What the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Tells Us About The Father

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Today is Easter, the day all over the world Christians of all stripes and varieties celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. What I love about this holiday is that it, more than any other holiday that Christians celebrate, is one that pushes Christians to actually reflect on the most crucial elements of our faith.

One of the truths I’ve been mulling over the last few weeks has been the reality of the Father’s role in the death and resurrection of Jesus. For most of us, we’ve come to believe the lie that the Father is some sort of disapproving, hard to appease deity that spent this period of time waiting for Jesus to die, waiting to be appeased with humanity by the death of His Son*. The picture is more of an evil, distant Father than we care to admit. We believe because of a mixture of influences: Some good theology, some bad experiences with father figures, and a little bit of biblical ignorance. Lately I’ve been seeing the Father’s role in a completely different light.

At the moment Jesus died, Matthew records a unique detail:

At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.

Matthew 27:51

This tearing of the veil wasn’t just a result of a terrible earthquake or the result of  stress on the Temple. This tearing of the veil was symbolic. The veil itself represented the idea that God and man were to be forever separate because man had sinned. To look at God in our sin would kill us. The veil in the Temple protected us from staring straight at God and dying, but it also separated us from God. It meant we had limited access to God. When Jesus breathed His last, the veil was torn to symbolize that the separation between God and man had ended.

But who tore the veil?

I can’t point you to a verse that conclusively says who tore the veil, but here’s what I believe: the Father Himself tore the veil. I believe that from Eternity He sat waiting to restore communion with mankind. He had longed to fellowship with man just like He had in the garden. So the very moment that Jesus breathed His final breath, the very moment the price was paid to cleanse us from our sin, that very moment, God the Father Himself tore down the veil that seperated us from Himself.

It was almost as if the Father was saying, “FINALLY!”

God had been wanting a relationship with His family this whole time. He wasn’t the neglectful Father turning His back on His Son. He along with Jesus had hatched a plan from the foundation of the world to draw us back into fellowship with Himself. The cross was the culmination of their planning and at the very first opportunity, the Father ripped down everything that separated us from Himself.

Today is Easter and the resurrection of Jesus is real and an enormously big deal. But I want to ask you a question: Is God your Father who wants a relationship with you so much that He tears down everything that separates us from Him or is He someone else to you? The answer may just shock you, but if we can believe rightly that the Father is seeking to tear down everything that separates us from Him, then we begin to see Him as He really is.

And then we are changed.

But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

Paul, 2 Corinthians 3:16-17

Photo Credit: Tomb of Jesus by Dainis Matisons

*Note I do believe that Jesus’ death satisfied the wrath of God against sin.

Where the Cross Meets Community

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Today is Holy Saturday, the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Since there’s not much to write about the day where Jesus laid in the grave, I thought I’d take today and reflect a bit on how the cross affects the life of the believer.

The cross and the resurrection began a revolution in the life of humanity. Humans, who had lived under the thumb of sin for thousands of years, finally were freed from its dominance. They could have a relationship with God! We can draw close to God in a way that was never possible. But the cross changed more than just our position before God. The cross changed how we live with one another.

Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.

-Paul, Ephesians 5:2

Paul (and the other apostles) constantly call us to not just accept the work of the cross in our life. They also call us to follow the example of Jesus in how we relate to others. Many of us will read Paul’s letter and hear a call for Christians to “be nice.” Paul points us to lay our lives down in love for one another in the same way Jesus gave up His life on the cross.

This is a whole different level than just doing good to others. Jesus’ example means giving up our lives for the betterment of others. It means entering into situations others have created for no other purpose than to love and serve them. It often means you absorb the cost for others’ actions.

I remember a time back in college when we planted our first house church. I had just gotten done taking care of all my bills with my meager college income and I had just gotten paid and had a little extra cash in my pocket for the first time.  It was at this exact moment that a single mom in our house church shared a need she had. She was behind on her electric bill and needed to come up with the cash to pay it. Somehow between all of us we came up with the cash, but the lesson I learned was this: My money isn’t just my money. In order to love like Jesus, I needed to lay down my life for others. In this case it was my excess cash that I was so happy about.

Friends, Jesus didn’t owe us anything. He entered our world and paid the price of our sin because He loved us, not because we deserved it.  In the same way, He calls us to follow Him into the lives of others and love them in the same way.

Today (and tomorrow, and the next day, and the next…) as we remember the price Jesus paid for our sins, commit yourself to share the kind of love you’ve received from Him with other believers in your life. Share the love you received in the same way He showed it to you.

[Update] Frequent commenter Dan left this well stated truth in the comment section:

He died once for sin but daily, moment by moment, gives Himself to us. We died once to sin, but daily, moment by moment give of ourselves to others.

At the Cross: Three Points of View

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A short meditation for Good Friday:

For some, today looked like chaos. An angry, ugly mob finally turned on a man from Nazareth who had aspirations of something greater.  Having brought Him to Pilate, this mob finally got their way. For those who were following this man, this was unthinkable. He had healed the sick, raised the dead Himself, and had been confirmed by so many signs that the idea of Him going to the cross was unthinkable. And He was crushed. And along with Him, their hopes.

God can take our chaos and crushed dreams and make something beautiful.

For one man, this day was the culmination of everything he deserved. He had spent his life stealing, swindling, and escaping the law. His life benefited no one, only took took from those who surrounded him. He deserved this day. He deserved to find himself on this cross. His sins brought him here. But next to him was a man he had never met before, gasping for the same air he was trying to swallow.  Between the pain and not  being able to breathe, somewhere he had a revelation that this man dying next to him was more than a man. He confronted the mocker on a third cross and called out to the One in the middle of them. He heard that One, that “more than a man” whisper to him “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

God can take the worst of us in horrible situations and change our lives.

Post the cross, first hundreds, then thousands, and then millions have accepted the reality of the cross and the man who rested on it.  The meaning of this day, looked back on throughout history has become a point of both deep grief and deep relief.  That Jesus lost his life on that cross was the beginning of God’s plan to liberate us from our sin and the enemy of our souls.  But for the first believers and those that have followed in their steps, this day has not only become a day to celebrate but an example to follow.  This became a day that not only defined our freedom from sin, but a freedom from the way this world would seek to control us.

God can take this day and not just forgive us, but define us.

Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,  so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

-Paul, Philippians 2:5-11

Photo Credit: Jesus Cross by Claudio Ungari

The Kingdom of God Does Not Depend on Dollars

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Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

-Jesus, Matthew 6:26, 31-33

This may come as a shock, given what you’ve seen and what you heard from Christian ministries in the past, but the Kingdom of God is not dependent on dollar bills in order to keep expanding.  Let me explain.

When you came to Christ, regardless of the context you heard the Gospel in, the critical element was the exchange of the message of Jesus from one human being to another.  Now, there were probably multiple things involved in that moment that were paid for: a Bible, possibly a building, maybe a paid speaker or pastor, but at a basic level the Gospel was freely given to you.

In China and in many other countries around the world, the Gospel spreads not because the people are able to give exorbitant amounts of money–they can’t. The Gospel spreads there because people received the true Gospel and they are willing to give up every part of their life so that others can hear the same transforming Gospel. So without buildings, paid pastors, and often without Bibles, the true message of Jesus continues to spread.

But in the West, we’ve become so consumed with money and the place it plays in our lives, that to suggest that the Gospel could spread without it is met with charges of heresy. Who will shepherd us? Who will teach us? Who will share the Gospel with others if we don’t pay someone to do it? And what about the building? How does that work?

The reality is these things can and do work without money. House churches, for example, work regularly without paid staff, dedicated buildings, or a ministry budget. Small groups of believers meet in each others’ homes, teaching each other, caring for one another, and sharing the Gospel all without any cost.  Missions? That can still happen, depending on how you define it. Locally is easy, non-locally is tougher but can be achieved through relationships, hospitality, and tent-making.

My point isn’t to glorify house churches in writing this, but to open our eyes that ministry can happen with little to no budget. If you are a traditional church with a building and staff, that’s not an evil thing. It’s just that often I’ve seen ministry stop when the money stops flowing, but it doesn’t need to be like this. We need to lower the power of the dollar in the minds of the church and lift up the ability of Jesus to not only to sustain the church, but extend the Kingdom, with or without money.

The same Jesus that told us to look to the birds and the flowers for our personal natural provision is the same Jesus that can bring ministry forth with very little (and even no) money. May God help us see that there’s no amount of money that can achieve God’s purposes, only hearts fully surrendered to Him.

Photo Credit: Dollars by 401(K) 2012

Naked and Unashamed

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Deep in the heart of every human being there is a lie that’s been rehearsed to us from as early as we can remember. That lie goes something like this: I’m not valuable. Nobody wants me for who I am. I’m only valuable to God or to others as long as I act like someone else, someone better than me, someone who has things more put together. We all believe this, to a greater or lesser degree.

We all cope with this lie in different ways. Some of us wear masks to hide who we really are. These masks hide who we are behind some kind of alternate reality. Some of them are easy to spot. Jesus called the Pharisees of His day hypocrites, a word which refered to play actors who wore masks that portrayed feelings they weren’t real. Many of us work to portray a much better image to the world around us than what is really going on. We are literally different on the inside than on the outside.

Some of us keep others at a distance. Like Adam and Eve caught in their sin and ashamed at their nakedness, we cobble together clothes for ourselves that hide who we really are. We don’t let others get close. Fear tells us that if we dropped the act and let God or anyone else see who we are on the inside, they would reject us.  So we turn to things like perfectionism, business success, and even ministry to make the world think well of us, but we still live empty and broken.

But God’s design for us, the way we were designed to live and the way that is most healthy for us is totally different. Genesis 2 describes the first man and woman living together in perfect harmony with God this way: “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed,” (Genesis 2:25). They lived transparently with each other and before the Lord, hiding nothing from either.

In our lives, this is what healing looks like. We can come to a place where God heals us and we can be totally at peace with God and others knowing exactly who we are.  I’m not advocating for actual nudity, but a spiritual transparency where we no longer put on masks and we let others see us as we truly are.  We let God in. We let others in. We do one of the scariest things humanly possible and trust others with the ugly realities we see in ourselves.

One of the most healing things I’ve witnessed over the last ten years has been the moments where a brother gets really scary honest about the condition of his heart. This takes mad bravery, the kind you don’t find everyday. When a brother steps up to the plate and says “This is exactly how ugly I am on the inside,” it’s usually the first step on a powerful journey to wholeness.

Why is this? Most of us want to be loved by God. The problem is we don’t believe that God could really ever completely accept us in the state we’re in. This is a problem, especially if we’re believers. Jesus died because God was looking for a way to make men right with Him and anyone who has received Christ as their Savior has been accepted by God (note the past tense). God literally loves us while knowing everything negative about us.

I know so many believers, though, that don’t believe they’ve been accepted by God. Instead they live their lives behind masks and fig leaves, hiding the ugliness they believe not even God can handle.  In my life, God has helped me over and over again by sending men that I got scary ugly with in my life. These men had the audacity to not run away, to not laugh at me, to not point a finger at me, but instead they looked at me and said, “You’re stuck with me. I love you. Let’s figure out a way forward.”

Because they didn’t give up on me, over time I’ve had an easier time believing God hadn’t given up on me either. And every time I see the Father’s love reflected through another human being in my life, I have a little easier time believing that God really loves me the way He truly sees me. That enables me to let down the masks.

As I’ve let down my masks and been honest about my struggles, other men around me have found freedom to be honest about theirs. Transparency begets transparency.  When one guy lets down his guard and lets others in, others seem to find the courage to be open and honest. Healing comes every time we talk because God promises to bring healing where honesty and contrition meet together: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed,” (James 5:16).

I’ve probably written about this before, but I’m writing again because I’m convinced that only the kind of scary transparency that we all fear with both God and people is the only reality many people will find acceptance, love, and an end to their struggles.  If you aren’t in a relationship where this happens, please find someone (of the same gender) who you trust and you believe will love you regardless of your sin . Open up to them. Unburden your soul. Practice the kind of love for each other that Christ showed when He laid His life down for you.

God’s design for us is “naked and unafraid.” When we can get to this place, we can find true healing. It’s a scary kind of honesty, but it brings healing and transformation.

The Cost of Doing Ministry

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If you’ve ever worked in a business environment, there’s a common conversation that comes up.  Changes in whatever market the business operates in cause the business to have to pay a little (or sometimes a lot!) more than they had been to continue selling their product or offering their service.  Often this comes from taxes or regulations that governments roll out or sometimes the market changes requiring upgrades that are costly.  Every time a business encounters one of these and the cost is significantly less than the opportunity to make money, everyone throws up their hands and says, “That’s just the cost of doing business.”

What they mean by that is this: There is a cost to doing business. Everyone recognizes it and everyone understands that if you want to make money, it sometimes means having to spend money. As long as there is money to be made, it’s worth the investment to generate a profit.

In the Kingdom, there is a cost to doing ministry. It’s not a regular, planned expense like it is in the business world, but they exist. For believers, the cost of doing ministry is more a question of when we pay the price, not if.

Because to truly serve others, it will mean learning how to deny ourselves. It will mean giving up things that others don’t or won’t give up. It will mean refusing to defend or promote yourself in a world where others do it all the time.  It will mean speaking the truth when it’s unpopular and costly. It will mean going the extra mile when there’s no compelling reason to. It will mean laying down even your most “godly” agendas when brothers or sisters in your spiritual family need to be served.

Friends, the Kingdom of God is worth more than whatever cost is to be paid. Jesus said it’s like a treasure hidden in a field that was worth more than whatever a man owned.  But we have to embrace the process of selling everything we have in order to buy the field it’s buried in.

It’s the cost of doing ministry in the Kingdom.

Photo Credit: Cash Paid Out No Sale by Thomas Hawk

 

The Missional Power of Doing Nothing

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This will be hard to describe. Hang in there with me.

Often we think reaching people with the Gospel means that we are busy. We teach Bible studies. We serve the poor. We coordinate volunteers to go out and share the Gospel.  The list can go on.

But the more I try and share the love of Jesus with people in my neighborhood, the more I find myself doing less on purpose.  Why?

Lately, maybe over the last year or a little more, I found myself having more opportunities to share the Gospel with people as I was sitting around my house. Every time I was going off to “do something missional” I found myself having to turn away kids that were hanging out in our home. It became increasingly difficult to turn away the mission field that was showing up at my house to go find some kind of hypothetical mission field somewhere else. So I’ve had to reconcile within myself that being a normal guy hanging, trimming the yard, playing basketball with the neighborhood kids, and sharing the Gospel in everyday situations is one of the most fruitful things I can do. But often it means I have to keep my schedule light in order to make room for these opportunities.

One of the events that taught us this in a real way a few years ago was an outreach to our local park. We went on a walk one morning to explore where God might have our church inhabit a place for the Gospel. We took our kids with us and found a park in the middle of our neighborhood.  Every Sunday that summer we’d show up at the park, play soccer or football, push our kids on the swings, and have lunch. Quickly other adults started showing up to play games. Many people returned week after week as we started sharing our food with them. (Missional Pro Tip: People flock to food.)

Because we live in an economically depressed neighborhood we would see other churches and ministries do outreaches in the park and in the neighborhood.  The people who we knew from the park would tell us how much they loved us, because unlike the outreaches would come in once a summer, hand out food or supplies, and then disappear, we never left. They weren’t projects to us. They were friends. We shared the Gospel too, but it was in the midst of everyday interactions we had as we played with our kids.

This isn’t to say we don’t do anything. We actually share the Gospel and meet as a church and serve people when the need arises. We do all those things as a response to needs that we have the time to encounter because our lives aren’t busy with Christian programs and outreaches. Sometimes, it means confronting the itch to be needed and prove “we are really doing something.”  Often it means saying “No” to over-packing our schedules. Sometimes it looks boring. But many times it frees us to be able to share the Gospel with someone we would have never had the time to encounter before.

It’s the missional power of doing nothing.