Wednesday, March 27, 2013

He Understands

It is easy to write off Jesus's death as just a story. Sure, it happened. But do we really understand its significance?

If you have grown up in Christianity, or even if you haven not, you probably know the story of Jesus's crucifixion. Christ's death and resurrection are the summits of the Christian faith. It's great that many people know of His sacrifice, but have we heard it so often that it loses meaning?

I fall victim to it often. I distance myself from Jesus's death because I've heard it so much. The phrase, "Jesus was crucified," is a fact to me. But what does this actually mean? I rarely stop and reflect about. I rarely stp and see that there is so much more to three simple words than meets the eye.

Jesus was crucified. Think about it for just a second. Really think about it. Imagine being there. Imagine the pain and the suffering Jesus felt. He was a human being. He was tortured, abused, spat upon, and nailed to a cross. If you want more vivid details, watch the The Passion of Christ. The people who had only recently packed houses and climbed roofs to hear Jesus's words now shouted "Crucify Him."

So often we focus on Jesus only as the Savior, risen from the dead. He is our Savior. He is risen...But He is also the Son of Man. The whole reason He became human was for us. He allowed us to have eternal life. And--something I find of great significance--He suffered so that we might know that HE UNDERSTANDS.

Jesus humbled Himself to enter into a human life. And He did not enter into humanity as a wealthy King. He denied the power He deserved. He instead entered into humanity as a baby in a manger.

He learned to walk, talk, and pray. He felt emotions. He thought thoughts. He was exactly like us in every single aspect except sin. He felt the same joys and pains that we feel today. He has laughed. He has wept. And He has died. He faced a vicious and cruel death for us.

Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done (Luke 22:42).

It is through this verse that we catch a glimpse of His humanity when He asks His Father--our Father--to remove this cup from His hands. Jesus knew what lay ahead of Him and He knew it would not be easy. Though He petitioned for the cup to be removed from His hands, He was willing to carry through with His Father's will when the time came for His crucifixion. Even in the face of an excruciatingly painful death, He was able to stay true to His Father's commandments. He was able to forgive and pray and love.

It is through Jesus's life and death that we know He understands us. From birth to death, Jesus has been subject to every single aspect of humanity we are subject to, except sin. For this reason, He is both the perfect comforter in times of distress and the perfect role model in our quest toward union with Christ.

As Lent draws to a close and we approach Easter, now is the time to remind yourself that no matter where you are in your life, Jesus understands. He has felt the same joy, the same laughter, the same pain. He knows when we suffer and He knows what it is like to suffer. He knows what is like to feel temptation, and though Jesus Himself did not act on it, sin is not foreign to Him.

It would have been so easy for Jesus to crush His enemies, step down of the Cross, and return to His normal life of preaching and peacefulness. But He didn't do that. He didn't give into this temptation. He did what we should always do: obeyed God's will despite the presence of tempting alternatives.

His death is so much more than an ancient story. It is not just Church history. It is our history. After all, Christ endured such pain for each and every one of us. Our names were in His heart as He paid the ultimate price for our sins.

Jesus struggled and suffered just like us. He faced temptations....but He turned away. He turned the other cheek. He obeyed His Father's will. We are called to do the same. We are called to, in times of trial, turn to the only person in this universe who understands our struggles and offers a way out. His way is the truth and the light. His way alone can ignite the light inside of us. His way alone can turn chaos into life.

Related Song:
Lead Me to the Cross by Chris and Conrad

Monday, March 18, 2013


“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world" (C.S. Lewis).

It is believed that in biblical times, when a lamb continually strayed, the shepherd would break its leg to keep it from wandering. This belief is also used as an analogy for our relationship with Jesus. A poem about it can be found here.

When a lamb (a human) continues to stray, Jesus breaks its leg and places it upon His shoulders. There it heals as Jesus takes care of it and helps its bones mend.  When we mess up, when we accidentally wander away from Christ, sometimes God allows us to feel broken. Sometimes that is the only thing that can convince us to come back to Him.

But isn't that cruel? Isn't that selfish of God? Why would He allow us to experience this brokenness? Why would He break His precious lamb's leg?

Well, let's spend a moment in that lamb's shoes (or hooves). We will call him Bob. Bob did not mean to wander away from Christ. He did not even realize he had left. Bob was occupied with other things and did not even notice his Shepherd's voice calling for him to return. Wolves surrounded little Bob and he swiftly approached a cliff. Only God knew of these dangers ahead of Bob; only God could save him. God wanted to protect His precious lamb, so with tears in His eyes,  He took His staff and broke his leg. Bob was confused. Why would His Father do this to Him? Didn't He love him? Didn't God know how much pain he was in? Did he even care? Had He abandoned Him?

But then God started to mend the broken bone. He took Bob into His arms, for the lamb could no longer even walk by himself. At first, the lamb was hesitant to accept the love from the Shepherd who had just allowed Him to feel such pain. But in his brokenness, he soon realized that only God could provide for him. He accepted the Shepherd's tender love. And soon, He realized that it wasn't that bad being broken. In a way, the lamb had always been broken, but it was only when God gave him this clear reminder that Bob truly saw his constant need for the Shepherd's aid. In Jesus' loving embrace, the lamb began to heal. He felt the presence and love of God at a time when he was in desperate need of it. 

When the lamb could once again walk, Jesus set him down. Bob no longer wandered. He had seen the goodness of the Lord and he would try to never again be separated from Him. Why would he voluntarily give himself up to the wolves? Why would he leave this Shepherd who was willing to feel immense pain as He saw His prized lamb suffer, to carry this lamb for ages upon His own shoulders, and to provide for the lamb until he could once again walk? Bob no longer wandered, and his little lamb life was full of immense joy and bliss.

What we often forget with this story is that 1) God only wants to protect us and 2) it pains God to see us in pain.

We bring suffering upon ourselves through our sinful choices, but God can use this suffering to benefit us. We are the ones who chose to wander, so in a way, we force God's hand. We are so oblivious to His calls that only brokenness can heal us. Suffering can make us realize that we must return to Christ. It is Christ's megaphone when His attempts to quietly draw us back to Him are left unanswered.  Any second lived away from Christ is dangerous to us. That's the whole reason God allows us to suffer. He can turn this momentary pain into everlasting joy. He knows that when we wander there are wolves that threaten to devour us, and He does not wish for us to live a life completely devoid of Him and the joy that ensues. His shouts for us to return are repeatedly ignored, so God turns to His staff. And it pains Him to do so.

It pains Him. He loves us unimaginably. He does not wish to see us hurting. I imagine that God must not enjoy having to put us through this pain. He does it only because He knows that if He does not, we will live forever without His loving presence. All He wants is for us to join Him in His caring embrace where we will be full of happiness. But regrettably, often the only way we can return to this happiness is to first endure that pain and brokenness.

Brokenness can be a blessing. In fact, someone told me the other day that "there is something beautiful about brokenness." At first, I didn't agree, but then I thought about the lamb. It realized God's goodness only when it was mending in His arms. This brokenness is beautiful. It is then that we are in most need of God's mercy. It is then that we are clinging tightest to God's embrace. It is in those moments of brokenness that we truly see how much we need Jesus.

If you still can't fully grasp why God would let us suffer, think of it like this. What if the lamb had wandered and been injured? Little Bob succumbed to the evils of the wilderness and his leg was broken. He was left on the cold ground to suffer alone. His bone healed, but there was no one to help him, so it healed incorrectly. He would spend the rest of his life limping, forever feeling remnants of pain from that original break...but then Jesus came and found Bob. He left his 99 sheep to search for that one. And when he saw that His lamb had been left to heal incorrectly, He re-broke his little leg so He could set it the way it was meant to be, the way that would allow the lamb to walk  as well as it possibly could. 

A more relatable image that pops into my mind is a Twilight reference (yes, I know...sorry). There is a scene where Carlisle has to re-break Jacob's quickly-mending bones if he wants to heal properly. It may seem cruel, but Carlisle has to do for Jacob's own good.

Anyways, take a lesson from Jacob the werewolf and Bob the lamb. If you feel broken, do not harden your heart. God's megaphone is speaking to you, and though you may not understand it, you must trust God's plan. You must trust that He cares for you, even when it feels like He has left you alone to suffer in isolation. In your brokenness, you have an amazing opportunity to be healed by One whose love is limitless. He will take your pain away. Just trust Him.

If you have wandered or have been injured and now feel like even God has abandoned you, do not give up. It is at this very moment that He wishes to heal you. Your doubts and insecurities may be trying to convince you that God has forgotten you, but you are not alone. God is with you in your suffering. He will hold you close to His heart until you can once again walk on your own two feet.

The suffering you feel is momentary, but the joy He will bring you lasts forever.

Related Song: Jesus, Friend of Sinners by Casting Crowns

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Not Ashamed

A lot of people are proud of the bad things they do. Don't you think you should be proud of the good things you do?

I heard this piece of advice the other day, and I've been thinking about it a lot. It seems like many people have it backwards today. Look at faith. It's something that should dictate the way we live, but we often shove it into the background. We keep it under wraps. Maybe it's because we don't want to offend anyone. Maybe we don't want to be made fun of. Or maybe we just don't want the burden that comes along with identifying ourselves as Christians; we don't want the responsibility of living up this title. Whatever the reason, we rarely find faith at the forefront of a person. It's being pushed out of schools, out of politics, and out of life. 

What we all fail to realize is that we should not be ashamed of showing our faith. It is something to be proud of. Why would you try to hide the greatest light in the world, a light that cannot be hidden (Matthew 5:14). 

Now, when I say that we must show our faith, I do not mean that we should obnoxiously and judgmentally throw the Bible in everyone's faces. There is a certain way to go about it that does not involve putting yourself on a pedestal at the expense of those around you. We are all sinners. Nobody has a perfect life. This is necessary to note. 

"Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words" (attributed to St. Francis of Assisi).

When necessary, use words. Jesus is the perfect example of this. He showed God's power through His actions. He performed miracles and loved those rejected by society. Because He showed this love, people were more receptive of what He had to say. They saw firsthand that Jesus practiced what He preached. He loved His neighbors, His enemies, the sick, the lonely, and His Father...with all His heart, soul, mind, and strength.

There is nothing wrong with preaching. Look at priests and other wonderful speakers who communicate God's message through words. But it's not for everyone, and that's okay. Our lives alone can communicate God's message.

God intended for us to be witness to Him. Our lives are meant to reflect His love. Sometimes that is the only way to spread God's message. Sometimes that is the only way to show God's light to those who are uncertain or unwilling to listen. 

When Christ shows through in our lives, we differentiate ourselves from others. As Christians, we stand out, and we should be proud of it. We stand out not for every horrible deed we've done, but rather for the wonderful light we have been entrusted with, a light God expects us to share.

So how do you share it?

To spread God's light, you do not need to transform yourself into a great Apostle. It starts with accepting Christ and accepting yourself as a follower of Christ. If you are not ashamed to show this, you do not need to perform miracles to share God with others. Your life will be a living testimony. God will show in the little things, the things that make you stand out in a good way. He expects you to use your talents, whatever they may be, to make His presence known. Maybe you're called to spread His light through writing. Or maybe your calling is speaking, art, music, sports, etc. Whatever it is, let God be your hands and feet. You may be the only Bible some people read.

Why be afraid of what others will think of you? There is no reason to be ashamed of identifying yourself as a follower of Christ. In a world that glorifies the bad and shuns the good, it takes courage to let that light show through. And if you do let it through, it will touch more people than you can imagine. 

Whether we are preaching to the masses or just living a moral life, we must let Christ's life show through. He did not die for us so that we would be ashamed to say His name.