Posts Tagged 'God'

He Is Risen!

 

Good Friday

For many followers of Jesus, the Stations of the Cross are a powerful form of worship. The traditional stations represent fourteen discreet places along the path (the Via Dolorosa, or “way of suffering”) that Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion. Around the world, churches set up images of Christ depicted at these points – traditionally, from his being condemned to death to his being placed in the tomb – that allow people to pause to pray and to contemplate what Jesus did for the world.

In Old Jerusalem, the Stations are marked along the Via Dolorosa with metal markers on the walls of various buildings (first picture, above). As you walk the path, you might find large wooden crosses, which people pick up and carry on their pilgrimage (picture two). If you’re hard core, you can grab and carry two (picture three)!

Resurrection Day

So, if you go to Jerusalem, you quickly learn that there are two possible locations for Jesus’ death and burial (and thus, his resurrection). The first is inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which has been the traditional site since the fourth century. It is grand, with much pageantry (pictures one and two), and, as you can see, has long lines just to touch the rock upon which Christ was crucified (Golgotha or Calvary, picture three), a slab upon which Christ was laid after his death (picture four), and the tomb (picture five).

This location is contrasted with what is called the Garden Tomb, which was unearthed in 1867. Unlike the Church, it is quite modest (picture six), accessible (picture seven), and, while not expressly claiming to be “the” tomb, has a tomb that certainly fits the biblical bill (picture eight).

There is pretty compelling evidence also to claim that the adjacent cliff to the Garden Tomb (picture nine) is Golgotha, the place of the crucifixion, including the fact that it was a traditional site for both Hebrew executions and Roman crucifixions due to being so visibly situated along the road to Damascus. But what I find interesting is the fact that if the crucifixion actually happened here – the Garden tomb, where there is currently no pageantry, no lines, and, indeed, is found at the base of a cliff today surrounded by parked busses and trash (picture ten) – then it would likely be fitting for a life that ultimately defied every expectation of a messiah.

I have my own theory, but ultimately the issue isn’t a dealbreaker.

Happy Resurrection Day, Everyone!

A New Year’s Resolution

new year

I’ve been thinking about the one thing I would tell followers of Jesus Christ to start off the New Year, and my decision will shock you!

Did that introduction make you want to click on a link to see more? Well, the good news is that you don’t have to click on anything to read what I’ve written, and I won’t bombard you with ads in any event (you can tell I’m getting a bit sick of the Internet lately, can’t you?). So let’s get to the point. The one thing I’d like to tell followers of Jesus to start the New Year is this: remember the Judgment Seat of Christ!

“Oh no, he’s going to preach! And if it’s about some sort of judgment, then I’m hosed. I don’t want to be judged, and, frankly, I’m not really keen on anyone else being judged either!”

I suppose at least one person out there may be saying or thinking these very things right now. Give me just a minute, though, and I’ll explain why you should really look forward to this particular judgment and why you should try to remember it every day.

I’ve been thinking about the Judgment Seat of Christ (also known as the Bema Seat of Christ) because I’ve been trying to figure out why God has me working so hard on criminal justice reform when I’m not so sure that we’ll even see true reform before the rapture and tribulation. If it’s true that we’re really that close to the end (like I think we are), then why bother, right?

The answer came to me as I awoke the other day. And it starts with an understanding of the exciting judgment for followers of Jesus at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

We know that there’ll be judgment even for believers of Christ because in the Bible, Paul wrote:

We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we all must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.  (2 Corr. 5: 8-10)

On its face, this judgment can seem a bit intimidating, but if you read other parts of the Bible and various commentaries, it becomes clear that this judgment is only for determining a believer’s rewards in heaven. It doesn’t include judgment for sin, because sin is taken care of by Jesus’s death on the cross. I repeat – it doesn’t involve judgment for sin. Jesus is your proxy on that matter through your belief in him. Like Denise says, belief and faith in Jesus Christ is the golden ticket. Leave it to Denise to dream up a Willy Wonka reference.

So even though the passage above says that you’ll receive what is due to you for things done “good or bad,” it doesn’t mean morally bad. Instead, it means that certain things have eternal rewards in heaven (the good) and certain things don’t (the bad).

Think of it this way. You’re going to do a lot of things during your walk in the world, and you might consider some of those things to be really, really good things. For example, you might think that holding down a particular job your entire life is a pretty good thing. And to the world, it is. But it might not be the thing that gets additional rewards in heaven. That makes sense, right? The Bible talks about building a foundation on Jesus, and if you build your foundation on anything else, a fire will burn away all that is worthless, which will include things you may have thought were pretty good but that simply don’t measure up to reward-giving status.

Paul often likened our journey on earth as a race to be run, so imagine it that way for a minute. As a runner, you might do tons of good things to get ready for the race – lift weights, stretch, practice your starts – but in the end, you get a reward for winning the race. Those are the rules. It’s not that stretching was a bad thing – heck, it may have been crucial to winning – it’s just that you don’t get the reward for stretching. You get it runnerfor crossing the finish line first. Likewise, there are certain things that God finds deserving of rewards, such as winning souls, developing your spiritual gifts, showing love and sacrifice to others, etc., but there are also things that you might think would be deserving of a reward and aren’t. So when you think of the distribution of rewards for “good and bad” things done in the body, think of it simply as receiving rewards for eligible things that you actually did in the world. If those things weren’t eligible, or if you didn’t do them even if they were eligible, then you don’t get the additional rewards.

Remember when you were a child? I don’t know about you, but when I was a child and I did something I thought was a big deal, I went running to some adult to tell it to. Usually that was my mom or dad. And when I told them what I did, I found out that sometimes it wasn’t a big deal at all to my mom or dad. But sometimes it was. And when it was, I got a reward. And man, I wanted to get those rewards! Even when I was fifty years old, taking care of my dying dad in the world, I was constantly trying to impress him, looking for those rewards – like a smile or a laugh. Believe me, when I get to heaven I want that same feeling of “reward getting” from God as I got from my dad here on earth.

“Hey wait, does all of this mean that I’ll be compared to other people?” No, so you should think of the race as being your own personal race, like running against the clock. This is between you and Jesus. You won’t be envious or jealous of others getting rewards, and, in fact, whatever regret you may think you feel from not receiving a reward that you could have received will ultimately be wiped away from the overwhelming joy of being with God. As Denise often says, it’s like having tickets to the Super Bowl. Your seat may be right on the 50 yard line, or your seat may be up in the nosebleed section. Either way, though, you’re at the freakin’ Super Bowl!

Now when it comes to figuring out what God will deem pleasing or not so pleasing in your life, I’ll leave it up to you to do some further biblical research. But you should remember the following cautionary note that has people like me needing constant reminders about what God thinks matters: Throughout the Bible, people were told that because they received an earthly reward for something they did in the world, they’ll receive no reward for it in heaven. Holy smokes! This makes everything a bit more complicated, doesn’t it? Oh well. As I’ve said before, Christianity is simple, but it isn’t always easy.

So what does all of this have to do with my criminal justice job and whether that job even matters? It matters because every day God gives us opportunities to add to the tally of things that will bring us rewards when we stand before Christ. That’s how much He loves us. And that love and those opportunities will continue right up until the day of Jesus’s return. Every day God allows us all to decide whether or not to do something that is pleasing to Him and worth eternal reward. And my work, helping people to see why we need criminal law reform, is just one more opportunity that God is presenting his children – through me – to do something eternally worthwhile.

opportunity

You and I are basically in the same earthly business when it comes to other followers of Christ – the “opportunity for eternal reward business.” Every day you will likely give someone an opportunity to do a good thing, and I or someone else will likely give you the same opportunity. And because every opportunity will only help the body of Christ, it should be our intense desire to keep expanding our business. Every day, look for opportunities to do things pleasing to God. Every day, look for ways to give other people those same opportunities.

So this year, remember the Judgement Seat of Christ! Work each day on earning your rewards. And, please, work each day to help me earn mine!

Spiritual Warfare in South Carolina

When we all learned about someone killing nine followers of Jesus Christ in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina, some said it was the most unbelievable and unimaginable thing possible. Inside a church? After a bible study?  People tried to label it – a hate crime, a terrorist act, perhaps something unable even to be labeled. But today the headline on CNN spoke the truth, as it quoted the Reverend Norvel Goff as saying that, “No evildoer, no demon in hell or on earth can close the doors of God’s church.” Indeed, this attack was brought on by evil. It was a part of the spiritual war.

This ministry is not geared toward people who aren’t followers of Jesus Christ. It’s called “Arming the Saints” because it’s main goal is to help followers of Jesus recognize the supernatural, and to react accordingly. And if you’re a follower of Jesus Christ, then you believe in the Bible and what the Bible teaches. And if you believe in what the Bible teaches, you should see the truth of recognizing something demonic at work inside the church in South Carolina.

The Bible is clear that we’re in a spiritual war: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph. 6:12). Knowing this, if someone would have asked me where some of the heaviest fighting would be, I would have said, quite confidently, inside our churches and against God’s people. There’s nothing unimaginable about a demon wanting to come into a church to harm followers of Christ. It’s exactly what I would expect.

Now, I’ve been in a lot of church buildings, and I’ve been in more than I’d like to mention with some demonic presence. I know it sounds bad, but it happens (virtually always unintentionally), and so I’ve done my share of rebuking demons even inside what we like to think are some of our most hallowed buildings. But I’ve also been in church buildings with such an incredibly strong covering of prayer and rebuking that no demonic presence can even get close. And, please, don’t get me wrong. I am by no means saying that any of the people in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church did anything wrong. They are Saints, losing them is a horrible loss, and I only hope that when I go, I go like them – praising Jesus Christ while facing down evil with the knowledge of God’s grace and an awaiting eternity.

But a spiritual issue requires a spiritual response. So when you hear the natural world talk about how to keep this “unimaginable” thing from happening in the future, remember that Ephesians 6 gives us the true answer: “Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

May God bless and show His infinite grace to all persons.

Priorities

This is a moment of truth. Denise has been so busy that she asked me to take over writing about God. Then I became so busy myself that I had a hard time doing it, too. But that’s unacceptable.

I was recently reminded of what really matters when I was out of town at yet another gathering to talk about criminal justice reform. It’s what I do for my day job (piano just doesn’t always pay the bills), and so I travel around the country trying to get justice leaders to take more of a compassionate look at how they treat people who get wrapped up in the criminal justice system.

At that particular gathering, a prosecutor – clearly upset at having someone like me questioning how he does his job – asked me (in a tone that only a prosecutor can take), “How do you define ‘justice’”?

He interrupted me to ask it, and the question clearly was designed to throw me off, because that’s a tricky term for anyone to define. There are regular dictionary definitions, legal definitions, famous people definitions, and collaborative definitions, but I asked him, and he made it clear that he wanted my personal definition of the word justice.

And for a second, it did throw me off. But at that moment a small voice inside me (quite obviously the Holy Spirit) said, “Just tell him the truth.” And so I did. I said that I was a Christian, and because I had a biblical worldview, I defined justice in a way that would honor God. I told them that perhaps the best way to encapsulate it would be through an articulation of the Golden Rule.

Well, a few things happened because of that. First, it silenced the prosecutor. It’s hard to argue against the Golden Rule, right? Second, several people came up to me afterward and said, essentially, that they were followers of Jesus, too, but they thought that I’d been brave to say it out loud. I hadn’t thought it as brave – I just figured it was what the HS wanted me to say. Third, I started getting some flak from people who didn’t think I should have said it at all. I fretted about that last thing a bit, but then I quickly remembered Matthew 10:32, which says, “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father.” It was then that I realized that I had done a bit of ministry that night, and that it was worth any negative consequences.

It turns out that the ministry was primarily for me. When I came home, I told Denise that I was sick of being too busy to talk about God, sick of being too busy to learn about God, and sick of being too busy to worship God. Long story only somewhat shorter, I’m taking six months off starting in June to focus on God. I’m going to complete my fourth album, read and write about God, and basically get my priorities straightened out. I’d tell you to wish me luck, but we all know luck has nothing to do with any of it. Instead, pray that I can set aside all the trappings of the natural world to do what I think God really wants me to do.

God bless all of you!

Belief

Denise and I were flying back from New York City this weekend, when it suddenly seemed like I was being bombarded by atheism. It started that morning with CNN running a story called, “The Friendly Atheists Next Door,” and extended into the night with 60 Minutes interviewing Neil deGrasse Tyson (who is claimed by atheists but who really isn’t one, as I’ll show you later), and through a variety of shows on FOX written by Seth MacFarlane (who is claimed by atheists and who really is one). I didn’t watch any of the shows, but it made me sad to think about the fact that there are people out there who not only don’t believe in God, but who really, really, want you, me, and our families not to believe in God either. It made me feel really distant to those people; the chasm between people who believe and don’t believe in the same thing seems awfully wide.

The CNN story was really a story about a couple who lost faith in the Catholic religion, and who then extended that unbelief in their church to unbelief in God. The sad part was that after they made their decision, they suddenly felt that they needed to share and promote this non-belief, and so the story documented how the couple was forming Sunday gatherings (yeah, I know, it sounds a little weird for atheists to come together on Sundays) apparently to talk to others about how and why they don’t believe in God. The story mentioned some things that atheists have in common: apparently they are mostly white, upper-middle class, college educated, and male, and most of them used to be Catholics. I’ll add another: They are also often handsomely rewarded by the natural world, and especially by other atheists, for “coming out.” For whatever reason these days, if you decide to become an atheist, even if you aren’t fully sure what that means, you’ll quickly find acceptance and apparently become newsworthy.

As Denise said in her book, though, there are really extremely few actual “atheists” in the world. That’s because it really takes a ton of work and research to even get close to coming to such an absolute stance, and even then there’s so much evidence for God that it’s hard to ignore. That’s why noted “atheists” like Richard Dawkins have said that they’re not really atheists – instead, for example, Dawkins says he’s agnostic. Same thing with Neil deGrasse Tyson, if you look here, you’ll see he doesn’t like being called an atheist, or any “ist” other than a scientist, and instead says that if you had to label him, he’s more likely agnostic: http://bigthink.com/think-tank/neil-degrasse-tyson-atheist-or-agnostic.

In fact, he finds the word “atheist” itself odd, since virtually nobody else tends to belong to groups mostly identified with what they don’t believe in. He’s got a point.

belief

All of this really boils down to our worldviews. We all have one, whether we know it or not, which makes up the entirety of our points of view. Knowing your worldview is handy because knowing what you believe can guide you through all of life’s tough times. Now, people who call themselves atheists have a worldview that perhaps partly includes unbelief in God, but I just wish they’d focus more on what they actually believe through their overall worldview instead of the thing or things they don’t believe. Agnostics have a worldview that involves saying they just aren’t sure what to believe about God, but you don’t see them holding meetings or actively trying to convince others also to claim ambivalence.

When I was younger, I went through a phase where I was probably best described as an agnostic because I simply wasn’t sure about what to believe, spiritually or otherwise. But then I decided to do the work needed to form a decently purposeful worldview. I ended up forming the spiritual part of my worldview after years of studying a variety of other spiritual worldviews and putting together the evidence that I needed to live my life based on what I believed to be the Truth. I suppose my worldview includes not believing in certain things, like eating gluten or maybe even atheism, but I’d rather focus on what I do believe. I believe in Jesus Christ, who was God come in the flesh. Because I’m a follower of Jesus, I believe everything about who he said he was.

If I could get atheists to focus on the things in which they believe, instead of the things in which they don’t believe, they might say something like, “We believe in human beings.” If they do, then this chasm between me and atheists might not seem so wide, because I believe in God, and God believes in human beings, too.


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