Easter garden tomb with stone rolled aside

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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.

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Crown clip artMaybe we should start with what God doesn’t require from you: flawlessness. The biblical word “perfect” (Greek, teleios) means complete, whole, mature, brought to a finished end or goal.

When Jesus said to “be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mat. 5:48), he didn’t mean flawless, absolutely sinless, and error-free. The sooner you divorce this mind-set and all that goes with it, the sooner you escape Babylon’s cup of toxic, spiritual adulteries.

God simply wants you to be like Him. Or, more accurately, more like Him than you already are. Even as a sinner, you’re created in His image, having more in common with Him than anything else in creation. The goal is to restore that to full completion.

So the first step to becoming more like God is to love, admire, and want His qualities. You can’t pursue what you don’t want, or what you don’t see as possible and worth pursuing. Therefore, “Love God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul” isn’t God’s demand to satisfy His ego or meet a divine need. It’s His visionary spark to jump-start meeting your needs.

God wants you mentally, emotionally, and spiritually sound, whole, complete, and mature. What does that mean? It means you can love yourself and others. Love your neighbors, including enemies, as yourself. That’s what a clean spirit, “cured” and healthy, looks like. (more…)

Getup Get God

Getup Get God (Photo credit: prettywar-stl)

The photographer of this graffiti says he saw it in a window and decided to capture it. I saw the photo and decided to use it (freely shareable) to address a widely held misperception among Christians and non-Christians alike.

Many people see God as predominantly unhappy, ready to smite at the slightest provocation. Yet love and grace don’t flow from an abundance of crankiness, but rather, from such profound joy that it spills over even to enemies.

Heaven and angels and all sorts of beings associated with God are consistently portrayed as rejoicing with Him, usually connected immediately with worship. God is supreme in joy, infinite in love, and unmatched in wise, creative goodness. While He’s clearly displeased with some things at some times, that doesn’t mean He’s an ill-tempered Being.

For example, four successive chapters in the book of Job (38-41) are God’s running commentary of delight over the creatures and systems He created on Earth and in its immediate cosmic surroundings. Consequently, Job decides he was a bit rash (though I don’t think entirely unreasonable) in his rant to God. “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” (Job 42:3) God evidently didn’t think Job was unreasonable, either, for He wasn’t displeased with Job. Sarcastic with a touch of humor, yes, but not displeased.

At any rate, who knows what God has done in the billions of entire galaxies we’re only now discovering? A decade ago, we didn’t even know they exist let alone what marvels they contain. If you and I can delight over beauty or be greatly moved when gazing upon majestic sights even in this fallen world, think what God gets to see every day throughout His wondrous universe—densely rich things He’s not yet introduced to us.

My point is that we can be happy for God that His pervasive joy pours into His creation, which certainly includes mankind. That delight is meant to be contagious; we should “catch” it from Him because our glad-heartedness, cheer, and happiness delights Him and is a primary form of worship.

Old Testament vs. New Testament

So what are we to make of the “mean” God of the Old Testament? I don’t have all the answers, but I do have a few ideas. First, I know that if we overlook the joyful OT God, we’ll never make sense of Jesus or his vision of new life for the world that God has always loved.

I also know that while God Himself doesn’t change, He does change His tactics over the centuries when dealing with mankind. Off the top of my head, one example is the woman caught in adultery, whom Jesus protected from being stoned by the Pharisees.

They, of course, considered Jesus a lawbreaker. But he knew that the New Covenant overwrites the Old Covenant, yet doesn’t alter God’s intent that His Law of love—the Ten Commandments—be both the course and reflection of transformed human spirit and character.

It’s important to realize that lesser laws regarding circumcision, sacrifice, oaths, tithing, stoning, etc., aren’t the Law. The Pharisees had forgotten this, which is precisely what Paul, like Jesus and the original disciples, consistently pointed out.

Common Link

I think a major problem today is the idea that God gave the Law only to show how miserably mankind fails to measure up. God’s Law does do that, but its larger purpose is to restore to us His vision of who we can be. It shows direction and possibility rather than impossibility; and it’s precisely what Jesus embodies and teaches so we can see and pursue that vision.

We might also consider that the twelve original disciples were to Jesus what the twelve original tribes of Israel were to God—an ever-expanding inner circle of collaborators in His plan for the entire world. Although it started with Israel, it was always intended to include everyone—Jews and Gentiles, males and females, young and old, rich and poor, sinners and saints. (Coincidentally, this week I read an interesting article here about the Twelve. Since it fits with my post, you might like it, too.)

It’s wise to remember that Jesus never abolished the Law. What he abolished was Death. When Scripture says that Christ is the end of the Law, it means completion and fulfillment, not cessation or termination. Today’s widespread teaching that Jesus rendered the Law irrelevant is a serious flaw that blinds our faith and paralyzes blessedness.

As the writer of Hebrews said, we fix our eyes on Jesus, who for the joy set before him endured the cross (Heb. 12:2). But by ignoring or minimizing the Law, it is we who render Jesus and all his work irrelevant. In his own words, he boiled the Big Ten down to two simple commands: Love God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul; and love your neighbor as yourself.

This is the common link I see between the OT and NT; and it doesn’t flow from perpetually miserable cranks. It’s the action of people who can cheerfully obey because they increasingly see what God sees as they prepare for bigger, grander, even more delightful things to come.

Therefore, when we trash-talk what God has made, and worse, ascribe that disdain to Him, we easily conclude that He’s either out to get us or has now taken refuge somewhere far away. It’s tough to love and admire a cosmic Sourpuss, yet that’s what we try to do. Then we say that relationship with God is difficult. That distorted view robs us of the desire to collaborate with Him in furthering His good in what He’s already created and, even now, is happily making new again.

 

English: Compass

English: Compass (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Faith that needs repeated revival or recommitment should probably be examined to find out why it’s so short-lived. (I’m assuming the reason for rededication is a relationship with God that’s flagging in some way; so there may be other reasons that don’t apply here.)

When I worked as a geospatial analyst, the engineering department had a saying for solving design problems: “Your system is perfectly designed to produce the results you’re getting. If you want different results, you need a different system.”

Today’s widely-taught faith system, presented as something God “does” to us, is a big reason it often flags. The believer is subsequently told that he/she isn’t dedicated enough, or hasn’t prayed enough, doesn’t believe enough, has failed God again, and must once and for all swear commitment to the Lord. I’ve heard it a million times, as do multitudes of diligent, sincere Christians who recommit over and over only to get the same disappointing results.

Some even give up on faith and God altogether.

It’s caused by a simple lack of vision, a solid purpose and plan, a means to carry it out, and therefore, a lack of correctly aimed intention. Who can follow through on something they’re unaware of? So when we’re spiritually starved like this, we can pretend to be filled for only so long before the reality becomes evident: faith that limps along or crashes in the sand.

Yet it’s easily remedied if we read and listen carefully to the words of Jesus, his original disciples, and the earliest “people of the Way.” An entire book is needed to adequately address the manifold wisdom of his kind of faith, but we can review the foundational components.

In A Nutshell

The correct vision: Jesus’ rich view and model of new life in God’s kingdom through partnership with Him—God with man. Without this preliminary vision shift, people can’t pursue abundant strength, peace of mind, and love. To use biblical terms, they can’t “enter” into the world Jesus presents or put confidence in him for everyday living. They remain “blind,” stumbling, or conflicted, having eyes but not seeing, ears but not hearing.

This is why Jesus’ gospel message is, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” God’s kingdom around us stands ready to guide, enable, heal, and support.

A solid purpose: learn to love ourselves and others the way Jesus loves us. The idea is to become united in spirit and purpose with him and with one another. To live this new life is the assembling of the great Body, or, the marriage of Jews and Gentiles who become the bride wedded to the Bridegroom to rule and serve with him. God planned this objective even before He created the world.

The plan and means: Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. For example, willfully indulged anger is the first faith-killer he tackles. Turning away from it enables us to increasingly implement (obey) the remaining parts of his plan—get rid of spiritual adultery/divorce, sworn behavior, score-keeping, outer appearance/image, and hypocrisy, in that order. (More info in my series 6 Steps to Un-sabotage Yourself in Every Relationship.)

When we follow his prescribed instructions, the unavoidable result is transformation and spiritual formation in Christ. The best part is that God hasn’t given commands and left us with no ability, or way, to do what He says. Neither will He do it for us since that would rob us of our roles with Him. God is gracious enough to give us some responsibility and to let us participate!

That’s something we can sink our teeth into, put long-term confidence in, and not be stuck with flagging faith that needs frequent re-starts.

 

Path & Ditch Curving around the edge of Jesus ...

Path & Ditch Curving around the edge of Jesus College with Jesus Green to the left. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week, we looked at a surprising debate over Jesus’ sense of humor, noting that he said to take heart and to be of good cheer.

Today, I thought it would help to add that “take heart” doesn’t mean “buck up.” We can’t just tell ourselves, “I’m going to be of good cheer because Jesus says I must.”

That’s a little like trying to put a puzzle together without the corner pieces. No one can do what Jesus says to do without first having four foundational pieces he assumes are in place when he gives any command:

  • Vision
  • A plan
  • A way to implement the plan
  • Will (or heart) and desire

Vision

If there were a single most-enabling factor for a transformed, joyful life, it would be vision. We can’t do much of anything without a clear picture of God, His kingdom, and what He’s up to with humanity. We also need to see ourselves the way God sees us—who we are, where we fit with Him, where we’re going, and why:

  1. We’re created in God’s image to rule and serve the Earth with Him.

  2. We’re to learn to do it safely and wisely, without arrogance, ignorance, or ill will. Loving God with all our heart, and loving neighbors as ourselves is Christianity 101.

  3. We learn by stepping into the kingdom of heaven, God’s world without end for Jews and Gentiles alike. 

  4. We increasingly bring our own little kingdoms—i.e., personhood, life, and will—into God’s larger kingdom. Our kingdoms are the current arenas in which we practice God’s Word, where the “bride” prepares herself.

  5. Our future thus comes full circle to (re)inherit the Earth and reign with Jesus.

I love the way Dallas Willard puts it: “Jesus brings us into a world without fear…and invites us to live now in an undying world where it is safe to do and be good.”

You can read more in my articles A Vision of Purpose and A Badly Needed, Clearer Gospel. (more…)

lol on a candy heart

I’m amazed at how many Christians think that humor is inappropriate and that Jesus was mostly a man of sorrows. I read an online Relevant Magazine article by James Martin, S.J., entitled “Jesus Was Funnier Than We Think.”  I loved it, and so did many others, but some of the reader comments had me scratching my head.

One said that there’s nothing funny at all about Jesus, that humor and joy aren’t related. Others said that because there’s no Scripture that specifically states, “Jesus had a sense of humor,” it’s a stretch of truth to suppose that he did. Roman oppression was just too serious and Jesus had his hands full taking on the sins of the world. Apparently, he couldn’t even crack a smile.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think Jesus did stand-up schtick, but he definitely did use tongue-in-cheek wit and sarcasm regularly. Some of it was aimed at the often-obtuse disciples, but most of it was aimed at the Pharisees.

Be of Good Cheer

I guess it all depends on one’s definition of funny and humorous, and how it relates to joy, laughter, and song. I’ve read of some Christians leaving a church that was too happy and not teaching the serious issues, which I can understand. We want a strong God who can relate to and handle the tough side of life. (more…)

Folk art Valentine and envelope dated 1875 add...

 Despite what we hear, we’re actually not self-centered people. We’re very others-focused. If only the “sinful government,” unreasonable bosses, snippy neighbors, cheating lovers, mouthy teenagers, and incompetent drivers would just get their acts together, life would be grand, wouldn’t it?

While trying to defend ourselves against their incompetence, rather than launch the power of grace we engage in constant conflict because we insist on correcting others. Then we wonder where all the peace and victory is that biblical Christians voiced. We conclude, perhaps, that it must not be in this life, but in the afterlife.

Vanity

I used to believe that my Christian duty is to verbalize all the sinful short-comings of people around me. We tend to obsess over how the other guy falls short or otherwise gets in our faces. Boy, was I embarrassed when I learned what a vice that can be! Pride is the pre-disposition to insist on having our way. Humbleness is the ability to not insist on having our way. Vanity is the most camouflaged sin because on the surface, it appears to focus on the self, when in reality, it aims at others.

One way we’re lured into the trap is with the mistaken idea that it’s always good to be dependent on one another. “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” is one of many ways the world puts our well-being largely in the hands of others.

Today’s Christian spin on this is that God designed us to be dependent on one another and gave us different gifts specifically to ensure that we remain dependent. Thus, service to others is commonly preached as a mandatory commitment we owe rather than something to volunteer out of a victorious love for life. (more…)