Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Easter and Hope

Posted by Michael

I can not imagine anything more awful than being imprisoned on death row. What would it be like to wake up every day and know that you are simply waiting to die? Pacing the six or seven steps across your cell and then back again has to feel claustrophobic and smothering. The stale yellow light that bathes everything ensures that the nightmare of being awake feels just like the nightmares that come with sleep.  Passing each day alone with your guilt, your view would never change. Same walls, same bars, same hopelessness.

Suppose, against all odds, the warden visits one day with news that your crimes have been taken away and you are to be free.” It’s not that we were mistaken about you”, he explains, “your guilt has never been questioned. The court has chosen to forgive your guilt and grant you your freedom. The second you step away from the prison your record will be clean, your life can have a new beginning.”  Imagine now, waking up the next morning, in your own bed, with your own clean sheets. Death no longer hangs over you. You roll out of bed, walk to your door and open it just as streaks of auburn light are coloring the dawn sky. As you step out onto the cold bricks, the frigid wind slaps your skin and fills your lungs, you don’t feel alarmed however, you feel alive. You are free to go anywhere, do anything. Every moment matters, and you want to fill each one with meaning, purpose, and joy.

This is as close as I can come to what resurrection means for Christians. It means that our death deserving crimes can be forgiven, that we can be given a fresh start. We no longer have to pace about in the small and petty worlds we have created for ourselves. We wake up with hope and purpose. It means that something wonderful can happen in the future (heaven after death), but it means even more for the here and now. We are alive, and are free to bring that life and love to a world in need. Humans were never meant to live without hope. The story of Easter is our hope that there is more to our story than initially seemed possible.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Right Time To Fail

Posted by Michael

I’ve spoken before of the devastating effects that a fear of failure can bring into our lives. It slows our decision making as we agonize over every possibility, dreading failure more than seeking success. It’s as if we spend our lives trudging through waist deep snow. Every step requires intense effort and no step brings any real joy or peace. In a collection of songs and poems in the Bible I stumbled across these words, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1). This means that no matter how much wisdom, skill, or effort I devote to a task, it will not succeed if God does not want it to. Also, no amount of incompetence, doubt, or mistakes will hold back what God wants to accomplish through me.

My first thought when reading these words was, “Great! I just have to make sure I’m always doing what God wants and I will never fail!”  At closer look, I don’t think that’s what the writer is leading us to in this passage. This approach will only cause me to adopt another obsession. We would spend our lives fearfully asking, “Does God want this? Is God behind that? Does God not want me to do this?” These questions are beautiful the first or second time they are asked of God, but they can become toxic the fifteenth and sixteenth. My obsession will still be on gaining success and avoiding failure. God’s greatest desire is not that we never fail, but that we would grow in our relational knowledge of Him. The perfect satisfaction for our soul is when God becomes our obsession, not what He will do for us, or what He might do to us, but accepting His passion to do life with us. The writer of this psalm is saying that God is so good that He will make sure that we fail in the exact spots where we need to fail. Also, no matter how much we struggle, He will allow us to succeed at the right times in the right places. God will use our failures and successes to allow us to know Him more, which is the only true source of hope and joy. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Nature of Love

Posted by Michael

It’s difficult to imagine a woman being placed in a worse relational situation than Leah had been (Genesis 29). Begin with her wedding day, which should have been a day of celebration, only those attending thought they were celebrating her sister Rachel instead of Leah. A day that for most women is filled with excitement and laughter was for Leah a day of embarrassment and fear .What sort of message does it send to a young girl when her father feels that deception is required to find a husband for her? Things only got worse for Leah, rather than waking up on the first day of her married life to the love of her husband, she awakens to his shock and outrage (Not that Jacob can be blamed, he was expecting a completely different person in his bed). Her father Laban seemed to believe it was more important for Leah to be married than to be loved.

In spite of her father’s treachery, Leah appears to have been resilient. She set about making the best of her situation, which was no easy task. God saw her condition and how she was despised and in his mercy blessed her with children. She bore four sons in succession. Each son, she hoped, would win her the love of her husband. The birth of her first son brought no change in her home. After the birth of Reuben came Simeon and with him a renewed hope that this at last would win the love she so desired. It did not. When her next son arrived, she named him Levi, meaning “attached”, hoping this would finally attach Jacob to her. Her marriage remained unchanged.  It is only with the birth of her fourth son that we see a change take place, but not in Jacob or in her circumstances, but in Leah herself. As she named her next son Judah, she exclaimed in both resignation and defiant hope, “This time I will praise the Lord”. Leah discovered one of the most important truths of life: that love can not be earned, only accepted. When she could not win the love of her husband, she turned to God who gave  His love freely to her, and there she was able to find contentment. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Film Review: The Hobbit

Posted by Michael

For fans of the Lord of the Rings films, The Hobbit will offer another comforting dose of Middle Earth enjoyment. Peter Jackson brings the same elite level cinematography and attention to detail that garnered him the Best Picture Academy Award for the final movie in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. You’ll see many of your favorite characters from the trilogy in this film. Ian McKellen reprises his role as Gandalf, and even Frodo makes a brief cameo. Martin Freeman is excellent in his portrayal of Bilbo Baggins, and the cast that surrounds him was also well chosen.  The movie runs a bit long, coming in at just under 3 hours of hobbitty goodness, but it’s well worth the time.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s sprawling epic is simply magnificent. C.S. Lewis was so taken with the Lord of the Rings story that he submitted Tolkien for a Pulitzer Prize for his work. For those in search of entertainment, there is plenty to spare in Tolkien’s writing and in the films themselves.  The thing that makes the books and films truly wonderful, however, is the deeper messages within both that require a bit of thought. I believe that great works of literature demand something of the reader, and quality films are the same. Anyone seeking to be entertained and enlightened both should make time for The Hobbit.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Joy of Being Wanted

posted by Michael

Religious leaders paid 30 pieces of silver for Jesus’ life. They struck a deal with Judas, so that Jesus would be betrayed and delivered into their hands. When Matthew later recounted the story (Matthew 27), he tells his readers that when Judas saw that Jesus had been condemned to death he changed his mind. In a panic he goes to the religious leaders and returns the silver, telling them that Jesus was innocent of the charges leveled against him. The religious leaders already had what they wanted and told Judas as much. His crisis of conscience wasn’t their issue. Judas threw down the 30 coins onto the temple floor and left to take his own life. When news of Judas’ suicide reached the leaders, they gathered together to decide what to do with the money he had scattered at their feet. It seemed that using money to arrange someone’s death was acceptable, the resulting suicide of their hired henchman also seemed ok, but it would be unacceptable for that money to be put back into the temple treasury. So, they purchased a field in which to bury those among them who had no family or land upon which to be buried, a cemetery for the outcasts.

It’s at this point that we see that God’s story of redemption can burst forth in even the most horrific circumstances. The religious leaders purchased the life of Jesus with 30 pieces of silver, and then with those same coins also bought a field so that outcasts would have a place after they died. It’s as if they read Jesus’ mind. Jesus also wanted outcasts to have a home, and was a work to give them an eternal one.Whereas the leaders wanted a place to dispose of the undesirables to get them away from them, Jesus died to so that those same outcasts could be with him forever. He died so that all  unwanted strangers would know the joy of being wanted. When people cast off, Jesus gathers in. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Trustworthy Relationship

Posted by Michael

There is a component of legitimate need in every relationship. That’s to say that every relationship is comprised of people who don’t have it all together and don’t know all of the right answers. There are as many different types of need as there are types of people. Some people can’t stand to be lonely, and the need is for time and shared space. Some people don’t like to make choices alone, and need someone there to bounce ideas off of. We need each other relationally, financially, emotionally, and physically, and no matter how giving we are, there are times in every relationship when we are takers. In short, there are two kinds of humans, those who have needs, and those who are lying about the fact that they have needs. That’s not bad, it’s human. It simply means that part of the reason we relate to each other is in order to get something out of it.

But God is different. God doesn’t need anyone or anything. God is completely content in and of Himself. There is nothing we have that will add to, or take away from Him. So, when God relates to us it’s not for what He can get out of it. Our relationship with God is unlike any other relationship we have ever known in this one key point: He doesn’t relate to us because He needs to, but because He wants to. His relationship is never about what He needs from us, but always about what He wants for us. God has all the power and creativity imaginable, and He could use that power and creativity in any way He likes. He chooses to use it to love us.  I can’t imagine a more trustworthy relationship.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Religion Without Relationship

Posted by Michael

Jesus indicted the religious leaders of his day for failing to practice what they were preaching to the people (Matthew 23). What they were teaching was true enough, Jesus even told the people to listen and obey what the leaders taught. Some of the teachings were heavy, and some of the truth that the leaders spoke exposed the hearts of the people. Facing the truth and growing is a burdensome process at times. The truth then as now can hurt. The weight of the truth wasn’t the problem, however. The problem was that after these teachers brought their heavy truths, they refused to join the people to help them work it out. We are not called to fling the heavy yet healing words of Jesus around impersonally. If we confront anyone with truth, we are called to join them in their battle to embrace that truth. Powerful words must always be accompanied with personal presence. Another way to say this is that religion without relationship is toxic. Christianity is a relational journey with God and other Christians that allows us to embrace truth bits at a time.  Later in the same talk, Jesus stated that the religious leaders were shutting the kingdom of heaven in the people’s faces. The Christian life (life in the kingdom) is relational at its core. If it’s not done with people, it’s not done at all.  We should never carelessly speak to people (even the truth) unless we are willing to invest the time and energy to accompany them on part of their journey. The world finds religion without relationship unbearable and unbelievable, and it’s honestly hard to blame them. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Goodbye Pepper's

Posted by Michael

It is with a heavy heart that I blog today. It seems official that Pepper’s Pizza in Chapel Hill is closing its doors for good. I am still in the denial stage of grief, and am hoping that this is some sort of hoax, or that they will reopen shortly, but all reports seem to indicate that this closing will be final. Pepper’s has been my favorite pizza place in the universe for several years. I even took the time to carefully indoctrinate Makena as well, so that she would embrace the joys of delicious pizza and smelly waiters. Where will we now find delicious pizza? Or more importantly, where will the smelliest and most bearded among us find employment???? Pepper’s will be deeply missed. It’s a sad day, and so I ask for any new pizza place recommendations you may have…