Monday, November 23, 2009

Comatose? Maybe not...

This report is frightening on many different levels. May the Lord have mercy on those trapped in this condition and the people who minister to them.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Big Winner

In case you didn't know, or have been living in Costa Rica for the past year or so, I had a run of fortuitous divine providence last year. As I was watching the Tour de France this year (Vive Le Tour!), I entered the Cadillac Ride of your life sweepstakes. I won first prize. Oh yeah. I won this sweet Cervelo S2 Bicycle you see pictured here. And yes, that's me in spandex. That's the Cervelo team jersey, and that's an autographed picture of Thor Hushvod I'm looking at. He's going to be my lead out man this year in the Tour de Albertville.

No, he's not, actually. He'll be busy riding a tour that pays more and against competition that can keep up with him for the most part. He could beat me on a unicycle.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

War Stories part 1

There is a reason why many veterans do not talk about the war. This commonality used to baffle me as a child. I wanted to hear the war stories. I wanted to hear about the glories of battles fought and won. It seemed like high adventure to me then, but no more.

Recently the History Channel remastered some World War II footage. They put these videos into HD. It was a great labor to find these videos; they scoured the earth for them for two years in preparation for the making of this documentary. Most of the footage seems to have been taken by the soldiers themselves. I find it interesting that we are allowed to look at what they found interesting. Each commercial break is followed by a disclaimer warning that we are about to see graphic images that might be disturbing.

Though they are "digitally re-mastered," the videos are still a bit grainy, but they are often graphic none-the-less. Sometimes, the soldiers simply filmed the off-loading of tanks or the unopposed landing of tanks off of ships. But sometimes, they filmed the aftermath of battle.

The first shocking graphic is the picture of the dead soldier. Flies buzz around the bloated corpses of GI's and Japanese soldiers. Their bodies are entangled in heaps. Their eyes stare upward blankly. Their mouths hang open. The bodies are ghastly and sometimes nearly unrecognizable as they lie strewn about the fields. The viewer is exempted from the smell of rot, and the feeling of what it must have been like to have caused that mess of death.

The second shocking graphic is only for those that pay attention to the faces of the living. In the footage of the fighting for Guadalcanal, we get a look at the bright faces of the arriving re-enforcements. They look young, brave, and happy, ready and willing to take the fight to the enemy. As the little hand-held camera passes from the new arrivals to the veterans, the difference in demeanor is obvious. Instead of looking young and spry they seem distant and tired. They are a grim lot. Men accustomed to the fatigues of malnourishment and grief. They look at the new arrivals with what appears to be a sense of bitterness and sorrow. Bitter that they have lost something of what the new arrivals have, and sorry for the fact that those new boys will soon lose it as well.

Some of the documentary follows the inglorious job of the battlefield surgeons and nurses as they try to save the living and comfort the dying. One nurse recounts a particular young man looking up and saying, "How am I doing?" She bent down, kissed his forehead and said, "You're doing fine." He smiled and said, "Just checking." Then he died. She went out and wept privately. She said they always cried privately. "Never in front of the boys," she said, "Never in front of the boys."

The reason that many men say so little about battle and war is because it is sickening. Over the thrill of victory hovers the specter of loss and horror; the day of triumph is darkened by the memory of the long march through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Eventful Weekend

I got to run my very first half-marathon this Saturday. I am proud to say that it is Tuesday, and my knees have finally started bending again. Yeehoo!

Friday, November 06, 2009

The World Will Never Be Your Friend

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you...A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you (John 15:18,20).

In the previous post, we looked at what Jesus expects Christian friendship to look like. It is self-sacrificing, deliberate, and it perseveres. This passage is going to talk about the opposite of friendship: hateful opposition. This is, inevitably, the sort of treatment that every friend of Jesus will receive from the world.

First, if you are a Christian, you need to settle a very important fact in your heart: you will never be better than Jesus. That may seem very obvious, and most Christians would immediately protest that they would never even entertain such a notion. Yet, the truth of the matter is, we think that we are more clever than Jesus all the time. Here's how we do it.

Most of us like to get along with others. We want everyone to be our friend. We exert a great deal of energy being politically correct, choosing our words carefully so as not to offend, and generally avoiding conflict as if it were the mother of all sins. We are artists as pacifying and befriending others, often in harmful ways.

As Christians, we know that it is our duty to proclaim the gospel. We also know that, if we speak the gospel, it is going to bring conflict. If we present the gospel to an unbeliever, some nasty things are bound to come up in that conversation:

1. We actually believe that if the other person does not repent and believe in Jesus that they will die and go to hell.

2. We actually believe that they deserve hell.

3. We do not think that they are good people. We believe them to be wicked.

That's just to name a few of the potential deal-breakers if we are honest about what we believe. Jesus said things like this all the time. The Bible clearly teaches that man is sinful and that apart from the risen Savior, there is no hope at all. The Bible is clear about the reality of hell and it is equally clear that those who reject Jesus Christ deserve to go there. We know that. We believe that.

However, we believe that we may present these truths in such a way that the world will still like us. And if we believe that, if we try to fool ourselves with that notion, then we are really saying that we are better than Jesus.

Let me be crystal clear, Jesus Christ was the friendliest, wittiest, sincerest, cleverest man to ever walk the face of the other. He also happens to be the greatest preacher in the history of the world. He was also a divinely gifted healer. Jesus caused the blind to see, the lame to walk, and he cleansed people riddled with deadly disease. You and I cannot do anything better than Jesus. And what did the world do to Jesus? They murdered him because they hated his guts.

So please, let's dispel the silly notion once and for all that we may somehow coddle wicked worldlings into liking us to the point that they won't be mad when we tell them that they must repent and believe in Jesus. Here's what Jesus said:

1. The world hated me.
2. If you are my friend, the world will hate you too.
3. You are not better than me. If the world hated me, it will hate you.

If your church is presently scheming to plan services to make lost people feel comfortable in the service, they have to betray Jesus to do it. Period. You can make people feel welcome, and you should. You can fluff them a pillow, give them a nice footstool, let them sit in a Lazy-Boy during the service, and you can even make them nice lattes for the service. No matter how kind you are, if your pastor stands up like a man after God's own heart and preaches the gospel, worldlings will spew their lattes at you and leave unless the Spirit of God does a miracle in their hearts. It's sad but true. We don't want them to react that way. We grieve that they react that way. But they do, and they will. Every single time.

For clarity's sake let me say that just because the world is hateful, that does not give us cause to be hateful. We were all once worldlings. We were all once lost and spiteful to Christians and Jesus. Our proper response is grief, long-suffering, patience, cheek-turning, and above all, prayer. Prayer that God will open eyes, ears, and hearts to the gospel for the glory of Jesus Christ. That was the response of Jesus, and it is to be our response as well.

Put to death the notion that you will be more clever than Jesus by getting the world to be your friend. If you do, you are a compromiser.

James said it this way, "You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (James 4:4). James really knew how to coddle people, didn't he? Here's one from Paul, "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Tim. 3:12). That little word there translated "all" is the Greek word pantes. It literally means, "all". Which is exactly how it translated in every translation I've ever seen. And "all" means you, beloved. It means you and I will be persecuted if we are the friend of Jesus because the world will hate us like it hated him. If the world doesn't hate you, it is because you are acting like it and they can't tell you are Jesus' friend. You people pleaser! You are fooling around with the enemy and betraying your best friend to make friends with wickedness. It's despicable behavior unbecoming a follower of Jesus and you should repent immediately.

I don't know what else to say about that. I confess that I'm given to wimpiness in the face of the world. So pray for me for boldness. I didn't say a thing here that didn't convict me; I write as the chief of sinners.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Type of Friendship Jesus Expects

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).

There is much wonder in this verse. There is wonder here because Jesus goes on to say, "You are my friends if you do what I command you." That is the sort of thing that ought to make the Christian stop and think. The long-awaited Messiah, the Son of God and Co-Creator of the Universe calls those who love him "friend." Jesus is, indeed, my friend. And he is your friend as well if you do as he commands.

Paul points out the sort of friendship that Jesus displayed towards us in another familiar verse, "For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that m while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:7-8). Isn't this the train of thought that we normally take as we think of John 15:13? That Jesus is the great friend of sinners? This is, obviously, a profound truth, a wonderful truth, a truth worth meditating on. I believe it to be so profound that, if we are not careful, it will divert us from the point that Jesus is making.

Jesus wants us to know about friendship, not only with himself, but our friendships with one another. A closer look at John 15:12-17 will reveal that it is precisely our friendships with one another as believers that Jesus is emphasizing.

We are so sin-sick that we do not know how to love properly, or serve properly, or even be the type of friend that we ought to be. So here, in John 15:12-17, Jesus is saying, "I want you to love each other. I want you to be friends. And this is how I'm going to show you what it means to be a true friend: I'm going to lay down my life for you. I'm going to die for you. Now, you do the same."

In this passage, Jesus is not simply telling us how much he loves us, though he is certainly saying that. Follow Jesus' words carefully. He says, "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you." See that? That is the command. Love one another as I loved you! And how did he love us? He died for his friends. So let's connect the dots: Jesus commands us to love one another as he loved us. Then, he illustrates how he loves us by saying he laid down his life for us. Finally, he says that if we want to be his friend, we must do as he commands. And what is the immediate command in this context? Love each other to the point of death.

This is Christian friendship. We are to love each other fiercely, even to the point of death for each other. It is no wonder, then, that Jesus could say, "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35). Christian love is a death-defying love, sin-defying love.

By sin-defying I mean this: Christian friendship does not keep a record of wrongs. In other words, we love on as friends in the face of sin. We defy sin to separate us from the ones we love. I do not mean that sin can never be a fellowship breaker. What I mean is that a brother or sister who sins against us does not immediately become a castaway. I mean that it is sin-defying in the way Paul meant it when he said, "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you" (Eph. 4:32). It means that our friendship towards others is greatest when they deserve our friendship the least. A Christian friend turns the other cheek. A Christian friend overlooks slights. A Christian friend is never petty. A Christian friend does not abandon. A Christian friend forgives seventy times seven. A Christian friend is the first to apologize. A Christian friend is slow to anger and quick to reconcile.

Have petty troubles separated you from a Christian brother or sister? Are you always ready to reconcile? Do you believe the best of your friends intentions instead of assuming the worst? Christian friendship is not optional; it is commanded. Our first impulse when reading John 15:13 is correct if we meditate on the unfathomable, gracious friendship Christ Jesus has shown us. But our meditation fails if it does not lead us to action in loving others.

Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18).

Monday, November 02, 2009

I Need to Hear that One Again

On Sunday mornings, I have been preaching through the gospel of John. The last few sermons, at least the preparation for them, have been particularly convicting and beneficial to me. I thought it might be helpful for me, and hopefully for others, for me to go through some of the things that have really been rolling around in my heart and challenging me. And, by the way, when I say that the Scripture has been "challenging" me, that is code for "I am a sinful person and I cannot do what this passage teaches. I am undone. Lord have mercy."

The next few posts, then, will be dedicated to having another go at parts of John 15 and 16, and I'll share with you what's been shaming me about myself. Because, and here's the punchline, it is embarrassing to get up and tell others to do things that you don't do yourself, have no power to do yourself, but really hope that the Holy Spirit will bring it to pass that you will be such a person as the Scripture describes. I live in that hope.

To that end, I'm going to go over these passages again and pray that the Spirit will conform me to the image of Jesus Christ. I hope this is helpful for you. I know it will be for me.