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One Pursuit

“Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.” — Maya Angelou

53 Days Changed Everything

Here it is, Good Friday, 2017.  A day of solemn joy.  Solemn as I think of the tremendous price paid by my God to ransom me from a death I deserve. To release me from a bondage to rebellion against Him.  To restore me to fellowship and communion with Himself.

And He paid that price for me, for everyone, when none of us wanted it paid or even thought we needed it paid.

Joy because in paying that price on my behalf, my God has secured my fellowship with Himself, and made it possible for me to experience intimacy with Him now and forever.  With the death of Jesus my hope for the best of all possible lives is secured.  As it is for all who chose to commit to that life.

Good Friday also signals the start, approximately 2000 years ago, of the 53 days that changed everything.  Changed the enemies of our God into potential friends (even though He has always loved humans as His friends).  Changed the old covenant relationship between God and humans into a new covenant relationship of grace based upon pardon.  Changed our understandings of the Kingdom of our God and the way in which our God would save His people.

The first installment of the great change came with the death of our Savior on the cross to redeem humankind from the consequences of their sin and rebellion.  Sin’s penalty was paid.  The power of sin was broken. Atonement was made, bringing us to the intended level of “at-one-ment” with our God. The first day of the 53.

The second installment of the great change came with the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  New life is possible because the power of death was broken.  Our God demonstrated His power to save and to restore to life those who respond to Him. New life now and forever is possible.  The third day of the 53.

The third installment of the great change came about 50 days later, on the day of Pentecost. Remember that our God was moving to restore us to an intimacy that would rival the face-to-face relationship humans had with Him before the rebellion.  No one had any clue how magnificent the restoration would turn out to be, although many of the prophets of old wrote about its magnificence.  They did not understand all they wrote, but write it they did in obedience to the prompting of God.

The magnificence of the restoration on day 53 is that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ Himself, was given to humans.  Given so that He might actually live within them and restore communion and intimacy to a new and deeper level.  After so many long centuries, a weary race received a refreshing, restoring breath from heaven – the actual, living Spirit of God.  Communion and intimacy are restored in a manner and to a level never dreamed of, much less imagined. Now the dwelling place of God was within humans.

God left the temple at the crucifixion, and the veil was torn in two.  God relocated the temple into humans with the resurrection of Jesus. Sin and death, the two factors keeping us from the presence of our holy and eternal God, were removed.  God entered His new temples, His children and followers.  He succeeded in making His dwelling there among them and, amazingly, within them.  The last day of the 53.

Restoration beyond any human’s wildest dreams. A change that has resounded through history, and will continue to resound for eternity.

If only it resounded in the heart and life of everyone.

The Resurrection of Christ Jesus

“By a Carpenter mankind was made, and only by that Carpenter can mankind be remade.”    – Desiderius Erasmus

Why was the death of Christ Jesus necessary for our salvation?  Understanding the purpose for our salvation is key to answering that question.  As a race of humans we were created by our God to experience close communion and fellowship with Him.  It was His plan that we would enjoy an intimate, face-to-face relationship with Him on earth. In the choices of the original humans, that relationship was rejected.   Humans chose to go their own way apart from their God.  Fellowship was broken.

The great plan put in place by our God in response to our rebellion has been to restore us to communion and fellowship with Himself.  A God of love and mercy would, of course, move to do this.  A God of compassionate grace would, of course, initiate this restoration on behalf of the rebellious ones.

Yet a God of perfect justice and unmarred purity, a God of unstained holiness, would have to completely remove any traces of injustice, impurity, and unholiness from the rebels if there was to be restored communion and fellowship.  Of course.

The penalty for our rebellion is eternal separation from our God.  Spiritual death that produced as its consequence physical death.  The only hope we humans could ever have, stained and impure as we are, is for a substitute to take on our guilt and, most importantly, remove the barrier of our uncleanness.  Absent that substitute, we could never be restored to fellowship.  Perfect justice could not allow it.  Death being the penalty, the substitute had to die for restoration to be possible.

Enter Jesus Christ, the perfect substitutionary sacrifice. Perfect in purity, unstained by sin and guilt, unmarred by rebellion or any impurity.  He alone, perfect God in the form of a human and on behalf of all, could pay the price, remove the barrier, and restore the fellowship.  And that He did, the one for all.  Perfect love kisses the face of perfect justice.  Restoration is offered to all who will have it.

“When God forgives, He at once restores.”  – Theodore Epp

So why was the resurrection of Jesus from the dead necessary?

Restoration.  For restoration of the original, intended relationship to happen, a change in us had to be effected.  Remember, the purpose for our existence is that intimate, face-to-face relationship with our God.  Here and now, on earth.  Our God is restoring the in-the-moment, here and now, intimate, face-to-face relationship; on earth and extending into eternity with Himself.

For that to happen, the power of spiritual death and physical death had to be broken so we could experience intimacy with our God now and forever.  The resurrection is the living, breathing proof of our God’s intention and power to cancel the power death held over us.  Jesus Christ walked out of the tomb and into renewed living, enabling us to walk out of our obligation to die and into restored living and restored intimacy.

The crucifixion removed guilt as our curse, separation as our consequence, and death as our punishment.  These were placed upon our Perfect Substitute, Jesus Christ.  He bore them away from us forever.

The resurrection removes death as the ruling principle in this world, and restored freedom from sin’s control, and fellowship with our God as our new manner of living.  Here, now, and forever.

The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus also provides the opportunity for the restoration of the intimacy, the face-to-face kind of relationship for which we were created. 

“Jesus Christ became Incarnate for one purpose, to make a way back to God that man might stand before Him as He was created to do, the friend and lover of God Himself.”    – Oswald Chambers

That relationship is made possible in our restored living by the presence of the Spirit of Christ Himself, alive in us.

Stay tuned.

On the Resurrection of Christ Jesus

“Indeed, taking all the evidence together, it is not too much to say that there is no single historic incident better or more variously supported than the Resurrection of Christ. Nothing but the antecedent assumption that it must be false could have suggested the idea of deficiency in the proof of it.”  ― Brooke Foss Westcott

Assuming Brooke Westcott is correct (and he has a very large group of historians and scholars in his camp on this), what difference does the resurrection of Jesus from the dead make for us?

It makes a big difference.  As stated in the last post, if the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead really happened, it changes everything.  There is a God, and we now know this about Him: “He is intimately concerned with people.  He has power over death, and has love sufficient to ransom all from a hopeless and helpless situation in which all are separated from Him but He is doing amazing things to end that separation.  The Gospel message is, well, the truth.”  Truth.  True for all of us, not just for those who like the idea.

Part of the impact of this truth on us is that we need to respond to it, positively or negatively.  There is no room for neutrality on a message like this one.  It demands a response.  Josh McDowell said it this way: “I am not a Christian because God changed my life; I am a Christian because of my convictions about who Jesus Christ is.”

Because Jesus rose from the dead, we now know that God has a purpose for our living, and that purpose is driven by love, mercy, and grace.  This is not the way God has often been described, for many feel He is angry, or at least ticked off at people.  Looking at the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus shatters that idea, for there is nothing in this story if not love, mercy, and grace.

Because Jesus rose from the dead, we now know that God has power over our ultimate enemy, death.  If He has power over death, and is offering to use that power for our benefit, that is truly good news for us.  What is not to like about a God who responds to us in love, mercy, and grace, and who uses His great power to benefit His created ones?

Because Jesus rose from the dead, we now see the character of God.  We see power restrained by love and mercy.  We see a grace and patience that tempers perfect justice. We see hope being offered to hopeless humans.  We see a God whose nature seems to be focused on giving life to people, not taking it away.  We see a perfect God who forgives imperfect people, even when they turn away from Him.

Because Jesus rose from the dead, we can see what God has been up to all along.  He desires to return people to a deep friendship and love relationship with Himself.  He desires to have all who will follow Him experience the joy, peace, power, and purpose of His presence.  He desires to give us life.  Life to the fullest, the life lived in heaven.  Eternal life. Life with Himself.

“Jesus’s resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven. That, after all, is what the Lord’s Prayer is about.” ― N.T. Wright

The raising of Christ Jesus from the dead is the capstone on the life of God lived through Jesus on earth.  A life of self-sacrifice on behalf of us all, including the ultimate sacrifice to bring us back to friendship with God. A life of endless and infallible love.  “Greater love has no one than this, that a man would lay down his life for his friends.”  Especially those not yet agreeing to the friendship.

On the Resurrection of Christ Jesus

“I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world-and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.”  ― Charles W. Colson

The resurrection of Christ Jesus. So what is the big deal? Many people choose to ignore the resurrection, paying no attention to anything Christian, or for some, anything “religious.”  Others deny the resurrection, saying it likely never happened, or that Jesus never died, revived from his torture-induced unconsciousness, lived a life, and later died.  Often added to this view are the extra details of his supposed marriage, children, etc. Others are more vehement in their opposition, attacking the idea of the resurrection as a dangerous myth perpetrated upon weak-minded people who will believe such stories.  Or variations on that theme.

So what is the big deal?  If the resurrection never happened, then there is no basis for the Christian faith.  False hope based upon false belief.

But if the resurrection did happen, that one event changes everything.  EverythingFor if the resurrection happened as witnesses report that it happened, there is a God.  He is intimately concerned with people.  He has power over death, and has love sufficient to ransom all from a hopeless and helpless situation in which all are separated from Him.  And He is doing amazing things to end that separation.  The Gospel message is, well, the truth.

Many people are very uncomfortable with that idea, the Gospel message being true.  They are uncomfortable with resurrection being true, because it implies that the Gospel message is the truth.  And if these are true, we are accountable to the meaning of them, and God behind them.

There are really no events in ancient history that are as well-documented – using any normal, reasonable, historical standard for good documentation – as the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It stands alone and above events of that era in terms of historical evidence.  If we choose to not believe the evidence for the resurrection, truly no event of that era is believable.

“No tabloid will ever print the startling news that the mummified body of Jesus of Nazareth has been discovered in old Jerusalem. Christians have no carefully embalmed body enclosed in a glass case to worship. Thank God, we have an empty tomb. The glorious fact that the empty tomb proclaims to us is that life for us does not stop when death comes. Death is not a wall, but a door.”  ― Peter Marshall

Perhaps the largest reason people choose to not believe or deal with the resurrection of Christ Jesus is that it demonstrated the power of our God over death, and His great love for all humankind.  Perhaps it is the idea that a personal God is deeply interested in each one of us, and has a purpose for our living is too threatening to our habit of being. Perhaps it is these issues that are the hardest for people to accept.

“If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.” – Timothy J. Keller

On the Crucifixion of Christ Jesus

“Christmas and Easter can be subjects for poetry, but Good Friday, like Auschwitz, cannot. The reality is so horrible it is not surprising that people should have found it a stumbling block to faith.”   ― W.H. Auden

The death of Jesus Christ by crucifixion has a profound impact on the social world.  It divides. Actually, it polarizes.  It is such a terrible idea on so many levels that people are either repulsed by it and its implications for them, or they are drawn to it for the same reasons.  It is not the stuff of poetic words or moving prose.  It is too terrible a death for that, its meaning too severe.

The death of Jesus Christ by crucifixion has a profound impact on me, as it does on you and on every person.  Certainly, the crucifixion is proof to the world that our God loves the people He created, and that He leads with love in all His interactions with those people.  How could we not find a God who would make such a sacrifice on behalf of those who rejected Him to be a winsome and engaging person?  Why would we not be extremely interested in who this God is, and why He would be so sacrificing in His love for us?

The death of Jesus Christ by crucifixion has profound implications for me as well.  If this God loves me this much, and desires my company even at this cost, how can I not at least explore His overtures toward me?  Why would I turn away in disinterest in the face of such profound statements of interest, love, and concern for me?

At another level, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ has additional implications for how I live each day.  As mentioned in previous posts, the crucifixion illuminates the great love and mercy of our God for us.  A perfect love and a deep mercy that tempered and balanced the perfect justice of God.  How can I live a life devoid of that kind of love and mercy, when I have benefited so much from it myself?

Sadly, on my own, in my own strength I am unable to live a life of such love and mercy.  Because of the rebellion in all of us, the nature we all carry as members of the human race, such love and mercy are not within our grasp.  Try as we might, we fall into selfishness which is the opposite of love.  We resort to judgment and negative prejudice which are the opposite of mercy.  We seem unable to respond in kind to the love of our God, or even the love of others toward us.  I am not immune.  I fail in this no matter how hard I try in my own strength.

I am moved by the example of My God’s love.  I long to love and be merciful, but it escapes me.  My behaviors give that away.

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is a key to overcoming this incapability. When Jesus died on that cross, his death eliminated the absolute power of the rebellion over me.  It made it possible for new power from my God to replace the domination of rebellion and sin, and supplant the weakness in me, the inherent inability to do anything good.

That new power is the result of what followed the death of Jesus on the cross: the resurrection.

On the Crucifixion of Christ Jesus

Jesus was dead.

There could be no rational basis for disputing that.  Beaten nearly to death after not having slept all night.  Nailed to a cross with heavy spikes through the upper writs and lower legs.  Left to hang in the heat, slowly suffocating, struggling for each breath. Parched and dehydrated, starved for food.  Stabbed in the chest cavity by a spear.  No one could survive such torture and deprivation.  Crucifixion was designed to kill.  Slowly, but surely.  The executioners were expert in their craft.  They were not known for misfires.  To fail in crucifixion led to severe punishment.

Doctors and medical experts have weighed in over the centuries on the efficacy and efficiency of crucifixion in killing its victims.  They have studied the detailed accounts of the four Gospels and have repeatedly determined that this would kill any person.  And that it more than likely killed the man, Jesus.

Those who took Him down from the cross and made the hasty preparations for burial would have seen death before, would have handled the dead before.  It is beyond unlikely that they would have mistaken Jesus for dead, or that they would have put a living person in a tomb for the weekend after such a torturous experience.

Jesus was dead.  Why?

He was dead because of God’s mercy.  His mercy for you, for me, for all of humankind.  How could such a horrible death be an act of mercy?  Because it was God Himself, in human form, who was experiencing this death as a substitutionary death on behalf of all of us.  In His mercy, He was taking on Himself the punishment due each and every one of us.  He was standing in our place, absorbing the wrath of His perfect justice, taking on the just punishment for rebellion and sin.

Mercy might be demonstrated by simply deciding to “let bygones be bygones.”  To overlook our rebellion without punishment.  Mercy alone might do that, but justice will not allow it.  Justice and mercy must both be served in dealing with our rebellious sin. Death was the penalty, and death was delivered.

God took on our penalty, absorbed the wrath we deserved, experienced our death.  Justice was served.  Mercy ruled over retribution.  And love covered a multitude of sins.

Justice.  Wrath.  Death.  Mercy.  Love.  This is the great power of our God, held in perfect balance, and delivered flawlessly on behalf of each of us.  Whether we choose to believe it or not.

“Love was compressed for all history in that lonely figure on the cross, who said that he could call down angels at any moment on a rescue mission, but chose not to – because of us. At Calvary, God accepted his own unbreakable terms of justice.”  – Philip Yancey

On The Crucifixion of Christ Jesus

As we near the Easter celebration, the proliferation of bunnies, eggs, flowers, and pastel colors pushes and shoves the Easter story – the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth – off the stage.  Instead of solemnity and introspection at the greatest human event in history, we are beset with sales, gaudy trinkets, and cheap chocolate.  More than a “religious travesty,” this transfer of the ascription of worth from the ultimate demonstration of love by a just and holy God to flowers, candy, cartoons, and animals represents an incomprehensible loss of scale by the human mind.  That we would reject the lofty notion of a God who loves us and desires communion with us so much He would take our place in death so we could take His place in life is truly beneath the dignity of the human mind.  Especially if we reject that lofty notion in favor of trinkets, baubles, candy, and cartoons.

The crucifixion of Jesus, His willingness to travel resolutely into the camp of His enemies and turn Himself over without a fight so that he might die in our place, is heroism and altruism of the highest and noblest quality. He deserved only worship and glory, while we deserved death as our punishment. He asked simply for our love and commitment to the life for which we were all created, the only life that will ever bring us true joy and peace.  We asked for His death by torture, and mocked Him on His way to the cross.

And mock Him we still do.  By our indifference to the weight of His sacrifice of love for each one of us.

The crucifixion demonstrated the love of our God for each of us and all of us.  And it demonstrated His justice.  We rebelled.  We rejected His rule and influence over us. In His perfect justice – and in His love – He would not have that rebellion and rejection stand unanswered.

Justice demanded death.  Our death.  Or, the death of one who did not have his own sin for which to pay.  The death of someone who had great enough value and worth to be a substitute for everyone, ever.  One death of a perfect sacrifice for all.

Some characterize God as severe, distant, angry, and unconcerned about the plight of people.  The crucifixion puts that view to rest to the open-minded inquirer.  What severe, distant, angry, and unconcerned deity would sacrifice himself on behalf of the people who not only rebelled against him but live completely unrepentant for rebelling?  Who don’t care about that deity?  Who continue to ignore, mock, and rail against him?

Justice was served in the crucifixion.  The Perfect Sacrifice was offered on behalf of all.  And when it was over, finished, and the cries of the onlookers trickled to murmurs and then to silence, what was left in the air?  The silence and the smell of perfect love.

Love was served in the crucifixion. The perfect love of a perfect God for an imperfect people.  The perfect love that sent the Perfect Sacrifice to the cross of torture and death to restore the perfect relationship between that God and the objects of His love.

That would be you and me.

On the Adventure of Adversity

This is the fourth post on this topic.

“When trials and temptations crowd into your life, don’t resent them…welcome them as friends!”  How can such difficulties possibly be for our good?  And if they are for our good, does our God keep adding more adversity, more difficulty to our lives?

And if He does that, how can I see Him as good?

Does our God clog our living with additional problems?  No.  He does not need to do that, for a sin-bent world is replete with problems for us.  Does He ignore our difficulties and adversity?  No.  He meets us in them and walks with us through them, giving us strength, insight, and dependence upon Himself in the midst of them.  Does He deliver us from problems?  Sometimes, because He loves us.  More often, He delivers us through them, and in the process delivers us from ourselves.   Because He loves us.

Here is a key point for us.  Our point of view is critical to how we see these difficulties.  If comfort and self-interest inform our perspective, if we are clinging to “safety” or “comfort” or “control,” difficulties are burdensome problems and our God is not to be trusted.  If God’s glory and ascendancy over me is the highest good, then every difficulty becomes an opportunity for God to work in me and through me.  To put to death that in me which is of the flesh, that which is not my true self in Christ.  This so He can live more potently through me.

John Eldredge said it this way in his book, “Wild At Heart.”  “Most of us have been misinterpreting life and what God is doing for a long time. “I think I’m just trying to get God to make my life work easier,” a client of mine confessed, but he could have been speaking for most of us. We’re asking the wrong questions. Most of us are asking, “God, why did you let this happen to me?” Or, “God, why won’t you just ________” (fill in the blank—help me succeed, get my kids to straighten out, fix my marriage—you know what you’ve been whining about). But to enter into a journey of initiation with God requires a new set of questions: What are you trying to teach me here? What issues in my heart are you trying to raise through this? What is it you want me to see? What are you asking me to let go of?”

The more we gain Christ and lose ourselves, the more joyful we are, and the more peace we experience.  Joy and peace are not found in the absence of difficulty but in the presence of our Savior as ruler of the moment.   Often we are too focused on abating as many problems as possible, having made the absence of problems equal to the presence of God’s blessings. Some of God’s richest blessings are found only in difficulty. 

On the Adventure of Adversity

“Life is hard.  Then, you die.”

This is the happy, hopeful message I read on a bumper sticker several years ago.  I have never forgotten it, in large part because I was struck at how truthful the message was, and yet how it totally missed “the rest of the story.”

Yes, adversity dogs us.  Setbacks, betrayals, losses, and disappointments seem to beset us, along with sickness, injuries, and ultimately, death.  No wonder why some come to the point of questioning the goodness of God, when adversity seems to attack so regularly and with seemingly disastrous consequences.

As stated in a previous post, adversity is the lot of humans.  As a race we chose to rebel against our God and go our own way without Him.  Our existence is permanently bent by this choice, and we live everyday with the disastrous consequences. Yet even in our rebellion, we are not left alone.  Our God in His great love for us chooses to walk through our adversities with us.  If we will consciously make room for His work in our adversities, He uses them to wean us from our rebellious self-reliance so we might rely upon Him more and more.  This growing reliance upon our God is moving us closer to the life for which we were created.  A life of dependence upon Him, of communion with Him moment by moment.  A life in constant touch with the source of all life.

Through our adversities, which will come to us not because of our God’s anger at us but because of our habit of independence from Him, we learn to walk apart from self-reliance.  Through adversity we begin to allow our God to live His life in us.  Since difficulty will come – Jesus said in this world we will have difficulty – our God redeems our difficulties and uses them as a means to reduce our independence from Him.  This is the source of real endurance and strength.  This is the adventure of our God living His life in and through us. 

James, the earthly brother of Jesus, said it this way: “When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives, my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends!  Realize that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance.  But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed…” James 1:2-4 (JB Phillips).

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