The Ripples of the Resurrection

Today around the world, Christians recited the following dialogue:

“Christ is risen.”
“He is risen indeed.”

And indeed he is. The apostle Paul correctly remarked that a false resurrection would result in a foolish religion. If Jesus has not been raised, then none of us will be redeemed (1 Corinthians 15:14-17). This simple equation has wrapped into it the complexities of what I call the “ripples of the resurrection”.

christ's tombOne cannot speak of the resurrection as a phenomenon regarding one body of one man missing from one tomb on one day in a land and time far removed from my own. This simply will not do. If even one legitimate resurrection has taken place, then a monumental movement has been unleashed. Death’s dam has sprung a leak. Mortality’s mantle has been torn. One dead one returning to life declares that the barriers we have deemed insurmountable are not so; limitations have lapsed and borders have broken.

pebble in poolA rock of resurrection has been dropped into the pool of the universe, and the ripples will extend until the edges of the cosmos have felt its impact. The same ripples are also moving through the portion of creation known as “your life”. Feel the swell of the wave as the resurrection’s reach extends to, and through, your realm. Stopped to breathe and dare to dream. Christ’s resurrection reconfigures our existence, and it has nothing to do with how worthy or unworthy we are of such a magical touch.

In his second letter to the Corinthian church, Paul sums up the mystery of Christ’s resurrection power in this sentence: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Some have remarked that the Greek text is even shorter and downright abrupt. It literally looks like these three phrases:

  • If Anyone
  • In Christ
  • New Creation

boomA mathematician might create a basic equation from these three parts. A chemist might imagine a playful “boom” as the first two ingredients mix to form the third. Whatever the imagery, the language demands that we leave a gap. There is mystery. How does the combination of the first two phrases equate to the third? What connects these dots? What happens in that in-between space?

We need not know.

And we cannot know.

It’s the ripples of the resurrection. It is the movement of an incomparable wave proceeding from its start point and forcing its will and way upon all that it touches. One day the ripples of the resurrection will reach the edges of the pool. Every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

For today, be prayerful regarding, and perceptive to, the ripples of the resurrection in your life.

Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.

And he is but the first.

How Children Pray

photoI was awakened early this morning by our one-year-old (first face in the photo to the right) calling my name, “Dada! Dada!” I entered her room and rocked her back to sleep, taking the wake-up call as my cue to head downstairs to begin some quiet in Scripture and prayer.

I read my scheduled passage, from the book of Numbers, and began stumbling into prayer. Again, our little one cried out my name from her crib, “Dada! Dada!” As I rocked her again, I pondered the barely-veiled prayer teaching within her morning cries.

And I longed for such simplicity in my prayer life.

How easily I make things difficult. How sharp are my skills to dull communication with the Father! Why is it so hard to merely call His name “like I mean it”, then to nuzzle in and draw from Him all the love, warmth, peace, and security that I need?

Far too often, my Bible serves as a barrier to deep prayer. I know the obvious truth that it need not be this way, but my weak mind is quickly pulled into the analyzing of text and the idolizing of ideas at the outrageous cost of intimate interaction with the One who is both revealed in Scripture and far too large for any leather-bound book.

There is something to be said for simply shouting, “Dada! Dada!”

leaveacommentYOUR TURN: Your input makes this post better!

  • What prayer barriers have your experienced or overcome?
  • How would you suggest that prayer can be simplified for the better?

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My Spirit Rejoices in God My Saviour

[NOTE: I shared this post earlier this week as part of our church‘s annual Advent Blog. For more of the Glen Elm Advent Blog, head over HERE.]

Tom Hanks and Martin Short chat with TSN panel in Regina before Grey Cup game at Mosaic Stadium. Twitter photoOne week ago, our city was rocking with the rhythms of Grey Cup 101. Among the “regular residents” with tickets to the event, a handful of bigger names joined the mix. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall was hardly a surprising guest, diehard football fan that he is. Prime Minister Harper might be expected to make an appearance at our nation’s foremost sporting event. Martin Short and Tom Hanks upped the star power with their effort to bolster the Tiger Cats’ spirits as well.

jeremy and premierThe presence of such people at last week’s championship was noteworthy but not entirely shocking. What was surprising, however, was these guests’ level of involvement in the festivities. My friend Jeremy snapped a picture with the Premier among the reveling masses on the Green Mile following the victory. Our Prime Minister donned a toque and sat in the stands beside the CFL Commissioner. What are the odds that US President Obama will be free to mingle in the stands at Super Bowl next month?  Minimal to zero, I suspect. And Martin Short and Tom Hanks worked the circuit, appearing on the pregame show beforehand, entertaining in the stands during the game, and joining the party on the field afterward. Two of Hollywood’s A-listers added some flare and fun to an already-lively mix, and Regina loved them for it!

Presence is one thing.

Full-blown participation is quite another.

FBO CFL Grey Cup 20131124In Luke 1, Mary receives word that she will carry God’s Anointed One in her womb. The message is more than a touch distressing to the promised and pure maiden, yet she responds in obedience: “Let it be as God has said.”

Upon visiting her also-miraculously-pregnant relative Elizabeth, Mary declares, “My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour! For He took notice of His lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed.” (Lk 1:47-48)

Joy has become somewhat synonymous with Christmas, but it is worth pausing to consider the source of Mary’s particular pleasure. She delights in God because He took notice of her and acted in her life. Mere presence would have been sufficient. By His omnipresent nature, of course, God was with Mary. He’s with everybody!  To live with even a hint of His nearness is a blessing. Yet Mary celebrates that, like celebrities at Grey Cup 101, Yahweh is not merely present; He is profoundly participating. His knowledge of her is not distant. Rather His involvement with her is deeply intimate. She celebrates that His mighty power has touched down upon her life. He has moved her from a place of lowliness to one of exaltation. He has transported her from the humbled one to the honored one. He has called her from being common to being chosen.

It is astounding to observe Mary’s ability to focus on two depths simultaneously. The human eye cannot do this. Yet she succeeds in noting (Lk 1:55) that the Creator has a plan reaching all the way back to Abraham (I would say even further back to Creation) and extending into the forever ahead of us. Yet hand-in-hand with this immense perspective, Mary is able to see her “here and now” in relation to God’s universe-filling scheme. This unwed, about-to-be-pregnant teenager declares to all of us that the works of God in our lives today – hard-to-interpret or easy-to-miss – somehow tie intricately into the Grand Plan.

A reality deeper than the Grand Canyon is being carved. Something more sure than the oceans tides is being scripted. A monument more immense than Everest is being constructed.

The plan of God is being carried out.

And this moment in your life is somehow woven into that masterpiece.

If you can muster your mustard seed of faith to believe that outlandish statement, then perhaps your mouth will be prepared to repeat after Mary: “My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for He took notice of His lowly servant.”

FAITH RE-VISITED (4): Living and Active

faithAt church, our current series is a discussion of how faith grows.

In the process of Sunday sermons and weekly Small Groups, a handful of observations are rising to the surface.

Here is one of them.

WORDS THAT BURN

I once heard a remark from a highly-esteemed Christian leader, who had observed a trend. Every Christian whose life had deeply moved or inspired him was a lover of Scripture. The pattern was so observable that it easily highlighted for him the vital role that Scripture plays in the shaping of our faith.

Along those lines, nearly every “faith story” that I have heard involves some description of a point along the way when Scripture came alive. Something ignited. Something was birthed. And by the help of a human teacher or the direct impact of Scripture itself, God’s written Word came alive.

Perhaps the best such “a-ha moment” in Scripture is described in Luke 24. The resurrected (and apparently tough-to-recognize) Christ pulled alongside two of his disciples as they walked from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Perceiving him as an out-of-touch traveler, clueless about recent and monumental events, the two travelers begin to educate Jesus on all that he had “missed”.

Beginning in Luke 24:25, Jesus responds. In an effort to frame what they know firsthand, he begins to weave strands of clarity through their blurred canvas. Moving fluidly through long-known Old Testament texts, Jesus connects the dots. What’s more, he connects not only the dots of ancient texts, but he connects Scripture’s dots to the dots of his listeners’ “today”. So impacting was this powerful time of teaching that the two listeners noted later that they could feel it: to a realize Asian: “Did not our hearts burn within us while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Lk 24:32)

LIFELESS AND STILL

In Mark 5, Jesus is approached by a man named Jairus; the desperate daddy’s little girl is dying. Jairus was the local synagogue ruler, perhaps something like an executive pastor — first-century Jewish style. Finding myself employed by a church with a house full of little girls, I find this story today far more personal than I used to.

Among the purest pleasures of fathering little girls are the affectionate cuddles and the cozy snuggles that are shared. Cheeks are brushed, hands are held – these life-touches are treasures that represent the tender warmth of life shared. Conversely, death deals in cold hardness. Everyone who has viewed an open casket ahead of a funeral service knows this thought: “Well, that is him. But it is so not him at the same time.” The body may resembles the person, but the body is not the person. The essence of the loved one, to which every memory is tied, is elsewhere. And that is why we feel loss.

It is a tragedy when something meant to be living and active is lifeless and still.

Jairus knows this. Jairus fears this. And before the story is done, Jairus feels this.  But Jesus, in a stunning display of power, whispers life back into the deceased daughter’s ear, and Jairus learns another truth that day.

Yes, it is a tragedy when something meant to be living and active is lifeless and still.

But it is a wonder when something lifeless and still becomes living and active.

So back to Scripture.

LIVING AND ACTIVE

Hebrews 4:12-13 describes the Word of God with those two adjectives: living and active. Like a supernatural sword, God’s Word is sharp and piercing, capable even of discerning our deepest thoughts and intentions. Scripture is intended to impact us in profound and personal ways. But as we said earlier:

It is a tragedy when something meant to be living and active is lifeless and still.

Most of us have experiences where Scripture seemed far less than living and active; lifeless and still would be closer to the truth. Blame it on poor teachers, dry preachers, or slack devotional habits — whatever the path, there are many ways to reach this unfortunate destination where swords are dull and souls stay hidden under layers.

But it is a wonder when something lifeless and still becomes living and active.

Most of us have known experiences where Scripture spoke so clearly, we wondered if someone were spying on us — even spying into us.  That’s just sword-penetration, par for the course for the force of Scripture.  Credit it to passionate pastors, sharp writers, or creative teachers as you wish, but be sure to affirm God’s part in the process. He is the One who packs power into His Word, and He is the One who rescues what humanity might render lifeless and still, to ensure that everyone seeking Him might taste the wonder found in engaging with the living and active Word of God.

leaveacommentYOUR TURN: Your input makes this post better!

  • When did Scripture first come alive for you?
  • What do you suppose keeps people from encountering more of the “living and active” nature of God’s Word?
  • Do you have any suggestions for those wishing to experience more of Scripture’s power in their own lives and churches?

 

FAITH RE-VISITED (3): It Makes Him Marvel

faithAt church, our current series is about discussing how faith grows.

In the process of Sunday sermons and weekly Small Groups, a handful of observations are rising to the surface.

Here is one of them.

HOW TO IMPRESS

Have you ever wanted to impress someone?

  • Sometimes the desire is driven by earlier rejection. The dumped date, the traded athlete, the unhired applicant – all want to prove their worth and disprove others’ earlier estimates of them.
  • Sometimes the desire is driven by earlier praise. The scholarship student, the awarded artist, the promoted employee – such people can feel pressure to live up to expectations.
  • Sometimes the desire is simply driven by admiration. We desire praise from the one whose assessment matters most. We seek to place a smile on the face most dear to us.

Have you ever wanted to impress Jesus? How might one go about this?

checklistMost of us begin to generate a list of DO’s and DON’Ts. Some are likely Scriptural, some are likely additional. But our minds’ hamster wheels spin to determine what would be most likely to grab the attention of Jesus.

  • Go to church.
  • Don’t go to the wrong church.
  • Read your Bible and pray.
  • Be a hard worker.
  • Be a good share-r.
  • Don’t laze.
  • Don’t lust.
  • Don’t lie.
  • Don’t lose your temper.
  • Love your enemies.
  • Don’t love money.
  • Honor your parents.
  • Don’t kill your siblings.
  • Love your neighbors.
  • Don’t covet their stuff, not even their donkey.
  • Tell the truth, and keep your words kind.
  • Don’t use your mouth for swearing.
  • Don’t use your mouth for gossip.
  • Don’t use your mouse for eating food off the floor, unless a 5-second rule applies.
  • Be friendly.
  • Don’t forget to floss.

And so the list goes on.

Faithful Jews believed the Torah to contain 613 rules. If there was a way to impress God’s Prophet, you can bet it was tied into exhaustive obedience.

Unless it was tied into something else.

WHAT COULD IT BE?

Matthew 8 records an unsettling encounter for many intent upon impressing Jesus.

When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.”

Scripture’s only mention of Jesus being positively stunned revolves around a Roman centurion. From the get-go, we note that this cannot be a “rule thing”. No mention is made of the man’s honesty or purity or generosity. No praise is passed for avoiding alcohol or prostitutes or cursing.

The disciples would certainly have despised the centurion for he was a multi-level enemy. As a Roman, he was one of the “bad guys”, an invader and idolater. These uncircumcised heathen were the godless oppressors of Israel, and most held deep conviction that God’s greatest priority must certainly be to devastatingly dethrone this empire and eject them from the Land of Promise.

So how does one summarize the disciples’ shock when Jesus expresses unhesitating willingness to compassionately visit the centurion’s home?

Even further, how does one summarize the shock of hearing the centurion’s reply?

But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

One imagines a dialogue:

CENTURION: I’m not worthy to have you in my home.

DISCIPLES: Dang right! At least you have one thing figured out.

C: No, that’s not what I mean.

D: Then say what you mean, scumbag… um… with a sword… [Gulp]

C: You don’t need to come. You can do it from here.

D: Say what?!

C: There is a pile I don’t understand, but I grasp one thing fairly well: Authority. One hundred men do whatever I tell them. “Go”, and they go. “Come”, and they come. “Do”, and they do. I am not naïve. They don’t obey me from love. It is power, and it is not even my own. In the chain of command, I embody the power of Rome. You obviously carry authority, but I confess that it is a mystery to me. Forces of sickness and spirits of evil obey your words. Your teachings impart life, and your influence obviously ripples into invisible-yet-real realms. In light of this, it strikes me as obvious that you have no need to walk to my home in order to heal my servant. You can do it from here.

D: [Strangely silent]

And Jesus marveled (Mt 8:10). He marveled at the man’s faith, at his confident trust. Nothing mushy here, this belief was matter-of-fact. And Jesus was compelled to declare for all within earshot, “I have not found anyone in Israel with faith like this.”

One can imagine the outcry – spoken or silent – of the disciples: “Hold on! You are talking about a pagan power that governs Yahweh’s covenant people. He certainly doesn’t know the Torah; he likely cannot list the Ten Commandments. He would never be allowed in the Temple, and he may sacrifice to Zeus. And you are holding him up as a model of faith?!”

Jesus: “Yep. That about sums it up. If you want a free, on-the-spot faith clinic, this man is leading it right this moment. Note everything you have observed.”

And at that point, Jesus wasn’t the only one marveling.

leaveacommentYOUR TURN: Your input makes this post better!

  • Why is it so easy to imagine that Jesus values meticulous obedience more than complete trust?
  • Why do you imagine that trust receives so much emphasis in this story?

 

FAITH RE-VISITED (2): Killer Control

faithAt church, our current series is about discussing how faith grows.

In the process of Sunday sermons and weekly Small Groups, a handful of observations are rising to the surface.

Here is one of them.

TRUST IS HARD.

Whether you learn this doing some silly falling-backwards-into-someone’s-arms exercise or via more intense avenues, I have yet to meet someone who eagerly gives up control. The word “control” is key, for it summarizes the hurdle over which everyone must leap in order to arrive at a position of trust before their Maker.

driving-22959_640We are told that the odds of dying in a car accident are exponentially higher than the odds of dying in a plane crash. Even still, there is an unusual comfort derived from having one’s own hands on the steering wheel. To trust an invisible pilot, whose existence is proven only by an occasional word on the intercom feels far riskier than being at the controls ourselves. But the statistics argue that my own hands are less capable than I might wish to believe.

The statistics are not alone in making this declaration.

In his most famous sermon, Jesus urged his listeners to trust God more than they trusted themselves. His rationale? We are not worthy of that level of trust. He stated this with a simple question: “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life or a single cubit to his stature?” (Mt 6:27)

Even in areas of deep convictions, where we possess strong desires, a simple fact remains: We are small. Temporary, finite, limited, fallen – whatever adjective you choose, the same truth emerges. We are insufficient. On an ultimate scale, we cannot be sources or providers of what we need. Said another way, self-trust is not an option.

With that in mind, Jesus provides us an example. Of course, he could have directed our gaze to himself and his before-eternity bond to the Father. Certainly his entire existence was built upon reality-altering faith. But that might have overwhelmed us. So he chose an example from the crowds, a people-of-dust model, so mundane as to be easy to miss.

LITTLE ONES

“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 19:14)

cute-child-1920x1080-1In the “real world”, children represent all that is insignificant. Of course, we notice their innocence, envy their purity, and squish their chubby cheeks. But those things are quaint, holding no weight in the adult world. Or so we think.

Yet addressing the adult world, the Anointed One declares, “You want to know how to trust? Look down. Consider the small ones who neither conceived nor birthed themselves. They are fed and cleaned and carried by another. They survive and thrive under the watch of eyes and provision of hands not their own.  And they are fine with this. They live out this position with confident acceptance, both appropriate and beautiful.”

And you?

  • Are you at peace with your puniness?
  • Are you content to be carried?
  • Are you satisfied with being satisfied by Another?

Those are little, large questions. And they reveal whether the spirit within us is capable of grasping the kingdom which God offers. It is not that He withdraws from those who aren’t childlike in faith; rather, it is those clinging to competence or confidence or control who will subconsciously withdraw from the kingdom He offers.

Simply put, one cannot take hold of a wondrous gift if his hands are occupied with gripping the controls.

YOUR TURN: What about you? How has God challenged your desires for control and independence? How has your trust in God blossomed as you’ve granted Him access to your life?

 

FAITH RE-VISITED (1): Can One Be Faithful Without Faith?

faithAt church, our current series is about discussing how faith grows.

In the process of Sunday sermons and weekly Small Groups, a handful of observations are rising to the surface.

Here is one of them.

FAITH AND FAITHFULNESS

A question in our last Small Group asked us who we considered a great example of faith. Who exhibited an unusual level of confidence and trust in God?  I confessed that I found that hard to answer. If it was looking for FAITHFULNESS, I had an easy list of names. Somehow FAITH changed the discussion for me. It seems riskier and more adventurous than the plodding and dutiful flavour of faithfulness.

Of course, the two concepts are linked (linguistically at the least), but I confess to experiencing more disconnect than I likely should. As said, faith appears more outrageous — it’s the believing of things unseen, the aggressively confident holding to God’s outlandish promises.  Certainly, faithfulness (in its full sense) is the act of exercising faith. However, it rolls off my tongue far more frequently as a term of steady responsibility, the long-term execution of what you know you should do.

A couple thoughts sum this up:

1) Faithfulness is likely under-valued. This “long obedience in the same direction” (Peterson’s priceless phrase) is not for the faint of heart. Fleeting affections and flighty commitments will never sustain the steadiness demanded to live by faith.

2) That said, any form of faithfulness truly worth something must be rooted in a deeply trust-filled relationship with God. Responsible task-ticking was the way of the older brother (Luke 15), yet he was revealed to be disturbingly distanced from the Father he “faithfully” stood beside.  Trust is linked to intimacy, and because of that fact: Anything less than faith-filled faithfulness comes off as mere duty, akin to a marriage that “celebrates” landmark anniversaries while being undesirably dead.

YOUR TURN: What about you? How do you observe the link between FAITH and FAITHFULNESS? Who has inspired you toward greater faith?