Telemachus

telemachusTelemachus was a monk who lived in a small monastic community near the end of the fourth century. He had a peaceful life of Bible study, prayer, and gardening for the cloister. His peaceful life was interrupted by the sense that God wanted him to move from the country to the distant city of Rome. Telemachus didn’t want to move. He loved his simple life, but he believed it was what God wanted, and so he left.

When he arrived at Rome, he found everything he feared. Political corruption, pleasure gone amuck, wild and godless living abounded. He followed the crowds into the Coliseum.

He was shocked when he saw the gladiators stand and salute the emperor, saying, “We who are about to die salute you!”  It turned his stomach to see crowds watching men slaughter each other for pleasure.

Telemachus had enough. He climbed a wall and shouted out, “In the name of Christ stop this! Stop this now!” but nobody listened. The gore continued.

Finally he jumped down into the arena and approached the gladiators, yelling, “In the name of Christ, stop this! Stop it!” Generally, they ignored him, pushing him out of the way, but the crowd grew agitated that this little monk dared to interfere with the sport. Someone in the crowd shouted “Run him through! Kill him!” and the rest of the crowd joined in.

A gladiator listened to the crowds and struck Telemachus with a mortal wound. Telemachus fell to his knees, and with his last breaths, gasped, “In the name of Christ…stop this!”

Then something strange happened. The soldiers and spectators stopped, watching this monk die. His death wasn’t like the deaths that entertained them moments ago. It was different. There was no roar for the victor. Silence overtook the arena. Then one onlooker walked away. Then another. And another, until the spectators deserted the Coliseum, never to return. Tradition says that the death of the little country monk brought an end to the spectacle of organized murder for entertainment.

There is much to admire and learn from the life and death of Telemachus. What principles of scripture does he remind you of?

More than a Feeling

loveverbLove is more than a feeling. It is a choice, a pursuit, a decision, an action, a lifestyle. When we reduce love to something as fleeting as an emotion, we tear out the support that allows it to weather the storms of life. Here’s a short lesson on Christian love from a helpful book about the purpose of marriage by Gary Thomas called Sacred Marriage.

“Christian love, on the other hand, must be chased after, aspired to, and practiced. The popular culture completely misunderstands this principle.

One of the cruelest and most self-condemning remarks I’ve ever heard is the one that men often use when they leave their wives for another woman: “The truth is, I’ve never loved you.”

This is meant to be an attack on the wife — saying, in effect, “The truth is, I’ve never found you lovable.”

But put in a Christian context, it’s a confession of the man’s utter failure to be a Christian. If he hasn’t loved his wife, it is not his wife’s fault, but his. Jesus calls us to love even the unlovable — even our enemies! — so a man who says “I’ve never loved you” is a man who is saying essentially this: “I’ve never acted like a Christian.”

Thomas calls us on the carpet for our tendency to blame others for our failing at the simplest commands of Christianity. Love isn’t optional. It’s more than a feeling.

So even when you don’t feel like it, love anyway. When the other person doesn’t deserve it, love anyway. When you’re tired and cranky and you’ve had a bad day, love anyway.

From Selfishness to Selflessness

selfless-selfishPicture_65Most people marry for selfish reasons. “She makes me happy.” “She’s beautiful.” “She treats me well.”

Many marriages fail for selfish reasons. “He didn’t make me happy anymore, so I found someone who did.” “I don’t feel what I used to feel about him.”

For marriages to succeed, we have to move from the selfish to the selfless. Selfishness may lead us to the altar, but the vows we make are vows of selflessness. We promise to love, honor, and cherish in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer until death do us part. Successful couples grow out of selfishness.

We can see the same phenomenon in raising children. We hope our children will bring us joy, but that hope can easily turn into co-dependence or vicarious life that strangles a healthy relationship. Successful  parents are selfless parents.

The same pattern can be seen in church. Many guests first attend a congregation and ask, “What can you do for me and my family?” They analyze the programs and preaching and evaluate the church based on what the church does for them. It’s a normal, but selfish, approach.

Many relationships with congregations fail for selfish reasons. “They didn’t do what I wanted.” “They pushed me out of my comfort zone.” “I disagreed with a decision.” Before long—these people have moved on to greener pastures, because the church asks you to be like Jesus, who served, rather than expecting service (see Mark 10:45).

Selfishness is easy in the short-term, but deadly in the long-term.

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4)

To paraphrase J.F.K., ask not what your spouse or child or friend or church can do for you…but what you can do for them.

You won’t find happiness at the end of a road named selfishness.” (Gary Thomas)

Help!!!

drownImagine that you’re relaxing by the pool on a warm summer afternoon. You’re watching a child play when suddenly the smile vanishes from his face. He’s no longer splashing and having fun. He’s thrashing in terror. He drifted into the deep end, and he can’t swim. He’s drowning.

What would you do next?

Option One: Run inside, grab a copy of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Swimming,” and bring it to the pool and throw it to the child so he can learn how to swim.

Option Two: Yell at the child, “You should really stop drowning! You’ll die if you don’t quit that! Start swimming!”

Option Three: Jump in the pool and carry the child to safety.

Option Four: Do nothing and watch.

Which option did you choose?

If you anything but number three, never offer to babysit our kids!

There are scenarios in which each of the options might be correct.

There are times that we need instruction. “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Swimming” might have been useful to prevent this situation, but in the moment of panic, it is totally useless.

There are times we need correction. A reminder of the consequences of our actions can be really helpful. But once we’re in over our heads, it serves as little more than a self-righteous “I told you so.”

There are times when we sit by and let people learn lessons from the natural consequences of their actions. This story isn’t one of those times, the stakes are too high.

Sometimes, the only option is to jump into the mess and pick someone up and hold them.

It can be messy, dangerous, and hard, but sometimes that’s the only way. Jude says that some people need a gentle act of mercy, but we “save others by snatching them out of the fire” (Jude 1:23).

When people around you are drowning—spiritually, emotionally, financially, relationally—make sure to help in a helpful way.

He Won’t Remember

forgetMemorial Day is bigger than backyard barbeques. Our nation has set this day aside to remember the men and women who died in the military. The sacrifices of these brave soldiers deserve to be remembered. It causes us to think of the painful consequences of war. It inspires others towards the virtues of sacrifice.

We work very hard not to forget important things. We have calendars with important dates highlighted. Our doctors send us messages to remind us of appointments. We tie strings around our fingers and stick Post-It notes on the wall, all in an effort to remember.

One of the beautiful promises of scripture is when God promises not to remember. In Jeremiah 31:31-34, the Lord speaks of a new covenant that Jesus would make with his people. This covenant is unlike the covenant that the Israelites broke with God after Egypt. This new covenant ends with a promise: “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34)

The book of Hebrews uses this text to remind believers that they have something worth remembering: God’s promise to forget! When the prophet Micah described God’s forgiveness, he said, that God “will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:19)

When God forgives us, he forgives us totally and completely. He doesn’t put us on divine probation. He wipes the slate clean and promises never to bring it back up again. What a blessing!

How the Temple Came to Be

“Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to dove_1xGod.” (Hebrews 13:16)

There’s a fable that the old rabbis would tell about how the spot was chosen for the Temple of Israel.

Two brothers farmed one tract of land and shared one mill. Each day, the brothers worked the fields together. Each night, they would gather together whatever grain they produced and bring their portion home.

One of the brothers was single. The other was married with many children. The single brother decided that his married brother needed much more grain than he did. So secretly in the middle of the night, he snuck over to his married brother’s storehouse and gave some of his portion to his brother.

The married brother realized that his single brother had no children or anyone who could care for him in his old age, so he decided that he needed to have more in storage for the future. So each night, he secretly deposited some grain into his single brother’s storehouse.

One night, the two men each undertook their secret mission when their paths crossed halfway between the storehouses. When each realized what his brother was doing, they embraced and wept.

As the story goes, God witnessed what happened there and said, “This is a holy place—a place of reconciliation, love, and sacrifice—and this is the place where my presence will dwell.”

The story isn’t historically factual, but I believe it is theologically true. God is present when his people take care of each other and are reconciled to each other. You can make your home a “holy place” by practicing the art of forgiveness and sacrifice.

An Important Greeting

fearAlmost every time that an angel meets a human, the angel says the same thing: “Do not fear.” I assume there’s good reason for that, because almost every time an angel meets a human, the human is face down on the ground, trembling in terror.

Two truths are revealed by the angels’ greetings in scripture, and both truths must be kept in perspective.

Truth #1: God is awesome.

“Awesome” means awe-inspiring. That means awe-full. That means terrifying. He is bigger, stronger, smarter, brighter and better than you. Being in his perfect presence makes my imperfections and limitations so painfully obvious I cannot stand it. Moses was so changed by being in God’s presence that the Israelites begged him to talk to God on their behalf because they would die if exposed to his radiance (Exodus 20:18-21).

Truth #1 means that we are wise to fear him.

Yes, I know, perfect love casts out fear. But yes, we need to know that his presence is bright and full and terrifying in a way that we cannot stand to be in his presence. Scripture affirms this in Ecclesiastes 12:13 “Fear God, and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (See also Deuteronomy 10:12)

Truth #2: We shouldn’t be afraid when the terrifying Lord of Heaven shows up, because he tells his people not to be afraid. (See Luke 1:30, Matthew 1:19-25, Luke 2:8-20 and others).

In summary, we need to be afraid. We need not to be afraid. Confused yet?

This is one of those beautiful and powerful paradoxes of scripture. “God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29, Deuteronomy 4:24). We should never let our view of God become too tame or too small. “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31 NASB).  If we forget that we are dealing with God, we risk minimizing him, disobeying him, and trivializing him. When Lewis imagined him in Narnia as Aslan, he was not “a tame lion.”

This fear should not be our only or overwhelming response. If fear is all we have, we don’t have a relationship with God who invites us to fear no more. We remember his mercy towards us. Paul said, “Notice therefore the kindness and harshness of God” (Romans 11:22 NET).

Don’t neglect the fear or the kindness, rather, bow before the God who says do not fear!

Personal Day of Prayer

national-day-of-prayerThursday was the National Day of Prayer. People from all sorts of backgrounds met together to pray for our nation and our communities.

Do you ever run out of things to pray for? Here are some things that might spur your prayer list:

  • For the government to rule justly and peaceably
  • For the safety of our police, paramedics, and fire fighters
  • For wisdom and patience for school teachers
  • For endurance for our missionaries overseas
  • For the farmers who grow our food
  • For single people to feel valued and loved in the Kingdom
  • For the health of the athletes who entertain us
  • For artists to use their gifts to glorify God
  • For those whose faith is weak to be strengthened
  • For boldness to speak the gospel in a world that has forgotten it
  • For the media to report truth accurately
  • For those who are grieving to find comfort
  • For the billions enslaved by the false promises of materialism
  • For our military men and women who serve on our behalf
  • For those who are researching cures for diseases to have success
  • For preachers of the gospel to study truth and communicate well
  • For the sick to find health and peace
  • For eyes to see the sins hiding in our own hearts
  • For parents to raise their children in the love of Jesus and not give up during those sleepless nights
  • For doctors and nurses to serve compassionately and wisely
  • For teens to make good decisions in a world without a moral compass
  • For our enemies to repent and find a better way
  • For those stuck in cycles of poverty to find a way out
  • For opportunities to share Jesus with people who are searching for him
  • For married people to have relationships that reflect the love of Jesus
  • For authors to write useful and beautiful books to inspire us
  • For the wicked to repent or that God will stop their harm
  • For children who are orphaned or neglected
  • For elders to shepherd the church wisely
  • To praise and thank and glorify the God who allows us to make such bold requests of him
  • For a better ability to pray, for the wisdom to ask the right things, and for the will of God to be done.

You could easily expand this list. Why not make your own, personal, day of prayer and spend some time in it?

The Fountain of Life

youthFive hundred years before Jesus, Herodotus wrote about a mysterious place with water that rolled back the effects of age and restored youth and vitality to the aged. Ever since his day, explorers have scoured the globe in search of the fountain of youth or the fountain of life. French explorer Ponce de León continued the search in the new world, believing for a while that he found it in what is now called St. Augustine, Florida.

The explorers have all returned home empty-handed, but that doesn’t mean their search was totally in vain, though. The book of Proverbs talks about a fountain of life. It’s not a body of water located on the map, but it is something that preserves life.

“The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.” (Proverbs 14:26). Earlier in the book, we read that “the mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.” (Proverbs 10:11)

There’s a biblical principle: when you follow God’s instructions, you will have full, abundant life (see John 10:10). Even if your time on earth is cut short, Jesus promised another kind of fountain of life. “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26) He went further and said, “This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)

Christianity rightly lived often adds to the span of our days on earth—but that is only the beginning. In Jesus, we can truly live forever. How’s that for a fountain of life?

What are my good deeds worth?

tallyThere’s a story about an old man who died and met St. Peter at the gates of heaven.

Peter explained, “You’re going to need 100 points to get in. Tell me what good things you’ve done in your life, and I’ll tell you how many points it was worth.”

The man said, “I was married to the same woman for 50 years and was a great husband.”

Peter replied, “Great. That’s three points.”

“Three points!?” the man replied. “Well, I went to church every time the doors were opened and gave generously.”

Peter said, “Good work. That’s three more points.”

The man started to get nervous, so he tried to think of what else he had done. “I went on mission trips every year and preached the gospel to thousands!”

Peter said, “OK. I think that’s worth a point.”

The man was panicked—just one point? The math wasn’t working out. There was no way he could reach 100 points. He thought and thought of all the good that he had done and finally cried out in terror, “At this rate, the only way I’ll get in is by the grace of God.”

Peter smiled and said, “Come on in. Now you get it.”

We don’t do good deeds to bribe God with our goodness. We don’t do good deeds to undo our previous bad deeds. We don’t do good deeds to impress people around us. We do good deeds as our way of saying, “Thank you, thank you, thank you for the grace that saved me! I want to share it with the world!”