Thursday, April 28, 2011

In the Easter Afterglow

Now that Easter is over you may be feeling a bit letdown, especially if the weather is dreary and cold where you are, like it is here. The cantatas and parties are over; the Easter lilies are turning brown. It’s back to work and the same old same old. All that’s left is a little picked over candy. You may be asking, “Is that all there is to Easter?”

I say a resounding NO. If you’re new to the faith, or even if you’ve been in church all your life, there are some things you should know. The most important of which is, Jesus’ death on the cross, even His resurrection aren’t the end of the story. However, Easter sermons alone won’t fill us in on everything outlined in scripture; we have to do a little digging.

So this week I want to explore three often overlooked details of the Easter story: what Jesus did in the tomb; what He did after the resurrection; and what He’s doing now.

What Happened in the Tomb?
A story began circulating to refute the testimonies of first century believers. They claimed Jesus didn’t really die on the cross, but merely fainted. After a sleepless night in the garden, and bouncing from court to court until morning, Jesus then survived a beating from Roman soldiers, and a brutal scourging. He then carried a heavy cross beam to the crucifixion site. His hands and feet were nailed to a beam and He hanged for six more hours without food or drink. He was then speared in the side and the guard in charge pronounced Him dead.

The “swoon theory” says that after a three day rest in a cold, dark tomb, with no food, water, or medical care, Jesus miraculously revived. Then, weighed down by 40-100 pounds of embalming spices and wrapped tightly in linen from head to toe, He emerged from His cocoon and pushed aside the stone that took several soldiers to put into place. I don’t believe that’s the way it went.

Quoting the Wizard of Oz, Jesus was not only “merely dead” He was “really most sincerely dead.” He came to earth in human form to pay the sacrifice for our sins and give us hope for eternal life. Jesus descended into the pit of death for us and came back to life again. He showed Himself to His disciples before He ascended again to heaven. But how long did He stick around?

What Did Jesus Do After His Resurrection?
Every Easter drama or movie I’ve seen ends with the resurrected Jesus and His disciples. A rousing chorus of “He’s alive!” is playing in the background, complete with trumpets. Then Jesus rises to heaven in a puff of clouds and beams of bright light. All of that did happen (well, maybe not the trumpets), but not until 40 days later.

Jesus didn’t rise from the dead and immediately take off for heaven. He stayed to finish the work of His Father. Jesus spent time with His followers to complete their education. By the day of Pentecost, they were both equipped with full knowledge and empowered by the Holy Spirit to confidently proclaim the Good News.

The first person who saw Jesus was Mary Magdalene outside the tomb. Later Jesus walked with another two disciples on the road to Emmaus seven miles away. They had heard reports of His missing body and were upset. He explained why it had to happen that way, “‘Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:26-27). They didn’t even realize who they were talking to until He broke bread with them.

Another day, He entered a locked room with a greeting of peace to His terrified disciples.

“They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost.” He encouraged them to touch Him and examine His wounds. “And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, ‘Do you have anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.

“He said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’

“Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:36-45).

I’m sure His followers were much like us - one minute believing, the next moment doubting. By appearing on several occasions to various people and giving positive physical and scriptural proof, Jesus overcame their suspicions that His resurrection was just their own wishful thinking.

The story continues beyond the gospel accounts. The book of Acts begins: “After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:2-3, emphasis mine).

And Jesus proved himself to more than just the eleven disciples. Apostle Paul, who refused to believe until his conversion experience on the Road to Damascus, gives the full account: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures…he was buried…he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…he appeared to [Peter], and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8, emphasis mine).

Jesus took time to show His followers how His life, death, and resurrection fulfilled God’s plan for mankind as foretold in Scripture. We can be sure that what these eye witnesses wrote down for us is trustworthy.

What is Jesus Doing Now?
Many New Testament scriptures tell us what Jesus is up to until the second coming. He sits at the right hand of the throne of God, having completed His earthly mission. He is preparing a home for us in heaven. He is also at work in our daily lives. In the Old Testament, David foretold what Jesus would be doing after the resurrection in Psalm 68:18-20:

When you ascended on high, you took many captives; you received gifts from people, even from the rebellious— that you, LORD God, might dwell there. Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign LORD comes escape from death.

Even though the work of salvation is done, Jesus continues to carry our burdens. He continues to teach and comfort us, and pray for us “because Jesus lives forever… he always lives to intercede for [us]” (Hebrews 7:24-25). What could be more natural than for Jesus to sit and discuss our needs with His Father: “Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8:34).

So, if you’re experiencing a bit of a post Easter letdown, I encourage you to look up. Our Messiah has conquered sin and death and now reigns in heaven, but He is also with us through the Spirit (John 14-15). Best of all, He will come again to take His believing children home!

Beth Vice, 2011

Saturday, April 23, 2011

40 Days of Lint, Day Forty: In Search of The Lamb

Today is the last day of our 40 day trek to Easter. I hope these readings have inspired, challenged, and helped you focus on Christ in preparation for tomorrow’s big celebration. Despite all my tongue in cheek chatter about bunnies in this section, today I want to focus on Someone infinitely more important. I want to talk about The Lamb.

Several years ago, I wanted to decorate our house for Easter with a more grown-up look. My girls were both in high school and past the age of window stick-ons and cutesy stuffed animals. I chose lambs as my theme and went to store after store looking for the Lamb of Easter, to no avail. Not even the Christian bookstore had pictures or figurines of lambs to symbolize the One who gave His life for us. I found bunnies, chicks, and candy everywhere, but the Lamb of God was nowhere in sight.

Christmas is a celebration of God coming to the earth in the flesh to tell and show us His love in ways we could understand. The enemy has turned it into a frenzy of overspending, overeating, greed, and Santa Claus. Easter is the culmination of Jesus’ mission when He gave His life to pay for our sins, ending the need for ever having to sacrifice another lamb. His resurrection on Easter morning proved He was God and death had no power of it. It’s no surprise then that Satan would want to make sure we get distracted with other things.

For most people, it’s a celebration of spring, new clothes, Easter egg hunts, and the Easter Bunny. A few years ago The Passion of the Christ powerfully portrayed what Christ suffered for us. In 2011 the big movie in the theaters was Hop – the story of the Easter Bunny’s son who runs away to Hollywood to become a drummer. Somewhere in between the gruesome violence of the R rated movie of Jesus’ death and making Easter into a light and meaningless romp, we need to hold onto the true meaning of Easter. 

 John the Baptist had it right: 

“John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’” and later, “When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God!’”(John 1:29 and 36). That’s our job too, to point Him out – who He is and what He did, with love, gratitude, and excitement. 

There are eight other passages in the Bible that tell us more about Jesus the Lamb of God.
·         Genesis 22:8 – Abraham’s prophecy
·         Revelation 5:6-8 – Jesus on the throne
·         Revelation 7:10-17 – Jesus wipes our tears
·         Revelation 14:4-10 –the second coming
·         Revelation 15:3 – the character of the Lamb
·         Revelation 19:9 – the Groom at the wedding supper
·         Revelation  21:22-23 – replacing the sun and the moon
·         Revelation  22:1-5 – our place in heaven with Him 
Lint Removed: The Bunny
Cleaning Process: Replace With The Lamb of God

Happy Easter ~ He is Risen!

Friday, April 22, 2011

40 Daysof Lint, Day Thirty-Nine:Lust Bunnies

Playboy bunnies aren't just in magazines anymore. They're everywhere we look. Even when we don't want to see them they pop up on our computer screens, in television ads, and on storefronts. Unrealistic images in all forms of pornography cause dissatisfaction in intimate relationships and destroy our understanding of what is meant to be pure and holy. And lust affects us all.

An increasing number of women view pornography regularly or innocently feed on material that distorts their view of healthy relationships. How can our men compete with fictional characters portrayed in romance novels and movies? Those men are charming, thoughtful, well built, and seem to have all the time in the world to think of how to please their beloved. In real life, men and women gain weight, have bad days, forget important occasions, and say stupid things. We don’t always have energy to spend on romantic gestures. Relationships built on lust and unrealistic expectations run when trouble comes, but love stays.

Each of us hunger to know that someone in this world will stand by our side, even when times are tough and we're not the hottie we once were, or thought we were. We long to be loved for who we are in our soul - our personality, talents, thoughts, dreams, and even quirks.

The enemy wants to ruin our chances for happiness by luring us into the trap of make believe and momentary pleasure; it takes diligent awareness to guard our hearts against lust. Job,  the oldest book of the Bible, even talks about lust. Job fought it all the way (Job 31:7-8). Many participate in pornography, affairs, and binging on romance novels seeking forbidden pleasure, but look where it leads. The woman called Folly sounds inviting, at first: “‘Let all who are simple come to my house!’ To those who have no sense she says, ‘Stolen water is sweet; food eaten in secret is delicious!’ But little do they know that the dead are there, that her guests are deep in the realm of the dead” (Proverbs 9:16-18, emphasis mine).

How can we fight against this temptation when it’s everywhere we look? The first thing is to look to God. The kind of unconditional, satisfying love we all long for is only found in Him. Married or single, young or old, Jesus Christ is our forever Love and the only One who can meet every need to love and be loved. He never gets tired, has a bad day, or gets tired of our neediness.

Secondly, we need to learn the biblical definition of love, and commit to loving our husbands, wives, boyfriends, and girlfriends in that way. God created women with a need to be cherished, protected, sought after, and held. God made men with a need for respect, admiration, praise, and to work for a worthwhile cause.

Not long ago, my husband and I had a misunderstanding. After talking it through, he offered to rub by feet while I read aloud. We ended the day dancing in the bedroom to music and candlelight. It would have been easy for each of us to stay mad at each other, comparing the other’s present unattractiveness to magazine models or romance novels. Instead, we remembered why we chose each other in the first place, and renewed our commitment to our relationship. In that soil, love flourishes.

Be on the watch for lust bunnies lurking in dark corners of your mind and heart. They do so much damage, even among faithful God-followers. We will only stay pure if we dedicate ourselves to Jesus’ cleansing forgiveness and resist the temptation to wandering eyes and hearts.
Lint Removed: Lust
Cleaning Process: Let True Love Satisfy   

Thursday, April 21, 2011

40 Daysof Lint, Day Thirty-Eight: Grumble Bunnies

Have you ever noticed that the Easter Bunny is a cheerful fellow? He scampers about delivering candy eggs with energy and an exuberant smile. He's happy about the season regardless of the weather or his personal problems (you know there has to be stress with that many deliveries to make!). He’s the poster child of happiness. Of course, he's a fictional character, so we can make him whatever we want him to be.

We, on the other hand, are living, breathing bearers of the Good News of Easter. Yet, much of the time we don’t seem so happy about it. I know I’m guilty of getting bogged down in the details of life - finances, physical limitations, and daily challenges. Worse yet, I realize how often I complain about them. That’s definitely a dust bunny that needs to clear out.

Jesus is the Star of Easter, and we’re the little lights pointing the way to Him. Grumbling and complaining dims our effectiveness. These verses always inspire me to do better in this area:

“Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life” (Philippians 2:14-16).

Really, Lord? Do everything without grumbling? Everything? Even the menial, repetitious, everyday stuff? Even when I’m running late and get stuck in traffic? Even when there’s potholes everywhere and it’s pouring down rain...still? Even when an evil virus shuts down my computer and I lose important files? Even when other people are rude to me? And His answer is, “Yep.”

How can we? Is it really possible? Only with God! It’s all about perspective. I tend to focus too much on the problems and obstacles at hand. God wants us to focus on the victory already won. Every day is a celebration of Jesus’ finished work on the cross and the freedom we have in Him. Our sins are forgiven and we have a future in heaven. We have a purpose here because everything we do in this life is for Him, and He gives us whatever we need to do the work.

We may not be happy in the circumstances of every moment, but we can have deep, abiding joy within. And Easter is one of the two biggest days of the Christian year, so we have reason for JOY. We can’t dredge it up or paste it on - it has to come from a real, every day relationship with Jesus Christ. JOY is God’s gift and there for the asking.

So let’s hop to it and have an egg-stra special holy week celebrating the Good News! Rather than join in with all the grumblers at the grocery store and work place, let’s exude praise that makes people ask where we get our hope (1 Peter 3:15). After all, who wants to get shown up by an imaginary bunny?

Lint Removed: Grumbling
Cleaning Process: Filled Up and Focused on Jesus