The Easter story? Prove it.

IMG_19800105_222751Easter Sunday was a full day of celebrating. It started off with an early sunrise service, filled with old hymns and strong preaching. Later our church gathered, as we always do, for a celebration. We eat together, sing, and decorate an old rugged cross with offerings from the flower gardens of our members, then stand back and enjoy the explosion of colors that bring it alive. After the service we turn the children loose to fill baskets with multicolored eggs full of partially melted chocolate. Then reluctantly we all tell ourselves its time to pull away from the parking lot and head home. It’s a great day to celebrate what Christians call the most important event in the history of the world. We celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It’s the thing that defines us, without which our faith is pointless. If Jesus is not risen from the dead then we are possibly the largest and longest running group of pathetic losers the world has ever seen. Many out there, perhaps you, would join them in thinking we are exactly that, a group of delusional losers. Have we lost our grip? All 2.4 Billion of us? Are we all living in a fantasy? How do we believers prove a.) that the resurrection happened. and b.) that it has anything to do with our lives now?

IMG_20140126_034102

I’d like to know why?

I suppose I could try to convince you that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead by going the apologetic route. I could suggest to you that when the apostles began telling that Jesus had risen from the dead no one did the obvious thing and produce a body. What I mean is that since the Romans and the Jewish leaders knew exactly where the tomb was, they could have easily gone to it and dragged out the body and paraded it through town to dispel any rumors. Why didn’t they do that? It would have been such a simple solution to the problem. Instead they frantically attempted to stop the story from being told, a much harder thing to do since the apostles were ready to die rather than change their story or stop telling it. This leads to another question. Why is it that not one of Jesus disciples, including Paul, the former Pharisee, ever recanted? Every one of them were brutally killed (except John who lived into his 90’s and never changed his story even after his partners were dead.) rather than be silent about this resurrection. Why? They made no fortune off it. They gained no power. They were repeatedly jailed, beaten, and mocked. It seems to me that after a couple of decades somebody would have fessed up if this had been a hoax, or somebody would have gotten a clue if they had been mistaken. But, you may ask, what if they stole the body? Really? A group of frightened disciples, who ran away at the crucifixion, suddenly gets the courage and training to sneak past a detachment of highly skilled Roman soldiers, move a 1 1/2 to 2 ton stone, drag it past the guard (all 100 or so soldiers) and hide it, then spend the next 30 plus years willingly being jailed, persecuted and tortured to perpetuate a hoax? It takes more faith to believe that, than to believe Jesus rose from the dead. But as compelling as those questions are I think I know a better way to prove the resurrection. It’s more difficult and takes more time though.

IMG_20140204_053241

I’ve got a better idea.

I think the best way to prove the resurrection is the way the first disciples did it. They did it by letting the power and love of the risen Christ flow through them and do what only God can do. When I see a woman throw away her cane because she no longer needs it, I know that only the risen one could do that. When I see a seven year old boy place his hands on a friend and pray for their healing, and it happens right there, I know Jesus is risen. When I get a phone call and hear a dear friend say, “The cancer is gone!” I know that he is risen. But even greater than that, when a teen aged girl finds forgiveness and healing for her broken heart and no longer feels the need to slice her legs with a razor blade, I know that He is risen. When a middle aged man sits in my car and receives a new life because of a simple prayer of faith,  I know that Jesus lives. When I see a mother go to a prison and forgive the drunk driver who killed her son, and she weeps for the killer, I know that Jesus is risen. When I see a wealthy doctor sell his large home, and move into a poor neighborhood to start a clinic for the needy, I know Jesus lives. These aren’t isolated events. They happen all the time. They don’t make the news, it’s much more entertaining to talk about the scandals and the hate crimes committed by some who carry Jesus name but aren’t living in his love and power. I pray for them. But I also pray that you look around and see the millions who quietly go about life loving people in Jesus name. They are the proof. They are the evidence. They show the world that Jesus rose from the dead. You know if some how Jesus did not rise from the dead, I would still live this way.

IMG_9298

My delusion trumps your reality.

If I am living in a delusion that’s okay. Why? Because my delusion has made me a better man and given me a better life than the so-called reality of many ever will. If I’m in a delusion then I have experienced way too many coincidental random unexplainable events to ever turn back. If I go through life seeing people transformed by the power of my delusion then I die. I have lost nothing. My life totally rocks. I don’t have much money. My name isn’t making headlines. But my life has meaning beyond those things. My joy will outrun the your happiness any day. But what if you are the one living a delusion? What if you come to the end of your life and discover that Jesus actually did rise from the dead? What if you discover life does have meaning greater than survival. What then?

Niger Day 7 Sand Dunes (3 of 19)What if what you call infinity is actually eternity? What if your life has purpose? What if your senses don’t tell the whole story of what is real? What if it’s true? Don’t you think it’s worth seriously looking into?

The Life speaker’s to do list.

I’ve never been good at keeping “to do” lists. I can make really good ones. But the problem is that my to do list often comes into conflict with the to do  lists that others have for me. I want to study today, but someone needs a ride into town. I need to work in the yard, but a last minute phone call screams out “Emergency! Come quick!” You know how it goes. To do lists can be helpful but the trick is knowing when to keep on task and when to accommodate someone elses list. Staying true to your priorities is a challenge especially when it comes to being a follower of Christ. What’s on the follower’s “to do” list?

The disciple’s to do list.

In Matthew 10: 7-8 Jesus is instructing his disciples on what he wants them to do on their first mission. In essence he gives them a “to do list”. How would you like to have these things on your daily agenda?

1. Proclaim that God’s kingdom is at hand.

2. Heal the sick.

3. Raise the dead.

4. Cast out demons.

5. Give away what God has given you.

These disciples were fairly new at this whole Jesus thing. In fact they knew nothing of the cross, the Holy Spirit, or the church. They had no real understanding of the kingdom they were called to proclaim. They knew nothing compared to what the average Christian in my culture knows today. Yet Jesus sent them out to do supernatural acts of power, that most of us, who have been wearing His name on our hearts for years, have never even imagined. Be honest. If you hear of someone casting out demons or healing sick people you most likely think the person is either a charlatan or mentally unstable or both. Why is that? Why is it that some 2000 years later we seasoned, trained, and theologically astute followers of Christ have such a radically different to do list than the one they had in the beginning? I would say that for many of us our Christian to do list looks more like this:

1. Proclaim how cool my church is. Or brag about why I don’t need to go to church.

2. Become obsessed with my own health.

3. Live like I’m never gonna die.

4. Watch movies about demons, witches and vampires.

5. Acquire more stuff and protect it at all costs.

This to do list has no resemblance to the call of Christ, yet many believers have an agenda that isn’t too far from it. It seems that many of Jesus followers have made the terrible mistake, as I have more times than I care to admit, of working on the wrong to do list. We’ve lost sight of the kingdom of God and are pursuing the American dream. We think we can baptize the world’s values in our religious traditions and call ourselves followers of Christ. Perhaps we have forgotten the one thing that truly makes me a follower of Christ, and that is, following Christ. Jesus said, “why do you call me Lord and do not do what I say?” In other words, “Why do you call me master, while you ignore my to do list.

Your opinions about Jesus do not make you his disciple. Your obedience does.

Claiming to be a Christ follower without following his commands will leave you empty and weary. None of us follow perfectly, but we are all called to follow. Otherwise we find ourselves worn out from confessing one thing while pursuing another. This double life can be exhausting, as well as deadly. Maybe you know what I mean. Perhaps you find yourself worn out from working on the wrong set of priorities and, although you believe in Jesus, you have not yet engaged in what he calls his followers to do. The fact is that Jesus calls us to live supernaturally, not naturally. We don’t live by our instincts by by His Spirit. At the top of Jesus to do list is “seek and save that which is lost.” If I am his follower that must be at the top of my list as well.

Two agendas for your life.

In John 10:10 our Lord tells about two agendas that directly affect us all regardless of what we believe. He said Satan’s agenda is “to steal , kill, and destroy.” Our Lord’s agenda is radically different. “I have come that you may have life, and life to the full.” Which agenda best describes the direction of your life right now? Satan has a to do list for you. If you follow it you will experience emptiness, bondage and death. Jesus to do list, on the other hand, offers you freedom and life. So take some time and ask yourself which best defines your life right now. Whose to do list are you working on? Is it time to make a change?

Join the Revolution. Speak life.

There are seasons in which the face of God is hard to find, camouflaged by the pain and uncertainty of life. Then there are seasons when his presence is so strong you could reach out and touch it. There are times when you can practically find his hand at every turn. You want to take these days in your hand and feel them run through your fingers like warm sand. Life is unpredictable. Fleeting. You never know how long such a season will last, so it’s best not to waste it or take it for granted. We tend to make much of the cold seasons when God is hard to find, then waste precious God moments when they come. Whatever season you are in today, whether the cold wind of trial is tearing away at your sanity or you’re catching a glimpse of the divine, don’t waste it. Even the dark times have away of recreating you if you let them. I’ve found that in whatever season I find myself I can choose, if nothing else, whether to be a life speaker or death speaker. The Bible says that life and death are in the power of the tongue. What I speak over my life and the people in it has creative power. I have chosen in all circumstances to be a life speaker. There are enough voices speaking death over us. Jesus came to speak life. He said, “The words I speak to you are spirit and life.” I am a follower of Jesus and therefore choose to follow his example and speak life. As you read this blog may you be raised to life. And I hope you will join me in my revolution and begin speaking life.

Drop the cane and dance in the rain.

IMG_19800105_213701Yesterday God showed up again. I went downtown to a local ministry in our community to make arrangements for our community Palm Sunday cross walk, a yearly event put on by the Ministerial Association. When I arrived and met with Cathaleen, the ministry director. There were two women with her. As soon as I walked by them I got a strong impression from the Lord that someone was in pain. So I asked them if that was the case. Both said yes. One sister, an older woman, said that her hip was in severe pain from Osteo Arthritis. The other was dealing with strep throat. We had prayer and God healed both right there on the spot. The woman with the hip pain, cried for joy and walked around leaving her cane behind.  She just kept repeating, “It’s gone! It’s gone!” We spent a while just hugging necks and celebrating the work of God in her life. What a joy to see. I’m so amazed by these spontaneous moments of grace. Friends, that is the kingdom of God. When God does such things its not for the sake of promoting religion, and certainly not to promote a person. God is showing his kingdom for his glory. People are being healed in the name of Jesus Christ.

But wait,,. there’s more.

This points to a greater healing though. You know every person who has been healed will still die one day. And each of us will live forever in the presence of God or hopelessly separated from Him. Physical healing points to a greater need in our lives and that is the healing of the soul. Every soul on earth is created for God’s glory and purpose. Yet we have all, on some level, rejected God’s purpose and sought to live our own lives on our own terms. The Bible says, “all we like sheep have gone astray.” Jesus came to earth over two millenia ago, not simply to be a teacher, but to rescue humanity from it’s own tragic rebellion against God. You and I have a sickness that is deeper than physical pain. It’s the sin of self-centeredness.. (your irritation with me right now is proving my point. Thanks.) That self-centeredness is the one thing that keeps you and me cut off from God in this life and, unless something changes, forever. We have all rebelled against God’s commands and will face his righteous judgment for our sins. Nothing you can do or say on that day will bring you into eternal life. You have an eternally terminal disease. You have no hope within yourself to cure it. You are totally lost. But there is hope. There is a cure. There is a healer for your sin. Jesus came to earth and did the most selfless thing a person could do. The verse above goes on to say, “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity (sin) of us all.” He died a criminals death on the cross, paying the penalty for your sin, though he was perfectly righteous. Then he rose from the dead proving that he was more than a prophet or teacher. He was and is, the son of God. He won forgiveness for our sin and hope for eternal life. If you want to know true healing you’ll have to look beyond physical miracles and let him heal your soul. Turn from your self centered lifestyle and put your faith in Jesus. Commit yourself to him. Follow him and let him show you how to live the way God intends. Is your soul hungry and broken? Are you tired of trying to convince yourself that life is meaningless and that God is not real? Are you burned out on your search for self? Ready to find the life God created you for? Then go to God in simple prayer. No magic words or religious hoops to jump through. Faith is all that’s required. Surrender you life to Jesus and ask him to give you a new life. As surely as that sister threw away her cane and walked away with joy, you can throw away the emptiness of sin and walk away with a new life. He is the healer you have been looking for. After these women were healed we walked outside and the rain began to fall. I wanted to dance in it. That’s what Jesus does when you really trust him. He takes away your cane and shows you how to dance in the rain. Be a life speaker today and help somebody dance in the rain.

Speak life from the parking lot to the school house

IMG_19800105_194442What a day! Yesterday I went out to a local apartment complex where I have been ministering. I had been asked to lead Bible study for a family that lives there. As it was a beautiful day it many of the residents were outside allowing the children to play while the adults talked. I was introduced to a woman who had C.O.P.D. She asked me to pray for her and so I did. You guessed it. She said she felt heat going into her lungs during the prayer. I asked her to take some deep breaths beyond what she could normally do. And she did! Then I began to share the gospel with her and a few others who were standing there. As I shared others stopped by to listen. At the end of our time together two women rededicated their lives to Jesus and four children and one man received  Christ as savior and Lord! They’ve asked if we can continue having Bible study there every week. I stayed as long as I could praying with others for healing and special needs then I had to leave…which leads to the next awesome thing.

At Oakdale Christian Academy, where I teach, God is moving mightily among our students. They are getting so hungry for God and experiencing miracles in their own lives. One result has been the start of student led worship and prayer once a week. Last night was the first night. What a joy it was to see students and staff just worshiping and sharing together. I listened as students told of spontaneous prayer and Bible study, re-commitments, and just finding a passion to minister to each other. Many have been praying for revival on our campus all year and it seems we are seeing the beginnings of it. Needless to say I am elated to see life springing up in my community and school. God is at work all around us if we will just open our eyes beyond the demands of existence and look with the eyes of faith and love. Today if you are looking for revival in your life it’s really simple. Just get back to the basics of faith and obedience to Jesus. Get alone with God and call on him in simple faith. Put away your intellectual toys and just believe. Surrender your will to him. Stop telling him what to do for you and start asking what you can do for him. Then step out in obedience wherever he leads. Let this be your prayer; “Have your way Lord” In the words of my friend and colleague, Will, “Make it a great day.”

“With healing in his wings.”

IMG_19800105_224143In Niger a few months ago I saw the Lord showing his glory and demonstrating the power of the gospel through healings of all kinds. After arriving home I prayed, “Lord, show your power to heal here at home too.” I’m standing in awe weeks later at how God is graciously giving his “yes” to that simple plea. I’m almost afraid to write about it because I don’t want to draw attention to anything or anyone less than our amazing Lord Jesus. Tears well up when I think of his grace toward those who call out in simple faith for his touch. I think what has been most amazing to me is the “smallness” of the miracles. Why would the creator of a billion galaxies hear a prayer to heal a teenager with a headache? Why would the ruler of kingdoms stoop from his majesty to ease the pain of a knee? I can understand God intervening for the “Big things” but why heal things we normally take medicine for? As I reflect though I can see all sorts of reasons, and I’ll bet you can too, so I’ll  leave that for your own reflection. I know from studying the New Testament that healings are not ends in themselves. When God heals out of his grace and compassion there is more going on than alleviating temporal afflictions. So my prayer is,”God what are you saying to us? What is the message behind the miracles?” Also I’m mindful of those prayers for healing that seem to go unanswered. I’ve been through that valley and felt its coldness many times. I have often found myself silent, unable to answer the “why God?” question. In those times I have been comforted by the truth that the eternal God cares in those times and is able to heal the broken heart that walks through the valley of the shadow of death. Even there I marvel that the eternal God walks with us finite beings through their sorrow. He sits with us through the long nights and reminds us that joy comes in the morning. I’m reminded that this is the same God who put on human flesh and literally died on a cross for my sins so that the ultimate healing could take place. Without that all other healings would be meaningless band-aids on our lost souls. But he has saved us from eternal death by dying in our place and rising from the grave. Now that my friends is healing! That is love!

I rejoice in the miracles I’ve been seeing. It blesses my heart when I think of the woman whose lungs suddenly cleared up. She looked at me with eyes wide open and said, “This is scary.” Then the girl who, as she moved her head around slowly discovering the stiff pain in her neck was gone, exclaimed, “Holy Moly!”. I don’t know how long the Lord will see fit to keep moving in this way. I don’t know when I may find myself descending into the valley again. But one thing I know is that whether you and I are celebrating or struggling this one thing is true, as the prophet Malachi put it, “For those who fear my name the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in his wings.” Wherever you are today He is here for you. As you fear him and seek his face you will find him ready to heal, save, restore and sustain you. If you need prayer leave a comment. I would love to join you before the throne of our great God and stand with you in your time of need. May God fill you with His life today.

Take it a little higher and speak life.

IMG_19800105_190122Most of my dreams are just plain weird. But once in awhile the Spirit of God breaks into my sleep and writes a message to my heart through a dream. Before you mock, the same thing happens to you too, more than you think. A few nights ago I had such a dream.  In this dream I was in an airliner at an incredible altitude.  Giant Cloud formations stretched out far beneath the aircraft jealously reaching in a vain attempt to touch us. Outer space beckoned us to climb just a little higher to join the stars dancing above. The sounds and sights were incredibly vivid. I can still hear and see it. I wasn’t the pilot, just a passenger. As the plane flew it repeatedly changed directions. I had the sense that we were so high up that we could land anywhere on earth in a matter of minutes. I marveled as the plane darted from one part of the world to another effortlessly. Then I awoke. When have such dreams I often wait for the Lord to make clear it’s meaning. Here’s what I got. He seemed to be saying to me: “Mark, if you will live at a higher altitude in your thoughts, speech, and actions I can take you in directions you never imagined for my purpose and glory. The higher up you live the farther you can go, in other words.” I want to live my life on a higher level. Don’t you? Most of the time we grovel around in survival mode never really experiencing God. It’s easier just to get by than to reach higher for the life God has for us. The Apostle Paul put it this way; “If you are risen with Christ then seek those things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” Have you ever wondered if your life could be more than it is? I wonder what would happen if you stepped up your game spiritually? I wonder how much richer your experience of God would be if you put a little more energy into the fleeting life he has given you? What if you raised your actions above mere self preservation and risked compassion for a stranger? What if you lifted your flight pattern above mere tolerance, and flew into the realm of sacrificial love? What if you soared beyond a monthly gift to charity and invested yourself personally in helping someone in a third world country? Jesus lived on such a level and beckons those who call themselves followers, or disciples, to do the same. To do less than Jesus did borders on mere religion. If we are risen with him then we have to fly at his altitude.  What if you elevated the way you speak to others, for example? What if you chose to soar above the gossipy, hypercritical, politically charged death speak of our day and began speaking life into the lives of people around you? I wonder how much greater your view would be of the world around you.  I wonder how much joy would overtake your anxiety and frustration. I wonder how life would look to all of us if we raised our speech a little higher and became life speakers. Jesus was and is the ultimate life speaker. He says in John’s gospel, “The words that I speak to you are spirit and life.” I want to be a life speaker like Jesus.That’s one goal of this blog. I want to write about life in Christ in hopes that it will fill you with faith, hope and love and lift you to a new level. In other words I want this blog to speak life into you. In addition to reflecting on the scriptures I hope to talk about my life as a father, husband, teacher, and pastor. I want to share how the life giver is lifting me higher as I trust in him. I invite you to come along and help me speak life to the world we live in.  Let’s all become life speakers. Enjoy. More later. Thanks for stopping by.