Beautiful irises in the sunlight at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Living fully alive

I can only imagine the devastation that followed Christ’s death on the cross. What a horrible way to die. And how much guilt did the disciples have to be feeling because they had all pretty much abandoned Him?

Obviously John stuck it out till the end because one of the last things Jesus said was to him. But the rest of them?

That was a bad day, even though it was a Good Day for all Mankind. But that was Friday. On Sunday, things started looking up.

Beautiful irises in the sunlight at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Beautiful irises in the sunlight at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are Luke 24:1-6.

But very early on Sunday morningthe women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. So they went in, but they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. As they stood there puzzled, two men suddenly appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes. The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead!”

Can you put yourself in the shoes (or sandals) of these poor ladies? My goodness. Talk about an emotional roller coaster. They’d watched Jesus die, and then they had to prepare the Passover meal and do the whole Passover thing, which is so full of symbolism about the coming Messiah they probably couldn’t get through it without bawling. And after all that, they still had to come back and finish preparing Jesus’ body.

And I’m sure they prepared themselves for it. They had steeled themselves against the grief in order to get the job done. But they weren’t ready to find the tomb empty. And they weren’t ready for angels to tell them they were looking in the wrong place.

“Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen!”

If that statement doesn’t fill you with joy, maybe you didn’t read it right. I know how it makes me feel, so I bet those poor emotionally drained women were probably over the top.

Jesus died, but He’s bigger than death. And death couldn’t stop Him.

And that’s beautiful and poetic, and it’s created the impetus for many special effects in movies and pyrotechnics in Passion plays. But what exactly does it mean in a practical sense?

Death couldn’t stop Jesus, and, thanks to Him, the same applies to the people we who believe in Him. Death has no power over those who believe in Christ. Death can’t even touch a Christ-follower.

But more than that, even though Christ’s sacrifice makes it possible for us to spend eternity in heaven, He also makes it possible for us to live fully alive here. The world is broken, full of broken people, full of spiritually dead people. We are all born spiritually dead. Choosing to follow Christ, takes our dead spirit and brings it back to life again.

Choosing to follow Christ is more than just getting to go to heaven. Choosing to follow Christ allows us to live fully alive.

And if you think about it, the angels’ words still ring true today. If you’re a Christ follower and you’re not following Christ like you should be, think about what the angels told the women.

Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive?

Death and Life have nothing in common. So if you’re a Christ follower, look for your life’s purpose in Christ. Just remember you won’t find Christ among the dead because He isn’t there.

How would our lives have changed if Christ hadn’t risen? Could you imagine the hopelessness, the darkness, the futility of life without Christ? It wouldn’t be worth living.

But He lives.

And because He lives, so can we.

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My cup of juice from the Seder Meal, Andover, KS

If Good Friday were the end

Have you ever noticed that people don’t seem to appreciate what they have until they don’t have it anymore? I’m counting myself in that generalization because it’s true.

I’m perfectly content to just rock along in life without really thinking about all the wonderful blessings God has given me, and then one day I wake up because everything that made my life easy is suddenly gone. And I didn’t even realize that those blessings were a gift instead of a privilege. It took losing them to appreciate them.

Why are we like that? Why do we have to lose things before we realize that we’re taking them for granted?

My cup of juice from the Seder Meal, Andover, KS

My cup of juice from the Seder Meal, Andover, KS

Today is Good Friday. Today is the day that Jesus died on the cross 2,000 years ago to pay the price for my soul and the soul of everyone who has ever lived and ever will live.

And I can’t help but put myself in the shoes of the Disciples. How crushed they had to be! How much they must have despaired! Not only because their friend was gone but so was their hope, even though Jesus had told them what was going to happen. (But we can’t be too hard on the Disciples because God tells us what’s going to happen and we don’t listen either.)

Normally I try to be positive and uplifting in what I post on here, but for once I really just want to take a moment and imagine what it would have been like if Christ hadn’t come back from the dead. What would have happened if He died on that cross and didn’t resurrect? What would have happened if Good Friday ended everything?

There was talk in the early Church about resurrection and whether or not it was true, and Paul addressed it in 1 Corinthians 15:17-19:

And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.

If Christ stayed dead, our hope died with Him. His death on the cross paid the price for our sins, but His resurrection proved He was God enough to accept the charges.

If Christ stayed dead, we have no hope, we have no life, we have no purpose, because if He didn’t come back, the Bible is a lie. And the Disciples were liars. The Apostles were liars. And Jesus Himself was a liar.

If Christ stayed dead, what would your life look like? Have you ever taken the time to think about it? If you haven’t, do it. Think about all the times you faced difficulties and challenges and relied on His love or His strength to get you through, and then take that away. How would you have made it without Him?

Too often we take Him for granted. And it’s not that we shouldn’t expect Him to show up. He wants us to expect Him. But there’s a big difference between expecting Him to be there and thinking we deserve His presence in our lives.

Today, think about what your life would be like without Christ, and when Sunday gets here, you’ll see it differently. It won’t just be another Sunday. It won’t just be another Easter where you get to dress up and hunt for eggs or eat ham with your family. It will be a true celebration of the return of hope because that’s what Easter is. Easter celebrates the hope and life we have in Christ because He didn’t stay dead.

Setting sun at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Loving like Jesus when it doesn’t make sense

Christians are supposed to live the way Jesus did. Every “good” Christian knows that. Actually, every “bad” Christian knows it too. So why is it so hard to accomplish? Well, yes, Jesus was perfect. But there is nothing that we have experienced in our lives that He doesn’t understand.

I think we get caught up this time of year remembering Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, which is a good thing to remember. It’s everything. If Christ hadn’t come and allowed Himself to suffer for our sins, we would have no hope. If He hadn’t died and risen again, He would be like any other world religious leader. But so many times I think we focus on the fact that He is God that we forget that He was a human being just like we are. And He didn’t just come to die and rise again; He came to show us how to live.

Setting sun at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Setting sun at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Ephesians 5:2.

Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.

Living a life of love is a lot easier said than done. Loving unlovable people takes some sacrifice, if we’re being honest about it. It’s a lot more convenient to just ignore them, but that’s not what Christ did.

He loved unlovable people. He forgave unforgivable people. He healed incurable people. If anyone was a lost cause, Christ gave them a reason to live and a purpose. He worked more than just physical miracles; He changed people. He still changes people today.

Granted, He didn’t waste much time on fools. And He didn’t concern Himself with the religious leaders who were already sufficient in their own righteousness. But the people who knew they needed help? They flocked to Him by the thousands, and He never turned anyone away.

So how does that example affect my life? How do I live the way Christ did? How do I love the way Christ does?

Jesus doesn’t discriminate. He loves everybody. It doesn’t matter where people came from. Even when Jesus was on earth, He healed everyone, regardless of nationality or race. Or even religious persuasion, if you think about it. Jew. Gentile. Neither. If they came to Him and they believed in Him, He helped them. Whether they were difficult people or kind people, quiet people or loud people, talented people or not-so-talented people, it didn’t matter.

It’s so easy to put labels on people. It’s comforting to be able to categorize others so that I know how to control them or how to handle them, but labels don’t really help. Putting labels on people puts them in a box that I don’t ever let them out of. Jesus didn’t label people. He loved them.

Jesus wasn’t afraid to live for people He loved. Jesus came to die, yes, but He also came to show us how to live. He sacrificed years of His life in service of people around Him.

Many of us are willing to die for the people we love because we know that we’ll go to heaven when we die, but what about living for people you love? That’s a bigger sacrifice. Because you have to give up what you want out of life to live for other people. And that’s difficult.

In our culture today, love is a cheerful happy feeling that swells in response to happiness. But that’s not love. Love is a choice. Love is action. Love is sacrificing yourself–your finances, your future, your job, your wellbeing–for the sake of someone else. And in our self-centered world, love is difficult to find.

Love isn’t easy. And real love is even harder. Jesus is the only one who had it figured out, and I’m thankful for that because as much as I try, I’m not there yet. I’m still pretty selfish myself.

But the only way to please God is with faith. And faith means taking God at His word. So if God says that I’m supposed to love people the way Jesus did, that means I should choose to do it even if it doesn’t make sense, even when it’s difficult.

That’s what Christ did. So that’s what we’re supposed to do. It’s never easy, and it doesn’t always feel good. And anyone who tells you differently hasn’t ever tried it. But nothing worth having was easy to obtain. And God’s got it under control. God knows what He’s doing, He never makes mistakes, and He always keeps His promises.

Isaiah 53

Today’s verses are one of the most beautiful sets of verses in all of Scripture. It’s probably fitting since we’re coming up on Easter.

I don’t want to clutter these verses up with commentary, so I’m going to keep it brief.

Isaiah 53:3-4

3 He was despised and rejected—
      a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
   We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
      He was despised, and we did not care.

 4 Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
      it was our sorrows[a] that weighed him down.
   And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
      a punishment for his own sins!

Yes, this is about Jesus. And, yes, it’s in the Old Testament, which was written centuries and centuries before Jesus was even born. Like Genesis 3:15 or Psalm 22, it’s talking about something that hadn’t happened. And sometimes I wonder if the people of the day realized what this was when they read it. That it was talking about the Person who was coming to save us all.

I don’t think I have anything to add that’s going to make this clearer. What more is there to say? Jesus suffered, and we figured He was simply being punished for something He had done, when in reality He was being tormented for everything wrong I’ve ever done.

If you have time (and even if you don’t) you should read all of Isaiah 53. Actually . . . here it is. You should read it:

1 Who has believed our message?
      To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm?
 2 My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot,
      like a root in dry ground.
   There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance,
      nothing to attract us to him.
 3 He was despised and rejected—
      a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
   We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
      He was despised, and we did not care.

 4 Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
      it was our sorrows[a] that weighed him down.
   And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
      a punishment for his own sins!
 5 But he was pierced for our rebellion,
      crushed for our sins.
   He was beaten so we could be whole.
      He was whipped so we could be healed.
 6 All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
      We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
   Yet the Lord laid on him
      the sins of us all.

 7 He was oppressed and treated harshly,
      yet he never said a word.
   He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
      And as a sheep is silent before the shearers,
      he did not open his mouth.
 8 Unjustly condemned,
      he was led away.[b]
   No one cared that he died without descendants,
      that his life was cut short in midstream.[c]
   But he was struck down
      for the rebellion of my people.
 9 He had done no wrong
      and had never deceived anyone.
   But he was buried like a criminal;
      he was put in a rich man’s grave.

 10 But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him
      and cause him grief.
   Yet when his life is made an offering for sin,
      he will have many descendants.
   He will enjoy a long life,
      and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands.
 11 When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish,
      he will be satisfied.
   And because of his experience,
      my righteous servant will make it possible
   for many to be counted righteous,
      for he will bear all their sins.
 12 I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier,
      because he exposed himself to death.
   He was counted among the rebels.
      He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels.

I can’t say it any better than that. This is grace. And it’s love. And I don’t deserve it. But I’m so thankful for it.

A thought on Good Friday

Technically, it’s Saturday now, but I had this thought yesterday at NewSpring’s first Good Friday service ever . . . . It was a very different kind of service for NewSpring. Usually we’re pretty excited and wild and loud and crazy; it’s a lot of fun. But this service was very somber. Solemn. Dark. Sad. It was a wonderful representation of how people must have felt when Jesus died.

As the service progressed and we sang and listened to the last words Jesus spoke before He died, I was overwhelmed with the realization that even if it had just been me, He would have done it all again. He died–suffered the way He did–for the whole world, but it was personal. He did it for me. Because of me. I can’t help but wonder why when I think about how I’ve thanked Him for His sacrifice.

What stuns me into shocked silence is remembering that He knew I would betray Him. That He knew I would disappoint Him and let Him down and break His heart . . . again and again and again . . . Even before He saved me, Jesus knew I would fail Him. But even then He chose to never fail me.

I don’t understand love like that. I mean, a part of me does. I guess. I have many friends I know who have disappointed me time and time again but I’ve never given up on them–mainly because Jesus never gives up on me. I would still gladly give up my life for any one of my friends. So maybe I do understand to a certain extent. What I really don’t get is why Christ could love me so much, when I know I don’t deserve it. When He knows I don’t deserve it.

Love like that makes me tremble inside with tears I don’t dare let out becuase they won’t ever stop. Knowing that He loves me even though He knows I’m still going to screw up and that He’ll forgive me even then. Knowing that no matter what I do or where I go, He’ll never forget me or leave me alone. Knowing that no matter how much I disappoint Him, He’ll always be there for me. That kind of safety and security is more than comfort. It’s everything. How could I live without it? How could I make it through a day without knowing that He’s there, listening to me, laughing with me (and probably at me), loving me so intensely?

I’m thankful. So thankful.

Last night was wonderful to sit in a room of over a thousand of my brothers and sisters and remember Christ’s death. But I’m very excited for tonight and tomorrow when I’ll join them all again to celebrate the fact that Christ didn’t stay dead. That’s what Easter is all about. Not a shared spirit of humanity .  . . . I saw that on a news blurb this morning. Not bunnies or candies or baskets left on doorsteps. Easter is hope, knowing that this crazy life isn’t all there is, that there’s something bigger and better coming and that we can be a part of it.

I have to say, if you want to see a party . . . . click on this link at 5:00 pm or 6:30 pm today . . . . or at 9:30 am or 11:15 am tomorrow. You want to know what Easter is all about? Click.

http://www.newspring.org/live