Category: Resurrection (page 2 of 9)

Hearing the Good News

Bad news is killing us. It’s everywhere and it’s doing us in. Bad news dominates the headlines and it rules the airwaves. Bad news crawls across our screens and flashes through our feeds. It’s in the email from your boss, the phone call from your mother, and the text from your friend. And it’s killing us. It gets inside us. Bad news diminishes our faith. It steals our hope. It drains our lives.

Good news seems scarce. It’s hard to find. When we do happen to hear some good news, it’s only a matter of moments before some bad news replaces it. The bad news is louder. And bigger. And more urgent. Seems like there’s more of it. All the bad news in our world and in our culture, in our governments and schools and churches, in our families — it’s making us numb.

Bad news doesn’t surprise us anymore. We’re used to it, we expect it. And as it diminishes our faith and steals our hope and drains our very lives, we’re kinda stopped looking for good news. If we do stumble upon some good news, it’s harder for us to believe it. To trust it.

On that first Easter morning, the disciples of Jesus heard some really good news that broke through and obliterated all the bad news they couldn’t quite shake. The message came directly from the divine lips of angels: Jesus is risen from the grave! Jesus is alive! The good news declared decidedly that everything broken in this world is now being fixed, everything that’s wrong is now made right; our faith can be restored, our hope can be renewed, our lives can be made full and whole. And this same good news continues to reverberate down through the generations into our ears and hearts today.

Jesus is risen from the grave! Jesus is alive!

This good news of great joy for the whole world is just as mind-blowing and history-changing today as it was then. It’s no less true for us in Texas in 2018 than it was for Jesus’ followers in Jerusalem on that first Easter. This great news causes our faith to soar, it brightens our hope, and it abundantly fills our lives today and for all eternity.

But can we hear it? Can we hear this good news?

The Easter sermon is the hardest one to write. It’s nearly impossible. And it struggle with it every year. I’ve been working on what I want to say Sunday for parts of the past three months. But it just hasn’t come together like I had hoped. It’s not enough.

Reinhold Niebuhr is quoted as saying he would always attend a “high church” on Easter Sunday where there would be great music but very little preaching. In his view, “No preacher is up to the task on Easter.” I think he’s probably right.

John Updike wrote a poem called “Seven Stanzas at Easter” that perfectly and beautifully captures every preacher’s frustration leading up to Easter Sunday. One of the lines is, “Let us not mock God with metaphor / analogy, sidestepping transcendence… / let us walk through the door.”

It’s a waste of time to try to explain the resurrection. Some things can’t be reduced to an explanation and are greatly diminished in the process of trying.

The task on Easter is proclamation, not explanation. On Easter, I should only offer an invitation to walk through the door into a brand new world where the ultimate reality is not dying or death, but everlasting life in the God Almighty of love and grace who brought our Lord Jesus up out of the grave. Proclaim the resurrection, that’s what the apostles do. And that’s what all us preachers should be planning to do Sunday.

Because our people need to hear the good news.

Peace,

Allan

Rising and Dying

Ash Wednesday begins the period of Lent, the forty days followers of Jesus use to prepare their hearts and souls in anticipation of Easter Sunday. Ash Wednesday is typically a day of fasting and prayer, a day for renewing vows and making promises. Lent is generally a period of fasting and prayer, six weeks of focusing on purity and cleanliness.  A putting away. A taking off. A solemn burial of the habits and issues that get between us and a complete commitment to our crucified and risen Lord.

I’ve suggested in the past that if Lent is for putting things away, then Easter is for taking up new activities in service of Christ. You shouldn’t rid your life of damaging attitudes and practices and not replace them with helpful habits and perspectives. If Lent is dying with Christ, Easter is certainly rising with Christ.

But, I’d like to revise my recommendation.

Don’t wait until Easter to start those new habits. Don’t wait until Resurrection Day to take up that new something that will draw you closer to our Lord.

Every day is a dying and rising with Christ. Every day is a taking off and putting on with Jesus. Living under his exclusive lordship  requires that we die to ourselves and rise to walk with him every hour. It’s the rhythm of the Christian life. It begins with our baptisms — dying and rising with Christ — and continues as our habit, our daily routine. Clothe yourselves with Christ. Put off and take on. Be buried and rise again. Every morning and throughout your day.

In unity with all my brothers and sisters in Christ around the world, I’m fasting and praying today. I’ll attend the Ash Wednesday service down the street at Polk Street United Methodist Church this evening. And I’ll not wait until Easter to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus who gives us new life today, tomorrow, and for all eternity.

Peace,

Allan

Moving Away From the Tomb

I’m struck by the fact that nobody saw Jesus at the empty tomb. Clearly our risen Lord didn’t hang around the cemetery once the Spirit resurrected him back to life. It seems he got out of there as fast as he could. Yet, here are the women, looking for their living Lord among the graves. The angels ask, almost incredulously, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

Good question.

Sometimes good faithful Christians can be stuck. We’re dead. Or, at least, we act like we’re dead. Some of us have followed Jesus to Jerusalem. We’ve endured suffering and pain in his name. We’ve carried the cross. Most of us have died on the cross of Christ and, even though we’ve been baptized for the forgiveness of our sins and received the gift of God’s Spirit inside us, we’ve never really been resurrected. Some of us don’t live like we’ve been given the gift of eternal life by the almighty author of life. We live like we’re still dead. We’re still knocking around in the dirt and dark of the grave. And we’re surprised when we have a hard time seeing Jesus. We’re surprised when there’s no experience of Jesus.

The resurrection is not just about heaven someday — it’s about a full life today!

But some of us are still buried in a tomb. We don’t sing. We don’t work. We don’t explore or experiment. We don’t accept challenges or tackle new tasks. We don’t grow. We don’t laugh. Singing and working and exploring and growing and laughing are what you do when you’re alive! If you’re grumpy all the time, you’re not living the resurrection life. If you’re negative all the time, you’re dead.

What are you thinking? God’s going to fix my attitude when I get to heaven?

“Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ!” ~Ephesians 2:4

“Just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life!” ~Romans 6:4

“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” ~Romans 8:11

The death and resurrection of Jesus is not just about my sin and Jesus taking my punishment and now everything’s great. We’ve been given eternal life. We share in Christ’s resurrection so we can be holy, royal image-bearers, so we can be ambassadors for Jesus and partners in his Gospel.

But I want to play it safe. Better safe than sorry. I don’t want to take any risks. I don’t want to go out on a limb. I don’t want to change or grow.

Man, you’re living in the dark and cold of the grave! And that’s not really living. Follow Jesus away from the grave and into the warmth and light of his resurrection life!

Once the disciples moved away from the grave, they most certainly did not play anything safe. There was no hiding or sleeping. No stagnation or status quo. They started preaching and teaching. They sold their possessions to give to the poor. They violated city ordinances to proclaim the good news. They took mission trips on broken down boats and prayers. They sang praises in prison chains. They turned the world upside down for the Kingdom of God! That’s resurrection living!

It’s like a wonderfully talented musician on the verge of his own worldwide concert tour. He plays beautifully. He’s awesome. He’ll inspire thousands. But he’s caught up in a terrible crime and is thrown in jail. But, then, by some miracle, the governor declares a general amnesty and the great musician is released! His response is not just, “Whew! Thank goodness I don’t have to go to jail!” It’s, “Now I can play like I was born to play! I can perform like I was created to perform!”

Christians sometimes are too preoccupied with not going to jail.

Listen. If you’re in Christ, YOU’RE NOT GOING TO JAIL! So now you can really live!

This is good news, not good advice. This is the Gospel.

Peace,

Allan

Seeing the Risen Christ

There’s a lot to see at the empty tomb. There’s a lot to see and experience there. The soldiers saw the angel and experienced great fear. The women saw the stone rolled away and experienced great confusion. Peter and the apostles saw the burial cloths and came away with a lot of questions. There’s a lot to see at the empty tomb. But nobody saw Jesus there.

Jesus isn’t there.

I want to see Jesus. I want to experience Jesus. I want to touch Jesus and know Jesus and be in his presence and hear his voice.

You know where that happens? At the table. The disciples do not see or experience Jesus in his resurrection fullness and glory until later that Easter Sunday when they are sharing a meal together. Jesus revealed himself during the meal. He appeared to his followers and spoke to them at the table. That’s where we see our risen Lord.

When we are around the table together with the risen Messiah as our host we experience forgiveness and belonging, unity and sharing, acceptance and fellowship. We see Jesus in the changed lives of the people with us around the table. We Jesus in that there are no walls, no barriers between us and God and us and each other; nothing separates us at the table. We Jesus when we remember that we have forgiven those around the table with us and have been forgiven multiple times by those same people. We see Jesus in the joy reflected in the faces around the table. We experience Christ in relationship with others.

Our salvation from God is not a system. It’s not a theory. And it’s certainly not a five-step plan.

It’s a sacrifice and a meal.

Peace be with you,

Allan

Resurrection of the Flesh

heavenlight

“So it will be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power!” ~1 Corinthians 15:42-43

Christians believe in the resurrection of the body, not the immortality of the soul. The resurrection is a physical, bodily resurrection. When Jesus was raised, God didn’t leave his body in the tomb. The Scriptures go out of their way to show us this. After the resurrection, the first thing Jesus did with his disciples in all four biblical accounts is eat and drink with them to prove he was not just a spirit. He even says it in bright red letters, “Look, I’m not a ghost! A ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones!”

You’re not going to be an angel. You’re not going to be a ghost. No matter how much you threaten it or how badly you want it, you’re not going to be able to haunt anybody after you die.

1 Corinthians 6 says “By his power God raised the Lord from the dead and he will raise us also.” Romans 8 tells us we’re looking forward to the redemption of our bodies, not redemption from our bodies. God’s physical, fleshly, earthly creation is good; it’s very good. He’s not going to destroy the world, he’s redeeming it. He’s not going to destroy your body; he’s going to raise it and restore it.

There’s this very pagan, very Greek, and now very Western belief — conviction, really — that our true selves are our spirits. My true self is my soul and my body is just a temporary shell. My true self, my spirit, is trapped in my body and some glad morning when this life is o’er, I’ll fly away! Like a bird flying away from prison bars, my soul will leave my body and I’ll live forever as a spirit, my true eternal self. So my body dies, but I really don’t. I continue to live on and pass over to the spiritual realm where I came from and where I really belong.

That is not what Christians believe.

We talk like it, though. We’ll look into a casket at a funeral and say, “That’s not really him. That’s just his body.” Or we’ll say, “She’s not really dead. Her spirit never died.”

That’s not true.

That kind of thinking and talking denies the terrible reality of death. The Bible never pretends that death’s not that big a deal because we don’t actually die, we just “pass on” to our new kind of living. According to Scripture, death is real and total and dreadful. Our Lord didn’t face death with the calmness of somebody just taking a trip to the other side. He faced it with loud cries and tears that God would spare him from death. He sweat blood in the garden and begged God to avoid death.

Death is hideous and terrible because it means the end of us. Scripture calls death the awful enemy, not the welcome friend.

Our hope is not the indestructibility of our bodies or the immortality of our souls. Our hope is in the creative power of God Almighty! Our God calls things that are not as though they are and he makes the dead live again! Our hope is not in some internal capacity we have within ourselves, it’s in the power of God who raised Jesus from the grave and promises to do the exact same thing for us!

Peace,

Allan

Resurrection Hope

resurrectionbodies“If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all people.” ~1 Corinthians 15:19

Where is your hope? If your hope is in your health, you’re in trouble because you can’t control that. You can’t count on your health. There are lots of people in your life who can testify to that.

Is your hope in your money or your retirement account or your investments? I pray it’s not. You can’t control your money, either. There’s no guarantee with money. So what if you’ve got a million dollars, how much is it worth when the economy tanks?

Where is your hope? Do you even think about it?

So many of us are talking on the Bluetooth while we’re tapping out a text while we’re ordering at the drive-thru at McDonald’s on the way to a meeting that starts in three-and-a-half minutes. We’re just flying from place to place and going and doing and chasing and getting so frantically, we don’t ever think about the things we’re pursuing. What am I really hoping for?

The truth is we’re all going to die. The truth is that, eventually, you are going to stop breathing, you’re going to die, we’re going to put your body in a box, we’re going to put that box in the ground, we’re going to go inside and eat fried chicken and green bean casserole, and then in about two generations we’re going to forget everything about you. That’s the truth.

(Aren’t you glad you decided to read my blog today?)

There’s got to be more. There had better be more.

“Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.” ~1 Corinthians 15:20-23

Our hope is in the resurrection of the body. That means, yes, our God has the final word over death. God has the final say. Not crippling disease, not mental illness, not violent crime, not war, not starvation — our Father has the final say. Your life on this earth might be long and happy or your life might be a bitter experience of pain and groaning. Whatever ravages the hostile powers might inflict on your body or the bodies of those you love, the empty tomb of Jesus and the resurrection promise of God fill us with a genuine hope that the body sown in weakness will be raised in power to life.

“By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.” ~1 Corinthians 6:14

We put undo hope in things that can’t deliver. We don’t rely on God like we should. We put more trust in ourselves and our stuff. It’s not because we intentionally downplay or reject the promises of God, I think it’s because we don’t slow down enough to allow ourselves time to truly reflect.

“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be ignorant about death or to grieve like the rest of people who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe…we will be with the Lord forever.” ~1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Peace,

Allan

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