Thursday, February 25, 2016

Live with Abandon

When Jesus gave his disciples a talk on keeping their priorities straight, he said some tough things. He told them to deny themselves and take up their own crosses and follow him. He instructed them to grasp this life and its trappings lightly and instead learn to live with an eternal perspective (Luke 9:23-25). Jesus’ words hit our 21st century materialistic mindset right between the eyes. We, who are interested in comfort and pleasure and are more interested in living for the moment, have become very self-indulgent. We know little of what it means to deny ourselves. Our children aren’t raised that way. They want it, so they get it even if we can’t afford it.

How different it is when we catch a glimpse of what Jesus really wants from his disciples. How meaningful our lives are when we throw away our chances for self-aggrandizement and seek to lift Jesus up. How rewarding when we bear our cross gratefully because it is a privilege to suffer for Jesus. We begin to realize how much God loves us and what Jesus did for us when we live for him and not for ourselves. We begin to realize that the biggest events of our lives are ahead of us and not behind us. We live each day in expectation of being with Jesus for all eternity, and because of this, we are bold in our faith (Luke 9:26).

It was 1973, and Marilyn and I sat on a Pan Am flight in Los Angeles, California. We had just been told that the plane would have to wait for at least thirty minutes for a gate because another plane was blocking the way. We were anxious because our connection only allowed us one hour to make the connecting flight to Fresno. We had been gone for six months living in Chile and Guatemala. This was our first time to be away from home, and we were homesick. We knew our families would be waiting for us at the airport, so we didn’t want to miss our plane. When the plane finally moved, we couldn’t get off fast enough. Because we had just come from an international flight, we had to claim our bags and recheck them for Fresno. When no bags came on the belt, I persuaded a porter to find them.

We caught a taxi to the next stop, and then we ran as fast we could, checked the bags and continued our sprint toward the gate. Arriving at the plane, there were no attendants, so we proceeded down the ramp just as they were closing the door. The flight attendant was cooperative and let us on the plane.

We sighed with relief and breathed a prayer of gratitude for making the connection by the skin of our teeth. When we finally made it to Fresno, there seemed to be a lot of commotion inside the terminal. There was a huge crowd of people there for some reason. We concluded that everyone must be waiting for a celebrity to get off the plane. We looked around but couldn’t see anyone.  Eventually, our turn came, and we made our way off the plane. To our total surprise we found the huge crowd of people was waiting to receive us. To this day when Marilyn and I talk about that day, we are glad we made the effort because it was one special occasion we did not want to miss. It was well worth the effort.

Someday the losers who have let go of their lives here and committed their way to Christ will be the winners. They will not be disappointed they lived with abandon and had chosen to live for Christ. The greatest celebration is ahead of you.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Overcoming Shame

Everyone experiences shaming situations in life because we live in an imperfect world. The worst kind of shame is when it is associated with our own personal worth and accomplishments. The shaming experience makes us feel we are not worth nearly as much as we thought we were because of the obvious rejection we feel. Then once shame takes hold, it can hijack control of our lives.[1]

Here is an example of what I am talking about from the life of General U. S. Grant. After graduating from West Point with the rank of Second Lieutenant, he was feeling pretty good.  He was eager to wear his new tailored uniform so old schoolmates and particularly the girls could be impressed. But that is not how things turned out. When Grant rode into Cincinnati in his new uniform with his sword dangling at his side, he expected to be admired. Instead, he was made fun of. The shame sent a powerful message to Grant’s psyche that he didn’t matter. Throughout the remainder of his career, he would go to great lengths to avoid wearing full service dress, and he never wore a sword unless ordered.[2]  

I still remember the day I opened my first bank account with “Reverend” in front of the name. The woman across the desk asked, “This must be a mistake?” Her words were spoken in an incredulous tone because I was so young. However, the incident caused me never to use the word Reverend again with my name.

We all have these kinds of experiences that shape our lives and in some cases actually hijack our future and the quality of our interaction with people. Our self-esteem plummets, and we withdraw, giving in to the message that we are so much less than we ever thought we were.

The best antidote for such appalling experiences is in the healing presence of our God. Isaiah the prophet said that we are saved through repentance and then we quietly learn to trust God. When we do, we slowly get strong enough to overcome such devastating experiences. Though we may have been shamed and the hurt still lingers, God longs to show us grace and compassion (Isaiah 30:15-18). As destructive as shame is, it is never beyond the reach of God’s grace.

[1] Brown, Brene (2012-09-11). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (p. 64). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.
[2] Smith, Jean Edward (2001-06-29). Grant (Kindle Locations 363-373). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

We Will Be Changed

A few days ago my granddaughter, Eliana, who is six was sitting at my desk drawing a picture while I did some work. She showed her progress of a picture that she was drawing of me. Then, from the sound of her voiced I detected trouble. She emphatically stated that she had a problem. I inquired as to the nature of the problem. She said in her drawing of me she had discovered that she didn’t have the color silver for my hair. I quickly scanned her colors and replied that she could possibly use brown since that is the color my hair used to be. To which she hesitantly replied, “It did?”

Actually, it wasn’t that long ago when I was a young man. Where did all the years go, and wow, have they flown by! Though I see death all around and even at work in my own body, I am glad to report that I have the assurance of going to be with Jesus when I die. The Apostle Paul told the Corinthians that when we die, we immediately go to be in God’s presence (2 Cor 5:8). But what about these old bodies? Will they be forgotten? No, they will not be forgotten; rather, each of us when our turn comes will be resurrected (2 Cor 15:23).

What’s more, these bodies will be transformed from an earthly body to a heavenly body. Paul says that we will be changed and will be given a transformed body (1 Cor 15:51). The resurrection of the body is part of God’s redemption. It is one of the reasons we bury instead of cremating our bodies because it affirms our belief in the resurrection. Joseph left instructions when the Israelites left Egypt that they were take his bones with them (Gen 50:25). He knew the time would eventually come when God would deliver them, and likewise we know Jesus will raise us up.

Paul tells us that Jesus himself will come down to earth with a loud command accompanied by his holy angels. At that moment all who have died in Christ will arise from their graves. It doesn’t matter where they were buried or what condition their bodies were when they died. They will be raised! Then those who are alive will be caught up to meet the Lord and be with him forever (1 Thess 4:13-19).

We have no fear of death and no reason to worry that these bodies are wearing out. That’s what they do, but we will be getting a brand new—well actually, it will be same one but transformed. It will be like Jesus’ body which was extraordinary as we see in his post resurrection appearances. The apostle John said, we don’t know everything about our transformed bodies, but we do know that they will be like Jesus’ body (1 John 3:2). Our earthly bodies were not made for heaven, rather they were made to wear out. However, we shall inherit a new glorious body, one made for heaven.