Saturday, April 24, 2010

Try Again

One night last week, my 7 year old boy and I climbed into bed for our nightly ritual of story time. For some reason, he chose an old book of nursery rhymes that we hadn't read in years. "Daddy, Read this one!", my son said pointing to a short little poem titled “Try Again”, by an unknown author. After reading it, I thought to myself, "This sounds kind of familiar!" And after my son went to bed, I meditated on these words a little more. It made me think about “perseverance” and what it really mean to persevere? Is perseverance something that we do, or is persevering more about something that we are? Something that comes from within?

“’Tis a lesson you should heed,
Try again;
If at first you don’t succeed,
Try again;
Then your courage should appear,
For if you will persevere,
You will conquer, never fear;
Try again.
If you find your task is hard
Try again;
Time will bring you your reward
Try again;
All that other folk can do,
Why, with patience, may not you?
Only keep this rule in view,
Try again.”

In the book of James, it says that “the testing of our faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:4) I think that as we mature in our faith, through perseverance, we learn. We grow. Things that once seemed obscure become clear. We find success, and despite our circumstances, we realize that there is really nothing more we need.

Courage. What does it mean to be courageous, especially in today's culture? Life can still be a little scary, can't it? At times, down right terrifying. But we are to "rejoice in our sufferings, because we know suffering produces perseverance”? (Romans 5:3). How does a person rejoice when diagnosed with terminal cancer? How does a parent rejoice when their child is abducted? I guess we can be certain that our fears will be conquered because “in all things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37). Easier said than done, huh?

Like the forming of a pearl, sometimes life requires the passing of time before we see the rewards that life offers us. “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial.” (James 1:12) Later, James reaffirms this promise when he says, "As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered.” (James 5:11)

See, despite the rat race that we often fall into, and the constant battle to “keep up with the Joneses”, we can still have victory in our perseverance; not by other people's standards, but by those of God. So instead of other people, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2) and “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (12:1).

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Perfect Failure

We're very sensitive to failure, aren't we? We live in a culture that bases a person's worth on the amount of success they obtain in life. Overall, failure is considered negative, and success is thought to be the only acceptable option. But who decides what is failure and what is success? I wonder if what we sometime consider failure is not such bad thing after all. I wonder if it's possible to view failure as somewhat of a teacher. A motivator. I wonder that if we learn not to fear failure, might we learn much more as we travel the roads of life, and grow more in our spirituality? As we celebrated Easter yesterday, I thought a lot about failure and how it applies to my faith. Failure and faith. They don't seem to go together, do they? Well, let me explain.

This morning, I found myself pondering the same things that I seem to do each year. There is almost a “real time” reflection of the events that transpired over 2000 years ago for me. I sit here and imagine the thoughts that must have been going through the minds of Jesus' disciples just before He rose from the dead. The Messiah had finally come. The Roman yoke of oppression was just about to be cast off and Jesus was going to lead the way into battle! "Hosanna!", they cried on Palm Sunday! "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!" But then, in a short time of less than a week, things changed radically. Sitting there on Saturday night, cowering in fear, in their minds, it was over. Failure.

Jesus' disciples had been assuming that He was the great military and political Messiah that had been expected by the Jewish people. He had finally come and they had a front row seat! All the hopes and dreams of the Jewish people had finally come to fruition! And just when they thought Jesus was going to mount a stallion, pull out a holy sword and start slaying the Roman scumbags, things start to change. Jesus starts talking about death, betrayal and things that sounded like defeat. Things that sounded like failure. And in a few hours, Jesus was dead. "Uhhh, What just happened?"

Within the course of one evening, Jesus was arrested, brutally beaten and nailed to a cross. His lifeless and disfigured body was taken down form the cross and placed in a sealed tomb. From all practical perspectives, it was over. Life as they thought it was going to be, had now transpired into a future of fear and uncertainty. Can you imagine how they felt? Can you imagine the frustration and anger? The overwhelming anxiety?

“How did we misinterpret what Jesus had been telling us over the last three years?", they must have asked themselves. “Were we totally misled?” “Are we all fools?” “Was our mission with Jesus a complete failure?” "Are we next?" "Will the Roman soldiers soon be breaking down our doors?" "Dude! We're screwed! Game over, man!" The anxiety must have felt like the weight of the world! Fear. Rejection. Anger. Confusion. All of these emotions must have been running wild as they anticipated what would happen next. From the world's point of view, this must have appeared to have been the perfect failure.

There always seems to be two sides to every story. In this case, one side tells us that Jesus' ministry was in fact, a perfect failure. This side leaves Jesus in His tomb and leaves the disciples defeated, broken, dejected and afraid. The other side of the story is what Christians all over the world celebrated yesterday. Something that contradicts all reason. Something happened that had the power to take these eleven broken men that were hiding in fear, and used them to transform the world. He is risen! We serve a God that is alive and loved His creation so much that He was willing to die for them. That means you and that means me. And after all the egg hunts, candy and Easter services, the story still ends the same. He is still risen.