grace Posts

The Saddest Day in History

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“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Matthew 27:46

We call it “Good Friday” but like so many things in the Kingdom of God, it was good for us, but bad for Him. What we call “Good” was terrible for our Lord Jesus. As you go about your day today, consider these facts: Early on that Friday morning, after no sleep the night before, Jesus was taken to Pilate’s prison. He was beaten by professional torturers who knew their craft all too well. He was then presented to the crowd who chose a notorious prisoner over the very Son of God. Throughout the day Jesus was silent and ironically, directing every move that was taking place. He was taken into the courtyard (called the Praetorium) and the entire company of soldiers surrounded Him.  They stripped Him, put a crown of thorns on His head, a staff in His hand, and knelt down before Him in mockery. They spat on Him and punched Him many times, as hard as they could. Tortured nearly to death, exhausted and famished, He carried His own cross to Golgotha and was nailed to it about noon. Darkness came over the earth from noon until 3:00 p.m. Close to 3:00 p.m. Jesus cried out “It is finished!” and He died. Around 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. the women came to prepare His body for burial and they placed His corpse in a borrowed tomb. The massive stone was rolled into place as the sun went down on the saddest day in history… and the angels were silent as all creation watched to see what would happen next.

As you go throughout the day today, be in a constant state of remembering what happened to our Lord Jesus. Think about each event as though it was all happening today. Consider the horrific emotional strain of knowing you are about to be killed, and greater still, the anticipation of the very wrath of God upon sin that would come upon you. And remember, He did all of this for one reason: you. Of all the faces that came to the divine mind of Jesus, one of them was yours. And it was enough to kill Him.

Pray: Lord, today I will walk with You through Your sufferings. I will meditate on every phase of Your sacrifice for me.  My heart breaks over my sin that put You on the cross.

“Why is this night different from all the other night?”

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On the night of Passover, the first of four questions leads the Jewish family into a journey of remembrance: “Ma nishtanah halailah hazeh mikol haleilot?” The seder (“service” or “arrangement”) meal presents a quest to rediscover the ancient mystery and meaning of the Passover, God’s liberation of His people out of Egypt. For thousands of years (according to Levitical Law), Passover has been observed on the evening of the 14th day of Nisan, the first month of the Jewish calendar (Leviticus 23:5).

From the time He was a child Jesus kept the Passover. The Gospel of Luke tells us that His parents went to Jerusalem every year. When He was twelve years old, He went up to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover (Luke 2:41-42). He observed the Passover throughout His life and did so with His disciples. (Luke 22:7-13). On the night before His crucifixion Jesus observed His last Passover (on earth)  and said, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God” (Luke 22:15-16).

Jesus brought new meaning to several key aspects of the meal, revealing how He was the fulfillment of the long-awaited Messiah. He explained that the bread of affliction (matzah bread- always pierced, always striped), broken before them, represented His body. The next day His body would be broken on the Cross, providing forgiveness of sins, accomplishing the ultimate Exodus of the human heart. He explained that cup of redemption would be fulfilled by the shedding of His own blood upon the cross.

Consider the backdrop of the Passover in light of Easter. Central to the Passover meal was the Passover Lamb. Each family in Israel would select a lamb from the rest of the flock- a male, without blemish, chosen five days before Passover. All the lambs were to be killed during a two-hour period just before sunset. Though no more that two men from each family could go into the Temple area of sacrifice, as many as a half-million people would move through that area in the two to three hour period and a quarter of a million lambs were sacrificed each Passover season in Jesus’ lifetime. This was a bloody religion. And on Good Friday (due to a chronological twist in how the Galileans kept time and how the inhabitants of Jerusalem kept time), Jesus was being crucified at the exact same time lambs were being slaughtered for the sins of the people. As He died on the Cross He cried out, “It is finished”, announcing that God’s redemption was now made possible for all who would believe.

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God…” Hebrews 10:11-12

Do you believe that Jesus, the Lamb of God, is the only Way to the Father? Receive His forgiveness now and give your life to Him as an act of worship. And experience the greatest Easter you’ve ever known. He’s done all that is necessary to rescue you from your sin. It is finished.

 

Faith leaders reflect on the movie NOAH

The Question

As we move into this new year, it’s good to remember that there are two mistakes we can make regarding the past. First we can stay in it, allowing past failures or past successes define us. This is why Paul said, “… but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.” Philippians 3:13  He’s saying, “Don’t live in the past”.  Don’t let it define you. Move on. But another mistake we make regarding the past is to disregard it altogether. And in our transient culture many tend to have no past, no connection with the past, and then feel that they live unto ourselves. We don’t know where we came from and so we live in the now and for the now. And when you live only in the present, you live only for yourself and not as a part of a community, a tribe, a family – a STORY.

As a pastor, one of the recurring questions I get (in varying forms) is essentially, “What is God’s will for my life?” We believe God has a specific plan and we want to know what it is. But the question itself betrays our misunderstanding. We’re asking the wrong question. The better question is, “What is God’s will?” Period. The first question centers on me; the second centers on God. He is the Source, Purpose, and Reason for life, not us. So what is God’s will? What is He up to? What is He doing that He wants me to join?

God is really about one thing: Himself.

Initially that sounds strange. Immediately we think that’s egotistical or self-centered. If we were to say that about ourselves it would be. But not God. He is already the Center of all things and because He is perfect, loving and good, anything- or anyone- who comes to Him experiences His perfection, love and goodness. So God wants everyone to come to Him to receive all that He has to give – for our good and to His glory. And what He has to give is always good and right for all things created because He created all things.

So, what God is up to primarily is bringing everything and everyone under His sovereign reign and perfect love. What He’s up to specifically is rescuing all of mankind from sin (from ourselves apart from Him) and renewing all things created. And all of this, “to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed us in the Beloved..” Ephesians 1:6. He wants all people to come to Him through the Beloved, Jesus Christ, Who alone has made provision for us to do so. Christ alone came from God. Christ alone lived the perfect life and met the holy demands of God for us, when we could not. Christ alone has provided the sacrifice for our sin and He alone will lead us to new life in Him.

God has a mission and He has formed a Church (a called-out people) to bring all other people to Him. He’s calling us out. He’s calling us to Himself. He’s calling us together. He gives us power to accomplish what He;s called us out to do. Jesus said it this way:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:8

That is God’s will. That’s what’s up.

On Reformation Day- Trick or Treat?

So today is Halloween. It’s a great day to trick others with unexpected grace and treat them with surprising love.

To track the etymology of the word is to understand it’s meaning: “Halloween” comes from a contraction of the German/Dutch, “All Hallowed Saints Eve” to “All Hallows’ (Saints’) Evening” – “All Hallows’ Eve” – Hallowe’en. It’s a yearly celebration observed in a number of countries on October 31, the eve of the Western Christian (Catholic) feast of All Hallows’ Day. The day is dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all faithful departed believers.

More importantly for protestant believers, today marks the day commemorating Martin Luther’s posting of his ninety-five theses, grievances against the Catholic Church at the entrance to the Castle Church in the town of Wittenberg, Germany. Luther, an Augustinian monk, doctor of theology, and resident of Wittenberg, posted his objections on October 31st in AD 1517. He did so knowing that the next day, All Saints Day, many would come to the church and be able to read it. Luther’s theses sparked a rediscovery of the core beliefs of the Christian faith and primal teachings of Jesus. His protest (thus the term, “protestant”) or confrontation within the Church would eventually lead to the movement known as the Protestant Reformation.
The historical, theological trends that brought about the Reformation began centuries before its actual occurrence. The root cause of the Reformation was a departure from several foundational teachings of Jesus, including the believer’s relationship with God and relationship with the Church. At the heart of the protest, however, was the issue of salvation and namely a departure from grace.

Through the years the Church had gone the way of the default mode of the human heart: the way of the law. The formation of a self-salvation project is always the default mode of the human heart. The Church had veered so far off the track of grace that a radical course correction was necessary. The reaction of the Church against Luther and a constant refusal to discuss his theses prompted an internal schism that eventually became the Reformation movement. By 1530, the lines were clearly drawn and an official statement of faith, known as the Augsburg Confession, began the first Protestant Church.

ALL OF THIS BEGS THE CRITICAL QUESTION: How have we veered off track and moved away from the teachings of Jesus in our day? Without constant self-correction (Spirit-led correction) we will always run to the way of the law. Law puts us in control. It allows us to check the box, to add to, and measure our contribution. And as a result, the law always leads to guilt and shame or pride and a judgmental spirit. The law has no power within it to transform us. It only condemns us and (hopefully) points us to the better way of God’s free grace in Christ. If we do not constantly re-calibrate everything back to the Person and Mission of Jesus, we will always go back to the law. If Luther were alive today, what would he be nailing on the doors of our churches? Better yet, what if Jesus were to come to our churches? What would He see? What would He say?

I believe we’ve veered off the course of the Church Jesus intended us to be. The need for a radical reformation in our day stems from two primary problems or re-discoveries:

  1. We need to rediscover of the Gospel of God’s rescuing grace.
  2. We need to rediscover the Mission of Jesus- to make disciple-makers.

The first challenge today is not that we don’t believe that God saves us by His grace. Our problem is that we don’t believe that He saves us by grace ALONE. We come to Christ by grace through faith and then we think it’s time for us to get busy, adding our good works to the mix. We are saved by grace and then we strap on the law. As Paul noted, we want Moses to finish what Christ has begun. We move from Jesus as Savior to Jesus as Example. Jesus as Savior is liberating news. Jesus as Example is crushing news. We’ve forgotten that, just as central to our salvation as Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross for our sin, is the fact that He lived the perfect life for us- so that we wouldn’t have to. I am free from condemnation because Christ fulfilled all of the crushing demands of the Law. There is nothing new inside of me, only the law. The Gospel (as News) comes from completely outside of me. I bring nothing to the table.

The second challenge of our day is a determination to join Christ on His core mission: to make disciples. We need to move from programs to disciple-making. Church leaders need to ruthlessly assess all programs, events, and gatherings in light of the singular mission of Jesus- to make disciples. The great sin of the Church in our day is not unlike that of Luther’s day: lots of church activities that form for us our own self-salvation project. We have so many options we can put together our own track, one that best suits our needs. Instead, we must bring all of our energies to making disciples. We must realize that being a disciple if not learning a body of knowledge but instead, mastering a skill set. And that skill set (in the context of loving, accountable relationships) is learning how to hear from the Spirit of God through His Word, obeying His Word, and telling someone else about it. Only through obedience will we see the power of God unleashed in our lives and only then will we see the reformation that will save the Western Church in our day. Lord, may it happen!

Let the reformation begin today with simple, unexpected acts of grace and surprising love without condition.

Happy Halloween.