Tag Archives: spirituality

Death is Still Dead.

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I love Easter Sunday. Every Easter, I attend church with my family and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. There’s no shortage of singing or dancing (although there may be more or less of the latter depending on the denomination you may or may not associate with… Alright, bad joke). The point is: there’s hope. And there should be. Jesus defeated death, and we’re stoked about it. The resurrection is a fact of epic historical proportions that carries epic present and future implications. It’s the turning point of human history. Death has died. We are free.

But why did death come back to life after Easter dinner?

Many of us don’t actually feel free. We celebrate on Easter with our arms held high, our hearts captivated with the joy of the fact that Jesus ripped apart the chains of death and gave us true eternal freedom. But we soon recede back into the chains that bound us: chains created by sin, depression, and failure. Chains created by success, self-righteousness and earthly treasures. We drag them around in routine fashion as we re-trod back into the grave.

“Easter will come back next year,” we think.

Jesus has risen, and we know it. We sang about it on Easter Sunday. However, many of us quickly descend back into the everyday struggle of trying to earn salvation, a struggle that knows no success.  We try to make life better. We try again. We try harder and harder. The chains still bind us.

Maybe you’re one of us. I’ve been one of us. Sometimes I still am. Somewhere along the line, somebody told you the Gospel. It saturated your heart and mind, and you felt FREE. You had never known a joy like the one Jesus created in the entirety of your being. The Gospel had changed both you and your eternal destination. But somewhere in the more recent past, the Gospel became more like good advice than the Good News it is. You knew the facts, but they didn’t always seem real, or didn’t carry much weight anymore. The big, almost-exploding balloon of joy that you used to carry around had deflated. The resurrected life became a good idea rather than a reality. You longed to sense the real Gospel again, to feel real and pure freedom again.

You waited for next Easter. Next Resurrection Day.

I’ve got good news for you and for me. Good News, actually.

Every day is resurrection day. Jesus never went back into the tomb. He’s still risen. He’s risen on Easter and the day after. He’s risen next Sunday when church feels mundane and you’re feeling more fulfilled by the restaurant lunch you ate after church than the sermon you heard during it. He’s risen when death is all too real. He’s risen when depression chases your joy away. He’s risen when you accomplish something great, only to come crashing down from the temporary high success brings. He’s risen. It’s just a freaking fact.

So why do we forget it? Why is “He is risen” just an Instagram hashtag people use on Easter? Or even worse, just a bumper sticker? Why is the pure joy of Easter reserved for 1/365th of the year?

For me and many others, it’s because we simply have a hard time believing that the Gospel is unshakable truth. As we slip away from the understanding of our forgiveness, we begin to believe that God’s love is based on our successes and failures. In doing so, we shun the very Gospel that caused our Easter dancing. Our actions and feelings say it’s too far-fetched. We’re really forgiven? We’re really loved? Our sin taunts us, begging us to answer no to such questions and turn away from God rather than turn toward Him and repent.

On Easter Sunday my pastor quoted Brennan Manning, who once said “I am now utterly convinced that on judgment day, the Lord Jesus is going to ask each of us one question, and only one question: Did you believe that I loved you?”

It’s a painful question to ask, but it reveals why many of us confine Easter’s truths to one 24-hour holiday. We simply have a hard time believing that the resurrection means we are truly free, free indeed. We simply struggle with accepting the truth of the Gospel.

What, then, should we do?

In John 6:27, Jesus says “The work of God is this: to believe in him whom he has sent.”

We should return to the Gospel. The Gospel is the answer to our failure to understand the Gospel. Sounds foolish, but doesn’t the Bible say the Gospel is foolishness? Foolishness of the absolute best kind. Life-saving, eternity-altering foolishness.

We must let the Gospel saturate our minds and hearts by the minute. How do we do that? By repeating it to ourselves relentlessly. By constantly informing others of its life-altering truths… even those who could produce a list of 10 literary differences between Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Even to those who have chapters and books of the Bible memorized. Even those who outwardly appear to be poster children for good Christianity, seemingly epitomizing holiness. Those people struggle to believe the Gospel, too. They’re in dire need of the Gospel every single day. They’re just like you. In fact, we’re all in the same boat. Each one of us desperately needs the redemption of Jesus Christ on a perpetual basis.

We just can’t believe the Gospel on our own. We’re simply helpless to do this without those around us. So I have a challenge to you. The next time you meet with a Christian friend, look them straight in the eye and tell them “God loves you so much that no matter how bad you’ve messed up, time and time again, you’re still forgiven. He will never fail you. He is so proud of you. He lavishes His grace on you. You are a child of God. You are infinitely cared for and worth it. You are seen. You are heard. Your sins are dead. You are free.”

I tried this recently. I tried this with a friend who is a model of Christian leadership and moral behavior. I mean, this dude has it put together…

But wait. He doesn’t. He needed to hear the Gospel in that very moment. And just as badly, I needed to hear myself preach it to Him. It refreshed both of our souls and we walked away feeling free of works-based righteousness, free of good advice, free of prescriptive behavioral fixing (should I get that term copyrighted?), free of what Matt Chandler calls “moralistic therapeutic deism,” or more simply, a lifestyle of upstanding moral behavior that we stamp God’s name on, but that ultimately serves to make us feel better about our sorry selves.

So have a Gospel conversation with yourself: “Jesus loves me. I am free. I can never be separated from His love, no matter what I do.” Then, do it again tomorrow. Repeat it to someone else. Before you try to fix somebody, look them in the eyes and tell them God loves them abundantly and infinitely and eternally. Heck, why shouldn’t every conversation be a Gospel conversation? We are ALWAYS in need of people to refresh our souls with the truths of the Resurrection.

Every day is Resurrection Day. The freedom brought into this broken world by the resurrection of Jesus is available to you now (and tomorrow, and on November 24, 2023). You are forgiven. You are free. God is too good and too loving for you to live in shame today. The Gospel is too freeing (and too REAL) for you to live in bondage today. Your life has been resurrected from the grave. If you believe in Jesus, you’ve been taken care of.

You, believer, are free. Yes, you. YOU. ARE. FREE.

 

Death is still dead. There’s a reason I titled this post “Death is Still Dead.” and included the period after ‘Dead.’ The period represents completion. The end of something. The end of a sentence… in this case, the death sentence of sin.

Death is still dead. He is still risen. Time to celebrate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reading into 2015, Part I: Blue Like Jazz

Two miracles happened.

First, I started a book. Second, I finished it.

When I was a little kid, I loved reading books. I think I read most of The Hardy Boys series, like any boy should do. I bet there were some days that consisted solely of me peering into the lives of Frank and Joe as they solved yet another mystery (how did they get in so many strange situations?).

Recently, though, I’ve been distracted. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and plenty of other things I love to waste time doing have choked out the power of reading in my life. I read a book by Francis Chan, if you could call it reading. It was more like reading and then forgetting what I read and then reading some more and then forgetting again. I think that took about a year. I couldn’t make it through a book if I tried. And I didn’t really try, anyway.

I went to Michigan over Christmas break. I stayed in a house that held one of the most impressive book collections I’ve ever laid my eyes upon. In front of me was a wealth of stories, knowledge, and inspiration. On one of the bookshelves, I’m pretty sure I saw the complete works of William Shakespeare, which I would never read, but it was cool. There was an entire bookcase filled with what looked like ancient books. The classics. Even as a non-reader, I was impressed.  I didn’t know the WiFi password for the house, if it even had WiFi, and I would only be staying there for a few nights. Opening a book and looking inside couldn’t hurt for those few nights, I thought.

These were just a few of their books.
These were just a few of their books.

I picked a book that I’d be able to get something out of without having to finish it. I found a book called Soul Survivor by Philip Yancey. Each chapter was about a different person who greatly influenced Philip’s life, and more specifically, his walk with God. I read the chapter about Martin Luther King Jr., who I thought I knew everything about. It was not so. Some of the MLK quotes included by Yancey truly shook me. I was inspired. I’ve always been fascinated by Martin Luther King Jr., but this time I was fascinated at something else, too – why did I ever give up on reading?

It was an epiphany. Surrounded by thousands of books in a quiet room, I realized I needed to start reading again. Reading could be the escape that I admittedly search for sometimes by scrolling through Twitter, as shameful as that sounds. The new year was about to start, but I didn’t want this to be a New Year’s Resolution that I gave up on after a week and a half, like every other New Year’s Resolution that ends in dissolution.

I wrote down a goal: one book per month in 2015. Not terribly difficult, but if you do the math, that’s 12 books throughout the year. That’s 12 times as many books as I would usually read in a year’s time, so I figured it a good goal. This goal was actually inspired by my friend Jenn, who set the same goal in 2014 and succeeded. Jenn looks like Kristen Wiig, but she doesn’t think so. She’s wrong, because she definitely looks like Kristen Wiig.

Back to those miracles I mentioned. When I got home from Michigan, I looked on the bookshelf downstairs and pulled out a few books that looked interesting. I found my first book for 2015, Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. It sounded vaguely familiar, and I knew who Donald Miller was, but I didn’t know what to expect. Hopefully I would follow through with my goal. I opened the book and started reading. That was the first miracle.

Today, January 12th, I finished Blue Like Jazz. That was the second miracle. Maybe I will even exceed my goal. Maybe I will read two books this month. Miracles do happen.

I decided to blog about my reading adventure for the sake of accountability and because Kristen Wiig told me she wishes she would have done the same thing in order to remember what she learned from her year of reading. When I finish each book, I’ll share what I learned and why you should or shouldn’t read the book. It turns out, Blue Like Jazz was a good place to start, because Donald Miller taught me a lot.

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Donald Miller seems like a pretty cool guy.

Here are some things I learned from Blue Like Jazz:

  • I am a lot like Donald Miller in some ways.
  • I am nothing like Donald Miller in other ways.
  • Donald Miller is a very unique writer.
  • As Christians, we should be apologizing to people we’ve failed to love.
  • There is something profound about friendships that rest on the basis of appreciation of differences.
  • I suck at loving people.
  • Jesus can truly set us free. He can set us free from closed-mindedness and give us the ability to love everyone as if they were our best friend.
  • When Jesus said “love your neighbor as yourself,” he meant it.
  • It’s ok to be weird. And to tell people about how weird you are.
  • Sometimes, I should live a little.
  • I am addicted to myself.

I realize that last one is a bit heavy, but that’s one of the main ways I could relate to Donald as he told his story. He thought the world revolved around him. Until he truly experienced the unconditional love of Jesus playing out in his life in a beautiful manner, he was subconsciously but harmfully addicted to himself. He prayed that God would rip this self-addiction from his grasp. God did, and Donald was free. Free of himself. Free to live, free to love. Free to experience Jesus. Free to experience Christianity as “blue like jazz.”

“The first generation out of slavery invented jazz music. It is a music birthed out of freedom. And that is the closest thing I know to Christian spirituality. A music birthed out of freedom. Everybody sings their song the way they feel it, everybody closes their eyes and lifts up their hands.” (Blue Like Jazz, p. 239)

I realized that I’m trapped in the same addiction of myself. That’s a pretty heavy revelation for my first book of the year. If the rest of the 2015 plays out like this, I’ll be in trouble. It’ll be a good kind of trouble, though, because I’ll be a better person for it. As I read Blue Like Jazz, I heard God telling me to let go of all of my pride and prejudice (pun halfway intended). There’s no room for self-addiction if I want to follow Jesus and truly love people. I need to let go of myself and understand that the fullness of my worth is found in Jesus. I can love myself fully by receiving the love Jesus has for me. Lose my life, and I’ll find it. I think somebody important said that once.

Donald Miller certainly isn’t one of those authors caught up in theological debate or concerned with “the (insert number) things that will help you with doing ________ in your life.” He tells his story and hopes and prays that people will learn from it. It’s possible that I learned more from his writing than I could ever learn from some Bible scholar who’s smarter than both Donald and I put together. Donald really knows how to be transparent and honest. I like that. I also feel like I have taken on a variation of his writing style throughout the course of this blog post. I guess he really impacted me.

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Blue Like Jazz revealed a self-addiction that I didn’t really know I had. It was a hopeful revelation, though, because that’s what Jesus does. He gives us hope despite our attempts to choke it out.

I’m excited for the 11 or more books I’m going to read throughout the rest of this year. Please keep me accountable. I hope you enjoy the thoughts I will share along the way. Oh, and read Blue Like Jazz. It will take you from Portland to the Grand Canyon to the innermost caverns of your heart and mind. I am recommending that you read this book, which is something I usually can’t do, because I haven’t read the book in the first place. Supposedly there is a movie about this book. I think I will watch it now. Kristen Wiig says I can be one of those people that makes snarky comments about the movie because I read the book first and the movie left out so many important parts. Wait, I read the book first?

Miracles do happen.