Saturday, March 30, 2013

Do You Really Want to See Jesus?

Most of the time, if we admit it, we are quite content with life--when it moves according to our routines and preferences. We settle in: coffee and a shower, personal time and a place to realign before leaving home, anticipated schedules and people and movement throughout the day. We're people. Routine gives us a sense of security and control.

But then God shakes our world. He has always been there, but in this moment we have the opportunity to see Him; to become aware.  Aware of His presence.  Aware of the need to be aware of His presence.  And we are faced with a choice: to bow the knee or refuse, to forgive or bear a grudge, to listen or harden the heart.  Not to obey is to disobey. Not to love is to hate.  Not to forgive is to grow bitter.

Mary, who loved Jesus, who poured out her offering with tears at His feet, thought all was lost.  And she became more aware, in an even deeper way than before, of her need.  She had desperately needed forgiveness and it was granted. Her belief and worship opened the Door from darkness to light. But now, now that she was forgiven, she needed Him, needed Jesus, daily. She longed for Him, looked for Him, sought Him.

"Why do you seek the living among the dead?"

And why, do we, the forgiven, seek Jesus among the dead? Among the busyness of ministry, the baubles of society, the adrenaline of sports and power and fame? 

"He is not here, He is risen as He said.  Come see the place where He lay."

Have we looked at the empty place?  Have we gazed on the stained, bloodied linen; our sin dried out, soaked up, left behind, folded up, laid aside, our debt paid in full? Have we seen the resurrected Christ, living victoriously, gloriously, the standard of faith waving on the breeze as He rides before us?

We have a choice. We can follow in step, our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith or we can sit in the darkened tomb and wrap ourselves in the sin He cast aside. To take on ourselves that which He has left behind is no faith at all.  "For let not that man (the one who doubts) suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways" (James 1:6-7).

If we truly want to see Jesus, we must leave the tomb. We must leave behind the desire to wallow in our sin, our past, our failure, and follow Christ.

To see Jesus is to turn from sin and seek Him; prayerfully, desperately read His Word. Ask questions, bow at His feet, pour out our hearts, confess our sin and wait upon Him. As He speaks we will suddenly find that life is not about us, that people do not deserve the credit we give them for the good or the bad, but that He is. He is the Creator, the Sustainer; He is before all things and in Him all things hold together (Colossians 1:16-17).

Do you really want to see Jesus? If you look for Him, you will find Him. If you know Him, you will share Him; for we cannot know Him and keep silent.

"'He is not dead, for He has risen just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying.  Go quickly and tell His disciples...'  And they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy.
"And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, 'All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.' Amen" (Matthew 28:6,8,18-20).

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

When Joseph Washed Jesus-Good Friday Musings

Parts of this post from a few months ago seemed especially fitting for this week.  May you be blessed as you reflect on our Savior and His great love.  
It was work for a coroner--horrifying and intriguing. Amazing as the body is, this one was dead. Dead and beaten. What kind of people wash, manipulate and care for the dead?
Joseph of Arimathea for one.  Nicodemus for another.  And their service to the dead, unrecognizable body of Christ touches me in a way I'm not sure I can communicate.
As I re-read the account of Joseph asking Pilate for Jesus' body (Matthew 27:50-61), I was impressed with his affluence, influence and confidence. God knew him hundreds, thousands, even eons, of years in advance. He predicted this rescue hundreds of years beforehand (Isaiah 53:9). Incredible. 
My journal entry for the day says, "Impression: Joseph was exactly who God intended Him to be. He was where he needed to be, when he needed to be there.  Because of God, he did not, could not, miss His calling.  Application:  I will not miss God’s call on my life.  He will accomplish His will according to His plan. 
The next day, I was still thinking about the process of taking Jesus' body off the cross and caring for it.  I wondered what Jesus' body looked like after being scourged, spat upon, struck, beaten and crucified? What would it have taken to lift, transport, or wash it?  According to Jewish tradition, the body would be held vertical by one person as another poured water and worked from the top down, cleansing and washing. Jesus' body, unlike most, would have been difficult to piece together and cover. It would have required great care and tedious wrapping. As an expression of devotion and generosity, Nicodemus brought one hundred pounds of spices to apply to Jesus' body (John 19:39).
It was would have been messy. Dirty. Uncomfortable. Wet. Cold. Uncertain. Frightening.  Had they  done this before?  Doubtful. Nicodemus was a Pharisee. Simon likely had servants to complete unpleasant tasks. And as far as Jesus was concerned, certainly no one other than Mary had cared so intimately for the Son of God. I've never dwelt on the thought for obvious reasons, but it is there.
As we approach Good Friday, we realize the wonder of God's love exceeds the physical wounds of the crucifixion.  The separation of eternal God from eternal God is inconceivable.  The wrath of untouchable God poured out on a spotless Savior is unbearable.  The power of the resurrection is insurmountable.  But God did.  God has. God is.
And in light of who Jesus is and what's He's done for me, I can't help but wonder if, through His Spirit and by His Word, God has equipped His people to minister to His Body when it is beaten and afflicted and sore and wounded and weeping?  To the persecuted church, the deserted mother, the fallen pastor, the imprisoned brother, the neglected child, the hungry beggar, the discouraged teacher....  May God enable and empower us to be in the right place at just the right time.  And may we be willing to roll up our sleeves and get dirty as we love and minister to the wounded Body of Christ and He loves them through us.  It's all about Jesus.

Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:  for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
“Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink?  When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You?  Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’
“Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink;I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’
"Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”  (Matthew 25:34-46).

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Unlocking Prayer

Our Sunday school class has been working through the Navigators 5:7 series on the basics of the Christian life. This week as I read verses on prayer, I was struck by James 4:3, "You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures" (NASB).  In that moment I thought of prayers offered, even that morning, that were for my own pleasure--to meet my desires.
We all have unmet desires and wishes. Sometimes we pray for physical healing, for better relationships, for a change in our Church, for weight loss or a successful outcome. The object isn't the issue. The attitude and motive are. After all, David the shepherd prayed, "He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake," not mine.
Jesus offered that same example when He taught His disciples to pray, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10).  And I had to ask how many times I pray for God first. Too often I acknowledge Him then ask for the things that are on my heart, trying to hold them loosely and knowing that God will accomplish His purpose. But the attitude, the words, and the heart are for me--to make life easier, more comfortable, less confusing and uncertain.

Since reading and thinking about those verses, my prayer has changed. "Lord, teach me what pleases You. Help me seek out pray and live for those things that give You pleasure. Make me aware of those times I put myself ahead of You and give me discernment." And that's where God's Word comes in.  The only way to know God's heart, what pleases Him and what is best, is by reading His Word.  Because He is so very different from us, we will not find Him in our hearts (Jeremiah 17:9).  We can see His glory in creation (Psalm 19) and God uses that to draw us in and reveal Himself, but we can know Him and His heart, one on one. We get to know Him personally and intimately as we commit listen (read the Bible) and respond (prayer).  He wants to give us the desires of our hearts--even change our desires to match His--as we delight in Him (Psalm 37:4-11).

"Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete" (John 16:24 NIV).
"This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him" (1 John 5:15-16 NIV).

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Called by Name

I love being a substitute teacher. Many of us remember the way we treated substitutes when we were young and don't wish that on anyone. But it's a great job.  Really.

It didn't take long for me to learn that eavesdropping was my ticket to power.  Kids talk to each other--by name--as they enter a classroom.  As the bell rang, I would address at least one child specifically, "Caleb, take your seat." Shock registered on their faces. They didn't know me, but I knew them. By name. I'm convinced we remember what's important--and in my book, each student is important, from the 3-year-old who told me his name was "Jeremy Dean, Fat-Man McGee, but my friends call me Ralph," to the 17-year-old gang member whose dial is tuned in to respect.

God knows, by name, inside and out. He knows everything there is to know about each one of us--and He loves us anyway. Jesus knew His disciples before He called them. In fact, God loves us so much He'd rather die than let us go (song by Point of Grace). That's a lot of love.  More than we can imagine.

As those who minister in and out of the church, people matter. To wear His name, to be a little Christ, means we are more concerned about others--their likes and dislikes, goals and abilities--than ourselves. At those times when the project or the product is more important than the people, we are doing something wrong. To love others as Christ loves us is to know them. 

Last Saturday at an out-of-town competition, kindergartner Abby ran across the gym and threw her arms around my waist. My heart leaped with joy and a huge smile looked down on her.  Later, I wondered about God. How often does the sight of Him interrupt my day? I imagine it brings Him great joy when we remember Him, express our love, and draw His name into a conversation.

How often do I look for, do I see, Jesus in those unexpected places?  Am I just as happy and pleased to see him as the little ones who throw out my name along with their arms?  Do I speak His name to others?  How well do Jesus and I know each other? There is salvation in no other, "for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12) There is power in His name.

Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). John 20:11-16
"...they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads." Revelation 22:4

Friday, March 8, 2013

Lent, Sacrifice and Holiness

I ate fish at a fast food restaurant yesterday and was reminded of Lent.  It's not a corporate practice at our church, which would lead you to properly assume I attend a protestant church, but there is more and more of a trend toward practicing Lent among protestants in America.  Perhaps it's the prosperity and tingling of the conscience at the profound luxury we enjoy daily.  Perhaps it's a desire to more fully prepare for and enter the angst of Good Friday and the wonder of the resurrection.  Perhaps it provides a sense of control over one's holiness. 

This desire for control can be said of the many, many things we do that make us feel holy.  I have my own list. It could be teaching Sunday school, attending church (when other people are sleeping in!), reading my Bible, helping a friend, even sacrificing for my children.

But as examples come to mind, they are hinged like a Siamese twin to the reaction of others.  It's hard to separate the two. "You do that?!"  Gasp.  "Really?  That's wonderful!"  The voices cheer us on as we struggle to sacrifice and complete the task.  They keep us going and in the end, we feel good (God planned it that way--we reap what we sow). But then, like so many good things, the gift becomes the goal instead of the Giver.  Before long we're addicted to the praise of others and the good feelings that come from doing good things.

But wait, whoa.  God didn't say, "Do holy things because I do holy things."  Actually, "it is written, 'Be holy, for I am holy' (1 Peter 1:16).”  Ooh.  I can't do that.  And that's the kicker.  I can't "be" holy.  I am not, in my essence or anywhere else except my glorified imagination, holy.

So the good feelings do me no good.  Seeking to help and sacrifice does me no good--and it doesn't depend on my denomination or church or practice.  I.  Just. Can't. Be. Holy.

But, God!  God, by faith, has given holiness.  He has it all.  Somehow, in His great wisdom and foresight, He designed a way to transfer His holiness to me--through Jesus Christ.  It doesn't make sense.  I can't explain it, but God declares, "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21)

And there it is: holiness. Wonderfulness. Not my own, not to my credit, not for the praise of others, but eternal, internal, set-apartness for His glory and praise.  And I do holy things not to be holy, but because I am holy in and through Jesus Christ.

What a God!  The price of His holiness is beyond comprehension. The outpouring of His love is unfathomable. The depth of the riches of His grace is incomparable. And He has invited me to join Him both now and forever.  Forget the deeds, bring on God! That's what I need. That's what I want.

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,  even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:4-10)

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Reward

When a radio host announced a recent death the other responded, "She's received her heavenly reward."
It struck me wrong and I had a lot of questions about this woman:  What kind of woman was she?  What kind of reward did she earn and how did she do it?  What about me?  What kind of reward(s) would I receive for my faithfulness?  Scripture started bubbling in my head about crowns and jewels and rewards, and before I knew it, that's what I was thinking about:  the rewards I'd receive in heaven someday.
God gives rewards.  He is a good Giver.  There are references throughout Scripture to heavenly rewards and blessings: crowns and jewels, for instance.  But those aren't the goal.
But my thoughts went immediately to Luke 17 and Jesus' story of the servant who does his job.  After a day in the field, he does not expect special favor.  He girds himself and serves his master before eating himself.  "Likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’” (Luke 17:10-11)  How often do we think of heaven as something we've earned after a life of service?  We don't.  All that we do for the Father, through Jesus Christ, is nothing more than a reasonable act of service (Romans 12:1).
Our American society, with a feels-good, it's-all-about-my-self-esteem mentality, has lost touch with the reality of an eternal reward. We think that our faithfulness, our sacrifice, our attempts to give up the "good life," have earned a special place in heaven, a harp and a robe and a crown.  And it's not that God won't give us good gifts, great gifts, amazing gifts; but we certainly haven't earned them.  They've been bought at a price, and that price rested on the life and death of our Savior and His Father who lovingly gave His Son.
In reality, isn't an eternal reward  not getting the punishment I deserve? Isn't it an eternal reward to gaze on Christ--unveiled, personal and reigning?  Isn't there incredible reward in knowing I am eternally a citizen of His kingdom?  That's probably what the radio announcer meant, but the conversation made me think.
Last weekend I called home and talked to Dad.  Mom was gone.  Even during our call their little dog went to and from the laundry room looking for her.  "It won't be long until his faithfulness is rewarded," Dad said.
And I've been thinking about that.  Mom sent home special treats.  But Foo Foo kept looking.
What, I wondered, am I looking for?  What gets me up in the morning and keeps me moving throughout the day?  What do I dream of?  What do I fear?  I can only aim at one thing and expect to hit the target. What is that one thing that would find me curled up and resting, sighing with satisfaction? 
It has to be Jesus.  The hope is, "Just a while longer, and your faithfulness will be rewarded with the return of your Master."  There's nothing like it!

“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.  And where I go you know, and the way you know.”
Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?”
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." (John 14:1-6)