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Easter's Taunt

My favorite Easter Scripture passage isn’t found in one of the New Testament Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.  It’s found in a letter that the Apostle Paul, the first great missionary of the church, wrote to a church he had started in the Greek city of Corinth.  In the Bible, this first century letter is called “first (1) Corinthians.” 

In the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul shares a list of people who witnessed the resurrected Jesus (including himself).  Then he boldly confronts the idea already circulating in the first-generation church that resurrection from the dead was just for Jesus, but not really for anybody else.  My favorite Easter passage comes at the end of all that.

“Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death is your sting?  The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  (1 Corinthians 15:54b-57, NRSV)

Paul is openly taunting death!  He is doing this not because of anything he can do about death.  No, Paul is comfortable taunting death because of what God has done in raising Jesus Christ from the dead.  Paul knows what we need to know: that resurrection is a God thing… that resurrection isn’t just about God raising Jesus from the dead that first Easter Sunday… that God’s resurrection power is available for what is dead in life here, now and forever!  

This Easter season, as it was for Paul, so may it be for you and me! 

Redeemed

Redeem…  It’s a word used in the church to try and explain what God has done in Jesus Christ. 

Redeem… Sometimes it’s sung in church.  Two of my favorites are Big Daddy Weave’s  modern worship song “Redeemed,” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vSyLqbP8Z4I) and the old Fanny Crosby gospel song “Redeemed How I Love To Proclaim It,”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oy_ZAXiuEfc). 

Redeem… Sometimes it’s heard in a sermon in church.  Sometimes a Christian might even use it when sharing about their faith in Christ with someone else. 

But normally when I hear the word “redeem,” I have to admit that I think of something else first… coupons. I grew up in a family of “coupon clippers.” It was like you won the grocery shopping game when you handed over a wad of coupons to the person at the register, a wad they of course loved having to deal with. 

Clipping coupons out of the newspaper is still around, but coupons have morphed.  You print them off the computer and scan them at the register or scan one off your phone.  No matter the format, the idea of “redeeming” a coupon” is the same.  You produce a coupon and receive a discount on what you purchase.  Someone else pays for part of what you’re buying.  You don’t pay for it all.

In some ways, that’s what being said when the word “redeem” is used in the church.  Through Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross... God made a way for your sins, and mine, to be forgiven.  Jesus’ death on the cross paid the price for your freedom from sin and death; not just part of the price like a coupon, but all of it!  We are redeemed when we trust in what God has done for us in the cross of Jesus Christ.   

This Holy Week, please remember what Jesus did on the cross.  But don’t just remember what Jesus did, remember that he did it for you.  Remember that you are redeemed! 

Holy Week Prayer

Why should I gain from his reward?  I cannot give an answer.
But this I know with all my heart; his wounds have paid my ransom.

These words are from one of my favorite modern hymns of the church, “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us” by Stuart Townend.  I could listen to its haunting music and words anytime, but they are especially meaningful during Holy Week.  Here’s the link to listen to it as performed by the group Selah, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W7fGEOH2XiY

The song describes, as best as humanly possible, the deep love of God for us, that is shown in Jesus Christ.  It also confesses that the meaning of what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross… how God’s salvation and grace works… will always be something of a mystery.  But what you and I can know is the result of what Jesus did for us on the cross.

Jesus made a connection and relationship between us and God possible… that’s what Jesus accomplished on the cross.  By sacrificially laying down his sinless life, Jesus made it possible for our sins to be forgiven… and for all of humanity to be connected to God now and forever!  Jesus did that for me and for you.

Today is the beginning of Holy Week.  It’s not really something our culture will join with us in.  As seekers and followers of Christ this week we are pretty much on our own, and that’s even more so with the COVID-19 “stay at home” orders in place.  But maybe that’s not all bad.  Maybe it will give us a chance, in an unhurried and more focused way, to remember and be thankful for what Jesus did on the cross.  

My prayer is that you know how deep is God’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure.  My prayer is that we know that Jesus’ dying breath has brought us life.  And my prayer is that the Holy Spirit’s power will help us live in a way that doesn’t boast in anything but Jesus Christ, his death, and resurrection… this Holy Week and always! 

A Matter Of Space

Then they came to Jerusalem. And he (Jesus) entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves… He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” (Mark 11:15-17, NRSV)

Let me make this very clear… Jesus is very angry here. 

Why?  And was it justified?  Buying, selling, and commerce was going on in the Temple courts.  Most likely its purpose was to provide religious pilgrims with appropriate animal sacrifices for their Temple worship and Jewish currency for their Temple offerings… a convenience for Jerusalem’s out of town guests.

The commercial activities were taking place on the Temple grounds.  It was taking up the space meant for worship and prayer… for the people to meet and connect with God and for God to connect with them and change their lives. 

Pastor and writer Peter Scazzero writes, “Jesus knows that if we don’t get to God, invaluable treasures will be lost or obscured.  We lose the space where we experience God’s unfailing love and amazing forgiveness.  We lose an eternal perspective on what is important and what is not.  We lose compassion.  We gain the world but lose our souls."

It’s no wonder Jesus was so angry!  And I humbly suggest that you should be too.

What takes up the time and space in your life needed for you to connect with God in prayer, Scripture, worship, and just being still enough to know God and be known by God?  Clear it out to regain the time and space you need with God.

Refuse To Believe The Lie

These cross-born words of Jesus from Matthew 27:46 (NRSV), hauntingly echo across the centuries to us… and they are hard to hear. Was Jesus really all alone on the cross? Had God abandoned his own Son in his time of great need? 

God, why have you forsaken me?  It’s a tough question all of us have asked.  Our circumstances and words are certainly different from Jesus’ on the cross… but the question is the same. 

Questioning God in prayer, as Jesus did, is not an act of unbelief or sin.  It’s an act of faith!  In fact, as pastor and writer Adam Hamilton shares (leaning on his commentary on this passage in this blog), questioning God helps keep the lines of communication open, especially in times when God seems silent. 

But when Jesus felt all alone on the cross, there was more than just questioning God going on there.  The phrase, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” is actually the opening line to Psalm 22, an ancient Jewish worship song that Jesus would have known.  And as the song’s words ran through his mind, Jesus would have come to this: “Yet you are holy (God), enthroned on the praises of Israel,” (Psalm 22:3, NRSV). 

John Stonecypher, the creator of The Shack Bible Project, shares that Psalm 22 says “I feel like Papa (God) has abandoned me, but I know He has not!  On the cross, Jesus is faced with the Garden of Eden’s serpent’s oh-so-convincing lie that Papa (God) cannot be trusted. But by faith he pushes through and refuses to believe the lie. He honestly expresses he’s feelings, but also shouts his triumph over human darkness, fear, and isolation. ‘I feel forsaken,’ Jesus says ‘but I know I am not.’”

When God is silent or even absent, follow Jesus’ example.  It will give you confident hope of God’s presence, no matter what your situation may be… a confident hope that even death is not the end.  Remember… Easter is still yet to come!  

Help Always Near

“God is our refuge and strength, a help always near in times of great trouble.  That’s why we won’t be afraid when the world falls apart, when the mountains crumble into the center of the sea, when its waters roar and rage, when the mountains shake because of its surging waves.” (Psalm 46:1-3, CEB)

Refuge...  Strength...  Two very powerful words used by the ancient psalm writer to describe God!

Refuge.  At times God is our protector… shields, comforts, and provides.  Sometimes we talk about being wrapped up or carried in the arms of God.  Maybe that’s one way of getting at what it means for God to be our refuge. 

Strength.  At times God is our warrior… fights, battles, and overcomes. Sometimes we talk about knowing God has already won the victory.  Maybe that’s one way of getting at what in means for God to be our strength.

The good news of Psalm 46 is that God, our refuge and strength, is always near to help!  And that’s especially true in times of great trouble, when the foundation of our world and lives falls apart, when the mountains of safety we’ve built for ourselves crumble, and when the waters of chaos and uncertainty roar around us.  Any of that sound familiar?

I invite you to pray the words of Psalm 46:1 as a “breath prayer.”  1) Take a deep breath and pray the first phrase: “God is my refuge and strength” as you exhale. Take another deep breath and pray the second phrase: “A help always near in times of great trouble,” as you exhale again. 

Whenever you find yourself in a place/time when your world seems to be falling apart… maybe even right now… pray Psalm 46:1 as a breath prayer.  Pray it as many times in a row and as often as you need to in order to become aware of the presence of the living God with you that is both your refuge/protector and your strength/warrior. 

All Things New

Last week, the daffodils burst into full bloom around the edges of our backyard.  Right on cue, these bright yellow flowers announced that spring had arrived.  It was such a curious contradiction to the “shutting down” of our society and lives due to Coronavirus, I just had to stop and take a picture. What a gorgeous and compelling reminder of the power of creation’s renewal…  And of God’s power to make things new! 

From beginning to end, the Scriptures proclaim God’s power to make things new!

            “God saw everything he made: it was supremely good.”  (Genesis 1:31, CEB)

            “Look! I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up… I’m making a way in the desert paths in the wilderness.”      (Isaiah 43:19, CEB)

           “So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look,      new things have arrived!”  (2 Corinthians 5:17, CEB)

           “Then I saw a new heaven and new earth… ‘Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind… God himself will be with them as their God.’” (Revelation 21:1-3)

Steven Curtis Chapman says it this way in his song “All Things New.” (Listen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FhpQN9JXNXA )
            You (God) make all things new…
            You redeem and You transform.
            You renew and You restore.
            You make all things new…
            And forever we will watch and worship You.

No matter how much things seem to be shutting down, turning off, getting dark, or losing life around you… remember God has, God is, and God will make all things new.  Just watch!

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