Posts Tagged ‘resurrection’

A Million Dreams…(no spoilers)

As we continue in celebrating the Easter season – it’s great for us to be on the look-out for echoes of New Creation, creativity, and resurrection life.  Recently I found God winking at us through the soundtrack of “The Greatest Showman”, and it made me smile big enough I wanted to share it.

No spoilers here, but there’s a song called “A Million Dreams” that begins with a young BT Barnum, and transitions into him as a man.  He’s singing about his dreams, specifically to a girl who makes his heart race.  As the words began to come, I immediately thought of a young Jesus who had dreams for what Love, forgiveness, and mercy could do to transform our world, as he studied the Torah.  The song takes on even more depth and beauty as the transition happens into him as an adult, and especially as the woman joins in.  Here we have a beautiful metaphor in song – Christ singing invitationally to His bride (the church), and she asking to be a part of what He’s launching into….

This points us with goosebumps toward a New Creation that will blow us away….and we get to join in those dreams becoming flesh today…as we choose to turn away from the systems, powers, & self-centeredness of our world….as individuals, as families, as communities….for the Loving ways of New Creation… (Revelation 21:5….”Look!! I’m making all things NEW!”)   It may cost us everything, but we may gain even more…

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He “lives”?

“..songs affect what we think because of repetition – singing the same songs over a period of years embeds the message; and when music is added to the text, an emotional element is introduced that causes greater attachment to the message of the song.” (Constance Cherry, The Worship Architect, 2010)helives

The above statement carries all sorts of implications for the music we listen to, the music we encourage our kids to listen to, etc.  But here we are asking about the words that shape our theology and faith over time.  Modern songs get a pretty hefty (and often deserved) criticism at times for their vague or shallow theology.  But there are plenty of songs (I’m looking at you, “I’ll Fly Away”) that we love to sing, that we should also be careful to examine/balance with Biblical teaching/awareness.

Today I’m asking us to re-examine the words of a song most of us probably sang over the weekend.  “He Lives” (#220 if you’d rather not use the screen), is a classic hymn with some great reminders in it.  “I serve a risen Savior, He’s in the world today.”  What a hope-filled offer for us to live toward!  But on further review of the entire song, there’s something significant missing from it: a resurrected Jesus.

Let’s pretend you don’t have it memorized for a moment, and examine the chorus:

He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today,
He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart.

Yes! Amen.  I love it.  I sing it loudly, and I even hold out the final “LIIIIIIIIVES” until the lack of breath begins to turn my lungs inside out.  Yet the Jesus in this song is not the physically resurrected Jesus we celebrate visiting His disciples and revealing His scars.  I’m not saying Jesus couldn’t visit us physically, either recognizably or hiding his identity (both are seen in post-resurrection accounts).  But I’m saying when most of us sing this chorus (and the rest of the song), we’re probably actually referring to the SPIRIT of Jesus at best…and the idea of Jesus at worst.

Yes, I believe the “presence” of Jesus we have been given through the Holy Spirit, and a God who is omnipresent/immanuel is “God With Us”.   That means so much of the song still rings true.  But if we lift this song up as our primary “Easter Song”, we can miss something vital to our faith:

We believe Jesus was physically resurrected ahead of all things.  That all humanity who have died or will die, continue to wait for a full and coming revealing of God’s fullness at which point we will all share in the same physical and bodily resurrection.

He does not “walk with me and talk with me” the same way He walked and talked with the disciples who saw him after the resurrection. Why? Because he has physically gone to be with the Father, to a location many simply refer to as “Paradise” (using Luke 23:43).  A place where it seems both non-resurrected beings (like the thief), and resurrected beings (only Jesus, for now) can be together in God’s presence as we await the final return of Jesus.

The promise and hope of the resurrection isn’t that Jesus has returned spiritually to “be in our hearts”, and help us not feel lonely along the paths we walk.  That’s one of the blessings of the encourager He has given us (Holy Spirit).  But the promise and hope we receive as we celebrate the resurrected Jesus are found in 1 Corinthians 15 (take a moment to read it!).  In Jesus we see the “first fruits” of all New Creation, and an example of what God has in store for all of us – our loved ones, and creation itself!

This is a foundational truth, and one of the greatest things we can clarify to a world that assumes we all think Jesus is a spiritual being hiding in our hearts that helps us to be “good behaving people”.  The Holy Spirit can help transform our hearts and minds, and the grace of God is actively moving to heal/restore the image of our Loving God He intended in creation.   But we believe there is much more to celebrate in Jesus, and much more hope for the embodied lives we live today.  These physical bodies (and this physical world) are tied deeply to the New Creation we believe will exist fully someday.  So caring for others, for creation, and for ourselves happens in fully embodied ways.  There are so many things still to say here, but plenty have already said them.  I just wanted to throw out a quick reminder.

For more on this, check out: Surprised by Hope by NT Wright, Salvation Means Creation Healed by Howard Snyder, and Earthen Vessels Matthew Anderson

a psalm for heavy hearts.

There is a stifling silence in carrying a burden, a weight so uncertain and hurting,
In search of a balm, we check the Psalms, and we learn that in turn,
these struggles that rock our home
Can become our megaphone.

Because it’s hard, and we’re not alone.
Our scars run deep, and to the bone. It seems like evil is on the throne,
runs the show, and even though we know there’s something greater,
it always seems like later – never now.
Never knowing how we’ll make it to tomorrow, but the sun comes up again.
And I guess that means we’re doing well, even though sometimes it just feels like we’re surviving.
For some, that’s the extent of thriving.

When driving rain comes faster than the wipers can clear a path.
The aftermath, sometimes silent, can come in violent waves unexpected
Of hope rejected, knowing sometimes there’s more dark before the dawn.
And if this was a song, it’d go on for sometime, before the key would change.
If an honest poem, more turning of the page, before the stage were reset,

The dim lights begin to raise, because there are better days ahead,
the field is not dead,
In fact, there is wheat growing among the weeds, some seeds of hope that cannot be rejected.
Knowing what’s expected, is not etched in stone, evil is not on the throne,

no matter how much sway it may seem to hold. Our whispers grow bold,
as we gather our broken bones, and cry out to the throne –
Lord Come. We need you.
Our arms are growing weary, and we need you.
Our eyes have grown bleary from the tears, over years and Lord we need you.
The blisters on our road-scarred feet scream for us to retreat, and we need you.
Our children look to us for answers we cannot provide,
and so with arms stretched wide we confide – Lord – we need you.

There is no other ear that even comes near to hearing our stifled voices,
choices all around us for ways to avoid this feeling of burden
A burden so certain and so heavy we want to find relief,
yet so infused to our hearts that we cannot put it down.

Not ever.

Clever words fail, and so we wet sail on uncharted waters
Praying the one who walks on water, the one who saves,
will be with us to calm the waves.

Lord, we need you.11825798_10153486977756747_7974870290730540774_n

Oh, be quiet Larry…

I remember back in late high school or early college:  There was this short Christian classic on sale or clearance or something and I wanted to get it.  A small part actually wanting to be the kind of person to read such books, and a larger part wanting to seem to be the kind of person to read such books, I snagged it.  I read through it a bit.  I smiled.  I even understood a few sentences.

In college, it was mentioned here and there.  I knew the topic vaguely, and smiled and nodded whenever someone mentioned it in conversation.  Yes, that is quite a good book.  Yes, I do so enjoy practicing the presence of God, just like Brother Lawrence did in “Practicing the Presence of God”.  Whether doing the dishes (as he did) or other menial tasks that my day to day existence brings me, I love the fact that Christ always offers to be very near.  God truly is with us, closer than we often realize.

I was a bit surprised then, when reading the book more closely for my current course on Spiritual Formation, to find so larrymuch in the book I didn’t like.  When the author writes Brother Lawrence (let’s call him Larry) to tell him of a friend who loses a close friend to death, Larry tells him to advise his friend to use these moments to his advantage.  “What a great opportunity to give the part of your heart previously given to your friend back to God where it belongs!”, he seems to say.  Or when the author himself is aging and enduring intense suffering of some sort, Larry refuses to pray his suffering would be taken away.  Instead, Larry insists on praying that God would strengthen the author to endure the suffering that is most likely God’s way of refining his heart and soul.  No, I do not like this guy much at all.  I don’t think I would have written him as much as the author seemed to.  A man who neurotically spent at least 10 years of his life anxious that he shouldn’t be distracted in thought or feeling by anything that might take God’s place, finally ending up with peace (albeit alone, and without much pleasure it would seem beyond the “presence of God”).  No, I do not like this guy much at all.

Yet…I can appreciate his heart.  A heart that yearns for the presence of God so much that everything else – even the extremely important things in life – melt away.  An experience of God’s presence, even in suffering alone, that gives him a sense of complete and udder wholeness that so many empty people in our world are hungry for.

I’ll admit, wrestling with his message comes at a poignant time.  Last week was the final week of Lent.  The season of preparing for Easter.  It was also a week of waiting for an important update in terms of our adoption.  This journey that has taken over 3 years, it finally feels like our boat has spotted land.  So it takes a bit of humility to confess that I, a pastor who was allowed to even baptize several people this morning, was distracted most of my week by checking my e-mail for an update that never came.  That dotting my week of anticipating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I was experiencing the brokenness of a human whose heart is not at complete peace in this broken world.

Part of me realizes that’s probably okay.   Jesus was certainly not often “at peace” in this world.  Another part of me realizes, there’s something to all this stuff Larry was talking about.

But before you or I go out and leave our family, secluding ourselves in monasteries away from our spouses and children, aiming to live like Larry and push away anything that threatens to occupy a place in our hearts – I don’t think that is required.   But we can be reminded in powerful ways, the truths found in Scriptures like 1 Corinthians 15.  That Jesus died and was resurrected.  The truth of this powerful statement impacts us as individuals, and puts every anxious thought, every deep-seated need/emotion, and every well-intentioned prayer in a wonderfully redemptive context.

The Truth of a resurrected Jesus Christ releases us from serving the state of our situations.  Even though there are times (like this past week, and probably again in the future) we don’t want to hear it, the words of Brother Lawrence come as important reminders: Even really important and good things are not “foundational” the way Christ and His resurrection are.  We can have Peace, even in the midst of needing peace.  That is something the world considers foolish.   That is something scripture considers faith.

That is something my daughters need from their father.  Something my wife needs from her husband.  And so, not as an individual but as a family – we work to shape our heart to seek pleasure only in the things that please God.  We seek to walk with Him as the center of our being.  We confess that this is not an easy road, and we sometimes lose focus.  But we return to this walk and practice – together.

(and really really pray that our boat would draw a big step closer to “land” this week) 🙂

re- “placing” Jesus

“We were left to believe that Jesus was physically raised from the dead but no longer present in any particular place.” – Ken Wilson, Mystically Wired

In chapter 4 of his book, Wilson talks about prayer as a location. As something we participate in by “going somewhere”.  I highly recommend this book to anyone launching into new realms of prayer.

Even early in the book, he is gradually re-introducing Christianity as a religion with roots in Eastern/Middle-Eastern traditions, while remaining very scripture/experience/reason centered as well. He begins with the frustrations that I’m well familiar with, and would venture to say many others would be as well. Wilson reminds us of what prayer truly can be, and that our frustrations with prayer generally stem from our attempts to make it something else.

Later in the book, he introduces several prayer techniques that may be new to many people. These techniques and prayers find their sources in ancient practices that have been used by Christ-followers and God-seekers for a very long time. I remember being introduced to many of these back in college, while reading The Sacred Way, by Tony Jones.

What I hadn’t received with Jones’ book, was the much on the theology of space/place. The words from Wilson’s book here, as quoted above, help to fill a gap that has existed for quite sometime. It’s something that is simultaneously quite complex and mysterious, and yet simple for us to grasp:

1. We pray in the resurrected Jesus, and in His name. We believe He stands as the bridge between the world/creation as it is (broken and dying from sin), and the New Heavens and New Earth God desires to bring about. (Colossians 1:18)
2. We believe Jesus has been bodily/physically resurrected, and exists somewhere/somehow as the resurrected Christ. Scripture tells us He has gone to be with the Father (John 16:28)
3. So it follows, when we pray in Jesus, we are connecting/participating in that place where God is. We cannot explain/rationalize this away, and probably cannot grasp just how important it may be.

Wilson reminds us that for ages, “heaven” was believed to be “up there” somewhere. At some point, science allowed us to see/travel much further than eyes had previously seen. We discovered there was no “up there” besides the seemingly infinite “space”. When that happened, heaven took the form of an “idea” and became spiritually intangible. Prayer became more and more an introspective “what happens inside of me” journey, and the focus became more and more within…even though we still believed we were connecting with a very real God.

That same realm of science is discovering there are things we cannot know/explain. There are atomic and quantum levels of existence that we cannot know or predict, and some things seem to point toward parallel universes/dimensions. So what exactly does prayer accomplish in regard to our relationship to a God who may be “located” more fully in another “dimension”? What does that even mean? 🙂

I don’t know. 🙂

But it certainly increases my urge/desire to spend more time going before that God, and praying in Jesus’ name. Not because I believe in some gnostic magical passage I’ll discover, but because I believe in the bodily resurrected Christ who has called us to pray in His name…perhaps I’ll even take my family with me. 🙂

seeds.

There are plenty of things I don’t like to see.

Like the receipt of expensive seeds that never took. The end of a great book.
Like dirty side-walks. Or my own hands, holding a shovel.
Like dirt turning to mud, or birds eating seed I’ve just put down.

I don’t like to see young men and women make horrible choices.
Voices of lives taking turns in directions not great.
“Fate” blamed for bad decision, indecision, and pride.

Gates wide with people losing sight and sound of words spoken of them by God.
Seeking identity in every corner but His. Every source but Him.
Lights dim, believing the sun is setting, not rising.

I don’t like to take my family down paths that are winding.
Blinding roads that don’t end up where I told them we were heading.
Jesus sweating tears of blood as He takes on our sins.

But in the midst of it, something new begins.

Forgiveness comes to all, restoring relationships
As grace is flipped upside down, poured out on the ground.
And the round-about I’ve taken my family ends up being found
Right in the middle of Kingdom coming.

Lights dim, and here comes the Son.
False identities crash hard, and façades are torn away.
Because you can’t take costumes with you to jail.
As sails are torn, and offered to God,
He tills the sod, protects the seed. Becomes all that we need.
Holds what has died in the palm of His hand.

And up comes New Life.
Here lives the New Man.

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