He is Risen!

March 31, 2013 § Leave a comment

Sunrise “Love is the victor. Death is not the end. The end is life. His life and our lives through him, in him. Existence has greater depths of beauty, mystery, and benediction than the wildest visionary has ever dared to dream. Christ our Lord has risen.”

Frederick Buechner, The Magnificent Defeat

My wife Katherine comes from the Moravian tradition. In my mind there is no more beautiful expression of the Resurrection than from the Moravian Church.

At 2 AM on Easter Morning the Moravian Church Band deploys throughout Old Salem (North Carolina), and begins to play hymns, preparing hearts for the celebration. After an early morning ‘watch’ in the dark, in which about 7,000 worshippers gather and sing, at dawn they pour out into the cemetery proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus with the traditional responsive acclamation, ‘He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!’

Moravian gravestones are flat and each is exactly the same (children’s are smaller than adults), signifying equality in death. Each Moravian cemetery is called ‘God’s Acre,’ and in the rolling hills of Winston Salem there are few more lovely sights. What makes the tradition even more special is that on the Saturday before Easter, entire families scrub each gravestone and place flowers at them.

Throughout the rest of Easter morning, these thousands of worshippers are fed breakfast in groups. Everything about the tradition signals one truth: That Jesus, our Feast of Life, has conquered death, and He invites us to celebrate what He has inaugurated and what for us will one day be, in His good Kingdom.

And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on.
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing and joyful be;
And through eternity, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And through eternity, I’ll sing on.

Alexander Means

What good news.

He is Risen Indeed!

peace.

Sunrise - 2

Egg Hunt Theology

March 30, 2013 § 3 Comments

Egg Hunt ‘Death used to be an executioner, but the Gospel has made him just a gardener.’ – Tim Keller, paraphrase from George Herbert’s Time

As I write, hundreds of children (and their parents) fill a small play area and a larger lacrosse field in search of thousands of brightly colored plastic eggs that contain all kinds of treats and candy. It is a lovely day and this adds to the spectacle of joy – Children with painted faces (yes, we’re a full-service church) – Parents – Volunteers – Staff – all together, enjoying, taking pics, pointing out eggs, and sharing the moment. I love it.

It caused me to think. This is the day we know so little of. What was Jesus doing in that grave that Saturday between His burial and His resurrection? We have hints in the scriptures, Cemeterybut suffice it to say that regardless of the actual details, even in the grave Jesus was no victim. We know that the Father had not abandoned Him (Acts 2:27), which is undoubtedly why, in his monumental sermon on Pentecost, Peter quoted David’s prophetic cry – “You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.” (Acts 2:28, Psalm 16:11)

To God and to the Lamb, I will sing, I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb, I will sing.
To God and to the Lamb who is the great I AM;
While millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing:
While millions join the theme, I will sing.

I guess this is what those precious, loud, exuberant children bring to mind. By entering the grave, Jesus has begun to turn our cemeteries into playgrounds. The crazy thing is that if we had hidden the eggs among tombstones, the children would have been just as excited. Their world is that safe.

And because Jesus went to the grave, so is yours.

peace.

Egg Hunt - 2

Love’s Betrayal

March 23, 2013 § 1 Comment

FGC If someone asks him, “What are these wounds on your body?” he will answer, “The wounds I was given at the house of my friends”Zechariah 13:6.

For me, reading the events that led to Jesus’ death is sometimes like watching a movie for the tenth time, hoping yet again that someone would do something differently. It isn’t that I want redemption to be averted, but I hate that Jesus was betrayed – probably because in His story I am freshly confronted by my own daily betrayals.

Last night lowly Florida Gulf Coast University defeated mighty Georgetown University. I’m a native Floridian and never heard of the place! But this is how we want the movie to end, isn’t it. We want the weak to overcome the strong, the picked-on to trounce the bullies, yet every detail of the last week of Jesus’ life was plotted with full awareness that He would be abandoned in His time of weakness. It was God’s plan.

Valiant promises of loyalty from Jesus’ friends were unnecessary, if not impossible, if our Faith is to rest solely on God’s grace. Regardless of Peter’s bold assertions, he would be the first to deny friendship with Jesus. Such are our resolves…

In his book, By Grace Alone, Sinclair Ferguson offers that “The whole story of Jesus’ passion, His arrest, His trial, His suffering, and His public execution is one of appalling loneliness and isolation voluntarily experienced in order to restore us to fellowship with God.”

Even as He hung dying, Jesus cried to the Father out of His sense of forsakenness. This was His path – one He had to journey alone. Betrayed and left with no advocates, only affection would accompany His sorrow – leaving love to be our sole metric for grasping God’s grace.

Would anything else be real?

In this regard, I love Mike Yaconelli’s reflection, “Five years ago I decided to start listening again to the voice of Jesus, and my life hasn’t been the same since. He has not been telling me what to do, He has been telling me how much He loves me.”Dangerous Wonder.

Something in us wants to hunt down our faults with righteous zeal. Believe it or not, this comes from our darker selves, not the gospel.

Friends, we are unfinished. This means that the road to self-perfection will always lead to disillusionment and self-righteous pride. It is an obsession that wrecks us, and robs us of believing that Jesus didn’t die to make us perfect, but to make us His. And the point of His betrayal and death is not that we blew it, but that even in our darkest moments, through Him and because of Him, we are not alone.

What good news…

grace & peace.

Jesus is Just Alright

March 9, 2013 § 1 Comment

Jesus I don’t care what they may say
I don’t care what they may do
I don’t care what they may say
Jesus…

By this time next month we will have celebrated the entirety of ‘Holy Week,’ the events of Jesus’ betrayal, suffering, death and resurrection. We will have reflected on His great sacrifice and victory, through the liturgies, the worship, the message and in breaking bread together. This year our church has added a Good Friday service, a short afternoon moment where we consider the Cross. What a sweet week.

Last Century (that sounds crazy), in the 70’s, the Doobie Brothers, a crass, hippie-ish rock group remixed a 60’s Byrds hit called, Jesus is Just Alright. This morning, as I made my way to Starbucks to write, it came on in my car, and of course I rocked along with it. This time though, I was struck by the words, and reminded that our Faith is all about this one person – Jesus.

It’s incredible, really. We dress up the Faith with edifices, creeds, songs, vestments, architecture, calendars, denominations, liturgies, laities, clergies, programs, ministries and steeples. At some point none are inherently bad, and most are needed. But when you pare it down to its essence, it is all about Jesus.

And I needed to remember this today. I don’t want to lose this in the press of the season.

Because in a world, or maybe more to the point, in my world, of pain, sorrow, craziness, pressure, failure, fear, trouble, brokenness, disappointment, sorrow, shame and sin, one figure stands above the noise of my activities (churchy as they may be), and the discouragement of the Curse that so readily seizes on my weak resolve.

Again… Jesus.

This morning, just like when I first met Him, gave in and gave it all up believing that He alone had the power to redeem my life, my soul, my dreams, my forever, Jesus is just alright.

And that is good news…

peace.

Rise

April 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

“…According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…”

1 Peter 1:3

For all the times you wanted to throw in the towel, Jesus is Risen. For all the regrets you live with and the shame you bear, Jesus is Risen. For all the people you long to reunite with, all the indiscretions and all your sorrows, Jesus is Risen. For all the mistakes you can’t fix and all the sins and words and actions you can’t take back, Jesus is Risen. For all the injustice, oppression and heartache you see, and even that which you have caused, Jesus is Risen. For your troubles and the sorrows of the world, Jesus is Risen. For all the love you’ve lost and failed to give, Jesus is Risen.

And death is at your doorstep
And it will steal your innocence
But it will not steal your substance

Mumford & SonsTimshel

In His Name, Rise Up.

Jesus is Risen.

He is Risen Indeed!

He is Risen for you.

peace.

The Throwaway Day

April 7, 2012 § 1 Comment

“For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.”
Isaiah 53:8b

It is Saturday morning, the day before Easter. The Church celebrates the three days surrounding this day, but not Saturday. On Thursday we celebrate the evening Jesus instituted His new command that we love one another. On Friday we reflect on the Cross. And then, of course, we rejoice on Easter Sunday – the day every promise of God was validated – when Jesus arose from the grave.

But Saturday. As I reflected on this yesterday I was reminded of our daughter Emily’s philosophical assessment of turning 19 years old. Eighteen was such a big deal. And 20 would be the first age away from teenage years, with 21 the year she was officially an adult. But nineteen. Blah! She saw it as a throwaway year – a boring year – the year that didn’t really matter.

That must be how we generally see Saturday during Easter week. It was the day the disciples packed it up and went back to their lives, and the day the women prepared spices to pack a corpse the next morning. It was the day the Jews returned to their religious activities, and the day the Romans patted themselves on the backs, having squelched yet another uprising.

But it was more than all this. God was there. He was silent, but He was there. His plan was unfolding. His care was ongoing. His gaze was undeterred. The next day His Son would rise. But on Saturday, the Forsaken One remained in the grave with our forsakenness. It was anything but a throwaway.

Today I reflect on the assurance that with the Father there are no throwaway days. That in the blur of our crazy calendars and messy lives, He has not lost sight of us, and His plan never thwarted, regardless of how forgotten we may feel. We matter…

Because we are His.

That is good news.

peace.

Words, Song & Hope on Good Friday

April 6, 2012 § 2 Comments

At the Lamb’s high feast we sing Praise to our victorious King,
Who hath washed us in the tide
Flowing from his pierced side;
Praise we him whose love divine
Gives his sacred blood for wine,
Gives his body for the feast,
Christ the Victim, Christ the Priest.

6th century Latin Hymn

“…we’re Easter people living in a Good Friday world.”

Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith

“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

Galatians 6:14

“The crucifixion was the shocking answer to the prayer that God’s kingdom would come on earth as in heaven.”

N.T. Wright, Simply Jesus

Let us love and sing and wonder
Let us praise the Savior’s name
He has hushed the law’s loud thunder
He has quenched Mt. Sinai’s flame

Let us love the Lord who bought us
Pitied us when enemies
Called us by His grace and taught us
Gave us ears and gave us eyes

He has washed us with His blood
He has washed us with His blood
He has washed us with His blood
He presents our souls to God

Let us wonder grace and justice
Join and point to mercy’s store
When through grace in Christ our trust is
Justice smiles and asks no more

He who washed us with his blood
He who washed us with his blood
He who washed us with his blood
Has secured our way to God

Let us praise and join the chorus
Of the saints enthroned on high
Here they trusted him before us
Now their praises fill the sky

He has washed us with his blood
He has washed us with his blood
He has washed us with his blood
He has washed us with his blood
He will bring us home to God

John Newton

Discarded to be Human

April 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

If you have ever moved you know that it is an ordeal. Recently Katherine and I moved within the same town. She is an organizational genius and our movers bragged more about her system than their own. But part of the experience involves displacement – living somewhere that isn’t really home. We spent two nights in a hotel (I know that Railroads don’t have hotels in Monopoly, but it wasn’t until we moved to Maryland that we learned that the ‘B&O’ in B&O Railroad stands for Baltimore & Ohio!). Once the initial relief of having someone else clean up after you wears off, living out of suitcases is no fun, even for only two days. It isn’t home.

Tomorrow evening our church, and many others, will celebrate the night Jesus was betrayed. Many will follow with what we call Good Friday services in celebration of the day Jesus died.

This is one of those peculiar things about Christianity that seems counterintuitive to natural thought. Most grieve death, and all feel some measure of dread when it comes. But we celebrate too.

This past Sunday I shared with our congregation that Craig Bartholomew, in his book, Where Mortals Dwell, writes that our sense of ‘place’ profoundly contributes to our sense of humanness. Where we live, who we love, what we do, who we root for – everything in our daily experiences that place us in a context – all of it is part and parcel of what makes us feel human. And when some dimension of our lives is stripped away, it is a crisis to our humanness. We feel displaced.

What exactly do we celebrate when we consider Jesus’ death?

You have to go to the Old Testament to fully understand. Each year, on the Day of Atonement, along with the sacrifice for sin that the High Priest would offer to God on behalf of Israel, a goat was chosen to ceremonially have the sins of the people placed on its head, only to be turned loose into the wilderness, outside the camp. It was the ‘scapegoat’ that symbolically carried away the sins of the people.

Do you remember when John the Baptist said, Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 2:29)? He was identifying Jesus, the true Scapegoat, the One who would be treated inhumanely, and unjustly executed, to die with our guilt upon Him displaced and outside the city of Jerusalem.

Through faith it is as though we died with Jesus, only to discover that we are not displaced, but restored to the humanness we were created for. So in recognizing Jesus’ sacrifice we celebrate that in Him God has found us home.

Hey, we’re unfinished, which means that in the journey, from time to time we lose sight of home. Our sin, our doubts, our fears, our crises, our affections, and a whole host of other experiences can leave us feeling less than human. But the Cross speaks into our lives with Jesus, and a glimpse of Him will do what it did for Peter when Jesus forgave him at the Sea of Galilee – it will remind us that when God looks at us, He doesn’t see failures or screw-ups. He sees His children – and they are every bit as human as His Son became for them.

Friends, what good news.

peace.

The Mark (aka Lost in Translation, part 2)

March 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

There was a Church Growth study that came out over 20 years ago. It listed the three most important rooms in a church facility when it came to visitors. They were (in order), the Nursery, the Ladies’ Restroom and the Sanctuary. Essentially, what this study revealed was that by the time a visiting family entered into that church’s worship space, they had already determined whether or not they would return a second week. Before the sermon. Before hearing the music. It really is that practical at times.

Similarly, Jesus has offered a practical litmus test for the Church – a ‘mark’ (Francis Schaeffer coined this term in his booklet, The Mark of the Christian) that will determine whether or not the outside world will receive the Christian message as credible. We celebrate this defining characteristic each Maundy Thursday when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. That word ‘Maundy’ comes from the Latin, ‘mundatum,’ and it means what it sounds like: Mandate, or Command. It is used in John 13:34-35 where Jesus says, A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

Here is the thing: Apart from an observable love our message will be lost in translation every time. Because the Culture can’t hear what we refuse to embody – it just doesn’t translate into a discernable, or maybe a better word is, desirable, message. Jesus understood this and set the bar high by declaring that it would be by our love for one another that the world would know that we are His. And it only follows that anything we would hope to speak into a broken world would have to first pass through the filter of a community that embraces the love it declares. In her book Living into Community, Christine Pohl writes, The best testimony to the truth of the gospel is the quality of our life together.

In a sense Jesus chose the most unlikely of dynamics to prove His own credibility to the world. Frankly, I am more comfortable thinking that I am evidence of all that is wrong with the world and the Church. But in some way that is the point. God demonstrates His grace through broken vessels and messy lives He redeems and weaves together in the fabric of love.

And so, amazingly, in spite of ourselves, it is in our life together, as God’s people, that we enter and speak into a world that reflects our own shattered stories, with evidence that Jesus has come with ‘healing in His wings’ (Malachi 4:2), born in how uncharacteristically we are enabled to love. And what more powerful message than one that demonstrates that God can take such a collection of messy, self-interested, often obsessed-on-the-meaningless, diverse and broken people, and knit them together into something beautiful? How could there be anything other than hope for those who long for such healing?

What Good News.

peace.

Jesus in the Company of Friends

April 23, 2011 § 2 Comments

Tomorrow we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the Grave. While the Cross is the enduring symbol of our redemption, the resurrection of Jesus is the reason we can hold the Cross high. When Jesus arose, He ensured that our message is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:13), and came with the promise that we too have been raised, through faith in Him.

For me, the most compelling Easter narrative comes at the end of Luke’s Gospel when Jesus joins two unsuspecting friends on the road to the town of Emmaus. Maybe Jesus on a street appeals to this city boy, but what especially draws me in is the dynamic of their exchange. Throughout the excursion Jesus engages them in the events of the past week as though He is unaware of the very sufferings He endured. They are indignant and ignorant – Indignant because Jesus seems to be clueless, and ignorant to the fact that He is Jesus!

It wasn’t until they broke bread together that they finally recognized Him. No doubt theologians and scholars have ruminated endlessly over that moment. Why then? What transpired? What was it about breaking bread that opened their eyes?

One can only guess. Perhaps they had heard of Jesus serving the Last Supper to His disciples – I don’t know. And because shaking hands wasn’t the greeting of the day, maybe they finally saw the scars on Jesus’ wrists – maybe, as He served the bread His wrists extended beyond His garment and revealed the violent wounds of One whose skin had been fiercely broken by nails. Again, conjecture.

Personally, I think it was all of the above, plus one other factor – that Jesus was with them! Until then Jesus was little more than a ‘reputation.’ They knew the particulars (Luke 24:19), but that is hardly personal – it is information. Sure, they were hurting – anyone that shared the hope Jesus infused into His following would be disappointed, but nothing deeper than when one’s team loses a championship. For them, their team had lost, but life goes on the next day.

Then Jesus came – He joined them in their walk, as He does ours. He spoke truth into their lives, as He speaks into ours. And then He did the remarkable: He shared a meal with them – He befriended them and made it all personal. The Risen One entered into their lives – to break bread – to allow for their sorrow, their disappointment and even their indignation.

In over three decades of ministry I have learned that the Faith comes most powerfully when it comes personally – when the truth of Jesus is transformed into friendship with Him, and then others. In fact, it isn’t real until it is personal.

This weekend we have been joined by friends from out of town. As with every visit it is a reunion of sorts, and one of the most joyful kinds. We spent a lovely day in Washington DC yesterday, and added yet one more layer of affection to our friendship. With them, and others, we have learned that no relationship has meaning from a distance. Jesus didn’t merely rise from the grave – that’s theology. He rose for us. That is friendship with the Almighty. He won’t be our God by proxy – It is always personal.

What Good News.

He is Risen Indeed!

peace.

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