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Archives for 117 – Resurrection

In my previous post, I made the point that calling is something that is rarely talked about in Churches of Christ and as a result our outreach has suffered. The fact that people aren’t really sure if God does any calling today makes people reluctant to feel like God has anything specific in mind for them to do…but only in regard to ministry. To be honest, I think most of us believe God has a specific in mind for us…even a plan. We call that the will of God, specifically God’s “individual will” for my life.

There are at least two big problems with how people think about the will of God. First, we don’t think of it as a calling at all…more like a plan. It is thought of as God’s ideal set of choices, locations, and relationships for us rather than a calling upon us to be servants of the Lord. Second, we make it individual rather than corporate which makes it about me from the start. We don’t connect God’s will to the community or the kingdom or even ministry for that matter.

How often do you hear Christians view God’s will for their life in the context of the kingdom? Typically the people who you hear talk like that get it when it comes to the idea of calling. Instead, the idea is that God has a path for me that will fulfill me and that doesn’t automatically have any connection with other people or kingdom work like ministering to others. See the irony? If there is any fulfillment in life it comes through obeying our calling…being and doing who and what God has called us to be and do.

What is more, I have seen the “priesthood of all believers” from 1 Peter 2:9 card played more to distinguish ourselves from other groups that have priests than to actually teach what that verses teaches and do what that verse does…call each and every Christian to priestly ministerial duties. If you look at that passage, it is most likely referencing Exodus 19:6 where God tells ALL his people they will be a “kingdom of priests.” Read it in context. It is right there. And there it is again…kingdom.

Some say there is no clergy/laity split and then act as if there is. People act like it all the time because they have more of our conversation wrapped up in their own individual stuff than in kingdom stuff. So people give their contribution thinking that covers their obligation to minister because they hire it out for someone else to do. Someone else is called to minister and they am called to attend and give. We have a culture of minister dependence and hierarchy rather than a sharing (koinonia) of responsibility across the body as happened in the early church…that church that we model ourselves after. The results have been devastating. The lost often get reached to the degree that preachers have time to reach out in between all the other countless duties required of them. How much more could be done if every single person knew they had the responsibility to minister…that God was calling every last one of us to His service?

I believe we would turn the world upside down.

God is calling. He is calling you. He is calling whether you are a minister or an elder…or “just a member”…young or old…employed by a church or not…God is calling. He is calling you to ministry right where you are. It doesn’t take a degree. It doesn’t take a salary. It takes time, attention and love. Those are gifts we all have if we are willing to make ourselves available to God and others. We have all been called. The question is, will we answer?

 

SpringintheairOnce again Spring is in the air; the trees and flowers are in bloom, the weather is beginning to get warmer, and the world is awaking out of the winter doldrums. It is a time of hope, renewal, and new beginnings. Many of us have just experienced a wonderful time of celebration as we remember the empty tomb. For a moment we live with the expectation that once again everything is right in our world. Then again maybe not.

For years counselors have noticed a strange occurrence in the Spring and specifically the month of April. While it is not the most scientific way to gather data, we are what we Google. According to Google Trends the month of April brings a significant increase in the search for depression, anxiety, pain, and stress. It seems that while the earth is in a time of hope, rebirth, and renewal, we are not.

I refuse to discount in any way shape or form, depression. There are medical reasons that cause some people to struggle with depression, anxiety, and stress.  I would never tell someone who is clinically depressed to “let go and let God.” That would be pure pablum. But I do not think that everyone who is searching cures for depression and anxiety suffer from a medical problem.

Paul says in Romans 6; As Christ was brought back from death to life by the glorious power of the Father, so we, too, should live a new kind of life. Resurrection means that we are new people, living by a new standard, a new life. But many of us who have experienced the death through our baptisms have never experienced the peace and joy that comes from living in Christ. There are many of us who are struggling in this life because we have forgotten that this life is not about me. That can be seen in the things that cause us frustration and depression.

Have you ever had car trouble and thought, “Why me God?” Have you ever missed a flight and though, “What did I do to deserve this?” When a water pipe breaks in your wall, is your first thought, “This is what Job must have felt like?” OK, maybe not to that extreme.

The truth is that most of us believe that this life is a movie, where I am the star. Because we experience and see everything that happens to me, we get the false impression that life and this world is all about me. People are here to make my life better, things exist to give me joy, after all God so loved me that He sent Jesus to die. That’s why when something goes wrong, a relationship ends, our microwave breaks and our world falls apart. In times of stress we lose the joy that comes from the resurrection.

In talking to His disciples, Jesus told them that He came so that we might have life and have it to the fullness, but many of us do not feel His joy or live in His fulness. In the kingdom of God there is a new way to live. Those who are living in the resurrection are called to live with an understanding that there is something bigger than us going on in this universe. We were created to bring glory to God, because we were created for His glory. While God pours out His extravagant love in our lives, He does so that we can bring glory to His name.

What if God allows us to endure struggles so that we can show His glory (Rom 5:3 & 8:17-18)? What if God allows hardships to enter our lives so that we can show His grace in a time of uncertainty? What if God allows us to face tragedy, so we can show the hope of the resurrection? What if God really meant what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”?

Would that change the way the way you live? Would that re-frame the way that you see the movie of your life? Instead of being here to be served, would that lead you to look for ways to serve and welcome others into your community?

The resurrection invites us to live a new life, a life of service. The resurrection invites us to live in the Kingdom of God where the greatest is the one who serves. Because of the resurrection the currency is not how much you own, but how deeply you love. Because of the resurrection our joy comes from the investment we make in one another. Because of the resurrection we long and strive for community, a place where we can love, uplift, bear with, encourage, prefer, greet, forgive, support, forgive, and accept one another. The beauty of the resurrection is that we are invited to live with Christ as His hands and feet. The beauty of the resurrection is that in times of joy or times of trial we have the wonderful opportunity to bring glory to God and His kingdom. The beauty of the resurrection is that once again we are reminded that it is not about us, but about the one who created, saved, sustains us, and will one day take us home to live with Him.

We often thank God for the death of Christ, that time in history when God bridged the chasm we created because of our selfishness and sinfulness. But until we learn how to live in thanksgiving for the resurrection, to live a new kind of life, we will never experience the abundant life that comes from living like Jesus.

 

 

 

 

* http://www.google.com/trends/explore#q=Depression%2C%20anxiety%2C%20pain%2C%20stress&date=1%2F2012%2040m&cmpt=q&tz=

The Resurrection & Grace.

Grace & the Resurrection.

gracechanges

I am currently preaching through the letter to Galatians on Sunday mornings. A long time ago I was captivated by a series of messages by Rick Atchley called We Be Free. I was so captivated that I listened and transcribed every single one of them—and then developed my own sermon series with Rick’s as a source of study.

All these years later I am using that same material once again. At this point I can no longer tell what was Rick’s and what was mine. And even though I gave credit in my outlines to Rick (then & now), I wrote him several weeks ago to tell the same story you just read.

Sorry for the pun, but he was very gracious in his reply. And that’s good because I am a guy in constant need of grace… And that grace continues to both captivate and change my life.

From that backdrop, please read on…

Death, dying, disease, and mental health issues are all subjects with an inherent capacity to cause stress, heartache, and grief.

Sometimes in an effort to cope, we tell jokes or make fun or somehow find a way to laugh in the face of such difficulty.

To help make a point, I’d like to use what is not truly funny as a way to illustrate and explain a spiritual condition some of us—and I am largely included—can have.

Dissociative identity disorder (DID) is a medical condition characterized by the patient exhibiting multiple personalities. Often we confuse this mental illness with that of Schizophrenia, but the two are very different.

Either way, because it’s scary and painful to watch, we make jokes like the T-Shirt I once saw:

I am Schizophrenic.
And so am I.

It’s funny, but it’s not. If you have ever experienced such a horror, you have my deepest sympathies.

So where am I going with all of this?

Spiritually and theologically, I often struggle with multiple personalities.

One of my personalities can be illustrated by the time I spent in the U.S. Navy. In order to live successfully in close quarters onboard a U.S. warship, you had to have lots of rules and rules-of-thumb to make it all work. One in particular said: Everything has a place and everything should be in its place!

I have never forgotten that. My family would tell you that “never forgetting” is a major understatement. I tend to have a bit of OCD where clutter and stuff is concerned.

Unfortunately, that tendency comes out theologically as well. I like order and control. When I directed church camp sessions, my favorite phrase (borrowed from my good friend Danny Dodd) was free time is my enemy!

So how do we maintain control and order? How do we stop or rescue ourselves out of theological and church chaos?

Please give a warm welcome to…
Rules.
Laws.
Regulations.

In 1970, a little known Canadian rock group, the Five Man Electrical Band, released a song called Signs. Tesla covered it again in 1990

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?
 
Now, hey you, Mister, can’t you read?
You’ve got to have a shirt and tie to get a seat
You can’t even watch, no you can’t eat
You ain’t supposed to be here
The sign said, You got to have a membership card to get inside…
 

That’s what we do. We make laws and post signs to keep people where we want them to be, physically and spiritually. We decide who’s in and who’s out. It’s all about control–the heartbeat of every modern day Pharisee and Legalist.

That’s me.
I preach, believe, and trust in grace. But I struggle with maintaining control.

But my control is nothing more than trying to create an even playing field.
My control is nothing more than trying to keep people in line.
My control is about everybody being in the same box and looking identical in the process.

The trouble is Jesus doesn’t need my rules to order His Kingdom.
It’s not about me.
It never has been and it never will be.

But grace?

Grace tears down the walls of every box we endeavor to build.
Grace allows for our individuality and secures our standing before God.
Grace covers our differences and absolves our mistakes.
Grace allows us to see the beauty in each other.
Grace is a gentle reminder that it’s not about me!
Grace allows me to leave behind the split personality—to be nothing more and nothing less than a child of the King!

The apostle Paul ends the book of Galatians with these words—and I can do no better…

…the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.
 

Let the whole church say, Amen!

 

Les Ferguson, Jr.
Ridgeland, MS

emptytomb

The early church fathers actually considered a denial of a bodily resurrection as damning!

For if you have fallen in with some who are called Christians, but who do not admit this [truth], and venture to blaspheme the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; who say there is no resurrection of the dead, and that their souls, when they die, are taken to heaven; do not imagine that they are Christians, even as one, if he would rightly consider it, would not admit that the Sadducees, or similar sects of Genistæ, Meristæ, Galilæans, Hellenists, Pharisees, Baptists, are Jews (do not hear me impatiently when I tell you what I think), but are [only] called Jews and children of Abraham, worshipping God with the lips, as God Himself declared, but the heart was far from Him. But I and others, who are right-minded Christians on all points, are assured that there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be built, adorned, and enlarged, [as] the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah and others declare.

(Dialogue with Trypho, chapter 80). Notice how Justin Martyr contrasts “resurrection” with souls going to heaven at death. To him, they are not only two different things, but to  him, the idea of disembodied souls going to heaven at death is a damning heresy. Read more »

911I came into ministry as Paul would say, “as one abnormally born.” I didn’t want to be a minister growing up. I wanted to be a clinical child psychologist. I was so set on this that before I got to college, I took the course catalog and mapped out a path to finish with my B.A. in three years because I knew I would have quite a bit of grad school ahead of me. After getting my B.A. I went to the University of Florida to get a Ph.D. in Clinical and Health Psychology. I had God’s plan figured out. I had him on a 7 year plan. Things worked out so perfectly to that point that I was sure I had this all nailed down.

I was wrong.

Then September 11th happened. It was my day to do a transplant evaluation rotation in Shands hospital and I had a fever. I decided to call in sick instead of getting an at risk population sick. I made a quick run to Walmart to get some sprite and some over the counter medication to help me feel better. While in the check out line I heard the cashiers discussing a plane hitting a tower. I heard bits and pieces but all I could imagine was a Cessna had hit a radio antenna somewhere, no big deal. I got in my car and turned on the radio and that is when I got the news. I was glued to my radio all the way. When I got back to my apartment I rushed in and turned on the news just in time to watch the second plane hit.

I was floored. I was depressed. Angry. Very shaken.

Over the days and weeks that followed this event haunted me, as I am sure it did many of you as well. It caused me to ask a lot of questions about my life. It caused me to evaluate what I was doing and why I was doing it and what sort of difference my life was going to make in the world.

I didn’t like my answers. I didn’t like them at all because I realized that it was all about me. It was about who I was getting to work with, the research I was getting to do, the degree I was going to get, publications with my name on them.

It hit me. When it is all said and done every last bit of that is going to be toast. That wasn’t an acceptable thought.

Over the next 4 months or so I began to check out of my work, mentally. The quality of what I was doing began to slide. I wasn’t giving it my full attention. I couldn’t. My heart just wasn’t there any more. So, a few months away from finishing the MA portion of the program I quit. I quit because I had to do something different. I had to do something that would last and the only thing that was on that list was helping people in their walk with the Lord…ministry.

At first, I think what I experienced was a “call away.” I don’t know how God works in these sorts of things but at first I definitely knew what it was that I just couldn’t keep doing. It had to stop no matter what the cost. I didn’t know what all it would lead to but I knew what it couldn’t be. It took a few months of sorting through that before the “call to” came…that I had to devote my life to the spiritual well being of others. That is a calling.

What does this have to do with the missing piece in evangelism?

Everything.

Let me tell a bit of the rest of the story and then let’s talk application. I remember one of my first ministry classes in seminary. A bunch of people either in ministry or about to begin ministry were discussing calling. Two things were pretty clear in the discussion. First, it was clear that some of them didn’t believe God really called people into ministry because they didn’t personally feel called. Second, it was clear that the consensus was “people back home in our churches” don’t really believe that God calls people to ministry either. That is my recollection…I hope it is a fair and accurate representation of what was said that day. That was 13 years ago so I am a bit fuzzy.

If our ministers don’t believe they have been called into ministry our churches certainly won’t either. If our preachers and teachers don’t feel like God has called them to that task, how is it going to go? How will their heart be in it? This cannot be one more job to get the bills paid. It may have to feel like that in seasons but that cannot be the primary way ministers see their work.

I believe ministers don’t feel called because that is not a part of our language. They didn’t grow up hearing that. They didn’t grow up expecting that. It is foreign to our conversation and we have lost something there. We have bound God up in leather, via ink and paper and don’t expect much more out of Him than that…and we are dying for it.

In line with all of that – how can we ever expect our congregations to engage in meaningful outreach until they feel God is actually calling them specifically to that? What has happened instead, is that congregations have hired ministers who themselves don’t even feel called to ministry to help guide them and so there is no good example, model or paradigm for what calling is all about and what that would lead us to engage churches in doing. So the congregation believes they have a minister to do that…that’s why they pay him but even the minister doesn’t feel like that is what God is asking them to do. So it just isn’t happening.

There are a few questions we need to address in our congregations:

  • Is calling biblical?
  • Does God still do it today? If so, how? If not, why not?
  • When God calls, who does it involve (just ministers, a select few, everyone) and what does it involve them doing?
  • What is the priesthood of believers really all about and how should we carry it out?

Until this becomes a part of our language, our children will just see ministry as one of a number of noble professions that get the bills paid. I think it is vitally important that we have this discussion in our churches because I believe people won’t engage in outreach until they really believe that is what God actually expects them and calls them to do…not just the preacher.

emptytombThe scholar who has most thoroughly studied the question of Christian resurrection is doubtlessly N. T. Wright.

The question is central to his books The Resurrection of the Son of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. 3) and Surprised by Hope. Surprised by Hope is written at a more popular level and is a great read (although I disagree with his conclusions regarding the nature of hell). The Resurrection of the Son of God is a mere 740 pages, and as you can imagine, quite thorough. It answers many questions barely touched on in Surprised by Hope.

But for the sake of this post, I quote from and comment on an essay by Wright that summarizes his conclusions, “Mind, Spirit, Soul and Body: All for One and One for All—Reflections on Paul’s Anthropology in His Complex Contexts,” found in Pauline Perspectives: Essays on Paul, 1978–-2013 (2013), 464–465 — Read more »

“If Christ is risen, nothing else matters.  And if Christ is not risen, nothing else matters.” – Jeroslav Pelikan

In my opinion the most stunning letter in the entire New Testament is not one that we have as a “stand alone” book of the New Testament. The letter I am thinking of is a lot shorter than any of Paul’s letters and even shorter than all of the general epistles…it is the letter to the church in Sardis found in Revelation 3:1-6. Here is what Jesus said to that church,

To the angel of the church in Sardis write:

These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.

Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

There was no such thing as junk mail in the ancient world. You don’t load a horse down with junk mail nor do you send it by personal courier. Letters were purposeful, personal and had history behind them. Jesus knows his people. Who knows who they are and he knows what they are doing. He also knows if their reputation is out of line with the true spiritual reality.

Sardis is one of those churches that appears to have it all together….they appear to be vibrant and full of life and energy but the truth of the matter is it is just a facade. It is like the accusation Jesus leveled against the Pharisees that they were “like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matt 23:27-28).

There are times when the resurrected need a resurrection…they need a time of refreshing and new life. How do you go about finding it in an established church that has lost its way? Jesus gives them this prescription for finding new life. Maybe there is something in there for us today if we are willing to listen:

  1. Wake up
  2. Strengthen what remains
  3. Remember what you received and heard
  4. Obey it
  5. Repent

In a sense this is resurrecting the resurrected. The city known for making fine clothes had Christians who had soiled their spiritual clothing. It seems this church had polluted itself with the world. It wasn’t that they needed a new “revelation” from the Lord just like we don’t need a new one today. They needed to be called back (to remember) to that which had already been taught…not just to hear it again but to actually live by it. Doing that will require repentance because you cannot hang onto the old ways while embracing the new…that only shows that you are still sound asleep, even dead spiritually speaking.

So what about us? How awake is the church today? How awake are Christians today? It is entirely possible that in many situations the resurrected need a resurrection. If Jesus sent a letter to your congregation, what would it say? What challenges would he address and what things would be praised?

I believe the church today and Christians today are in need of this lesson. Being alive is not about appearances. It is not about numbers. It is about living out our faith and relationship with the Lord on a daily basis and that will come with challenges and it will come at a cost. There are times we need someone to come along and call out to us and to our churches “Wake up!” Wake up from your slumber because the Lord isn’t finished with you yet…and what He has in store is definitely worth being awake to experience!

“Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

 

Resurrection

Resurrection by Alma Woodsey Thomas – 1966

In 2006, I was fortunate to spend a month in Minsk, Belarus where I taught at a small Bible college. Very few people spoke English in a nation still sequestered from the global community by political oppression and material scarcity. For that reason, I was pretty isolated during my time without the assistance of a translator. Still, I found some satisfaction in my ability to read aloud and identify the occasional Russian word (i.e. cafe or photo) since the Cyrillic letters of their alphabet corresponded with Greek. By month’s end, a few special relationships had formed including one with Natallia Golos, an English speaker who accompanied me on a couple of outings.

Playing hostess Natallia took me to the National Art Museum and introduced me to a world of enchantment that I had not previously experienced. Before that day, I had little use for art. My preferred canvas was a high definition screen with a defensive end crashing over the tackle. In what I now recognize as a welcome break from media and English speaking people I was given the space to be content in the company of art for the first time. The small collection of European Renaissance art that had survived Hitler’s bludgeoning of this nation, once known as the Eastern front, mesmerized me. Yes, there were other pieces of significance but I was drawn in first by the floor to ceiling canvases of great Biblical stories and characters. These familiar scenes made me feel connected.

Some time later I was introduced to Henri Nouwen’s book, The Return of the Prodigal Son. Nouwen’s sustained reflection on this one piece of art brought me to tears and convinced me of the value of such a medium to communicate the story of God in a profound way. Since, I have become a lover of art; not an expert but a lover. I even hold a membership at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. For me, it is the story of the artist…their tragedies, triumphs, and revelations. Even those odd abstractions on a canvas come to life when one knows the story or attempts to interpret it. What I once thought belonged on construction paper instead of canvas now occupies my attention at a whole new level.

So it is with Resurrection, a painting by renowned African-American artist Alma Thomas. Chosen by the First Lady to stand sentry over the redecorated Old Family Dining Room in the White House, Thomas’ take on a resurrection makes me pause. Why? Maybe you have the same initial reaction as me, “that’s the color wheel I picked up at Lowe’s the other day.” But, I sat with this painting a bit and then searched for the narrative behind it.

Who is Ms. Thomas? Born in the deep South in 1891, Alma Thomas migrated with her family to Washington D.C. in 1907.  They trekked North to escape racial prejudice that would not even allow Alma to check out a book in a public library. One biography mentions, “Thomas often recounted the story of her family about to cross the Potomac River: her parents suggested that Thomas and her sisters remove their shoes to knock off every last bit of the Georgia sand so they could begin their new life.”1 There it is Resurrection…removal of dirt, crossing the waters, and new life. This new life afforded Alma an education in art something about which she was passionate.  “‘When I entered the art room,’ she told Eleanor Munro, author of Originals: American Women Artists, ‘it was like entering heaven.'” 2

As I continue to gaze at Resurrection and contemplate Alma Thomas’ life, the color wheel becomes something altogether different for me. I see a bright person at the center encapsulated by the dark marks of sin to which I was exposed and also those I willingly invite. I see deep cleansing water mixed with blood and as I cross there is a light that radiates in every direction. Those are my observations. I’m sure there are many with artistic insight that goes far beyond my offering. Still, that’s not the point. Art in general and perhaps more specifically, abstracted art, offers the audience an opportunity to continue the creation with their own story and interpretation of the work.

I wonder if that isn’t the point of Jesus’ remarks to Thomas recorded in the Gospel of John. Jesus says to Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” I can relate to Thomas. In fact, that’s my first name. By nature, I’m not much of an abstract thinker. I prefer a flat, two-dimensional world in black and white. Jesus, of course, has stretched me at this point so that I much enjoy the colors and topography of His new creation. Yet, put me under stress and I want to shrink back, raise the alarm, and have a clear understanding before I proceed. I’m that guy – the one who wants clean brush strokes and a concrete image on the canvas.

Alma Thomas’ picture of resurrection is bold. Unlike her namesake, she doesn’t need to see the nail marks. Her abstraction annoys me but only because it invites me to think. Similarly, Jesus’ resurrection annoys. Group think in his day was that the resurrection would mark the end of all things. The idea that this one man would be resurrected as opposed to all of Israel at once was preposterous. Forty days after His triumph over the grave and Jesus’ followers remained vexed. “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6). In my humble opinion, Thomas gets a bad rap. He was audacious enough to say aloud what most everyone else was thinking.

By contrast, Alma Thomas gets it. Her abstraction reminds that Jesus’ resurrection was not the end of all things. It is the beginning. Resurrection is not some concrete fact that we announce to the world. It is a canvas on which Jesus invites all of humanity to paint. We, “those who have not seen and yet have believed,” can share the story in new ways as the power of the promised Counselor resides in us and works through us.

Isn’t Jesus the most wonderful abstraction of all? Really? God in the flesh? How on earth? Well, maybe that is why we pray, “on earth as it is in heaven.”

A Blessed Holy Week to All,

Eric Greer

 

1. Escamilla, Brian. “Thomas, Alma 1891–1978.Contemporary Black Biography. 1997. Encyclopedia.com. 26 Mar. 2015 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

2. Ibid

The Hour of Darkness

The hour of darkness is upon us…

Three times Jesus awakened them—three times. His heart was breaking, his fears were mounting, and his knees were covered in the dirt of the garden floor. Three times he went to pray and pour out his soul in anguish to his Father… They went to sleep. God forgive us, are we not also unfocused and distracted.

The hour of darkness is upon us…

Peter stood at the fires in the courtyard of the high priest and three times denied his Lord, Jesus—three times. Submitting to a false court in a sham trial that was an outright mockery of justice, Jesus was saving the world. And in an outright mockery of faithfulness, Peter was saving his own tail. God forgive us, are we not also cowards and liars.

The hour of darkness is upon us…

Judas betrayed the hope of the world for 30 silver pieces. Only too late did he realize that he did for 30 silver pieces that for which they would have paid 3000. He betrayed his master and friend… with a kiss. Trusting God’s promise, Jesus hung on a cross forgiving the world its sins that put him there. Doubting God’s grace, Judas hung himself in a tree haunted by his demons. God forgive us, are we not also haunted by our demons and do we not also kiss you with our lips then betray you for our own gain.

The hour of darkness is upon us…

It was religious people who struck Jesus first. Driven by fear, they raised their hands in violence. Driven by love, my Jesus knelt in humility. Honoring falsehood as testimony, they condemned the truth itself. Making sure not to wander too far into the home of a Gentile, they kept ritual purity as they handed over an innocent man to be executed. Their voices shouted first for the release of a man who took life, as they demanded the death of the giver of life. God forgive us, are we not also violent and full of compromise when we should be full of the Spirit.

The hour of darkness is upon us…

Pilate has washed his hands. The magistrate found no guilt in him, but did not pardon him. Pilate chose to play politics, and in so doing he handed over the true King to die. God forgive us, are we not also addicted to popularity and often look no further than our own reputation.

The hour of darkness is upon us…

The soldiers have mocked my Lord, and beaten my Lord, and spit on my Lord. They placed a crown of thorns on his head and paraded him through the streets. They were just doing their jobs—it wasn’t personal. They were just following orders as they walked the King of Glory through the streets of shame and beat him down under the weight of his cross. God forgive us, are we not also often an unwitting part of so much systemic injustice and evil that we can’t tell the difference between doing our job and insulting our Lord.

The hour of darkness is upon us…

They played dice at the foot of the cross—gambling for his clothes. Jesus, the Savior of the world, is dying for them right above them, yet they are too busy playing games to notice. God forgive us, are we not guilty—some of us—of still playing games at the cross of Jesus.

The hour of darkness is upon us…

Even the criminals beside him have turned on him—as if some how they are better than him. They heap insults upon him and shame him. It is better to die a scoundrel with my own guilt than to bear the shame of this innocent man I helped kill. God forgive us, are we not also blind to our own culpability and sin.

The hour of darkness is upon us…

The apostles are hiding. His closest friends and his devoted followers—all of them save one were missing. Fearing for their lives, they hid. Saving their own skin, they hid. Not understanding what their teacher had told them over and over again, they were bewildered, confused, and afraid. God forgive us, are we not also guilty of letting our fear and confusion drive us away from where we belong.

The hour of darkness is upon us…

The sun has gone black. The light of the world has been extinguished and all that is left is night. The earth itself is shaking in furious upheaval. For nothing has come into existence that was not made by him—the author of all living things has been killed, and all living things shudder in revolt. The temple curtain is torn and the graves of the saints are empty because even in darkness the light will bear its witness. So we take heart even as…

The hour of darkness is upon us…

In the stillness and silence we hear no serpent in the grass for his head lay crushed beneath the foot of the one who would not want anything. Listen and hear nothing, for the great and terrible Accuser is silent. He is defeated. His tongue finds no words, his lies have no more power, his accusations find no purchase on the perfect life and wholehearted devotion of my Jesus. The great evil dragon who would conquer the world and overthrow God himself is humiliated and vanquished by the love and peace of a slaughtered lamb. Satan did his worst, but God’s best was even greater.

Here we gather at the cross, where the dearest and blest for a world of lost sinners was slain. Here we gather at the cross where in blessed backwardness the immeasurable one was held but did not resist. Here we gather at the cross and surrender ourselves to the great cost and greater joy of Good Friday. Here we gather at the cross and find that we are forgiven… that we are loved… that we are chosen… that we are victorious.

The hour of darkness is upon us… thank God.

emptytombApril’s theme is on resurrection…a term in the Greek New Testament that at its core means “to rise up to a better status” (BDAG anastasis – See Luke 2:34). It just so happens that when a dead person is raised up to a better status that is not just any regular sort of uplifting…that is “resurrection”!

The rhythm of life seemed locked in from life to death over and over again across human history until someone broke the mold. Someone stood out from the all the rest who had ever gone before and showed us that it doesn’t always have to be that way. There is a way to die before you die in order to truly live forever (Matt 16:24-27).

That man was Jesus Christ. He endured the cross, went through the cruelest death imaginable…death on a Roman cross. It was such a horrendous and shameful way to die, some ancient Romans wrote that the “Stauros” (cross) was a profane word, not fit for sensitive ears. Jesus went through this horrible, shameful death, through the grave and back out again on the other side alive again! He invites us on that same journey that he first blazed the trail on for us. Resurrection is one of the most hopeful words in the English language. It is the solution to the age old, unavoidable problem of death.

Resurrection is also a “power word”…a word that screams authority. Romans 5:14-21 remind us of that. Here is 5:17-21,

“If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord

Sin exercised dominion (reigned) so that grace also might exercise dominion (reign) through justification leading to eternal life. God did not leave us under the power of sin and death. God did not leave us subject to judgment. Instead, God justified us and gave us eternal life through Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. That is the language of resurrection.

As we discuss resurrection this month we are going to be talking about more than eternal life. We are going to share stories of resurrected relationships, resurrected ministries, and resurrected ministers…seeing something that seemed dead come back to life is a powerful reminder of the God who revels in resurrection!

One interesting side note, the Greek verb to crucify is a compound word adding this root (anastasis) to the word cross (stauros) to get anastaurao…”to raise up on a cross.”

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