Tuesday, April 6, 2010

You're not the boss of me! Really?

The house was blissfully still as I lay on the couch resting from our family Easter celebration.  Kids, grandkids and dear friends had long gone home, the leftovers were wrapped, dishes dried and put away, Joe was in bed, and I was alone.   Just me, and a basket of foil wrapped European chocolate eggs.  For three weeks, they’d politely decorated my dining room table but now they were rudely calling my name.  Like clanging cymbals.  Spellbound, my eyes glazed over and my mouth watered as I entertained the notion of eating one.  I succumbed.  Then I ate another and another and pretty soon I’d downed six of the things.  If I hadn’t started feeling sick, I’d probably have eaten the entire basket full.

This morning, awash in self-recrimination, I repented yet again for my lack of self-control, and to be brutally honest, the sin of gluttony.   As I picked up my journal to write, a card fell out – some notes I’d taken several weeks ago from an article that suggested that our will is not some independent entity doing what it wants, but instead relies completely on cues from other sources.   This was news to me -- I’ve always seen my will as akin to an angry two year old, stomping her feet and shouting, “You’re not the boss of me!”  We were at war, and I was the one who lost far too often.  But if I can’t blame my will for making me chomp down those chocolates last night, what did?  Or perhaps more aptly put; who or what is the boss of me?

The more I thought about it, I the more I realized that the will is pliable, that it is shaped by the things that seek to tell it what to do.  Of course we’ve had a lifetime of these cues, which means that our wills do have a certain bent – but that doesn’t mean they are on their own.  Here are a few things I suspect serve to influence my will.

My Mind: Not only do my thoughts directly influence my choices, but they create feelings that actively mold my will.  For example, for most of my life I have seen sweets as a reward for good behavior (hmm – wonder where that idea comes from?).  So last night when I was tired and feeling a little let-down, I suddenly felt I deserved those eggs.  I won’t even begin to bore you with my thought processes, but believe me, they became a well-fortified defense against any logical thinking.  Unfortunately, far too often this kind of emotional interchange gives shape to the actions I take.  (Romans 12:2)

My Body:  Our bodies have certain needs that express themselves in things like hunger or thirst.  These influence our wills to make choices to satisfy those needs, but they are not always the best choices.  I wish I could blame the chocolate on healthy hunger, but I’d had far too much to eat that day.  In essence, my feelings overrode anything my body might have been trying to say – like, you’re not really hungry, are you?  Of course this is how addictions form and take on a life of their own. (Romans 6:16)

Other people: When I am attached to the opinions of others, I make decisions on that basis.  My will acts, therefore, in response to my desire to receive attention or affirmation.  I hate to think how often this happens. (Proverbs 29:25)

The evil one: Obviously Satan or one of his cohorts is always trying to influence us – he had the gall to try it with Jesus himself, so I’d best not think I’m exempt from the pressures the forces of darkness put on my pliable will.  That would be the worst sort of naiveté.  (Ephesians 4:27)

My heart:  What I mean here, is the entity that makes me who I really am, the person God created me to be.  This is the hub where His Spirit and mine commune, and from there come  impressions, nudges, intuitions, messages, yearnings and callings that have the power to shape my will into something God-honoring and joy-producing.  (Proverbs 3:1-6)

That’s my list – you might add others, but it seems to me that our lives as Christ-followers must be ones in which we seek ever more consistently to filter our choices through our hearts before we act.  Of course this requires us to live with a greater awareness of what our heart – that place of authenticity and spiritual life at the core of our being – might have to say about the things we want to do or say.  In a sense, this means letting God be the gatekeeper of our will, enabling Him to shape it as He desires.

Some might say that the choice to let Him do this is an act of my will, but I prefer to think of it as an act of grace instead.   In my heart of hearts, I long to follow Jesus, to be the person He made me to be, the one who brings Him honor and lives for His pleasure.  So when I seek to make Him the director of my will, it isn’t me that is choosing, but the grace of God in me (1 Corinthians 15:10). The key then, is to learn how to better tap into that fountain of divine enabling that ever flows from His heart to mine.

What might the other night have looked like, had I done so?  I might not have eaten a single egg, but then again, I might have had one after all, savoring each bite, giving thanks for the wonder of chocolate and enjoying the Giver of all good gifts.  I’d have known that to eat more would have been turning my will over to the tyranny of emotions that were up to no good.  And I’d have woken the next morning with a nice memory of the end to a lovely day instead of a load of guilt and an extra pound to work off.

In the end, living intentionally always comes back to the same thing for me – walking in intimate communion with Jesus, taking it moment by moment and learning from the One who is gentle and humble in heart; who takes great pleasure in shaping my will so that I can live out the destiny He planned before the foundation of the world.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


Paul Harvey, well known American radio commentator, is famous for revealing surprise endings to unusual stories and little-known facts about popular news items.  He ends every broadcast with the now-famous line;  “And that my friends, is the rest of the story.”  What might Mr. Harvey say about the nondescript Jew from Nazareth who died on a cross 2000 years ago?  Perhaps it would go something like this:
On the third day after his death, Jesus of Nazareth miraculously arose, culminating the fulfillment of over 300 prophecies from the Hebrew Scriptures.  He appeared at least ten times to those who knew Him, and to as many as 500 people at one time. This was no short-lived hallucination on the part of fanatic followers.  He ate with them, exhorted and encouraged them and let doubters touch the holes in His body from the spear and nails. After 40 days He ascended into the clouds in plain view of all, accompanied by angels who promised He would come again one day just as he had left.

What of the other participants in the drama of Christ’s death?  The high priest Annas continued a tradition of greed and repression.  He raised money by extortion and bribed Roman procurators, all while proclaiming to represent God.  Early records reveal his tomb near the south wall of Jerusalem by the late ‘60s.

Annas’ son-in-law, Caiaphas, enjoyed the longest reign of any chief priest in the first century.  He remained a shrewd strategist and politician, enabling his lengthy regime.  His family tomb was recently discovered on the south wall of Jerusalem. 

 Herod Antipas, the Jewish tetrarch, cultivated his friendship with the Roman emperor Tiberius, even building a town in his honor.  All the while he sought to expand his own authority, secretly craving the kind of rule his father, Herod Agrippa had known.  In AD39 he was found guilty of treason and banished to Lyones, stripped of all wealth and power.  He and his wife Herodias died later in Spain.
In Pilate’s 10 year reign, he had numerous conflicts with the Jews.  One time he overstepped his bounds, having hundreds of Samaritan Jews executed by Roman soldiers.  Ordered to return to Rome, he never arrived.  Tradition states that while on the way there, he committed suicide, not willing to face a Roman trial.  The only physical evidence of Pilate’s existence is some coins depicting pagan sacrifices, produced with his name during his rule in Jerusalem.

The accusers and mockers of Jesus Christ are gone, little more than a footnote in history.  In fact, none of them would be worthy of mention were it not for their role in His death.  

Yet those who followed Christ made an amazing comeback after He arose.  The small band who were too afraid to even attend the crucifixion, were transformed at Pentecost when Jesus poured out His Holy Spirit upon them.  Though they faced greater danger and rejection than ever, and in fact all but one were martyred for their faith, they turned the world upside down with their fervor to spread the truth about their Master.

Jesus Christ of Nazareth completely altered the course of history.  Even a casual glance at a calendar affirms the reality of his existence 2000 years ago. Everything points to the time before He lived or the time after His death.  Today, the Christian religion spans the globe, continuing to impact people from every tribe and nation.

No one has ever changed individual lives like Jesus of Nazareth.  No one has ever affected the world order like Jesus of Nazareth.  He is not only the most unique person of all time, but through the power of His resurrection, continues to put hope in the hearts of those looking for life’s true meaning.

Perhaps one of the most apt descriptions of Jesus is found every year on Christmas cards all over the world.  The author is anonymous, but the words powerful:

Nineteen wide centuries have come and gone and today He is the center-piece of the human race and the leader of the column of progress.  I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched and all the navies that ever were built, and all of the parliaments that ever have sat, and all the kings that ever reigned put together have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that one solitary life, Jesus of Nazareth.

And that my friends, is the rest of the story.

Reprinted by permission. Contemplating the Cross: a Forty Day Pilgrimage of Prayer, Tricia McCary Rhodes, 2004, Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, Tennessee. All rights reserved. Copying or using this material without written permission from the publisher is strictly prohibited and in direct violation of copyright law.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

I Never Really Got This Before

Today is Maundy Thursday, the day in Holy Week that focuses on the wonder of Jesus washing our feet in preparation for Good Friday. I have been trying to be more intentional about making every day this week uniquely holy, no easy feat given the busyness of Easter preparations and life in general.  But this morning as I pondered anew the moment when Jesus cried out: My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?  I saw something I never really got before.

I've often been moved by the reality that when Jesus took on the sins of the world, He experienced all the consequences of our nasty rebellion as well.  But what hit me today was that the greatest fallout from sin is the severing of our souls from the Source of our being, the tearing asunder of who we are from the only One who really knows, the God who made us for His pleasure.

This is the pathos that festers like an open sore within the human psyche and echoes endlessly in the black hole of existence without our Maker.  In lonely glances and lustful intents, in vacant stares and hollow hopes, in bitter grief and tortuous sleep, in the agony of abandonment and the awfulness of abuse, the reminder that we are alone torments every person on planet earth.  From this agony there is no escape.  We are born into a world of sorrow, separated from the only One who can bring order to the chaos, healing to the brokenness, and meaning to our empty days.  Could there be any greater pain?

This, I believe, is what Jesus chose to endure in those final moments of Golgotha's glory.  Most people say that when Jesus cried out My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?, it was because the Father could not look upon the sin that saturated His Son's being, but this explanation falls far too short.   The truth is that Jesus could have changed things even then, drawing from His Deity to deliver Him and restore in an instant His Father's embrace.   Instead, He chose to take on not only our sin, but this detritus of desperation that has always followed in its wake.   

The Cross has confounded me once again.  What else can I do but fall on my face and worship?.