The problem with starting over and the hope of redemption

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In the past weeks I’ve heard nearly the same quote from every weary person I’ve encountered, “I can’t wait for 2020 to be over.” Today, the sun rose on 2021 and death, disease and evil are still among us. Even in us.

New years bring with them an idea that we can wipe our lives free of all the wrongs the previous year produced and start fresh with a clean slate. The problem is every new year brings with it the scars and thorns and weeds of the previous year. And I think more than any other year I’ve lived through, 2020 seems to have left us with a hope that maybe now that the calendar says 2021, we can all start over and things will be better.

We all have a desire to be whole. To be complete. To be healthy in our mind and body. To be happy and fulfilled. That desire is insatiable and drives us to look for something to help us get it. I’ve seen it in my own life and in the lives of those I love, the attempt to achieve wholeness by starting over with a new calendar year or attempting to wipe the slate of our lives clean by purging ourselves of difficult relationships. But it doesn’t work. The problem with that plan is we throw babies out with our dirty bathwater. We live in a broken world and even if the world around us was wiped clean of its brokenness, within us the same seed of brokenness is germinating, ready to spread its strangling seeds everywhere we go.

My teenage son, in his struggle to believe this message of Jesus dying for his sins, has asked me, “Why doesn’t God just destroy everything and start over? Why is he leaving us like this?“ He asks the question we’re all asking every time we try achieving wholeness with a new year or relationship, job or routine. 

God proved that wiping the slate clean or wiping the world clean of the evil we do to each other won’t rid the world of evil unless there are no people in the world. In the book of Genesis we read the flood story. God rid the world of people, save Noah and his family, but Noah and his family gave birth to corruption and people who gave birth to the evils of history we all are aware of.

I love a good purge. I like to clean, put things where they go, and make ideal lists and goals. The problem is… life and me. Relationships and the rhythms of our lives are impacted by the brokenness in all of us. Trying to make things better is good. But we can never start over.  

So what am I to do in my quest for wholeness? Redemption and resurrection is my only hope for wholeness. 

The idea of redemption is that something broken is purchased and made good or whole again. The Bible tells me that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection purchased my broken life. I now live in that regenerating truth. No matter what happens, Jesus will make all things work for me to make me whole, like Jesus. 

I believe in the resurrection. I believe Jesus is the life that has overcome death. And I believe his resurrection life lives in me.

There’s an image in the Bible that always helps me capture this hope of resurrection. The tree. In the Bible, God’s people are depicted as his plantings, as trees whose roots go down deep and wide into the rich soil of God’s grace, mercy, truth and love. This tree is growing in us through a seed of faith in Christ. And it’s becoming a tree so big and massive, with a root system so wide, no weed, no storm, no disease can choke it out.

What about justice you ask? Shouldn’t we try to make things better and get rid of disease and abuse and corruption? Yes! Yes we should. But the way to do it is through redemption and hope in resurrection. It’s not through vengeance. It’s not through killing off evil with another abusive evil. It’s through Christ’s redeeming love. It’s through a subversive hope. It’s through planting yourself among the thorns of this life, sending your roots deep down into the love of Christ. Do this and your life will plant seeds of faith all around you and spring up new life in that same soil, choking out the poisonous weeds among you.

It’s a vulnerable life Jesus calls us to. In contrast to the self-preserving life that throws babies out with bathwater and wipes slates clean and cuts people off- it’s dangerous and even deadly. But it is the only way. It is the way Jesus is making all things new.

 The hope for our wholeness and the world is not a flood, or vaccine, not a new president or technology. The hope for the whole world and our wholeness is not marriage or singleness or a better local church or routine. The hope for our wholeness and the whole world is Christ’s redemption and resurrection. If we live in his redemption nothing is in vain- no evil, no pain, no suffering, no sin, no loss, no destruction, no disease. If Christ is our resurrection one day His tree of life will choke out all the weeds.

My Psalm

woman in black shirt sitting on grass during sunset
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How long?
How many more days do I have to cry bitterly
asking you how long?

My heart is sick
my hope is deferred
my heart hopes
for what I can’t conjure.

How long must I try to find a quiet
place to get away from the constant
strain of this yoke pulling me one way
when I’m trying to follow you another?

I am your lily among thorns
torn and worn
weary
still
reaching
for a place that doesn’t hurt.

How long?
How long do I have to wait
for him my love to requite?

What if it’s eighty years?
What if it’s tomorrow?
What if I die in this sorrow?

Only one I know
that can make love
out of death grow.
And that’s you Lord
Nail scarred, hands and feet,
standing in the strength of
death’s defeat- My Lord!

Evidence of the Resurrection

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On Easter Sunday an unbelieving loved one sat with me in church while the gospel was heralded and the very doubts and questions he has were exposed. This of course has created some interesting conversations in the last couple days. Questions about evidence. He wants evidence of the resurrection.

I know there are smarter people than me who have done the research and present compelling evidence for the resurrection. But as I’ve been praying about my loved one’s questions and seeking wisdom from the scriptures, the most obvious evidence is right here. Me.

In Matthew 28:16-20 Jesus is about to ascend to the Father and he doesn’t say, “I’ve left you all this evidence of my death and resurrection. Now go. Convince everyone with this evidence.” No. He says, “I’m sending you! You are the evidence I’m alive. Now go make disciples in my power. I am not dead. I am with you.”

Christian, you and I are the evidence Jesus has left on earth that testifies to the reality of his resurrection. If Jesus wasn’t alive we would have no power to love like he loves. We would have no power to repent and take up our cross and follow him. We would have no power to make disciples. Jesus is with us. One day we will see him face to face, but until then, it is the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives that is the greatest evidence that he is alive.

When I spoke with my loved one the other day as he expressed his doubts, I said, “Look at me. Look at my life. Am I a credible witness to you that there is a power at work in me to love and live like Jesus?” This puts me in a position of dependence on the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t mean look at me because my life is perfect. It means, “Lord, I’m yours. For your name’s sake, lead me in ways that testify to my loved ones that you really are alive.” It’s saying, “Jesus you said you were with me always. Be with me and be the evidence in my life and in the church that testifies to my loved ones, you’re alive!”

Paul did this. Three times in the New Testament he tells the churches he’s writing to, “Look at me.” (1 Corinthians 4:16, 1 Corinthians 11:1, Philippians 3:17). It’s a bold move to call people’s attention to your life as evidence that Christ is alive. But it’s what Jesus sent us out to be. We are his people, alive in the Spirit, because he is alive. He is with us everyday empowering us to be witnesses that he is alive!

Revive your heart for Easter: Look to seeds and plants

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I’m not an apologist. I don’t know all the arguments for the evidence that the resurrection of Christ really happened. But I do know what happens to a seed when you push it into the earth.

Throughout the Bible the image of seeds, trees and plants are used to describe the life of a person in the family of God. In the gospels, Jesus uses the example of a grain of wheat being planted in the dirt as the metaphor for what must happen to all who believe in him (John 12:24). And in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul uses planting a seed in the ground as evidence that the resurrection is real.

Dead People Don’t Get Up, But Seeds Do

As a nurse I’ve been around dead people. To see one of them get up and walk, fully alive would be crazy. It just doesn’t happen. Growing up hearing the story of the resurrection of Christ, the thought that Jesus, fully dead, got up and walked out of a sealed tomb has become familiar. The story of this impossible, universe-shaking event has become as common to me as watching spring plants bloom every March. Christ’s resurrection doesn’t shake me like it would if one of my dead patients got up and walked home fully well.

I have to pray and intentionally approach the story of the resurrection of Christ with a desire to be awakened by it. I want to feel the wonder of the scandal of the resurrection of Christ. I want to respond with the joy and awe fitting for such an event.

One way I am helped in responding to the story of the resurrection of Christ, is by reading what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15. Here Paul defends the reality of the resurrection of Christ and the future resurrection of all who believe in him. He uses the imagery of a grain of wheat, dying in the ground and being raised to its new plant life, to help the skeptical and doubting people at the church in Corinth.

Most of us don’t notice the everyday occurrence of seeds becoming plants. The last time we were probably in awe of the miraculous transformation of a seed into a plant was in elementary school when we learn about the parts of a seed and how it germinates. But this very elementary lesson God uses as a message all around us teaching us the reality of resurrection life.

Jesus died. He died a brutal death. And it’s absolutely impossible for a dead man like Jesus to regain a beating heart, breathing lungs, a functioning brain and ambulating body. But in God’s economy it’s no more impossible than a seed in the ground breaking apart, “dying” and then sprouting through the soil into it’s glorious new body.

The resurrection of Jesus is the miraculous first germination of the new man. The resurrection of Jesus is the beginning of the new creation. The resurrected Jesus is the new body all our planted lives of faith in Christ will become. The resurrected Jesus is the new man we who believe in him are becoming. Though we die daily, we will live forever as the new planting of the Lord we were always meant to be.

We weren’t meant to be seeds only. Just like Jesus wasn’t meant to die only. We’re meant to be Holy-Spirit-fruit-bearing trees of the Lord.

So, dear one, next time you look outside and see all the things that live because a seed once “died” in the soil, think of Jesus and your future. One day you and I are going to blossom in the new life that is ours in Christ.  Because he is alive, we will live too.

Response: Take time to meditate on what Christ has done for you and the reality of the resurrection by reading John 19-21 and 1 Corinthians 15. Then go outside. Look at all the life that has popped up out of the ground from seeds that died in the dirt. Pray that the Holy Spirit would increase your joy and hope in believing in the resurrection of Christ and your future resurrection.

Beauty in the messy business of loving people

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We’ve been home from our wilderness retreat for over a week. While we were there I soaked up the beauty in the nature all around me.  The tall green Pines and Spruce and the shimmering Aspen made me feel like I was tasting a bit of heaven. I intentionally observed the creation around me and enjoyed every second of it.  But I noticed my level of irritation with my husband and kids didn’t decrease as a result of my holiday, it increased.  I’ve been mulling this over.  Depression has her crooked fingerprints all over my attitude of late, but there’s something else too.  A reality that true beauty, real heaven, lasting peace and refreshment come not through escaping conflict and people, but through the cross.

What I mean is, the glory my soul seeks from God is not found in escaping the hard things of loving people.  Nature is a good place for temporary refreshment.  But people- messy, broken, sinful people- are where God’s kingdom dwells.

Jesus didn’t teach us to become one with nature. He taught us to lay down our lives for others. It’s not the path of escape that leads to God’s glory.  It’s the path to the cross.

Creation’s beauty is here to speak to us of God’s manifold beauty. I should enjoy it and praise God for it, and let my observations of it roll up into worship and affection for Christ.  But my soul won’t find it’s healing there.

Jesus calls us to walk through the dark valley of this life, enduring suffering, bearing our cross and following him in loving people and loving God.  He calls us to believe that like him we will experience resurrection life where the fulfillment of all our longings will be satisfied in our unrestricted union with him.

I’m an introvert, but I love people.  I also get tired of them.  In nature I find an escape.  But this vacation reminded me that God has an ultimate rest for me in Christ. And in taking up my cross, loving people and loving God- following Jesus- I’ll experience the peace a vacation and nature can never give.

Nature is beautiful, but the earth is full of people who bear the image of God.  In the messy business of loving them there is a greater beauty.

‘”This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. ‘

John 15:11-12

 

Wakanda and the King of Kings

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I watched The Blank Panther with my boys tonight.  To be frank, I’m getting tired of super hero movies. There are only so many things you can blow up and survive being blown up by.  But I liked this movie, mostly because it wasn’t over the top blowing stuff up.

I work with lots of doctors and nurses from Africa. Some from Eritrea. Some Nigeria. Watching a superhero movie tonight that elevated the beauty and worth of the imago dei in dark-skinned Africans made me feel good and look up. Watching it made my heart cry, “How long Lord?”

How long until the beauty of the kingdom of the King of people from every tribe, tongue and nation puts an end to the wickedness that elevates one race or tribe or tongue above another?  How long?!

It’s not for me to know. But tonight a Marvel movie made me ponder the beauty of a time to come when our weapons will be changed into tools for growing things, and cultures, tongues, dress and beauty of all shades will flourish for the glory of the King who laid down his life to absorb all the evil in us so that we could live out all the righteousness in him.

He is the real super hero all our super hero movies dream about. He made a mockery of all the powers that rule by oppression and lies when he let his body bear my wickedness on a Roman torture device. A mockery.  It would seem to all of us that his death was the mockery.  But he rules over death. He swallowed death up and lives.

And in me and in my brothers in sisters in Africa, Afghanistan, Mexico, Guatemala, China, Papua New Guinea… and every unknown family and tribe all over the world he has come to dwell.  He is more powerful than a purple flower. More potent than an infinity stone.  He is God and he lives in me.  And by the same upside-down super power that raised him from the dead, I am a whole new woman who can lay down my life willingly.  My King laid down his life. No one took it from him.  And he lives in me. No one can take him from me.

‘After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” ‘

Revelation 7:9-12

We weren’t meant to die

pexels-photo-601798.jpegI’m sitting here on this lazyboy in my grandma’s apartment watching her breath while she sleeps on the couch. The television is playing dvd’s she’s created over the years with pictures of all that’s important to her- her family.  Hymns and songs of worship that help her feel God’s pleasure fill the room.  They’re songs she selected for the family memories she had put together.

A deep gasp.  A long pause.  I watch.  No chest rise.  I keep watching.  She gasps again for precious air to fill the alveoli that will exchange toxic gases with the perfect combination of air her cells need to keep her heart pumping.  I don’t know how long she has left.  Maybe Jesus will take her home tonight. Maybe tomorrow.  Maybe next month.  But I watch because I know she’s dying. I know she doesn’t have many more breaths to take into her 83 year old lungs. The cancer cells are fulfilling the curse against her body. I watch because I don’t want her to be alone while she walks through this dark valley.

The death of the body is a soul-shaking thing.  We avoid it, fight against it, try to ignore it.  Eventually we come face to face with death’s power and we cannot win.  We fight and we strive to live as alive as we can live for as long as we can because we weren’t meant to die.  We were meant to live.

In this life, death and beauty, death and song, death and laughter, death and affection, death and healing dwell together.  Like enemies that agree to a truce for a time, death and all the evidences that we were meant to live and flourish, co-exsist.

In the same body where cells are invading the place where precious memories of smiles and birth and hugs and laughter and song were, there are lung cells doing their job to bring one more breath of life to the blood coursing through her veins.  In the same room where her body lays weakened by cancer two dozen red roses bring joy to the dimming eyes. Life seems to be loosing the fight, but song and flower whisper the longing, “There must be more.”

One day there will be life for my grandma that’s not mixed with death.  From here death seems to be winning.  But once it thinks it’s done it’s deed a breath of life never to die will fill her glorified lungs and death will have died forever for her.

There are lots of good and beautiful things in this life.  But mixed in between is the rotten stench of death.  One day it will not be.

One Man faced death for my grandma and because her hope is in him, when she exhales her last toxic breath of death’s work here, she’ll inhale a breath of life where her Redeemer stands ready to welcome her into everlasting life.

‘Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” ‘ John 11:25-26