One day, death shall slip away into the sunset.
One day, death shall die.
This week certainly holds a paradox. Tomorrow night, the Church throughout the world will remember the night when Jesus was betrayed. The Church will remember the Last Supper and subsequent betrayal. This feast that Jesus took part in would have been rooted in the Passover narrative. His disciples heard the story for years when God acted to bring his people out of bondage in Egypt. He brought them out, guiding them with a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day. He led them and protected them even when they wanted to rebel. Even when they wanted to go back to the land of chains.
There was a new chapter being written in this book of redemption though. There was another meal being used to reinterpret the story of Egypt. There was another feast meant to point his friends towards another act of redemption. God had indeed come down to lead his people, this time it would be to defang death and to offer life to the community of the redeemed.
One day death will die, but that promise only comes through one man’s death. While sin and death came through Adam’s disobedience a long time ago, this “new Adam” (as one New Testament writer puts it) would bring in new life through an act of obedience. While Adam’s act of eating something (a natural part of life) brought on death, Jesus’ crucifixion would clear a pathway for life. This paradox makes my head spin sometimes, but you know what? We don’t have to fully understand this to be a part of the community of the redeemed.
Death shall die, my friends. For those who are in Christ, the sting of death has been removed. I hope you join this family, all you need to do is trust in the words of Christ and believe that God raised him from the dead. Through one man’s death, all men and women are offered life.
Aren’t you grateful for that paradox?
Do you think God deals with us all in the same manner? Do you think every person needs to affirm the same thing, quit the same sins, and all become something new?
I’m going to be honest here, and say something very candid. It might offend some, and I’m sorry if I do. Please hear me out though.
I don’t think we all have to be born again to be in the Kingdom.
I don’t think we all have to sell all we have, give it to the poor, and go after Jesus.
I don’t think we all have to abandon our father’s fishing company and go live a life on the road, as James and John did.
Why would I make those statements? Because I think Jesus deals with us one-on-one. He sees us and speaks to us individually, not issuing cookie-cutter responses to our needs. When he met the rich ruler of Luke 18, he confronted him with what he needed to do, telling him to sell his possessions. When he spoke with Matthew, he told him to leave his practice and follow him. The Roman centurion in Matthew 8 had a faith that was stronger than those in Israel, and Jesus commended his faith, letting him stay in the military. Nicodemus in the famous encounter of John 3, on the other hand, was told that he needed to be born again.
Jesus, in these four encounters, handled each situations differently. He dealt with the individual directly, not with everyone generally. For the rich ruler, it is implied that the man made an idol out of money. He needed to get rid of it completely, not just change his spiritual condition. The centurion, on the other hand, was probably well-off like the man in Luke 18. Yet, he was treated by Jesus on a different level than the ruler.
I have a sinking suspicion that God wants to deal with us in different ways.
Certainly though, the preaching pattern of Paul seem to demonstrate that we need to call upon the name of the Lord. We need to confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead, according to Romans 10.9. Yet, I think we all will have different roads to get to this conclusion. We all will be treated differently when it comes to the road to redemption. Some might need a “Damascus Road” conversion, with a dramatic appearance of Jesus himself. Others, will need a quiet voice nudging them to the cross. Yet others will need to see the grandeur of nature to meet the Creator of it all.
God works differently for different people. While you might not need to be born again, you might need to be hugged into the Kingdom or swiftly kicked in the pants into God’s grace.
How did God bring you into his grace? (I had to be kicked in the pants several times.)
“Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.” Psalm 100:3
Something that I have learned this past year is that knowing something to be true is one thing. Knowing something deep in your gut is something entirely different.
Do I know the above psalm to be true? Do I know it deep down, in the core of my being?
O my soul, know that the covenant keeping God is your maker. He is my shepherd and guardian. I am his and he is my portion and prize.
I am reminded of the song “How He Loves Us.” Because that is such a key truth to wholeness in faith. I am reminded of that because he loves me and I am his. How incredible is that truth? How incredible is that message?
He is jealous for you and me. His fierce love redeems the broken and his fierce love shall preserve them. Why should I ever fear? Why should I be afraid, for I am his. The one who parted the Red Sea, the one who conquered death. I am with him and he can be with you too.
O my soul know this truth, and place it in the core of your being. You are his.
I discovered something recently. I discovered the power of a simple prepositional phrase. Admittedly, that phrase is a little odd when you first hear it. It is a little odd because we don’t speak like this too often. And that phrase is something I try to orient my life around, a newfound reality, if you will. That phrase is “in Christ.”
Jesus gave an analogy once that he was the vine and we are the branches. The branches, we are told in John, will only survive if they are connected to the vine. The branches will only survive if they are in the vine. It’s like the Christmas tree you might have in your family room (unless you are an artificial tree person, than a pox upon your household!). That tree was cut down in the recent past and was brought into the lot for the sale. The tree is no longer connected to the roots that nourished it. While it might be a gorgeous tree for the month of December, towards the end of the month it will surely begin to dry out. No matter what you try to do, that tree will look horrible come January.
The same is true for the life of someone who claims to be a follower of Christ. In my own personal experience, if I remove myself from the source of life, I will begin to dry up. Yet, if I am in God’s Word, if I pray, if I choose to follow him daily, then my life will take a tremendously different route. Hear me though, this will not bring a free pass in terms of suffering. It will not remove me not give me an easy life, there is still great sin and suffering in this world, and we wait for the return of the King to right the injustice completely (see Why Christmas is a Dangerous Holiday).
Christianity today had a great article along these lines. Sarah Lebhar Hall reminded me of the ultimate end of being rooted in Christ:
“Jesus wants us to know the ending of our story. Otherwise, the terror of the unknown would distract us from living life to the fullest. Because we are united to Christ, when we look at him, we see the end of our story. We do get to come home safely. That changes our experience of this ‘mission’ that is our lives. We can live them joyfully, as adventure stories and not tragedies in the making.”
Dear reader, if you are in Christ, you do know the ending of the story. Those who have been given to Christ will not slip through the fingers of his nail-pierced hand. You will be preserved and will be raised to glory when Christ comes again in his second Advent. We get to go home safely and we will be preserved. For those who are in Christ have a hope of glory and this hope will not fail.
What have you discovered recently?
Put yourself in the sandals of a First Century Jew. All you have ever known about God has been told to you throughout your life. You might have experienced it as well in the various temple sacrifices and ceremonies throughout the course of your lifetime. You remembered the Exodus, the Exile, the victory of the Maccabean revolt at Hanukkah, and still looked forward to the day when the Messiah would bring about God’s complete reign on earth. You trusted in God, and wanted to keep his commandments, being faithful to the gracious God of Israel. You didn’t want to end up like the people in Daniel’s day, removed from the Promised Land due to the violations of the Law. While you were being faithful a Jew, along came a man named Jesus. Surprisingly, He emphatically stated that if you believed in Him, then you also believed in the God who sent Him. If you looked upon Him, he said, then you have seen this very God of your people. Shocking, huh?
Jesus spoke on the authority given him by His Father. The people who praised God for bringing salvation to Israel in the Psalms and confessed their sins to God were now able to see this God face to face. The covenant-keeping God did something new, revealing Himself in the person of Jesus. Through the death and resurrection of Christ, the evils of death were defanged and the problems of Genesis 3 were confronted.
For those in Christ, we can boldly assert that Jesus became our high priest, being merciful to his people through the propitiation and atonement for our sins. It removed God Himself took on the consequences for sin on the cross. God Himself made the sacrifice for the people of God. Jesus was both the priest and lamb who took away our sins. Therefore, we should break forth in a rejoicing song, for God Himself brought salvation for His people. God has paid our debt, now might we walk in grace and gratitude for Jesus is a merciful and faithful High Priest, taking away our sins.
As I sat in the rows of an Anglican Church on Ash Wednesday, I was struck by an idea- those who are in Christ are marked and sealed as a community of the cross. Those in churches who observe Lent and Ash Wednesday receive ash on the forehead as a sign of repentance and our mortality. As I wrote last week,
We are reminded that we are dust, and to dust we shall all one day return (Gen 3:19). Nevertheless, in the bad news of our condition, we are given a glimpse of hope. The ash placed on the forehead is in the form of a cross, and it is the reminder of the good news that, though we might be crushed by our enemies (as the psalmists often reminds us), we can look to the “founder and perfecter of the faith” for ultimate preservation.
For those who are in Christ, we are sealed as a community of the cross. The ash on our foreheads points us to the reminder that we are shaped by the cross of Christ. Others in the congregation also are marked in the same manner, which leads to the recognition that we are all in life together. We are rooted in Christ and in the community of the Church. We are a people who are shaped by the cross- the reality that Christ was crucified, is risen, and will come again.
Indeed, we are but dust and to dust we shall return. While we have contemplated the ultimate destiny of all humanity on Ash Wednesday, let us also find comfort for being in Christ. For those who are in Christ, returning to dust is but an end to the beginning of the story. As I was reminded in a post by Jordan Ballor at Acton, death will put an end to sinning (Luther once said that while we are here on earth all we can do is sin!). We shall find rest as well, as eternal life transcends the false assumptions of one big harp-playing concert. Life after life after death will be glorious. So take heart, for God shall raise you up in glory from the mortal dust of our bodies!
But for now we wait, and serve the King of Kings, for Christ shall come again. Amen.
(Below is a version of an Advent piece I wrote for my church)
Growing up, we often come to the table of faith with preconceived notions of God in our heads. I pictured him resembling Gandalf from Lord of the Rings, complete with a long flowing beard and walking staff. Other people pictured him as a kindly father, graciously delighting in his children. Others might have looked upon God with a more negative image, as a grumpy old man or someone far worse.
The psalmist in Psalm 54 (and elsewhere) saw the wickedness in the world and could not look anywhere else but to God. Even though he was surrounded by his enemies and had fallen into despair, he knew that his only hope was in God. Though he was poor and needy, he found solace in God because it was the only place he could have turned.
We in Christ must also cling to our faithful Father with the same tenacity as the psalmist. And it is in this reliance on God that we have the grace and room to give to our community. In Matthew 25:14-30, we find the two diligent workers and the one not so diligent worker. While the first two were congratulated and praised for their faithfulness in a “few things,” the last worker was rejected. Did you catch the worker’s excuse? It was his belief that the Master was a harsh man and thus did not trade it for more.
I wonder how our view of God might affect our ability to live out the transformation that came about through the Gospel. Even the view of a Gandalf in the sky can cause a different view of our lives here and now. Instead of looking to the Lamb who was slain and clinging onto the hope that is tied to Him, we might choose to live in fear. Instead of giving generously in light of the Lamb, we hold onto our lives with a clenched fist, believing the lie that God is harsh.
God is love, and He cared for us so much that He walked on this Earth. Let us also walk in the steps of the Messiah this season and beyond.
What was your picture of God as a child?
I was at a baseball game a few weeks ago and saw one of the most arrogant shirts I have ever seen. It evoked a sense of arrogance that I just can’t stand.
As a framework for this post, it is important to know that I always get upset whenever I see the bumper sticker Coexist because it conveys a sense of arrogance. I always found it funny to see this on (usually) a Prius or sedan in a nation that has historically been more open to different groups of people than any other on Earth. Now, of course there has been faults and evils, but by and large Jews, Protestants, and Catholics have learned to live by each other. Muslims might be harassed in a post-9/11 world, but it is not on the systemic levels of other nations. The sticker assumes that I as a Protestant Christian cannot coexist next to a Buddhist family. While we have our faults, this country is largely peaceful. Personally, it would be a fun experiment to have that bumper sticker in Saudi Arabia, but I digress.
While that sticker might be arrogant, I noticed a shirt that ran laps around the bumper sticker. It also made me weep inside.
A man walked around in the stands wearing a shirt that read I am the Christian Satan Warned You About. Have you seen this shirt? I hope you haven’t! It conveys the message that the individual wearing said shirt is the agent of change, the one who will flip your life upside down. He was the one who will do something to you that Satan warned you about. For the sake of argument, I assume it’s to hit you over the head with a Bible or hand you a tract!
Seriously though, I would have rather seen a shirt that read, Christ is who Satan warned you about. Or maybe, Christ, who has forgiven my sin and restored me, wants to redeem you as well and give you a new, restored life in the context of the cosmos put to right by the Kingdom of God being made manifest.
Alright, the second shirt might not be quite as catchy. While it might get closer to the heart of the matter, it might be better not to wear that shirt either. Yet, that un-catchy slogan implies that the person wearing the shirt is nothing. They are graciously restored and given new life by putting their hope in Jesus and they then point to that reality. It is not I who should be feared because of what I can do, instead it is Christ in me who transforms ugliness into beauty.
Arrogance removed and humility is put in the proper place, into the life of the Christ follower.
That is what I hope to see!
“We are not our own; let not our reason nor our will, therefore, sway our plans and deeds. We are not our own; let us therefore not set it as our goal to seek what is expedient for us according to the flesh. We are not our own; in so far as we can, let us therefore forget ourselves and all that is ours.
Conversely, we are God’s: let us therefore live for him and die for him. We are God’: let his wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are God’s: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward him as our only lawful goal.
– John Calvin
I am not my own.
If I trust in Jesus, that He has justified me before a holy God, then I am included in the family of faith. This declaration does not just stop there, instead I am being sanctified (made into the image of Christ) and will be glorified on resurrection day. In other words, I am a work in progress.
Since I am not my own, I am included in the Body of Christ. Paul used this metaphor to demonstrate that I am found in a community of other Christ-followers. We make up the global Church and are from different ages, ethnic groups and eras. We have different gifts and all can benefit from their sharing. Yes, we have different views on matters like what communion means (is it the spiritual body of Christ or just a symbol?), how we should baptize people (to dunk adults or sprinkle infants?), and how we read Revelation (past, present or future reality?). In all of these things, I am convinced that we need each other, for we are not our own. We belong to Christ.
I am certain that remarkable things could occur if people who call themselves Christians held onto this truth and fully grasped the dramatic nature of this reality. Imagine what would occur if those who are Arminian and those who are Reformed understood that they are united in Christ and learned to truly love each other. Indeed, those who are Roman Catholic are united with Eastern Orthodox and they too considered that they are siblings. To go further, those who wear nice clothing to worship services are united to those in board shorts. Those who prefer hymns and those who prefer loud worship music are joined together. We are one body in Christ, a testimony to reconciliation between Jew and Gentile, male and female, worker and employer. Call me a dreamer, but I believe that all can be united in Christ– I am convinced of this reality.
Only, let us just begin to live that life in love. In Christ.