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I’m Glad the Bible Isn’t Photoshopped

There has been much written about the scourge of Photoshop, the program that enhances nearly every photo we see in magazines and on the net. Every blemish, every wart gone. No fat from that Christmas candy. Every muscle perfectly toned from hours of disciplined exercise, oh, sorry, every muscle perfectly toned from a few clicks of a mouse. 
 
With the right computer program, you can even generate a completely artificial computer perfection. The face at right is constructed from the best features of 22 different beauty pageant contestants. She’s not just beautiful, she is actually more beautiful than any real human face is physically capable of being.  
 
The danger of Photoshop is obvious: we see this unrealistic unattainable beauty, and then we start comparing it to the real people in our lives. Not suprisingly, the real people always come up short. No one can live up to the dazzling standard of perfection that Photoshop gives us. 
 
But the danger extends beyond photographs: we are also exposed to “Photoshopped” lives as well. We watch movie romances where the men and women respond perfectly to each other, or if there is any conflict it is perfectly orchestrated to work itself out within an hour of screen time. At the end, the leading man or leading woman says and does everything just right, and everyone smiles and sighs, “Why isn’t my life like that?” If not romance, we see the team win the big game, the family work out all their differences, the girl get her big break. We subconsciously question why we can’t have a perfect life since we see ones lived out before our eyes on a screen or in the pages of a book. 
 
But there’s one book that isn’t Photoshopped at all, and I’m very thankful for it. It’s the Bible. All of its people are real, with real joys, real struggles, real failures, real hope. We see where a truly good king can become so lost and entangled he commits murder. We see where the strongest man in the world cannot control himself, becomes a blind slave, and yet finally sees the light in the end. We see how a man who truly loved Jesus denied him, but later died for him. 
 
The Bible shows us that people, all people, are human. That there is selfishness pettiness & foolishness in us all. And that God’s love & grace extend to us all, and can work miracles. 
 
Most of all, we see that there was one man who did not need to be Photoshopped, who the Bible could present in every detail of his life to be human, and yet beyond human in his perfect love & strength & wisdom. We can gaze on the perfect image of Christ, and realize with hope & joy that through God’s grace He is transforming us too into His likeness.  

Beauty Born Out of Adversity

One of the most widely photographed trees in the world was the Jeffrey Pine on the crest of Sentinel Dome in Yosemite National Park.  Its beauty was made famous by the legendary Ansel Adams in 1940, and was photographed & enjoyed by thousands until it died of drought in 1977.

Many say that its rugged beauty was the result of centuries of harsh winds, frigid winters, and dry summers, that its was a beauty born out of adversity. But I would argue differently.   It was not adversity that produced the beauty of the tree— it was the response of the tree to adversity.  Over the centuries, there may have been hundreds of seedlings sprout on that rocky crag, but only one survived, yes, not only survived but thrived and became a source of inspiration.

What was the difference?  How did that tree respond to its adversity?  And how can we respond to the adversities in our lives?

First, the tree found a secure footing and stayed rooted.   This tree dug itself into the great stone mountain, so much larger & stronger than itself.  As long as it stayed rooted in the rock, it was immovable, no matter how fiercely the wind blew.

Jesus said that we could be the same way.  In the parable of the two builders in Matthew 7:24-27 He said that only the house built on the rock was able to withstand the storm. Just like the tree & just like the house,  we can withstand the storms of life as long as our roots are firmly planted in the solid rock of Christ’s teachings.

Second, the tree kept growing despite the hardship.  In the book Mindset psychologist Carol Dweck concludes that successful people share a “growth mindset,” a basic life outlook that says that life is about growth, no matter the challenges.  As the old saying goes, life consists not in holding good cards, but in playing those you hold well.  That tiny seedling on Sentinel Dome hundreds of years ago did not hold “a good hand,” but it played its hand well. So can you, if you refuse to stagnate, if you continue to learn & change & fight & grow no matter what.

Third, the tree drew its life & strength from daily exposure to the sun.  That tree could have decided, “This wind and snow is too much, I’ll build a wall all around me and a roof to keep out the cold.”  If it had, it would have died, for trees need sunlight to survive.  In the same way, we are sometimes tempted to wall ourselves off in our hardship, from others, even from God.  But only by daily looking to Christ & abiding in His light can we draw the strength to live & grow & flourish in this all-too-often harsh world.

Do you want to have beauty born from the adversity in your life?  Then remember to stay anchored and rooted in Christ, keep growing, & draw life & strength daily from Him.

A Road Trip With Jesus

mirror by Lawrence Whittemore via Flickr

I had been planning the trip for years.  I had researched it, read books, planned it out, drew maps, opened up a special savings account to save enough money, talked to other people who had been there, even went through catalogs and bought everything I thought I would need.  I guess it had occupied a lot of my thoughts and dreams.  It was going to be the trip of a lifetime.

One spring morning I awoke to the birds chirping outside my window.  At last my wait was over.  I packed my suitcases, assembled all my maps and directions, grabbed my keys, and headed out to the car.  To my surprise, a young Middle Eastern guy was sitting in the driver’s seat, hands on the wheel, grinning at me.

“Jesus? Wow, I knew you’d be coming with me, but I guess I just didn’t expect to, like, actually see you…”

“That’s ok, John— no one ever does.  Just jump in & let’s go.  I’m as excited about this trip as you are.  I’ve been planning it for a long time, you know.”

A bit taken aback, I managed to get out, “Oh, yea, I’m sure you have— I mean, with you being God & all, I guess you’ve planned everything, right?”

Jesus just smiled & said, “You sure have got me pegged.  Hop in & we’ll get started.”

I started to get in, and then realized that Jesus was still in the driver’s seat.  “Uh, Jesus, are you going to drive?”

He replied, “Yes, I thought that would work out better— I know the way we’re going.”

I figured that must be true, since He knows everything.  I buckled up beside Jesus, and we started down the road.

It was a beautiful sunny morning, and I was starting to relax and enjoy the countryside when I realized that WE WERE GOING THE WRONG WAY!

“Wait, wait a minute Jesus!  We’re headed the wrong way!”

He just flashed that smile again and said, “No we’re not.  I got you covered.  Trust me.”

I was confused now— I looked over my maps, and there was no way to get to our destination going down the road we were headed.  “Jesus, there’s something wrong, look at the map here, we’re headed the wrong way.”

Jesus’ gaze softened somewhat, and He said, “We’re not going there.”

“What?”

“We’re not going there, John.  That’s not the trip we’re taking.”

That took a few seconds to sink in.  My mind tried processing it, but kept getting stuck.  I finally answered back, “I don’t understand, Jesus.  I’ve been planning this trip for you for years.  I’ve done all this planning and work, I’ve prayed & prayed about this trip, I’ve got these Bible verses to show how much this trip would please You.” 

Looking down at my treasured maps, I emphatically stated, ” I KNOW this is the trip you want me to take.”   Then, a pause, and more meekly I spoke,  ” I…  I… know it’s the trip I want to take too….”

I looked up from my maps, & I can’t put into words the look I saw on His face.  It was love & care & a touch of sadness, all rolled into one.  He replied to me, “That trip you planned— I know why you’re excited about it.  I know how much it means to you.  It’s a great looking trip.  But….  it’s not our trip.  It’s not where we’re going at all.”

Now I really was lost.  “But why, Jesus?  I was SO SURE…. Why not?  Why can’t we go there?”  I was getting desperate, and He could tell.

Jesus answered, “Some day you’ll understand.  Some day you’ll be okay with it, even thank Me.  But you can’t understand the reasons today, and you’re going to hurt today, and there’s nothing I can do to explain.”  He added, “All you can do is trust me.”

Half in thought and half in pain, I turned my face away from Him.  “I… I don’t know…  I don’t know whether I want to go anymore.”

Jesus slowly eased the car off to the side of the road.  He put the gear in park and turned to me.  His words were kind but firm. “John, you can choose to get out of the car.  If you do, I’ll wait right here.  But you know in your heart that you can’t take the trip without me.  Even if you tried, you know it wouldn’t be the same. ”

And then, looking straight into my eyes, He spoke, “And if I may be so bold, you need to decide in your heart whether your trip means more to you or whether the fact that you’re with me means more to you.”

I looked off again.  That was true, and that was hard.  Hard to admit that my plans & dreams were taking a bigger place in my thoughts & in my heart than Jesus did Himself.  Hard to realize that it wasn’t so easy to give them up either.

Still lost in thought, I felt a strong arm give me a big squeeze around my shoulder.  “Oh, lighten up!  You think too much, did you know that?   Stop thinking about the past that you can’t do anything about.  Stop thinking about a future that just existed in your mind.  It’s a beautiful day, and you’re with the best driving buddy in the world.  I say we do this  road trip, & do it up BIG!”

I smiled.  I knew He was right.  I let the tension go out of my shoulders as He pulled back on to the road.  It was going to be a great day.

Book Review: Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus

I expected this book to be a moderately interesting but perhaps a little dry exposition of Jewish customs and perspectives.  I certainly wasn’t prepared for it to be so winsomely and powerfully written, full of insights & “aha” moments that have truly changed my perspective on being a follower of Christ.

Chapter by chapter, the authors go through what a first century rabbi was like and how Jesus fit into the religious culture of Israel, the importance of friendship, Jewish prayers & blessings, Jewish feasts & other customs, and the view of the Kingdom of God in that time.

More than just being a review of history & culture, this book focuses on how the information of history and culture should bring us to a fuller understanding of Jesus, a richer love for Jesus, & a closer walk with Jesus.  Again and again they paint a rich picture of first century Israel, and then use that picture to bring us to insightful applications such as, “God’s goal isn’t simply to fill the world with people who believe the right things.  It is to fill the world with people who shine with the brilliance of Christ.” and “If you want to be part of God’s redemptive kingdom on earth, don’t ask how little you can do, but ask how much you can do to please your Father in heaven.”

Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesustruly is a wondrous book that I both thoroughly enjoyed and that God used in my life.  It’s a treasure.  Read it.

Book Review: The Truth of the Cross

The cross.

Most of us have read the story, seen the pictures, & heard the sermons about the cross since childhood.

But do we deeply and thoroughly understand the truth of the cross? Why did Jesus have to die in that way? What does the atonement really mean? Are we really enemies of God & criminals in His eyes? Why did Christ have to lead a sinless life? What is the significance of the shedding of blood at the cross? How do the Old Testament covenants explain the cross?

Honestly, most of us without theology degrees don’t thoroughly understand the truth of the cross. And frankly, there is no more important truth in the universe to understand & embrace with all our heart and mind. In this book Dr. Sproul does an excellent job of stepping through all the glorious truth of the cross point by point, giving us solid answers, solid hope, & solid joy. Every Christian should read this book to deepen their knowledge of the cross and their love for the Savior.

Ballad of the Goodly Fere

This is not your typical poem about Jesus, by not your typical man who would write poems about Jesus. Good stuff though.  P.S.  “Fere” is an old English word for a close male friend.

Ballad of the Goodly Fere

By Ezra Pound

Simon Zelotes speaketh it somewhile after the Crucifixion.

HA’ we lost the goodliest fere o’ all
For the priests and the gallows tree?
Aye lover he was of brawny men,
O’ ships and the open sea.

When they came wi’ a host to take Our Man
His smile was good to see,
“First let these go!” quo’ our Goodly Fere,
“Or I’ll see ye damned,” says he.

Aye he sent us out through the crossed high spears
And the scorn of his laugh rang free,
“Why took ye not me when I walked about
Alone in the town?” says he.

Oh we drank his “Hale” in the good red wine
When we last made company.
No capon priest was the Goodly Fere,
But a man o’ men was he.

I ha’ seen him drive a hundred men
Wi’ a bundle o’ cords swung free,
That they took the high and holy house
For their pawn and treasury.

They’ll no’ get him a’ in a book, I think,
Though they write it cunningly;
No mouse of the scrolls was the Goodly Fere
But aye loved the open sea.

If they think they ha’ snared our Goodly Fere
They are fools to the last degree.
“I’ll go to the feast,” quo’ our Goodly Fere,
“Though I go to the gallows tree.”

“Ye ha’ seen me heal the lame and blind,
And wake the dead,” says he.
“Ye shall see one thing to master all:
‘Tis how a brave man dies on the tree.”

A son of God was the Goodly Fere
That bade us his brothers be.
I ha’ seen him cow a thousand men.
I have seen him upon the tree.

He cried no cry when they drave the nails
And the blood gushed hot and free.
The hounds of the crimson sky gave tongue,
But never a cry cried he.

I ha’ seen him cow a thousand men
On the hills o’ Galilee.
They whined as he walked out calm between,
Wi’ his eyes like the gray o’ the sea.

Like the sea that brooks no voyaging,
With the winds unleashed and free,
Like the sea that he cowed at Genseret
Wi’ twey words spoke suddently.

A master of men was the Goodly Fere,
A mate of the wind and sea.
If they think they ha’ slain our Goodly Fere
They are fools eternally.

I ha’ seen him eat o’ the honey-comb
Sin’ they nailed him to the tree.

Pressure, Peace, & Victory

high pressure by Kuh-son via flickrI’m sure you’ll have some cosmic rationale
But here you are with your faith
And your Peter Pan advice
You have no scars on your face
And you cannot handle pressure
         (Billy Joel, “Pressure”)

 

 

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”  (Jesus, the Gospel of John 16:33)

The Greek word for “tribulation” in John 16:33 literally means pressure.  So Billy Joel actually had the right description of our lives in this world— they are full of pressure.

He was also right about things that come up short in our struggle to handle pressure: philosophy (“cosmic rationale”), religious trappings (“faith”), pop psychology (“Peter Pan advice”).  Sometimes people who spout any of these supposed solutions, either out of good or ill intent, would not do so if they had truly been through intense struggle (“you have no scars on your face”).

What Mr. Joel could not tell us, however, is what does work, what really does allow us to handle pressure.

In John 14-16 Jesus is speaking to his disciples for the last time before his death.  He knows they will soon experience pressure unlike anything they have before.  He tells them that He is the way (John 14:6), that He will send another Helper, the Holy Spirit, to them (John 14:26), and that by abiding in Him as a branch does in a grapevine will be their path to life (John 15:4).

So, in this last verse Jesus says the reason He has spoken all of the words in the preceeding 3 chapters is for them to understand this: 

in Jesus–>peace      in the world–>pressure

And just in case they had a doubt as to whether they could really withstand the pressure of the world in Jesus, he reminded them to take heart, for He had overcome(nikao) the world.  Nikao in the Greek is a verb derivative of the Greek goddess of athletic victory.  You might know her by the name of her overpriced shoes— Nike.

There really is a respite, a fortress, an armour against the pressure of the world, and it consists of abiding within the One who emerged victorious over everything the world handed Him– even death.  If we wish to learn to handle pressure, our path is to learn to abide in Jesus.

Jesus Saw

Matthew spent three years with Jesus, listening, watching, working, & walking with Him.  As you read his Gospel, one picture, one phrase, appears over and over.

“Jesus saw.”

In Matthew 4 Jesus saw two fisherman, casting their nets.  But the Master saw much more than men on a boat; he saw men with spiritual needs and a spiritual destiny.  In a few short words he woke their souls to eternal truth and changed their lives forever.  

In Matthew 5 Christ saw crowds of people seeking truth, and He taught them as no man ever had.  In Matthew 8 He saw Peter’s mother sick, and healed her. In Matthew 9 He saw the faith of a man and his friends, and forgave his sins and healed his legs. He saw Matthew himself and went over to talk to this despised tax collector, and made him a new man.  He saw a woman with an incurable disease and both healed and encouraged her.

Finally, in Matthew 9:36, Jesus “saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”  And He sent Matthew and His other disciples to minister to them, to every town and village.

The memory of that first time his eyes met Christ’s the day he was collecting taxes must have comforted Matthew for the rest of his life.  When he struggled with persecution or rejection or just the ordinary nuisances of life he could always remember “Jesus saw me.”  He could remember, and realize that Christ’s tender shepherding care of him had not ended, and that Jesus was still watching over him and meeting his needs.

And the memories of Jesus seeing other people in need, and being moved with compassion to respond to their needs, must have challenged Matthew every day as he walked the earth. When he was tired or discouraged, he remembered Christ’s words, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”  He would pause, and see people, really see them the way Christ had taught him, and then remember the ministry Christ had called him to fulfill.

Should it not be the same with us?  This picture of Jesus seeing people, seeing us, can surely comfort us when we are struggling under a heavy load.  And when we are simply focused on ourselves, that picture can remind us of why we are here, and the ministry to others that Christ calls us to fulfill as well.

 

The Right Thing to Say

Was that “the right thing to say”?

Everybody has said that or thought that during a conversation.  However, different people mean totally different things when they ask that question.  The empath is thinking of the heart, and when he thinks of “the right thing” he is thinking of whether the heart of the listener was healed or hurt by the words spoken.  The logician wonders if his words were correctly understood, whether his “right thing” was accurate.  The authoritarian wonders if his words were ethical and just.  And we could go on and on.

Oftentimes we are at a quandary because what may seem “right” for the heart may not seem “right” for the head or vice versa.  We are unsure of ourselves, and unsure of others.  That’s just part of being human.

It struck me that Jesus never seemed to have this problem.  He always seemed to know exactly “the right thing to say.”  To a woman with a broken heart he was gentle; with his often confused disciples he was patient; with self-righteous hypocrites he was venomous; with the men who were crucifying him he was forgiving.  One time officers sent to arrest him returned empty-handed; they were so blown-away by this young rabbi that they simply told their superiors, “No one ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:46)

Why were Jesus’ words always right?  We know that Jesus knew men’s thoughts (Luke 6:8), and in John 14:10 he explained, “The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.”

As we strive to abide in Christ we can pray for the Spirit to “guide us into all truth” (John 16:13) so that we can serve as fitting ambassadors for Christ and always have “the right thing to say.”

Real Soul Food

soulfood

O taste & see that the Lord is good!  Psalm 34:8

Taste.

The word in Hebrew, just as in English, is usually used literally for food.

What a strange way for a warrior poet like David to invite people to experience his God.

Poets speak about seeing a vision of God, or hearing the voice of God, or sometimes even feeling the presence of God, but to taste an infinite noncorporeal being???

Could it be David chose taste because it is the only sense that requires assimilation?  the only sense that implies nutrition?  the only sense that creates hunger & thirst?

A thousand years later, a young rabbi descended from David used even more jarring language:

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.”

Not suprisingly, the people who heard these words weren’t sure what to make of them or the young man who said them.  They replied, “This is a hard saying, who can listen to it?” and many abandoned following him.

For two thousand years now people have been searching for the full meaning and the full experience of what it means to feed on Jesus and to have life through Him. I don’t delude myself in thinking that I comprehend but the faintest outline of this mystery, but what I have learned makes me agree with that warrior poet of old, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”