Sunday, March 30, 2008

Not Just a Day

Looking at my Christian seasons calendar, I love how it describes Easter:
"Our high holy time culminates in Easter, a 50-day celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.... The significance of the resurrection to the church is shown in Easter's weekly celebration on each Sunday, and in the yearly feast day of Easter and in the 50-day season of Easter. It is a season of great astonishment and joy.... The season ends with the day of Pentecost when the gift of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church is celebrated."

Easter is not just a day, or even a week. It's a season! During these seven weeks, I want to not only think about the significance of the resurrection, but to experience it in my own heart and life.

One of the lectionary texts for today is John 20:19-31. At this point, Jesus had been crucified, and the tomb was empty, but the passage opens with the disciples together in a room, and the doors locked because of their fear. That's when Jesus appeared.

I'd like to say the disciples were being foolish, but I have to admit it makes sense to me. I think of the emotional roller coaster they'd been on -- the excitement of the Triumphal Entry, the despair of the crucifixion, the uncertainty about the empty tomb, the fear behind their locked doors, the joy of seeing the resurrected Christ. It's no wonder Thomas doubted.

And I love Jesus' response. He met Thomas where he was, and offered himself -- not an idea or an argument -- as evidence. And, interestingly, we don't see Thomas taking Jesus up on the offer. He simpy reacted to the person of Jesus, the One he knew: "My Lord and my God!"

Jesus isn't afraid of our questions. He provides just enough to meet our needs, then allows us to take the last step toward him in faith.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Resurrection Sunday

John 20 contains an account of the resurrected Jesus. Mary Magdalene saw the stone removed from the tomb, and ran to tell Simon Peter and (probably) John. Those two explored the situation first. When they left, Mary was left crying outside the tomb. That's when she encountered Jesus.

She didn't know it was him, though, until he spoke her name. After all, who would have expected Jesus -- the one whose death she had watched a few days before -- to show up and start talking to her?

What captures my heart today is Jesus' response: "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God'" (emphasis mine).

What a statement!

Take a look at what Paul said about this: "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.... For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, 'Abba, Father.' The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs -- heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory" (Romans 8:1,15-17)

Easter is central to the Christian faith, because through the death of Christ we have forgiveness of sin, and through the resurrection of Christ we have amazing hope. These are available to all people -- absolutely everyone! -- who believe Jesus, confess their need for him, and invite him into their lives.

If you have reason to celebrate this hope, then celebrate like crazy today. And if you don't yet know Christ, take this opportunity to meet him. If you're not sure, and would like to talk more about what this means, I'd love to talk with you.

Happy Easter!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Fickle People

"As they approached Jerusalem... a very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, 'Hosanna to the Son of David!' 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!' 'Hosanna in the highest!'"

"'What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?' Pilate asked. They all answered, 'Crucify him!' 'Why? What crime has he committed?' asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, 'Crucify him!'"

-- Mt. 21:1, 8-9 and 27:22-23

Fickle creatures, aren't we? It's easy to cluck our tongues and shake our heads at the ones who demanded Jesus' death, especially after the enthusiastic welcome he had received. But are we really all that different? When we focus on what we expect to receive from Christ rather than recognizing and trusting the nature of God to want and bring about what is best, it is easy to lose sight of reality.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


I was reading Matthew 18 today, in which Jesus teaches about reconciliation. "If your brother sins against you..." It's one thing to have someone sin against me, but it seems worse when it's someone I dearly love and hope I can trust.

I'm familiar with the progression. First, go to the person and talk, just the two of you. If there is no reconciliation, take one or two others -- choose such people carefully -- and approach the person again. It may escalate from there to the broader group. Only if all else fails are we to "treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector." (Of course, Jesus had a reputation for treating such people with love, if not trust.) There are several potential steps in the process, but we must be careful not to step too quickly. The final goal is always reconciliation, if possible.

The thought of bringing in additional people makes me cringe, and especially the thought of making the offense public. But I was thinking about it today, and realized again that, by far, the majority of such conflicts can be successfully addressed just in that first step.

There's great wisdom in Matthew 18. Why don't we follow it more often?

Sunday, March 9, 2008

"But... Lord!"

Today's lectionary reading from John 11 tells of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. When Jesus arrived at the tomb, he instructed Lazarus' loved ones to remove the stone which blocked the entrance. "But, Lord," said Martha, the sister of the dead man, "by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days."

I recently worked with the elementary-aged kids during worship, talking with them about my recent trip to Argentina, and about world missions in general. As it turned out, I finished what I'd planned a little too early for parents to pick up their kids, but a little late to move on to another planned activity. It's not generally a good idea to give a group that large and diverse an unspecified period of free time in a relatively small space, so we stayed together as a group and kept talking.

One thing led to another in their conversation, and I used a nearby Evange-Cube to share the gospel (or, more accurately, to join them in telling and hearing the gospel story). They made some insightful comments along the way, and asked some great questions. When we got to the part about the stone being rolled away from the tomb (see Mark 16), one of them asked if Jesus smelled bad.

There seemed to be some general confusion among the group about whether that was a great question or an inappropriate one. But, based on further questioning, it looked to me like it came from an honest heart and an engaged mind, and it really did address the issue of genuine physical death and resurrection. And I think the group did well with it.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Do You Come in Peace?

I have been fascinated for several years by the Israelites and their various kings. This past Sunday's lectionary reading included I Samuel 16:1-13, when God sent Samuel to anoint David as the next king after Saul had been rejected due to his disobedience. Samuel was in danger from Saul, who was still king and wasn't entirely stable, and asked, "How can I go? Saul will hear about it and kill me." God gave him instructions about how to go, and he went.

More interesting to me is the response of the people to Samuel. "When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, 'Do you come in peace?' Samuel replied, 'Yes, in peace....'" It appears there was something about Samuel -- perhaps experience with him in the past, his reputation, how he presented himself, or fear of being confronted regarding a known sin -- which caused them concern.

I question whether we nurture relationships like that. Not that healthy relationships should cause reason for fear, but it is healthy to have people around us who care enough to speak difficult truth into our lives. Those can be uncomfortable relationships, and uncomfortable situations, but I'd rather deal with the anxiety than accept the risk of not having such people around me.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Glad to Be Home

I returned home today after traveling most of the week through the Intermountain District with the District SDMI leadership team for the annual SDMI training event. After Monday evening at SLC First, we went to Twin Falls, Nampa First, and Baker City. We had opportunity to talk with lots of folks who love God and love others, and it was wonderful to see them light up as they caught the vision of "Intentional Discipleship."

I flew back today. A curly-haired blond kid about three years old was sitting in the row behind me. The family was going to Disneyland, and still had several hours of travel ahead of them. The bond between dad and son was apparent simply from their conversations, and I also admired the dad's efforts (which paid off) to keep this appropriately excitable youngster strapped to his seat and not disrupting the rest of the people.

The flight went quite well until the final twenty minutes or so, when it became the most turbulent I've ever experienced in an airplane. As we approached Salt Lake City, the normal swaying motions became pronounced and then escalated, suddenly becoming both much more frequent and much more severe. It felt a bit like doing aerobatics in a Boeing 737. An unfamiliar and surprisingly loud noise developed rather quickly around the left wing. Conversations throughout the craft quieted, and we held more tightly to the armrests. The woman across the aisle appeared uncomfortable, as if about to vomit. It felt like we were losing altitude faster than usual. I didn't see any signs that the pilot had lost control of the plane, but also didn't see a lot of signs that the pilot had full control of it, either. It felt like the aircraft could easily sway a little too much at the wrong time as we approached for landing, and I found myself looking again at the instructions printed on over-wing emergency exit door a few feet away.

The little guy behind us could hardly contain himself. "Wheeee!"

Much to my relief, we landed safely. The wheels hadn't been on the ground more than a few seconds when I heard a little voice behind me: "Let's do it again, Daddy!"