Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Counting the Cost

They called them back and warned them that they were on no account ever again to speak or teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John spoke right back, "Whether it's right in God's eyes to listen to you rather than to God, you decide. As for us, there's no question—we can't keep quiet about what we've seen and heard."
Acts 4:18-20

Peter and John had been arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin (the ruling body of that culture).  They had been required to give testimony as to why they had healed a crippled man.  There were no questions about how it happened but just why.  Under what name have you done this?  Their response did them no favors.

At the very utterance of Jesus the Sanhedrin (which means “The Gathering”) went into an uproar.  They hated Jesus and had conspired to have him murdered.  They thought the problem was over and now His followers were showing up with His teachings and doing miracles.  They had to silence this before they lost all control and power.  So they told them to shut up.  They told Peter and John they could no longer speak the name of Christ.  To do so would bring a punishment of death.

This is where it gets interesting.  What do Peter and John do?  What would you do?  You may think it’s an outlandish question but it’s a question you face every day of your life.  And the answers are lived out minute by minute.

The real question that is being asked of Peter and John and ultimately to us as well is this, “Will you disobey what you know to be right, what God is asking of you for creature comforts?”  “Will you go against God’s word so that you can feel happy?”

And let’s be real honest; most of us choose our own happiness over the things of God.  Don’t believe me?  Then how is it that the divorce rate in the church is the same of those outside the church?  How is it that there are 1.75 billion people living in extreme poverty today?  How can it be that 2 million children are exploited in the global sex trade industry every year?  How is it possible that 14.1 million children have been orphaned by the AIDS epidemic in Africa?  How is it thinkable that every 5 minutes almost 90 children die of sicknesses such as diarrhea, malaria, and measles?

I’m just as guilty as the person standing next to me.  When I see that poor child on the TV screen I feel a twinge of horror and sadness in my gut but then forget as my fingers rapidly click the remote.  Oh, I’m good at placating my feelings by wearing TOMS shoes and buying fair trade coffee but if I get right down to it, my greed overwhelms the Holy Spirit in my life quite often.

The amazing thing here is not necessarily solving all the world’s problems by ourselves, no.  The amazing thing is that God uses us individually to do a global job.  But we have to play our small part.  Each of us has a part to play in the telling of God’s story of redemption to a broken world.  And if we don’t participate in the telling of that story- it doesn’t get told right.

Think about it this way; if Peter and John had decided to choose the easy way, to stop preaching in Jesus name and chose an easy life, would you be reading this right now?  Would you have a faith that pushes you outside your comfort zone?  Would you be trying to pass on that faith to your family and children?  Would there even be a faith to pass on?

When faced with the question of whether it is right do what we want to do or what God needs us to do is something we all face every day.  Peter and John knew what Christ was asking of them.  They knew His words and had counted the cost.  Peter and John were carrying their cross daily and understood that being a disciple/follower of Jesus meant sacrifice.  And because they were willing to sacrifice, we sit here today discussing these questions and ideas.  And because they did sacrifice you and I had the opportunity to know Christ on an intimate level.

I wonder if my answer to that question will have the same impact.


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Ten Years Ago

Ten years ago this past Sunday my wife and I were sitting in a doctors’ office waiting to hear if our world was really being turned upside down.  She came back in the room and said, “Congratulations!  You’re going to be parents!”  

We love our daughter very much but at the time we were not trying or even thinking about having kids.  We were 22 and 23 years old.  We were just barely able to take care of ourselves and hadn’t been married very long at all.  So when we found out we were pregnant, it wasn’t the happy moment we thought it would be.  

There was crying, but the tears indicated fear instead of joy.  My wife cried so hard I asked the doctor to give us some privacy.  We held each other and wondered how we would move on from this point.  We decided to take a breather, go get some lunch, and gain some perspective on what just happened.

As we drove to grab a bite to eat, everything started to look as if it were on waves.  It was at that point that something gripped my chest and started squeezing the air out of my lungs.  My heart decided to join in the fun and began to pound as if it were trying to escape!  I pulled over and almost fell out of the car.  I put head between my knees and tried not to pass out.

Once we finally made it to lunch, we were able to calm down and realize what a blessing this would be.  

That was September 4, 2001.

One week later I was standing in a room of 4th and 5th grade students teaching a Bible class at Tri-County Christian School in Macon, MO.  My cell phone started buzzing.  I just let it go because I was teaching.  I checked the message during the morning recess and heard some garbled voice talking about planes and buildings.  I couldn’t quite make it out.

It was September 11, 2001

After class I went into my office and heard on the radio horrified voices describe what was indescribable.  Two commercial flights had crashed into the World Trade Center.  I didn’t totally understand what was taking place until I left work and turned on my television at home.  The images I saw immediately sickened my stomach.

I raced to the phone to call my wife.  When I was able to finally talk to her, relief flooded me.  I didn’t know if this was an isolated incident or if we were under attack as country or something much worse.  I just needed to hear her voice.

My cell then started ringing and ringing, it was my mom calling to make sure we were safe.  She cried the moment I said “Hello”.  I could hear the terror in her voice as we talked.  I let her know we were all ok and that I had talked to my wife.

I can remember the panic in the streets.  People flooded the grocery stores and gas stations.  I got in line to get gas because everyone else did.  I was worried that it might be awhile before we could get gas again.  I ran into a store and grabbed a bunch of water and non-perishable food items.  I didn’t know what was going on.

I still remember the first conversation my wife and I had after she got home.  It started like this,
“What kind of world are we bringing our child into?” 

We had no way of answering this question.  How do you begin to process something this horrendous when it comes to your kids?  We were totally lost.

The joy that we had begun to experience had now been shattered and morphed into complete horror.  The poor people that died on the planes, in the Towers, in the Pentagon and on that barren field crushed our hearts.  The anger that we felt at the men who planned and executed something so evil burned and morphed into hatred.  Our words were dripping with revenge and retaliation.  Our thoughts turned black and cold to those responsible for these atrocious acts.

I think back to this time in our country's history and I am very conflicted.  I do feel shame now for that initial response.  The path my heart took did not reflect the love of Christ, the sacrifice of the cross or the Spirit that dwelled within me.  My heart took a very human path and that response tried to crush my Spirit.  Over the years, my response has changed.

As I’ve grown closer to Christ and seen the depravity that exists in my own heart I’ve come to realize that His love reaches out for the ones I hate, the ones I won’t see or think about.  If the love of Christ is not for them, it’s not for anyone.  If the sacrifice of the cross doesn’t extend to those blind men who piloted those planes, then it cannot pardon my sin.  If the Spirit that dwells in me is not allowed to guide my thoughts and actions then essentially I call Christ a liar.  My heart’s desire was not the love Christ calls me to.  My heart’s desire was to a morbid sense of satisfaction found in revenge.

Mathew 5:3 says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Jesus stands up and tells this large gathering that if you’re down and out, if you’re at the end of your rope, if you have no one that loves you, if you are rejected and loathed, if you are the lowest of the low then My kingdom is for you!  

Think about that.  If His kingdom isn’t for them, it can’t be for you!  His kingdom is for the men who killed 3000+ on that morning.  His kingdom is for the men and women that continue to murder and cause chaos around the world.  His kingdom is for them because if it’s not, then it’s not for anyone.

So as all the TV programs and news article focus around the events of that great and terrible morning, we have found answers for those questions that we asked ten years ago.  And because of them we will teach our daughter a different way.  We will show her the heart of Jesus for these men.  We will pray for His love to conquer their fear, we will ask for His light to expose their darkness, and we will pray that we may be bearers of His good news to those that are without.