Risen Indeed

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Apologies that I am posting these Easter reflections late…but someone has said ‘better late than never’:

Christ is risen!

This is the joyful proclamation of Easter, the center of Christian faith and hope.  A miracle that took place two millennia ago means life and peace with God for us today—for anyone and everyone who places their faith in the risen Lord, Jesus Christ.

On that first Easter Sunday, certain women who were followers of Jesus came to His tomb.  They had seen their Master crucified and buried, and all hope seemed to have died with Him.

Imagine the surprise and confusion when they found the great stone rolled away from the entrance to the tomb, and that Jesus’ body was nowhere to be seen.

Imagine the wonder and joy when a pair of angels appeared to them and said, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here; he has risen!” (Lk. 24:5-6, NIV).  This is the news that changed the world, and has shaken it for two thousand years since.

This is the message we must receive and believe.  Why look for the living among the dead?  Why count Jesus Christ merely among the figures of history, when He lives and reigns today?

Why continue living in darkness and futility, when Christ has risen in glorious light?  Why live this life alone, when you can know Him, the one who died to save you from death and rose to bring you eternal life?

Christ is risen, and that changes everything.

Christ is risen!  Risen, indeed.

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Hosanna!

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Palm Sunday marks the beginning of holy week, and it is a day strange in joy.  Strange, because we know that the cross still lies between this day and the immortal victory of Easter.  Rejoicing will turn to sorrow before sorrow to rejoicing.

But so it was, and so Jesus knew when He rode into Jerusalem on the humble royal mount, a donkey’s colt, receiving the praises of the people.  But He came for the cross, He came because He had resolutely set His course to the sacrificial death that would happen at Jerusalem, and by which we would be healed.

Knowing the solemnity of Good Friday, still we rejoice on Palm Sunday.  Because the King has come.  God has sent our deliverance, in Jesus Christ–who is God our Deliverer.  Praise God Almighty, who has fulfilled all His promises.

Hosanna!  Lord, save!

Going Back

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I saw an advertisement for New Orleans, a celebration of LGBTQ+ gains, where the message was something like “we’re never going back.”  There probably wasn’t any connection to the fact that Bermuda has just gone back (sort of), but the timing was interesting.

In any case, it was a statement of defiance against those with more traditional views, intended to promote tourism–thus, monetarily motivated.  This will probably be the case more and more, as LGBTQ+ groups lobby for economic rewards to cities and states that are outspoken in support of their agenda, and punishments for places that oppose it–tolerance at its finest, if you will.

But there is something especially tragic about the defiance displayed in New Orleans’ advertisement.  You can make it as colorful as you will, but persistence in hard-heartedness only leads to broken lives.  When we have turned away from God and gone our own way, there is one merciful hope left: we can go back.

In Christianity, we call it repentance.  Going back, when you have strayed into sin.  Returning from idols to the Lord of Life.  Stumbling out of the darkness and into His light.  We might even say, going home.

When you determine to never go back, you cut yourself off from hope and life and light.  If you never go back, you will never get home.

The Vocation of Praise

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Hallelujah!

Give praise, servants of the LORD;

praise the name of the LORD.

(Psalm 113:1, CSB)

 

God is great, and worthy of all our praise.  He is holy and righteous, compassionate and merciful, awesome in power, majestic in beauty, wondrous in love.  Take time to give Him praise.  Lift up not only your voice but your heart; glorify Him and dwell on His greatness.  Praise the Lord, your God.

 

Let the name of the LORD be blessed

both now and forever.

(v.2)

 

This is our vocation, to praise the Lord and glorify Him in all we do.  This is our purpose.  We live in a world of rebellion, fallenness and corruption.  Our mission is to carry forth the truth and call people to repent and be saved.  But we live even now partially in the life to come, and we live out our true purpose, praising God our Savior.

 

From the rising of the sun to its setting,

let the name of the LORD be praised.

(v.3)

 

For God is all-worthy, deserving of endless worship in every place and by every voice.  The anthem of the redeemed is praise to God, and as the gospel goes forth, the name of the Living God, Father, Son, and Spirit, is lifted up and exalted.

One day the darkness will be finally cast away.  God will finish His work, and be praised in all the earth.

Strangely Beautiful

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I was just observing my cup of tea–which is a wonderful thing in any case–more wonderful by the lighting that enables me to see the steam swirling about, wispy as a ghost.  Isn’t steam a lovely thing, playmate of the air?  And it makes me reflect on God the artist, who fills this world with ordinary things strangely beautiful.

An atheist could appreciate the beauty, but only so deep, for the beauty of coiling steam above his cup would only be an accidental side-effect of the laws of nature.  And surely it is a side-effect of those laws.

But I can’t help thinking that God might have designed a more pragmatic universe, a world where function did not bring about such superfluously lovely forms, or a world without beings who had a sense of aesthetics, beings who saw strange beauty in ordinary things.

Here, then, a mug of tea testifies to an extravagantly generous and artistic God.

But it is my seminary mug.

Above All

“Grant me, O most loving Lord, to rest in Thee above all creatures, above all health and beauty, above all glory and honor, above all power and dignity, above all knowledge and subtilty, above all riches and art, above all fame and praise, above all sweetness and comfort, above all hope and promise, above all gifts and favors that Thou canst give and impart to us, above all jubilee that the mind of man can receive and feel; finally, above angels and archangels, and above all the heavenly host, above all things visible and invisible, and above all that Thou art not, O my God.  It is too small and unsatisfying, whatsoever Thou bestowest on me apart from Thee, or revealest to me, or promisest, whilst Thou art not seen, and not fully obtained.  For surely my heart cannot truly rest, nor be entirely contented, unless it rest in Thee–Amen.”  (Thomas a Kempis, quoted in Great Souls at Prayer, 14)

If Only God Had Spoken About This…

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Like many Protestant denominations these days, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (a small denomination that broke off from the SBC during the conservative resurgence) is considering whether to ditch what God has said about homosexuality in favor of our culture’s standard.

This is not really surprising coming from the CBF, but reading an article about the discussion they’re having over this issue did bring something interesting to my notice.  Consider this statement, describing the goals of the CBF committee on this issue, in the words of denominational communications representatives:

“The committee has sought to faithfully hear and feel the Holy Spirit moving among the priesthood of all believers and focused on holding opposing viewpoints on matters of human sexuality in tension to develop a third way forward.” (reported from Baptist Press, via the Southern Baptist Texan, November 2017 issue, p.6)

There are actually several interesting observations one could make about that statement, but to grab just one, it is a curious thing to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit precisely on a matter where you are rejecting what the Spirit has clearly said.  The Scriptures are God’s Word, “For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21, NIV).

The Scriptures are not vague about the issue of homosexuality.  The Holy Spirit has not been ambiguous or sent mixed signals about the issue of homosexuality.  It sounds so pious to say, ‘we are seeking the guidance of the Spirit on this issue’, but if what you’re doing is rejecting what the Spirit has said and asking Him to kindly affirm what you want to hear, it turns out to be a lot less reverent than you pretend.

It turns out to be rejection of God’s truth in favor of what you want to believe.  We call that idolatry.

Advent

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With the Thanksgiving holiday past, we come now upon what our culture thinks of as the Christmas season, but what is really, at this point, the Advent season—the season of anticipating Christmas, waiting for Christmas.

This is not recognized in our society because, as a rule, in modern society we do not like to wait.  So the Christmas music on the radio begins before Thanksgiving!  But when you think about it, there’s something to be said for waiting.  When we wait eagerly for something, when we look forward to it expectantly, when we relish the anticipation, we have prepared ourselves to better appreciate it when the time comes.

Christmas, after all, deserves to be appreciated for all its wonder and glory.  We anticipate Christmas and have a season of waiting—an Advent season—because we know what Christmas is really about, and that it’s a celebration worth anticipating year after year.

When the angel of the Lord came to the shepherds on that first Christmas, he said “I proclaim to you good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10, CSB).  How very true.  Good news; there has never been better news.  And the joy of this news is so great that we can celebrate it for all eternity.

The wonder of Christmas is this: God the Son became a man in order to save us from sin and death and reconcile us to God.  When we were lost in darkness, God sent His Son to be our light.  When we were helpless and hopeless, God reached down to us with the gift of forgiveness and life.

Delight in this season of expectation, as we look forward to celebrating once again the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The Unknown Hour

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“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”                 (Matthew 25:13, NIV)

Improper eschatological speculation is a sort of disease that perennially flares up in evangelical circles; a teacher, with charisma and the appearance of intellectual clout, comes along and claims to have identified to some degree the timing of the end.  By hook or crook, they manage to ignore and gloss over passages like Matt. 25:13, which tell us the hour is not ours to know.

But the main thing to take from such passages of Scripture is not the defense they provide against charlatans, but the exhortation to wise living.  The fact that we do not know the timing of the end has ethical implications.  It is a summons to live every moment with our eyes on the Lord, because at any moment He may return for us.

Perhaps the very secrecy about the timing of the Lord’s return exists, in part, because God knows we are slothful, and would live lazy lives if we knew how long we had!  The kicker, of course, is how much less wise we are to live as though the Lord were a long time coming, when we know He may here soon.

Crowned with Glory

“…Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”

(Hebrews 2:9, NIV)

            We can never get over the magnificence of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ our Savior.  God the Son humbled Himself and became man, lived among us—living the perfect obedience to the Father we failed to do, died in our place “so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”

            He died so that we could live; He lives and reigns, and so our hope in Him is unassailably secure.  But meditate on that clause, so strange and beautiful, that Christ went to the cross to “taste death for everyone.”  Certainly we must all face death, until the Lord returns.  But what we face is only the least and smallest sense of death; it only frightens us because we are small and faith is hard.  Christ has borne the terrible reality of death for us, has devoured it and robbed it of all power to harm.

            And the One who drank our poison overcame death, and sits now exalted at the Father’s right hand, enthroned in the heavens, “crowned with glory and honor.”  He is worthy of all our praise and adoration.  Our Savior lives, our Redeemer reigns.  Let us worship His wonderful name.