Tag Archives: Jesus

Joy – Nectar for our Hearts

It was the night before he would be cruelly murdered. He knew it, but they had no idea. To them what Jesus did was unheard of. He washed their smelly, grimy feet, a chore traditionally performed only by slaves. Peter was so shocked he almost refused it. But this sacrificial act of service began a demonstration of Christ’s love which would culminate with the sacrifice of his very life the next day.

After his betrayer left, Jesus said, “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”[1]

Later that night, as he made his way to the garden of tears, he unveiled his love in words, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Now remain in my love.”[2]

He went on to explain that if we love others with the same sacrificial love he demonstrated towards us, we would remain in his love. This establishes the great cadence of the Christian life, receiving Christ’s love and giving it away. After all, we only love because he first loved us.[3]

Then Jesus makes a connection between love and joy, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”[4]

Jesus wrote these very important things about love for the purpose of our joy. He’s basically telling us that if we focus on loving others as he’s loved us, we’ll have the joy our hearts crave.

As with our physical hearts, our spiritual hearts are vital to our health. We get our word “courage” from the French word for heart – “cour”. Without a vibrant inner heart we become “dis-couraged” and life becomes drudgery.

What’s the key to a healthy spiritual heart?

Consider the ancient proverb, “A joyful heart brightens one’s face, but a troubled heart breaks the spirit.”[5]

Our hearts were designed to run on joy. When we’re joyful, our inner core[6] is bright, otherwise, our spirits are broken.

Whether we realize it or not, we’re all searching for joy. We were designed for it.[7] But sustained joy can’t be found in worldly affections or smooth circumstances. Lasting joy, producing a vibrant, “en-couraged” heart, can only be found in nearness to God.

David wrote of God: “in your presence is fullness of joy”[8]

Joy is more than a “nice to have” add on to life. It’s fuel for the soul. Jesus wants us to have complete joy. It’s essential to our spiritual health and vital for the courage we need to face the moments of our lives.

Do you want joy?

Jesus tells you how to stay connected with his love and how to have his joy:

love others as he’s loved you.[9]

 

 

for the joy of the Lord is your strength” Nehemiah 8:10b

[1] John 13:34 (NIV)

[2] John 15:9 (NIV)

[3] I John 4:19 (NASB)

[4] John 15:11 (NIV)

[5] Proverbs 15:13 (CEB)

[6] From the Latin for heart – “cor”

[7] Ecclesiastes 3:11

[8] Psalm 16:11 (ESV)

[9] John 15:12 (NASB)

Death Row – A Good Friday Story

A man squatted in a dingy prison cell, his features hidden by the deep shadows of his dark imprisonment. Only a thin plane of morning sunlight penetrated the darkness, revealing countless dust particles floating around rows of disheartened men. The man was seated, away from the light, staring motionless into the darkness.

On a hill outside the prison stood the place of execution, where condemned men were put to death. Today would be this man’s turn.

 In a way, death was a welcome ending to his pain. But more strongly the condemned man felt the fear of death’s mysteries. His soul, it seems, had died long ago, but the fear of physical death consumed him.

As he waited in the cruel anticipation of a violent death, his mind raced across the span of his life. What would have made a difference? What could have changed his inclinations towards evil? The answers to these questions could only be tossed out into his universe of despair. Like always, he knew no answers would come. There was no hope.

Slowly and ever more increasingly, the  man became aware of the sounds of a great number of voices and footsteps. There were shouts and roars, but none of the words could be recognized. The noise increased and erupted past him like a huge ocean wave. An enormous mass of shouting people had passed just outside his cell and were proceeding toward execution hill. 

The time was near. He couldn’t remember so great a crowd ever gathered to witness a death before.

Just then the outside door of the prison was slammed open hard against the wall. Keys jiggled and the main security door was unlocked. Prison guards streamed towards his cell. The hopeless man trembled and recoiled in fear. Death was pouncing upon him.

The guards unlocked his cell and converged upon him like as many wild tigers. They seized him, and drug him out into the morning sun outside the prison. When they had cleared the outside door, he was slammed face down hard on the ground, sand and dirt exploding into his eyes, nose and mouth. 

The impact dazed him. In a semi conscious state, he waited for the first sting of the lashing whip.

After awhile, he slowly opened his eyes, spitting dirt from his mouth. He tilted his head slowly, expecting his flesh to be ripped open with a whip at any moment. But he was alone. Turning his head, he could see the guards joining the crowds flowing toward execution hill. He was left unattended on the ground.

Slowly at first, but with increasing urgency, the freed man got up and made his way into a stable filled with livestock, across the block from the prison. Looking around as he fled, he expected his fantasy to end at any moment. 

Within the safety of the dwelling, he flung himself upon the straw and sobbed.

After awhile, the sounds from execution hill softened and the man’s curiosity moved him out of his safe zone. He left the building and circled around the back of the mountain of murder, called the “place of the skull”.

He came up upon the crowd and mixed himself safely among the masses. With much effort, he fought his way through until he could see what the commotion was all about.

Three men hung dying on crosses, pain etched across their faces. Two of the men he knew from his time in prison, but he didn’t recognize the man in the middle. This man seemed much weaker and closer to death than the others.

As he stood watching, he noticed the blood gushing down the wood of the middle tree.  He followed the trail of blood up to the man’s face. Though he was among a mass of people, the man on the middle cross was looking directly at him.  His  eyes were not desperate and frantic, but peaceful and loving.

After a few moments the freed man turned and walked away. As he fought his way back through the crowd, he overheard someone asking about the man on the middle cross, “Why are they killing him? What has he done wrong?”

“He’s done nothing wrong,” the answer came. “He’s dying in place of a man set free.”

Luke 23:19-20  (MSG)  At that, the crowd went wild: “Kill him! Give us Barabbas!” (Barabbas had been thrown in prison for starting a riot in the city and for murder.) Pilate still wanted to let Jesus go, and so spoke out again.

2 Corinthians 5:21 (NASB) He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Being Loved by God is Who I Am.

At a recent men’s retreat at Camp Kanuga in the mountains of North Carolina, we sang the song Good Good Father.[1] It’s about God being a good Father and the fact that His love for us is our identity. I liked the song, but  had no idea how the Lord would use it later that weekend.

The weather was perfect when I ventured out during our alone time Sunday morning. A cool, musky breeze gently brushing my face as I tread on newly fallen leaves toward the labyrinth. I’d seen the circular maze the day before and at the recommendation of a cabin mate, wanted to experience it.

autumn-1072827_1280

A labyrinth is a walking path used as a tool for contemplative prayer. As I stepped onto the serpentine paths leading to the center, I did what the sign said and set aside my worries, asking God to make me aware of His presence, listening for what He might have to say.

labimages-2

As I walked to and fro, back and forth, I was progressing to the center, which represents the presence of God. The  center has semicircles resembling a 6 leaf clover. When I reached it, I paused, stilling my thoughts and breathed in the cool autumn air. In my heart I heard “It’s who you are,” then again, “It’s who you are.”

I moved and stood within one of the half circles and completed the thought, “Being loved by God is who I am.”

Being loved by God is who I am. No other identity needed. I could have told you that intellectually before that moment, but God wanted this truth to travel past layers of protection and false identities to the very core of my being.

My roles of being a devout Christian, loving husband and father, successful businessman, adequate provider, faithful friend,  or encouraging brother are not the core of who I am. THE ONLY IDENTITY I NEED IS BEING A LOVED CHILD OF GOD. My other roles and identities flow out of this most important fact about me. I’m loved by God.

How many times have I felt like a failure and doubted my worth because of inadequacies in my different roles?

In the center of the labyrinth, past failures and future fears seemed to be swept away in an instant, buried deep in a sea of God’s love.

As I made my way out of the labyrinth, I knew I was different.

I thought – if this is true

 quickly a correction came to mind –  because this is true, how I live my life outside the labyrinth will never be the same.

I’m still processing the impact, but days later I already see  I don’t need any of those other identities I’ve been fighting for. I’m at peace in who I am as God’s loved child and free to love others without needing anything in return for my validation and identity.

Challenge: Think of your biggest failure or inadequacy. How do you feel about yourself in this area? Do you ever find you identify more with what you say about yourself than what God says about you?

Now think of the thing that tends to cause you the most worry, that fear which seems to follow you around.

Being loved by God, even if you don’t respond to it, is the most important thing about you and overshadows by a million miles those things you had in mind. God’s love for you is eternal and everlasting.

Being loved by God is who you are, a fact which towers above and washes away, all failures, all inadequacies and all fears.

And when you know, truly know, God loves you, you can yield to His Spirit within to love the folks He puts in your way.

Prayer:  Lord, I know Your love for me is far beyond my knowledge. Nothing imaginable can snatch me from your great love. Open the eyes of my heart that I might continue to grow more and more aware of how very much You love me.

May the fact of Your love be the definition of who I am and the overflowing purpose for the rest of life’s moments.

Amen. 

See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. I John 3:1a

 

[1] Good Good Father by the Housefires

 

The Missing Guitar String ( A story of simple Joy)

“for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part”                   2 Corinthians 8:2

Arriving in Lima

When our group  arrived in Lima Peru, we took a bus ride past block after dusty, dirty block of thrown together wooden buildings where people lived and worked. Our destination was Scripture Union, a ministry dedicated to the service of abandoned boys and gospel outreach, located in downtown Lima. I was a chaperon for our youth group’s mission’s trip to the place known by its residents as the saddest city on earth. The evidence of this sadness would overwhelm us before the trip was done.

The Orphanage

Our focus would be to serve the boys in the orphanage known as street boys. A street boy can range in age from six years old to the late teens. These are boys who have been abandoned by their parents for economic reasons and left to fend for themselves in the cruel streets of Lima. Most live lives filled with theft, prostitution and glue sniffing. But some accept the help and rules of the orphanage and these were the boys we would love and care for. To our surprise, by the end of our trip, Peruvians, street boys included, would do more for us than we could have possibly done for them.

My Peruvian Friend

I met Saul Camarena while carrying sacks of sand to the roof of the orphanage. He’s a short man with glasses, dark hair and chocolate colored skin. He approached me on the stairway and introduced himself in English, inviting me to his accounting office to see his computer. He showed me his Spanish version of Windows and we chatted briefly about our families and faith. I felt an instant connection with him, amazed at how quickly a common faith in Christ can traverse cultural differences and connect hearts on a spiritual level. Our friendship has continued to this day.

As the days unfolded, Saul would occasionally translate for us as we worked beside the Peruvians on the roof, building more rooms for the street boys. On one occasion, I took a break and talked with him as we gazed over the half built wall, looking down on the dry, dusty streets below. Though it was July, since we south of the equator, we were experiencing the cool cloudiness of a Peruvian winter.

Though the buildings were smaller, Lima reminded me of a dirty, gray New York city; the constant sound of horns and motor rumblings with a pronounced smell of exhaust, trapped around us by the cloud layer.

Invitation to Dinner

As we stared down at the street, Saul invited me to bring a few of the boys from our youth group to his home to meet his family. I agreed and we settled on the Thursday night before we would leave to return to South Carolina.

The day before our dinner, Saul took me aside, his brow and forehead displaying concern. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but we are very poor.” At first, I wasn’t sure what he meant, but now I know he was concerned for the boys and me, that their poverty would affect us. His sorrow was that he couldn’t afford the luxury he knew we were used too.

Saul lived 50 kilometers from Lima, about an hours drive. Each day, it cost him a Peruvian Nuevo Sol coin (about 33 cents) to ride to and from work. As we boarded the bus, Saul insisted on paying our fair. I argued, but could tell not allowing it would have been against his deep desire and joy. It was very humbling, especially when I found out later that he made only $200 a month.

As the dilapidated bus bounced along the mountainous terrain, I noticed that each hill was crowded with small wooden shacks. They were brightly painted as if in an effort to dispel the dismal aura of poverty. I was saddened when I thought of each family crowded together, struggling to survive.

Saul’s Village

When we got to Saul’s village, we stepped off the bus into what felt like a scene from National Geographic; the poverty,  the trash, the sickly looking dogs in search of scraps. The sadness of the place dulled our hearts as we followed Saul down a couple of blocks and across the cracked street.

We walked up to what looked like a concrete storage area between two other buildings, but when Saul took out a key and opened the door, I realized it was his home. We followed him in and waited in the living room area while he went toward the back. The house had a concrete floor with a wooden post resting on two wooden blocks as a support in the middle of the room. A blanket separated the main room into a living area and a bedroom area. There was also a kitchen bathroom area that had only a portion of a roof and a little storage section that may have served as an additional sleeping area.

Thursday Night Church

Though it was Thursday night, when Saul returned he surprised me by inviting us to go to church with him. Before the trip, my pastor warned me to have a short sermon ready because I might be asked to speak at a church. I’m so glad he mentioned this because this is exactly what happened. Also, since one of our boys played guitar, we were asked to sing a song we’d learned in Spanish, using their guitar, which was missing a string.

Missing Guitar String

Though a missing guitar string would be a big deal in a church I might attend back home, I began to understand it was very insignificant in this little Peruvian church. We Americans would have maybe even delayed the service until the string was replaced, but not in Saul’s church. Peruvians had learned the importance of putting missing guitar strings in the proper place, behind relationships.

Saul’s church would have loved to have had a nicer guitar, but they didn’t. So, they went ahead and gathered together on Thursday night anyway, focusing on worshiping the Lord and each other; this spoke deeply to my heart.

Simple Joy

There were about 12-15 people at the church, dressed in simple clean but slightly ripped or worn clothing, fully focused on what we had to say and on the sermon Saul preached. During the singing, their zeal and joy was contagious. Though many of them were missing teeth, the delight of their smiles was beautiful. Their joy had absolutely nothing to do with what they had or how they were. It had everything to do with their relationships with God, with each other and with us.

When the service was over, the people gathered around and made us feel very welcomed. We then went back to Saul’s house to eat along with several of his friends from church. They seemed delighted to get a chance to get to know us.

The Love of Christ Demonstrated

Saul’s wife served us a wonderful meal of chicken, potatoes and fried yuca, which is similar to a potato. We drank a clove drink called chicha morada. They could only afford to give us portions of napkins (a forth of a napkin folded into a triangle), but by now I knew that they would have given us napkins of silk if they could have.

I’m sure the meal was very expensive. They sacrificed so much to make us feel welcome. Again I felt the contrast of how a similar meal might be experienced at home. We would have surely worked hard at being hospitable and making  our guests feel comfortable, but would we have spent so large a potion of our monthly income to make them feel welcome? I doubted it.

When the meal was done, Saul’s countenance displayed concern. Looking at each of us, he said, “We’re sorry we couldn’t do more.”

At this remark, tears began to well up in my eyes and as I looked around the modest room I saw it had the same impact on my boys. How could he say this? He had given us all he could out of his poverty and now he wanted to give us more. That moment, in Saul’s concrete home, I received an example of sacrificial love. Saul and his wife truly loved us as Christ had loved them. I feel the impact of their love even to this day.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” John 13:34 

As the conversation waned, I began to think about how we would get home. I was in the most remote place my life had ever carried me, yet I was responsible to get us all back to the orphanage. Earlier in the week, I heard someone say that the area we were staying was the highest crime district in all of Lima. I wasn’t even sure what bus to take and where to get off.

This turned out to be no problem because Saul informed me he wanted to ride back with us on the bus to insure our safety. I gladly accepted.

When the night bus pulled to a halt at the stop nearest our destination, we expected to get directions and say our good-byes. However, this was not the end of Saul’s kindnesses.

He got off the bus and accompanied us all the way to the front gate of our building, several blocks away. Then he waited for the security guards to unlock the gates. When he was sure we were safely inside, he turned to catch another bus and ride home. Looking through the bars, I watched his short frame walk off into the dangerous streets of Lima by himself; having once again given us all he had.

Back to the Rat Race

We returned to the States the next morning, back to busy duties and abundant prosperity and newer guitars with all the strings. As I write these memories years later, the impact of my visit to Peru remains fresh in my heart.

In my living room,  my gaze wanders over painted walls, lovely pictures, soft furnishings, a color television set and my daughter’s guitar. Yet as I think of Peru, joy fills my heart.

I pray God will give me a heart like Saul’s and his family, and like the people in his church; even like the Street boys, who delighted in giving us simple multi-colored bracelets to remember them by.

We had the audacity to think we were going to love and serve a few people in Lima, Peru. And by God’s grace, maybe we did. But far, far greater was the lasting ways they loved and served us.

Dying of Thirst

 Desert Dryness

“How long did they say we should wait here?” Andy asked, glancing again at the crumpled wreck that had once been their plane, as the two brothers laid exhausted in the desert heat.

“Andy…  How many times can we talk about the same thing?” Peter returned in tired frustration. “They said to wait here with Jimmy until they could bring help. They didn’t specify how long…”

“How long has it been? I’m getting so thirsty…” Andy moaned.

“I’m thirsty too. We haven’t had a drop of water since Jimmy died and that’s been a couple  of days.” Peter replied. He was trying to shield himself from the desert sun by the twisted wing of their downed plane.

By this time the two brother’s lips were cracked and parched; their tongues stuck to the roofs of their mouths.

Later, after the sun went down, Andy propped himself up on his elbow and could see Peter’s gaunt face and white crusted lips.  “I’ve had enough of this.” Andy said. “I’m going to find water.”

Peter opened his eyes. “Where are you going?” He called after Andy, as he saw a shadowy vision of his brother ascending a sand dune into the bright moon light.

Peter struggled to his feet and followed Andy from a distance. Soon the vision of his brother blurred and he wiped his eyes to clear them. Then he felt a pressure on his shoulders and realized he was on the ground. He lay there exhausted, giving up hope of going on.

He was awakened by warmth on his eye lids. Opening his eyes to the east, the new sun was already baking him. It burned his exposed skin as he lay motionless in the sand.

After some time, Peter became aware in his semi-conscious state, that the sand itself was burning his skin. With all the strength he could muster, Peter crawled to a nearby cactus and curled up in its feeble shadow. This offered some relief, at least until the small shadow shifted again. He faded into unconsciousness.

I’ve Found Water

 “Peter! Peter!” Andy’s excited voice brought Peter back into awareness. The sun was almost down and Peter could see Andy waving his hands in excitement. “I’ve found water. Let’s go.”

As Andy’s words flowed into Peter’s conscience, he sat up, looking curiously at Andy.

“It’s a bit of a hike Peter, but it’s the freshest water I’ve ever drank. There’s a valley with a slow running river flowing through it. Peter! It’s surrounded by lush plants, even shade trees. The water is so cool and I think I saw fruit trees down stream on the other side. Let’s go.”

Peter just stared at Andy, not moving a muscle.

“Come on Peter, do you need help?”

After a few moments of silence, Peter replied in a weak voice, “Andy, I just don’t think there could be a river of water like you described, especially out here. You’ve seen a mirage.”

“Peter!” Andy replied in unbelief at the words he was hearing. “I didn’t just see the water, I drank some. I drank my fill of cool refreshing water. It softened my dry cracked lips and washed away all the dryness. It was wonderful! Come on.”

After Peter still didn’t move, Andy said, “You don’t look so good. I think I can carry you.”

Andy stooped and grabbed Peter under his arms to pull him up.

“Andy! Leave me here,” Peter groaned. “I’m not wasting my time on this. It doesn’t make any sense to me that water could be anywhere around here. I know you believe there’s water and that’s great for you. But, honestly, I think you’re being fooled. You want to have water so much that you’ve convinced yourself that it’s there.”

“Peter!” Andy replied, not believing his ears. “Trust me! Sometimes you have to just trust someone and not let your reasoning get in the way. I agree with you. It’s an unlikely spot for a fountain of water, but I drank from it. I know it’s not a mirage. It refreshed me through and through!”

“Andy, I do trust you. I trust that you think it was a real river, I just don’t believe it myself.”

“What do you mean Peter!” Andy screamed. He was starting to get really frustrated. “How can you say you trust me and still not believe there is water? That doesn’t make sense!”

Andy was now beside himself with disbelief that his brother would refuse water that would save his life.

“Andy, like I said. I do trust you. Keep on believing that there is water. Don’t let me stop you. I just don’t share your belief that there’s water out here.”

“UGH!” Andy groaned. He then turned and began walking quickly in the direction he had come from.

Finding Water on Our Own

Peter watched his brother disappear out of sight and fell again into unconsciousness.

After some time, Peter awoke to a burning fire in his throat. I’m dying of thirst, he thought. I have to find water, I can’t die like this. He frantically began to scratch at the sand with his finger nails. I’ll dig my own well. After all, the cactus has to be getting water from somewhere. His pitiful cistern barely dented the sand by the time he used his remaining strength. There was no water and he could not go on.

His mind faded into unconsciousness and beyond.

When Peter opened his eyes it was completely black, pitch black darkness enveloped him.  No light, no moon, no stars, nothing but darkness. He had never experienced such thick murky blackness. He reached down to touch his legs, but he could not feel them. His legs were gone, as were his arms and even his face. In desperate agony, he screamed, but he heard no sound. He continued to shout and wave with what he thought were his arms, but nothing could disrupt the thick gloomy darkness. He was in an abyss of nothingness.

Then he heard a voice “Peter! I’ve brought you some water.”

It was Andy’s voice, not coming from any one direction, but from all around his darkness.

Andy! Andy! I’m here!  Peter screamed with all his might, but there was no sound.

Andy! Help! Please help me! Andy!  Peter yelled as loud as he could, but nothing.

Then he heard Andy’s voice again. “Peter! Peter! Why wouldn’t you believe me? I brought you water, its right here!” But, there was nothing he could do, it was too late.

Back to Reality

Very faintly at first and then increasing in volume, Peter began to hear the sound of rushing water.  Then, suddenly the abrupt caw of a crow overhead awakened him.

“You about ready to go Peter?” called a voice that sounded like Andy’s from some distance behind.

Utterly stunned, Peter began to size up his surroundings. He was far from being in a desert. In fact, he found himself in a place quite the opposite. Instead of desert heat, his hands and face felt chilled. Yet, moments before, in an eerie desperate darkness, he was experiencing death.

Somehow, he was sitting, facing downstream, beside a winding brook of rapidly flowing water. Both in front and behind him there was the liquid cleansing sound of water freely flowing over rocks into gushing pools.

A brisk breeze whisked his dry, parched face as his eyes followed the stream forward to the horizon. He was in the mountains. He noticed the rolling hills towering above him on either side of the stream. And though the sun was pleasantly warming his face, patches of glistening white snow covered the land as far as he could see. In places the snow resembled brilliant diamonds as the sparkles of sun light reflected in every direction off the melting snow.

He was sitting in a lounge chair of sorts, made of stone, complete with arm and foot rests. In one way, it felt like he had been asleep for a very long time. Yet, what he had just experienced felt very real.

As he recalled his previous devastation, he became aware of great thirst. Like a bullet, he propelled himself forward to the cool liquid below his feet. With a splash, he literally buried his head in the rushing pool, violently lapping the ice cold water. He could feel the wetness moisten his leathery tongue and begin to dissolve some of the thick mucus in his mouth.

“Boy, you sure must be thirsty!” Andy’s voice startled Peter from behind, but it did not interrupt his water feast.

“I’ve never seen anyone guzzle water with quite as mush gusto!” chuckled Andy.

Peter didn’t even acknowledge Andy at first, continuing to gulp the cool mountain water. After awhile he lifted his face from the pool and turned toward him.

“What happened?” Peter demanded almost rudely. “What do you mean what happened?” Andy answered, astounded at the question. “You’ve been asleep for over an hour. I’ve been up stream a ways reading. Don’t you remember?”

“Sort of.” Peter nodded his head.

“You drug me up here to see the Mission Church at Valle Crusis because it’s on the historic register. Not that I mind.” Andy smiled. “These mountains are stunningly beautiful.”

“Yeah,” mumbled Peter.

“Hey!” Andy interrupted before Peter could answer. “What’s wrong with your lips? They’re shriveled and white.”

Was it a Dream?

Completely puzzled, Peter returned to the stone chair and stared at Andy. “Something weird is going on.” Peter exclaimed, as he shifted his intent stare to the pool he had just drank from. “I guess it was a dream, but it was so real. And what happened to my lips?” Peter rubbed his upper lip with the tip of his finger.

“In my dream, I died of thirst and you were trying to help me. You kept telling me about a fountain of water, but I refused to believe you. Then I died. But it was a very strange death. I knew I was dead, but I could still hear you trying to give me water, but it was too late! There was water after all, but I didn’t believe you.”

“Really?” Andy replied with great interest. “Tell me about it while we walk the rest of the way to the mission.”

As the brothers walked along the stream toward the mission, Peter relayed in great detail what had gone on in the desert. Andy listened intently.

“As you tell me about your dream, it reminds me of how sad I feel that you don’t believe me when I tell you that Jesus is more than just a man.” Andy replied, as they passed a horse farm along the road.

“I can relate very much to your dream and what I was trying to do. I saw the water and it saved my life. However, when I offered it to you, you didn’t believe me. And you don’t believe me about Jesus either.”

“I couldn’t see how there could have been a river like you described out there in that dry dusty desert,” Responded Peter.  “I figured you were just seeing a mirage and that you had convinced yourself that the mirage existed. I thought you were being deceived. I even tried to dig my own well near the cactus plant. I couldn’t just die of thirst.”

“But you did die of thirst Peter!” Andy answered sternly. “You’re my own brother and now you really are dying. We’e all dying. Nobody gets out of here alive. And I’ve found a fountain of life, life that could satisfy you now and always. Life that is even more incredible to the thirsty soul than that drink you just had. But you won’t believe me!” Tears watered in Andy’s eyes as he looked at his brother. “How will I be able to endure you dying of thirst when I know where the living water is to save you?”

All Peter could do was stare at his brother. He couldn’t  just make himself believe in something he doesn’t believe in. Where was the evidence?

Water for the Soul

“I do believe you Andy. I believe that you do see the water, but the water must be for you and not me, because I don’t see it.”

“I didn’t see either Peter!” Andy exclaimed. “When Lee told me about Jesus, back when I was in college, I figured it was just one of his crazy phases. I tolerated what he said because he was my oldest friend. I didn’t check out what he was telling me until I found myself burdened by all I had done wrong and feeling empty with no real purpose. Jesus is more than a man. I can tell you because he has become a friend of mine. Just like Lee introduced Jesus to me, I want to introduce Him to you.”

“I appreciate it and I’m interested in learning more about him because of what he means to you. That’s why I saw The Gospel of John and The Passion of the Christ movies with you.” Peter replied as they approached the entrance to the Valle Crusis Conference center.

They entered the facility and followed the sign up a rocky road covered with snow toward the old Mission church.

“I must admit.” Peter interrupted, the silence as they trudged up the road. “Something pretty extraordinary must have happened the day Jesus was crucified. With all the attention given to that point in history and what supposedly happened after that, I wish I could go back in time and figure out what really happened.”

“So, in your mental box, in your paradigm, what happened back then would have to fit inside of a man’s mind and be explained by man’s reasoning?” Andy questioned.

“I guess so.” Peter replied thoughtfully as they reached the summit of the road.

Valley of the Cross

They walked along a snowy path in silence for a few moments. There was a ravine to their left and Valle Crusis, the Valley of the Cross, unfolded before their eyes as they hiked.”

The sun was low in the sky and sunset colors of deep orange and yellow supplied the backdrop for the mission church they had come so far to see.

“Isn’t it picturesque, Andy?” Peter marveled “I read that a botanist from New York came through here and was struck by the remote beauty of this place. He then talked to the Bishop in Raleigh, who oversaw the Diocese of North Carolina. And he decided to create a mission here.”

The two brothers stood stunned at the beauty of the old church and its cross against the painted sky. They made their way down another rocky, snowy path to the church. Peter tried to open the over-sized, thick wooden doors and to their amazement they were unlocked. They went inside and sat down in a wooden pew near the front.

The church was simple, yet elegant in the details of the woodcarvings and trappings. The ceiling was high and supported by tremendous wooden beams. A rugged cross built in a circular stained class window behind the pulpit was awesomely beautiful, especially as the setting sun gleamed rainbow colors from the stained glass all around the cross, filling the church with colorful light. It seemed to Andy to be a foreshadowing of glory.

After awhile, Peter spoke, as he starred blankly at the cross. “I guess it would be comforting to know that you were created for a purpose and that you were not some random roll of the dice in the universe.”

Andy, staring intently at the cross, replied. “Peter, it makes all the difference in the world!”

Passion Foretold

After a couple of moments Andy spoke up again. “Peter, you said you think something amazing happened back when Christ was crucified and rose again. I agree with you and I’m going to show you something that is going to blow your mind, if you’ll let it.”

Peter looked over at Andy, but did not respond in words. Andy reached in front of him and pulled out a pew Bible and turned to Psalm 22.

“Peter, the passage I’m getting ready to read to you, from Psalm 22, was written by King David. David lived about a thousand years before Jesus was born. As I read it, think back to what we saw in the movie, The Passion of the Christ.

As Andy began to read, Peter returned his gaze to the cross.

“It starts with, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ Then listen to this description later in the Psalm! ‘I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd: and my tongue cleaves to my jaws; and You lay me in the dust of death. For dogs have surrounded me; a band of evildoers encompassed me; they pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones. They look, they stare at me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots. But You O Lord be not far off; O You my help, hasten to my assistance.’”

Andy stopped reading and closed the Bible. “It goes on from there.” Andy said as he placed the Bible back in the pew rack in front of him.

Captives Set Free

“Are you sure that was written before Jesus was born?”  Peter questioned. “Is it in the Old Testament?”

“Yeah, I’m sure,” Answered Andy. “The amazing thing, Peter, is the love that was demonstrated by the suffering of Jesus. Jesus is Lord; he could have kept the whole thing from happening. But, because of you and me, Jesus chose to endure all that suffering. In fact he did it for all people, for the Jewish High Priests that turned him over, for Pontius Pilate, even for those Roman soldiers who were so vicious in their attacks. Even though none of us deserved what he did for us, he chose to die in our place. He came and died to set the captives free.”

“What do you mean captives? Do you mean prisoners?” Peter asked.

“Not just literal prisoners, but any and every human being. We are all bound in our wrong doings. The most righteous person on the planet has done at least one wrong thing. God loves us and wants fellowship with us, but the nature of who He is, His purity, His holiness, demands that anyone who fellowships with him must be cleansed first.”

“Is that why the Israelites were always sacrificing lambs and doves?” asked Peter.

“Exactly!” Responded Andy, growing a bit animated. “And the lamb had to be a spotless lamb, free from blemish. God provided a way for the people of Israel to have fellowship with him. Their sins, their wrong doings were symbolically transferred to the perfect lamb and then the slaughter of that lamb satisfied God’s demand of purity or holiness.”

“I remember reading somewhere that the crucifixion happened during the Passover,” replied Peter. “Does that tie in?”

“You’ve got it!” Answered Andy. “The Passover celebration was when the families of Israel remembered the time when they were held captive as slaves in Egypt. Moses asked Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. However, he refused over and over again; even as God sent  different plagues, devastating  Egypt. The final plague involved the killing of all first born males throughout the whole country from humans to animals. However, he made a way for the Israelites to be saved. By spreading the blood of spotless lambs on the doorposts of their houses, an Israeli family would be spared. If a doorpost had this blood on it, the evil was forced to ‘pass over’ the house. So, it is tremendously significant that Jesus died during Passover. He ended the need for yearly sacrifices for wrong doings. He died as a perfect blood sacrifice, like a spotless lamb, so that anyone who receives what he did and follows him, will be set free, both now and forever.”

Forgiveness

The two brothers sat in silence for a long while, staring ahead at the empty cross. Slowly the rays of colored lights dimmed. Dust particles could be seen floating in the slices of light that remained from the late afternoon setting sun.

Andy had closed his eyes and pondered the victory of the Christ that followed the tremendous pain and suffering of His passion. The miracle of Jesus’ resurrection seemed so much sweeter after learning so many of the details concerning how intensely Jesus had suffered to save him. He could not fight back tears. Tears of joy and tears of sadness that his brother refused to believe and follow Jesus. He didn’t have it all figured out in his mind when he made the choice to follow Jesus. It was a belief by faith, not a complete mental understanding; just a small faith at that. But it was not the amount of faith that had caused his relationship with Jesus to grow over the years. The reason his faith had grown was because of who his faith was in: Jesus Christ, the man who was God, who had died to set him free.

As Andy soaked in the sweetness of his family relationship with the Creator of the universe, he was aware that Peter was slipping past him and moving toward the exit at the back of the church.

Immediately, Andy began to pray intently for his brother. The tears increased as he longed for Peter to take the step of faith before he died.

Andy finished praying, wiped his eyes and turned in the pew to join Peter outside. However, when he looked down the rows of pews towards the back door, he discovered that Peter had not left after all. His face was buried in his hands on the wooden floor in front of the door. Both his knees and elbows were on the floor, his body in a posture of surrender.

Andy looked up, past Peter’s sobbing body and saw a golden metal plaque hammered to the large wooden door. On the plaque were the following words:

My people have committed two evils. They have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug cisterns on their own, broken cisterns that hold no water.  Jeremiah 2:13

Seated

 

 

 

 

 

 

God Doesn’t Want us Better; He Wants us Dead

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

John 12:24

We won’t experience true life until we embrace our death.

Imagine your shock, if while walking through a grave yard, you came across the following tombstone:

Here Lies your name

Born your birth date

Died Approximately 2000 years ago (exact date unknown)

 As disciples of Christ, embracing our spiritual death is critical to the flowing of Christ’s life.

When Christ died on the cross two thousand years ago, as believers, we were crucified with Him. Our sin nature and every sin we would eventually commit were put to death in Him. This was a complete work, performed by the only person worthy to undertake it. When Christ cried, “It is Finished,”[1] all human striving for religious achievement was put to rest; all sins washed clean in the flowing of His life blood.

The reality of our death with Christ is worked out day to day by denying ourselves. Jesus says to follow Him, we are to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily and follow Him.[2]  Denying ourselves has to do with avoiding evil, but it also has to do with avoiding good.

Evil:  Denying evil is about remaining in the love of Christ. We are able to love God and our neighbor because God first loved us. When we are saturated in the satisfying love of Christ, we have no need of anything vile. His power in us allows us to consider ourselves dead to any evil.

Good: Denying good is much harder to understand, but  just as vital. We are to avoid “religious” activities rooted out of a desire to live a “good” life for God. We are to deny any attempt to earn God’s love with our own righteousness. If righteous could be obtain by our efforts, Christ died for nothing.[3]

The Christian life is not about us trying hard to avoid being evil and striving to do good. It’s about bringing ourselves to the cross of Christ, reckoning ourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus; dead to the sin of evil and dead to the sin of trying to earn a righteousness of our own by living a good life. Out of our death flows His life.

The Christian Life can be summarized in one very powerful verse:

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I life by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.

 Galatians 2:20

Challenge: Pick a failure area of your life. Bring it to the cross of Christ and consider it dead. Depend upon the life of Christ in you with that area.

Lord, I’m sorry for trying to do “good” things for you. It seems the more “I” try, the more I’m prone to evil. Please show me every time I slip back into relying on myself, that I might deny me and depend upon you. I must decrease and you must increase.[4]

 

[1] John 19:30

[2] Matthew 16:24

[3] Galatians 2:21

[4] John 3:30

Sentenced to Die

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him Second Corinthians 5:21

What would it feel like to find yourself in a prison cell, sentenced to die? Yet, being released at the last hour for another to die in your place; a man free of wrong, willing to die for you.

Exchanged Life

A young man squatted in a dingy prison cell. His features were hidden by the deep shadows of his dark imprisonment. Only a thin plane of sunlight penetrated the darkness, revealing countless dust particles floating around rows of disheartened men. The man was seated, away from the light, staring, motionless, into the darkness.

Outside the prison, upon a hill, stood the place of execution, where condemned men were put to death. Today would be this man’s turn. In a way, death was a welcome ending to his pain. However, more strongly, the condemned man felt the fear of death’s mysteries. His soul, it seems, had died long ago, but the fear of physical death consumed every fiber of his being.

As he waited in the cruel anticipation of a violent death, his mind raced across the span of his life. What would have made a difference? What could have changed his inclinations towards evil? The answers to these questions could only be tossed out into his universe of despair. Like always, he knew no answers would come. There was no hope, never had there been hope.

Slowly and ever more increasingly, the young man became aware of the sounds of a great number of voices. There were shouts and roars, but none of the words could be recognized. The sounds increased and erupted past him like a huge ocean wave. An enormous mass of shouting people had passed just outside his cell and were proceeding toward execution hill. The time was near. The man could not remember so great a crowd ever gathered to witness a death before.

Just then, the outside door of the prison was slammed open hard against the wall. Keys jiggled and the main security door was unlocked. Prison guards streamed towards his cell. The hopeless man trembled and recoiled in fear. Death was pouncing upon him.

The guards unlocked his cell and converged upon him like as many wild tigers. They seized him, and drug him out into the bright sunlight outside the prison. When they had cleared the outside door of the prison, he was slammed face down hard on the ground. The impact knocked him into a daze. In a semi unconscious state, he waited for the first slapping sting of the lashing whip.

After awhile, he senses returned and he slowly opened his eyes, spitting dust from his mouth. He tilted his head slowly, expecting his flesh to be ripped open again at any moment. Amazingly, he was alone. People were flowing in masses towards execution hill, but he was left unattended on the ground.

Slowly at first, but with increasing urgency, the freed man got up and made his way into an old warehouse, across the block from the prison. Looking around as he fled, expecting his fantasy to end at any moment. He made it to the abandoned building and flung himself sobbing to the ground, filled with emotion.

After a long while, the man’s curiosity couldn’t be contained. He left the building and circled around the back of execution hill. He came up upon the crowd and mixed himself safely among the masses. With much effort, he fought his way through until he could see what the commotion was all about.

Three men hung dying on crosses, the pain etched across their faces. Two of the men he knew from his time in prison, but he didn’t recognize the man in the middle. This man seemed much weaker and closer to death than the others. As he stood watching the dying man with blood gushing down the wood of the middle tree, their eyes met. A strange magnetism drew his soul, locking him in on the suffering criminal.

Their eyes met. Though he was among a mass of people, the man on the middle cross was looking directly at him. The dying man’s  eyes were not desperate and frantic, but peaceful and loving.

After a few moments the freed man turned and walked away. As he fought his way back through the crowd, he over heard someone asking about the man on the middle cross, “Why are they killing him, what has he done wrong?”

“He’s done nothing wrong,” the answer came. “He’s dying in place of a man set free.”

 

Living Waters or Stagnant Pools

asia-199909_960_720If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his intermost being will flow Rivers of Living Water’. (John 7:37-38)

Whether our lives are rivers of fresh living water or polluted stagnant pools depends on what we drink.

We are thirsty people. From the moment the choice was made in the garden to depend on ourselves rather than God, the tabernacle of God in our hearts was ripped out leaving us thirsty for God’s presence.

In the summer of 2002, I was always thirsty. I’d stand at the water fountain and fill my cup to the brim, then gulp it all down. But when the last drop rolled down my throat, I felt just as thirsty as before. As it turned out, I have diabetes and there was so much sugar in my blood that my system was crying out to be diluted.

Just as I couldn’t quench my thirst that summer, we can’t quench the thirst of our hearts unless we drink Jesus. We can drink in all the success, money, pleasure and comfort the world has to offer, but we will end up thirsting for more. Ask Solomon.

Jesus tells us to come to Him. The word “come” in the Greek also means to accompany Him. He tells us to drink of Him, our Pearl of Great Value, our Exceeding Great Reward. When we drink of His Rivers of Living Water, which He later explains is the Holy Spirit, our lives are refreshing streams of joy. His love flows in, and with His love, we love others. Without the flow of His loving presence, our lives become putrid, stagnant pools.

Lord, I’m sorry for all the times I’ve thirsted after the things of this world in vain attempts for satisfaction and purpose. I know now that you designed me to long for you. Only in you will I have the joy and deep fulfillment you desire me to have.

Amazingly, you long for me too. It brings you great pleasure when I find my joy in you. You are closer than breath. My heart jumps for joy at the mention of your name. I love you, Lord.

“but whoever drinks of the water that i shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”  Jesus