Thursday, March 27, 2008

Defying Explanation

I learned a really cool word that became a big part of my vocabulary sometime in the late eighties. Paradox. A paradox is when something seems contradictory or opposing but in reality expresses a truth.

As I progress in Christian thinking, I learn to love the irony of how a paradox works. If you want to live, you’ve got to give up your life. If a guy wants to receive, he has to be an extravagant giver. The way to the throne room is through the servant’s quarters.

God loves a really good paradox. It’s one of the reasons I figure God absolutely loves the Brewer. Yes, that’s right, I am convinced that the great God of this universe loves me personally. I mean, why wouldn’t He? I am a walking paradox. I am a slob that carries around hand sanitizer because I’m a germ freak. I’m a jamming musician that preaches behind a pulpit on Sundays. I am a hillbilly from Johnson County that loves quantum theory.

There are lots of things about all of us that seem to contradict, but actually make up, our unique personalities. God loves that. He loves it when little children speak simple but profound genius. He smiles when He sees busy people slow down to help and great big guys cry over another’s hurt.

He’s like that because He always operates outside of the box. His ways are not our ways. I heard Graham Cooke say that the only time God has ever been in a box was the Arc of the Covenant, and if you touched the box, you died. God hates the box we want to put him in.

We put God in a box because we want God to be more responsible for being like us so we won’t be held responsible for being more like him. We desperately try to make God about our own agendas so we won’t have to be about His. We really want God to look like us and talk like us, and anything that doesn’t line up with who we are, can’t be God. That’s religion, and it’s really ugly.

Most portraits of God tend to fit Him into whatever culture we identify with. In a way, that’s fine because God loves our diverse cultures and how different people live and look.

In the artist’s defense, there are no scriptures describing the physical appearance of Christ because God knew we were knuckleheads. Had the Bible described Jesus as tall, there would be denominations specifically for people six foot two and above. The church in the Middle Ages would have thought it godliness to stretch people until all their joints popped out of place. Oh wait—the church did do that in the Middle Ages.

I saw a picture of Jesus at a shop in the Hong Kong airport that showed him completely Asian. Who among us hasn’t seen blond haired, blue-eyed portraits of Jesus walking across the water in his lily-white feet? We all recently heard Senator Obama’s Pastor in his ridiculous tirade on how Jesus was a poor black child that grew up under the oppression of terrible white people.

I don’t think God looks like any of us. I don’t think He thinks like us or acts like us. The pattern that Jesus showed is that God is the kindest and most thoughtful person in the universe. He loves deeply and lives passionately. Like King David, He has the heart of a warrior poet that kicks butt on the battlefield and intimately loves His bride. I think He could care less about a lot of the hang ups we church folks tend to have about people, and I think He cares a lot more about people having a true encounter with His heart towards them while they are still breathing planet Earth’s air.

He’s totally holy, yet He loves us. That’s a paradox. He’s completely sinless and separate from everything ugly, yet He thinks we’re beautiful. He hates sin and the darkness of our age, yet His goodness is towards us. That’s a paradox, and I love it.

Let me see if I can’t craft some words together that illustrate how God is oxymoronically supernatural. I’ll fill inn the blanks with contradicting terms explaining how God pulls off what nobody else can.

He is majestically humble towards us and anxiously patient with us. He is altogether separate because He climbed down into hell and slapped death in the face for all of us.

He is naturally supernatural and dangerously safe. He has made Himself the permanent substitute for our sin, and His plan is for us to be alone together with Him beyond infinity.

Mark 4:34

He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when He was alone with His own disciples, He explained everything.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Eye Witness

What’s the most unbelievable thing you know for a fact that you have actually seen? Was it the Marfa Lights or something spooky? Did you have a run in with Big Foot, or maybe your friend’s nephew was born with a full set of teeth?

While I have not seen any of those things, except for the Marfa Lights, like any good Texan, I have seen some doosies. In the past ten years, I have had the privilege of visiting around twenty nations throughout the world; I’ve preached in at least 50 different prisons here in Texas and some of those, many times. My missionary journeys have taken me from the trash dumps of Matamoros, Mexico to the temple mount in Jerusalem, Israel.

God has always called people out of their normal environments to do His work, and our life’s journey is full of incredible scenery. When you get out there, and if you stay out there long enough, you are going to see some things that will blow your mind.

I actually saw the King sitting on his throne in Uganda. I saw two men fight to the death with machetes in Havana, Cuba. I saw a barefooted baby boy take his first steps in a horrible trash dump in Mexico while his mother cried for joy and applauded.

I saw elephants crossing the road in front of me near Rwanda. I saw a piece of a train on my front porch after a tornado came by my house in Johnson County.
I have been inside real castles in Scotland, grass huts in India and cardboard boxes under the I-45 bridge in Dallas. I have seen the top floor of the Hilton in Dallas and the morgue of Harris Hospital.

These are first hand accounts of things I have actually seen with my own two eyes. I could begin to tell you about miracles I have seen and changed lives I have encountered. I even wrote a book that tells of some of those events and what the Lord taught me through them.
If you didn’t believe me, I would mostly be okay with that. I might have my feelings a little bit hurt because you thought my character so low that I would print a lie, but nonetheless, I would get over it.

Now consider this, 2000 years ago a couple of hundred people, including the 11 disciples, said they personally saw Jesus after he had been dead—first hand. Not that a friend had seen Him, but they themselves actually saw Him in the flesh. They didn’t say they saw a fleeting glimpse, but rather they walked with Him, ate with Him, touched Him and talked with Him for more than a month after his resurrection.

All of these men went to their graves standing strong with the same original story. Have you ever considered what kind of grave this story took them to?

James was beheaded by Herod in Jerusalem because of his eye witness account. Peter went to Asia Minor, and tradition says he was crucified, upside down, in Rome. Andrew, Peter’s brother, went to Greece and southern Russia where he was crucified. Philip was stoned, drawn and quartered, and then his remains were hung up in Hierapolis.

Bartholomew went to Armenia and was skinned alive. Thomas went to Persia and to India; he was killed with a spear while telling people he had actually seen Jesus resurrected. Matthew went to Ethiopia and was killed by sword while visiting Egypt. James the Lesser, preached right there in Palestine and later went to Egypt where he was crucified by the Romans.
Mark was dragged by horses through the streets of Alexandria, Egypt. Luke was hanged in Greece. James the Just was thrown off of the pentacle of the temple. Mathias, the apostle that took the place of Judas, was stoned and then beheaded in Jerusalem. Paul was tortured and then beheaded by Nero in Rome.

All of these men died alone, separated from the others in different parts of the world, and yet, not a single one said this was all a hoax or a sham. Every single one of these men went to their deaths praising God and declaring to their murderers, “He’s alive! We saw Him, we ate with Him, He preached to us! Jesus Christ is resurrected from the dead!”

The Brewer believes the eyewitness accounts of those world changing people. As your kids are out looking for colorful eggs from an imaginary rabbit this Easter, make sure you all have a peek at the very real empty tomb in Jerusalem. I have looked in there myself. Jesus is not there. He is risen!

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Tale of Two Enemies

It was December 7, 1941. The time was 7:49 on an early Sunday morning. Commander Mitsuo Fuchida was leading a squadron of 360 Japanese fighters that would prophetically turn the whole war full circle that day.

Seeing the fleet peacefully at anchor 9,000 feet below his plane, Fuchida dove out of a white cloud then radioed back to the Japanese fleet saying, "Tora, tora, tora!" The attack on Pearl Harbor had begun.

The smoking carnage of the surprise attack left an aftermath of five destroyed battleships and fourteen others sunk or damaged. It was a great day for Fuchida and the last day for more than 2,300 Americans. A day, one might say, of infamy.

On the other side of the Pacific, a sergeant by the name of Jacob DeShazer was peeling potatoes at his base in Oregon. Not long after, DeShazer would have the opportunity to volunteer for a special squadron lead by Colonel Jimmy Doolittle. This top-secret mission would dare to directly bomb Tokyo and the heart of the hated Japanese. Jacob couldn’t sign up fast enough.

By all accounts, Doolittle’s raid was a stunning success, but DeShazer’s B-24 bomber ran out of fuel before it reached a safe place in China. Forced to bail out over Japanese-held territory, DeShazer was captured and spent the next 40 months of his life as a prisoner of war. He spent 34 of those months in solitary confinement and was routinely tortured by his captors. As he watched fellow American prisoners horribly tortured and executed or starved to death, DeShazer remained alive— and so did his hatred for the Japanese.

Fuchida, on the other hand, was celebrated as the undisputed Japanese "Hero of Pearl Harbor." In 1942, he came down with a case of appendicitis and was unable to fly. That attack probably saved his life because he missed the battle of Midway where the Japanese Navy was soundly defeated.

A few years later, Fuchida narrowly missed death again when he was ordered to leave Hiroshima the very day before the nuclear bomb was dropped. The hated Americans were killing everyone he knew, it seemed. Just as Fuchida barely escaped death throughout the war, so did Deshazer in the Japanese prison camp.

Solitary confinement gave DeShazer time to chew on the subject of hatred. Clinging to life, he yearned to know God and begged his guards for a Bible. Two years latter, he finally received one and poured through the pages. When thumbing through the text, his eyes fell on the passage where Jesus cried out from the cross, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.” The black ink on the white page became words in his heart that would change him forever.

He later wrote, "I discovered that when I looked at the enemy officers and guards who had starved and beaten my companions and me so cruelly, I found my bitter hatred for them changed to loving pity . . .. I prayed for God to forgive my torturers, and I determined by the aid of Christ, to do my best to acquaint these people with the message of salvation."

On Aug. 20, 1945, a smiling Japanese guard swung open DeShazer’s cell door and said, "War over. You go home now." A few days later Americans parachuted into the camp and sent the prisoners to hospitals where they would slowly recover.

Jacob finally got to go to his beloved home, but he didn’t stay there long. His Christian transformation was so dramatic he went back to Japan, but this time as a missionary. No longer hating the Japanese, he wanted to make a difference there.

Fast forward now to one day in October 1948. While getting off the train in Tokyo, Fuchida, the Japanese war hero, now a farmer, saw an American handing out leaflets in Japanese. The title caught his eye: I Was a Prisoner of Japan. It grabbed his attention, especially the part about Pearl Harbor. Even though they had been enemies, Fuchida had admired the courage of the Doolittle Raiders. He continued reading.

The whole Christianity thing was a big surprise to Fuchida. A friend told him to get a Bible, but Fuchida could not find one in Japanese. Just a few days later, on the same train platform, a Japanese man stood with boxes of books. "Get your Bible. It is food for your soul," the man cried in Japanese. Struck by the coincidence, and despite his Shinto heritage, he bought one.

The opened Bible fell to Luke 23:34, and he read those words for the very first time, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

Fuchida later wrote, "I was impressed that I was certainly one of those for whom Jesus had prayed. The many men I had killed had been slaughtered in the name of patriotism, for I did not understand the love of Christ."

He changed from a bitter ex-war hero to a man on a new mission. Fuchida went on to become an evangelist throughout Japan and Asia. He and DeShazer eventually became very close friends.

The Brewer salutes them both as we think about the cross at this Easter time. Good Friday was only good because of the one being executed and the goodness of God still leads men to repentance today.

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