LIFE | 40 Days of Focus, Day 13

 

“You shall not murder.”
(Exodus 20:13)

I think it’s safe to assume that the majority of us could read this command and think, “Done. Next!”

All in all, it seems pretty easy not to kill people. I personally don’t know any murderers. The overall rate of murder and violent crimes is on the decline throughout most of the country. So…odds are that you will see command number six and think, “I’m good.

But you know it’s not that easy. If it were that easy, Jesus wouldn’t have had to bring it up in the Sermon on the Mount:

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”
(Matthew 5:21-22)

I find it helpful to reframe these “you shall not” commands and find the positive intention behind the prohibition. This command, as Jesus points out, is not just about not killing, its intention is the preservation of life. To take another person’s life is to snuff out the most sacred part of creation. We can understand that. But to insult, degrade, and oppress another person is to snuff out the Image of God within them, which, according to Jesus, is just another way of violating the sixth command.

So yes, all Christians should be on the side of life. I don’t want to use the term “pro-life” because that has taken on such a one-dimensional connotation. Abortion is DEFINITELY against the sixth command – but so is racism and prejudice and police brutality and sexual abuse and bombing civilians and torture and hate speech and capital punishment and the military industrial complex.

Think of it this way. Where God is, there is life. Through Jesus’ own death and resurrection, he conquered death. Beyond that, his death revealed the baseless and gratuitous violence of the state for what it was. The Pax Romana offered peace at the edge of a sword – and that’s not true peace. The way of Christ – who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life – is the way of the cross. It’s dying to yourself so you can really know what life means.

Jesus tells what I consider to be the scariest story ever in Matthew 25.

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
(Matthew 25:41-46)

It’s not enough to not murder. Just because I don’t kill you doesn’t mean I love you. When I’m willing to lay down my own life for your sake, though, that’s true love. That’s the true heart of the sixth command. You may not go around murdering people, but do you help feed the hungry? Do you help provide water for those who have nothing to drink? Do you help clothe the naked? Are you a loving presence for those who are sick or in prison?

In other words, are you on the side of life or death?

“Jesus in Disguise” statue in Rome
If you search the Bible for the phrase “choose life” you will be directed to a powerful passage in Deuteronomy 30, some of Moses’ last words to the nation of Israel before he died:

See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess…
This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
(Deuteronomy 30:15-16, 19-20)

Don’t just not kill people. Choose life.

Don’t just be anti-abortion. Choose life.

Don’t just look out for your own interests. Choose life.

Don’t judge the sick, hungry, and homeless. Choose life.

There’s an amazing story of this in action. In the early days of the church, the Christians were living in a culture that did not value the life of infants. The fathers could make a decision to literally discard a baby for various reasons – maybe it was a deformity, maybe it was a little too small for its age, maybe it was a girl. The father would take this unwanted baby and leave it in the town dump to die from the elements. The Christians took Jesus’ call to choose life seriously. They went out and rescued these babies, adopting them and raising them as their own. The Roman government began to notice that these unwanted babies were growing up to become normal, healthy, functioning members of society and eventually outlawed the practice of infanticide.

When God’s people choose life, we can literally change the world.
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When people talk about being “pro-life” do they only mean in terms of abortion or is it in every aspect of life? What do you think about that?


What do you think of this quote? “If Jesus commanded us to love our enemies, I think he meant we ought not kill them.” Does this mean we all have to be strict pacifists? Why or why not?


If you’re honest with yourself, how often do you find yourself “murdering” someone in the sense that Jesus talks about? What do you think you could do to eliminate those attitudes from your heart?

WATER | 40 Days of Focus, Day 2

 

And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.
(Genesis 1:6-8)

Liquid water is such an interesting substance. Without the presence of Dihydrogen Monoxide in liquid state, there can be no life as we know it. But too much at any given moment can be fatal.

Humanity has a strange relationship to water. We need it to live, but we can’t control it. We can’t make it rain or stop raining. We can barely do anything to hold back raging rivers or flood waters. Drowning is still among the leading causes of accidental deaths. Tsunamis, hurricanes, and flash floods continue to wreak havoc across the globe, wiping out entire villages and devastating national economies.

Is it any wonder why the ancients equated water with chaos?

If you back up to Genesis 1:2 we see this in action:

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

That’s the language of chaos. Many creation myths from the ancient world featured chaos in some form. They often claim the world as we know it is simply a byproduct of the chaos with no real meaning or purpose. Come to think of it, those ancient creation myths are not too far off from modern physicists.

But in our Bibles God controls the waters and brings order out of chaos. Think about all the times water plays a role in the stories of Scripture. The flood. Baby Moses on the Nile River. The parting of the Red Sea. Water flowing from the rock in the wilderness. The parting of the Jordan River. The storm on the Mediterranean Sea in the story of Jonah. The 3-year drought in the time of Elijah. The times when Jesus calmed the storm and walked across the water.

To many ancient peoples, the waters were associated with chaos and the abyss, or the realm of demonic spirits. But every step of the way throughout the Bible we see that God is in control of the uncontrollable. I love what God says in the book of Job:

“Who shut up the sea behind doors
when it burst forth from the womb,
when I made the clouds its garment
and wrapped it in thick darkness,
when I fixed limits for it
and set its doors and bars in place,
when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
here is where your proud waves halt’?”
(Job 38:8-11)

He goes on to speak about snow and hail and rain, reminding us humans that we are completely helpless in the face of weather phenomena.

Water is a source of both life and death.

I can’t help but connect this to another event involving water: baptism. Baptism as a holy sacrament has been practiced for centuries. It predates Christianity. Baptism was actually practiced by the Jews in the Second Temple period. If you go to Jerusalem today you can still see the remains of ancient baptistries around the Temple complex. They would go down into the water, immerse themselves, and come out of the water ceremonially cleansed.

Jesus and his followers brought a different understanding of baptism. In Christian baptism we do not immerse ourselves. We allow another to lower us down into the water. We submit our lives into their hands. It takes a certain degree of trust. This immersion represents a death and burial beneath the flood waters. We are then raised up out of the water into a new life, a new creation, a new humanity, a new kingdom.

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
(Romans 6:3-4)

Water is the source of both life and death. Water is both good and necessary and dangerous and beyond our control – just like God. Submitting ourselves to the waters of baptism connects us with this ancient story of destruction and creation, of fear and wonder, of death and new life.

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
(John 4:13-14)

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Have you ever stopped in awe and wonder at the sight of the ocean, a river, or a waterfall? What is so awesome and inspiring about those locations?

In the Chronicles of Narnia, CS Lewis says about Aslan (representing God) that he is “not safe, but he’s good.” How does this challenge the way we understand God?

Have you been baptized? What led you to that decision? Do you remember going under the water? What was that like? How did you feel when you were lifted back up?

Presence

I’ve started reading the book God’s Pursuit of Man by A.W. Tozer. The first chapter is called “The Eternal Continuum.” In it, Tozer points out something that most Christians take for granted, really to our own spiritual demise.

We get that God is the eternal I AM, as he told Moses back in the day. He was and he will be. He is self-created, self-sustained, and all-powerful. He always has been, and he always will be.

This is easy for most of us to get. We can look into the past and see what he has done. We can see how he pulled us through that struggle or that hardship. He healed a grandparent, he protected our neighbor from the storm, he provided when there seemed to be zero resources. It’s easy for us to retroactively see how God works in our lives.

It’s also easy to have faith that he will work in our lives again. He will get me that job, he will bless that mission effort, he will take us where we want to ultimately end up. We have no problem dreaming up a future in which God is an active reality.

The trouble comes when we are unable to see what God is doing in the present.

Yes, God has always been and always will be. But more than that, he always IS. He’s the I AM. God is always a present reality.

It’s a good exercise to remember the ways in which God has worked in your life previously. And it’s highly commendable and appropriate to envision God’s work in your future plans. But it’s much more critical to be able to stop for a moment and live in the present.

This moment.

This breath.

This heartbeat.

This is the only true time we have in which to experience God. Right now.

Take some time throughout your day to reflect on how God is working in the present. Through that movie. Through that book. Through this friend. Through Facebook. Through your coworker. Through the words on this screen.

Why has God brought you to this place at this moment? What is God doing right now?

God is eternal. This life is not. But the kicker is that the present is the only point at which the eternal intersects this finite world.

What is the Great I AM doing in your present? This moment is the only time in which you are guaranteed to fully experience the power of God.

Salt, part 2

Salt is a curious substance. Just about every living creature needs small amounts of sodium chloride to keep it alive and healthy. However, too much salt can start to cause major health problems, like high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease in humans just to name a few. Salt is a naturally occurring substance in nature, especially in rock deposits and ocean water. It’s needed for life. However, if there is too high of a salt concentration in the soil, plants cannot grow. And if there is too high a concentration in the water, fish cannot live.

This is why we have a place called the Dead Sea. Located at the lowest point on land, the Dead Sea is literally a drainage pool collecting all the minerals and salts from the land around it. The Dead Sea is completely incapable of supporting life within its waters. What’s more, none of the land surrounding the Dead Sea is capable of supporting life. There is no naturally occurring plant growth for miles around. Just off the shore is an entire mountain made completely our of salt and a few other minerals.

Yet in one of the most lifeless spots on planet earth we find healing. King Herod built one of the first health resorts on its banks. Even today, there are a number of hotels, resorts, and spas surrounding the Dead Sea. What we have found over the years is that the same minerals which prevent the formation and sustenance of life also bring healing and restoration to our bodies. It cleanses the skin by removing the dead skin cells and toxins. After a dip in its waters, one’s skin feels smooth and refreshed.

Life, healing, and restoration are found in a place characterized by death and barrenness.

Reflections on "Jesus Manifesto," pt. 3

CHAPTER 2


“You have been invited to share life with your Maker and Creator.

“And to top it all off, you have been made utterly, totally, fully complete in Him–here and now.

“Why, then, would you chase anything else? How can you be consumed with anything other than your Lord, Jesus Christ? And how can you graduate beyond Him?

“He is enough, even more than enough.

“Jesus Christ is like a vast ocean. He is too immense to fully explore, and too rich to fathom. You are like a bottle.

“The wonder of the gospel is that the bottle is in the ocean, and the ocean is in the bottle.”
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Imagine, the power and magnitude of the entire ocean contained inside a little glass bottle adrift in that very ocean. This chapter of Jesus Manifesto explores the letter to the Colossians. Paul explains to the church that the great mystery of the gospel is that we are in Christ and Christ is in us! His life is our life. It is too small a thing to offer a part of ourselves to Christ when He has given His entire being (His power, His life, His divine nature) to us. The only appropriate response is to let ourselves be fully consumed and immersed in the Spirit of our Savior. Praise, worship, service–this is all we know to do when hit by the reality that is Christ in us.

This has become one of my favorite songs on the radio. I think the message really hits home with this reality.