It really happened.

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It really happened.

The Gospel is a resurrection story. In fact, it’s a resurrection history. It’s not a myth. It’s not one man’s claim to revelation. It’s not just a code of ethics. It’s grounded in history. The center of the Jesus-faith is not a compilation of positive moral exhortations; it flows out of a real human that lived a real life and then died a real death. But he isn’t just a human. And he didn’t stay dead.

It’s stunning to realize how often people dismiss the Jesus-history without a second thought.

I remember sitting across from a stranger in the Cuban international airport on the 40th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs. The man seated next to me got excited when he recognized the stranger as an esteemed reporter and historian that worked with CNN, NPR, and various news outlets. Although I didn’t know him from Adam, I felt like I had to seize my opportunity with the famous man, so I struck up a conversation. I learned that he was the lone American journalist permitted to enter the country to cover the activities surrounding various meetings with Fidel Castro and his leaders. As soon as the subject of history came up my curiosity was piqued.  I had to know his take on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. “Don’t know,” was his response. I was dumbfounded, and my face apparently reacted in kind. “Why so surprised?” he asked. I couldn’t help but respond.

The very fact that the resurrection is so improbable makes it all the more vital to consider. How in the world do you explain the last two thousand years without a resurrection?

The original leader (Peter) was a Jesus-denier. The first witnesses were women (in a first-century culture that rejected their testimony). The movement started in Jerusalem (the epicenter of the Jewish religion) where they began to worship a man that said you had to eat his flesh and drink his blood. To top it all off, these earliest believers were being tortured and killed for their claims of having seen the resurrected real-life body of Jesus. Their persecution was not the result of telling people to be nice to each other; they were being ripped apart because they claimed to have had real experiences with a risen Jesus of Nazareth. None of this “proves” the resurrection, but it is very certainly evidence. And it is history. How do you explain the birth and explosion of this faith if He didn’t get up from the dead?  What do you do with the testimony of hundreds of people who had nothing to gain – and everything to lose – by claiming to have encountered the resurrected Messiah Jesus?

I’ll never forget his response. “Hmm. I’ve never given it a second thought. And I couldn’t tell you why.”

Interesting.

There are certain questions that understandably put believers on the defensive. The problem of pain, Christianity’s claims of exclusivity, the church’s many examples of hypocrisy to name a few. But when it comes to the question of the resurrection, there is a serious intellectual problem for the unbeliever. What’s the explanation? I’m not saying arguments do not exist; I’m saying that I’m consistently stunned to meet very intelligent people with very low curiosity when it comes to the resurrection. “Oh I don’t dabble in religion,” they tell me. But leave all the Christian positions aside for a moment. Forget the ethics. Don’t be sidetracked by the gay marriage debate. Why such little curiosity toward the historical event witnessed by hundreds of people that went on to turn the world upside down?

What surprises me is not merely that people ignore the resurrection history; it’s that so many have never even given it a full hearing.

Curiosity deficit disorder.

It brings up one of the truly surprising demands of Christianity. You have to think. Meditate. Consider. Reckon. Behold. Think.

As I looked back into this man’s eyes I couldn’t help but express my surprise. It’s incredible that a man of such fair judgment and curiosity toward so many other lesser subjects had never even bothered to consider the event that launched a movement and split human history in two.

“What if it’s true?” were my parting words.

If it is, it’s the ultimate game changer. If it happened, it changes everything. In fact, historically, let’s be honest, it did change everything.

It’s worth your second thought.

And this Man is worth your life.

If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. -Romans 10:9

Reflections on my 7-day old

You’d think it would get old.

One week ago our little bundle of 8 lbs and 13 oz entered the world and changed our lives. As she was drifting off to sleep today, I couldn’t help but stare at this image of raw beauty, vulnerability, and potential. I’m in love. It wasn’t just a glance, it was a gaze. There’s something glorious about a baby. We all know that. The thing is, this isn’t my first rodeo in the daddy department; this is number eight. Somehow I thought it would start to get old, but it doesn’t. I see things in this little girl I can’t even put into words.

And it leaves me curious.

What do the angels see?

Scripture says the angels don’t stop gazing at the beauty of God. What if their bowing before his throne is not coercion? What if they don’t keep gazing and praising because they’re forced labor? What if it’s the only natural response to what their eyes are being exposed to? Think about these eyes.

The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying: Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:8)

I won’t pretend to comprehend the implications of six wings and a multitude of eyes, but I’ll tell you this. Everything God creates is made to thrive in its particular environment. Penguins are packaged differently than seagulls. Polar bears aren’t designed for the same places as anacondas. God makes creatures to flourish in their native environment. What does it tell you when the beings that live closest to God are equipped with eyes all around and within?

I wonder if I’ve overlooked glory today.

God’s kingdom calls for response. Response to beauty. And grace. And power. What if his love is so deep, his beauty so stunning, his majesty so infinite that perpetual adoration never becomes mundane?

What do those angels see?

Apparently it never gets old.

May it be “on earth as it is in heaven.” Amen.

Drunk people suffer better

Drunk people suffer better.

Don’t tune me out.

I was severely challenged this week by Robbie Johnson’s call to suffer from 1 Peter. We don’t go looking for pain; but we have to stop wasting our lives avoiding it.

I kept seeing this image of the butter knife in my head. Why are we running from the butter knives of rejection when our forefathers joyfully endured the swords of martyrdom, while saying, “Oh that I had a thousand lives, that I would give them all up for Jesus?”

When I thought about the radical commitment of our persecuted faith family around the world it hit me. Our lives are far too dry.

I kept thinking about the ancient proverb that says to “give strong drink” to a suffering and dying man. Lacking the pain killers we have today, of course, an afflicted man would drink a strong drink to help him deal with the pain, the threats, and the fear confronting him. Drunk people don’t experience suffering the same way that dry people do.

It’s the same reason a lot of white guys need a little “help” before they hit the dance floor. Lacking the skills, the alcohol helps them lower their inhibitions and step out, since you’d have to be drunk to look like they do in public.

But drunk people don’t care.

And that’s the point. And, to some degree, that’s the secret to suffering.

In Ephesians 5 the apostle Paul exhorts us to not get drunk with alcohol, but instead “be filled with the Spirit.” What a fascinating comparison. In some way the experience of encountering the Holy Spirit is like being drunk. You come “under the influence” of something else. You lose natural inhibitions; you have more boldness; your tongue gets loosed; you stop worrying about what people think; you can take a hit; and you do what you never would have done under normal conditions.

That’s just it. We’ll rarely embrace suffering under normal conditions. So stop living under normal conditions; be filled with the Spirit. You’ll always run from the butter knife of rejection under normal conditions. So stop living under normal conditions; be filled with the Spirit.

Christians have been far too dry. And dull. No wonder we run from suffering. No wonder people settle for a bottle or an herb when they need a little relief from the affliction, stress, and boredom of life.

What a pity.

You were made for so much more.

That’s why I dare you to go have an Ephesians 5:18-filled-with-the-Spirit-experience, and watch what happens. You just might suffer, but that’s okay. Because filled people suffer better.

Wrong people

black-sheep

Ever noticed how much God loves using the wrong people?

Maybe you feel too young.  Or too old.  Or too weak.  Or too uneducated.  Or too analytical.  Or too simple.  Or too timid.  Or too introverted.  Or too ordinary.  Or too sinful. Or too whatever.

Perhaps the most boring Bible-reading of the New Testament Scriptures comes right before the Christmas story.  It’s found at the beginning of Matthew and it’s called a geneology. For years I skipped over this seemingly mundane list of names from the family tree of Jesus.  I felt like it was a nice thing for someone to write down in the front of a family Bible somewhere, but it sure had no relevance to my life.

Until one day five letters jumped off the page of my Bible: “Rahab”.  Fifth verse of the New Testament.  Rahab was a hooker. And I don’t mean a former hooker that had changed her ways; I mean a woman of the night who lived in the wall of a city.  She had absolutely nothing going for her. Nothing except for a strange confidence in this God the Hebrews called Yahweh.

She lived in a place called Jericho and hid the Jewish spies as they were checking out the city that was about to be judged and destroyed by God. To her credit, she protected their lives, at great risk to herself. She acted shrewdly in the face of apparent danger. She remained faithful to her word and acted in faith.

But if you read the story (Joshua 2 and 6) and feel like it’s all about how “right” Rahab was you’ve missed the point. If you read about little David and big Goliath and come away impressed with David’s sling shot skills you miss the point. Whenever you hear a man’s testimony and come away impressed with how right that man was for the job I guarantee you are missing the point.

It’s all about God. It’s about a God who finds a way to break into the lives of wrong people despite their “wrongness”.

God is always choosing the wrong people.

It always saddens me to hear people complain about their marriages. So many people wonder if they “chose the wrong person.” I always tell people that I have tremendous hope for their marriage because we all chose the wrong person! We’re all the wrong person! In fact, if you feel like you married the right person, brace yourself, because they will change. Trust me, this is really good news. The key to marriage is not your happiness; it’s your holiness, which describes the re-creative work of God in the souls of “wrong” people.

The message of Scripture is that no one is the “right” person. No one, that is, except for God.

Back to the wrong people and a dull geneology.

As I reread the Matthew geneology, the more I realize how many “wrong” people make the list. Abraham let another man take his wife Sarah to be his wife. God intervened. Jacob was a deceiver. God stepped in and wrestled the you-know-what out of him. Judah slept with his son’s wife – though he thought she was a prostitute – and later tried to kill her for being pregnant – until he realized he was the father. Seriously. God got involved. Solomon’s mother was Bathsheba, the adulteress who slept with David – the same David who had her husband killed because the man wouldn’t sleep with his wife while he was fighting for David. I could keep going but eventually I’d have to tell my story. Trust me, I’m the wrong person in more ways than I care to reveal.

Have you detected a pattern yet?

When God chose the people through whom He would come into this world, he picked all the wrong people, ultimately choosing a peasant girl from the backside of a Roman empire.

Merry Christmas.

The Bible is not a collection of stories about people who pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps. There are no such examples. Because everybody is wrong. Because there is only One who is truly good. And he ended up executed on a tree. Trust me, we’re all so “wrong” we’re helpless. But here’s the hope: because of that tree, God breaks into the lives of people who know they’re broke, but somehow believe that He’s not. People humble enough to declare spiritual bankruptcy.

Abraham, Rahab, Jacob … wrong people with one thing in common: they believed in this very good God, and He accounted that belief as “rightness.”

Now that’s peace on earth and goodwill toward man.

What I’ve been reading lately

By request, here are some of the books and magazines I’ve been reading lately. In no particular order.

Movements That Change The World, Steve Addison

The Dream: Martin Luther King & the Speech that Inspired a Nation, Drew Hansen

Tribes, Seth Godin

Our Father Abraham, Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith, Marvin Wilson

Pascal’s Pensees, Blaise Pascal

Unusually Excellent, John Hamm

On Becoming a Leader, Warren Bennis

The Journal of John Wesley, John Wesley

Institutes of The Christian Religion, John Calvin

Chosen By God, R.C. Sproul

The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, Tim Keller

The Trellis and the Vine, Colin Marshall & Tony Payne

Harvard Business Review

Utne Reader

Click here for Summer Reading List

I am bothered by …

I am bothered by … toxic, cheap charity that never really helps the oppressed.

I am bothered by … a painfully natural church representing an untamed and supernatural God.

I am bothered by … trivial answers to complex problems.

I am bothered by … shallow christianity that never leads to true discipleship.

I am bothered by … having to choose between charismatic excess or play-it-safe spiritual dryness.

I am bothered by … politicians hijacking the words of Jesus.

I am bothered by … christian belief that never translates into christian experience.

Summer reading list

Toxic Charity, Robert Lupton

Communicating for a Change, Andy Stanley

Grace-Based Parenting, Tim Kimmel

The Street Children of Brazil, Sarah De Carvalho

The City of God, Saint Augustine

Reverse Innovation, Indra K. Nooyi

Mountains Beyond Mountains, Tracy Kidder

Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton

 

 

Click here to read other reading list