Posts tagged Jesus
Last week, my friend Weldon was speaking at church and he said something that I have been thinking about ever since. Weldon was recalling a conversation that he and his wife Angelina had with a 90 year old woman named Elizabeth. The conversation was wide-ranging, but the bit that caught my attention was something that Elizabeth said to them.
She said that she found it so interesting that people don’t talk about the Holy Spirit more today. After all, she said, the people who spent 24/7 with Jesus for three years, sitting under his teaching and watching his example, still didn’t get it. They failed to grasp any true understanding of the Kingdom of God and, ultimately, deserted Jesus in his time of need. They didn’t really get it until after he had died, risen, ascended to heaven and then sent the Holy Spirit to empower them.
You see, spending time with Jesus was life-changing, but it took the power and presence of the Holy Spirit to pull the puzzle together, cause it to make sense and propel these world-changers forward with the good news of the Kingdom of God. I wonder, like Elizabeth, how it is that we have failed to understand this Biblical message. How is it that we try to understand our God while missing the crucial “Holy Spirit piece.”
So often we tell ourselves that if someone just knows enough, that they will “get it.” We’re determined that if others see a good life example – a mentor or a coach – that the switch will go on and they will change the way they live their life. We’re convinced that getting to know Jesus is enough. And then, we are disappointed when, in our own life and the lives of others, we don’t see that play out.
The truth is, knowing Jesus is enough, but only if we know all of him. The God that we worship exists, sometimes confusingly, in three “persons” – Father, Son & Holy Spirit. Most of us recognize the Father part. Our earliest thoughts of God are probably mentally tied to our image either of our human father or of an idealized version of what a father should be. The Son, Jesus, is easy to grasp, too, in that there is much written about his life to which we can relate. But what about the third person of God, the Holy Spirit?
Perhaps the fact that we don’t even have a great analogy to describe the Holy Spirit – something like “Father” or “Son” that helps us understand this facet of God – is indication enough that we don’t really “get it.” But however you may think of the Holy Spirit, the words of that 90 year old woman ring true – they are true, straight from the Bible! Jesus’ closest followers were completely lost, disillusioned and confused until they were visited by the Holy Spirit. And yet, so often, we leave the Holy Spirit (33% of God) out of our life, out of our discussions and out of our understanding of God.
This year, let me encourage you to think about the Holy Spirit. If need be, set aside any notions you have of who the Holy Spirit is or does, especially if you have negative associations with the words “Holy Spirit.” Rather, pray that God will bring clarity to your idea of just who the Holy Spirit is and what the presence and power of the Holy Spirit is all about. Then, if you have the guts, pray directly to the Holy Spirit and ask to receive that power and presence.
If Jesus’ closest friends, allies and confidants required a visitation from the Holy Spirit before they could get it, why would we expect anything else for ourselves and our friends? In 2013, I pray that you and I will be empowered by the Holy Spirit to “get” things that we never “got” before, to see things we never saw before and to do things we’ve never done before. If we are empowered by the Holy Spirit, then, without a doubt, the best is yet to come!
With a classic story by Victor Hugo, music and lyrics by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil respectively, direction by Tom Hooper and a star-studded cast headed by Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, and Amanda Seyfried, the film version of Les Misérables is a blockbuster hit that is being hailed as a masterpiece by critics and audiences alike.
I saw the film and I have to say that I agree, although there were some shortcomings. Now, first, I must warn you that I was a musical theater guy in high school and college and even spent some time in theatre conservatory (you know it’s serious when the word is spelled t-h-e-a-t-r-e), so I know the story and music of “Les Mis” like the back of my hand. This, of course, serves to both inform and bias my opinion of the film. With that confession, here is my quick take before getting to the heart of this post.
The story is as compelling as ever (more on that momentarily) and the music brilliant as always. The direction and cinematography are well-done and add depth and intimacy to the story that simply can’t be captured on stage. The cast is hit-and-miss, with Hathaway being surprisingly good, Jackman holding his own, but not great, and Seyfried sounding OK, but a little like a modern-day fluttery Cinderella. Then there’s Russell Crowe – far out-classed by his co-stars and outmatched by the vocal score, the guy just isn’t up to the task. It’s not just bad. It’s really bad – embarrassingly bad.
The standouts are some of the unknowns of the film. Little Isabelle Allen as young Cosette, Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche and Natalya Angel Wallace as the grown-up Éponine all shine in their roles as do Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the Thénardiers. Eddie Redmayne as Marius is ho-hum.
With all of that taken into consideration, what I walked away from the film with was this: the story of Les Misérables is a story of redemption and forgiveness. It is a story of a cynical man being undeservedly forgiven and living the rest of his life trying to reconcile himself to that forgiveness. A single act, carried out without hesitation by a priest, pivots Jean Valjean’s life and opens up something in him that can never be resealed.
This, to me, is the story of the Kingdom of God. A single act of forgiveness that brings redemption to us all and (if recognized for what it truly is) affects us to our core for the rest of our existence. If we understand the forgiveness we’ve received, then we can give forgiveness when it seems the least warranted. If we understand the death from which we were spared, then we can spare others who deserve a similar fate. If we understand the brokenness of our own humanity, then we can see more clearly the humanity of even the most broken people.
The story of Les Misérables is the story of us. We are the miserable ones who, without the redemptive person of Jesus are “standing in our graves” here on earth. He rescues us – from prison, from the gutter, from being orphaned and, ultimately, from death. He died as one accused so that we could make a clean getaway.
If you venture out to see Les Misérables in the coming days, consider for yourself just how much forgiveness one man had to offer in order for you to live the life you’re living. Then, resolve to offer the same forgiveness to others that you have received for yourself.
Once again, we get some incredibly horrific imagery from John. Blood and death and birds eating flesh. These are hardly the things that most people think of when they think of reading the Bible. And yet, there they are – God’s wrath poured out on those who oppose him with the punishment being carried out by Jesus, in a great moment of revenge against those who tormented him while he walked the earth.
God is balancing the equation. All of the injustice that we see every day in our world is being stored up and stored up and eventually, God will make it right. It sounds terrifying and yet, in our gut, it’s kind of what we want to see happen. We want to see wrongs made right and wickedness punished. We just don’t want it to happen to us.
That’s the crux of it, isn’t it? When we read Revelation, we try to figure out which camp we are in. Will we be led astray by the beast? Are we “good enough” to avoid the wrath of God? The reality, of course, is that no, we aren’t good enough. However, we are covered.
We are covered by the blood that Jesus shed on our behalf. We are covered by the torment that he went through so that we wouldn’t have to go through it. We are covered by the fact that he already balanced the equation for us. He already made our wrongs right.
For those of us who put our faith in Jesus, this should be a great comfort. It should also be an enormous wake-up call. No matter how you slice it, if the scales of justice are going to be balanced, somebody has to pay. We have one who has offered to pay for all of it. Our job is to make others aware of that offer. It’s a good one. It’s an easy sell. We just have to go out and do it.
There’s something special about a personal visit. To be sure, a lot can be accomplished in a letter, a phone call, or an email, but some things are best said in person. John understood this as he wrote his letters.
In 2 John, he says almost nothing. His letter is more of a reminder that he is thinking about this woman and a note that he hopes to visit soon. 3 John has a little more substance, but still falls short, in the writers admission, of really getting to the heart of the matter. In both cases, John says that he doesn’t want to put down on paper what he would rather discuss in person.
There could have been numerous reasons for this. Perhaps John was afraid the letters would be stolen and his safety or the safety of others would be compromised. Or perhaps, like some of us when composing an intricate email, he recognized that it can be difficult for a reader to understand tone of voice and impossible for them to see facial expression or to engage in dialogue about the issue at hand.
In short, a letter is a one-way communication devoid of expression and emotion other than what can be communicated through our limited punctuation. It is a good form of communication, but a letter (or email) is far from a replacement for personal interaction.
As we near the celebration of Jesus’ birth, I’m reminded that this principle is as true for God as it is for us. There were many things that God could say, that men could write down. But nothing would have the affect on the world that the birth of Jesus would have. That personal visit – that intimate interaction between God and man – was what set the world on its ear.
As we celebrate over the next several days, let’s remember that Jesus’ birth not only represented the salvation of the world, it was also God’s attempt to be as close to us as possible – to visit us in person to deliver the message that he chose not to fully reveal in writing. The love and power of Jesus and the Holy Spirit are, by their nature, experiential, personal and intimate. Let us pursue that relationship with everything we’ve got. In the midst of that pursuit, we’ll discover that our best friend is also the one who saved our soul.
It certainly didn’t take long for Jesus’ “brand” to be co-opted. Today, we know that there are sleazy people out there trying to make a buck by claiming this thing or that about Jesus, but it’s pretty amazing to think how quickly that underbelly cropped up.
For the early church, this would have been particularly problematic, because most of them had to rely heavily on what they were being taught by others. They didn’t have Bibles, most didn’t even have access to much of Scripture and even if they did, many didn’t know how to read. Their theology, then, came by word of mouth – from teachers and traveling preachers.
Not only that, but this whole Jesus thing was brand new. Therefore, anyone who was teaching about Jesus was either completely new on the scene or they had been transformed, like Paul, to a new way of thinking. This, of course, left a lot of room for con artists to come in and take advantage of people.
Peter’s advice to his audience and his warnings to the false prophets are just as relevant for us today. For those who are teaching or are in any kind of leadership, the message is clear: If we allow our human desires to corrupt the message of Jesus, we’ll be worse off than if we had never known him. And when considering a particular teaching, those of us listening to that teaching should consider carefully what we’re hearing.
We are fortunate in our modern world to have access to Scripture as well as the ability to read and interpret it for ourselves. And yet, it is still all to common for people to be duped by a slick presentation and a smooth talking preacher. At some point, we have to start taking some responsibility for what we believe and for the teaching we allow to be accepted in our minds. If we aren’t using the tools at our disposal to understand God’s word to us, then perhaps we are just as guilty as the one trying to trick us.
That’s why I think journeys like this one are so important. Reading every single word of the Bible ensures us that “if it’s in there, we’ve read it.” It also helps us to contemplate some of the difficult passages, become aware of new ideas from even the most familiar passages and, overall, to increase our intelligence about this incredible collection of writings – the story of God and his people as revealed through the eyes, hearts and minds of incredible people of faith who were inspired by the Holy Spirit. Isn’t that way better than just blindly accepting some random person’s teaching?