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Friday, November 30, 2007

Back of the Line

I have a vivid memory from my grade school years. It involves waiting in line for a hot lunch in the cafeteria. Even at that young age, many of my most significant experiences involved food. Everyday, we would line up as a class, and walk down to the lunch room. The order in which we walked was the order in which we would wait for our meal. But there was always that one kid. You know the one- the bigger bully who always wanted to take cuts. One of his little henchmen would save him a spot and he would parade up past the rest of us. Inevitably, as the cutter would try to get in line, the others behind him would begin to protest loudly- "Hey, back of the line!" This was usually loud enough to draw a teacher's attention, and the would-be line usurper would head back to their rightful place. I can remember harboring a sense of grim satisfaction each time this would happen. "Serves him right," I would conclude in my mind.

Recently, reading through the book of Luke in the Message, I ran across a phrase that sparked this memory. Jesus is talking about John the Baptist and how important a role he had in welcoming the Messiah. But then Jesus says that even the lowest person is ahead of John in the new kingdom. People who accepted his message loved this, but the Pharisees were unhappy. They had rejected John's message. And listen to the words written about them: "(they) wouldn't think of giving up their place in line to their inferiors."

This strikes me as the perfect picture of spirituality gone wrong. The Pharisees were at the pinnacle of spiritual understanding and wisdom in their day, and yet their hearts were all wrong. They looked at their position and place in life as something they had properly earned and were now entitled to. No one was going to send them to the back of the line!

I've been pondering lately what it looks like for us to live in a way where we would willingly give up our place in line. Anyone whose ever waited in line at Disneyland for hours on end knows how we become fond of our place- our little territory. And yet as I look at Jesus, I can't help but see someone who regularly gave up his place in line.

He came to the world as a King, and yet he was born in a stable. He was the rabbi of all rabbis, and yet he taught in the wilderness. He was God's Messiah, and yet he died on a cross. He could have commanded armies, and yet he directed a motley crew of fishermen and tax collectors. Could it be that God's idea of importance is vastly different than our own? Could it be that the very things we hold to so tightly are the things we need to let go of in order to experience real freedom?

Giving up your place in line- what would that look like for you? Maybe it is a literal idea where at the grocery store you could allow someone else first. But I suspect that if we stop there, we're not going deep enough. I think it means living out the words of Philippians 2:2, "Don't push your way to the front; don't sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don't be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand." (from the Message)

May you journey with the attitude of one who would gladly give up their place in line. Peace.

Nick

Thursday, November 15, 2007

You Can't Handle the Truth!

One aspect of jury duty that I found intriguing, and a little intimidating at the same time, was the burden placed on us to discern truth. The judge made it very clear in his instructions to us on the first day that we alone were responsible to judge the credibility of each witness, and based on that judgment to determine if their statements could be believed.

On about the third day of the trial, the prosecution brought in an eye-witness who was central to their case. He had observed the entire accident scene and his testimony could seal the deal. Unfortunately for the prosecution, he was only minutes into his testimony when his story began to unravel. Details didn't line up with the scene, his memory changed with each answer, and his own story contradicted itself. When it was the defense's turn, they blew his story out of the water.

As jurors, we were left to wade through this murky pool of information and decide what was true. For some jurors, they felt he should be given the benefit of the doubt. Others believed that we should throw out everything he had said. In the end, we chose to only accept those parts of the story which could be confirmed by physical evidence or the testimony of other witnesses. His shaky version of truth made our decision very difficult.

This situation resonates with something I was reading today. In his book, Soul Cravings, Erwin McManus talks about truth. He says, "If you discover that the source cannot be trusted, you will naturally conclude that nothing he said is true even if he told you the truth." McManus goes on to say that the more reliable and trustworthy a person is, the smaller the leap of faith it is to commit to their words.

This is again what makes Jesus so unique. Many people look at him as the one who came to proclaim truth and make known the words of the Father. This is accurate to a degree, but it misses the greater reality of who Jesus is. Jesus made an interesting declaration about himself. He said to his followers in more places than one, "I am the truth." Not, "I am telling you the truth", or "the words I say are true" (although he certainly claimed that as well), but "I am the truth." Jesus was taking truth a step further; from impersonal statements to personal reality. Jesus said that if you want to know truth, then get to know him. And the awesome reality is that as we come to know Jesus personally, we know that the words he says are true.

What this brings up for us is how we approach faith. Often, we believe that we get to know Jesus by understanding his words first. But Jesus would seem to say that we should first get to know him, and as we do that, we will understand the meaning and truth behind his words.

This is why Pharisees and other religious people struggled with Jesus. They wanted to understand his words first, and those words were often offensive, confusing, and shocking. On the other hand, fishermen, sinners, and prostitutes had no problem believing his words because they first believed in Jesus. They got to know him, they saw his heart, and they trusted his love. After that, believing and living out his words was simple.

How about you? Are you struggling with the truth of Jesus' words? Some of them are very difficult to accept, but I believe that as you get to know the man- as you observe his actions and seek Him in your spirit- His words will become life, and truth, for you.

Journey in His truth today.

Nick

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

I rest my case...

Can it really have been two months since I last blogged? To anyone who checks regularly for updates, I apologize for the number of times you have been disappointed.

Over the last several weeks, I've had a reasonable excuse. For the first time in my life, I was selected for jury duty, and after four days of jury selection, I found myself seated as juror #11. (I ended up as juror #5 because I switched chairs with a much shorter juror, but that's another story for another day.) Every day for the last three weeks, I've gone and sat all day in the jury box rather than in my office. This experience was long, difficult, and taxing in many ways, and yet a very intriguing process.

I went naively into the proceedings, believing that the truth would be easy to spot. Either he did, or he didn't, how difficult could that be? Yet as the lawyer's brought in a parade of witnesses, and each side had the chance for examination, cross examination, re-direct and re-cross, it became evident that the truth would be hiding in many shades of grey. A witness would come in, sound reliable and believable, but then the opposing side would pose questions that quickly shot holes in the testimony.

After 11 days of witnesses, our group of jurors was sent to a small, closet-like room to determine what was true. For over 10 hours we wrangled back and forth, primarily trying to determine which statements could be believed and which ones could not. Thanks goodness for a reasonable amount of physical evidence, or we would still be haggling over the truth of each witnesses' statements.

Many people would like to approach faith the same way as a jury trial. The witness stand gets filled with different voices who tell their side of the story. Aristotle argues from the universe, Locke from logic and reason, Buddha talks of harmony, Muhammad points to the Koran while Gandhi speaks of peace, Jesus testifies to sacrifice and Yoda explains the force. We are tempted to conclude that in this arena, the truth lingers in the shadow of each testimony, waiting to be discovered by us, the eager seeker.

This approach may have merit in ascertaining a person's guilt or innocence, but it is a faulty system in deciding what is true. You see, on this witness stand, one person alone makes unique claims for truth. While many portend to speak on God's behalf, only one witness dares assert that He is from God and that He is God. Jesus makes claims that separate him from all other voices and these claims leave us in a place where we must make a crucial decision. Either Jesus is truth because He is God, and all that he has said is true, or it is all a lie. There are no shades with Jesus. He doesn't invite us to enjoy some of his statements while rejecting others. We aren't given permission with Jesus to blend his words with Buddha, Gandhi, and Yoda. He is either truth, or he is nothing. All others who wish to make claims about truth must put their words up against his. As author C.S. Lewis has pointed out, Jesus was either a fantastic liar, a raving lunatic, or he was everything he claimed to be: Son of God and Lord over all.

How are you handling Jesus' words? Are you searching for half-truths hidden in shades of gray, or have you embraced the words of Jesus as absolute truth in your life?

May you live and walk in the rock solid truth of Jesus Christ as you journey in this life.

Nick