The Opposite of Eager Anticipation

I really look forward to Easter. Our Worship Leader asked us this morning during rehearsal WHY we look forward to Easter, especially in the area of leading worship. I thought for a long time about, and just now (4 hours later) came up with the answer. Because I know what happens!

Let me give you a little glimpse into the inner workings of my psyche.  Being the ever optimistic person that I am, I often times watch movies that I’ve seen before and actually find myself hoping that someone will make a different/better choice that changes the movie. Like in “Star Wars III,” I find myself almost willing Anakin Skywalker to choose the Light Side of the Force, even though I’ve seen the movie 100’s of times!  I am usually, if not always, a “glass half full” kinda guy.

I look forward to Easter, and specifically the celebration with the rest of the Body of Christ, because I know He came back from the dead, putting my optimistic slant to it. Now, I’m not saying He didn’t come back from the dead nor am I pleading a case for wishing He had done something different. But I realized this morning that The Disciples had a much different Easter, riddled with doubt, sorrow, pain, and mourning. For them it was different.  Huddled together in a room one Saturday morning, they were plagued by trepidation and fear! I can imagine how they felt, almost trying to impose their will on the reality of their situation and force a different outcome. What I experience this Saturday morning is an eager anticipation of what tomorrow holds. What they experienced so long ago was just the opposite. Most of us can relate somewhat to the aftermath of losing a loved one. That “let down” when the funeral is over, the graveside done. But I sense it was more than that for them. I wonder what they anticipated the coming days held for them. I mean, Peter even denied Jesus in a feeble attempt to protect his own life. No, as they hid away from the authorities and the world around them, they were gripped with dread as well as sorrow.

Which, to me, makes Easter even more meaningful for them! The “flavor” of their experience was turned from bitter to elation with the reappearance of Christ.  I was once hopeless, though. I was once lost and fearful for my future. Having been a follower of Jesus these last 23 years, sometimes I forget exactly what Christ brought to me and brought me out of.

I encourage you to spend some time in somber reflection today, trying to get into the heads of the Disciples as you remember what Christ brought you through when you realized He was alive for the first time. Reflect and remember today. Rejoice tomorrow!
Happy Easter,

A Pivotal Event For All Time

Wolfhart Pannenberg, D.D., asserts that the resurrection of Christ is the most pivotal event in human history. He correctly contends that every event up to AND since the resurrection is only properly interpreted when seen THROUGH the resurrection.

This means 2 things:
1) The Cross, as God’s ultimate and eternal plan, holds much more than egg hunts and candy for all humanity. Let’s face it, for most of the Western world, there is some sort of lip service paid to the meaning of Easter, and a greater expectation of a day off from work, candy, or Easter eggs. However, whatever the expectations, Easter is on the minds of most Western thinkers, even if it’s just in this superficial treatment of the holy day. As a follower of Christ, we have an opportunity to point people to something so much bigger than a day off. The Cross event is the single event upon which all of history hangs. The Cross event holds the key to correctly interpreting and extrapolating every event on the time line of humanity. We ought to be awakening people to the magnitude of this event, and inviting them to something so much deeper and greater than a chocolate bunny.

2) As “Jesus People,” we must be sure that we are Easter People all year long. We have an obligation to interpret the events of our every day lives in light of the resurrection of Christ. Since the Cross Event IS the most important event in history, and since we claim to have been eternally changed by the Cross Event, those who follow Jesus must model its importance in an ongoing fashion, and not just when it’s on the minds of our culture. How do you interpret the loss of a loved one? How do we interpret the great promotion at work? Unless every event of life is scrutinized in light of the Cross, we miss the point.

I hope that this Easter Season, those who claim the name of Christ will also claim the impact of Christ. Our challenge should be to point others to The Cross, while we ourselves hold fast to The Cross.

“Forgotten God” Study DVD Resource

A couple weeks ago, I began working through the “Forgotten God” study DVD that I received from David C. Cook Publishing, and I’ve got to say I love it! Francis Chan does a GREAT JOB of bringing a discussion to the DVD that truly supplements the book, rather than just re-teaching it.

In each of the DVD’s 7 tracks, Chan adds onto the topic of the chapter, but does so in a way that others can be involved in the discussion even if they haven’t read the material.

Having read the book three times now, I enjoyed the DVD because it added to the book in a meaningful way, allowing me to get more from the book even though it was my third time through.

I enjoyed all of the chapters. They are well written and well done. I must admit that the “Big Red Tractor” was probably my favorite. There’s even an “out takes” track that was pretty funny.

I would encourage anyone planning on reading “Forgotten God’ to pick up the DVD. It’s a GREAT teaching resource, but has something to offer everyone who’s reading the book.

Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual Training.

I wanted to share a post from CrossPoint Martial Art’s Facebook page that was written by Sabu-nim Hook and myself.  Feel free to add to the flowing stream of consciousness!

“When we face struggles in our life how do we react? Do we react in the same manner as we are trained against a physical attack or do we do something totally opposite?
As were faced with opposition physically we are taught to bring in the force and intent of the attacker to be ultimately used against them. Allowing them to enter our space and then taking control of the power and force they are using as we blend their force with ours into a controllable action that we are guiding. The constant training of our body should also be internalized within our emotional protection also. Trying times are more likely to affect the majority of us through emotional stress more than the threat of physical harm. Look to accomplish the same reaction inside as we train so hard to do outside. Bring the exterior training inside the frame of your being and begin to internalize the art that you practice.”
– Sabu-nim Hook

“Additionally, we must understand that looking inside should ultimately take us “outside” to Jesus Christ, the source of our strength and peace. Our hope and overcoming can only be ultimately realized in Jesus Christ, making our relationship with Him a necessity for overcoming. Jesus Himself said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (Jn 16:33)

As martial artists, our training, by design, takes over in times of physical crisis so that our reaction is quicker, calculated, and natural to us. When that training comes to bear on dealing with emotional training, the same end occurs. The Apostle Paul reminds a young man that he is training (Timothy) that “…physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” (1 Tim. 4:8)

Unfortunately, our first reaction to emotional stress or conflict is usually a learned coping mechanism that fits our temperament or personality, or a reaction that we’ve learned from our environment growing up. It usually encompasses a survival response (How do I win? How do I get through this? How do I survive?). In the Bible’s New Testament, we find that IF God is for us, who can be against us. Multiple passages indicate that God wants to provide all that we need in these moments. The half-brother of Jesus reminds us, “Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.” (James 3:11-12) Our reactions indicate what our source of coping is. So have we trained ourselves to turn to Him? To depend on Him? To find wisdom and counsel from Him? Is the reaction that comes out of us in keeping with the Savior that should dwell in us? Have we disciplined ourselves to the point of HIM being our first response; our immediate, “natural” reaction?

As we bring the exterior training inside the frame of our being and begin to internalize the art that we practice, we must not neglect that we are spiritual beings. We must recognize that the survival of our spirit is of greater import than the survival of our physical being, making spiritual training of even greater importance than the physical. Take the time to begin application of the principles of your training to the nourishment of your soul. It will make all the difference.” – Chung sah-nim Bishop

The Warrior’s Virtue

One of my Martial Arts teachers and good friend sent me a blog post today from An-Shu Stephen K. Hayes. Hayes is regarded as the original American ninja. He is the founder of To-Shin Do Kasumi-An Ninja Martial Arts, and a Martial Arts Hall of Fame inductee. There’s a lot about the man to respect. His blog post for today drives right to the heart of a topic that many close friends and I have been talking about. Although probably not a believer, there is great truth to be gleaned from his post. Here it is, just as he published it on his blog site:

“My perception is that we are in the midst of one of the lowest points we have ever experienced in the world when it comes to demonstrated noble big-vision leadership. When I say “we” I mean all of us alive now, from the newest baby to the seniormost life veteran.

Whatever happened to ethics? Whatever happened to statesmanship? Whatever happened to noble ideals?

Politically, we see time and again bitter divisiveness as the rule of the day. Despite popular talk of “bipartisanship”, stopping the other team seems to be the goal, regardless of outcome, based on evidence I see. Bolsheviks align from the left to punish productive earners through odious levels of taxation and regulation, and Fatcats out on the right lure pitiful wage slaves into helplessly providing egregious profits.
Popular gods of the times – multi-millionaire sports figures – cause us to gasp and wince at scandalous betrayals of trust. Betrayal of family (wild tigers), betrayal of sportsmanship ideals (shrieking profanity at officials), betrayal of humane living (dogfight investors), and betrayal of healthy living (ballplayer dopers) cannot fail to sadden any idealist.

How ‘bout those bankers and money movers? CEO paid 385 million dollars for the few years it took to destroy Lehman Brothers, devastating the financial security of countless hard-working Americans but providing for a full lifetime of over-the-top luxury for one heartless former CEO now sipping drinks with fellow killers at private beachfront palaces. And that’s only one; there are plenty more like him in the private and government sectors.
Anyway, you get my point. I do not see much heroic behavior these days. I see a lot of selfish taking with little regard for the grander welfare of all.
So what would it take for things to change?

Most will not like this because it is so undramatic and so middle of the path, but…  We need balance, heroic big visioned big brained big hearted big shovel and big stick balance.  Where does balance start?

We have an ideal – warrior protector virtue, in the real original meaning of the word virtue as “manly valor perfected through taking care of all”.
We have a vision of what blocks such an ideal from blossoming – imitation of warrior strength, in the sense of confusing manliness with “mean little boy” taking whatever desired by beating anyone who might get in the way.

We cultivate that balance by becoming as strong as possible through training and becoming as ethical as possible through study.
I have been saying it since the 1980s. The ethical warrior winner gets everything he or she needs, and the world is a better place as a result of it.
Want to see what that kind of training looks like?

Join me and my friend Jack Hoban for a full day of ethical warrior preparation March 13 in Newark, NJ. Enroll at RGI and become part of our revitalization of the responsible warrior leader taking ground in a long overdue battle.”

What An-Shu Hayes calls “ethical warrior preparation” is what I’ve been thinking and writing about of late.  Although I don’t think he means Christian Warrior Prep., thats where I would take it.  True ethics begin in Christ, and so must each warrior.

For Your Good – John 16:7

Have you ever considered John 16:7? On some level, I guess I’ve always considered its implications to be something along the lines of, “Of course it’s to my benefit that He goes away. That’s how salvation was bought.” But I’d NEVER considered the full implication of this verse.
To that point, Jesus had been walking with His disciples for a while, but had only walked WITH them. In order for them (and us) to have God IN us, however, He had to ascend and come back as the Holy Spirit. He tells His disciples it is for their good that He goes away. That way, He can indwell them (and us) so that they (and we) could be the temple where He lives!
What does that mean for you? The indwelling that this Spirit gives me means that how I feel/my circumstances DO NOT have to define my day. HE can define my day, no matter what my circumstance or environment! No matter what is going on around me, the Creator of the Universe lives IN ME, and all of His resources are mine because He knows me and lives in me. This really is a good thing!

So, what keeps you from experiencing His presence in your life? A couple of observations come to mind.
1) You do not belong to Him. If you’ve never given Him your life, you have not been indwelled by His Spirit. To solve this, place your hope and trust in Him today.

2) You’ve never really “needed” Him.  For too many followers of Jesus, faith consists of asking His blessing on our already well-laid plans.  We seek comfort, affluence, and prosperity, missing the fact that God is near to the broken hearted.  Recently reading a book about the Holy Spirit, I read about a group of Korean missionary who were abducted by the Taliban.  Two were martyred for their faith, and the rest squabbled over the honor of being the next to go.  Before anyone else could be killed, the Korean government negotiated their release.  Upon returning home, all of the former captives voiced a desire to be back in captivity because of the intimacy with Christ they found during their captivity.  At their darkest hour, they found themselves closer to Christ than they ever had been. Their story reminded me that God doesn’t strive for my comfort or safety.  He strives for His Glory.

3)  Noise:  our lives become so cluttered with busyness that we simply CANNOT focus on a relationship with Christ.  With text messages, voice messages, music, television, reading, FaceBook, cell phones, etc., we lack the capacity for a quiet conversation with our Creator.  Many times we create the noise with noble causes that seem to deepen our intimacy but only keep us from God. All too often we substitute a book, Bible study, or spiritual event for intimacy, quenching the Spirit in our lives and missing His presence in our lives.

Give your life to Christ.  Realize your need for Him each day instead of comfort.  “Unplug” for the sake of your relationship with Him.  He has given you His Spirit for your own good.

Where are you?

According to Roger’s Innovation Adoption Curve, people fall into one of five categories. He defines the categories like this:
Innovators: Brave people pulling the change
Early Adopters: Respectable people, opinion leaders, who try out new ideas in a careful way.
Early Majority: Thoughtful people, careful, but accepting change more quickly than the average.
Late Majority: skeptical people, they will only use ideas or products when the majority are using them.
Laggards: traditional people, caring for the “old ways,” are critical towards new ideas and will only use them when become the main stream or even tradition.

Now, let’s have some fun. Read these descriptions to someone who knows you well and ask them which one you are. I would be willing to bet that most of us put ourselves on the more adventurous end of the spectrum than we really are. Post their responses as replies.

Losing “your” life.

It’s been a season of funerals. Having attended three funerals over the last 9 days, I’ve been thinking a lot about life and what it’s all about. At two of the three funerals, there have been a significant amount of people who came to celebrate the impact the departed had made on their lives. And it’s put life on my mind. I know, it should have put death on my mind. But honestly, I’ve already faced death, and life is all I have left. Perhaps it’s because I am teetering on the verge of my 40th birthday that I am spending time contemplating what’s left of my life. But whether it’s funerals, my impending passage into my 40’s, or some weird combination of both, I’ve had to really think through my existence.

And when I get down to the brass tacks, I can understand why people experience a mid-life crisis. Unresolved dreams mixed with an unresolved fear of death could drive a person to some crazy things. But the words of Jesus, as recorded in all three of the Synoptics, remind me that it’s in the loss of my life for His sake that I truly live.  As Christians, Jesus takes care of our deaths “upfront,” so we can focus on life and real living.  And so it is that all of those who have trusted Jesus for their eternity can face the rest of their lives with the reassurance that they have already died.  All we have left to do is to live! And live well.

Take NO thought for your excerpt from my journal this morning.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life…” – Matthew 6:25
How many times have concerns for the future kept me from God’s ideal AND stolen my joy, peace, et. al.? Jesus isn’t just citing a monetary concern, but a planning concern. Too many times, I have narrowed the focus of this teaching to just money and material concerns. But today, I feel like God means a much broader thing. Reading that verse today, I felt like birds and flowers just do what they are supposed to, and follow their divine design. Rather than just knowing God will provide materially for me, I can rest in the fact that He is covering everything in my existence. On top of that, it encourages me to live a life that leaves Him the opportunity to care for me and to not leave me to my own ends. So much more broad is His care for me than just money and stuff.

Thank you, Lord, for Your great care for me, and Your great care for my whole being. Show me where to walk, grant me strength to be faithful where I am, and give me patience to just be as You’ve designed me.

A Morning of Reflection

A good friend of mine lost his father Sunday and the funeral was today. I made the drive to the little country town where the funeral was happening, and wondered if I could find First Baptist Church by simply seeing the building. But a mile before I could even see the building, I was in a traffic jam! This little town whose population is around 1,000, and I’m stuck in a line of cars (and I was running late). Turns out, it was cars heading for the same funeral. That’s when the magnitude of this man’s life hit me.

I finally get into the neighborhood where the church is, and can’t park anywhere near it. The service has already started, and there is a line of people trying to get in that reaches from the Sanctuary of this little church to the street outside! I get in line and make it to my seat near the front. As I’m heading in, I notice that the Sanctuary is PACKED, like standing room only. THEN I notice there is a balcony that is full, too. WOW! I was amazed.

The service was great, by the way. A memorial that focused on Jesus and how He impacted hundreds of lives through Duane. By the time the service was over, I felt like I knew the man who had passed away even though I’d only met him once, and felt somewhat cheated that I’d never gotten to know a man that so many people loved!

As the service concluded, it was time for the viewing. I started doing the math, just trying to wrap my head around how many people had been packed into this country church. I watched the balcony empty, and started thinking about the numbers as I prepared to leave. THEN, another door opened in the back of the Sanctuary and I could see straight into an overflow room that was PACKED with almost as many people as the room I was in! The exit/viewing took almost as long as the service did. People stopped to hug the family, share smiles and tears, and to just show support for the family. All the while I’m thinking, “This was a GREAT man who impacted MANY lives.” And, as one is prone to do at funerals, I began to think about my own life and impending death. It was at that point that God drove home something that had been said earlier in the service about Duane.

“He could have given money or gifts to people, but he chose to give people his time instead.”

As I made my exit, I hugged the family, prayed for them, and headed to my truck. But something had changed. I found myself in deep contemplation of what I had seen and heard. I thought about the better ways I could use my time. I began to think of people who could benefit from someone spending time with them. I made the long drive back to Lubbock, and as I pulled into town realized that, in spite of passing away last week, Duane had now touched my life, too. He lived for Christ. He loved as Christ. And what he leaves behind will continue to change lives. Although he’ll be sorely missed by his family, the people in Duane’s world are still being impacted by his testimony and life.

PS (1/24/10) – I spoke with Gary after initially posting this, and the family estimates that around 1,000 people were in attendance at Duane’s funeral.  Simply amazing.