Sweating Blood

Being in Holy Week has made me think more on Jesus moments in the garden during prayer. I could not even begin to work through the theological debates surrounding Jesus prayer in the garden, and that is not my goal in this post. In these moments we see a beautiful moment in Jesus where he is legitimately facing the weight of the burden he is beginning to carry.

The pressure is enormous. This is a powerful moment. This has been the moment on my mind this past week. It has not stuck out to me for its theological conundrums of Jesus asking for the cup to pass him. It is not even primarily from the fact that he willingly chooses to follow God’s will. It is the humanity to it all the has captivated me.

In this moment I am struck with the reality of it being ok to recognize that hardship exists. Scripture says Jesus was sweating great drops of blood. This is what the world would call weakness. Some would even say fearful. Can Jesus even be afraid? Is that really a thing? Those questions have been running through my head. What really is fear though? We treat it in a negative context because it is often something that controls our actions and behavior. This is an obvious problem, but should that deny us the right to acknowledge when things are difficult?

I have felt surrounded at times over the past few weeks to be encouraged to ignore how difficult things are. Don’t pay attention to the burning building because God is watching out for you. Here is the thing, it is true God is watching out for me. I have no reason to believe He will abandon me. However, it doesn’t change that I might be in a point in life where things are just difficult, maybe even unfair.

Jesus in the garden reminds us that it is ok to recognize when hardship is entering your life. Jesus felt the pain of what he was going to experience. He knew it would be unimaginable to anyone else. Yet he persevered. Anyone can walk into a burning building that they are forced to believe is not coming down. It is the one who runs into the inferno as the roof is collapsing that is showing true grit. Maybe you are reading this through a time of difficulty. Perhaps the world is telling you to pull yourself up by the bootstraps, and move along. Maybe the ones saying that are even the people causing you difficulty. I would suggest a different piece of advice. Go into the garden and be transparent. Sweat drops of blood. Call out this period of life for what it is. Name it as a hardship. Once you do that you can look up and give it over to God. I think that is what Jesus has been teaching me through this moment in His life throughout this week. I can only give something up to God when I willingly acknowledge how painful it really is.

Live Out Christmas: A Waffle House Story

A number of years ago my family started a tradition on Christmas Eve. We went out to Waffle House (because generally if you are working at Waffle house on Christmas Eve you need the money) on Christmas Eve morning for breakfast. We would gather our money together, and leave the waitress a $100 tip. It was a little opportunity to share some of the joy of Christmas, and the love of Christ to a stranger. We kept doing it every year. This year I will be taking my family to Waffle House to do the same. It’s a tradition worth continuing. It is an important reminder.

We see all of those post around this time of year on Facebook “Keep Christ in CHRISTmas.” That’s great advice, but what does that look like? Does it look like posting that meme stating this very thing? That seems to lack some impact. Some would seem to think it means saying “Merry Christmas” instead of the Satan infused “Happy Holidays.” I meant to write on this a ways back and make a much bigger setup, but time got away from me. I still wanted to share a little bit though. I think this message I want to share is important. I have observed all of these influx of Merry CHRISTmas posts for a few years, and it strikes me that the intentions mean well. People want to be a part of something bigger. They want to be a part of sharing this good news, but I think we struggle with finding outlets for it.

Have you ever thought about how the various characters in the Christmas story had their lives completely changed? How do you think the Magi lived after they finally found the Messiah? Who do you think the shepherds told about what they saw out in the field that night? How did they live? We have grown up in this odd tension for Christianity. There is the constant pull over speaking vs. doing. How do we care for the needy? Isn’t the best way to care for the needy telling them about Jesus?

This past Sunday our advent was on Mary. She received a message from an angel. It was incredible news. There was a child. The messiah was going to come, and she was being invited for a miraculous opportunity to take part in this grand story. She received a message. Her life was forever changed. How do you think she lived after that moment? I wonder if her actions became more purposeful. I wonder if she interacted with people differently. All we know for certain is that her response required action. She surrendered herself to be a servant for God in this way. The response to the message was living out the message.

We have the whole “speaking out Christmas” thing down pretty well, but I often ask myself how well I do on the “living” part. How do I live out Christmas in a way that provides context to those words? I struggle with that more than I would like to admit. I’m not sure what this looks like for you. Maybe it means caring for the needs of a family member. Maybe it means showing love to that person you know does not care about Christmas. It could be spending time with your family and loving on your spouse and children. Perhaps it means showing a little glimmer of hope to a stranger even if it means sacrificing a little time or money. Maybe this is through laughter and cheer, maybe by providing a meal, or perhaps even giving a $100 tip to that waitress who is working on Christmas Eve. I can’t speak for the rest of you, but this Christmas Eve I am going to be at Waffle House doing everything I can to live out Christmas. It may not be much, but it’s a start.

Ezra, Jesus, and a Messy World

Yesterday Ezra (my oldest son) was sick. He had some old milk that made his tummy very upset resulting in a bit of a mess to clean up before work. I don’t do vomit. I hate it. The stomach bug is one of the worst non-lethal sicknesses I can ever deal with, and my son sat there struggling from the pain of his tummy and the mess he had created all over his pajamas. I hate vomit. Yet I still found myself quickly wishing to clean my son and attempt to soothe him to help him feel better.

Jesus inherited a mess. He came into a messy world using a messy method, and lived amongst messy people. It may seem odd, but I too often forget the sheer amount of love that was required for Jesus to live on this earth. The amount of compassion shown to a people who were stuck in a life that they had no hope off fixing on their own is mind boggling, but I still manage to forget it often.

I like this time before Christmas. It is a period of reflection. My family and I do advent, and last Sunday was on the prophets while tomorrow will be on John. I am a little late to the game in posting about this so I will be lumping these two together a bit. The prophets foretold of the mess the world was currently in. They pointed to the ugliness of humanity, and of the need for something greater to rescue them from despair. They pointed to the problem, but also the solution. This solution must have been incredibly fuzzy to their audience, and the prophets themselves. Little of it made sense. The only thing that seemed clear was that there would be a Messiah who would provide salvation. He would bring peace to His people.

Enter John. John pointed to the solution in the flesh. The Messiah. The lamb who would take away the sins of the world. The Messiah had arrived, and the promise of God was now living amongst these people. He came and he went, but yet still we see a messy world around us. A world that remains filled with burdens. A world where a husband tells his wife that he doesn’t love her anymore and is leaving her. It is a land where men, women, and children starve to death. It is a desert where men strap bombs to themselves and fly [planes into buildings. It is a soul who remains tormented by heartache over the pain of loved ones. The world is still a messy place.

Jesus set out to fix the biggest mess of all. My favorite title for the Messiah is Prince of Peace. We look at the world and see it enflamed with war and violence. These past few years have seemed especially difficult. Where is the peace? The peace is in the form of God’s relationship with man. Sins has been covered. The price has been paid. The time for fear is over for unto you is born this day in the city of David, a savior who is Christ the Lord. The greatest peace we could ever need has arrived. We have access to our creator. A real relationship can be developed.

Jesus came into the mess, but he came with unique purpose. A Purpose to allow us to have peace in the midst of strife. Comfort in the storm of pain. Salvation.

John proclaimed that peace was for the taking in the here and now. Peace between God and man. So for now we wait. We rest in the embrace of the Prince of Peace who has freed us from the mess of sin, and wait for his second coming when all things will be set right. We remember, and we wait.

Christ Didn’t Look Past My Sin.

Have you ever heard yourself saying the following statement? “I know I probably shouldn’t say/do this, but…” I know I have caught myself saying similar phrases. I have noticed it more after closely listening to other people say it. It takes shape in all forms. “I’m sorry I am venting, but…” “I’m sorry I hurt you, but…” It’s a very peculiar concept isn’t it? It’s strange that we acknowledge a mistake we are about to make, and then go on to make it. As I have thought on it’s true purpose and motivation I can’t help, but hate the fact that I struggle with doing it.

We say thing like this to avoid confrontation. If we acknowledge our sin while we are doing it then we can somehow remove ourselves form being confronted while we do it. We hope that it means that people can just ignore our sin. In fact, we are basically saying that we realize we are a sinner so please accept that I am flawed and just come to terms with that fact. We avoid confrontation by acknowledge that what we are doing is wrong.

This doesn’t really let us off the hook. All it does is make us look all the more foolish. We proclaim that we are wrong, and then go off and continue to do it. That’s a little nuts isn’t it? No, It is more than a little nuts, it is insane. It’s dirty. We make sure that anyone who then attempts to confront us feels like they are tearing us down more than is necessary because, hey, I’ve already acknowledge my sin so thee is no reason to beat a dead horse. You’re holding me in my sin when what you should be doing is just providing me with forgiveness. We never actually get around to apologizing in order to provide forgiveness though. All we have done is acknowledged that what we are in the middle of doing is wrong.

It’s a symptom of a bigger problem. We believe our mistakes should simply be ignored. We believe they should be looked past. WE proclaim that we should look past the sin of others just as Christ looked past sin. He didn’t look past sin though. He stared at it straight in the face. Christ coming to the earth had everything to do with paying attention to sin. If Christ ignored and looked past sin then there would have been no Jesus in the form of man. There would have ben no crucifixion. There would have been no resurrection. There would have been no salvation. We would all still be heading for hell.

Sin is to serious of an issue to just look past. It’s not something that can just be ignored. Simply acknowledge a mistake we are about to make doesn’t give us a free pass. Sin is sin. Sin requires us to seek out forgiveness by repenting form it rather than simply acknowledging it. There is a real difference there.

None of this can happen though unless we get this idea out of our heads that Jesus was all about looking past sin. We think this because he spent so much time with sinners, and kept talking down to those religious people. It’s funny though, the religious people were sinners to. Jesus had no problem confronting them in their sin. He didn’t seems to be to keen on looking past the sin of those religious people. We like the concept of Jesus looking past sin when it seems convenient for us. We hide behind a Jesus who we claim looked past peoples sin and rebuked those who did not do the same. We immediately place ourselves in a double standard.

Even the non religious sinner that Jesus spent so much time with was not someone whose sin he looked past. Why do you think he spent so much time with them? He wanted to show them that there was a better life. A life full of purpose. A life that could not be weighed down by the control of sin.

I’m…. I’m thankful Christ didn’t look past my sin. It hurts when I need to face the consequences of it. It’s embarrassing when I need to face the confrontation, but I’m better for it. I write this post more for myself then anyone else. If I am so grateful that Christ chose not to look past my sin, then why would I so actively avoid being confronted of sin that I acknowledge while I do it? Why do I attempt people to tolerate a poor attitude or cruel thought by already acknowledging it is probably wrong. I feel entitled to be able to act “human” sometimes. “Human” is a substitute for “sinner” in those moment. Can’t I just let my guard down for a little while? Can’t people just accept me for what I am? As I look back on those moments I feel a good deal of regret form those moments. I don’t want people to have to accept me at my worse. I want to have people challenge me to be better. I don’t want people to simply look past my flaws. I certainly want patience form them as I grow, but more importantly I want them to journey with me to changing into a better person. I want them to acknowledge my sin. I want them to do that because my savior acknowledged it on the cross. Thank God my savior did not look past my sin.

Joy on the Cross.

“You just need to learn how to be more joyful”. Such a common statement most of us have heard when we express our frustration, sadness, and discouragement over a difficult situation in our lives. James tells us to count it all joy when we face trials of various kinds. Count it all joy. Believers are commanded to respond to trials and suffering with joy.

This would mean Christ had to respond to trials and suffering with joy. He had to face the cross with an element of joy. That sounds strange doesn’t it? We read the Scriptures, and the last thing we would describe of Jesus as he prepared to die on a cross was joyful. Is it possible that our definition of joy is off? Is it possible that joy can still make way for expressing emotions of grief and sadness?

We make this mistake to often. There are many in Christianity that tell us there are some emotions we are meant to shut off. Any sadness must be overridden with happy thoughts. I don’t like that. I don’t think it’s Biblical. Certainly we do not want to live in despair and grief, but I think it is natural and acceptable to acknowledge those feelings of grief and sadness. Christ showed those emotions in the garden. Was he joyful in that moment? Was he count it all joy in that moment? I believe He was.

It is our understanding of joy that is the problem. I would argue Jesus was filled with joy on the way to the cross. I believe he was filled with joy during that period of grief in the garden. I believe this because of how we see Jesus handle the whole situation. He does focus his vision on the moment of grief. he does not focus his vision on the trial and suffering itself. he focuses on what lies beyond that. he sets his eyes on the result of the trial and suffering.

That’s what James is really getting at when he tells us to count it all joy when we face trials. He tells us to count it all joy because of the beneficial results of that trial. I don’t know about you, but this changes my perspective on the whole being joyful issue. Joy doesn’t mean putting on the fake smile. It does not mean we ignore any of those “bad” emotions. It does mean we don’t live in them. it does mean we focus on what lies ahead rather than on our present circumstances.

We focus a lot on that singular event of the cross. It is a good thing. It is a powerful moment in the history of humankind. I think Christ focused more heavily on what came after the cross though. He focused on that resurrection. He focused on what the death and resurrection meant for His creation. He focused on how He was going to be able to rewrite the history of creation. He was able to be joyful because of that. He was able to weep over his present circumstance, but be joyful about what would live beyond it. Joyful does not mean acknowledging the pain you are in during your suffering. it means we remember that it doesn’t end hear. The story keeps going. The final chapter in the story is the best one. Suffering and trials culminate towards getting us to that final chapter. It is in our future that we can find joy in the present.

Which Jesus?

The gaps this week for writing has made it difficult to keep some consistency. Part of it is that I am still on vacation. The other part is that I have found it difficult to know what to write. What I write is a reflection off of what is on my heart, and sometimes that is just hard to put into words.

Last year I had to read a book called Love Wins. I do not recommend the book. It is filled with some odd ideas based off of scripture abusively ripped out of it context. However, there was one thought in the beginning of the book that was brilliant.

We live in a country where we believe the Gospel has saturated. Which Gospel though? The prosperity gospel? The social gospel? The “full” Gospel?

What Jesus do people know. How about the girl raped by a pastor who believes in Jesus? What about the Jesus of the religious man Sunday but drunk abusive father the rest of the week? Perhaps the Jesus who is worshiped by the deacon in your church until he shatters a family by having an affair with another woman?

Let me be clear, there is no excuse for man to reject God. Ultimately it is our choice and we must face the consequences of that choice. However, what does this tell us as believers? Which Jesus are we introducing people to?

That waitress who has had a hard day. What Jesus are you introducing her to? Is it the one with a rude, cheap, and arrogant follower, or is she being introduced to a Jesus who is followed by someone with love, mercy, patience, and joy?

What kind of Jesus are you introducing to that person you date? Is it a Jesus who only cares about Sunday morning, but turns a blind eye on
Morals threat of the week, or is it a Jesus who taught to respect women and keep all aspects of marriage as something sacred and beautiful?

What Jesus are you introducing to your children? Is it a Jesus without patience and mercy?

I look back at some of my past interactions with people. I look at waitresses, family, girlfriends, friends, roommates, and strangers and consider what kind of Jesus I introduced them to. In each of those categories I can sadly say that it was the wrong one.

That is my somber truth friends. I have to often introduced people to the wrong Jesus. What Jesus have you been introducing people to?

Opportunity through intolerance.

We face intolerance over our faith. I don’t say that as a pity plea nor as a war cry. I simply state the truth. It’s not to hard to believe the reasoning behind it when you look at cults like Westboro. There is a lot of fear over our faith because the press is more obsessed with the wolves in our midst rather than the real deal. Just like the terrorist gets more news coverage than the heroes involved in the after math so do the heretics and hateful people proclaiming Christianity get more press than those who actually live the Christian life.

That’s why I steadily get less and less surprised when I hear things like this current law in the works to essentially ban evangelism in the military. Mikey Weinstein, one of the chief individuals fighting for this new rule had some interesting things to say about Christianity and evangelism.

“Weinstein is the head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, and says Christians–including chaplains–sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ in the military are guilty of “treason,” and of committing an act of “spiritual rape” as serious a crime as “sexual assault.”

I will be the first to admit these statements are incredibly offensive. Easily on the higher end of the most offensive things someone could say on multiple fronts. I’m not sure how anyone looking at things objectively could not find these statements beyond insulting. My gut reaction to something like this is to get angry. If they are going to fight dirty then game on. There will be good intentioned believers out there rallying to set up protests to once again shout out something that we are against. That is always our first response to these situations. We always feel the need to let the world know the things they do they we do not approve of. We are always willing to let the world know what we are against. We are always willing to tell the world the things on the other side of the line that we refuse to cross. Isn’t that part of what got us into this mess though?

I look at statement like these, and if I control my anger I come away with one prevailing thought. Weinstein clearly doesn’t get it. Anyone who actually believes these things clearly does not get Christianity. he Jesus they have been introduced to is a fake. The Christ followers they have met care more about their title than their actions. They only see a fake Christianity. Now I get that plenty of people have seen the real deal and still don’t believe it. However, I have a hard time believing anyone who has seen genuine Christianity can leave it still believing these things.

It is in these moments that we are given a unique opportunity. This is free publicity for our faith. We can use this publicity to once again share with the world what we are against. Perhaps there is more that could be done. Perhaps we can use this as an opportunity to share what we are about. Perhaps this is a time we can share about our love for others. Perhaps we can help prove to the world that even those we do not agree with we can still love and care for thus showing we grasp the spirit of tolerance better than anyone else in the world could fathom. Perhaps rather than spewing hatred and hell warning letters to Weinstein we can pray for him. Not pray for the sinner being prepared to burn for eternity in hell, but instead for the creation of God to experience the real Christ.

Perhaps if we help the world see the good of what we are they will begin to understand the contagion. They will better grasp that faith is not something you can leave in the house. You would have better luck asking a lame man to leave his wheelchair at home. We have a choice my friends. Will we respond to the intolerance and hatred of other with anger and noise, or will we make a lasting impact to use this as an opportunity to show the world what a true Christian looks like?