March 2013


Easter garden tomb with stone rolled aside

Photo by Crunklygill
License Creative Commons

I wanted to take a little break from series I’ve been running on soul restoration to reflect on Easter. My Christian writers’ group solicited thoughts from members for their web site, which I wanted to share with my own readers.

The iconic Easter image is that of an empty, cave-like tomb that once contained the crucified body of Jesus. Normally, we don’t associate tombs with energy or activity. We associate death with stillness, expressing it in figures of speech like “quiet as a tomb,” “dead silent,” or “deadlocked.”

Once a body goes into a tomb, it doesn’t walk out. Even if it could, passage is blocked because the opening is sealed shut.

But the Easter tomb is anything but normal. The great stone that sealed its opening is freakishly out of place. Jesus is AWOL and the scene is abuzz with human activity and angelic energy. “He is not here; he has risen.” (Mat. 28:6; Mrk. 16:6; Luk. 24:6) The resurrection message of Easter isn’t one of static stillness, but of dynamic movement.

When I consider the parting of the Red Sea, another iconic image, I see obvious movement. In both the great Exodus and Easter, the impossible is made possible. Both are about passage from death to life. Both are about incredible power and activity.

When I consider grace, again I see movement. I see that God’s grace is a dynamic force acting with mankind through the great corridor of time. With God, we pass through history like a baby through the birth canal, learning to live with Him in increasing goodness and love.

In Mat. 17:20, I see that Jesus reminds us that even the tiniest faith moves mountains and that nothing is impossible for us. In God, we live and move and have our being (Act. 17:28).

Easter’s hope is God’s message through the ages: The impossible is occurring right in our midst—not just for Jesus, but for everyone. The last immovable obstruction was rolled aside when he abolished Death to bring new life. Love for God, self, and one another is the transforming path we walk in the land of the living, not the dead, and in bold assurance, not fear of mistakes and guilt.

I see that at the moment of Jesus’ death, the curtain of the temple tore in two. The earth shook and rocks split. Tombs broke open and many people who had died were raised to life and came out of their tombs (Mat. 27:51-53).

Even Psalm 23 speaks of it. Although we walk through the valley of the shadow of Death, the same Jesus who rose now holds it back like thick, dark drapes; like massive walls of water. We need not fear that evil might seal our doom because with him, passage is safe, open, and full of possibility.

The Lord of life is the first-fruit. In following him, renewal of the mind and spiritual resurrection precedes the physical version. I didn’t see it before, but God’s plan makes sense in a long view of dynamic movement, even if it seems to me to happen at a glacier’s pace. Easter is the joyful proof that Love’s power always has, and continues to move among us.

Agape

Agape (Photo credit: danakin)

Probably most Christians—pastors and laypeople alike—are confused about biblical love. So if even they’re clueless, how can rest of the world understand?

After last week’s post, a reader asked if blessing those who curse us, loving enemies, and doing good is service or love. My answer was that there’s no difference between them. Service is simply one way that love manifests. So is patience, kind deeds, hospitality, encouraging words, prayer, or any other quality of good character.

The best way I’ve found keep love (agape, good will) in context is to use the phrase, “promote the good” in place of “love.” Agape is the word used in loving neighbors as self, among other verses. Thus, “promote the good of your neighbors as you would yourself.” Or, “If you promote the good of only those who promote yours, what are you doing so remarkable? Don’t even tax collectors do that?” Or, “For God so willed the good of the world…,” “speak the truth in good will,” and so on.

There’s nothing special about willing the good of friends, family, and people you like. Even gang members do that. But willing it for enemies involves invoking God to help you. (I can always tell where my heart is by what I sincerely ask God to do.) For example, if you want to love the guy who just stole your car, but you certainly don’t like him, you ask God to somehow bring about his good. That’s how you love and bless an enemy.

You may never know how he ends up, but that’s not your responsibility. On the other hand, God might answer with a police chase where he’s seriously injured after wrecking your car. Maybe he nearly dies. Maybe God meets him in that experience and his life turns around.

Loving enemies doesn’t mean we’re responsible for the outcome, although we can often influence it. We’re responsible for our own character and behavior, and praying for enemies promotes our good and well-being regardless how they turn out. God is always the author and finisher; you’re the contributor. That’s how you love Him and promote His good. (more…)

Large Green Tree near Belmore Park Sydney CBD

Large Green Tree near Belmore Park Sydney CBD (Photo credit: Chris Ting – Sydney)

To move beyond today’s nominal Christian culture into the deeper body of Christ, a few things must be in place.

One, God’s vision of wholeness for the greater body of mankind should be viewed in the long sweep of history. Transformation of an individual doesn’t happen overnight, so it’s a safe bet that the human race isn’t transformed into a loving body in a few thousand years.

Two, you should see that becoming whole yourself is your personal contribution to God’s grand adventure within that long sweep. It means you’re drawn into, or caught up in, His goodness and plan of action. It’s what He wants more than anything else.

Three, understand that, biblically, to love someone is to simply wish for that person’s good. You will it, invoke God into it. You promote and contribute to it. The good news is that this doesn’t require affection. You don’t have to try to force yourself to like people or even agree with them, though you certainly like and agree with some. The key to loving even enemies is that willing their good doesn’t mean you support their actions. You support God’s.

So, biblical love is simpler than we think. If more churches promoted it, love wouldn’t be such a dreadful burden that only Jesus can correctly pull off. Nominal Christians could actually be drawn into the deeper body of Christ with the joy and understanding we read about in Scripture. (more…)

FrankensteinTransformation of a collective body happens just the way it does in an individual body: from the inside out.

It begins in the mind, in a unified vision, thought processes, and feelings. Then it settles into the will and heart where it dwells as belief and intent. Finally, it inhabits the whole body as loving behavior in all neighbor relations.

The result is the mending of an entire social structure, sense of place, and community with God. Jesus likened it to yeast working its way through a batch of dough (Mat. 13:33).

The opposite is also true. Evil inhabits a collective body just the way it does an individual: first in a mind-set, then the heart, and finally, in behavior and relationships. The result is a fractured society of individuals incapable of neighbor love. Good will seems strange, out of place, and possibly not too bright.

This is a dead body going through external motions to appear alive, but not embracing the inner character that is life. Many of its parts attack or reject one another, and few are securely attached to the head. As Paul said it, “without love…having a form of godliness, but denying its power.” (2Tim. 3:5)

How the Love of Most Grows Cold

Attack comes in many forms—willful anger, bullying, lying, stealing, murder, and more. Rejection is another form. Damage comes by withholding goodness, mercy, encouragement, or honesty. Rejection inflicts cold indifference and withdrawal intended to harm.

Verbal assault is a misuse of power that’s often elevated to an art form, especially in political circles, but in all parts of society. The readiness to publically cut people down is considered a skill and earns respect and applause. Even Christians get into the act.

I’ve been a life-long Christian, but not so long ago, I honestly thought that the best way to handle people who treated me badly was with an all-out verbal assault. I hurled word-grenades designed to inflict damage and put people “in their place.” Sometimes, it got me what I wanted, with the added bonus of smug satisfaction. Other times, it completely backfired.

Love is cold even in the body of “believers” because we make it conditional. For example, we say that respect must be earned. You respect me, I’ll respect you. One good turn deserves another. But hurt me, and I’ll hurt you. Alternatively, I may try to get God to hurt you. At the very least, I won’t ask Him to bless you, but will hope instead that He withholds it.

When our sense of well-being depends entirely on people treating us well, we’re left in the position of figuring out how to control them. The result is conditional love and a readiness to attack if conditions aren’t met—pronto.

A Heads-Up

It’s interesting that Satan is characterized as a single serpent, and Jesus characterized the Pharisees, who embodied the devil, as a brood of vipers (Mat. 3:7; 12:34; 23:33; Luk. 3:7). He warns that their yeast is in the dough, too.

The typical Christian today isn’t a disciple, but merely a convert to rules and doctrines (like the old me). It gives the appearance of life, but doesn’t impart life. This was the woeful situation among the Pharisees, whom Jesus said traveled far and wide to win converts, but made them twice as evil as they were (Mat. 23:15). It explains why love is lukewarm at best even for life-long Christians.

So, whether it’s a family, congregation, institution, city, or nation, any social body poised to strike is in a habitual posture of ill will. Collectively, with no intent or means of loving neighbor as self, it’s unprepared, “unfit,” and simply in no position to treat all human beings with unconditional love and good will. It just implodes in self-destructive chaos.

Mankind’s hope, then, is in new life from above, readily available through knowing God and His Son. This is God’s eternal plan now underway to get the head reattached to humanity’s body. Disciples learn to stop cooperating with various forms of attack in the misguided need to control others. In the gracious use of power, we cooperate with God, control ourselves, and get fit.

Then we can be trusted with more, and the larger body of man is transformed and redeemed, one individual at a time, from the inside out.

Practice

Obviously, the best model for Christ-likeness is Jesus himself. So it’s eye-opening to watch how he used his power. How did he react when people attacked him?

First, note that he wasn’t easily offended. His strength and well-being didn’t depend on people treating him right, especially not those who thought they held all the power and control. Even when driving the money-changers from the temple, Jesus was never manipulated into an out-of-control fit. Decide whether or not you’d like a similar freedom, and what you’d need to change to get it.

Then, try this. Picture Jesus belittling the woman caught in adultery. See him hold his nose when interacting with sinners. Hear him hiss, telling his disciples to lord it over people as most leaders do. Watch him refuse to heal a woman on the Sabbath, reminding the congregation that a sheep is more valuable and worth rescue than a person is.

Watch as he calls down curses and legions of angels from the cross. After his resurrection, look how he rakes Peter over the coals for denying him.

Silly, right? Even in a vulnerable human body, Jesus knew how to handle who he is and the power he has. We can become the same, classy kind of people. If you think not, ask him what the purpose of Christ-like love is. On the other hand, if you believe that Christ-likeness just gets infused into you like electricity, how long must you wait for it, and are you to live like a monster in the meantime?

It’s worth asking because you’re a treasure that Jesus considered worth laying down his life for. If he can rise from the crucifixion, surely, a few honest questions won’t kill him. So you’re safe with him, and he’s safe with you.