Saturday, April 19, 2014

Don't Waste the Pain

We wonder at Jesus life, which was atypical and note-worthy, and his death, which was common and excruciating. Even more than that, the wonder of Jesus is the after-death, the now.

According to American politics, Easter is the celebration of "Jesus' life and death." What they fail to acknowledge is the truth: Easter is the celebration of Jesus' life and death. And life.

Because Jesus rose from the dead, my sin is forgiven. Because Jesus rose from the dead, He's reigning now and will reign for eternity. He is praying for me, living within me, providing and caring...for me.

Our world is rotten. Broken. People hurt people. Nature hurts people. Nations hurt people. We hurt ourselves. But if we knew and believed and trusted that God was using it all, working it all, showering His love grace and mercy through it all--if we knew, if we believed, if we trusted, it would be okay. Not pleasant. Not easy. Not comprehensible. But okay.

Jesus didn't have a home (Luke 9:58). His family thought He was crazy (Mark 3:21) and were not among His supporters (Luke 8:1-3). He was plotted against (Matthew 26:3-4); misrepresented and misunderstood (Matthew 26:59). We think we know the crucifixion story--and we should. But when we are attacked, mistreated and taken advantage of, the last person we think of is Jesus. It is so hard for us to imagine the disgrace and intense suffering He endured; there is part of us that simply doesn't want to. Spiritually, we have to put our hands on either side of our face and force ourselves to take in the scene, the torturous execution and absolute isolation. Jesus endured all of this--and still, He was okay. The situation was under control. God was working His plan. The circumstances were not permanent or damning. They were purposeful and intentional.

Jesus trusted His Father. He knew and believed and surrendered.  And He bought freedom. He rose from the dead--healed, restored, glorified. His is exalted. He loves. He lives. He is.

When I am mistreated, misunderstood, and abused, I can run to Jesus. He knows. He absorbed the pain of my rebellion and disobedience. He will welcome me with open arms. He will accept and forgive and cover; protect, heal and restore. What must I do to be saved? Call on His Name and claim the forgiveness only He can provide. He is the true Life-giver who rewards those who diligently seek Him (Acts 16:31, John 6:68, Hebrews 11:6).

"For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: “Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth”;
who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls." (1 Peter 2:21-25)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Precious, Beaten Body

This post from a couple of years ago seemed fitting to share once again:

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. 

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).

Friday, April 4, 2014

When Food is King

Granted, Americans have been overtaken by such a physical appetite that gluttony and body idolatry fill our malls, streets, televisions, homes, and lifestyles. Food is king: organic, gluten-free, low fat, high fat, homemade, hard (on arteries) and fast. No matter which side of the coin you prefer, chances are that the food we eat (or don't eat) plays a large role in our everyday choices.

The same is true of the American church. We want to be fed, and our demands rule the pulpit. Our tastes determine where we spend our money and time: contemporary worship, blazing sermons, hymns, choruses, truth or comfort. Take your pick, it's a smorgasbord!

Sadly, our spiritual selves mirror our physical. A great number of us struggle with spiritual obesity. We know, read, study, and discuss more than we spiritually "do." Exercise lags behind input. On the other end of the spectrum are the anorexics who visit church as little as possible, nibble on crumbs and waste away, their spiritual lives looking less and less enviable. The buff exercise and tone their muscles, manage what they learn and know, but get so caught up in appearance that the true honor-bearer, Jesus, is lost behind the mirrors of other's approval.

Each of us needs a balance--enough Truth for our daily needs, enough faith to be uncomfortable; just a daily dose of Jesus. In.  And out.

"For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.  For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil." Hebrews 5:12-14

Therefore hear the parable of the sower:  When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside.  But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles.  Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” Matthew 13:18-23