- 2019Apr 22
I am amazed by people who are so brazenly sure they are right about what they believe. I have friends who are completely sure there is no God and there is no logical need for such beliefs. They believe science is the ultimate answer for everything and they view my faith as a naive weakness and crutch. Sometimes I long to be as sure of anything as they are of everything. So I will be honest. I have wrestled with doubt in my faith journey. I am not convinced that I know everything. Here is a bit of what I wrote about that journey in Waking Up Slowly.
The story line of the movie Risen was intriguing to me. Historically, there was a Nazarene who was crucified, and two groups had a tremendous interest in making sure that his death was the end of the story. The Romans wanted no movement to grow so large that it would cause political unrest. The Jewish leaders wanted to stamp out the heresy that they believed this Teacher was spreading, in order to keep their power intact. It was a win-win situation for the religious leaders and Rome to eliminate this messianic hope of the people. The story is told through the eyes of a Roman military tribune named Clavius. He was tasked by Pilate to make sure Jesus’ crazy followers did not steal the body. A story had been circulating that the Nazarene would rise again in three days, so Clavius made sure the massive stone was rolled into place over the entrance to the tomb and sealed. Roman soldiers guarded the tomb, knowing full well they could be killed if they failed to keep the body secured.
Three days later the body was gone, and Clavius began a desperate hunt. The battle-hardened soldier could not accept that this Nazarene named Jesus could have somehow comeback to life. That is a step of faith that people are still wrestling with two thousand years later. But it is the most important question of all, if you are to put your faith in Jesus.
If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then there really is no difference in this man and any other great moral teacher. But if Jesus did rise from the dead, then His words are different from the words of any other teacher. All of Christianity depends on what happened in that event.
Risen explores the imagined lengths that the Romans and religious leaders went to in order to quell the rumor that Jesus had risen. They tried to find the body (or any similar body that might pass for his) that could be displayed to stop the rumors. They were not successful.
I struggled with these same questions.
- How could the body disappear?
- How did a bunch of cowards like the apostles become heroes of the faith and become willing to die martyrs’ deaths? Simply because they stole the body out of a tomb?
- Could they have kept a lie of such massive implications secret?
I love the way former Watergate principal Chuck Colson honestly evaluated the event:
I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Everyone was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison.
They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world—and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.
Honest people can view the same evidence and come up with completely different opinions. I wrestled with the claims of Jesus Christ for a long time before I decided to believe that He was who He claimed to be. And I remember feeling exactly what the fictional character Clavius felt when he was asked what he feared most: “Being wrong. Wagering eternity on it.” I have never been able to accept the idea that there is no design or bigger purpose to this life.
Perhaps the most important argument for me is the impact that the Nazarene teacher has had on my life. I have haphazardly attempted to follow Him for many years. Tolstoy’s quote fittingly describes my awkward attempts: “If I know the way home and am walking along it drunkenly, is it any less the right way because I am staggering from side to side!” The apostles followed Jesus and saw that it was not an easy choice at times. Many followers were deserting Jesus after some difficult teaching.
At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?” Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:66-69, NLT)
That is my belief. I am drawn to Jesus. I believe that God decided to redeem man through this outlandish plan. No religion offers redemption without works other than the gospel of Jesus. I believe I have seen His hand over and over in my life. But if I am wrong and had the opportunity to live my life over again, I can honestly say I would change nothing.
I consider a life pursuing the impossible goal of becoming like Jesus to be more valuable than any honor or possession I could attain. The teachings of Jesus are so amazing and so radical that I cannot imagine that any man could have imagined them. If you drill down into just His words, you will find a sacred pathway that is worth seeking.
I believe my marriage is still intact because I have followed the teachings of Jesus. I don’t say that lightly. I honestly believe that without that faith commitment, Joni and I would not have survived. Whatever kind things that my friends and colleagues might say about me are in large part due to how I believe I should respond to them based on the words of Christ. I have been shaped and matured by this radical Rabbi who changed history. He changed me.
Tim Keller puts it this way:
The Christian Gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me. This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time. It undermines both swaggering and sniveling. I cannot feel superior to anyone, and yet I have nothing to prove to anyone. I do not think more of myself nor less of myself. Instead, I think of myself less.
I have been changed by these truths. I have confronted my doubts and I have chosen to stay focused on the claims of this Rabbi from Nazareth. If I am wagering my eternity, I choose to wager on Jesus.
- 2019Mar 25
An article titled “Friends Who are Good for Your Brain” caught my attention this week. The BBC post postured that we can only process so many things so we develop shortcuts to help us cope. The downside is that approach limits creativity and growth. One of their solutions was one I wholeheartedly agree with and have written about in these musings.
Spend time with people who look and think differently than you.
“When people are exposed to a more diverse group of people, their brains are forced to process complex and unexpected information. The more people do this, the better they become at producing complex and unexpected information themselves. This trains us to look more readily look beyond the obvious – precisely the hallmark of creative thinking.”
Philip Yancey points out that getting out of your comfort zone is really important for followers of Jesus.
“As I study the Pharisees, and Jesus’ strong words against them in Luke 11 and Matthew 23, they seem to have one basic problem: they hang around other Pharisees all day. Hence they start competing with each other, focusing on trivialities, missing the broad sweep of God’s love. Probably the best defense for the church is to follow the Great Commission. I’ve found that evangelical Christians who have a homosexual sibling or first cousin look at the issue differently than those who don’t know any gay people. I’ve found that people who actually work in a drug rehab center or homeless shelter see those people differently than people who hear politicians talk about them. We need to go out into the world and get our hands dirty, and if we do so, we’ll see a world thirsty for grace.”
The article on friends who are good for the brain prompted a follow up question. What kind of friends are good for your heart and soul?
The advent of social media has accentuated the difference between friends and friendships. I have hundreds of Facebook “friends,” befriended with a click. It is easy to have friends who know what you like, listen to, and read. But it is hard work and risky to cultivate friendships with people who know who you are when the facade breaks down.
Real friends are a treasure that we push way too far down the priority list. We sure think a lot about pursuing other treasures on our list. Too many of us don’t prioritize the importance of building real friendships. Honestly, when you have a real crisis, would you rather have a promotion or a pal you could lean on? When heartaches come, would you prefer an award or an ally to walk with you?
In the grand scheme of life, you will have just a handful of real friends. Friends whom you can tell anything or say anything to and not be rejected. Friends who will drop everything when you need them. It is a risk to allow others to see who we really are and it can only happen in a sacred room of trust and grace. But when you allow the mask to drop and realize you are still loved it is remarkably healing.
This thought from Henri Nouwen captures the heart of friendship.
“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”
You can’t force that. But you can help the process by being a friend. If I am receiving grace I must also give it. If I welcome the generous gift of grace I must become more generous. If I accept the gift of forgiveness I must forgive. If I marvel at God’s unfailing love I must also love others. That is what the doubting world is looking for from the church. Grace, forgiveness and love.
As Jesus faced the horror of the Cross He offered this command to His disciples.
So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples. (John 14, NLT)
Jesus told us to love one another and trust Him for the rest. Pray to become a friend who focuses on the grace gifts of Jesus.
All friends are a blessing. Real friends are a treasure. And those friends are good for the heart and soul.
- 2019Mar 19
“Worry is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but it doesn’t get you anywhere.”
That old proverb came to mind as I read a study about the link between increased worry and stroke risk. After adjusting for other behaviors they discovered that those participants with the highest level of anxiety factors had a thirty-three percent higher risk of strokes than those in the lowest range of anxiety.
The study was sobering on a personal level. My Dad was a chronic worrier. He died from complications of a stroke. Worry steals joy and peace from its victims. I saw it with my Dad. I see it all around me.
As I get older I experience more and more how practical Scripture is for daily living. In the teaching of my youth the Bible was a book of lofty and seemingly impossible demands to behave in a way that would please God. Now I see that the Bible is a love story where Jesus met those impossible demands on my behalf. I see now that my simple faith and trust pleases God. And I see a practical book that shows me how to find joy during this temporary journey on earth. The Designer knew when we left the factory that worry is destructive. The study above merely confirms what Jesus said a couple of millenia ago.
“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?” (Matthew 6:25-27, NLT)
Worries certainly cannot add a moment though it appears they can subtract. Jesus continues in the same message.
“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew, 6:31-34)
Our Designer knew something else. Most of what we consume ourselves with never happens or is not worth getting anxious about. Again, modern research comes along to verify ancient wisdom.
A research study examined how many times an imagined calamity actually came to pass. In this study, subjects were asked to write down their worries over an extended period of time and then identify which of their imagined misfortunes did not actually happen.
The remarkable results came back that 85 percent of what subjects worried about never happened! Slow down and digest that. Eighty-five percent of what we work ourselves into varied states of frenzy about never even happens. And here is the even more remarkable finding. For the 15 percent of the worry agenda that did happen, nearly 80 percent of the respondents reported they were able to deal with the concern better than expected or they learned a valuable lesson from the event. So 97 percent of what the majority of this study group worried about was not worth wasting the energy, faith and time.
Worry is exactly where the Enemy wants to keep the children of God. Living in fear of the future cheats you out of today. A precious moment tugs on your heart like a child at your sleeve. Too often you miss that moment concerning yourself with something that likely won’t happen or will happen in a way that your worry can not change.
For those of you who struggle with worry maybe it helps to remember that your Heavenly Father is always on the job. Entrepreneur Mary Crowley was famous for saying that she gave her worries to God when she went to bed because she knew He would be up all night. Worry is not an attribute of our God. I suspect that it grieves His heart that we are paralyzed with worry when our Father is calling us to know Him, trust Him and rest in Him.
Trusting Jesus for tomorrow, next week, next year and forever frees us to see what this moment holds. No amount of worry will change the fact that we will face death, adversity and sadness.
Worry causes you to take your eye off of the source of your strength. Jesus. He is your strength and your hope. Keep your eyes on Jesus and the words of a classic old church hymn will begin to ring true in your heart.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.