Tag Archives: Resurrection

Jesus Won’t Make Your Life Perfect

Do you think you have the perfect life?

Even though we are all masterpieces created by God, we’re broken.  I don’t think anyone can claim that they have the perfect life or that they’ve lived perfectly.  I think the majority of us would find that we have more in common with Aron Ralston than Jesus.

On retreat down in Reu, Guatemala, after I gave my message on being broken, several students came up to me and asked to talk.  So we walked around under a grove a palm trees in the sweltering heat and talked.  They, like me, had made mistakes in their past.  They, like me, had felt stuck because of what they’d done and wished they could erase their mistakes.

Jesus doesn’t erase our mistakes.  He won’t make your life perfect.  And we shouldn’t want him too.

As my students told me what had gone wrong in their lives, I felt God nudging me to tell them about Aron Ralston.  Now, if that name sounds familiar to you it’s because you just read my blog from my 27th birthday about being stuck in Guatemala and how God used that to get me to where he wanted me.  Or you saw the movie 127 Hours.  But then maybe, you read Aron Ralston’s book, 127 Hours: Between A Rock And A Hard Place.

Aron, an avid outdoorsman, found himself trapped by a freak climbing accident.  He’d survived being trapped in an avalanche and stalked by a bear, but when a large boulder dislodged itself and pinned Aron’s arm to the side of Blue John Canyon in Utah, Aron’s life had to change.  After nearly six days of being trapped, Aron cut his arm off to free himself.

If anyone has reason to wish he could go back and have a past mistake taken away, it’s Aron.  He describes in the book how he had the opportunity to take another route through the canyon, which would have kept him in contact with people, but he chose to remain alone. His choice led to the loss of his arm.  That is why I believe more of us relate to Aron than Jesus.

The Bible says that we all have messed up and fallen short of what it takes to make it into heaven.  We’ve all gotten our arms stuck between a rock and the canyon wall, with no real hope of living life the way it was before we were trapped.  I could tell, as I looked into my student’s eyes, that they felt this desire.

But then I shared with them the rest of Aron’s story.

After he’d cut his arm free and recovered in the hospital he wrote, “For all that has happened and the opportunities still developing in my life, I feel blessed.  I was part of a miracle that has touched a great number of people in the world and I wouldn’t trade that for anything, not even to have my hand back.  My accident in the rescue from Blue John Canyon were the most beautiful spiritual experiences of my life, knowing that, were I to travel back in time, I would still say, ‘see you later’ to Megan and Kristi and take off into the lower slot by myself,” (Ralston, pg 342).  Because Aron cut his arm off so that he could live, he inspired other people to fight to live.

Aron understands that God uses our pasts to help others.  He gave Aron a greater story, one not just about hiking and extreme sports, but about what it means to live and be connected to God’s greater story.

This is Redemption.  Aron is still missing his arm, it hasn’t grown back and he still has the painful memory of the time inside the canyon.

Our mistakes may seem simple when we place them next to Aron’s.  But that doesn’t mean they don’t matter to God.  I was truly saddened as my students told me what had happened in their lives over the last year.  But, if we let God, He will redeem or pasts, He wont make our lives perfect, but He will take what happened and use it to connect us to His greater purpose.

Redemption uses our imperfections.

Now, if you have been following my blog, you know that I have been talking about King David.  After committing adultery and then murdering to try to cover up his mistake, he realized he needed to ask God to renew him and purify his heart.  Because David opened his heart back up to God and asked Him to redeem his life, David’s story doesn’t end with his mistake.  David’s story becomes part of God’s greater story, the story of Jesus.

If you look at Jesus’s family tree, its roots lead back to David and his mistake.  God doesn’t sweep away our past, but he does use it, if we let him, to make something beautiful.

Jesus didn’t come to bring us peace or to make our lives perfect.  He came and died on the cross to pay for our mistakes.  And then he rose from the dead to mess up our lives.  The truth of the matter, that Jesus is alive, forces us to live differently.  It connects us to his story, and when we are part of his story our lives start to change.  We start to have a greater purpose.

As I sat there talking with my students, my hope was that they would start to let Jesus redeem their mistakes.  That they would realize the power for the resurrection, its ability to give them a new story.  A story with imperfections, with pain, and with hard times, but one that is far more adventurous than anything they could’ve tried to live before.

As we finished retreat and I said goodbye to some of my favorite people in the entire world, I hoped that God would connect them to a their true adventure.  Like in Hugo, where at the end of the movie, each character finds their purpose because they have let their past be redeemed and have been connected to something greater than themselves.  I know once we all start living in the reality of the resurrection our lives will truly become an adventure.

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Just Another Easter

The Gallups in pastels for Easter

So that was fun.

I’m sure many of your found the courage to wear pastel colors that normally lie dormant in you closet the rest of the year yesterday. Perhaps you got together with family members you would never spend time with unless you had to. You may have eaten a few too many peeps than the recommended serving size. But even if you did none of these, chances are you went to church. Even if yesterday was the only day of the year that you do.

I’m normally a rather sentimental fellow. I cried when I watched Charlotte’s Web; and when I say cried, I mean I sobbed and snot poured out of ny nose and I didn’t care because I was so enraptured in the beauty of the moment. Yeh, I’m one of those. So usually every year around the beginning of Spring, I find myself knee-deep in snot and tears as I become overwhelmed by sheer beauty of the Easter story.

The whole thing is beautiful even if it isn’t personal, but it is. In no way am I worthy of such beauty, such grace, such love, such life. Yet the story of Easter is just about that, the meeting of our complete unworthiness with God’s complete welcome. When the weight of my folly intersects with the glory of God’s love, tears are paltry offerings to express the beauty of redemption.

But this year my eyes stayed dry. I wore my pastel pants, ate candy, went to church, sang about joy, and went to lunch like nothing different happened. I had to ask myself why.

Maybe because like our linen pants and pink ties, we rummage through the closet to find this thing called to Resurrection and pull it out for one day to show it off only to have it stored away till next year. The Resurrection is the climax of the gospel, the story of Jesus. Without it, we have no hope, we have no faith, we have no life. It completes the work of the cross and ushers in a New Creation that is bursting forth light where darkness once reigned. It is at the very center of our faith as Christians, yet for many of us it has already become an afterthought today.

The reality of the Resurrection is that it is not just an event that happened but it is always happening, especially right now. Our hope is that we too participate in the Resurrection through our faith and obedience in Christ. The intersection of our depravity and God’s love is our daily reality. Yet when we think that one day a year is good enough, we are in effect denying the Resurrection.

When we regulate the power of God to some children’s story that only matters peripherally at best, we deny that the tomb is empty. We deny that Jesus truly reigns in our hearts and in our world. This year I saw a spectacle of false joy. I was immersed in a group of people who had traded the truth of Easter for a lie. Because really nothing changed. We put on fake smile to match our shoes and tread upon the gravity of this story.

I may seem a little heavy-handed but I felt the weight of our hypocrisy most clearly yesterday. Instead of shedding tears of joy, I shed tears of sorrow. As my brothers and sisters gave lip service to “He is risen indeed” I wanted to shake them and plead, “do you really believe this?” Because if we did…..I’m not really sure what would happen if we really did.

But here is the power of Easter. The sins of our ignorance, the depravity of our hypocrisy is not met with God’s scorn but with his grace.

If the Resurrection is real then I can hope and rejoice that the life that seemed so distant in the very hearts it was professed to belong to, can (and I believe will) find its home there once again, perhaps even for the first time. The implication of Easter is that we can again cry tears of joy in the face of our hypocrisy because Jesus laid death in its grave.

I did not cry yesterday because I was also part of the denying crowd.

Because my vision was filled solely with our collective hypocrisy, I missed the intersection of grace altogether. I saw our depravity as victorious and that is the very lie the Resurrection destroys. Jesus overcame the grave so that Love can truly win.

Do I really believe this? Because if I did…..

Michael is the Pastor of the Church at Argenta. 

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Giving Up Bad BBQ for Lent

Fatback and his boys

As a little kid, my Dad’s office was a magical place. The walls were decorated with football memorabilia from years ago. He had a model plane of the one my grandfather flew in World War II. But perhaps what enamoured me most of all were his trophies. He had a plaque remembering his hole-in-one and a couple with pigs at the top. He was an award-winning pit-master. My dad had not only practiced the art of smoking meat and making sauce from scratch, he had been rewarded for his prowess. I was especially proud of those trophies because of where we lived: South Carolina.

Not sure why GA and VA are included in this map

The down-side of being the son of an acclaimed pit-cook is that you become a bit of a snob. While I was willing to acknowledge the efforts of the different regions (I got a soft-spot for mustard), no one came close to my Dad, ever. His nickname, Fatback, was synonymous for me to smoked perfection. So while I love BBQ, I almost always leave a new restaurant disappointed. But there are a few places that will always get my business when I’m in town. Recently I added a new king to this list: Oklahoma Joe’s in Kansas City.

My brother carrying on the tradition

While crowning a BBQ joint in Kansas City is border-line blasphemy from a Carolina boy, you have to lay aside your pride when you encounter something this good. The first thing you notice about the place is that it is a dump. It’s in a gas station. This is a plus, any self-respecting BBQ restaurant knows that decorating is limited to neon and trophies, no pretense. If you find yourself at a BBQ restaurant that actually looks nice, get out before they rob you. The energy is placed solely on the meat.

The line wrapped round the gas station and out the door, another good sign. while it was lunch, when you go on a BBQ pilgrimage you get the big plate with everything on it. You have try it all because depending upon the rising and falling of the creeks, you may never get back again. So ribs and brisket it was (I retained some Carolina pride, no way they make pulled pork like we do). I was far from being disappointed.

While sumptuous details of exactly why it was so good are too numerous to include in this blog, it suffices to say they hit it out of the park. Moist, balanced, unique, hearty, tender, delicious. I could see why Anthony Bordain said it was one of the places you have to eat at before you die. I left feeling a bit more prepared for my dying day. But the trip made me ask a hard question: why is it so hard to make good BBQ?

While there are a multitude of variables, perhaps the most prominent is that it is art. All (good) cooking is art, that’s why when its mass-produced it fails to inspire or even satisfy. Yet BBQ is unique because of the time it takes. Beyond the 18-hour start-to-finish procedure, there is a history there. You can literally taste the heritage of those before us. It is a uniquely American product, and beyond that it binds us together. Maybe its weird to put such stock into something so mundane as food, but this is what Jesus did as well. He was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard because I imagine he, better than any, understood the importance of food.

During Lent, Christians often give up some food item for forty days in preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection at Easter. What one often finds, is that giving up food is often harder than they thought. While of course we need nourishment, we also thrive on more than bread alone. Food brings us together, gives rhythm to our lives, and provides fuel not only for our bodies but for our souls as well. Soul-food is precisely that, it nourishes us in a very spiritual way. Our faith is not some segregated existence where we pray on one end of the spectrum and eat on the other, but where the two become the same thing.

When Jesus appears to his friends after his Resurrection, he offers them words of wisdom but he does something else: he eats with them. He broils fish over an open flame on the coast and breaks bread in Emmaus. And it is in these acts that we see, smell, and taste the goodness of God. I imagine the reason I despise poor BBQ is not merely snobbery but because when we cease to care about the work of our hands and the product of our time, it leaves more than a bad taste in mouths but a in our souls as well.

The Fast of Lent is to prepare for the Feast of Easter, so that we may taste and see that the Lord is good.

Michael wants to open his own BBQ Restaurant one day, named Fatback’s. Until then, he is the pastor of the Church @ Argenta in North Little Rock, AR.

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