Sunday, March 27, 2016

Joy resurrected!

“When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons.” Mark 16:9 NIV

Jesus said to her, “Mary.” John 20:6 NIV

For Mary Magdalene, the elation of Palm Sunday must have turned to shock and dismay as Jesus was arrested and condemned.  First the trial, then the terrible walk to the crucifixion, and finally the horror of watching one she loved die an agonizing death. For Mary, this was the end of a dream. 

Mary had been a prostitute, a woman utterly despised in her culture. Even the men who used her would have spit on her had she dared to approach them in public. We do not know how she came to live the life she did, but we do know that Jesus changed her life. He drove seven demons out of her and set her on a path going in a new direction. He gave her hope of a life without shame.

Jesus had become Mary’s rabbi, teaching her about God’s forgiveness and showing her the love she needed. At the foot of the cross, she must have thought that her former profession was now all that remained for her.  His death was also the death of her new life.

On Sunday, when Mary took spices to anoint the body of Jesus, she found the tomb empty Her last, loving tribute to Jesus was made impossible by the absence of His body. Weeping in despair, Mary answered the question, “why are you crying?” with a desolate “They have taken my Lord away and I do not know where they have put him.”   

Then Jesus spoke to her. All He said was, “Mary.” Just her name, that’s all. But it spoke volumes to Mary’s grief-stricken heart. Sorrow washed away as hope and joy came flooding back. All doubts about her future were permanently erased in one blindingly glorious flash of revelation. In an instant she recognized the face she knew and loved, now revealed as the face of her God. She knew with utmost assurance that all she had once dared believe was true. He calls you by name as well. This Easter, may God grant you such a “Mary” moment, when you recognize the face of God and your heart is pierced with fierce joy.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Fellowship of the Burning Heart

Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
It burns like a blazing fire, like a mighty flame.
Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away.
If one were to [offer] all the wealth of one's house for love,
it would be utterly scorned.
Song of Songs 8:6-7

Forerunners. A word overflowing with meaning and emotion and memory. My heart was stirred and filled with the idea when I first heard it. Preparing a people for the coming of the Lord in the spirit of Elijah…what a mission! How could I not say “yes”? Then twenty-five years went by. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s wondered at times if God didn’t pull a little joke on me. I’m sixty years old, for crying out loud! I had come to the conclusion that the call had passed me by. Yet in all these years I never once heard that God had rescinded my draft notice.

Lately He has been reminding me of my long-ago commitment. I’ve had a strong sense that God is calling up the troops—putting us on active duty as it were. I have to confess that my first response was disappointment. If only this had happened twenty years ago, I thought, I could have participated! Then He showed me that I have been one of many 'sleeper cells,' scattered all over the world; waiting for the day He would activate us. Waiting for the role custom-made for us. We are experienced...seasoned by the long battle campaign that is life. We've gone through life’s grinder and come out the other side still walking with God. Our scars are badges of honor, marking us as veterans in the end-times army. 

His call is insistently militant, but it is the counter-cultural, revolutionary militancy of brokenness and humility; of patience and waiting; of loving Him and loving others in a sacrificial way; of being faithful to the end in a world grown selfish, shallow and fickle. It is the call of the Lover to the Beloved; the militancy of the love-sick. This call does not depend upon youth and vigor—only willingness. And I began to feel the excitement of the call, once again.

Remember what it was like? When He asked for forerunners and your heart burned with longing for Him? When your 'yes' was given...without real understanding... just the 'yes' of a love-sick heart. When all you longed for was to be in His presence; to give yourself more fully; to love and worship Him with all your being, confident that you were unconditionally loved. When you would have done anything you thought He wanted, just to be near Him. 

It's time to arise and strengthen ourselves in the Lord. Time to remind one another that we aren’t finished yet. Time to encourage and exhort one another. A time to lift our eyes to Jesus; look above and beyond our struggles and see, really see, His beauty, His all-sufficiency. A time to remember first love and make Jesus our everything; to drink deeply of the life-giving nourishment found in Him in order that we may receive strength to finish our race. He's calling us to come away and be with Him. Answer the call, forerunner. The call to the fellowship of the burning heart. It is time to reenlist. 

No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs,
but rather tries to please his commanding officer.
II Timothy 2:4

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Allen Gewalten zum trotz, sich erhalten.

Despite all the powers, maintain yourself.

A Noble Treason is the true story of Sophie Scholl and a small group of like-minded friends and family who protested the Nazi onslaught against decency inside Germany during WWII. It's an insightful look into what life was like for average German citizens in the 30's and 40's, as well as a warning and encouragement to us today. The quote above is from Goethe and was a well-known saying at that time. It means maintain yourself; remember who you are; steady on. Keep your character when all those around you do not. Stand against the flow. Christians could add, cling to and focus on Jesus, to avoid being overwhelmed and overcome by the world. It's been a drum beating strong in my soul all week, this idea that I must stay the course; I must remember and remain who I am, even in the midst of powerful cultural forces seeking to distort me into someone else.  

The quote was something the Scholl family routinely invoked when pressure and stress threatened to become overwhelming. Germany in the 30's was tightly controlled. The only personal expression permitted was that which supported the National Socialist agenda. It was political correctness on steroids...where political correctness will ultimately run when unrestrained. It was heartening to learn that there were those in Germany who fought to stay true to the standards of decency they knew to be right. Regular people who tried to make a difference in any way they could, despite the constraints the German government placed upon its citizens. It became a society of betrayers and betrayed as the government spied on, jailed and executed many--mostly for the crime of not thinking or speaking as the Nazis said they should. It was a very dark time; Sophie and her brother Hans sought refuge from the horrors they witnessed and the stifling control under which they lived. They found light and strength and comfort in Christianity. God became the only constant upon which they could rely; a refuge of beauty from the ugliness of oppression and war.

Ours is a culture transforming from Judeo-Christian values into what we should expect when ethics vary according to situation and political correctness and values-neutral instruction have taught several generations that there is no such thing as objective right or wrong. We are reaping what we've sown, as every man does what is right in his own eyes. The upcoming election jangles discordantly. Like a rhythm out of sync or a wrong note played in a familiar song. It's uncomfortable watching those who wish to lead us resort to childish name calling—and worse—in pursuit of a political win. But the election itself is not the problem, it is only another symptom of a society growing seriously ill.

It has been instructive that the Republican party expects it is owed my vote; as if it is my life's calling to do my bit toward a conservative win. And of course I want to fulfill my civic responsibility and vote my conscience. But what a small, weak sort of calling that would be, when God calls me His family; an eternal being; a royal carrier of the glory of God; a world-changer; the Bride of Christ.   I Corinthians 6:2 says that one day we will judge the earth. We will rule and reign with Jesus. Makes this sad, tawdry political episode seem a bit beneath it all, doesn't it? 

We were made for so much more than arguing over which professional politician should be in charge. We've been told that fighting for the 'right' political outcome is imperative, but for Christians the real battle is to maintain our character, our salty flavor, our values—to continue "Christianing" in a world that screams there are more important things to worry about. But for us it must remain the vital, essential fight. To remain His, saved by grace; defined by love; branded by His Spirit, so utterly given to Jesus that we display His character no matter the powers arrayed against us. That we burn as torches in an increasingly darkening world.

This is a calling so beyond me and my small abilities that only He can fulfill it. Recurringly I find my heart, my inner man, shaken with fear over the storms darkening the far horizon. It seems to me that the cure for such thinking is to crowd it out by filling my heart and mind with Jesus. By meditating on His beauty; singing His praises and worshiping at His feet. By reading His words to me—hungrily, as a starving man sitting down to a long-anticipated meal. To maintain myself I need daily reminding that my identity and validation come from the highest source there is. So I remind myself that I belong to the King of all; that He remains serenely in control; that He is my anchor, my course and destination, and my portion forever.

Sophie and Hans Scholl and their friends made it their business to remind and exhort each other that God was sufficient—even in Nazi Germany. When they contended with martyrdom, they found Jesus fully adequate to the task. What an amazing encouragement! For He then must be sufficient for my trials and temptations as well. Those young people refused to let the culture of death all around them define who they were. For the joy set before them, they endured, they maintained themselves. Though they died more than 70 years ago, they continue to speak powerfully to us today.

Sophie Scholl said, "I will cling to the rope God has thrown me in Jesus Christ, even when my numb hands can no longer feel it." That is tremendously good advice to us in 2016. Our world has become vulgar, coarse, and violent, but Jesus is lovely and worthy. I must lean on, rely on, and desire Jesus as my absolute necessity. I must have Him, like air to breathe, like food to eat, like sanity in a crazy world. Our great King is high above and beyond it all and filled with light. Let Him fill you with hope and wonder at His goodness; His beauty; His intention to set things right. Let Him recenter you, reminding you of your identity, your destiny, and your calling. His beauty and goodness are greater than that which fills the world. By focusing on Him, we gain strength to maintain ourselves, against all powers. Maranatha!

For [you] are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, 
but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, 
against mighty powers in this dark world, 
and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. 
Ephesians 6:12 NLT

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