Tag Archives: resurrection

Holy Week – Expectations

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Colorado Late WinterAs I write, I am sitting in a hospital in Colorado Springs, waiting while my dad is prepped for surgery to replace a valve in his heart. We are two days into spring and in the middle of Holy Week.

All of this—the hospital, the surgery, the season, the church calendar—points to one thing: expectations.

Outside the windows I can seek majestic Pikes Peak, peppered with late snow. Between me and the mountain are brown grasses and the bare branches of trees that haven’t quite begun to show the green buds of spring…but they will soon, in spite of tomorrow’s forecast snow.

Down the hall, my father is getting ready for a procedure that will give him new life; he is even anticipating the very real possibility of getting back on the ski slopes that he said goodbye to a year ago.

Jesus, at this point of Holy Week, is still being hailed as a conquering hero. His followers then—and we today—are still anticipating great things from God.

Hospitals and Holy Week, surgeries and Spring. All offer hope. And yet all also bring uncertainty. People die in hospitals. Surgeries fail. Spring (especially in Colorado) can quickly be hidden by late snows. And Holy Week reaches an apparent climax at a cross-topped hill.

But the hope and the uncertainty are held in tension by something stronger than both: faith in a good and sovereign God.

This Holy Week—this Spring—will you look forward in faith?

What Is God Forming In You?

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The Hebrew Scriptures (aka the “Old Testament”) include the story of a man named Jōb. In a matter of moments on one fateful day, he lost everything he had: flocks and herds, servants, sons and daughters. Lest someone offer the hopeless condolence, “well, at least you have your health,” that was taken from him, too, as painful, oozing sores broke out over his entire body. Even Jōb’s wife (who, let’s remember, had also lost all) considered death better than living with the loss.

Today we use Jōb as an example of patience and perseverance through suffering, the epitome of faith in the face of injustice. Ask the man in the midst, though, and you may get a different story.

Sure, Jōb may have been unwilling to “curse God and die,” but other curses weren’t far from his lips. He complained about the injustice. He cried out to face his accuser, knowing full well that none can win an argument with God. For unnumbered hours—days, perhaps—Jōb argues with his friends. He protests his innocence.

In a hundred ways, Job asks the single, simple question we all ask: “Why?”

But perhaps there is a different question. A better question. A question, perhaps, whose answer may even be more palatable than “why?”. (I’ve often wondered how Job would have responded had he known how his suffering came about.)

What is God forming in you?

It’s not an easy question to answer in the midst of the struggles; perhaps as difficult as the why question. But it is a question of anticipation, not despair; it looks forward, not back. It offers hope: the hope of transformation, of a butterfly’s metamorphosis.

The new green growth of spring follows the grey dormancy of winter—a grey, dismal season during which old leaves die and decompose, providing nutrients for the iris and tulips and lilies soon to come.

The miracle of healing shows God’s love and power—but healing can only happen when our bodies have first been ravaged by disease.

And the ultimate healing—resurrection—can only follow the most harrowing, hopeless winter of all: we can only be raised to new life after we have died. And in the resurrection we find ourselves seeing with new eyes, running with new legs, flying with new wings, loving with a new heart…trusting with new faith.

What is God forming in you this winter?

On Life and Death

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Morgan on Walden Pond

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. – Henry David Thoreau

I found myself these past two weeks reflecting more than usual on life and death. First, because my father—three months shy of his 80th birthday—was having one of those surgeries that is far more involved than the ninety minute time frame would suggest; a surgery that has become almost routine (more than a hundred performed each year in this hospital alone) but could go mortally wrong in an instant; a surgery that is merely a precursor to another, which is at the same time far more complex and far less risky. At least, that’s my non-medical perception.

But my reflection has also been inspired by my son, who turned 21 last week—an age at which he may now do almost anything legal other than rent a car from a major agency. He’s also had his run-ins with death, beginning in the first moments of his life when his bluing skin and an infant oxygen tent made me eternally grateful for the calm confidence of the delivery-room nurses. Two-thirds of his life later, he spent two weeks in the hospital for an appendectomy that in many cases would be an outpatient procedure; we, on the other hand, were told not less than five times in three days, “this is serious; he could die.”

And here I am, gratefully positioned between a father and a son who both have taunted death time and again—my dad, until last year, on snow skis at 12,000′; my son on the rugby pitch for a couple years and now on boulders and climbing walls wherever he can find them.

Facing death, I’ve found—even as but a slim possibility—is made easier when life has been fully lived. That’s what took Thoreau to his cabin on Walden Pond. It’s why it tends to be easier (though not easy) to say goodbye to an aged parent than to a child, or a young mother.

And we can face death without fear when we have the confidence of our destination. Paul described it with the words, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Jesus comforted Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25).

Preemptive Forgiveness

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As Christians, we have our work cut out for us. If we’re serious about being disciples of Jesus Christ, then we’ll diligently read and study the Bible not only to learn more about God, but to learn how to live. And as we do that, we discover that we have a pretty lofty set of examples to follow. Paul gives the example of perseverance in the face of open hostility, beatings, and prison. James offers instruction about both our words and our attitudes. The shepherd king David demonstrated a spiritual rawness and emotional openness unparalleled in Scripture. And of course Jesus himself gives a lifetime of examples for everything from teaching through stories to loving the most unloveable of people. But the hardest example to follow is the one that came at the worst possible moment in Jesus’ life.

And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Luke, a doctor and painstaking detailer not only of Jesus’ life but also the lives and ministries of the apostles following the resurrection, gives an account of the crucifixion that is surprisingly devoid of the details you might expect from a doctor. Most of Luke’s story, in fact (see Luke 23), seems to be focused on what was going on with other people: Simon the Cyrene, the crowds, the soldiers, the two criminals. All he really says about Jesus is, “they led him away… they crucified him… he breathed his last” [verses 26, 32, 46].

Maybe this scarcity of detail about the physical suffering Jesus endured allows Luke’s readers to be that much more taken with the words of Christ that he records—especially the words that give us the hardest example we will ever be asked to follow: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

History tells us that crucifixion was a terrifying, torturous ordeal leading to a slow and agonizingly painful death. Some victims were lashed to the cross while others—like Jesus—were nailed through their wrists or palms. Sparing us these details, Luke simply says, “they crucified him.” And immediately he gives us Jesus’ words: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” As the hammers are coming down on the spikes, Jesus offers forgiveness to those holding the hammers. As the cross is being hoisted into its vertical position, Jesus asks His Father to forgive those lifting the wood. 

While in the very process of being wronged, Jesus offers forgiveness.

That is an impossibly difficult example to follow. We are even tempted to excuse ourselves from following it because Jesus, after all, was God, and we’re not. But Jesus was also a man—the same man who only hours before had begged in blood-stained sweat for his heavenly Father to let him get around this hour. We have no excuse. We also have no power, except through the One who gave us the example.

Preemptive forgiveness. Forgiving before the one who hurt you apologizes. Forgiving when what you want most is for them to know they hurt you. Forgiving when they don’t even acknowledge that they hurt you, or they deny hurting you at all. Or, worse, when they say it’s your fault for being hurt. Forgiving when there is precious little hope for confession, let alone restoration and reconciliation. Forgiving even when you don’t feel forgiving, you don’t want to forgive, you’re not sure you can forgive. It’s impossible. [*See footnote and my first comment below.]

But it is most necessary, for only in preemptive forgiveness is there hope of something better even than restoration. Only in preemptive forgiveness is there hope for resurrection. New life. Re-creation.

Jesus’ agonized prayer—“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”—made possible not only his own resurrection, but also the resurrection of every believer. We can’t stop people from hurting us; we can’t make them confess or apologize or repent when they have hurt us. But we have the power to bring new life through forgiveness.

Father, forgive them.

*11/27/15—I made some small but important changes to this post after first publishing it, changing “forgive” to “offer forgiveness” in a couple places, and changing the statement from “Jesus forgives” to “Jesus asks His Father to forgive.” See my comment below for more on this.

Death Is Dead

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jesus statue kneeling

Though death is dead
        to death he wages war
Each death a vict'ry
        in this lovers' quarrel
'tween sin and death—
        two partners in the fight
to steal mens' lives
        and lay them in the grave
 
Yes death is dead
       but still death carries pain
As one much-loved
       slips out beyond our grasp
And leaves a hole
       that never shall be filled
Though life and time
       for us yet linger on
 
Yes death is dead
        and sin's defeated, too
That much made known
        one Resurrection Day
When One who died
        for sin lay buried in the ground
And three days on
        no longer to be found
 
Yes death is dead
       and life is sweeter far
When lived with hope
       of life beyond the grave
A life for Him 
       who buried death itself
To give us life
       eternally with Him


[Written in honor of my sister-in-law, Jeaneen Blackinton Davis, as she fought a brain tumor that finally stole her life on April 27, 2015.]