, beautiful friends, beautiful family, beautiful thoughts and beautiful peace.
I know many of us can think back to “the time when…,” times that bring a lump in the throat. It only takes a glance or the running the finger over the blemish to remind us of the scars of physical wounds, but this is not the case for the inner scar. We cannot see the scar itself in physical form, but sights of a past aquatints, a smell long forgotten, or a familiar song can trigger emotions we thought had been long washed away by the movement of time. I know that often when I think of “the darkest time,” a dark shadow over takes me. For a moment, my heavy heart returns, and my vision of life seems blurred. I remember the intense pain and I question God as to why He would ever have me relive even a moment of that horrible past. Often I have resolved that the return of these feelings did have a purpose, but in the deepest region of my heart, I resented God for not removing this scar. It was not until yesterday that I finally realized why this scar remains. My answer may seem obvious, but as obvious as it may be, it finally became real to me yesterday. I am still a selfish being, always capable of returning to the thought that I can do things my way. The scar is there to remind me of the harm I once caused myself when I turned from His love and acted on my own. It will remain with me until I die. It is a beautiful scar that is etched across the face of my soul.
The next time you have a moment to sit and talk with a person you know has a beautiful soul, wait and listen. Perhaps you will hear the story of the time when God worked in this person’s filthy heart and began His beautiful redeeming process to bring it to the beautiful shining light that it is today. Praise God!
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Often, our linear thought process obscures the importance of life lessons. Modern thinkers, however, sometimes forget this when studying history. While modern historians work with meticulous attention to detail in recording historical events, ancient historical writers frequently told stories that were applicable for teaching a specific lesson but ignored events from which no useful lesson could derive. The gospel writers, aware of how effective stories could be, not only in imparting historical fact but also in conveying moral truths, recorded stories to teach us lessons rather than to give us exhaustive, detailed accounts of events. This is not to say the Bible is not historical; nonetheless, the gospel writers were much more concerned with theological lessons than with minutia. Thus, when we read the scripture, we should not gloss over any event and assume that the real lesson will arrive later. We must slow ourselves down in order to savor each lesson the scripture offers.
With that in mind, I want to speak of God’s purpose in creation. Because we are so inclined toward chronology, we often begin by thinking of God as the designer who initiated human history through creating mankind. That is the first description we get of Him from the biblical account, is it not? This beginning point was very necessary for Israel. They were surrounded by a polytheistic world that thought God was in and of the physical world. The Hebrews needed to know that the world was the product of a God who is supremely other and holy. So, the question burning in my mind now is this: how do we present our God to the world today?
I know the answers and approaches are numerous. I would also say that the story of creation can be powerful in speaking to a nonbeliever. However, if our entire presentation of God to our potential brother or sister in Christ focuses solely on a far away creator, we miss the point of our need for God. In evangelism, we must reserve "design talk" for later, for if we present God primarily as a calm architect patching a damaged creation, we lose the sting of what it means to reject a loving, caring God. We need to speak of God as Christ did. He is more than an objective designer; He is our Father and our guide, who presents Himself to us as self-giving love. As with all we do, we must start with love!
Monday, May 11, 2009
This is the law of the Great King,
Given for the good of my Children:
I am the ruler of this land
He who is allowed into the northern gates
Will, for a time, rule those within
But when I return, woe to him who has taken my rule
For I will bear the shame of my children
And I will destroy he who has presumed to take what is mine
Soon there was a revolt within the very city of the great king, and one of the king’s strongest knights attempted to over throw the crown so that he might have it for his own. By the kings very word the knight was cast from the kingdom, but the knight was not finished. He found all those within the kingdom with dark hearts and took them to build his own kingdom. However, the knight had no land of his own. So he took his dark minions to the land of the king's children. When they arrived, the cunning knight went to the northern gate. There he met the king’s children playing just within the gate. “Come to me dear children,” the knight said in a fatherly voice. “Your king has left you without truth.” The oldest child replied, “What are you talking about, great knight.” The knight smiled, “Oh you foolish children. Do you not know that the king put you here to get you out of his way? He has had a great banquet without you for he desires to have all his kingdom to himself, and now that you are gone, he does not have to share his inheritance with you.” The children were in dismay and offered the knight a place in their land. Unwittingly, they opened the northern gate to the knight. As time went on, the knight deceived many of the children, and many forgot of their father. The children became weak and their bodies aged and twisted. The children were in torment, and the great king could hear their cries.
The counsel of the king gathered to discuss what was to be done about the corruption in the land of the king’s children. The council suggested that the king give the word and the whole land would be destroyed along with the rebellious children. Little did the counsel know that the king had already made a decision before the counsel was even formed. The king’s eyes filled with tears. "I must save my children." One of his high council members protested “But my king, the evil knight now rules the land of your children, you must destroy the children to destroy the knight, for the knight is now within your children’s hearts. The king let out a great sigh, “I will go and get my children.” The council was in an uproar, “But my king, your children have picked a new king; they are not even your children anymore. You do not rule their hearts.” Without a word the king began his walk.
After days of travel the king arrived at the northern gate. By his word the gates opened, and he entered as the rightful king. There he met his children who looked nothing like their former selves, and they did not even recognize their great king. The evil knight came to the king, “How dare you come into my kingdom.” The great king replied, “I have taken back what is mine.” The evil knight then ordered the children to kill the king. With every strike that the children delivered upon the king the more they started to resemble their former selves. When the king was beaten so badly that he could no longer be recognized, the children once again looked like they had before the knight had come. The knight in fear shouted, “Why have you come here. From your throne, you could have sunk the entire land into the belly of the earth. Why have you lowered yourself?” The king smiled, “I have done this for my children.”
As the king arose from the ground, his deep wounds faded. Then he looked at the knight and said, “You no longer have dominion over my children.” And by the kings word the ground swallowed the evil knight.” The king turned to his children, "You may now return to me; the northern gate is always open to my kingdom. I have removed all obstacles from your path. All you must do is choose to come to me and you can be my children again. The king returned to his throne. Many of the children had been so diluted they remained, trying to hold on to the rotting inheritance the evil knight had once given them to cover their eyes so that they could not see the greatness of the king, but some followed the king. For the rest of time the children who returned to the king worshiped their king with thanksgiving and lived in the king's land in happiness for his love was ever upon them.