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Archive for the ‘What Would Jesus Do Series’ Category

Tomorrow is the day of crucifixion. Today, as I write, is a beautiful sunny morning, just cool enough to refresh everything living!  But tonight comes the darkness of betrayal, and whippings, and thorns, and curses, and lies.

And tomorrow will end in total darkness, utter depravity, the death of innocence, separation from God! We call it Good Friday!  I don’t think so!

Perhaps my atheist friend can find some good in martyrdom and be satisfied that Friday accomplished all that needed to be done. Many people’s deaths have changed history—maybe everyone’s death changes history.  But Jesus was not about changing history.

And why was the tomb sealed with victory on Saturday?  Was it to prove death to the superstitious and the unbelievers? Was it to prove death to the believers? Was it because Jesus had souls to preach to in the spiritual world (1 Peter 3:19)?

Perhaps so we could mourn for what we did on Friday!

But Jesus was not surprised by Sunday morning! The women were; the disciples were; but Jesus never doubted.  The earliest chronicler says, “He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31).

Surprise, however, is not a prerequisite to joy!  He had told his disciples on Thursday, “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy” (John 16:22). When his followers wept, Jesus wept, so I’m quite sure that bringing eternal joy to his disciples brought Jesus himself great joy!

And what about Easter bunnies and eggs and little girls in frilly dresses and white shoes?

 Well, what about Spring? Does the cycle of seasons with death yielding to new life every Spring sound familiar?  Who do you think created the seasons in order to proclaim the Victory over Death?

On his first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas gave the first century pagans the same answer that we who doubt the source of our joy should hear: Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy” (Acts 14:26).

So I’m pretty sure Jesus would smile at baby chicks and bunnies and little boys with their hair spiked and in their first bow ties, and  say, “Don’t forget that life began on Easter Sunday! Don’t forget that there would be no beautiful Spring days without Easter Sunday! Don’t forget that there would be no joy and no empty tombs—ever—without Easter Sunday!

Would Jesus celebrate Easter?  He did, He does, and He will—until the very last Easter—Resurrection Day!

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Sherrylee and I attended a wonderful celebration yesterday for Dr. Ken Adams and his wife Lindy at Oklahoma Christian University. Ken is retiring after serving forty years as the choral director and as professor/mentor for literally thousands of students.  About two hundred chorale alumni came from all over the country to participate in a final concert last Sunday in his honor.  Hardeman Auditorium was packed—and profoundly moved by the beautiful music of Karl Jenkins’ The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace,  written in 2000 for the Millennium celebration.  If you appreciate classical music, let me strongly recommend you order a copy of this piece immediately!

One of my strongest thoughts as Ken masterfully directed the full orchestra and the two-hundred voice choir was why is he stopping now?  This may have been one of his greatest performances, so he is not suffering from diminished capacities!  He is not old! (Somewhere I read that Baby Boomers don’t think a person is old until they are around 78.) He is not ill!  So why does one retire from doing what one still loves and can do so well?

According to the statistics that I just found, only 20% of Americans between 60-64 are still in the workforce.  In the UK, it is only 10%, and these cousin nations rank far above most other industrialized countries. Austria, Belgium, France, and Italy have only 1% in that age bracket still employed, and Spain has ZERO per cent!

Spain is #8 in rankings for life expectancy (80.9 years) and the US is #36 (78.3). In fact, all of the above countries have a higher life expectancy than the U.S.   But even without quibbling over a few months, on the average most of us have 15-20 years of life left after we retire!

Retirement, as a social policy, is just a little over a century old, so Jesus was never faced explicitly with this issue; however, those commissioned to take his words to the world did sometimes live longer.

I’m thinking about the Apostle Paul—most likely in his sixties–writing to Timothy and saying, “Well, I’ve been working now for over thirty years, so I’m thinking about retiring so I can do things that I’ve been wanting to do—travel, visit my relatives in Tarsus, just hang out with Peter’s grandchildren.  I’m just tired of the constant pressure to produce, the hassle from the brethren, even just the burden to write all these letters.  No, I’m just ready to call my own shots –while I’m still healthy and can enjoy life.”

What’s wrong with this picture?

Our confusion regarding retirement, I’m convinced, occurs when we confuse retirement from employment with retirement from our life, our passion, our purpose, our commitment, yes, retirement from our faith and from faithfulness.

If Jesus had been a carpenter for thirty or forty years, he might have stopped at some point in life, but, whether he was 30, 60, or 90 years old, He would have never stopped being the Son of God. He was the one who said, “As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work” (John 9:4).

Paul might have closed his tent-making company down at some point in his later years, but he would never stop going to the synagogues to speak on Saturday or down to the river where the prayer group was meeting, searching for Seekers.

And Ken and Lindy will always be great servants. They won’t stop being who they have been because of retirement. If anything, they will likely find even better ways to serve God and those around them.

I want to retire someday too—but what I really, really want is to write as my last words what in his last days Paul wrote to Timothy:   “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

Jesus might have retired—but He would never have quit! 

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Cases like the Trayvon Martin killing which occur because of profiling, whether it is racial profiling, class profiling, ethnic or religious profiling, reveal the unspeakable horror that results from looking at the outside of a person rather than the inside.  With what ease we wag fingers, however, then turn around and immediately form our own opinions about people by what they wear, how they talk, or what size they are.

I just heard this morning on ESPN about a defensive line coach that is having lap band surgery because he doesn’t think he will get a head coaching job unless he loses weight.

The movie didn’t bring it out as much, but the book Moneyball  by Michael Lewis (2003) revealed the almost insurmountable tension between the traditional baseball scouts and the new statistically oriented management over what potential ballplayers looked like.  The scouts were choosing future draftees on the basis of their appearance as opposed to their real performance. It was enough to kill someone’s future in professional baseball to just say, “He doesn’t look like a ball player.”

Another video from Britain’s Got Talent has gone viral, although it is the same story, third verse!  Contestants who are unattractive show amazing talent that shocks their mockers.  You may remember Paul Potts, the mobile phone salesman and then Susan Boyle, the frumpy forty-seven year old housewife;  well now there is Charlotte and Jonathan, an unlikely teenage duo who even bring Simon Cowell to his feet in applause.  (Click on these links if you want to see what happened.)

The triumph of these people who do not look like stars always brings tears to my eyes, but I’m embarrassed at the same time that I am one of those who might not have even given them a chance.

I also wonder why this happens often in the UK, and could it ever happen on American Idol?  

Hoodies aren’t that big of a deal! I saw Paris Hilton in a pink hoodie on an airplane from Los Angeles a couple of years ago.  I actually asked for one at Christmas this year—not because of Paris Hilton—and received a nice Under Armour brand hoodie which I wear a lot in cooler weather.

But apparently, if you are the wrong color in the wrong neighborhood, hoodies can be dangerous because we judge people by their hoodies.

Jesus looked at the right-wing terrorist and saw a disciple; he looked at the hated IRS guy and saw a disciple; he looked at some pretty simple fishermen and saw disciples; he looked at outcast women and saw disciples; he looked at cripples and beggars and saw disciples.  He looked at Pharisees and saw disciples.  He looked at foreigners and saw disciples.

If we look at a person and see anything other than a person whom Jesus loves and died for, then we are moving toward the camp of profiling, of bigotry, and of hate crimes. 

We might actually be looking at Jesus with his hoodie on—and never see him!

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Youth ministers are relatively new among us. I grew up in a pretty large congregation in Fort Worth, and we never had a youth minister. Occasionally, in good churches, the associate minister was assigned to teach the “young people” Sunday evenings before Sunday night services.

Glenn Owen, probably right out of ACU, had come to our congregation because we were going to support him as part of the now-famous Brazil mission team which was scheduled to leave in a year or two.  He taught us the missionary journeys of Paul, pretty standard fare for “young people” in those days, but especially meaningful because he was preparing for his own missionary journey.  Glenn went on to be a great missionary, elder, preacher, and finally, the voice of the Herald of Truth all over the world. He was certainly one of my first heroes of faith.

Youth ministers now have their own degree programs at Christian colleges, their own conferences, and their own social media presence.  But they don’t seem to be held in high regard. Let me tell you why I say this:

  • Youth ministry is seen as entry-level ministry position in most churches and is compensated as such.  Rarely are youth ministers part of the church leadership as a result.
  • Youth ministers receive the most sarcastic remarks on Twitter—usually from other ministers.
  • One prominent blogger/minister in our fellowship recently announced a series written by guest youth ministers—but it is anonymous, so that youth ministers can be honest about how they are treated by the Christians that hire them!

Would it make a difference if we believed that Jesus was a youth minister?  Do we need to be reminded of the strong language Jesus used in talking about children:

  • Matthew 18:3
    And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven
  • Matthew 19:14
    Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
  • Mark 9:37
    “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.
  • Matthew 18:6
    “If anyone causes one of these little ones to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

So why do these servants tend to be under-valued and under-appreciated in our churches? See if you think some of these might be reasons:

  • Other gifts are more valuable to the kingdom than the gift of ministering to youth! Preaching is more valuable, administration is more valuable, eldering is more valuable . . . . I know they are more valuable because they are paid more and treated better.
  • Other ministry positions are not viewed as stepping stones.  Youth ministry is for guys too young to be pulpit preachers.  The good ones might get to move up in a few years to associate positions.
  • Youth ministers are sometimes the least trained person on the staff.  They may or may not have a Bachelors degree in youth ministry, but just by reason of experience, they are often undertrained. Too often they are not married, or just married and no kids, or young marrieds with babies and/or young kids.  All of their knowledge about young people comes from two places:  their own story at home and their school books. Both of those have great value, but you want to put your kids in the hands of a pilot that has just read about flying a plane?

It is no secret that churches are losing more young people than they are retaining!  Only 13 percent of them viewed religion and spirituality as important. And even among those who described themselves as Christian, only 18 percent said their religion was important to them (Taken from Thom Rainer’s book, The Millennials). I wonder if there is a correlation between our appreciation for youth ministry and the number of our children that continue to believe??

Wouldn’t it make sense to use our best, our most gifted, our most experienced to work with the people that we love most in this world? Shouldn’t those going into youth ministry have the best educational  tracks, the best mentoring opportunities to make them the most prepared people for their ministry?

And then, wouldn’t we support them well, so that they can stay with their calling??  Wouldn’t we hire them, hoping they would stay for a whole generation of kids?

Jesus said, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:10).  If angels are God’s ministering spirits and the angels of children are always in His presence, then He must really care about the ministry to them!

Jesus was definitely a youth minister!

 

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I was walking this morning along the Texas Gulf Coast—not on a beach, just along the coast. It’s not Malibu or Destin, but it’s also not Fort Worth! It’s away! And it’s not work.

I got this great deal on Travelzoo for a seaside resort in Rockport, Texas, near Corpus Christi, so we thought we’d steal a few days before a very busy season begins.

Sherrylee and I travel a lot, but we often joke that all we ever see is the airport, the road to the church building, and the missionary’s house. In just about three weeks we are hitting the road again for almost a month—so why do we think we need this four-day break?  Rest!

Traveling for work sounds like great fun, but ask any of the road warriors that travel for a living–moving from bed to bed, food to food, wondering if your flight will be canceled by the weather—which would throw the rest of your schedule into turmoil!  Different time zones—and you thought just going on Daylight Savings Time was bad!  And all the time, doing your very best to accomplish the task that you are traveling for.  Travel is grueling.

Jesus traveled quite a bit–not by plane but by foot. During his lifetime, and especially during his ministry, he walked the 95 miles between Nazareth and Jerusalem several times, and probably not the most direct route since the Jews usually avoided going through Samaria. He spent most of the three years of his ministry with “no place to lay his head.” Sometimes he was walking away from conflict, but often he was walking toward it. I don’t think Jesus would have described any of his travel as vacation time.

But Jesus did take time to rest.  Mark 6 records his taking his disciples for a break from all the people-work they were involved in:

 30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” 32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.

I do wonder, however, about people who only live from vacation to vacation! Is this year’s cruise or next year’s ski vacation what one lives for? Is life planned around fall break, Christmas break, spring break, and summer holidays?

Jesus talked more about work than rest:  “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working” (John 5:17).  “As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work” (John 9:4).

If Jesus came to Rockport, Texas, he would enjoy watching the sun set on the gulf waters. He might watch the cranes and loons swooping down to catch their supper. He would know why shops advertise mud minnows and sea lice!  And he would probably eat at Hu-Dat, the oriental restaurant with a Cajun name!

But he wouldn’t stay long because he would begin thinking about getting back to work—the work that his Father sent him to do while it was still day.

Check-out time approaches! Better go.

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With the bloody images of civil war in Syria in our living rooms each day, it is easy to rage against innocent, but violent death.  Even just the Facebook messages from casual friends who tell of the final struggles with cancer or with Alzheimer’s cause a kind of outrage against unwanted, undeserved pain and suffering of every kind.

On the other hand, my mother is within a month of her 89th birthday. She is frail, but in relatively good health. She does not rage against the dying light, nor do we her children. My prayer for her has been—as my prayer for many loved ones who have already passed—that the Father would take them gently, quietly.

John Donne, the metaphysical poet, wrote, “As virtuous men pass mildly away,/And whisper to their souls to go,/Whilst some of their sad friends do say,/”Now his breath goes,” and some say, “No,”/So let us melt and make no noise . . . .” (A Valediction Forbidding Mourning).

Much better known, however, are the strong words of Dylan Thomas, the Welsh poet, who wrote, “Do not go gentle into that good night, /Old age should burn and rage at close of day; /Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

What would Jesus do?

Jesus knew violent death! Jesus knew what it was to be young and condemned. Jesus knew what it was to see his closest relatives killed—beheaded—unjustly. And, perhaps most importantly, Jesus knew that death in its every form results as the inevitable consequence of rebellion against His Father.  Death had been avoidable, but we chose it over the tree of life!  The stupidity of a choice that leads to every death must make heaven rage!

Yet, Jesus created an alternate ending to the story of death and dying in our world. He offers an alternate place to stand other than  between raging or whimpering.

Lazarus, Jesus’ friend, died unexpectedly—at least his sisters felt he should not have died. Jesus intentionally lets him die (John 11:14). Only then does Jesus go to the sisters.  He goes to the tomb that held the decaying body of one he loved, he goes with his eyes full of tears—but no whimper—nor rage!

Jesus goes to the tomb with an alternative—life!

“I am going there to wake him up,” Jesus says to his disciples. Upon arriving in Bethany, Martha, Lazarus’s sister, in her deep sorrow whimpers a complaint that if only Jesus had been there . . . .

Mary, her faithful sister, says the same, “If only you had been here . . . .”  Where were you when you were most needed? We thought you loved Lazarus? You could have done something, and you didn’t!

Our words coming pouring out of these bereaved sisters, our words of disappointment, words that lead to rage!

At this point, Jesus offers the sisters spiritual hope, “Your brother will rise again!”  And they believed this to be true!  But it did not comfort them.  Their loss was in this world, not the next! Their pain was physical, not spiritual.

Unexpectedly, Jesus opened the door to an alternate reality, a reality meant for this world:

 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

No one believed in never dying! No one had experienced never dying! 

Jesus had to call Lazarus out of the tomb in his stinking body in order to prove that He was the Author and Giver of Life.

The context of the whole story of Lazarus is Jesus’ own journey to his momentary death on Golgotha. Yes, because of our sins even Life had to die in the flesh, but Life never died—and even his body didn’t stay dead.

And that is the promise of Life to those who believe in Him.

WWJD?  Jesus’ rages against sin and the pain and suffering it causes.  He weeps at the momentary victory of evil, but, I believe, there is no darkness, no mystery, no emptiness, no false hope in His presence.

Jesus walked in the Light of Life that never ends.  And He calls us to walk in His Light and share His Life—no need to rage, no cause to whimper!

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I’m not talking about green like the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz! I’m talking about green as in global warming, hybrid cars, animal rights, and environmental protectionism.

What would Jesus do?  Here’s what I know:

  • Jesus was on the creation team! He made the world“Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” John 1:3
  • Creation has His constant attention. He “sustains all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3)
  • Creation is His inheritance.By his Son, God created the world in the beginning, and it will all belong to the Son at the end.” (Hebrews 1:2)
  • Creation will be redeemed.  “The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead” (Romans 8:19-21) —This is The Message but check it out in your own translation and you’ll find the very same teaching.

So the physical world, all of it, is extraordinarily important to Jesus.  But here are some more parts of the puzzle:

  • Jesus was a carpenter’s son. He certainly must have cut down trees and used them for human purposes. (Mark 6:3)
  • Jesus drove the money changers out of the temple, not for selling animals for sacrifice, but for doing business in God’s house.  (John 2:14ff)
  • Jesus was not a vegetarian! He ate the Passover lamb  each year and he ate fish on at least two occasions. (Luke 2:41, Matthew 26; John 21)
  • Jesus helped his disciples catch fish! (John 21)
  • Jesus cursed a fig tree and killed it because it should have had fruit, but didn’t (Matthew 21 and Mark 11).
  • Jesus allowed, even praised the use of nard as a libation for his glory (John 12:3). Nard is from a rare flowering plant in India and China.
  • Jesus rode on a donkey (Matthew 21)for his own purposes. But he also assumed that if an ox was stuck in a ditch, good people would try to get it out (Luke 14).

Would Jesus be green?  I’m not ready to answer yet.

From what I understand, Jesus treasures all creation enough to redeem it with his blood.  Jesus created all life, but only put his breath and his image into people. So I believe that while there is temporal overlap, a qualitative difference does exist between organic life and human life.

Jesus appears to have used the natural world for his purposes, even holding it accountable when it did failed to serve him well  (fig tree incident).  So I don’t think Jesus believes that people are just another element of creation, but rather that we were given the physical world to use—for God’s glory, not for ours.

Jesus would not abuse His creation, His inheritance. He would not destroy creation’s glory for self-gratification, for greed, for power, or for lust.  He did nothing for these reasons. He used the physical world for His glory!

Would Jesus be an eco-terrorist? No!  Would He believe that animal rights and human rights should be the same? No.  Would he be concerned about global warming or ivory poaching? He would be concerned about abuse of His inheritance wherever it was happening!

So, I think my final answer is:  As Jesus did, we should love the creation and use it for God’s purposes and God’s glory.

Does that work for you?

 

 

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