Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A cheerful heart

“A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.”  Proverbs 17:22 
Ya know, I did a lot of research this week…maybe too much because I got way, way off the track.  There are sooooo many theories about how to stay healthy!  Some of them are really really strange – and really not helpful, at all. 

The one thing pretty much everybody agreed on was that our minds and our bodies are so closely connected that if one is sick so is the other.  Exercise can help you beat depression; pessimists tend to have more heart disease than optimists, etc.  In fact, most of the articles can be summed up in this quote from an article put out by the Public Health Agency of Canada:
Positive mental health can help you cope with life’s challenges and enjoy life to the fullest. It can also help your recovery if you develop a mental illness.  The following suggestions can help you develop and maintain positive mental health.
• eat a well-balanced diet based on Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating;• take part in physical activity regularly;
• get enough sleep each night;• avoid overuse of alcohol, such as binge drinking or drinking to cope with problems;• avoid the use of illegal drugs;• learn to deal with the stresses of modern life and take steps to minimize the stress in your life; and• talk to others – your family, friends, colleagues – about things that concern you. Sharing feelings and anxieties can help you cope with them.”
Pretty much everybody said the same things unless they were trying to sell something.  Something very important is missing though, and it was missing in almost everything I read…you know what I’m talking about, don’t you?  There’s a third part to the health equation – the spiritual part.  The only time I saw any reference at all to spiritual health was when I was told that meditation was the best way to relieve stress.

But then, I came across an article that I really enjoyed.  It said that research has proven that people who laugh more are less prone to have heart attacks and heart disease.  And you know what text immediately came into my mind.  Of course, in my own misquote, it’s a cheerful heart that “doeth good like a medicine.”  I looked and looked but could not find a translation that actually says it that way, so I must have made it up. 
Anyway, that sent me off searching through the Ellen White database and I found that she was a real proponent of maintaining a cheerful attitude.  She urges people over and over again not to dwell on the sadness and frustration of sin because that that is a tool of Satan.  But she goes further by saying that those kinds of feelings affect the efficiency of the way our bodies work, causing all kinds of health problems.

So, I’m convinced that we’re supposed to keep our hearts “merry”.  The question is, is that something that I can control over?  My psychologist colleagues would have us believe that our emotions are something we experience, not control.  In fact, some would say that if you control your emotion s, that you are “repressing” them which is a really bad thing to do.  I mean, come on, can I be happy just by choosing to be happy?  What if I’ve been diagnosed with depression?  I can’t choose to be happy can I?  I need medication for that right?

Are we at the mercy of our feelings?  This is another spot where I think teaching people that they are descended from monkeys causes problems.  So many of the kids I see everyday are at the mercy of their emotions.  When they get angry they throw things, hit things or people, break things, yell – all things we’ve seen an angry animal do.  If you talk to the student afterward, you’ll see very quickly that he (or she) feels no remorse for acting that way.  In fact, he thinks it’s perfectly normal.  The student will explain the behavior as, “Well, [that person] made me mad.”  In his mind, his response was acceptable and the expected response.

Now I’m going to ask a scary question.  What if everybody reacted to anger and frustration like the animals we’ve been taught that we are?  Don’t answer too fast because I believe the evening news is proof that a lot of us do act and react like that.  I guess the bigger question is:  Is that how God wants us to act?  He didn’t make us to be just another animal.  He made us in His image, just a little lower than the angels.  Did He make us to be controlled by our emotions?  I believe He made us to be better than that.  I believe that God has given us the ability to choose our reactions and, to some extent, our emotions themselves.

Now, don’t disagree too fast.  Even psychologists agree with me on this one.  There is a therapy style that teaches that if you start acting a certain way, your brain will follow.  Yes, I know it’s weird.  These are the same folks I told you teach folks that controlling your feelings is a bad thing…but sometimes humans do think things all the way through.  Anyway, the theory is that you should act the way that you would if you were happy or not scared or whatever.  And as you act that way, your brain follows along and you begin to feel that way.  There is even a behavior theory for teachers to use that goes so far as to tell the teacher to talk and react to students as though they were reacting to you exactly the way you wanted them to…whether they actually are acting that way or not.  That may go a little farther than I, personally, am comfortable with, but some folks that I’ve heard speak claim that it works. 

What I’m trying to say is that I believe that God has given us a choice not only with how we act, but in our feelings as well.  Think about how many times in the Bible we’re told not to be afraid.   Well, we’re also told over and over again to rejoice and be glad.

¯    Psalm 32:11  Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, ye righteous: and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart.
¯    Psalm 68:3  But let the righteous be glad; let them rejoice before God: yea, let them exceedingly rejoice.
¯    Psalm 118:24  This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.
¯    Psalm 97:1  The LORD reigneth; let the earth rejoice; let the multitude of isles be glad thereof.
¯    Isaiah 65:18  But be ye glad and rejoice forever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a   joy.
¯    Isaiah 66:10  Rejoice ye with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all ye that love her: rejoice for joy with her, all ye that mourn for her:
¯    Joel 2:21  Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice: for the LORD will do great things.
¯    Zephaniah 3:14  Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel; be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem.
¯    Matthew 5:12  Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
¯    1Peter 4:13  But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.
¯    Revelation 19:7  Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.

Nowhere does it say TRY to rejoice and be glad. And we know that wherever God tells us to do something, He gives us the means to do it, right? 

So, does that mean that we never admit to feelings other than happiness?  I don’t think so.  We know that Jesus was sad, angry, and afraid.  We know that God has those same emotions.  But remember that God, instead of annihilating us whenever we mess up the perfect world He created, He sent His own Son to make our mistakes right. Can we really ever lose our joy if we keep that thought always in our minds?
So, what do we do to maintain that cheerful heart that will help keep us healthy?  God tells us all through the Bible.  “Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice: for the LORD will do great things.”  Joel 2:21 Remember, there are supposed to be 365 “Fear Not” verses in the Bible; one for every day of the year.  And there’s another text that a friend showed me a few years ago that I really like in this context:
“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. Look at what is before your eyes. If anyone is confident that he is Christ's, let him remind himself that just as he is Christ's, so also are we. For even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be ashamed.” (2Co 10:4-8 ESV)
I especially like the phrase “take every thought captive to obey Christ”.  I believe that that is God’s promise that we don’t have to act on every thought that comes into our heads.  We don’t even have to think every depressing, angry, bitter, frustrated, sinful thought that comes into our heads.  Ok, well, the thought can pop up…but we can take it captive and throw it out as soon as we can.  Or we can dwell on that thought.
We have a decision to make.  Will we let our emotions run our lives and make us sick?  Or will we
“… count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” (Jas 1:2-4 KJVR)

Monday, June 27, 2011

True or False?

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson dated 7.2.11

When I was growing up, one of the Bible stories I had a really hard time with was the story of Cain and Abel.  I couldn’t understand why God didn’t accept Cain’s offering.  It seemed like a reasonable sacrifice to me: Abel had given from what he was best at and Cain offered from what he was best at.  No wonder Cain got mad. It was a long time before I understood that sacrificing or offering only what we thought was liked best to God is not worshipping Him at all.  It’s trying to impress God with how good we are at one thing or another, and that’s not going to end well for anyone.
“In an article for the Gospel Coalition, pastor and author Tim Keller offers this potent definition of sin: ‘Sin isn't only doing bad things, it is more fundamentally making good things into ultimate things. Sin is building your life and meaning on anything, even a very good thing, more than on God. Whatever we build our life on will drive us and enslave us. Sin is primarily idolatry.’
“In his bestseller The Reason for God, Keller further develops this line of thought, showing the reader examples of the ‘particular kinds of brokenness and damage’ caused by idolatry:
“If you center your life and identity on your spouse or partner, you will be emotionally dependent, jealous, and controlling. The other person's problems will be overwhelming to you.
“If you center your life and identity on your family and children, you will try to live your life through your children until they resent you or have no self of their own. At worst, you may abuse them when they displease you.
“If you center your life and identity on your work and career, you will be a driven workaholic and a boring, shallow person. At worst you will lose family and friends and, if your career goes poorly, develop deep depression.
“If you center your life and identity on money and possessions, you'll be eaten up by worry or jealousy about money. You'll be willing to do unethical things to maintain your lifestyle, which will eventually blow up your life.
“If you center your life and identity on pleasure, gratification, and comfort, you will find yourself getting addicted to something. You will become chained to the ‘escape strategies’ by which you avoid the hardness of life.
“If you center your life and identity on relationships and approval, you will be constantly overly hurt by criticism and thus always losing friends. You will fear confronting others and therefore will be a useless friend.
“If you center your life and identity on a ‘noble cause,’ you will divide the world into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and demonize your opponents. Ironically, you will be controlled by your enemies. Without them, you have no purpose.
“If you center your life and identity on religion and morality, you will, if you are living up to your moral standards, be proud, self-righteous, and cruel. If you don't live up to your moral standards, your guilt will be utterly devastating.”[1]
If you switch the phrase “center your life and identity around” with the word worship, suddenly I understand the difference between Cain’s sacrifice and Abel’s.  Abel presented the sacrifice that God asked for, while Cain offered God what he centered his life and identity around.  See if you see shadows of Cain and Abel in this story about giving.
“In his book The Prodigal God, best-selling author and pastor Timothy Keller offers the following story to illustrate self-centered giving:
“Once upon a time there was a gardener who grew an enormous carrot. So he took it to his king and said, ‘My Lord, this is the greatest carrot I've ever grown or ever will grow. Therefore I want to present it to you as a token of my love and respect for you.’ The king was touched and discerned the man's heart, so as [the gardener] turned to go the king said, ‘Wait! You are clearly a good steward of the earth. I own a plot of land right next to yours. I want to give it to you freely as a gift so you can garden it all.’  And the gardener was amazed and delighted and went home rejoicing. But there was a nobleman at the king's court who overheard all this. And he said, ‘My! If that is what you get for a carrot—what if you gave the king something better?’ So the next day the nobleman came before the king and he was leading a handsome black stallion. He bowed low and said, ‘My lord, I breed horses and this is the greatest horse I have ever bred or ever will. Therefore I want to present it to you as a token of my love and respect for you.’ But the king discerned his heart and said thank you, and took the horse and merely dismissed him. The nobleman was perplexed. So the king said, ‘Let me explain. That gardener was giving me the carrot, but you were giving yourself the horse.’[2]
“The power of Christ alone can work the transformation in heart and mind that all must experience who would partake with Him of the new life in the kingdom of heaven. ‘Except a man be born again,’ the Saviour has said, ‘he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ John 3:3. The religion that comes from God is the only religion that can lead to God. In order to serve Him aright, we must be born of the divine Spirit. This will lead to watchfulness. It will purify the heart and renew the mind and give us a new capacity for knowing and loving God. It will give us willing obedience to all His requirements. This is true worship.”[3]
True worship has nothing to do with self and everything to do with God.
“When the music fades / And all is stripped away / And I simply come / Longing just to bring / Something that's of worth / That will bless your heart
“I'll bring You more than a song / For a song in itself / Is not what You have required / You search much deeper within / Through the ways things appear / You're looking into my heart
“I'm coming back to the heart of worship / And it's all about You / All about You, Jesus / I'm sorry Lord for the thing I've made it / When it's all about You  / It's all about You Jesus
“King of endless worth / No one could express / How much You deserve / Though I'm weak and poor  / All I have is Yours / Every single breath
“I'll bring You more than a song / For a song in itself / Is not what You have required / You search much deeper within / Through the ways things appear / You're looking into my heart
“I'm coming back to the heart of worship / And it's all about You / All about You, Jesus / I'm sorry Lord for the thing I've made it / When it's all about You  / It's all about You Jesus”[4]

[1] Tim Keller, The Reason for God (Dutton, 2008), pp. 275-276, and Tim Keller, "Talking About Idolatry in a Postmodern Age,"
[2] Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God (Dutton, 2008), pp. 60-61; submitted by Van Morris, Mount Washington, Kentucky
[3] E.G. White, Counsels on Health, p. 129
[4] Matt Redman,  “The Heart of Worship”

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

We Have This Hope

Do we really? Have this hope, I mean? Do we really have something more, in the way of hope, than people who don’t believe in God?  Well, I did some reading this week and, believe it or not, the Christians say “yes” and the atheists say “no”.  That’s a shocker.

What are some things you think about when somebody says the word “hope”?  A lot depends on the context, doesn’t it?  I mean, “I hope we’re having ice cream for dessert,” is way, way different than “I hope it’s not cancer.”  I’ve heard people use hope and pray interchangeably.  Sounds kind of silly when you plug it into that first example, but makes perfect sense in the second.  Do you have to have faith to have hope?  Do you have to believe to have hope?  Can you be at peace without hope?

In Roget’s New Millennium Thesaurus, I found the definition of hope listed as to “dream about” along with these synonyms:  “anticipate, aspire, assume, await, believe, cherish, contemplate, count on, deem likely, depend on, desire, expect, feel confident, foresee, hang in, have faith, hold, long for, pray, presume, promise oneself, rely, suppose, surmise, suspect, sweat, sweat it, take heart, think to, trust, watch for, wish.”
I’m not sure I agree with all of those.  And I’m pretty sure we could discuss the definition of hope all day and still not come much closer.  Maybe a better question, then, would be, not what is hope, but where can we get it?

This is where those who believe in God and those who don’t part ways.  In many ways, Christians and Atheists have trouble comparing notes because they have such different expectations.  Here’s an exchange I found very interesting.  Cliff Walker, the editor of a web-zine called Positive Atheism, and an anonymous letter writer who asks Walker where atheists find “eternal hope that is equivalent to the ‘inner peace’ that many Christians feel in their relationship with God?”  And this is where I noticed that these two individuals are not speaking the same language because Walker responds that he has found the “peace of mind” that the correspondent was asking about.  In my own opinion, inner peace and peace of mind aren’t really the same thing…

Anyway, Walker then goes on to discuss how and where he has found his peace.  His claim is that the church and the pub serve the same purpose:  the camaraderie that we find when we are with like-minded believers.  He goes on to say that there is nothing that “religion has that cannot be found apart from religion.”  Well, for me, that is the absolute opposite of finding hope.  It is, on some level, I think, admitting that life is hopeless.

Another internet writer goes to great lengths to explain “How to find hope when hopelessness attacks”.  For Melissa Quiter, thought, hope is something that you can give yourself by using the right tools.  These tools are the “Law of Attraction” (we’ve talked about that before—“This law states that whatever you place your energy and focus on is what you attract back to you.”), the “Nine Environments of Holistic Living” where you “break down your life into manageable segments”, “Neuro-Linguistic Programming” which Quiter explains is “an advanced form of communication that not only improves communication between people, but also opens up communication with all the parts of your subconscious mind.”  And the last tool Quiter mentions is the “Process of Deliberate Creation” which she explains is “about combining all these tools and giving yourself the gift of hope.”  Again, I’m just not feeling that “inner peace” kind of vibe, what about you?

And then things got REALLY weird.  I read the transcript of a sermon that contains quotes from people like Nietzsche and Henry Miller stating that hope is a bad thing, a disease, and the answer is hopelessness.  In fact, saying things like “Hopelessness can change the world.”  I was appalled and then I found out that the “sermon” was supposed to be funny.  Pheww!  What a relief! 

But then I read the next article, written by Margaret Wheatley.  It was called, “From Hope to Hopelessness”, and she wasn’t kidding.  Wheatley quotes someone named Thomas Merton who says, “we are consoled and strengthened by being hopeless together.”  Excuse me?  Now I was on my way to hopelessness! 

I needed the “camaraderie of like-minded believers”!  I high-tailed it to the E.G.White website and typed “hope” into the search box.  What a difference…and what a relief!  The first quote to come up was this:
“Christ says to His followers, ‘Ye are the light of the world.’  Then let you light shine forth in clear, steady rays.  Do not wrap about you a cloud of darkness.  Cease to suspect others.  By good works represent the character of Christ.  When you are tempted to yield to despondency, look to Jesus, and talk with Him.  Your Elder Brother will never make a mistake.  He will judge righteously.  He will guide you aright.“God is not well pleased to see His children wrapped in gloom and sadness.  …He wants us to make melody in our hearts to Him.” {BEcho, September 24, 1900}
There is no doubt in my mind that we, as Christians, have something very special that someone who has not met Christ cannot understand.  The peace that passes all understanding is not simply peace of mind.  I think the biggest difference is that we can’t find hope, faith, peace or real happiness by looking within ourselves. 
“Faith and hope are not to be centered in self…Talk of the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
“…Put away all fretting and complaining, for this is the snare of the devil.  Let us make a pledge before God and the heavenly angels that we will not dishonour our Maker by cherishing darkness and unbelief, by speaking words of discouragement and mistrust. …Think not that Jesus is the Saviour of your brother only.  He is your personal Saviour.  If you entertain this precious thought, you will beat back the clouds of despondency and gloom, and make melody to God in your soul.” {BEcho, September 24, 1900}
Over and over again, Ellen White reminds us to avoid being discouraged because we have a hope that people who don’t know Christ don’t have and can’t understand.  We have the hope of spending eternity with Jesus.  Can you think of anything at all that you would rather do?  Better yet, we don’t have to wait until then.  Jesus promises hope now to survive out everyday trials.
Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” (Romans 5:1-5 KJVR)
I’ll admit that I have taken hope for granted.  For me, knowing that this life is only the preview of what God has promised us makes the junk that happens from day to day a little easier to handle.  As I read the philosophies of those people who haven’t met Jesus, I realized that they have to expend a huge amount of energy on NOT accepting the hope that Jesus offers.  As humans we all long for that power that is outside of ourselves.  And C.S. Lewis says that we don’t crave things for which there is no fulfillment.  We thirst and there is water.  We get hungry and there is food.  We long for the support of a strength outside of ourselves and there is Jesus.

Atheists’ lives are not any easier or harder than ours; we all struggle and we all have times when things go well. 
“Are the wicked free from disappointment, perplexity, earthly losses, poverty, and distress?  Many o them suffer a lingering sickness, yet have no strong and might One to lean upon, no strengthening grace from a higher power to support them in their weakness.  They lean upon their own strength.  They obtain no consolation by looking forward to the future, but a fearful uncertainty torments them; and thus they close their eyes in death, not finding any pleasure in looking forward to the resurrection morn, for they have no cheering hope that they shall have part in the first resurrection. …“The Christian is subject to sickness, disappointment, poverty, reproach, and distress.  Yet amid all this he loves God, he chooses to do His will, and prizes nothing so highly as His approbation.  In the conflicting trials and changing scenes of this life, he knows that there is One who knows it all, One who will bend His ear low to the cry of the sorrowful and distressed, One who can sympathize with every sorrow and soothe the keen anguish of every heart. …A short rest in the grave, and then the Life-giver will break the fetters of the tomb, release the captive, and bring him from his dusty bed immortal, never more to know pain, sorrow, or death.”  {OHC9}
We do have something extra, something special because we can look forward to a world with no pain, no tears, no sickness and no death.  We can look forward to a world without hurricanes, tornadoes or earthquakes.  We can look forward to an eternity with our Creator and Savior.“Jesus, precious Jesus, ‘merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty’ (Exodus 34:6,7).  O How privileged we are that we may come to Jesus just as we are and cast ourselves upon His love!  We have no hope but in Jesus.  He alone can reach us with His hand to lift us up out of the depths of discouragement and hopelessness and place our feet upon the Rock.  Although the human soul may cling to Jesus with all the desperate sense of his great need, Jesus will cling to the souls bought by His own blood with a firmer grasp than the sinner clings to Him.” {TMK80}

We have this hope that burns within our hearts,
Hope in the coming of the Lord.
We have this faith that Christ alone imparts,
Faith in the promise of His Word.
We believe the time is here,
When the nations far and near
Shall awake and shout and sing
Hallelujah!  Christ is King!
We have this hope that burns within our hearts,
Hope in the coming of the Lord.

We are united in Jesus Christ our Lord.
We are united in His love.
Love for the waiting people of the world,
People who need our Savior’s love.
Soon the heav’ns will open wide,
Christ will come to claim His bride,
All the universe will sing
Hallelujah! Christ is King!
We have this hope, this faith, and God’s great love,
We are united in Christ.
Wayne Hooper

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Extreme Makeover: Transformation Edition

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson dated 6.25.11

“In his book, Has Christianity Failed You?, Ravi Zacharias points to one of the greatest proofs for the truth of Christ and the reality of his resurrection: the changed lives of Christians. He writes:
“‘During the course of nearly 40 years, I have traveled to virtually every continent and seen or heard some of the most amazing testimonies of God's intervention in the most extreme circumstances. I have seen hardened criminals touched by the message of Jesus Christ and their hearts turned toward good in a way that no amount or rehabilitation could have accomplished. I have seen ardent followers of radical belief systems turned from being violent, brutal terrorists to becoming mild, tenderhearted followers of Jesus Christ. I have seen nations where the gospel, banned and silenced by governments, has nevertheless conquered the ethos and mind-set of an entire culture.’
“Then in his own words Zacharias lists examples of Christ's power to transform lives:
“‘In the middle of the twentieth century, after destroying all of the Christian seminary libraries in the country, Chairman Mao declared that … Christianity had been permanently removed from China, never to make a return. On Easter Sunday in 2009, [however] …; the leading English language newspaper in Hong Kong published a picture of Tiananmen Square on page 1, with Jesus replacing Chairman Mao's picture on the gigantic banner, and the words "Christ is Risen" below it.
“‘I have also been in the Middle East and marveled at the commitment of young people who have risked their lives to attend a Bible study …. I have talked to CEOs of large companies in Islamic nations who testify to seeing Jesus in visions and dreams and wonder what it all means.
“‘The British author A. N. Wilson, who only a few years ago was known for his scathing attacks on Christianity … celebrated Easter [in 2009] at a church with a group of other church members, proclaiming that that the story of the Jesus of the Gospels is the only story that makes sense out of life and its challenges. [Wilson said], "My own return to faith has surprised none more than myself …. My belief has come about in large measure because of the lives and examples of people I have known—not the famous, not saints, but friends and relations who have lived, and faced death, in light of the resurrection story, or in the quiet acceptance that they have a future after they die.”’”[1]
There are people all around us who have been transformed by Jesus.  Do we need any stronger proof that Jesus exists than that?   
“A Chicago Tribune article in early 2008 began: ‘For nearly 40 years, Ted Neeley has been Jesus. He's lived Him. He's breathed Him. He's spent nearly his entire lifetime researching Him.’ Though the opening words sound a little odd, they're actually true. Since the 1970s, Ted Neeley has been playing the part of Jesus in the popular musical Jesus Christ Superstar. Neely is now 64 years old—;nearly 30 years older than Jesus was when He was crucified the article points out, tongue in cheek.
“In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Neeley said something interesting—something we should reflect on as Christians. ‘I'm only playing Jesus,’ Neely told the interviewer. ‘He got it right the first time. I'm still working on it, you see. The key word there is “playing.” I'm a performer. I'm pretending to be something which I am not.’”
“I don't know whether Mr. Neeley is a Christian or not. If he isn't, here's a guy who can say Jesus' words, dress like Jesus, and walk in Jesus' footsteps, but in the end, he cannot make Jesus really come to life. No matter how inspired it might be, no one will ever watch Neely's performance and say, ‘You know, for a little while, I forgot I wasn't actually watching Jesus himself.’ However, if Mr. Neeley is a Christian, with Jesus' life flowing through him, I would venture to say that whether on a stage or not, those who know him personally would say, ‘Ted really is like Jesus. It's not the costume or the words he says. He's just—I don't know—like Jesus.’”[2]
Another person who experienced the transformational power of Jesus is Bruce Marchiano.  If you have never read or heard his testimony, you need to.  It is really breath taking.  He’s written his story in a book entitled In the Footsteps of Jesus.

Marchiano is the actor who played Jesus in The Gospel of Matthew, a film that uses the exact words of Matthew as its script.  When Marchiano accepted the role, he was, a Christian, but putting on the character of Jesus for the movie, changed him completely.  If you haven’t seen that film or read Marchiano’s book, you really should. 

Some folks will try to tell you that religion is just a bunch of myths and fairy tales, but if you look at the evidence, no myth or fairy tale has the power to rebuild and transform lives broken lives.
“For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.  For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.”  Galations 3:26-29
You know what?  We don’t have to actors like Ted Neeley or Bruce Marchiano to “put on Christ.”  Anybody can do it.  “How?” you ask? 
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?  God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?  Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?  Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.  For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.”  Romans 6:1-6
Being clothed in Jesus Christ isn’t something that only some people can do.  It’s available to all of us.   Jesus gave Himself to us – for us. All we have to do is accept His life changing gift.
“Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.  And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.  The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.  Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.  But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.”  Romans 13:10-14

[1] Ravi Zacharias, Has Christianity Failed You? (Zondervan, 2010), pp. 105-107

[2] Kelley L. Carter, "After 40 years, Neeley says 'Jesus' is Work in Progress," Chicago Tribune (2-15-08)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Do you want to change your life?

Apparently so does everyone else on the planet. I did a “google search” and found literally millions of hits, not just with one search, but at least five more suggested searches were available – each with hundreds of millions of hits, combined. Now, I clearly did not look up every website, but I did look up a quite a few.
What I learned was extremely interesting. Apparently any number of things are capable of “changing your life.,” in a wide variety of lengths of time.

Truly fascinating! One lady has decided that the perfect time changing amount of time is 70 days (for women, anyway),. Computer programs will change your life; diets will change your life, along with lots and lots of books. One book, called The Intention Experiment, says that “Thought generates its own palpable energy that you can use to improve your life, to help others around you, and to change the world.” One gentleman, who is offering his services as a speaker at your business or organization, claims that all you have to do is take The Self-Empowerment Pledge. This pledge is made up of seven promises, one for each day of the week. Another individual has narrowed things down to just eight choices that you can make to change your life. You can change your life in seven days…for only $24.31. Hmmm. Maybe the 70 day one costs less? Ya think?
That’s the other thing. Almost every single life changing breakthroughs is going to cost money. For $19.41, you can find out how to change your life using feng shui. You can change your life through insight and honesty and facing your past. The program is called, “Living the Truth.” On another website, I learned from a gentleman who calls himself a metaphysical scientist (what do you think that is?) that all you have to do is name the top three things you want in life and then use your computer for ten minutes a day to get them. Oh! Here’s one that claims to be able to change your life in just ten seconds! Wow! I wonder how much that one costs?

Apparently there are 70 movies capable of changing your life, as is hypnotism, of course. Another pseudo-science book calls itself “A groundbreaking collaboration between neuroscience and Buddhism” and claims to tell us “how a new science reveals our extraordinary potential to transform ourselves.” Robots will change your life too. And this is my very, very favorite: “Change Your Signature, Change Your Life.” This “graphologist” (I think he just made that up) in India claims that changing your signature can improve family happiness, health, relationships; achieve your goals; increase your mental and physical compatibility; increase your energy; increase your ability to concentrate; get you a better job; overcome depression and disillusionment with life and save the family unit. Did you have any idea that your signature had that much to do with your life? Interesting…

So, what do all these life-changing methods have in common? The major things that jumped out at me were that all of these involve you making the changes in your life through your own strength of will, or by repeating certain words or carrying out certain tasks. And, of course, the fact that not one of these marketing ploys makes any reference to any human need for outside assistance. I just don’t believe I can wake up one morning, make a choice, say a pledge or sign my name differently and POOF! My life is changed. If things worked that way, what would we need God for? Ooooh, good question…

And, of course, that’s my point. God, working through His Word, is the only agent of change that we will ever need or that will ever work, and it won’t cost you a dime. A real bargain!

I know people who would argue long and hard on that point. They don’t believe that just reading the Bible is enough to change anyone’s life. They say that it’s too confusing, too archaic, even that parts of it are too brutal. What do you think? Well read these and then decide:

One man writes,
“After growing in an abusive home and thirty one years of drug and alcohol abuse I had reached a point, at the age of 43, at which I thought I would most likely die before ever knowing any kind of peace. With a counselor’s help, I was able to stay off drugs and alcohol for a year. At the end of that year I realized I was the same person, I had just removed the drugs and alcohol. I was still miserable…
“I decided to read the Bible to try and have a spiritual life. After reading the Bible I was no longer the same person…God had changed my heart! I was loved and forgiven! …Through reading the Bible I found a new life, through Bible study I am learning how to live out that new life!”
Is that a coincidence? Will reading just any book change your life? Let’s see.
“I was not raised to be a Christian. When I was a boy, my parents were searching spiritually, and they taught me about various forms of Christianity, about Zen Buddhism, about Siddha Yoga Hinduism, and about Islam. …I attended Jewish religious services more often than the services of any other religions. I read the Scriptures of all of these religions when I was a teenager. I also consulted the I Ching (the Confucian “Book of Changes”) nearly daily.
“…I was on the road to disaster – involved in sexual promiscuity, experimenting with soft drugs, drinking heavily and headed toward alcoholism, captivated by the occult, deeply depressed, and consumed by hostility toward those who had been near and dear to me. Weighed down under a crushing load of guilt and self-hatred, I was sitting one evening on a high window ledge preparing to jump off and kill myself, when Jesus spoke audibly to me…
“What he told me was that I should get a Bible and read it. What I read there about Jesus changed my life.” Joseph L. Cumming
One pastor tells this story:
“…in God’s hands people who read the Bible change. …I want to tell a story about a particular person, a guy named Sukan. Sukan was a Sufi Moslem studying for the priesthood. …He was taught all kinds of things about Christianity; about the things that made Christianity wrong and one of the things that he was taught was that Judas was converted into the image of Jesus and it was Judas that died on the cross instead of Jesus. And so God’s justice was done on this infidel.
“One day Sukan was walking along and saw a piece of paper blowing in the wind on the street and he reached down and picked it up and it turned out to be a portion of the gospel of Matthew. In it he read the words where Jesus is on the cross and he says, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Now, as Sukan repeated that over and over to himself and thought about it, he thought to himself you know this can’t be Judas talking, because Judas would know why God had forsaken him. These are the words of a righteous man. And so as he thought about it, Sukan came to the point where he realized that it was actually Jesus who died on the cross and right there with just that little piece of the gospel of Matthew, Sukan made the decision to trust Jesus Christ as his Savior and follow him.”
In fact, there is a website called Answering Islam that has bunches of testimonies from dozens of people who have converted to Christianity from Islam. Really fascinating and wonderful stories. There’s one more story that I really want to share with you though. It’s about a man named Bruce Marchiano. If you don’t know who he is, he’s the man who played Jesus in The Gospel of Matthew. That is a DVD that came out a few years ago and tells the story of Christ word-for-word from Matthew. It is an amazing video. But so is this story. Marchiano was a struggling actor who read for the part of Christ and got it. He was a nominal Christian at best, but as he portrayed the character of Christ as Matthew wrote it, Marchiano met Christ and his life was absolutely changed. He tells his story in a really great book, In the Footsteps of Jesus. If you haven’t already, find it and read it. It truly shows the power of God’s Word on a person’s heart.
“But I think there is no stronger reason for urging you to spend much time with the Book of books than this: It will make Jesus more real to you than any earthly friend. He is always near. He always has time to visit. There is nothing you cannot talk over with Him; and He always understands, sympathizes, and gives the counsel needed. You and I may have Him walk so close beside us that He can hear our thoughts and feel our heartaches. He is the one Friend we can always keep. He is the one Friend we cannot spare; for truly, as He has said, 'Without Me you can do nothing.' He is the one Friend through whom you and I can do all things we should do to be true Christians; and the Bible is the book that will bring Him into our lives and make Him the closest and most real of all friends.
"Do you not love the Bible? If you do not, there is only one explanation: You do not know the Book. You have not been drinking deeply enough of its living waters to wash the dust of common things out of your throat. Drink deeply, and you will long for it as the 'hart pants after the water brooks.' Drink deeply, and you will seek it as the desert traveler seeks the cooling spring. Drink deeply, and you will find it the panacea for all human needs.” Andross, M, Alone With God, p19.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Giving Up

Thoughts on the Sabbath School lesson dated 6.18.11

We’ve been talking about the clothing imagery in the Bible for a while.  There are some notable ones that come up during Jesus’ ministry, that are pretty important, and seemingly, unconnected to each other.  I’ve been struggling with how to condense them into a single unit, because there just isn’t enough time to take them on separately.  I think I’ve finally got it, so here goes.

The stories are:  the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, when Caiaphas tore his priestly garments in response to Jesus, the Roman soldiers putting the robe and crown of thorns on Jesus, and the soldiers casting lots for Jesus’ clothes at the cross.  As you can see, those are very different stories…but I think I’ve found the link.  In each one of those episodes of His life and ministry, Jesus gave up something, something He had every right to keep.  See if you agree with me.

So, Jesus and His disciples are headed somewhere and they are being mobbed by people wanting to get close to Jesus.  In the middle of all this, there’s this woman who has been sick for 12 years and nobody has been able to help her.  She’s used up every bit of her savings, nothing has worked.  Probably worse than being sick for so long, this woman has been shunned for 12 years because she was considered unclean, like a leper.  She had spent 12 years essentially shut off from everyone she had ever known.

Ever since she’d heard of Jesus, she’d been planning this moment.  She knew that Jesus was her only chance.  As she thought it through, she knew nobody would knowingly let her anywhere near Jesus, so she went into stealth mode.   She got as close to the ground as she could and moved between people’s feet,  She had decided that she wouldn’t risk being turned away, she just needed to touch a piece of his clothing and she’d be well.  And she was!  But just as she was about to melt back into the crowd, Jesus stopped and looked around. 
“At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, ‘Who touched my clothes?’
“‘You see the people crowding against you,’ his disciples answered, ‘and yet you can ask, “Who touched me?”’
“But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.’”  Mark 5:30-34
Wait, you say, Jesus didn’t give up anything in this story.  I think He did.  He gave up His right to ignore the pleas of sinful humans.  He didn’t have to acknowledge that woman, but He did.  He didn’t even have to allow her to be healed by touching His clothes, but He did.

When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet,
“He got up from the meal, took off His outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around His waist. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him.”  John 13:4-5
Sitting there in the upper room, before eating the Passover meal, don’t you know, Jesus knew what all of His disciples were thinking?  When they realized that there wasn’t a servant to wash everybody’s feet, they started glaring at each other and mentally arguing, “I’m not going to do it; you do it.”  “You’re the one who forgot to line up a servant; you do it.”  “I don’t think so, I’ve been with Jesus longer than you have; you do it.”  Anyway, you can imagine, but Jesus gave up His right to pull rank.  He could have said, “Hey, guys, I created you, wash My feet and be quick about it.”  But He didn’t.

“Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, ‘Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?’  But Jesus remained silent.
“The high priest said to him, ‘I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.’
“‘You have said so,’ Jesus replied. ‘But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.’
“Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, ‘He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy.  What do you think?’”  Matthew 26:62-65
I think we forget that just because Jesus took the abuse of Caiaphas and all the others, and allowed Himself to be beaten and crucified, doesn’t mean that he didn’t have any choice in the matter.  We (or at least I) sometimes forget that.  He didn’t have to go quietly…He didn’t have to go at all!  Jesus gave up His right to get His feeling hurt and become angry when He was falsely accused.  He could have struck Caiaphas dead where he stood, but He didn’t.

“Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’ they said.”  Matthew 27:27-29
Isn’t that a heartbreaking picture?  It’s bad enough that Jesus was set up.  It’s bad enough that He was beaten within an inch of His life.  Was it really necessary to make fun of Him too?  And yet, for you and me, Jesus took it.  Jesus gave up not just the right to show them who He really was, He gave up His right to demand respect from the people He created and was in the process of redeeming.  He could have “called ten-thousand angels,” to get revenge, but He didn’t.

“When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.  ‘Let’s not tear it,’ they said to one another. ‘Let’s decide by lot who will get it.’  John 19:23-26
I can’t even imagine how Jesus felt as he looked down from the cross to see the people for whom He was dying gambling for His robe.  I believe that Jesus gave up His right to say, “Okay, people, I’m done here.  You don’t want what I’m giving, so just forget it.”  He could have forced us to accept His robe of righteousness, but He didn’t.

Why?  Why did Jesus give up so much?  Why did He allow Himself to be humiliated, beaten and murdered?
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”  Hebrews 12:1-3 (emphasis supplied)