And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen, he is not here. See the place where they laid him.”

Mark 16: 6

Jesus had made it very clear that He would not be contained by the tomb, for He would rise from the dead. Perhaps the reality of that resurrection should not have shocked His disciples on that morning three days after His brutal and horrific execution. But, it did. They went to the burial place looking for their fallen master with all of the best intentions. They wanted to take care of His body that had been placed in the tomb with less care than they would have liked as they were forced to get the task of burial completed before the beginning of the Sabbath and the simultaneous commencement of the celebration of Passover. Now there was time to properly tend to and provide reverence for that broken body. However, that form of care was not required, for there was no longer an entombed corpse in need of tending.

On that morning, hope and eternal victory had ascended from a stone shroud into the world. In the dim light of the early dawn, the glory of the Lord had burst forth to claim God’s victory over death and to provide the way for every person on earth for all of the days to come to enter into that same redemption from sin and its death. Christ could not be contained by the tomb with its earthly barrier, and He would not be defeated by any force of human or of demonic instigation. God is Lord over all of creation, and Jesus joins with Him in that lordship. His dwelling place is in the glory of Heaven and not in the darkness of the earth. Christ is found by looking upward and out from the oppression and the futility of this world and into the promised hope of salvation that is described in God’s Word and that is poured out into our world by the Spirt. 

Like those women and Peter and John who came to the tomb looking for their Christ, we too often look downward and into the desperation of this earthy world for that which has already gone before into the eternity that we desire and for which we wish. Instead of focusing on death and on the pain that our world heaps upon our bodies and spirits, we can turn our gaze onto the bright presence of Christ, who is with us for the duration of our journey through life. In the presence of Christ, we can find guidance, wisdom, encouragement, and protection for our bodies and souls. Each of us was born to be tomb dwellers that have been taken hostage by sin and held in servitude to its master and lord, Satan. Christ claims us and sets us free from that captivity so that we can now live in the redeemed and transformative truth of God’s new kingdom come to earth. So, on days when the tomb seems to be calling upon us to look down and to think in terms of defeat or despair, we can look away from its cold and empty walls toward the heavenly glory that is ours to dwell within in the power of Christ the victorious and with His presence as our strength and encouragement.

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

Romans 5: 10

 

Enemy is a strong word. I don’t know about you, but I am troubled by the idea that I was ever an enemy of God’s, for the concept of the Lord Almighty, the Lord of Hosts with His heavenly army waging war against me is terrifying. Yet, that is what everyone either is or has been. If we are not with Him, then we are truly and fully against Him. There is no middle or neutral ground in the contest of the spiritual. Still, God works tirelessly to win over every single person who opposes Him. Despite our rejection, disagreement, refusal to yield to Him, or other forms of rebellion, Christ’s sacrifice and the Father’s redemption of life from death are ever present offers held out to us for the taking. We may be enemies in fact, but God treats us as long-lost children who He seeks to bring back home by engaging with us with whatever means He discerns will accomplish our turning to Christ.

 

As we have come to know Christ, we are the recipients of grace. There is nothing that we receive from God that we earned or that we deserve to get. When we turn toward Christ and leave the camp of His enemies, we are not placed into some form of prisoner of war status or given a sentence to be served by being reeducated in a guarded facility. We are set free from the bondage of sin, and we are granted the freedom to walk all of the streets and to visit all of the halls of God’s Kingdom. The grace that we have received is total and absolute, we are unconditionally free and unconditionally loved. Christ wants us to do something in response to His love for us and with this grace that He pours out over us. The Lord desires for His people to live as purveyors of grace in our world. So, we may have enemies in this world. There are almost certainly people who cause us irritation, bring about disagreement, or who we encounter with open hostility.

 

These are all, without exception, people that God loves and that He has plans for. Each of these people is someone for whom Christ died and whose redemption is important to the Father. None of us has insider knowledge of how that other person’s life story will turn out. We are never given that information or provided any idea about their spiritual destination. This understanding and knowledge belong solely to God. What He does tell us is that, like us, these people who are enemies today are still loved and cared about by Christ. They are to be treated as if that were our own reality too. If God does not reject people out of hand, but rather came to earth, suffered, and died for each and every one of us, then we have no authority to hold attitudes of disdain and rejection of any of them. We are to love others and to pour out Christ’s infinite grace upon all. In fact, it might be true that Christ would instruct us to give an extra measure of that same grace that He provides to us to those who are particularly difficult for us to encounter. Just a thought.

 

A reflection on Dr. Timothy George’s thoughts at Wheaton Theology Conference 2018.

For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.

John 5: 21

 

God is the creator of all. There is noting that exists in the universe that comes from outside of His touch. Now there are certainly aspects and elements of the world around us that have gone radically off track from the Creator’s design and intent, but the initial work and crafting were engaged in and completed by God. As He is both the force and the intent behind all that is in our visible world and in the unseen realm of the spiritual, all that was set into existence by God’s hands was good and perfect in its inherent state of being. When things have gone astray, it is because of the brokenness that our sinful departure from God’s will, law, and rule over our lives has caused. Our ancestors listened to the seductive voice of evil, it spoken by a created being that chose to depart from God’s way for one that seemed to offer personal glory. Then they likewise determined that their true fulfillment was to be found in a self-determined path.

 

As we know from the narrative of all that followed, this was a disastrous decision. A life that was lived out in the ongoing presence of God and that was situated in the perfection of a lovingly crafted world had been granted to them, but then, after their rebellion against the one who loved them perfectly, they were forced into a separation that placed distance between people and our God and that brought about death where life had ruled. We are all born into this new reality where life is tenuous and too short and wherein our years a filled with the hard labor that existence demands. There is no other option that we are given except to endure it all and to live out our days in the isolation from our Creator that this beginning of time decision demanded. Yet, God did not desire for it to remain so. Even from those first moments when humanity was estranged from Him and from His holy presence, the Father set out His plan for redemption.

 

First of all, God did reengage with His children. He sought us out and He determined to continue to do this for the rest of time. The Father is a loving pursuer of our souls, and He is relentless in doing this. He also sent His Son, Jesus, into our world to dwell with us and to provide a complete and a perfect answer to the separation that sin had formed in our relationships with God. As the Father is the creator of life and holds it as His unique and total possession, so He has also granted this authority and power to the Son. Thus Jesus, by virtue of His sacrifice on the cross and His overcoming of death in the resurrection, has become the way and the means for all people to know life again. As we come in faith to Christ, we are redeemed from the death that grips our souls and that leads to an unending separation from our Creator. Christ utilizes the authority over life that the Father granted to Him to impart a form of life that transcends the duration of our earthly bodies. He grants to us the touch of eternity in this life, and in Christ we are also given the gift of life that continues beyond our days here into an unending future that is enjoyed in the presence of the love and the glory of the Lord.

Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.

John 16: 20

 

Sorrow seems to come with the territory in this life. I think that our ability to feel it is a part of the way that God designed us; so, it seems to me that it must be something that God, Himself, feels. We form attachments and develop relationships. Yet, we live in a world that is filled with death. There is no getting out of this place alive, and none of us has any more time to dwell with the people that we love than is our allotted span. Separation, brokenness, loss, and death will come our way, and, as Jesus is pointing out, the strong emotions that follow are an important part of a natural process for us to experience.

 

The impending loss that Jesus is discussing will seem to come about suddenly, and it will shock those who are close to Him greatly. Despite Christ’s warnings, His followers were not ready for Him to be taken from them. It appeared as if all that was evil in the world had gained a victory over that which was righteous and good. As Jesus was led away to face the inquisition of the world with its humiliation and sentence of death, His close friends were sent into a swirling chaos of confusion and doubt. It seemed that their connection to the true light of the face of God had been smothered by the darkness of evil’s shroud of doom. Now the world was set off into a riot of celebration, and the contrast between its rejoicing and the sorrow of Jesus’ disciples was stark.

 

However, all of this is within God’s plan, and even the hard emotions that were felt served an important purpose. Satan claims many victories in this world. He contemplates the lives that he controls and the death that sin brings about as cause for celebration. Yet, evil has no victory and its forces have no real power. The very act of taking Jesus from the human fellowship of His followers launched the final death blow that God struck to Satan’s head. People no longer need to live in a world that enjoys its short-lived and shallow celebrations, for, in Christ, we dwell in the joy of eternity. We certainly should feel the sorrow that sin and its death cause; yet, this life and our natural condition are not all that we have. Christ wipes away the tears, and He brings us close to His side. The love and the grace of Jesus go with us through this life, and Christ’s victory provides all of the hope that we need to sustain us along the journey.

 

 

“All flesh is like grass

and all its glory like the flower of grass.

The grass withers,

and the flower falls,

but the word of the Lord remains forever.”

And this word is the good news that was preached to you.

1 Peter 1: 24, 25

 

Perhaps it is true for me that age has become more of a reality now that the majority of my allotted days have surely passed into history, and it may be that in this process of journeying through life that I have encountered an ever-increasing number of people who have needed to deal with the effects of aging as well. Whatever the situation, I am acutely aware of my own increasing frailty and that of many of the people I know. I think that the inevitability of age is, in fact, a very intentional part of God’s plan and design for people during these days that arc across our history and bridge the gap between creation’s perfection and Christ’s restoration of that same state of sinlessness. Now we live in days where this earth and our lives need to be more tenuous than what comes next so that we don’t become totally focused on who we are and what we possess in this life.

 

God implanted aspiration and drive into us. It is in no way wrong for me to want to do things and to plan for their achievement. It is honoring to God when I use the gifts, talents, and skills that He has given to me. However, it is also easy for me to become so caught up in my abilities and accomplishments that I lose sight of God’s presence in all of it and only value my own efforts. This tendency toward looking inwardly for strength and for guidance draws me away from the real power of Christ and causes me to become ever more compliant to the often unrighteous voices of this world. So, God throws that proverbial glass of icy cold water into my face; sometimes He even leaves the ice cubes in it for extra emphasis, and I am reminded of the perishable certainty of this body and of its life on earth.

 

At the same time, Christ speaks to my troubled soul with words that come from deep inside of eternity. The Lord speaks truth, and that truth brings both comfort and commission to my heart and mind. He leads me out of self and into His redeemed perspective for the unknown number of days that I have remaining to me in this life so that I can more fully engage with Isaiah’s ancient words of prophetic wisdom and apply their guidance to this day. Although the warranty on this body of mine seems to be approaching its end, Christ has taken my soul and my earthly existence out of the tyranny of those final days, months, or years, and He has placed me within the forever continuing narrative of God’s Word. So, I am at peace with it all and excited to follow my Lord into today and tomorrow.

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying His voice, and holding fast to Him.

Deuteronomy 30: 19, 20a

 

God made an agreement, a covenant, with people. He promised that there was a way to enter into a relationship with Him in this life and that this same course would lead to an eternal existence in the presence of God. In this passage Moses is reminding us of God’s side of that agreement, and he does this by indicating that all of Creation stands as witness to it. In other words, Moses is saying that we can try to escape the reality and the truth of where and of how life is gained, but we will be going against the testimony of God’s mighty and universal great cloud of witnesses. Like all contracts, God’s covenant of life is not unilateral. The Lord gives to us; yet, His granting of this gift is in answer to our response to Him. God gives us all, and He desires that we would surrender all to Him.

 

Still, this surrender and acceptance is ours to choose. God lays before all people the opportunity to select life. He makes the knowledge of Him and of His righteous way known to us all. Then the Lord allows people to make the decision to follow Him or to reject Him. There is no middle ground; no alternate path that leads to real life in this world and to that thing that we call eternal life. That is, an existence that has no end which is carried forth in the presence of all that is life, God Himself. I do believe that once we have made the decision to surrender to God by accepting all that He is, which means accepting Christ as our Savior and Lord, that there is no possibility of living and of thinking our way out of this relationship with God. It is also true that only God is the judge of our lives and of the status of that eternal relationship.

 

The other part of this contract that God has entered into with us, in reality it is functionally the first part of it, involves the way that we live every day of our earthly lives. True life is found in and by our journey through our days with Christ. He makes love, peace, understanding, wisdom, and mercy real to us. These are qualities and characteristics that are intrinsically part of who God is, and they are among the most important aspects of life that we all desire. Love does not mean that we are surrounded by the adoration of people; it is a deep-seated feeling and belief that we are valued and cared about by God. The absence of conflict is not peace; rather, it settles inside of our hearts and minds and allows us to be whole, calm, and rational in the face of the most intense times of struggle and strife. Understanding and wisdom go together, and these are conditions of our minds and of our spirits that come directly from God through His Word, the fellowship of His Body, and by the revelation of Christ’s Spirit. Finally, mercy is that other-focused quality that takes us out of our natural, human bent to self protection and grants to us the blessing of touching people who have been injured and damaged by life on this harsh, alien planet with the same love and grace of Christ that we have received. This is life!

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.

Romans 6: 22

 

Of course, Paul is talking about our relationship with Christ and the way that entering into Christ’s death and resurrection works in us to create profound change. The nature and the identity of people who know Christ is changed and we are set free from unending slavery to the sinfulness of our birth nature. In Christ we are made free to live in the love, truth, and righteousness of that new identity that is formed by God and made real in us by Christ’s presence within us. In Christ there is far more freedom than there is in our old lives; yet, we are still governed and mastered by God.

 

Perhaps the most significant difference for us in being subjects of Christ as opposed to being subjects to our old natures is found in the results that we enjoy as we follow each of these masters. The first path leads to self-centered and protective thinking and actions. It uses relationships to achieve gain; so, it also tends to devalue and to discard them when they seem used up. In contrast, God values relationships to the point of giving all in order to enter into them with people. In Christ, we can be transformed into people who willingly do the same. There is much more about us that is changed in our relationship with Christ from the life that we lived before we knew Him.

 

Yet all of this change leads in one direction. We are taken out of a life that leads to death both in the conduct and the outcomes of this life and a death that continues throughout eternity. In Christ we are placed into the fullness of life that is experienced in these mortal days and then fully known in the unending realm of eternity. This life in Christ provides us with the reward of the sweet fruit of God’s Spirit that includes peace, hope, and love. The experience and enjoyment of these gifts is something that grows and increases as we continue to submit ourselves to Christ so that He continues to work within us to bring about the transformation from our old selves into people who live more fully in the expression of our new persons in Christ.

And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.

1 John 4: 14

 

This was easy for John to say, for he was there. He knew Jesus as friend and companion. John had touched Jesus and had felt Jesus’ loving hand on his own face. Yet, it seems to me that testifying to the presence of Christ is not such a foreign idea to someone like myself. I may live over 2,000 years after Jesus was here on earth, but that doesn’t mean that He is not here with me now. The touch of Christ is truly real, and His involvement in my life is tangible and evident to me. I can say with complete sincerity that I have seen Christ, and I can testify to the salvation that He has given to me.

 

This salvation is something that is much greater than just that of my eternal existence, too. Its not that the idea of eternity in the presence of God as opposed to one that is experienced in separation from Him is a small matter, but I am living here in the present reality of my life. So, the salvation that Christ has given to my current existence is important to me. Jesus has transformed my life in ways that are both great and small. He makes the difference as regards any goodness, grace, mercy, and love that I grant to others. His Spirit provides me with understanding and perspective when there is little that is clear or understandable in my world.

 

Christ has poured out the precious oil of God’s grace upon my unworthy head, and He proclaims me to be righteous, holy, and beloved child when He stands before the Father and in the hearing of the world. There is much more that I could say about the salvation of Christ and what it means to me, but let me summarize by saying that I can in full sincerity and with all of my heart and mind testify to the presence of Christ in the world. Jesus is my Savior just as He was John’s. Christ’s touch is as tangible to me as it must have been to him, and I desire to live in a manner that makes this life a testimony to Christ and my words a bold expression of His love.

Reposted from 2012

Where does thankfulness come from? What is it that I am truly thankful for? Why does it matter at all in a world where take is stronger than give and have is far more desirable than relinquish? The questions seem to outstrip the traditions, and the day of gathering and celebration in America has become, for many, just the starting point for the consumer rush of the Holiday Season. Yet, I want to throw out that there is, indeed, much to be thankful for and there is truly a reason to celebrate.

 

This point on the calendar in late November can and should be the start of a very special season. The celebration and the remembrance, the gathering together and the festivities that mark the Christmas Season are good things. In fact, I think that they are more than just good things; I believe that this coming season of Advent is an important part of the cycle of our faith lives. This is a time when we reflect upon the characteristics of God that were given to humanity by and through Christ. During these weeks our hearts can be turned away from our self-imposed necessities and toward our calling in Christ to serve His Kingdom and to glorify His name. This is a time of the year when giving the gifts of kindness, compassion, and care can mean more to a tired soul than any object or fragile token of affection.

 

It seems to me that our greatest cause for thankfulness is to be found in the Advent, which is Christ come. This is God with us and God within us. The Spirit of Christ has been given to us to speak truth, love, peace, mercy, and forgiveness into our broken and bitter souls. In Christ we are granted restoration and our lives are transformed from the inside to the out in a manner that grants each of us who know Jesus as our Lord and Savior into persons of real, eternal significance in our world. In all of this resides the cause for thankfulness. It is through Christ and by the results of His coming that we are made alive, and because of His grace and merciful forgiveness, we are granted a life that matters. So, as our thankfulness is focused upon God and reflects on His great gift to all of Creation, we are motivated to extend the love of God to the world around us and to rest in the certainty of His for us. This is more than enough cause to be deeply and eternally thankful.

 

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.

John 3: 16

 

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved.

Ephesians 2: 4

 

The little phrase “but God” hovers over God’s Word and provides a tension to numerous scenes throughout it. It is a simple linguistic construction, in Greek the but is called a conjunction of antithesis, which sits at the balance point for the eternal destiny of many souls. Contemplate for a moment a god who did not operate in the manner as the “But God’ one does. This would be a god who is not rich in mercy, who does not love people in a manner that is beyond our contemplation, and who did not sacrifice himself for the sake of our souls. This is a god much like the ones that humanity has tried to create for itself throughout our troubled history. This is a god who is completely foreign to my experience of the true and living God, the great I Am, Father, Savior, and Spirit of light, life, and truth.

 

The “But God” enters into the lives of people who are broken and shattered by the corrosive and destructive forces of sin. We are all born into this world as hearers of Satan’s great lies. Each person’s story is different, but this one fact is our common reality, each of us needs to be saved from the certainty of a life that is lived presently and eternally in a state of separateness from God. Christ performed the great intervention. He came out of the perfection of Heaven to join with us in our world of chaos and pain. He brings to our hearts the promise of a love that is great beyond measure and that doesn’t contemplate our worthiness before He embraces us. Christ enters the tomb of our souls and He breathes the breath of life into our lungs. Then, like Lazarus, Christ calls to us to come out of the dwelling place of the dead and to enter into the land of the truly alive.

 

It is in this new land of our inhabitation where we live with Christ. For people who know Him, this is our new home. We may be aliens and foreigners in this world where we journey, but this should not confuse us, for we are now residing in the presence of God, Almighty. Therefore, our new address is the Kingdom of God, and we are called upon by Him to be active players in bringing the truth of the “But God” to the world that we touch with our lives. We are not called by God to be judges, and we are not called to be agents of condemnation. We are to be lovers of people and to be careful gardeners who work diligently to restore order and to bring peace into our world. When the world encounters us it should be able to readily see the effects of the transformative work that the “But God” has performed upon us, and it should know that it is being touched by His mercy, grace and love.