Sunday, February 21, 2010

More than the Cross...

It is amazing how many times we can hear a story and not fully get it! This morning at church, our pastor gave a message titled "Cup of Wrath" where we dug into Mark 14:32-42. Here Jesus goes to Gethsemane with Peter, James and John in order to pray before Judas' betrayal that leads to Jesus' death on the Cross. I am sure I still don't even fully get it, but both my wife and I agreed that some light bulbs went off for the two of us after today, some more connections have been made and more of those coins have dropped.

I have believed that Christ died on the Cross for my sins ever since I accepted that truth when I was a teenager, but ever since then I have had some confusions around the whole story of Christ's death and how that death on the Cross was enough to cover my sins. I always understood that the physical torture and pain he went through during the whole story of the passion - being whipped with claws and beaten to within an inch of death, and ultimately having the nails driven through his flesh and bones to pin him to a tree made into a cross after he had carried that cross all the way up the hill to the place in which he died - displayed that Jesus really suffered physically for us, for me. I have even heard explanations of when Christ cries out "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" - which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (from Mark 15:34), that he cries this out because God turns away during this time before Jesus breathes his last... but I don't think I truly understood the implications of this - or how Jesus really suffered.

In Luke 12:4-5 we see Jesus himself say "I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him." In these verses, we see that Jesus is clear about not fearing death in the body - this means that the physical torture and death that Jesus went through, although difficult for us to truly comprehend, was not the real torture or death that paid for our sins.

What was Jesus so desperately praying to God about in Gethsemane? What greatly distressed him so much to the point of sweating blood (as Luke, the doctor, describes it)? Was it the physical torture and death he was about to face? Was it the Cross as too many of us see it, where he physically died for us? No! It was so much more than this...

You see, part of the difficulty I had with this whole story was this idea that Jesus' death on the Cross paid for my sins - paid the price for God's righteous judgment on me, on all of us, for choosing to live apart from Him. It didn't make sense that a physical death would pay for the penalty I truly deserve, which is eternal death - eternal separation from God... HELL!

This leads us to think more about what hell is. I have heard different sects speak about how Jesus had "descended into Hell, and on the third day rose again..." but this didn't make sense to me either, especially when Jesus himself on the cross told the thief that put his faith in Jesus "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." If Jesus says "I tell you the truth", I am positive he meant what he said and the thief would that day see Jesus in paradise. So this, to me, contradicted the idea that Jesus descended into some abyss with lakes of fire... etc. But, it would make sense that Jesus would in fact experience what hell actually is - separation from God - and also the suffering that results from that. The spiritual death that Jesus experiences here is what ultimately pays the price for each one of us!

It might be hard for each of us to imagine complete separation from God, but that is what Jesus experienced when he truly died on that cross that day. This is what causes Jesus the anguish when he is in Gethsemane, this is what causes him to cry out in true pain, quoting Psalm 22:1, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Jesus at that moment was taking on all our sins - all my sins - and because God cannot be in the presence of sin, Jesus felt hell, separation from God. This experience of separation from God would be more difficult for us than we could ever imagine, or ever want to imagine. Imagine the suffering Christ experiences through this, the fact that Jesus knew what the full presence of God was, so he not only felt what we would feel, but it was magnified infinitely because he actually knew what he was missing. It makes it all the more amazing, this amazing grace.

This is the price that was paid for me. This is how much he gave to show that He loves us. It is truly amazing if you take the time to think deeply about this, especially as Easter is fast approaching. Let us not just remember the physical pain that Jesus suffered for us... but remember the much more painful, deep spiritual suffering, the real death that Jesus died - separation from God, the Father. This is what Jesus faced for us on that day when he paid the ultimate price for us.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Strength Finding

As part of the Desert Star process when I was hired to work here, the owner gave me a copy of the book StrengthsFinder 2.0 in order to take the online assessment that comes with the book - this assessment points out your top 5 strengths. I have taken several of these types of self-assessments before, but I have to admit that I feel like this was one of the more enlightening assessments for me... what I learned from it I continue to understand more ever since I took it. Below are my top five strengths, if you know me feel free to let me know what you think, heck feel free to share your own!

1. Responsibility

By nature, you conduct yourself in an exceptionally mature and orderly fashion even when your teammates, classmates, friends, coworkers, and colleagues are acting childish. It’s very likely that you are hardwired to do exactly what you said you would do. Your word is your bond. You are likely to earn the respect of many people. You even win over those who have a hard time trusting anyone. Why? You rarely disappoint them. Chances are good that you may wish to have a broader range of control and accountability on the job or in your personal life. Instinctively, you are quite comfortable being honest about yourself with others. You harbor very few illusions about who you really are. Furthermore, you can openly acknowledge your mistakes and shortcomings. This is apt to distinguish you from most people. Driven by your talents, you possess an inner drive to attain your high standards of excellence. Satisfying work and a passion for accountability fuel your zeal to do things very carefully. You want others to view you and your work favorably.

2. Belief

By nature, you place more importance on the purpose and value of what you do than on the monetary rewards that accompany success. Chances are good that you may be impelled to change the world for the better one person at a time. Perhaps you do this by assuring people you think well of them. Sometimes you remind individuals about their depth of knowledge, talent, and/or skills. Driven by your talents, you may have defined some principles that set the tone for certain aspects of your life. Sometimes they influence your behavior. Sometimes they reflect who or what is most important to you. Sometimes they guide your decision-making. Specific individuals who live, work, or study with you might be able to predict what you will say or do in particular situations. Instinctively, you are naturally inclined to make sacrifices that benefit someone else. You enjoy being generous with your time, knowledge, skills, experiences, resources, or possessions. Because of your strengths, you try to be helpful to others in ways that may improve their lives. Perhaps you hope to leave the world in better shape than you found it.

3. Context

It’s very likely that you are quite intrigued by history’s significant events and people. Information about global conflicts fascinates you. Instinctively, you routinely gather historical facts or artifacts — that is, pictures, tools, books, artwork, correspondence, or documents. You often wait to determine whether this information is useful. Your interest in history probably has no purpose other than to answer your own questions. You are simply intrigued by the past and its people. The future starts to take shape in your mind as soon as you begin to rummage through your collection of historic truths and objects. By nature, you create a vision of the future by unraveling what happened in the past. You strive to understand the what, when, who, where, how, and why of events. You are determined to create a framework of facts so you can put things in perspective. Chances are good that you sometimes research historic events to understand their impact on today’s people or events. Maybe knowing what occurred in bygone days helps you make sense of current conditions or the behavior of certain individuals. Because of your strengths, you are a history buff — that is, someone ardently devoted to studying the past. You are especially drawn to firsthand accounts of global conflicts. You link people to events and trace timelines. You are likely to examine major battles from the perspective of foes and allies as well as neutral parties. The sum of your findings probably allows you to determine what started and eventually ended each war.

4. Analytical

Chances are good that you enjoy conversations with people who think deeply about things and are willing to express their views. Customarily, your high level of reasoning adds value to group discussions. You often bring to these sessions a level of reasoning that most individuals are apt to appreciate. Instinctively, you try to collect pertinent and precise data. You may refuse to stop searching until you find accurate facts. You might collect information that is relevant to your life, your work, or your studies. It’s very likely that you may be the team member who conducts thorough investigations to collect accurate details, facts, or data. Driven by your talents, you rely on reason to make sense of facts, events, people’s behavior, problems, or solutions. You consistently outmaneuver others when comparisons are being made between your results and theirs. Because of your strengths, you may bring a logical perspective to your team’s tasks or to work in general. Perhaps you break down projects into small parts. Sometimes you determine the importance and urgency of each step. You might decide what must be done first, second, or third. You might waste little time getting started once your plan is finalized.

5. Individualization

By nature, you may have an ability to watch people or determine with some degree of accuracy what makes one unique, distinct, or special. Perhaps certain talents, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, moods, or motivations attract your attention when you observe others’ actions or listen to their words. Chances are good that you might like to partner with the same people over and over again. When you spend more time with certain teammates, maybe it is easier to pinpoint the unique strengths, interests, work styles, preferred forms of praise, or changing moods of each one. Because of your strengths, you provide clarity that helps people know what is wrong and/or what is not working well. Driven by your talents, you may have a gift for noticing the differences between people. You might think variety is a good thing, not a bad thing. You might help individuals from diverse backgrounds discover ways they can cooperate so the team succeeds. It’s very likely that you enhance your own quality of life each time you reach out to someone in need of assistance.

Going through this process has really helped me to look at where I am and what I am doing in my life - not just for my job, but in general. I feel that it has given me a good perspective on where to focus in order to be the best I can be, in order to let God's glory shine through me the way He created me. After all, that is my ultimate desire, to glorify Him to the fullest extent He made me to be able to.