Tag Archives: Easter

Hope Set Free

Easter Sunday must be the most positive day of the year on my Facebook & Twitter feeds. I love that. So many affirmations of hope, victory, and resurrection life (and a lot of spiffy family pics).

Of everything that made me smile or nod or rejoice, this tweet was my favorite:

 

The ridiculousness of confining God! The futility of boxing in the First and the Last!

Who would attempt that?

Oh.

Yeah.

Ouch.

Immediately I have 2 circumstances replay themselves out in my mind.

Yeah. that. and that.

So when a few men decided to ensure the confinement of the Creator of the universe, here’s what happened:

The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.”

“Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard (Matthew 27: 62-66).

As evidenced by archeology and references throughout the Old Testament (Genesis 38; Exodus 28; 1 Kings 21; Nehemiah 9; Esther 3 & 8, etc…), a seal was used to represent authority.

Seals were made of wax which was melted and impressed with an identifying mark, typically borne on a signet ring. Closed doors (or tombs) were often sealed to prevent the entrance of an unauthorized person. In the story of Daniel and the lions, the door of the den was secured with the king’s seal (Daniel 6:17).

In the two circumstances that popped into my mind, I remembered the words that came to me from  authorized people.  And I visually pictured them putting their seal upon the closed doors of my long-cherished dreams:

“Given your psychological history, I suggest that you not pursue the adoption application any further …”

“Given the fact that all hospital chaplains must be ordained, I suggest that you move to another denomination.”

My dreams have been entombed. I feel a bare inkling of what the disciples must have felt on that darkest Saturday.

What now?

What can I do? Where can I go?

Where is God?

Oh. That’s right. My doubt and disillusionment are imprinted upon that sealed tomb. Some person in authority has pressed all potential out of me and my deepest hopes. I have boxed God into reasoning that seems logical, realistic, explainable. And human.

It is finished.

And yet, I wonder …

Do you think the enemy of our souls breathed a sigh of relief when Jesus uttered those words on Good Friday?

It is finished.”

Any delight on his part was as short-lived as his demise is eternal.

Because “It is finished” means something entirely different in view of Sunday morning.

Scripture plainly tells us: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins … If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

On Resurrection Day, followers of the Risen Christ celebrate the most critical foundation of our faith: Our hope is not for this life only!

Hope. Security. Joy. Redemption. Freedom. Future.

Have only begun.

When Jesus arose on Sunday morning, He released our freedom to hope. The hope of Christ is so much more than wishful thinking. It is the deepest, most secure and settled reason for living – and living in view of eternity.  I long for my dreams to remain alive. But because Jesus lives, He releases in me a capacity to discover in Him more than I could ever desire, ask, or imagine.

And when Jesus arose on Sunday morning, He proved Himself to be the final authority. History tells us that many people were crucified. But Jesus died in such a way that even His opponents had to admit that His was a noble, even divine, death.

(They hadn’t seen anything yet!)

Glorious Day! One – only One – resurrected!

From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny.

Jesus is the Authority. If He chooses, He can command these dreams of mine to be unsealed. Perhaps that’s not His plan. But I have entrusted Him with my very life and eternity; and if that faith is to be authentic, it must include every desire and dream of my heart while I wait in the here and now.

If God wants something to come to pass, it will be.

“The LORD of Heaven’s Armies has spoken–who can change His plans? When His hand is raised, who can stop Him?” (Isaiah 14:27)

My doubt can’t stop Him.

My fear can’t stop Him.

The wisdom and reasoning of this world can’t stop Him.

The headaches and heartaches of Easter Monday can’t stop Him.

And if God chooses for something not to come to pass, that will be better.

As I remember these three days – Good Friday to Resurrection Sunday – I have everything I need to know. Jesus has demonstrated His love. He has proven His power. Everything that comes to pass – or not – in my life is consistent with these truths.

Friends, we are free to hope.

The sealed-off dreams can be trusted to the power of the unrestrained Savior.

Seeming dead-ends can be trusted to the One who defeated death.

The empty places of the heart can be filled with the promise of the empty tomb.

Lord Jesus, please impress upon my life what You will …  Seal in those desires in Me that reflect You and Your purest, most perfect plan for my life. Break loose those areas where I have been discouraged and defeated. Where I have boxed you in, I pray for a resurrection of faith in my heart. I thank You that You have sealed my soul for forever, and there is nothing that matters more. That’s the hope that gets me up on Monday morning. Please imprint eternity in my heart so that every motive, every longing, and every ambition would be aligned with Your Kingdom purposes.

Amen … Let it be.

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Beautiful words from Ann Voskamp on “The Truth You’ve Got to Know About After Easter:”

What’s been wearing death clothes in a life can get up and walk, what we’ve felt as wounds, by His wounds, are being healed, what’s being burnt to ashes will birth beauty. Ashes are always the papery birth announcement of beauty rising.

Us bound in that sin that’s always been, us with that heartbreak that just won’t take a break, us who feel locked up in these patterns and someone’s thrown away the key — we’re the people who’ve seen that the stone’s been rolled away.

We’re the Resurrection People who push back against the dark of impossible, because we’ve seen the impossible stone’s been pushed back against the dark. We’re the Resurrection People who walk in strong hope because we’ve seen the strong stones moved and Hope come right out to meet us and move us.

He is Risen indeed – because I want Him to be risen in me.”

Hope Wins

Daddy lived his entire life in a town known for its abundance of trees. As a lumberman, he was well-learned in the characteristics of maple, oak, and pine. Yet dogwoods – flowering trees which are valued for landscaping but not for lumber – were Daddy’s favorite.

I ask my daughter to walk with me in the neighborhood so that I can show her the dogwoods up close. As we step up to a tree and hold the blossoms in our fingers, I show her the shape of the cross, the pure white interior, the pointy crown in the center, and the crimson edges on each petal. At Easter, Daddy’s favorite tree presents a picture of our Savior’s shed blood, a hopeful reminder that love is stronger than death.

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As I sit on the damp ground days later, I notice anew that Daddy’s grave marker is outlined with dogwood blossoms.

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And I cling to the promise. Hope wins.

Driving from the cemetery, I find comfort in these words:

Stripes of blood that stain its frame; Shed to wash away our shame;

From the scars pure love released; Salvation by the Mercy Tree.

Death has died. Love has won! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Jesus Christ has overcome. He has risen from the dead.

One day soon we’ll see His face; Every tear, He’ll wipe away;

No more pain or suffering; Praise Him for the mercy tree.

More days pass, and my daughter doodles pictures of dogwood blossoms. I smile, knowing that she’s thinking about it.

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She asks more questions now. In the past few months, she’s witnessed a lot of heartache. Our home feels more broken and yet all the more sacred. Real life is happening here.

My girl is old enough to absorb the truth that it’s hard. And crazy. And joyful. Because authentic life in Christ means that we worship Jesus the same at home as we do at church. We’ll praise Him whether our hearts are content or they are cracked into pieces. Following Him is something we do when life is happy and full and when life is hard and fragile. And we can’t shy away from sharing with our daughter the paradoxes in this life of faith:

Joy comes through suffering.

You must lose your life to find it.

Blessings come through insults.

The greatest in the Kingdom is the least.

The meek will inherit the earth.

God chooses the foolish over the wise.

Strength comes through weakness.

“It must have been fascinating and frightening,” she says. We’re talking about what it was like for me, at her age, to visit the Holy Land and stand at Golgotha – the “Place of the Skull,” the site of Jesus’ crucifixion.

Alternative Crucifiction Location

Photo credit – Wikimedia Commons

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Picture of the Place of the Skull. Taken by my Dad in 1983.

“Like disturbing and wonderful all at the same time.”

My girl is getting it. Only Jesus can take the most disturbing, horrific event in human history and make it … wonderful.

Only Jesus can look upon the very ones who mangled His body and see them with mercy.

Only Jesus can receive an offering and deem it beautiful when others judge it as either too extravagant or too meager.

Only Jesus’ torn body could tear the veil.

Only Jesus can roll away the fear and shame that entomb me.

Only Jesus can transform loss into gain and “light and momentary troubles” into eternal glory.

One day this little girl of mine will suffer a broken heart. Maybe one day a doctor will answer her most fearful questions with a shake of the head and a solemn voice. A friend will walk away. Her faith will be met with sneers.  The door will slam shut on her dream. She’ll sit at a grave.

But maybe she’ll remember the time we held the dogwood blossoms and she’ll think about how those little red stains add beauty and meaning to the flower.

Maybe she’ll think upon the tree; and how her Savior’s blood turned it from a method of murder into a means of mercy.

She’ll remember that He said, “It is finished” and she’ll trust that life in Him has no end.

Joy comes through suffering.

You must lose your life to find it.

Blessings come through insults.

The greatest in the Kingdom is the least.

The meek will inherit the earth.

God chooses the foolish over the wise.

Strength comes through weakness.

Love is stronger than death.

Hope wins.

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This is a picture of me stepping out of the empty tomb beside Golgotha (1983, I think).

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

Song – “Mercy Tree” written by Krissy Nordhoff & Michael William Neale, sung by Lacey Sturm, and featured in “My Hope with Billy Graham.”

The Bible doesn’t specify what kind of tree was used for Jesus’ cross. The “legend of the dogwood” isn’t taken from Scripture. It’s merely a symbolic depiction of Jesus’ sacrifice seen in a dogwood blossom – http://www.visualforces.com/christian/photography/nature/the-dogwood/

 

 

 

 

The Keys

When I was little, I thought my dad was the coolest guy in the church. He wasn’t a pastor, a teacher, or a speaker. But he held the keys. It was his job to open the church building on Sunday mornings, and I got to tag along. Our church had several exterior corridors, and Sunday School rooms were accessed from the outside. So with Daddy’s giant key ring, I loved opening all the doors and entering into places where kids didn’t usually go. I thought it was such fun to peek into the baptistry, choir room, and offices. Because of my Daddy, I thought I was special and important.

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As I’m thinking about Good Friday, I remember that my Heavenly Father has given me access  because His Son holds the keys. On the day that Jesus gave His life, the curtain that separated the Most Holy Place from the Holy Place in the temple was torn from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51). Only the high priest could go beyond this curtain on one day of the year – the Day of Atonement. The tearing of the curtain (historically described as four inches thick) signified that Jesus’ sacrifice opened up a “new and living way” for us to come to God. Access to the presence of God is no longer only a privilege of a high priest. All those who believe in the Son have access to the Father.

This incomprehensible truth is much, much more than I can ever fathom. The size of the universe is mind-blowing (consider that the farthest thing in the universe that has been measured thus far is 13 billion light years away, and a light year is 5.88 trillion miles long!) And yet Scripture tells us: “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of His mouth” (Psalm 33:6).

And this is the God who made the way for us to become His children. He listens to our prayers. He gives us a peek into eternal glory. He understands and loves us beyond our imagination. And He invites us to call Him “Daddy” and to come to Him freely.

He holds the keys to your eternity, and forever begins now.  Enter with Him.

Revelation 1:18 – (the voice of Christ): “Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last, the Living One. I am He who was dead, and now you see Me alive for timeless ages! I hold in my hand the keys of death and the grave.”

Ephesians 3:12 – In Him (Christ Jesus) and through faith in Him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

Hebrews 9:12 – He (Christ) did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by His own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.

Hebrews 10: 19 – 22 – Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, His body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings…

Romans 8:15 – The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.And by him we cry, “Abba,Father.”

Resources:

The New and Living Way” by Ligonier Ministries – http://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/new-and-living-way/

I Am Not but I Know I Am – written by Louie Giglio

The Joy Set Before Him

The concept of living intentionally has been popularized in recent years, and I too want to live with awareness and purpose rather than just making it through.  Like cycle class at the Y, for instance, where I could spin the flywheel on the bike all day long if I didn’t use resistance to challenge me. My legs would be moving with the pedals, but mostly because of momentum and not because of my effort or power.  The instructor can coach me for 50 minutes, but I decide where to set my gears.  More resistance makes me stronger. Do I enjoy a climb with heavy gears? No way. Even when (or especially when) I cycle outside, I’d prefer to go for a ride along the path of least resistance. But the instructor will often say (or shout) something to the class along the lines of “Remember why you came!” Being intentional is motivating.

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During Holy Week, I think often about Jesus’ intentionality on the way to the cross.  Even as the crowd praised Him as a King on Palm Sunday, He knew the reason He came. There would be a cross before a throne. It was the Father’s intention all along.  We can see His purpose all the way back in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3:15 when God spoke to the serpent – “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall crush your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” This verse is called the “proto-evangelium” – or the “first Gospel.” Charles Spurgeon says, “This verse contains the whole gospel and the essence of the covenant of grace.”  Although the enemy strikes God’s people, he is a conquered foe.  There will be war, but Jesus will deal the crushing blow.

God’s story, as revealed throughout the Bible, is all about Calvary from the very beginning.  People often think of Jesus’ death as an injustice, and He certainly did nothing to deserve death, but the Cross was in God’s plan all along. We see this in Luke 9 as Jesus foretold his death to his disciples: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (verse 9).

Luke 9 also tells us that “when the days drew near for Him to be taken up, Jesus set his face to Jerusalem.” He knew that just outside Jerusalem’s gates was a rocky hill with the appearance of a skull – Golgotha.  Our Lord was resolute. He knew that He was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting. Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint” (Isaiah 50: 6 – 7).

In John Piper’s Holy Week devotion, Love to the Uttermost, he writes of the intentionality of the Cross: “If we were to look at Jesus’ death merely as a result of a betrayer’s deceit and the Sanhedrin’s envy and Pilate’s spinelessness and the soldier’s nails and spear, it might seem very involuntary….Jesus was not accidentally entangled in a web of injustice. The saving benefits of His death were not an afterthought.  God planned it all out of infinite love to sinners like us, and He appointed a time.”

This morning I read this devotion from The Wonder of the Cross by Chris Tiegreen: “The painful cost of redemption was not paid grudgingly, a reluctant last-ditch effort to salvage what He could of His broken creation. It was planned from the foundation of the world – with pleasure.”

With pleasure? The horrible agony of the cross? The Bible tells us in Hebrews 12:2 that Jesus endured the cross for the “joy set before Him.”

When Jesus set His face to the cross, He set His face toward joy. Jesus willingly, intentionally, and joyfully made the ultimate sacrifice in redeeming you and me.

Blessed Redeemer! Precious Redeemer!
Seems now I see Him on Calvary’s tree;
Wounded and bleeding, for sinners pleading,
Blind and unheeding—dying for me!

“Unheeding” means paying no attention, consideration, or regard.  This makes me think of Philippians 2: 6 – 8 ~

“(Jesus), being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!”

Jesus intentionally turned a blind eye to His own advantages and the pleasures of Heaven when He set His face upon you and me.

As Chris Tiegreen asks, “Do you realize that His love for you prompted Him to pay extraordinary costs to bring you into His fellowship and that he did it gladly? Most Christians know that intellectually but don’t believe it deep in their hearts. They see God as a reluctant, obligated lover.  But that’s not how He portrays Himself. He’s delighted to sacrifice for your love.”

This is the heart of God. This is why we remember the Friday of Holy Week as “Good.”

The Cross was not plan B. God always has a plan and He brings it to pass.  Just as He didn’t look at Adam and Eve’s sin and think “oops, now what?” He doesn’t look upon any circumstance in our lives and think “uh oh, what happens now?” No, He is already there. He has already been there, working according to His purposes and promises.

If Jesus was delighted to make a way for our greatest need – our salvation – we can trust Him to meet every other need. Calvary demonstrates that God is not reluctant to pour out His love and grace. Although circumstances didn’t look so good on “Good Friday,” in His heart and plan, it was good.

Luke 9 teaches me something else about intentionality.  After foretelling his death, Jesus spoke these words:  “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.  For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (verses 23 – 25).

It’s my turn to be intentional.

Taking up my cross means that I will be unheeding. I will turn a blind eye to whatever I might gain from the world and I will follow the Source of deepest joy.  The Cross bids me die yet truly live.

Oh, Lord, let this be. And may my motivation spring not from duty but from a heart that delights in You. As you pour Your love into my life, let me offer it back to You. I realize that it’s an offering far too small, but take my love, my life, my all.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12: 1 – 2).

So many times my good intentions haven’t turn out as planned. I’ll fail again, many times in fact. I’ll ditch the climb and choose the easy gears.  I’m not perfect, but I have a “perfecter of faith.”  So I will follow my Savior in choosing the cross and the joy set before me. I hope you’ll join me, and let’s race together, fixing our eyes on Jesus and remembering why He came.

Resources:

Charles Spurgeon – The Redeemer’s Face Set Like A Flint, sermon – August 4, 1901. http://www.spurgeongems.org/vols46-48/chs2738.pdf

Chris Tiegreen – The Wonder of the Cross Devotional. March 28 entry.

John Piper – Love to the Uttermost Devotion for Holy Week. Free PDF –  http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/books/love-to-the-uttermost