Thursday, April 24, 2014

What was THAT all about?

I am curious. Jesus spent a month-and-a-half on the planet after his resurrection and there are few details of this time. If I were writing the story I would have interviewed Jesus and recorded what he experienced on the cross, in the tomb, and what it feels like to come back from death. But, the Bible is silent on these things. I also would have encouraged Jesus to make an appearance to Caiaphas or Pilate just to make sure they knew that they were wrong and he was right. How awesome would it be to show up at Caiaphas’ or Pilate’s breakfast table just to see the look on their face?

The Bible records very few appearances of the resurrected Jesus. The more I think about this the more sense it makes. Think about the people Jesus did appear to…his loved ones. Jesus made sure that his closest friends saw him, heard from him, and had an opportunity to spend time with him. Jesus made sure that his disciples knew he was ok, that he was not dead, and that his resurrection had changed everything. Imagine being the disciples in that locked room on the night of Easter. Hiding because they are gripped with fear, disappointment, and uncertainty. A week before they had walked into Jerusalem to cheering crowds. They thought they were part of a coronation in which Jesus would be crowned king and bring peace to Jerusalem. In less than a week, the entire city turns on Jesus, arrests him, convicts him at trial, and brutally murders him. In the aftermath of Jesus arrest all of the disciples scatter. To make matters worse, the disciples are scared that the Jewish leaders want to kill them to. The empty tomb is so unbelievable that the Jewish leaders accuse his disciples of stealing the body. Their situation is grave. They are gripped by suffocating fear, oppressive despair, and immense confusion. And then it happens…

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you [John 20.19]!”

Jesus doesn’t waste his remaining precious moments proving Herod and Pilate wrong. Jesus, filled with grace, love, forgiveness, and comfort seeks out the men and women who loved him, believed in him, and grieved for him. He wants them to know that it is going to be ok. That he is alive and preparations are underway for the greatest movement the world has ever witnessed. Jesus mobilizes these men and women to launch His Church. A movement so profound that it has stood the test of time, in spite of all its failures and frailties. Jesus channeled that fear, despair, disappointment, and confusion into hope. His death transformed these witnesses to launch the first church and proclaim the message of Jesus. A message of forgiveness, grace, mercy, love, and hope to the world.

The hope of the world is that the tomb is empty and Jesus is alive. Commit today to pray that your church leaders would receive wisdom, courage, and the faith to continue building Jesus’ church. Pray that God would provide opportunities for you to join the movement and invest your gifts and talents to do the same. May the church grow with an ever increasing number of our fellow humans who are deeply in love with Jesus and his ways!
-Dan Wright

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The "Good" in Good Friday

Why is Good Friday called good?  It seems wrong the day our Savoir suffered a horrible death at the hands of betrayal and cruelty could ever be called good! Some countries call it Suffering Friday, or Long Friday.  Apparently it’s only called Good Friday in English.  For me it’s good, as I believe Jesus took my place on the cross that day, to pay for my sin. And he rose from the dead three days later, on Easter, assuring me of eternal life with God. 

I wonder though, what Good Friday means to God?  Thinking about that challenges me to understand and know him more.

In the past several years I have been struck by the deep desire God has to love the people he created.  It’s staggering to think that the God Almighty who exists in Three Persons, needs and wants other beings to love.  The Bible teaches that Adam and Eve, the first created people, were allowed to dwell with God in the Garden of Eden.  This is remarkable, because God is Holy, and described as a Consuming Fire, who generates so much light and glory that to be in his presence means death.  But Adam and Eve dwelt in a peaceful relationship with him, without dying. They were given everything with only one “do-not” command.  Just one rule -- just one tree God said they couldn’t touch or eat from.  It seems like such a small test of love, but Satan told them if they ate from it they would be like God. 

So they ate and ruined it for all of us.  One tree, one command, one choice, and they chose themselves over God.  So selfish.  So human.

The wonderful gift they had of dwelling safely and unhindered in the presence of a Holy God was lost.  Holy God couldn’t dwell with unholy people, so they were expelled from his presence and condemned to death for their betrayal.  

It’s not recorded how God felt about losing them.  But he must have been devastated because he devised a plan to get them, and all of us, back.  He still longed to love and be loved back.  Even after such rejection.

God’s plan unfolded for 2,000 years and landed on Good Friday.  A day that shows just how deep his longing for us goes, and how far he would go to get us back.  A day of brutal death that is good because of what it means to God himself, as well as the people he so longs to dwell with.  Jesus’ death meant that instantaniously the wall between God and the people he lost was torn down.  God, himself, dying in our place.   An ingenious and eternal way to bring us back to life with him, without judgment.  A way to bring us back into his waiting arms.  So unselfish and forgiving.  So Divine.  Good Friday must be a very precious day to Him of terrible loss, but ecstatic gain of loving and being loved. 

And so, dear brothers, now we may walk right into the very Holy of Holies, where God is [waiting for us], because of the blood of Jesus.  This is the fresh, new, life-giving way that Christ has opened up for us by tearing the curtain—his human body—to let us into the holy presence of God [who loves and adores us]. ~ Hebrews 10:20 (LB)
-Iva Gier

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Before the Rooster Crows . . . or the Cell Phone Rings

As we approach Easter, there are so many things to think about. I mean, who doesn’t love chocolate eggs and rabbits, right? But those aren’t the things I’m talking about. I’m talking implications…consequences…results. I’m talking about the life and death of the one we as Christians call our Lord and Savior. I’m talking about Jesus Christ. 

As this season of Lent (the weeks preceding Easter) continues, most of us will start reading a story. A story of one sent by God to rescue all of humanity… a story of betrayal and a horrifying and humiliating death on a Roman cross. This story, called the Passion of Christ, or the Passion Narrative, is the account of the final days of Jesus’ life, leading up to his crucifixion for our sins. But within this story, there are several other stories. These stories are those of Jesus’ disciples, and those surrounding Jesus, and that is what I want to focus on. 

Before I go too far, I want to ask a couple of questions…do you really believe in Jesus? Does your life reflect your love for your Savior? Do you really believe who Jesus is? I ask these questions because within the story of Jesus’ final days, we see several people torn away from one they claimed to love because there was something else tugging at their heart. For those who know the story, my guess is a guy by the name of Judas comes to mind? A disciple of Jesus who ends up betraying him and delivering him over to the authorities for 30 pieces of silver. For Judas it was money…greed.  

But there may be a couple others that might not come to mind so easily. How about the apostle Peter? Another disciple of Jesus, full of passion and zeal for God. However, Jesus says in the gospel of Matthew 26:34-35 that Peter will deny him 3 times by the time the rooster crows. Peter rebukes Jesus and says that he’d follow him even if he must lose his life, but after Jesus’ arrest, Peter denies even knowing him. For Peter it was fear. 

And one more that might not readily come to mind. There was a Jewish tradition of crucifying one criminal and releasing one criminal prior to Passover. So the governor, Pilate put the vote between Jesus, and a murderer known as Barabbas. The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees coerced the people to beg for the release of Barabbas, and send Jesus to the cross. The same people that just a couple days earlier had shouted “Hosanna!” (which means “save us”), as Jesus rode into Jerusalem, now chanted “Crucify him!” For the people, it was culture…influence…bribery. 

So what is it for you? We live in a culture that is continually telling us that we aren’t enough, that we don’t have what it takes, and that we need this product or that product to truly be happy. Is Jesus enough for you? This isn’t a guilt trip…even those who spent years with Jesus were so easily pulled away by temptations and fears. As you celebrate this Easter, the glorious resurrection of our Lord, let Jesus be enough for you, and know that you are enough in him. Happy Easter.
-Jake Houf

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Lavish Love

Lavish Love . . .  Love that is beyond the simple and the ordinary. Rich, elaborate, luxurious love.  

What does that look like? 

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!              I John 3:1   

Mary knew a little bit about this kind of love when she poured out her life from that broken jar, lavishly, extravagantly, letting her treasure run down over Jesus' feet. 

And then she gave up her glory by removing her headpiece, and wiped Jesus' feet with her hair.  In that culture, no proper woman ever let her hair down in public. She made herself open for rejection or rebuke. She did not think of the eyes of disapproving men.  Her soul was focused on Jesus and her act of worship.  Jesus looked down with tenderness as Mary dried his feet. 

Extravagance might be misunderstood by others, but not by Jesus.

"Leave her alone.”  He says. “She has done a beautiful thing for me".   (John 12) 

Jesus shows us another example of this lavish love six days later, at Passover.  (John 13) 

Jesus knew that the time had come for Him to leave this world and go to the Father.   Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.  Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waste.  After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him… When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.  You call me Teacher and Lord, and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.

Jesus knew that this was it, His last moments on earth, and what does he choose to do with his time, his moments, his last moments before his flesh gets ripped open, nail pierced, his heart broken, bleeding love for those that reject him?  He chooses to show them his lavish love by doing the unthinkable, He bends low, gently takes hold of filthy feet and washes them clean. 

Hours later His blood is poured out spilling down His feet revealing to us the ultimate example of Lavish Love.
Love with your whole heart, lavish love, God’s love.  With sweet abandon, follow Christ’s example, and pour out His love in extravagant ways, as an act of worship to our Father.

-Sue Parrott