Apr 24, 2014

What is Integrity?

Proverbs 10:9  Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out.

Cleveland Stroud was the coach of the Bulldogs of Rockdale County High School in Conyers, Georgia boys basketball team in 1987 when he led them to a state championship.  The championship game was a dramatic come-from-behind victory. 

One month after the victory Coach Stroud discovered that a player who was scholastically ineligible had played 45 seconds in the first of the school's five postseason games.  Stroud made school officials aware of the mistake and subsequently the team was deprived of the title and the trophy was taken from the case outside the high school gymnasium, never to be returned.  'We didn't know he was ineligible at the time; we didn't know it until a few weeks ago,' Mr. Stroud said. 'Some people have said we should have just kept quiet about it, that it was just 45 seconds and the player wasn't an impact player. But you've got to do what's honest and right and what the rules say. I told my team that people forget the scores of basketball games; they don't ever forget what you're made of.'"

Integrity is something that can come up missing in a lot of us.  It’s an important ingredient that we have a tendency to periodically leave out in our lives.  I don’t claim to be an integrity expert.  I have my own struggles with it from time to time, but I want to share with you a few things that I think that integrity is.

Integrity is Being You.
Psalm 139:14  for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

God made you.  He gave you the family you have.  The skills you have.  The looks you have.  The brains you have.  The background you have.  The upbringing you have.  The geographical location you have.  Own it.  Love it...He does.

You may not be as funny as some else, or as smart, or as cool, or as wealthy, or as adventurous, or as popular, or as attractive, or as skinny, or as strong, or as ‘important’, or as successful...you may not have thousands of facebook ‘friends’ and the paparazzi may not follow you around.  But listen, no one else is just like you.  God only made one of you and he did not make a mistake when he did.

We all have limits.  We all have short comings.  We all have things we would like to change, and things that we ought to change.  But there are some things about ourselves that we can’t change and we shouldn’t try to change.

Be yourself.  Just be yourself.  God made you and he made you the way you are for a reason, for a purpose.  Let him show you how he wants to use you.  The world doesn’t need another someone else...it needs you.

Integrity is doing what you say you will do.
Matthew 5:37  “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”

Most of us know how to make a promise.  But few people know how to keep a promise.  Broken promises are a result of broken integrity.  We break integrity when we make promises that we do not intend to keep.  We break integrity when we make promises we do not have the ability to keep.  We break integrity when we make promises just to make another person feel good.  We break integrity when we forget promises that we’ve made.  Yes, some broken promises are accidental, and all broken promises need to be forgiven, but that does not negate the fact that broken promises leave damage behind.  Broken promises leave people disappointed, hurt, wounded, and scarred for life.  All of us can think of promises that were made to us that were broken.  Don’t be a promise maker if you can’t be a promise keeper.

Integrity is saying what you really did.
1 Samuel 12:2  I have walked before you from my youth until this day.

Integrity means there is no covering up, no manufacturing, no fabricating, and no exaggerating.  As we recall past accomplishments and achievements to friends and acquaintances there is a temptation to paint ourselves more impressive than we really were.  Do you know anyone who as they begin to tell you a story about their past accomplishments and experiences and you automatically don’t believe what they are saying?  I know people like this...to be honest I’ve been guilty of telling stories like this, full of exaggeration and “author’s liberty” hoping to impress someone or to humor someone.  A life built upon exaggeration and lies is like a house built with cards...it will come crashing down.  My mother use to always say, “What a tangled web we weave when we practice to deceive.”  They only thing that can validate a lie is another lie. 

A person with integrity may not be able to impress people with their “incredible experiences” or “impressive accomplishments.”  But do know what is impressive about a person with integrity?  They are real.  And in a world of plastics, frauds, fakes, phonies, and wannabes...real is refreshing.

Real is Reliable.  Real is Honest.  Real is a good friend.  Real is a person you can trust.  Real is someone you can depend upon.

Be honest.  Be real.  Be you.  God’s promise is that if you will, you will “walk securely.”

Apr 17, 2014

The Humiliation of the Cross

Matthew 27:40
“If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross”

As the soldiers, chief priests, Pharisees, Sadducees, and on lookers glared upon the man being nailed to the cross they demanded that he prove himself, that he validate everything he said he was.

“Let him come down from the cross and we will believe,” is what they said.  “But if you will not, then you are not who you say you are,” is what they thought.

But Jesus resisted the opportunity...the night before he had done the same.  As Peter drew his sword and cut off the ear of the high priest's servant, Jesus scolded him saying, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?”

Where are the angels now?  Where is the heroism?  Where is the great king and mighty warrior?  Have we nothing but a humiliated, defenseless man who can do nothing to save himself?  The conclusion of the matter for those there that watched his death:  this is not God and this is not the Son of Man.

His death was seen as a failure, a flop.  The kindest and most forgiving onlooker would have graciously thought of him, at best, as nothing more than a martyr who died serving his cause, but even they would have doubted his sincerity as he spoke not a word in his defense of all the accusations.  He did nothing to even defend, prove, or validate himself at that moment.  Most would have looked upon the dying man as a phony, fraud, and fake.  A liar who deceived the hearts and minds of thousands.  Now receiving his due justice for his lies.  They would have considered John the Baptist who had been beheaded partly due to loyalty to His cause.  They would have thought of the cowardice of his most devoted followers, most of whom were nowhere to be found at this moment.

There he was.   Alone, naked, shamed, struggling to draw breath.  If he was God, if he was the Messiah, if he was the “I AM,” could not he do better than this?  This was the death of a criminal not a warrior, not God, not a mercenary, not a king.  Covered in blood and spit...it was a shameful, awful scene...a humiliating scene.  The lowest of low.

That is exactly where his mission was to take him.  To the depths of human rejection.  Despised and derided by the world.  He would not meet their demands and he would not give them what they wanted.  For had he given them what they wanted, had he stood up to the humiliation he was facing...he would not have been able to give them what they needed...what we needed.

But this was but a cake walk compared to what he faced next.

Matthew 27:46  And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" that is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

Man had turned his back upon him, but that was nothing compared to what he felt and faced when His own Father turned his back as well.  The one who had sent him on the mission in first place.  The one to who he had devoted every step he took.   He had said himself that every word spoke came from his Father. 

John records in John 16:32, that just a day before he had claimed to his own disciples “behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone.  Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me.”

But here in this moment, on this cross, the father had left him...alone.

And why?  Why forsake your son?  Why turn your back when the sinful world wrongly murdered him?  Because when Jesus took up the cross, he took up something the Father could have nothing to do with...something that would separate Jesus from the Father.  It would have been a contradiction to his character and person had his Father done any different.  For when Jesus took up the cross...He had become sin.  Paul tells us 2 Corinthians 5:21 “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin.”  The weight of the cross was much heavier than what can be measured in pounds or kilograms.  Bearing the cross meant bearing something Jesus had never carried before...the guilt and shame of sin.  But not his sin...our sin, the sin of all mankind from Adam to you.  That is why he cried.  That is why he sweated blood.  That is why he agonized over this moment.  In lifting the cross, in the hanging upon the cross, he carried something that we could not.  The weight of sin and the wrath of God.  A dark moment, the darkest.  A lonely moment, the loneliest.  The pain of the nails in his wrists were at this moment a mere pinch compared to the pain in his spirit and soul at this abandonment.

The wrath of God, the abandonment of God...His body could no longer handle it, his lungs could no longer breath it.  So with all that he had left, in a loud voice he cried, “It is finished.”  And so it was, he breathed his last.

It is finished, it is finished, it is finished...sin, guilt, shame, condemnation, hell, Satan...finished.

His humiliation meant our acceptance, our forgiveness, our righteousness. 

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

At the cross it is finished and that finishing is our new beginning.

Friday they demanded that he prove himself; that he validate himself. 

Sunday...He did.

Apr 10, 2014

The Irony of Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday:
“Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”  Matthew 21:9

Good Friday:
“Crucify, Crucify Him”  Luke 23:21

From the same mouths.  Six days apart.  A stark contrast.  That’s the irony of Palm Sunday.  The same people who praised him that Sunday for being the “Son of David” would be demanding his execution later that week for blasphemy.

Here’s a few things that I’ve reflected upon as I’ve thought about the irony of Palm Sunday seen in the change of attitude of the crowd present that day and also the day of his crucifixion. 

We need Jesus for who he is and not who we want him to be.

All of what Jesus says is important and all of what Jesus does is important.

There are many things that the crowd loved about Jesus.  He healed people, fed people, cared for people, loved people, and he stood up to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and Sadducees.  Many of them loved Jesus for these things and believed that he was the long expected Messiah who would deliver them and make them a great kingdom on earth.  They assumed it, they expected it, they dreamed of it.

However, what they were about to discover is that Jesus will not be molded by our expectations, our assumptions, our dreams, and our desires of him.  The crowd heralded him as a king.  A king he was and is, but not their kind of king.   He would not be starting a war like they wanted, he would not be leading a revolution like they wanted, he would not be wearing a crown...at least not a golden one like they wanted.  He had something different in mind and the expectations, assumptions, and demands of the crowd would not move him off his course.

Don’t put Jesus in your box, into your expectations, assumptions, and demands.  You will be disappointed if you do, for he will not change and conform to you.  Listen to his words, look at his actions.  Examine all of him.  Follow him and worship him for the whole person and God that he is.  Worship him for all of who he is, not just for part of who he is.  We need Jesus for his kindness, compassion, and healing, but we also need him for who he is revealed in statements that are hard to follow such as, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me”

The world will treat you the same way. 

The approval of the crowd is fickle.  So long as one is giving them what they want, they will parade, praise, and applaud you.  But if you are a follower of Jesus eventually there will be a collision between giving God what he wants and giving the world what she wants.   The world often offers much praise for people who serve Jesus especially when they are loving the world like Jesus did.  But, eventually the heavenly world and the earthly world will collide and we'll be in the middle of it. The same people that praise you will one day curse you.  Be cool, be hipster, be relevant, be organic, be “unchurchy,” be progressive, or be whatever you want to be...but don’t run from the fact the world hated Jesus and if you confess him as your Lord, eventually they will hate you too.
John 15:19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.

Please take the approval and acceptance of the crowd only with a grain of salt.  Don’t put much stock in it.  Don’t find too much value and worth in it.  It is fleeting.  It is hallow.  It costs you too much and you will always come up short.  Consider Jesus though.  He requires nothing.  He accepts you as you are.  He bestows his value and worth on you.  Please, love the people of this world like Jesus did, do everything you can to give to them what Jesus call us to, but don’t shrink back from telling them the truth about Jesus because they might not like it.  They didn't like him either eventually.  But that was okay to him because Jesus came to save them not to appease them.

Palm Sunday was great, but Good Friday was better.

Palm Sunday was that day, and still is today, a great day of celebration.  Jesus was given the entrance of a king.  Likely, this Sunday your church will do the same.  Children will wave palm branches, the choir will sing loud, and all together we will celebrate our King singing, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"

But if Jesus had given the crowd what they demanded that Palm Sunday he would have never been able to give them what they deeply needed that Friday.  He was crucified because we needed a king who would fight the war with sin and death, lead a revolution of freedom from sin, and wear a crown of thorns.  We needed a king who was willing to be mocked, beaten, spat upon, and cursed for our sake.  We needed a king who would be rejected by the world and abandoned by his Father while he bore our sin and shame and faced the wrath of God.  His rejection by the world and his Father meant my acceptance. 

Palm Sunday was neat, but Friday was Good.

The Irony.

Palm Sunday the crowd shouted “Hosanna.”  Hosanna means, “Save!” or “Save, I Pray.”  By Friday they were shouting “Crucify Him.”  Here’s the irony.  What they demanded on that Friday actually gave them what they demanded on that previous Sunday.  

They asked for him to “save” on Palm Sunday...and that Friday afternoon, that’s what he did.  His crucifixion gave us salvation.

Apr 3, 2014

Life's Biggest Question

Matthew 27:22  Pilate said to them, "Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?"

Not a question Pilate wanted to deal with that morning when he woke up.  Pilate was against a rock and a hard place that day.  Things were not going well for him.  He had been governor of Judea for about five years and had pleased nobody.  He was living in a land that wasn’t his and had made some major mistakes that got him in a lot of trouble with both the Jewish community and Caesar himself.  He already had three strikes against him and was hanging on by only a thread as a leader…he didn’t need another religious problem.

Isn’t that how we encounter Christ sometimes?  In the toughest times of life.  The story of Pilate is a great picture of what all of us face at some point when we face the person of Jesus.

Pilate knows that the trial of Jesus had been handled wrong from the start.  He was convicted before the High Priest previous the night.  It was done at night when by Jewish law it should have been done during the day.  It was done at the High Priest’s home, when it should have been done in the temple court.  It was a sketchy trial at best, a mistrial.  Furthermore, the demand for execution was being rushed.  After  a person was convicted the high court members were supposed to fast for three days before a criminal was executed, giving the opportunity for any last minute evidence to come forth.  None of this was done.  They demanded it now.  Pilate had nowhere to turn and the angry crowd knew it.  A riot was being threatened which meant Pilate’s days as governor would more than likely would be over if he didn't do what they demanded.

So, what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?

That’s the question.  The question of eternity.  The biggest question of life.

It is a question that God asks of everyone. 
We all sit in the same place that Pilate sat that day and we must all answer this question.   Whether your life is in the pits or whether you are happy with the way it is…we must all answer the question.  It’s the most important question we face.  It’s the only question that we answer that will last for an eternity. 

It’s a question that no one can answer for you. 
Pilate is pretty clever in the story as he tries to dodge the question.  He turns the question over to the people.  In fact, he even gives them option:  Barabas or Jesus.  Now Barabas was not a great guy at all.   He was a public threat, had led revolts against the Romans, he was bad PR for the Jews, he was a guy that the Jews wouldn’t have wanted roaming their streets.  The last person the Jews would want released, or so Pilate thought.  It was an easy choice for the angry crowd.  Pilate could push his decision about Jesus off and let the people make it for him.  But to his surprise, they picked Barabas over Jesus.   So once again, what is Pilate going to do with Jesus? 

You know the rest of the story.  That day Pilate chose to execute Jesus by crucifixion.  Three days later Jesus rose from the dead, victorious over death.  And as a result, the same question Pilate had to deal with that day is now turned upon us. 

You see, just like Pilate, no one can answer this question for you...not your church, your pastor, priest, your parents, spouse, children, or the majority's vote.  No one can make it for you, it’s your decision.  Only you can answer that question.  And your answer means everything.  The stakes are high and the consequences of your answer last for an eternity: heaven or hell, life or death, freedom or slavery, joy or sorrow, peace or war.

So what about you?  What will you do with Jesus who is called Christ?