How to make 2017 a better year

“2016 has been the worst year ever,” a friend posted on Facebook.

I personally think that’s a little extreme,…2016 may have had its ups and downs, but worst year ever?

Have they seen all the other years?

I kid. I kid.

As parents, we know what it is like to see the year turn from good to bad, even to “the worst year ever.” School doesn’t go how you or your child thought it would go. Your child’s team doesn’t do as well as she wanted. There’s unexpected injuries, sicknesses, relationship problems, drama of all kinds, and a never-ending list of things that can frustrate your family’s year.

As we step into 2017 you may wonder, is it even possible to have a good year?

I think it is.

If we fill our year with good things.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11)

Did Jesus just call us evil?

Yes. Yes, he did.

But that’s not his main point. His main point is, even if evil parents (like you and me) know how to give our children good gifts, how much more able is our perfect heavenly Father to give good gifts to his children. Which means, if you and I want good things for our families from God our Father, all we have to do is ask.

Now, I know some of you are thinking, “I have asked. And nothing happened.”

Yeah, I’ve been there. It stinks.

But in that stinky disposition I’ve found it helpful to ask God another question, “What do you (God) consider a good gift?” Because, let’s face it, God may be giving us good gifts, but we just don’t recognize them.

So what does God consider a good gift?

Not surprisingly, Himself.

We see this in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus says the same thing (likely to a different audience) as he did in the Gospel of Matthew, but this time there is a slight difference.

Jesus says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)

Did you catch it?

In Luke, Jesus said, the good gift the Father will give to his children who ask, is the Holy Spirit. Why is that a good thing?

The Apostle Paul tells us, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” (Galatians 3:22-23)

Imagine 2017 being a year where your family is filled with more love, more joy, more peace, more patience, more kindness, more goodness, more faithfulness, more gentleness, and more self- control.

I don’t know about you, but that seems like a pretty good year to me. And all we have to do is ask.

2017 will be filled with up and downs for our families but it doesn’t have to be the worst year ever.

Parents, ask your heavenly Father to give you and your family good gifts. No matter the time or the situation. No matter the drama at home, at work, or at school. Just ask.

He promises to give you a very good gift, his Holy Spirit. And a year filled with the Holy Spirit is a year filled with many good things.

Blessings,

Changing Our Christmas Message

It’s December. The month where we as Christians proclaim our sacred message of…outrage. Wait what!?  Yep, you read that right. Outrage.

Outrage, because some people won’t say, “Merry Christmas”. Instead, they’ll say “Happy Holidays” or (God-forbid) nothing at all. Outrage, because some people won’t even write out the word “CHRISTmas” but instead will use the dreaded substitute, “X-mas”. Outrage, because a secular company like Starbucks won’t even use Christian language or symbols on their cups. Oh the humanity!

What could be worse than living in a world where non-Christians don’t respect Christian traditions? How about a world where our message of outrage is the very thing keeping Hell-bound souls from hearing about Christ?

That would be worse.

So this December let’s stop the outrage. Let’s not fall into the Devil’s trap. Let’s not do anything that will take away from the beauty, the goodness, and the truth of the Christmas message. Let’s not do it.

We can, and should be, Christians who still say, “Merry Christmas” to others. Even if others won’t say it to us.

But let us also be Christians who listen to the Holy Spirit. Let us also be Christians who use our words and actions to reflect Jesus. Let us also be Christians who spread a message of hope (rather than outrage).

What might this look like?

In their own words, here’s how the Holy Spirit recently led three members of Fellowship to embody and spread a different message this season:

Carmen said: I was driving to Wendy’s for lunch and I passed the line of people waiting in camping chairs outside of Active Faith. My heart beat a little faster and the Holy Spirit said, “You should get something for them too.” So I added 10 cheeseburgers to my order and handed them out before continuing on my way.

Ben said: I was given by God an opportunity to share with a coworker about the importance of memorizing and meditating on Scripture, because good works can only be accomplished if I put good words into my mind.  What we put into us is what will come out.  This stuck with him.  He started asking more questions, because I explained how the Bible is divinely inspired, and is the best presentation of the one true God that I can examine for myself routinely.  He asked about justice and goodness, turning the other cheek, and why Jesus’ death was any different from other people who have been crucified.  I am sure that this was orchestrated by God, and that God can use this conversation to steer my friend’s life toward Him.  Amen!

Meredith said: I felt like God was calling me to reach out more to the moms of my daughters’ best friends. One thing led to another over the course of a couple of days, and now we’re all getting together at one of Cindi Jackson’s “Paint and Patter” classes for a girls night out. I’m looking forward to seeing where God takes me with this and how these relationships can strengthen and grow.

So how might the Holy Spirit want to lead you?

If we’re willing to give up our “right” to be outraged, I believe we can expect the Holy Spirit to lead us.

He’ll lead us to be Christ to others.

He’ll lead us to share Christ with others.

He’ll lead us to partake in and present the greatest message of all- the Good News of Jesus Christ.

This December, will you allow Him to lead you?

Overcoming Election Anxieties

It’s very easy to say, Jesus is Lord. It’s not easy to live like Jesus is Lord.

Watching the presidential debate the other night reminded me of this. After it was over I felt anxious. And when I woke up the next morning I still felt residual anxiety.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.

My feelings of anxiety were not bad in and of themselves, but they did point to something bad. Like a flashing “Check Engine” light in my car, these feelings signaled that something within me was broken and in need of repair.

That broken-something was my lost vision of Jesus. Specifically, that broken-something was my lost vision of Jesus as Lord.  I had lost sight of who Jesus really is.  And as a result, I was no longer living as if Jesus really is Lord.

The remedy was the God-breathed words of Psalm 97:

The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice;
let the many coastlands be glad!
Clouds and thick darkness are all around him;
righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
Fire goes before him
and burns up his adversaries all around.

His lightnings light up the world;
the earth sees and trembles.
The mountains melt like wax before the Lord,
before the Lord of all the earth.

The heavens proclaim his righteousness,
and all the peoples see his glory
.
All worshipers of images are put to shame,
who make their boast in worthless idols;
worship him, all you gods!

Zion hears and is glad,
and the daughters of Judah rejoice,
because of your judgments, O Lord.

For you, O Lord, are most high over all the earth;
you are exalted far above all gods
.

O you who love the Lord, hate evil!
He preserves the lives of his saints;
    he delivers them from the hand of the wicked.
Light is sown for the righteous,
and joy for the upright in heart.
Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous,
and give thanks to his holy name!

 

These divine words filled my heart and mind with a fresh vision of Jesus as Lord. That Jesus reigns. That his reign is built on righteousness and justice. That Jesus is exalted above all. That he preserves my life and is able to deliver me from the wicked. That because of all these things, I can “rejoice in the Lord” and “give thanks to his holy name.”

With fresh vision came fresh healing. As I reflected on the psalm my attention was taken away from the frustrations of the election and instead was transfixed on the goodness of Jesus. As a result, my feelings of anxiety faded away. I was left, like the people of Zion, feeling “glad.” I was now living like Jesus really is Lord.

If this election season has you feeling anxious, maybe it’s because your “Check Engine” light is flashing. Maybe something within you is broken. Maybe you too have lost sight of Jesus as Lord. Maybe you’re not living as if Jesus really is Lord.

If so, let Jesus heal you.

Come to God’s Word. Reflect on the words of Psalm 97. Then, take a moment to rejoice and to give thanks that Jesus is still the Lord. I promise you’ll feel better… I sure did.

 

“I don’t have pockets in my shorts”

“I don’t have pockets in my shorts.”

That was the moment it hit me, I don’t fit in.

I was in second grade and playing on the handball courts– which, I think we can all agree, was the most awesome game ever.

I’m sure this moment at the handball courts wasn’t the first time I didn’t “fit in.” I was a pasty white kid growing up in sunny Southern California…I pretty much didn’t “fit in” from birth.

But for some reason the memory of the handball court is what sticks out to me. Maybe it was because at that point my elementary brain had developed just enough to be self-conscious of what I was wearing and what other people were wearing. Maybe it was because that was the first time I remember people staring at me, noticing the one thing about me that I didn’t want anyone to notice. Or maybe it was just because on that day I realized in a very real way that I wanted to be just like everyone else.

Unfortunately, this is where a lot of us still find ourselves today…“pocketless.” We’re conscious of the fact that we don’t have “pockets”…at least not the “pockets” we would like to have (or worse, think we should have). We covet other people’s “pockets.” We strive for our own “pockets.” We’re stressed about whether we’ll ever get “pockets.”  We’re angry or depressed when we lose hope of obtaining our “pockets.” All the while our pocketless selves feel like we just don’t “fit in.”

Sure, our now “mature” minds “know” that we don’t need the “pockets.” People should love us and accept us for who we are and not what we have. And that even if we did have the “pockets” we want, it wouldn’t “really” make us happy. Heck, it would only be a matter of time before we had a new desire for some new “pockets” anyway.

We know all this.

And yet, we still want the “pockets.”

Why is this?

One time Jesus was explaining to the crowds what the kingdom of heaven is like. He said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:44-46).

Apparently Jesus believed that the kingdom of heaven is so valuable that it’s worth sacrificing everything to have it. Maybe even our desire for “pockets”?

Now I’m not say we’re not in the kingdom of heaven if we still desire “pockets”…whatever that might be for you. I am also not saying that we’re definitely in the kingdom of heaven if we don’t have a desire for “pockets.”

What I am saying, and I think what Jesus is saying, is the desire for “pockets” and the desire for the kingdom of heaven are mutually exclusive. We still desire “pockets” only because we don’t desire (or desire very little) the kingdom of heaven. If we did desire the kingdom of heaven, as Jesus did, we’d be happy to live “pocketless.”

So how can we stop caring about/desiring “pockets”?

Step one, repent. Jesus says repentance is the only way we leave our “pocket”-demanding kingdom and enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 4:17).

Step two, follow. Jesus says, “come follow me.” Let Jesus lead. Be a part of his community. A community that celebrates giving away “pockets” rather than accumulating them.

Maybe you’ve done these steps before. Maybe it’s time to do them again…and again.

The desire for “pockets” isn’t bad, it just shows us the state of our heart. What do we want more, the things of the world, or the things of God? Where do want to “fit in” more, the kingdom of the world or the kingdom of God?

One kingdom requires “pockets.” The other, celebrates being “pocketless.”

The Need for Dominion

Have you ever thought about what were God’s first words to human beings?

In Genesis 1:28 we read “God blessed them [Adam and Eve] and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’” God’s first words to Adam and Eve were a command. A command for them to exercise dominion over their world by filling it and ruling over it.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Sadly, when a crafty little serpent known as Satan entered their world they didn’t exercise authority over it. Adam allowed the serpent to tempt Eve and lead her to sin.

What should Adam have done?

He should have killed the serpent. Or, at the very least, thrown it out of the garden.

The results of Adam’s carelessness were tragic. Adam and Eve sinned and were separated from God. Sin entered and contaminated all of their world. Adam and Eve lost their perfect life—literally their perfect life.

What does this have to do with us today?

There are days when I know I should read my Bible first thing in the morning, but instead I check my email and Facebook. I’m completely aware that I if I read my Bible first I will experience peace and have focus for the day. I’m also completely aware that if I check my emails and social media first, often peace and focus are nowhere to be found.

Why do I still do it?

There’s something about email and social media that calls to me. It says “you need to do this first, to make sure you haven’t missed anything.” Or “you need to make sure you’re prepared for the rest of the day.” Or “if you do this you’ll be getting a head start, you’ll actually be more effective.”

Lies. Lies. Lies.

All for the Evil One… or least one of his henchmen.

So what’s keeping me from stopping? Dominion.

I lack dominion over my world. And my careless actions have led to my world having dominion over me. Change will come when I choose to do what Adam should have done: subdue my world and everything in it, including my phone.

That might mean turning my phone off completely (what? no!I know, I know, that’s drastic). It might mean asking someone to hold me accountable for how I use it (well, that would be awkward). If none of that works it could even mean getting rid of it (ok, now you’re just talking crazy).

In reality, none of those tactics will work until something else happens first. Dominion.

Not my exercise of dominion, but Jesus’s dominion over me. If I want to subdue my phone then I must first let Jesus subdue me.

It was supposed to work like this in the Garden. Adam and Eve were to rule as vice regents (little kings) under the authority and direction of The Great Regent, God himself. Their power to rule came from conforming to God’s rule, not by rebelling against it.

In the same way, our ability to have dominion over our world, phones included, comes only through the power and authority of Jesus Christ—the one true King over all creation.

That means I have to repent of my belief and actions that say “this little part of my life [my phone] belongs to me…and not Jesus.” Instead I must confess that if Jesus is my Lord, then he is Lord of all. Everything then, even my phone, belongs to him.

The story of Adam and Eve reminds us that the perfect life is found in the fully submitted life. A life completely submitted to God’s dominion. And it reminds us that apart from God’s dominion even the smallest thing—serpent, phone, or otherwise—is able to rob us of life and lead us to destruction.

 

Where or what in your life do you need to bring under dominion of Jesus Christ?

A Disciple’s Prayer

 

“O My Savior,

Help me.

I am so slow to learn,

So prone to forget,

So weak to climb;

I am in the foothills when I should be

on the heights;

I am pained by my graceless heart,

my prayerless days,

my poverty of love,

my sloth in the heavenly race,

my sullied conscience,

my wasted hours,

my unspent opportunities.

I am blind while light shines around me:

take the scales from my eyes,

grind to dust the evil heart of unbelief.

Make it my chiefest joy to study [you],

meditate on [you],

gaze on [you],

sit like Mary at [your] feet,

lean like John on [your] breast,

appeal like Peter to [your] love,

count like Paul all things dung.

Give me increase and progress in grace

so that there may be

more decision in my character,

more vigour in my purpose,

more elevation in my life,

more fervor in my devotion,

more constancy in my zeal.

As I have a position in the world,

keep me from making the world my position;

May I never seek in the creature

what can be found only in the Creator;

Let not faith cease from seeing [you]

until it vanishes into sight.

Ride forth in me, [you] King of kings

and Lord of lords,

that I may live victoriously,

and in victory attain my end.” [1]

 

 


 

[1] The original title of this prayer is “A Disciple’s Renewal”. It is taken from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions. I slightly edited the original (updating “thee”, “thy”, and “thou” with [you] and [your].

What our world needs…

One day I will react the right way in the right moment–but yesterday I missed that moment.

Meredith had just received some news from a friend and wanted to share it with me. The news—her friend’s eight-year-old cousin had been walking across the street to get the mail when he was hit and killed by a car.

My reaction–repulsion (wrong move). Anger (wrong move again). And distance (wrong move again again). In that moment my mind and body shot up every defense. I did not want to let in the tragic death of an eight-year-old.

In that moment I couldn’t. Because I knew it would make me think about my own soon-to-be eight-year-old. And the nightmare it would be if she was killed by a car in front of our house. (Just typing that last sentence makes my hands shake, and my insides want to vomit.)

Sometimes (particularly when I’m not consciously wearing my “pastor” hat) it is difficult for me to enter into another’s pain. Outside of “work” my flesh does not want to do it.

I think I’m just scared of pain. Real pain. Overwhelming, now-I-feel-helpless, hit-you-in-the-gut, came-out-of left-field kind of pain.

When I’m prepared (like when someone says “can I talk to you?”) I’m fine. Pastor hat on. Silent prayers for guidance check. Eyes forward, ears open—let’s go. But if it comes out of nowhere, and it hits close to home…my gut response is to push it away.

It’s a reaction based on fear.

I’m very thankful Jesus is not like this. In fact I am down right amazed at how Jesus enters into our pain.

Condescended from heaven, he entered our world as a helpless child. His heart was full of compassion for every person who came to him. He never shrunk back or ran away. No defenses. No anger. No distance.

Instead he humbled himself, entering into the pain of others all the way up to the cross. And then on the cross he entered into and was covered in the pain of every human being ever to exist.

I can’t help thinking as I scroll through my Facebook feed, and read news headlines, how unique Jesus is. I also can’t help thinking that what our world needs now is not more people proclaiming what is right and wrong (in their own eyes). Not more people mocking what they see or hear. And not more people being repulsed by what they see or hear.

All of that is just our defenses against the pain.

What our world needs is more people who will take the very unpopular and self-debasing action of entering into the pain of others.

We need people of real courage, full of compassion, who are not afraid to get covered in pain. People who are not afraid to feel overwhelmed or helpless by the stories and actions of others.

We need more Jesus-like people.

I confess, I need help in this area.

Maybe you do too.

Let us confess our fears to God. And let us pray that we, like Jesus, could have the courage to enter into the pain of others.

 

 

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:1-8)

Who’s My Neighbor?

I’m reading a very convicting book right now. It’s called The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon. It begins by asking the reader to play the following game:

Think about your eight closest neighbors. To do this just imagine a Tic-Tac-Toe game piece. Then put your house in the middle. Next think about the eight houses in the sounding boxes. (Need a visual? Click here).

Now try to answer the following questions about each of your closest neighbors.

1. What are the  names of the people who live in the households represented by each of the other boxes?

2. What are some relevant facts about the people in each house? For example, where were they born? What is their job? What do they like to do?…etc.

3.  What’s something personal you know about each person in each of the houses? For example, what are their dreams? Do they believe in God? What do they fear? Or some other meaningful bit of information that you could only know after a meaningful interaction with them.

 

Take your time…

 

Now, how did you do?

 

Yeah, my sheet was mostly blank too. Turns out we’re not alone. The authors of the book report the following:

  • About 10 percent of people are able to name the names of all eight of their neighbors.
  • Only about 3 percent of people can share any facts about their eight neighbors.
  • And less than 1 percent of people know any personal information about their eight closest neighbors.

 

I’m not even in the 10 percent group.

 

Here’s the hard news (and the whole point of the book). Jesus said to love our neighbors. And there is no reason to believe that Jesus didn’t mean love our actual neighbors—people who physically live next door to us.

Which means if you’re like me, (you actually want to follow Jesus) then you need to make a change. So let’s do it together.

This summer let’s commit to praying for our eight closest neighbors. Let’s commit to building relationships with our neighbors. Let’s commit to learning something meaningful about our neighbors.

We all desire to see our neighbors have their lives transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. The good news is, so does God. That’s why he led you to live where you live.

God has put us in our houses so that we can represent (and be ambassadors for) Jesus to our actual neighbors. God wants us to step out in faith and begin to pray for our neighbors so that we might get to know our neighbors. So that God might open a door for them to one day hear and respond to the gospel.

I’m not gonna lie, this makes me nervous. I’d much rather share the gospel with 100 strangers then the person living 100 feet from my door.   But hey, if Jesus said “Love your neighbor” then I guess we ought to actually love our neighbors.

Who’s up for it?

 


 

To learn more about how you can love your neighbor join me this summer in reading the book, The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door

Or check out their website http://artofneighboring.com/

Or watch this video for a little inspiration:

How to receive a hug from Jesus

 

I used to think it was odd that Jesus desired an intimate relationship with me (John 17:11). The idea was odd because Jesus is in heaven, and well, I’m not…at least not yet.

There’s space between us. There’s distance. There’s some kind of barrier which appears to keep his affections at arm’s length from me.

It appeared that Jesus was unable to share with me even the simplest form of affection—for example, a hug.

And yet this was the very type of affection that I longed for the longer I walked with Jesus. I longed for the sense of security that results from a physical embrace. I longed for something more than just spiritual intimacy. I longed to traverse the barrier between heaven and earth.

Maybe you have longed for such things as well. Maybe it wasn’t a hug from Jesus. But maybe you longed for a sense of physical security. Or maybe you longed for a real experience of Jesus’ physical presence. And maybe you too have felt frustrated by the barrier between heaven and earth that seems to keep Jesus “up there” and you “down here”.

What are we to do?

Has Jesus left us longing for an experience we simply cannot have this side of heaven?

Is it possible to get a hug from Jesus?

I have come to see that actually, it is.

There is a reason that in the New Testament there is no such thing as a lone-wolf Christian. What I mean is, the early church could not have conceived of a person “trusting Jesus as Lord and Savior” but not being a part (and really what we would call today a “member”) of a local church.

Part of the reason for this was practical and part was theological. Practically speaking, when people became Christians, calling Jesus Lord, they were performing an act of treason by no longer calling Caesar “Lord.” They were walking away from their current culture and kingdom and becoming citizens of a new kingdom—the kingdom of God. This led to individual Christians being misunderstood and ostracized by family, friends, and their community. Thus they had a real need for a new family, new friends, and a new community. Membership in a local Christian community (a local church) met this need.

But there was another reason no Christian would have just had a “personal (and by personal I mean individual) relationship” with Jesus.  And that was because the early church understood that although Jesus ascended into heaven, he still (in some sense) left a body here on earth. His body was called the Church. And it was in, among, and through this Church that Jesus would make himself  known on earth.

Early Christians were even told that Jesus had given every member of his body special divine gifts in order that they might display and communicate his presence on earth (1 Corinthians 12). And Christians were also told that each of them had been commissioned as Jesus’ ambassadors on earth (2 Corinthians 5:20). The result was that early Christians, the members of Christ’s body, actually believed that they were given the authority and privilege to do things for themselves and others on behalf of Jesus. They believed that they were real mediators of Jesus’ physical presence on earth.

And this was and still is a big deal.

Because it means Jesus provided a way, until he returns, for us and others to receive acts of physical affection from himself.   True, the affection is mediated through another person. But if the person is part of the body of Christ then the affection is from Christ (whether either person knows it or not). This is why the Apostle Paul wrote “Greet all God’s people with a holy kiss” (1 Thessalonians 5:26). The kiss was from Jesus.

So the next time you or I want a hug from Jesus, all we have to do is go where the body of Christ is. We simply need to open ourselves to the kindness of the members of his body, the Church.

Sure we might not be open to all people in his body in the same way. But this is why we have small groups, and different age and stage ministries. These groups exist so that every member of Christ’s body can experience the love of Christ and begin to know Christ in a way that transcends the barriers of heaven and earth.

For now, and until Christ returns, the mediation of his physical presence by his body, the Church, will always be imperfect and incomplete. But knowing that all who represent Christ are imperfect and incomplete should not lead us to give up on our longings for Christ’s presence.  Rather such knowledge should prompt us to prayerfully seek out those representatives of Christ who are, well… actually representing Christ. If we do this, we will find the deep, intimate, real relationship with Jesus we have been longing for all along (hugs included).

 

Choosing to Suffer

 

I’ve gone snowboarding three times in my life–each time ended badly. The most recent time was at a winter retreat a few years ago. Some students invited me to join them for a great “bonding experience.” So I took a board, went to the top of the hill, strapped myself in, aimed in the right direction (because I didn’t know how to steer), pushed off, and prayed for the best.

At first I flew down the hill in the direction I had aimed for. Everything was going great. Then I noticed a younger student fifty or so feet in front of me struggling to free himself from his own snowboard and get off the course. In a split second I had to choose, run the kid over or lean to the side and eat it on the hill.

I remember thinking “I can crash gracefully…” so I chose the latter.  I leaned to the right to tumble softly into the snow–unfortunately I did not see the snow bank in my tumbling zone. I hit the bank with my board, flinging my body and board in different directions.  I then felt my right arm bend in the opposite way it is supposed to. And I thought I heard something pop.

Pain shot up my arm and through my elbow and up to my shoulder, as I now lie covered in snow at the bottom of the hill trying to figure out what just happened. I saw the kid walking away completely oblivious to my altruistic act. And of course the students I was with enjoyed bonding by retelling others how bad I ate it.

Now it turned out that after about 24 hours, a lot of ice, and a lot of Advil, I started to believe I might actually be okay.  But here’s the thing… if I had known at the beginning of the day the pain and humiliation that was waiting for me at the bottom of the snow-covered  hill, I would have never gone snowboarding that day. “Bonding,” no matter how great, just would not have been worth that much pain.

I think most of us would react the same way. If we knew something painful was coming in our day, we would try to avoid it. We would try to change it.  For most of us, if we know that a situation has the potential to end badly, we avoid it altogether. Even if there’s a potential payoff.

Because who wants to suffer? Who chooses to suffer?

Jesus did.

What is amazing to me about Jesus is not that he suffered, but that he knew he was going to suffer and he chose to go through it 480px-Michelangelo's_Pieta_5450_cropncleaned_editanyway.

As a young Jewish man he certainly would have read (and likely memorized) scriptures like Psalm 22. He would have meditated on words like:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?

My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.

But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads.“He trusts in the Lord,” they say, “let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him, since he delights in him…

Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help. Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. Roaring lions that tear their prey open their mouths wide against me. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me. My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death…

Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet. All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.

 

Jesus would have read those words and known that, as God’s Messiah, those words applied directly to himself. Every day that Jesus read the Scriptures he looked into his future. Every day he read those words he had a choice to make: run away from suffering or choose to go through it.

Of course this suffering was not thrust upon Jesus. Before the creation of the world, Jesus as the Son of God chose suffering as the effective means of salvation for all who would put their trust in him. And even in his earthly ministry Jesus says, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again” (John 10:18). And in Hebrews 12:2 we are told, “For the joy set before him, [Jesus] endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Before God spoke the words “let there be light” Jesus chose to suffer.  He chose to be humiliated, to be abandoned, to endure unimaginable pain. On earth he chose to be reminded of that future suffering from the moment he could read. Jesus knew what was coming and chose to go through it anyway.

Why?

Jesus was also interested in a bonding experience.  But he wanted more than just to make memories with friends. He wanted to see rebels of God become children of God.  He wanted to see sinners turned into saints. He wanted to do for people what they could not do for themselves. He wanted to take upon himself the suffering we not only deserve but so desperately try to avoid. Jesus chose to suffer so that one day we wouldn’t have to.