SHED THE SHROUD

Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!” [John 11:43-44 (NLT)]

red-spotted purple admiralWhen Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb, the once dead man emerged from the tomb with his face wrapped in a head cloth and his body bound in burial garments. Jesus commanded people to unbind him and free him from the trappings of the grave. Something tells me that, after four days in a tomb, Lazarus left behind more than some linen cloth soiled with the detritus of the tomb and death. While we don’t know what he experienced during those days, He must have returned to life with a new perspective. As he walked into the sunlight he never expected seeing again and inhaled the air he never anticipated breathing again, can you imagine how much he appreciated his new lease on life? Given a second chance, he probably wasn’t about to bring any regrets, resentment, anger, or guilt with him. Raised from the dead, he probably shed much of his past along with that shroud as he stepped from the tomb’s gloom.

Unlike Lazarus, we haven’t physically died. Our family didn’t wash us with warm water, rub us with spices and oil, wrap us in a burial garment, lay us in a tomb, and mourn our passing. Like Lazarus, however, we were dead before answering Jesus’ call. Born again into a new spiritual life, we are no longer spiritually dead and our grave clothes are no longer necessary. Lazarus shed his, why can’t we? We tend to carry the detritus and debris of our yesterdays with us when we come to Christ. Instead of putting on the new clothes of salvation and righteousness, we stay wrapped in the shroud of the past that’s stained with betrayals, anger, disappointment, loss, and hurt and embellished with remorse and disgrace. Even when we think we’ve donned the fresh clothes of a new life in Christ, we often tuck a pang of guilt or shame into a pocket. We can’t believe we’ve been forgiven, but we have; we can’t believe we’re good enough, but we are; we can’t believe He could possibly love us, but He does!

When Lazarus stepped into the light from that dark tomb, he shed his shroud. When we accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we were given a new spiritual life; let us shed our past and clothe ourselves with joy and the presence of Jesus Christ.

And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. [Galatians 3:27 (NLT)]

You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy. [Psalm 30:11 (NLT)]

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FAITH AND BELIEF

And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him. [Hebrews 11:6 (NLT)]

blue birdI recently read an article about creeds that asked, “Do Christians have to believe all that stuff?” The author asserted that Christians don’t have to “assent intellectually” to the facts of traditional Christian teaching or agree with the Christian creeds. According to her, following the teachings of Jesus is more important than believing certain things about him. Faith is simply placing one’s confidence in “Spirit” (not the Holy Spirit). For the author, Christianity is a way of life rather than a belief. Merely a wisdom tradition, it has nothing to do with dogma or creeds.

The author discounts creeds because they were man-made in the fourth century when the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity. The first creed actually predates Constantine by more than a thousand years and was given us by God. It was the Hebrew Shema, which is found in Deuteronomy where the fundamental belief of Judaism is declared:Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.”[6:4] This declaration of belief was (and remains) the cornerstone of the Jewish faith. Moreover, we should be cautious about discounting creeds because they are man-made. Maps are man-made and yet they can give a pretty accurate picture of the land! Like a map, our creeds provide an accurate summary of Christianity’s basic teachings. While no substitute for Scripture, they condense the basics of our belief in a nutshell.

The author contends that belief and faith are two different things and that belief is not essential for faith. I disagree (and so does the Apostle Paul). Belief and faith seem to be two sides of the same coin. Belief is conviction that something is true and faith is trusting in the promise of that belief. I can believe the airplane is flight-worthy and the pilot fully capable of piloting it but it is faith in the plane’s mechanics and pilot that makes me trust them enough to board the plane and take that flight. On the other hand, I’m not going to have faith in them if I don’t believe they have been properly schooled and possess the skills necessary to do their jobs! Belief without faith or faith without belief will keep me stranded on the ground.

We have to know and believe the promises of God if we are to have faith enough to trust them. Our creeds are the bedrock of Christianity and help us know exactly what it is in which we have faith!

Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash. [Matthew 7:24-27 (NLT)]

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ROOTS

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. [Colossians 2:6-7 (NLT)]

sea oatsIt’s not just light poles that were destroyed by Hurricane Irma’s winds; many trees also met their end at her hands. As I looked at the upended roots of a once mighty oak, I thought of one of Aesop’s fables about an oak in a storm. A proud oak stood by a stream, and like this one, had survived several storms in its many years. One day, a hurricane the likes of Irma arrived and the great oak fell with a thunderous crash. As the water rose, it was carried down to the sea. When the oak eventually came to rest along the shore, it looked up at the sea oats that were waving in the now gentle sea breeze, “How did you manage to weather such a terrible storm?” it asked. “I’m a great oak and even I didn’t have strength enough to battle the wind.”

The sea oats replied, “That was your problem. You were too proud to bend and yield a little and so the wind knocked you over. I’m just an insubstantial sea oats plant but, knowing my weakness, I didn’t resist as the wind gusted. The harder it blew, the more I humbled myself and the lower I bent. So, here I am, still enjoying the beach. Aesop’s moral is that it is better to bend than to break. “Perhaps there a message here,” I thought and, yet, I wasn’t sure it was just about pride and humility.

The Apostle Paul was very clear about standing firm in the face of trials and temptation. He told the early church to stand firm and not to waver; he wanted them to be oaks and not sea oats. When facing one of life’s hurricanes, however, it’s pretty hard not to wobble, quiver and quake wildly. If we stand firm, will we be knocked down and end up a piece of drift wood or ground up into mulch? If that mighty oak couldn’t weather the storm, how can we?

The Apostle also said that growing roots in Jesus is what will keep us strong. That fallen oak’s upended roots were taller than me and yet they didn’t do the oak much good when Irma arrived. The roots of which Paul speaks are deep roots that grown down into our Lord. It is strong deep roots that will serve to anchor a tree in the ground. I’m not an arborist, but I could easily see that there was nothing deep about that oak’s roots (or the roots of the many other uprooted oaks throughout our community).

In Jesus’ parable about soil, he told of seed scattered on good soil that grew, seed strewn on a path that was eaten by the birds, seed that was crowded out by the thorns, and seed that fell on rocky soil. Those plants in rockyy soil grew quickly but, since their roots weren’t deep, they withered in the hot sun. If He’d been in a tropical climate like Florida’s, Jesus could have used sand and hurricanes instead of rocks and sun in His analogy. Good nutritious soil is necessary for a plant’s success and Florida’s soil is shallow and mostly sand. The many fallen oaks’ roots, while wide, were shallow and certainly not the kind of roots of which Jesus and Paul spoke.

Aesop’s fable was about pride and humility but the many uprooted oaks in town tell me something more. Granted, there may be times we need to bend a little, as do the sea oats, but we must never bend if that means compromising our faith. I think of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Their roots were so deep that they were willing to die before they bent down to worship a false god or failed to worship the true one. While a miracle saved them, there was no miracle for Stephen, a man whose deep roots in Christ gave him strength enough to stand and testify before the Jewish high council knowing he’d die because of it. These men were willing to be sacrificed and broken before bending to the prevailing wind.

Given a choice, I would rather stand strong, like an oak with deep roots, than fall because of the wind. Nevertheless, if the wind is blowing in the wrong direction, like Stephen and other Christian martyrs, I would rather be broken and fall than bend and survive as do the sea oats.

I pray from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. [Ephesians 3:16-17 (NLT]

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THE HOLY GOALIE

And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels. [Ephesians 6:10-12 (MSG)]

Several weeks ago, there was a story on the morning news about a youth hockey camp. When the sportscaster mentioned having a “holy goalie” in attendance, I stopped to listen. As it turns out, this was not a typical athletic camp but a faith-based one—one that combined sports and God. The aforementioned holy goalie was a Catholic bishop from downstate who loves hockey almost as much as he does Jesus!

Even the best goalie can’t make a save all of the time. Top hockey goalies Martin Brodeur, with 691 wins, and Patrick Roy, with 551 wins, manage to make saves only a little more than 90% of the time. Considering the age and vocation of the “holy goalie,” I doubt that his percentage of saves is anywhere that good. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a real Holy Goalie—someone who could keep the opposition—the enemy—from defeating us? We do, in fact, have a Holy Goalie and He has more defense moves than the priest, Brodeur and Roy combined. Our Holy Goalie isn’t an all-star athlete or even a presiding bishop; He is the Holy Spirit.

Of course, much of a goalie’s success or failure in stopping opposing goals has to do with his team and whether or not the players have played a good defensive game. Even with a truly Holy Goalie, like any good team, we must do our part. Before facing the opponents, hockey players suit up in a host of protective gear: shin guards, elbow pads, heavily cushioned hockey pants, shoulder pads and chest protector, protective gloves, “jock,” helmet, neck guard, mouth guard, and maybe even a face mask. Hockey is fast-moving, intense, rough and sometimes brutal; then again, so is life. We may not get body checked into the boards but circumstances can knock us down just as easily and the enemy can leave us just as bloody as a puck to the nose. Rather than padded clothing, when we suit up for the game of life, we must put on the armor of God to be protected by His truth, righteousness, peace, salvation, faith and word. In hockey, players can change “on the fly” but no one steps in for us in real life. We’ve got to keep going, playing our best, until the whistle blows. That’s where our Holy Goalie differs from a mortal one. He doesn’t just defend us when the enemy gets close to the goal; He acts as cheering section, general manager, coach, trainer, and team physician. Our Holy Goalie, like hockey’s referees and linesmen, also tells us when we’ve crossed the line, violated any rules or been guilty of unChristianlike conduct. While we have no need for a Zamboni driver, the Holy Goalie’s guidance can smooth the way for us better than any Zamboni. Thank you, God, for our Holy Goalie—your Holy Spirit!

Breath in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy. Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy. Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I love but what is holy. Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy. Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit, that I always may be holy. [St. Augustine]

Don’t grieve God. Don’t break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don’t take such a gift for granted. [Ephesians 4:30 (MSG)]

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WHAT LEGACY?

But God said to him, “You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?” Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God. [Luke 12: 20-21 (NLT)]

Trumbull Cemetery - OhioWhen touring a nearby resort town, a beautiful old mansion was pointed out. It was once owned by a man who made so much money on his invention of the sanitary milk bottle cap that he retired at the age of 26. For 93 years, the Chicago White Sox played at a ball field named for the team’s founder. In 2003, the field was renamed US Cellular Park and then, in 2016, it became the Guaranteed Rate Field. When I went to Northwestern University, the football venue was named for a former Evanston mayor. In 1997, the stadium was renamed to honor the family of a generous donor to the school’s athletic facilities. A friend’s daughter is attending a school named for a German immigrant who opened a Chicago butcher shop in 1883. Who were these men?

If you’ve not been on a Lake Geneva boat tour, you’ve never heard O.N. Tevander. Although one can still find pictures of his bottle capping machine, he doesn’t even rate a mention in Wikipedia. Do today’s baseball fans know that Charles Comiskey was a key person in the formation of the American League and founder of the Chicago White Sox? Do the Northwestern Wildcats know anything of William Dyche, class of 1882, and that his name was to remain on any NU stadium for perpetuity? In another twenty years, will they have any idea that Patrick Ryan founded Aon Corporation and once served on the university’s Board of Trustees? By then, it’s possible that another large check will have been written and the stadium will have yet another name. When you hear the name Oscar Mayer, do you think of an immigrant butcher from Bavaria or of a large corporation (now owned by Kraft), hot dogs and the wiener song?

Even if we amass great wealth, make generous donations, or achieve some modicum of fame, chances are that most of us will be forgotten in a few generations. Our last name might remain on a corporate letterhead or, if wealthy enough, we could have a building or stadium named after us (at least for a while). Our headstone may rest in a cemetery, we might be listed in a genealogy chart, or an old letter or picture of us may reside in a box of memorabilia stored in someone’s attic. Nevertheless, we will be long gone and, for the most part, forgotten. For William Dyche, perpetuity lasted only 71 years! How long will it last for us? Even if a great grandchild has our china, a piece of our jewelry or carries our name, our essence will have vanished. We will be little more than a short family story or a faceless name.

Jesus told a parable about the rich man whose land was so productive that he ran out of room to store his crops. Rather than share his excess, he just built bigger barns so he could relax and enjoy his wealth for years to come. Unfortunately for him, he died that very night. A simple parable, it points out the temporal nature of life.

Financial planners often ask their clients, “What will be your legacy?” The rich man in the parable left a legacy of filled barns for someone else to enjoy. Sadly, he forgot the most important thing—his soul. Sometimes we’re so busy thinking about our legacy here on earth that, like the man in the parable, we also forget about our souls. Whether or not we are remembered in this world isn’t really important. The real question is whether or not God will welcome us into His kingdom in the next.

Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. [Matthew 6:19-21 (NLT)]

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COUNTING THE COST

If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple. But don’t begin until you count the cost. [Luke 14:26-28a (NLT)]

coreopsisHis cautionary words to the disciples are difficult to understand. How can Jesus, who told us to love our enemies and do good to them, tell us to hate our families? Do we have to despise our relatives if we want to be his disciples? Fortunately, after getting the disciples’ attention with that unusual statement, Jesus followed with a parable about a man who undertook a project without counting the cost and then couldn’t finish what he began. Hating our family is just a hyperbole; it’s a way of saying that anyone who follows Christ must love Him more than anything else. Christ is to be first and foremost in our hearts and minds. In comparison to our love for Jesus, we are to love them less (or “hate” them). To be His disciple, Jesus demands total commitment; we must be willing to give up everything for Him, even if that means the things and people we love. Sadly, when we choose Christ over loved ones, they might perceive our love of Jesus as a betrayal and may even hate us for that choice.

I was raised in a family of believers and married a believer so I never had to choose between Jesus and family. For a moment, however, consider the disciples and their families. When they left their jobs to follow Jesus, did they leave behind loved ones? Did their families disown them or distance themselves from what seemed fanaticism or membership in a strange cult? What about the Apostle Paul? Originally known as Saul of Tarsus, he came from a family of Pharisees and spent many years studying Scripture under the celebrated rabbi Gamaliel. If not already a member of the Sanhedrin, he was well on his way to becoming a member of the high council and was an active leader in persecuting the followers of Christ. Saul was probably everything a devout Jewish family would want in a good Jewish son until he became a Christian evangelist named Paul! Think of what it cost him to follow Jesus.

While some of us gave up a few bad habits or unsavory friends when we accepted Christ, Christian apologist Nabeel Qureshi gave up far more. When this Pakistani-American gave up his Muslim faith, he gave up his loving family as well. His becoming Christian caused a devastating destruction of their relationship and it took nearly ten years for the healing to begin. I cannot begin to comprehend the difficulty of his choice to follow Christ and the pain experienced by both parents and son. When I read Qureshi’s story, I finally understood what Jesus meant when He said to count the cost before we give up our lives and pick up that cross.

How could I betray my family after all they had done for me? By becoming a Christian, not only would I lose all connection with the Muslim community around me, my family would lose their honor as well. My decision would not only destroy me, it would also destroy my family, the ones who loved me most and sacrificed so much for me. I began mourning the impact of the decision I knew I had to make.… “But Jesus,” I said, “accepting you would be like dying. I will have to give up everything.”… For Muslims, following the gospel is more than a call to prayer. It is a call to die. [Nabeel Qureshi]

Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. [Luke 9:23-24 (NLT)]

Then Peter began to speak up. “We’ve given up everything to follow you,” he said. “Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property—along with persecution. And in the world to come that person will have eternal life. [Mark 10:28-30 (NLT)]

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