A King’s Resurrection – the roar of Easter over culture

 

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There is so much noise. Do you hear it?

A pulling like the moon on the tide, darkly scooting across the earth. An undercurrent of intolerance for those who love Christ, who love God. More and more there is a cultural acceptance to bash them. And at Easter time, a growling and blatant disrespect for Yeshua – Jesus – and his lifework and ministry.

Never in history has a single King elicited such passion – both adoration and loathing.
But then, never in history has a single King come to redeem not only his own subjects, but the ones who mock him.

And mock him, they have. Internet memes, social media, and other venues for popular culture may be the latest vehicles for this derision, but on this Good Friday, we mark the day of the Crown of Thorns. We mark the event in which his contemporaries intended to make a parody of him, affixing a sign to the cross that read, “King of the Jews.” The event in which an innocent man was whipped and nailed to that cross, his body in ribbons, so that he could die a sinner’s death to bridge the gap for sinners to God.

His dying retort? Forgive them, Father. They know not what they do.

And now, more than 2,000 years later, why such vitriol still spewed in his direction? Why does the very idea upset this generation so … that there is a God, and that he so adores his creation that he sent his very own Son – his flesh and blood – to die for us and draw us near while we were still sinners?

Because, in this fallen world, Jesus and his resurrection are offensive.

It offends humankind that they might require atonement. It annoys them that their deeds might be construed as “sin” at all!  The natural within us wills to live bound by appetites they feel justified in satisfying.

The same culture of entitlement that parlays that we are all entitled to all the good things in life, also tells us we are entitled to the not-so-good things…self-satisfaction at all costs. The world and everyone in it? Yours for the taking. It is owed to you.

Jesus offends people because – at the end of the day – they don’t believe they need any redemption at all. Which is nothing new, of course, as evidenced by the day of the Crown of Thorns.

We live in a time in which the credibility of all things mystical and paranormal are not questioned, but all things holy and divine (and by the way, plenty mystical) are treated with disdain. Like resurrection. Like eternal life.

So much noise.

I am not offended by Christ. You see, the stakes were just too high. I’ve seen in my own life that he not only rose from the tomb, but set me free from one as well. I’m not willing to bargain on this fallen world being my oyster. I’ve seen what my appetites can do. I am hungry for much more than this meager life, and living in this skin … depending on the turning of the tides – the lucks.

The mockery is not the only noise, of course. As the tide turns on the phases of discontent this Holy Week, and the enemy ups the ante in popular culture – the noise – you can hear the rolling rejoicing from believers all over the world that the grave holds no power at all!

Can you hear it?
With no cultural constraints, it will undulate forever, just as it has for 2,000-plus years.

It roars like the sea in the lives of those who follow Christ. Just under the surface (but deeper and more authentic than anything that has ever resonated in popular culture) the thunder rises, drowning out the drums of denial and mockery for the Savior.

Forgive them Father. They know not what they do.

Yeshua, KING OF KINGS!
It is finished.

It sounds like an enormous stone being rolled away from crypt, grinding and roaring and echoing from the empty chamber. It sounds like life.

It sounds like Easter.

Playing the cards you’re dealt

By: Jana Greene

Seven UNO cards were spread out like a fan in my hand. There were four greens, two reds and one blue. The card facing upward on the table was yellow, emblazoned with the number “5”…just about the only number and color not represented in my hand.

Anyone who has ever played the card game could see that this was an unlucky grouping. My daughter, who was nine years old at the time, smiled like the cat that ate the canary. Never one to present a poker face, she picked the last of her own seven cards from the thick, worn pile.

“Hmmmm,” she said. “Another wild card.”

I looked down at my cards again, knowing I would have to pick yet another in a game that required losing all to win.

“Skip me?” I asked.

“You know the rules, Mom,” she chided. “You have to pick another card until you get a match for the yellow or the five.”

She was right, of course. So I picked the first card lying face down in the pile. It was a blue eight. The next was a green “skip” card and the one under it was another green three.

“Dos, tres, cuatro,” I counted, my hand becoming heavier with the losing cards.

“You will have catorce soon!” laughed my opponent. “Catorce” is the Spanish word for fourteen.

“I must not have shuffled them well,” I grumped.

“Maybe not,” she said. “But you have to play the cards you’re dealt.”  How many times had I told her that?

It was not, in fact, until I did have fourteen cards that I was able to get rid of even one of them. By the time I chose a winning card, there were too many to hold in fan formation so they fell about in a messy heap that allowed my opponent to see which colors and numbers I held.

Miraculously, though, I won the game that day. I kept choosing and she kept laying down her cards until she was forced to play a green one. She had been holding on to not one, but FOUR wild cards – pieces that entitled her to change-up the game in her own favor all along. Somehow, using all of her good cards had resulted in her ending up with green cards.

And green cards I had!

It seems to me that many people are dealt unfair cards in this life. Some are given wild cards in abundance, while others have a handful of “fives” without any apparent significance.

I didn’t mean to choose the hand of proverbial cards that I had to play in the darkest times in my life, but I did pick many of them myself.

I hadn’t wanted to grow up to be an alcoholic.

I don’t remember picking the card for divorce that showed up in my deck.

And single motherhood? I’d have just as soon left that one out, too.

Chronic pain, financial struggle, surviving abuse….I’d never have asked for them. So many issues  – more than catorce! – that my hand could not hold them all, spilling out of formation and into a messy heap.  And when you have a big enough pile, you can’t hold them close to your chest and they fall about you for all the world to see. For your opponent to see.

I didn’t ask for that messy pile. Even though I often contributed to the disorder with my own actions, it still seemed unfair. Sometimes I’d done all the right things – shuffled well. Still, bad things happened, things that made me hurt deeply.

“Skip me!” I’ve begged the Lord on numerous occasions. “God, please….”

But He had purpose all the while.  I found out that there is a huge difference between perceived unfairness and purposeless-ness.  All of the losing cards I’ve held have  played pivotal roles in making me understand what God’s grace is all about. I wouldn’t trade that card for anything.

We all have to play the cards we are dealt – in a game that often requires losing all of self to win.

Keep picking up the next card, believing that God will work it to the good. Believe it, and ask him to fill in the gaps where you do not believe it yet.

And lay them down; keep laying your cards on the table – on the altar.

At the cross.

Picking up Rocks on a Walk with God

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” – Matthew 11:28 (The Message)

Crispy.

Fried.

Burned out.

These are not amongst the niceties exchanged between friends as we pass in the street.

“How are you?”

“Parched.  Just really heavy-laden lately. You?”

“Weary and burdened, actually.”

The truth is that we do become those things, regularly. Or at least I do. A praising heart becomes a languid spirit far too easily.

I will be walking alongside Jesus, matching my footsteps to his, and enjoying the journey. And then I see something up ahead and forget to keep pace with him, racing toward what I assume is our mutual destination. Every footfall becomes heavier, until it feels I am stepping through jelly.

Or, as often happens, I will head off toward somewhere He never planned to go, figuring that I will on meet up with Him later. My steps are intentional in keeping His steady pace, but in another direction entirely.  Forcing my own awkward gait,  I lose sight of the unforced rhythms that are His grace.

And still….I am always surprised by the result from either choice: weariness. A tiredness that originates from the soul.

“Walk with me and work with me,” implores the God of the universe. “My ways are not your ways, you have no clue about which route to take. And for crying out loud, stop picking up rocks to carry around on the way! No wonder you’re tired!”

I have to stop and remember to read His love letter to me, to take hold of his hand for the same reason that I held my children’s’ hands when they were small.  Because although they truly believed they knew better, I had the power to keep them safe on busy streets and complicated intersections.  It really is that simple – stay in the Word, love God, love others, serve.

“To care for the needs of all who mourn in Zion,
give them bouquets of roses instead of ashes,
Messages of joy instead of news of doom,
a praising heart instead of a languid spirit.” – Isaiah 61:7

It turns from praise to languish when I make it about religion instead of relationship.

I’m fried, Lord, I tell him when I get worn-out. And he always collects the burned-out bits and pieces  together, brushing the “me-dust” back into a pile and transforms it again.

Beauty from ashes.

The Shock and Awe of Forgiving Yourself

By:  Jana Greene

“Many promising reconciliations have broken down because, while both parties came prepared to forgive, neither party came prepared to be forgiven.” – Charles Williams

The gesture of forgiving someone else is often referred to as “extending the Olive branch.” How peaceful is that imagery?  The phrase conjures a picture of biblically attired individuals, stepping forward in dusty, sandaled feet and stretching out a hand to offer and receive a leafy twig in reconciliation.

Self-forgiveness doesn’t feel like that at all to me.  When it comes to forgiving myself, it’s not a peace-summit  olive branch that comes to mind.  It’s more like a flag raised on a bloody battlefield.

Part of the difficulty is that as long as I carry guilt, I can trick myself into feeling like I’m paying back some of the debt that I drove up in my sin.

That’s why grace is so mind-blowing a concept…it is undeserved,  given by God in love.

No martyrdom required.

The other part is that I forget that unforgiveness is a weapon of warfare.   Self-condemnation is my using the enemy’s bullets and firing at my own spirit. How long I suffer is up to me….the enemy will keep engaging in that battle until I surrender my sins at the cross and leave them there.  At the cross…where the war has already been won.

Regret for bad choices is healthy; it keeps me from repeating the past.  But hauling around self-condemnation and accepting it as collateral damage is not what Christ came to earth and died for.  Like many wars, He fought for freedom – but on the ultimate level.

Good vs. evil.  Life vs. death.

So, today – I am choosing to forgive myself.

And by doing so, I am choosing to drop an atomic bomb on the devil’s ammunition storehouse, so that he cannot use my past against me anymore and call it “friendly fire”.   A dusty, barefoot soldier raising a flag red with the blood of Christ, even though I don’t deserve to even carry it.

It feels like shock and awe.

It feels like victory.

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Right in the Jugular

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By:   Jana Greene

 “God went for the jugular when He sent His own Son.  He didn’t deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant.  In His Son, Jesus, He personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all.  The law code, weakened as it always was by fractured human nature, could never have done that.” – Romans 8:3-4 (The Message)

The jugular.   I’ve never heard the gospel explained like that before.  It sounds pretty graphic.  It is decidedly untidy, and really extreme.  Maybe even a little offensive.

What I know about human anatomy is very limited.  But I know that if you are ever in Africa on safari and attacked by a lioness, she will “go for your jugular”.  She is going for your lifeblood, and she means business.    It would be a direct hit.

Society tends to think of the Bible as a book of stories of ancient peoples.   But it isn’t just a bestseller.   It is an account of the disordered mess of struggling humanity being set right with a true and omnipotent Creator.  In the beginning there was God, yes.   But the end?   We know where eternity lies, but “the end” is not dusty pages of prophecy in Revelation.  The end is still being recorded in the lives we live today.   In my life, in your life.

God’s relationship with us individually was not remote and unimportant then….it is of the utmost importance now, and He means business.   To reconcile His people –full of sin and selfishness and corruption – back to him, sacrificial blood had to be spilled.  He had to have contact with this fractured human condition directly, swiftly.   I forget this sometimes, when I try to tidy up the gospel to suit me.

In “going for the jugular” of humanity, He poured Himself over bone and under skin, walked around in flesh with all of the discomfort that entails, and was brutally tortured and nailed to the cross to die.     His lifeblood was spilled while we were still sinners, the ultimate and fatal blow to death.

Webster’s Dictionary defines “jugular” simply:  “The most vital part”.  Thats where God hit sin and death.  Right in the jugular.

In Him, we are set right, once and for all.