Saturday, April 15, 2017

Take Off the Grave Clothes

Everyone gathered at the tomb. Jesus finally came, but Lazarus had been dead for days. The whispers started to circulate.

Why didn’t He come sooner?
I thought they were friends.
Surely Jesus could have done something to prevent this!
Look how the sisters are grieving. Oh Lazarus, why did you have to die so young?
Look, Jesus is weeping too. Well, a lot of good that does now.

Open the grave? You’ve got to be kidding! He’s been in there four days; the smell is going to be dreadful!

Jesus called to His friend and Lazarus came out, still wrapped for burial. “Take off his grave clothes and let him go,” Jesus told those standing near (John 11:44).

What did Lazarus say? How did he look? Was he deathly pale, pocked, and scarred by the disease that killed him? Or was he pink like a newborn baby? Was he embarrassed by the watching crowd? Or did he dance with joy and hug his astounded sisters? Surely he and Jesus grabbed each other for a man-hug and some hearty laughter.

The Bible doesn’t tell us, except the chief priests decided to include Lazarus in their plot to kill Jesus (John 12:11). Lazarus’ resurrection was big news; evidence that convinced people Jesus was the real deal. And the religious leaders couldn’t have that.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus asked those standing by to remove the grave clothes? Couldn’t Lazarus have done that himself? Did they need to be a part of the miracle? Did they need to smell death on his wraps to be convinced the resurrection was not a hoax?

I believe that’s part of what we are to do for each other in the Body of Christ today— strip away the grave clothes of death. We need to witness and be a part of the miracle. We were once dead in sin and are resurrected to a new life because of what Jesus did on the cross. The Church is meant to help and heal, comfort and challenge with the Word of God. Sometimes that means stripping away lies and worldly wrappings that hinder resurrected living. Sometimes it means offering hope and rebooting one another’s faith.

What are the grave clothes that keep you from fully living the resurrected life? Do you still wear remnants of shame from your past or worries about your future? Do you fear standing naked before the Lord, or hesitate to leave the comforts you’re accustomed to, even those that smell of death? Does hopelessness weigh you down? 

Tomorrow we will celebrate our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He conquered death and sin and God raised Him to life. Because He lives, we can die to sin and be raised to life with Him. He calls us out of the dark tomb into the bright light of resurrection living. 

Like Lazarus, we need the Spirit of God to fill us with joyous energy that can’t stop praising Jesus. Our resurrected life should pose a threat to Jesus-haters, because it draws attention to His power and authority.

Jesus has called us from death to life. Who is choosing to follow Jesus because of our story? I pray it will be an ever-growing number as we help each other remove the grave clothes of sin and death, and give Jesus all the praise.

Happy Easter! He is Risen!
So can we!

#Easter #resurrectionlife #Lazarusresurrection #graveclothes #nomoredeath #Jesusroseagain

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

A Long Obedience

One of my favorite book titles is Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. Long. Obedience. Same. No catchy words in that title to market Christianity to spiritual shoppers. The subtitle of the book spells it out even more clearly: Discipleship in an Instant Society. We see that in microcosm during Holy Week. How quickly the crowd gave up following Jesus when He came in a way they did not expect, or want.

The Jews expected the Messiah to come as a conquering king and deliver them from Roman domination. Instead, Jesus came as a baby and rode into town on a donkey—the symbol of peace. The crowds who praised Jesus with Hosanna! (Save us) on Palm Sunday were persuaded to demand His crucifixion less than one week later.  They were quick to turn from “Save us!” to “Kill Him!”

They were only willing to follow Jesus as long as He fed them, healed them, preached about love, and rebuked their harsh and hypocritical religious leaders. But when He started getting personal—talking about carrying their cross, partaking in His body and blood, forgiving their enemies, praying for those who mistreated them, even loving them. Well, that was taking it a bit too far.
Yet, how different are we? How different am I?

Peterson’s words penned thirty-seven years ago are even truer today: “There is a great market for religious experience in our world: there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.” We want sensation without self-discipline. We want heaven—as long as it doesn’t take too long or cost too much to get there.

But heaven is for those tenacious to know the person of Jesus and become like Him.

The sad thing is many supposed seekers, like most followers of Jesus’ day, are more self-centered than God-centered. “Everyone is in a hurry. The persons who I lead in worship, among whom I counsel, visit, pray, preach, and teach,” said Peterson, “want short cuts. They want me to help them fill out the form that will get them instant credit (in eternity). They are impatient for results. They have adopted the lifestyle of a tourist and only want the high points.” Palm Sunday tourists.

Are you willing to commit to a LONG obedience in the SAME direction? Even if Jesus doesn’t relieve your pain? Even if your finances don’t improve? Even when people misunderstand? Even when they leave you, like they left Him?

I say Yes. I have not come this far to turn back now. I will wave my hands in praise on Palm Sunday, and stay with Jesus through the dark in the Garden of Gethsemane. I will weep as He is mocked, beaten, and falsely accused. And I will stand at the cross through the hours of agony as the perfect Son of God pays the penalty for my sins. Only then can I celebrate His resurrection on Sunday morning when the heavens ring with Hosannas and Halleluiahs.

The life of a disciple is a daily walk with the risen Christ. It never changes course. It doesn’t give in to public opinion or current trends. It is steady and sure and worth every sacrifice. Because the goal is heaven and the prize is to be in the presence of our Savior and King forever and ever.

#Easter #PalmSunday #hosannatocrucifyhim #obedience #perseverence #changingcourse

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Ultimate Love Story

What do the movies “Message in a Bottle,” “The Notebook,” “The Love Letter,” and “P.S. I Love You” have in common? All are stories about the power of the written word to express or initiate love between people. I believe each reveals one aspect of the ultimate love story. A love story we’re all invited to experience for ourselves.  If we choose to say yes to the proposal.
The Love Letter: Refusing to Settle
Have you ever yearned for more in life than what others desire or expect for you? You don’t want to be alone, but you don’t want to settle for less either.

In this movie a woman in the 19th century corresponds with a man in the 20th century through a hidden compartment in their ‘shared’ desk. Neither wants to marry the one they’re supposed to, but feel doomed to follow through. Then they find each other.

God understands this yearning for more than the status quo. He calls us to a higher, deeper, grander love than anything we can imagine in this life. “I looked for the one my heart loves; I looked for him but did not find him…I will search for the one my heart loves” (Song of Songs 3:1-2). He makes a way for us to find Him—across space and time, even into eternity.

The Notebook: Rekindling Lost Love
Why would an old man visit another resident in his nursing home just to read her the same story day after day? She has Alzheimer’s and seldom remembers much of what he’s read. He does this because she’s his wife, and he is reading their love story. It’s the most thrilling thing in his life, and hers, when she remembers. So he persists, for the occasional moment when she remembers she loves him too.

God also tells us the same story every day—through His words in the Bible, through songs, through people, through the breathtaking beauty of nature. And every day He hopes we will remember the love story that has changed our life, “I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the wilderness” (Jer. 2:2). He hopes we will love Him back with equal abandon.

P.S. I Love You: Moving Forward
Death can be paralyzing—whether it’s the death of a loved one, a dream, a job, or something else we hold dear. When Holly’s husband dies she can’t seem to get past the grief. Knowing how she would struggle, Gerry prepared a series of notes to be delivered to her after his death. At first she’s freaked out, and so are her mom and friends, but Gerry knew his love would give her confidence to let go and live again.

Jesus did this for His followers too. After His resurrection He sent the Holy Spirit, to give them direction and confidence to move forward. “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you… the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:18, 26-27).

This same Spirit is the One who comforts us when we are immobilized by death. The Spirit reminds us of Jesus’ love for us in the past, and the future life in heaven for those who love Him. In the meantime, He gives us energy to live now, to love now—to take the next step, knowing He is with us always.

Message in a Bottle: Falling in Love with the Lover
Do you remember when you were a kid and everyone took an envelope of cards to school for a flurry of exchange on Valentine’s Day? Did you ever get someone else’s Valentine by mistake? At first, there’s this thrilling moment, when you believe the boy/girl you think is cute has noticed you too…then you realize it’s not addressed to you, but someone else.

In this movie, a woman finds a bottle on the beach. Inside is a love letter from a grief-stricken widower to his wife. This is obviously a man who’s able to love deeply, completely, and relentlessly. The woman just has to meet him; see if he is real. When she does she falls in love, and the attraction is mutual. However, he can’t bring himself to release the past to embrace a new love, and the movie ends tragically. 

Thankfully, this is not the way God treats us. He fully intends for us to find His message of love. When we do, it’s not addressed to someone else, but to us—personally. “I have called you by name; you are mine” (Isa. 43:1, Living Bible). He pours out His love—unfailing, unconditional, tender, and compassionate. When we love Him too we find we’re home at last. 

Do you love Him?

#perfectlove #Godslove #valentines #Godinmovies #unconditionallove #justsayyes

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Is Your Foundation Solid? Part 2

Yesterday we heard from an experienced contractor on what is necessary for a solid foundation. Today we’re going to look at what our Master Builder says we need for a solid spiritual foundation: 

What does is Virgin Ground spiritually? 
What wide and deep footings does God have for our soul, and what reinforces them?
What anchors our spiritual foundation to the rest of our “house”?
And what clean ingredients need to go into this foundation?

Virgin Ground—Solid and Immovable
Virgin ground is not brought in from somewhere else; it’s been there from the beginning. That describes God. The first two commandments out of the box are: we are to have no other gods before Him or worship any other (Ex. 20:3-6; Deut. 5:7-10). God knows anyone or anything other than Him will let us down. If we try to build our life on a person, a career, a substance or anything else, our “house” will fall.

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.  But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Matt. 7:24-27*).

Footings—Wide, Deep, and Reinforced
We need a foundation substantial enough to support the weight of our “house” so we don’t sink under pressure. And it needs to be reinforced with steel to withstand whatever comes. Who can do this better than the One who built the Universe? (Job 38:4-6)

What reinforces our foundation? I believe it’s a word we hesitate to speak these days—obedience. It’s not enough to just say we believe in God and that our lives are built on Him; we have to actually do what He says. That gives strength to our faith and testimony.

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete” (Luke 6:46-49).

What connects our “house” to the foundation? Jesus Christ. The Son of God is our connection to the Father; His sacrifice opened the way for us to come into His presence without fear.  

"'See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who relies on it will never be stricken with panic’” (Isa. 28:16). “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Heb. 6:19). “He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge” (Isa. 33:6).

Clean Ingredients
Purity—another word we’re scared to use—is important for building the kind of victorious life God has for us. When we let un-repented sin remain in our lives, it weakens our foundation—like air pockets cause concrete to crumble. Quality construction doesn’t come cheap. Saying no to sin our culture approves of is a cost most people don’t want to pay. I guess it depends on whether you want your house to stand or not.

It’s worth the price. Just be sure you’re ready to finish what you start. “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish’” (Luke 14:28-30).

Many have built flashy spiritual mansions that crumbled and fell for lack of a proper foundation. I don’t want to make that mistake and I hope you don’t either. Ask the Lord if yours is built according to spec. He’ll tell you what to do to get started, or repair what you’ve already begun.

“Each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11).

*bold wording on scriptures is added by author for emphasis