The third act

What we celebrate today is the culmination of a series of events. Today is a day of extreme rejoicing. It should be the most joyful celebration for the Christian. I would ask you hang there with me though as I backtrack briefly in the story. I was hit with such a simplistic yet profound element of the story that I never really focused on much until this year.

Go back with me to the garden. Jesus made the most transparent and honest prayer that He could. He asked to be spared from what was about to happening. He asked for there to be another way that did not require the agony of the crucifixion. Jesus ends this pleading with the boldest words any man could ever speak, “Not my will father, but yours”. Jesus is opening up to God’s will. God’s will requires Jesus to be lead like a lamb to the slaughter. God’s will requires pain, torture, and death. It is a will of crisis and strife. If God is the storyteller then couldn’t He come up with a better story? A happier story?

This is why resurrection day is so important. The story didn’t end in the tomb. God’s will did not find its completion in His sons’ corpse. All of that was just one big setup for the grand conclusion. All of the pain, struggles, and hardships were to provide the best possible ending to this part of the story. In truth it is the grand conclusion of the whole story, for Christ’s death and resurrection is found from beginning to end.

Why do I not willingly surrender myself to God’s will more often? I’ve struggled with this lately. God’s will inevitably seems to lead me down a difficult path. It inevitably puts me in situation where some will not think kindly of me. It is certain to put me in harm’s way. It is clear that I will face hardships. You see, when I look at God’s will the only thing I can see is the middle act.

There is a third act though. What we celebrate today is a third act. It is the act where everything is made right. It is the act that is all the more beautiful and powerful because of all the wrong there seemed to be in the second act. I find myself looking at the whole story and seeing a much different picture. Yes, this most certainly was the best story God could tell.

God’s will is guaranteed to lead you down a hard road. I can promise you it will be difficult. I can also promise you that is all just a grand setup for the third act though. It is setting you up for the best finale your life ca n have. The best finale in a life is the kind that echoes on this earth after you have gone.

Did I mention there is a bonus act? Perhaps bonus act is the wrong word. Perhaps it is better stated as the eternal act. It’s the act that I truly live for. Its beginning is a thing of beauty when I meet the storyteller to hear Him say, ‘Well done my good and faithful servant”. That is just the beginning of that act, and it was God’s will that made it possible.

The question is simply. If God’s will all those years ago is what made life worth living despite the hardship, then why do we not follow His will more often? When you fear what the second act contains, remember the greatest third act this world has ever seen. JESUS IS RISEN!

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The wait

Silence. Some relish the experience while others hate its cold nature. Some thrive in the silence while others fear what its end brings. In these moments years ago there were none who enjoyed this particular silence. It was deafening. Nature itself had cried out in agony, and after the crying all that was left was the quiet.

Waiting. No one enjoys the waiting. The only moment where it appears tolerable is when the anticipation of waiting heightens the experience of the end goal. Waiting for a goal we cannot fathom is pure agony. All those years ago these men and women waited for what appeared to be nothing. They waited in the silence.

They had been a part of a nation that had been born to wait. To wait in silence and chaos for the coming Messiah. A Messiah they believed had finally arrived only to be crucified on a cross. So now they were left to wait for… for what? Death? Persecution? The inevitable? They would wait for things to blow over. The sooner this fiasco was behind them the sooner they could get back to their old lives. So they waited. They waited in the silence.

We wait for the Lord in our lives today. We wait for personal salvation from crisis. We wait for guidance. We wait for healing. We wait for hope. We wait on a Lord that we know is alive. These followers waited, but not knowing what to wait for. Their Messiah was lying dead in a tomb. There was an occupied tomb that day. It was not empty. If you could role away the stone you would find a corpse with wounds from a crucifixion. Jesus was dead. What were they supposed to wait for with only the cruel company of silence?

We believe our needs to wait on the Lord are a cruel form of agony. We wonder how we could ever survive in this struggle. We wait on a living Lord though. We have hope because we know there is an empty tomb. We have it easy when we wait. We wait because we know where the road ends.

Today I encourage you to welcome the silence. I encourage you to welcome waiting on the Lord as if it were an old friend. I wait because I have hope. This has been a season of life for me that has revolved fully over waiting on the Lord. So I will wait. I will welcome the silence. I will do so because all those years ago the Lord came to his followers while they were waiting. Waiting when there seemed no reason to hope and wait. Waiting when there was an occupied tomb. I wait because I know one day this profound truth will be a reality. One day upon my final breath I will have my hands on redemptions side. I can wait for the petty needs.

Wait my friends. Resurrection day is coming.

He did not look like a savior

“But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.”
Isaiah 3:5

Hanging on a cross. A man who is exposed, bleeding, and dying. A man who is facing a death of humiliation. A death of a criminal. A sign hangs above him full of sarcasm, “Jesus, King of the Jews”. A man who was chosen to be crucified while allowing the freedom of a murderer. A man who had to do everything he could just to take in another breath. A man who is completely helpless. Here hangs the savior of the world.

He didn’t look like much of a savior. He certainly did not look like any messiah. At least no messiah the world expected. He was not a military leader. He did not possess the strength of a Samson. He did not lead Israel to freedom like a Moses. He did not reign over Israel into an era of prosperity like a David. Of all the saviors found in the Bible Jesus appears to be the least of the bunch. Let’s face it, this man hanging on a cross does not seem to look like a savior.

What is a savior though? Is a savior one who comes in the form his subjects demand? Does he simply try and meet the needs of those who ask? Maybe a savior is meant to be something more. Perhaps this savior hanging on a cross is more than He appears to be. There is a story behind this man’s life that you may not have known if you were simply passing by. This man claimed to be the son of God. He didn’t look like any son of God we would have imagined though.

The greatest hope of the world did not look like any sort of hope at all. A helpless man hanging on a cross. A man destined to die a painfully excruciating death. Abandoned by his disciples, denied by his closest friends, alone on a cross. No, wait, not entirely alone. Two men are being crucified with him. Two common criminals hang on crosses next to this savior of the world.

One criminal can only see what hangs in front of him. Jesus did not look like any kind of savior to this man. He looked like a helpless criminal on a cross. This common man mocked and ridiculed this Jesus, this “Savior of the world”. This common criminal played a crucial point in the telling of the story. He was pointing out the clear truth of the situation. Jesus did not look like any kind of savior this world needed.

The second man saw something different though. He was another criminal who had earned his punishment on a cross. He recognized something in Jesus. Perhaps he looked past the mere image he saw before him. Perhaps he simply realized some innate truth residing inside the core of his being. No matter the way he came to the truth, the truth he arrived at had the greatest outcome he would ever experience in his life.

It is true Jesus did not have the strength of a Samson. He did not lead Israel into freedom like a Moses. He did not reign on a throne in an era of prosperity like a David. The only thing he had in common with these other men was death. This common criminal noticed the true diversion of the similarities though. He grasped that even in the one common thread between Jesus and these great men there was a huge difference. Samson, Moses, and David all died as sinners. They were some of the greatest heroes of Israel, but they each had huge flaws. Jesus was facing death, but he was facing death as an innocent man. He was facing death as a sinless man.

Jesus did not look like a savior, but he was the very kind of savior the world needed. A savior does not meet the believed needs of those he is saving. A savior meets the core need of others. Jesus was the savior the world needed, but never realized. That was what this common criminal saw. A common criminal who realized the need for a true savior. The kind of savior that was required to look nothing like Samson, Moses, or David. He realized he needed a savior of souls.

You need to understand the need for a savior in order to realize that Jesus was a savior. Without knowing the need you will never fully see Jesus as the perfect savior. He was the perfect savior because he was the perfect sacrifice. He paid our debt for our sin. He brought peace between God and humankind.

Thank God Jesus did not look like a savior.

More than a symbol

My faith is offensive. I sometimes wish we understood that more. What I believe is quite possibly the most offensive story this world has ever known. It is one of the ugliest, brutal, wrathful, violent, and painful stories that has ever been written. What I believe really is an offensive story.

It’s not too hard to realize this when you stop to think it over. It goes beyond believing a faith that says the world is wrong and everyone in it is deserving of eternal hell for their actions. The solution to the problem is offensive today. The solution was having God send down His only son to live a short life on earth that would result in one of the most gruesome ways to die that mankind has ever created. It was a death sentence that had the very purpose of torment, suffering, and pain for as long as possible before the last agonizing breath was taken. The solution was painted with blood. The solution was righteous judgment. It was a solution rooted in propitiation. It was a solution that required God to be appeased over our sin. It was a solution that was anything but free.

We often want to shy away from the offensiveness of the gospel. Even as believers we don’t want to escalate things too much. We shy away from the offensiveness of the gospel, because we don’t like the picture we get of God in those moments. What we see I God is a vengeful and vindictive God. Prone to a quick temper, harsh, and wrathful. We mistakenly see a God of hate and cruelty when we only look at the offensiveness of the gospel. We water things down in order to highlight God’s love and compassion. We say the crucifixion happened, but it was a symbol to show God’s love for us. We acknowledge there was a man nailed on the cross, but we refuse to really look at the brutality of it all. We limit the offensiveness and brutality of the cross in order to escalate the love of the cross. The truth is that diminishing the brutality also diminishes the love.

Let’s be brutally honest. The crucifixion feels like overkill. It is an event one would not even wish on their worst enemy. Why then would God feel our sin is deserving of such an act? Christ was not merely crucified, he was tortured. He received whippings that most other crucified victims would not receive before death. He was forced to carry his cross to his execution site facing the humiliation from the crowds. He felt each nail that pierced his flesh. He hung there on that cross gasping for breath. He would have to force himself upright in order to just get some air. Each time feeling those nail press against flesh and bone. He hung on the cross naked. There is a detail we rarely realize. Christ likely hung on that cross completely exposed. This was more than a symbol of love. This crucifixion was a necessity. Christ faced abandonment form God the father. Christ had taken on the sins of the world, and for that moment cried out to God over why He had forsaken him. We look at the brutality of the cross, and what we see is wrath.

That is not the whole of the story though. That wrath was intended for you and me. We were deserving of the pain and suffering. We are deserving of eternal torment in hell. We are deserving of God’s wrath. When we look at the brutality of that wrath, and realize we are spared form it then we become thoroughly overwhelmed at the full extent of God’s love.

God could not simply overlook our sin. He is too holy to simply write off our sin. Ignoring our sin and letting us into His kingdom anyway goes against His very nature. Sin is evil, and evil cannot even live in the presence of God. It was more than a symbol of love my friends. The crucifixion was a necessity. When I look at the brutality of the crucifixion I see just how much God loves me. He knew the solution that was needed. He was willing to pay the cost. This is why I shake my head at any who try and earn their way into heaven. Any who feel the crucifixion itself was not enough have not truly understood the brutality of the crucifixion. They fail to recognize its purpose.

God did not forgive us by dying for us. His death and resurrection are what made his forgiveness capable of sanctifying us. The debt needed to be paid. Christ’s brutal death made a way for me to live. Why would I ever want to diminish the love found in the gospel by diminishing the offensive nature of the gospel?

We are in the middle of Holy week. I will continue writing as this week progresses, but I have one simple challenge for you this week. Don’t turn a blind eye to the brutality found on the cross. For in this brutal death we find the greatest beauty, compassion, and dedication this world has ever known. It is the greatest love story the world has ever known, because it is the most brutal story the world has ever known.

Abandoned on the battlefield

A few years ago I was a youth intern at a church in North Carolina. It was a great experience, but immensely intimidating. I was getting my first real taste in ministry, and coming to understand just how heavy the weight of ministry can be. For the first time my future looked rather overwhelming to me. During that time I grasped the necessity to develop a united front of fellow believers. I realized the need to help carry the burdens with others in ministry. I knew that what I needed was to have people in my life who called also minister to me.

During that internship we went to a Bible camp for a week. There were other youth groups with their youth pastors there as well. It as a camp full of energy that helped students see that they can worship God fully. Worship did not need to be signing some songs while standing still pretending not to wonder how much time had past. Worship could involve movement, laughter, enjoyment, and even some noise.

One night the youth leaders were meeting with the counselors at the camp after a particularly loud and rousing evening of worship. We reached a point in the evening where we were asked to share our prayer requests with one another, and to encourage each other. During that time I poured my heart out to these older men in ministry. I talked about my fear and struggles. I talked about how intimidating this all was to me. I bared my soul hoping for encouragement and wisdom. What I received was a wave of the hand.

You see, these men were much more interested in expressing their concerns over what they perceived to be a lack of reverence during the worship time. It did not fit into their mold of what worship should look like It was too out there. The counselors anticipated this coming, and gave into the conversation apologizing for the intensity of that evening. The end result was some men who had been to stuck in their personal methods of worship, and one future pastor proclaiming his drowning while witnessing his potential lifeguards bickering about which whistle was the proper one to use.

I hate stupid arguments in church. I hate stupid arguments amongst believers. It is the most time wasteful activity we have, and we excel at it. Why did we suddenly get so enraptured in bickering over issues relating to our comfort one that we fail to reach out to someone who blatantly calls out for help? The truth is that I was pretty angry in that moment. Here were men who were shaping the minds of youth, and there example was one of ignoring the person in need of help in order to debate of the age old debate in church, the volume and movement of worship.

All these years, and this sort of issue still grinds my gears. Why are we so willing to watch people drown in order to spend more time dunking others into the water? Why have we become so enraptured in our pride that we cannot help even people within our own faith? Where exactly are we going wrong?

I’ve thought over this very issue over the years. After that incident I left that camp with one very clear prayer in mind. “Lord. Don’t let me turn into that after years of ministry.” We become way too engrossed in our own agenda. We feel we have things figured out the best, and merely want to enlighten others into our way of thinking. It is teaching the man who is clinging to a cliff how to swim because you believe swimming is a far more vital skill than climbing. We push onto others what we think they need, rather than meeting their current needs.

I was in the hospital for kidney stones once. One of the men working there was a guy named Lamar. I asked Lamar if he enjoyed working there. He went on and on about how much he enjoyed the hospital. I asked him if he got along with his coworkers. “Of course! We have to get along with each other.” I find that response rather odd, and asked him to explain himself. His answer was incredibly profound, “You never know when you will have someone laying on a table in front of you and dying. When that time comes you better be getting along with your coworker standing on the other side of that table. You can’t afford to hate or abandoned those you work with when lives are at stake.”

Aren’t we abut so much more than saving lives? We have an impact on people’s eternal souls. Why then do we waste our time arguing over the petty when our fellow comrades are sinking? How can we ever hope to reach the lost souls when we cannot even encourage a fellow brother or sister who is clearly in need?

So this is my warning for all who will hear. For the old still willing to change, and for the young not yet set in their ways. Don’t let the minor issues overshadow the major issues. Don’t bicker over the volume of music when someone else comes to you with a real life problem. Don’t get so stuck in your preferences and comfort zone that you forget there are bigger things out there. War is hell enough without your brothers on the battlefield abandoning you.

Brief words on anxiety

I am finally back after spending a few days traveling from Kansas to Virginia. It’s great to finally be back on the blog writing. Hopefully I will not be forced into a hiatus like that for a long time.

What do you let rob you of your joy? It is almost discouraging with how easily we can let our joy get sucked away from even the smallest things. Even the best of days can become instantly cloudy form an unkind word or harsh criticism, an unexpected and unpleasant surprise, a personal crisis, etc.

Why do we let such small things rob us of our joy? I believe we have a choice in our reaction to situations. I can let a single negative thing rob me of all the enjoyment of the day, or I can chose to move on from that, and make the most of the day. Letting simple things rob us of our joy is giving into anxiety. Scripture tells us not to be anxious about anything. We rarely discussed the why in that command. Why does God not want us to be anxious? I think it is because it binds us to the potential of being used by God.

I came across an opportunity to put this into action the other day. I had experienced a good day filled with love form my family and fun. We had a good time together. As the day grew closer and closer to an end there was a situation that came up that was outside of my control. It should not have bothered me as much as it did in the moment. I was filled with anxiety though. I had to make the decision to move past that moment though. I had a choice. I could focus my mind on circumstances outside of my control, or I could be thankful for the day and see how I could use it to the best of God’s glory.

That night I had the opportunity to talk with a group of young man pursuing ministry, and talk with them for an hour on sharing my experience outside of school. I got to play a small part in helping others. I could not have done that if I let my mind remain focused on circumstances that would fill me with anxiety.

Why be anxious my friends? Anxiety never fixes the situation. The only purpose of anxiety is to keep us from seizing opportunities. This post is short, because I’m still trying to get back into the swing of writing after the forced break on me for the past few days. The lessons is very real though. Why do you let the enemy rob you of your joy for the day? Why give into anxiety? What benefit does it ever truly provide you with?

Genealogies

So my posts will likely be more scattered this week as my family ad I are in the middle of moving. This also means my posts will be a little shorter.

Ever notice how quickly we blow pasts lists of names in Scripture? We rarely see the importance of it. My devotional today largely consisted of lists. Most of it covered genealogies. One genealogy was the first fond in the Old Testament in Genesis. The other is the first found in the New Testament in Matthew. You can learn a lot in a list of names if you look hard enough.

The first Genealogy hit me hard with something. I have read this list of names countless times, but I don’t think I ever stopped to notice how depressing this list was. The first two genealogies in Scripture are forbearing and depressing. They show just how quickly sin escalates. Humankind embraced its sinful nature quickly. It is not long down the line that you find a man married to multiple wives, ad bragging about his misdeeds. Not only has humankind deteriorated in its sinful nature, but it quickly took ride in its sin.

The second list in Genesis is a countdown to destruction. A countdown to the flood. A time where God cud no longer take humankind’s complete love and pride for sin. These genealogies are depressing. They show our race at its worst. They show just how quickly evil spreads, and they show just how desperate the need is to eradicate this evil. I read these lists, and I see a loss of hope. A countdown to a cataclysmic event brought but by the wrath of a righteous God.

My reading plan had me read another list though. It was a new genealogy full of more sinful people. In this list I read of people who were prostitutes, adulterers, murderers, kings of old who were men of God, king of old who were wicked tyrants, foreigners, and all kinds of sinners. Yet this genealogy was not lacking in the hope needed for the first genealogy of Scripture. This list of names was also a countdown. It was a countdown to a solution that the first genealogy needed. It was a solution brought about by the same righteous God who needed to unleash his wrath on sin. This time the result lead to a substitute. This genealogy full of sinners was the beginning of Jesus Christ’s earthly father. This genealogy was more than a list of names. This was the beginning of hope for the world.

This thought is short and simple, but I felt the need to share it all the same. I sat there reading my Bible feeling incredibly grateful that the first genealogy I find in Scripture is not the last one. I was so thankful that these two lists of names showed me the utter need for a savior, and the answer to that need. In two simple lists I saw the true disgrace and disaster of humankind, and the solution to it all.

What a God we serve. In a simple list of names He has reminded me of the need, impact, and power of the gospel.