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Archive for Resurrection


A New Mission

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I grew up in a tradition that outsourced missions. The churches would receive three offerings each year for the purpose of supporting missions, and regularly calendared missionaries to come and tell us the stories of life serving God in some alternative hemisphere. My job was to learn to be the best Christian I could be and to leave missions to the professionals.

I find it ironic that today we’re witnessing the birth of the missional church. It’s ironic because the missional church was how church worked in the first century. We haven’t invented missional church or missional Christianity, we’re simply returning to the simplicity of mission as it was originally designed.

There is much to say about what it means to be a missional church or a missional Christian. If you search either of those titles on my blog’s tag cloud you’ll see plenty of thoughts from previous posts. But for my purposes today, I want to simply remind us that missional living is rooted in the resurrection of Jesus. Paul’s last challenge in this week’s paragraph from 1 Corinthians 15 simply says, “Become right-minded and stop sinning, because some people are ignorant about God” (1 Corinthians 15:34, HCSB).

Since verse 20, Paul has been sharing how resurrection hope extends to sustaining our faith between the time of our tranformation and our time of death. This includes our responsibility to our communities and our world, who are largely “ignorant about God.” Because of the resurrection, I have hope and can live with hope, but that hope is not isolated or self contained. It is a hope to be shared. This is why, more urgently than ever, we need to get our minds right and embrace our “sentness.” Jesus told the disciples that he was sending them into the world in the same manner that he had been sent into the world by the Father (John 20:21). Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to the church sending out men and women to serve in any hemisphere. But we can’t afford to have a mentality that subcontracts world evangelism. Your calling to live as a missional Christian is as profound as those who serve in the deepest and darkest parts of the world. Embrace it! There are plenty of people who are still ignorant about God. And chances are, they may live right next door to you!


A New Purpose for Living

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Evidently the Corinthians lived with a worldview that is not new to our contemporary culture: “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we will die” (1 Corinthians 15:32-33). Since they dismissed the resurrection and the possibility of life after death, they, like many people today, determined to live for the moment regardless of the consequences. I could describe several elements of this worldview and discuss how seeking success and living for pleasure can leave one with a hollow, empty feeling. But I think its even more simple than that. At the end of it all is self. If there is no tomorrow, then I have an unparalleled responsibility to me, myself, and I.

Paul argues strongly that this kind of thinking is wrong-headed and dangerous. The resurrection reorders our worldview to a position that acknowledges that while there may not be a tomorrow, there is an eternity. What we do and how we live matters, because we’re not living for today, we’re living in light of eternity. Life is not about me. It’s about God and others.

Because we are eternal beings we have an accountability to God for our lives. We have received life as a precious gift from God, so our lives are not our own to do with as we please. We have a stewardship over the gift that God has entrusted to us. This reality drives us to move past our ambitions for self and success and to pursue eternally significant endeavors. Each day is energized with countless new possibilities to make an impact on the lives of others for the sake of the Kingdom of God. We have been given a life that is blessed to be a blessing to the world. There may not be a tomorrow. But there is an eternity, and that pursuit is worthy of our greatest allegiance and effort.

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A New Confidence for Living

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Paul has asserted that the resurrection provides a hope that sustains us by providing believers with a new attitude about death. For the Christian, death is not the bitter, final end of our existence. Rather, it is a transition step toward eternal union with God.

The second piece that naturally follows our new attitude is a new confidence about life. When we understand the reality of eternity, we also understand that fear of death no longer needs to govern our lives. Because we are free from fear, we are free to live. Paul takes this up in the next section.

Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them? And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? I die every day—I mean that, brothers—just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord. If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? (1 Corinthians 15:29-32a, NIV).

Some who fear death are filled with superstition. Evidently some in Corinth did not embrace resurrection, but were being baptized vicariously for the dead “just in case.” Without going into all of the historical detail regarding this first century cultic practice, for our contemporary purposes I see it for what it is at the lowest common denominator: people practicing superstitious acts compelled by fear.

More important to the argument is Paul’s own attitude about death. Notice what he has written:

1. We face danger every hour. Indeed, the world is a dangerous place. No matter how hard we try to live safely and securely, there are no 100% guarantees that protect us from harm.
2. Death is a daily reality. Paul bluntly declared, “I die daily.” I liken that to those public servants such as police officers and fire fighters who go to work each day realizing that they may be called upon to make “the ultimate sacrifice.”
3. There are those who do not have our best interests at heart. By referring to fighting wild beasts, Paul has drawn on the popular imagery of slaves who were forced to fight for their lives in the arenas as sport for the spectators.

So what’s his point? Death forces us to confront our deepest and darkest fears. But ultimately, you are not ready to live until you’re ready to die. Only when you resolve the reality and immanence of death are you truly free to live life as God intended. Jesus has been raised, and his resurrection guarantees our resurrection. Therefore, our lives do not have to be governed by fear of death or anything else. We can live with freedom and confidence because we are confident of what’s on the other side.

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A New Attitude

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Last week I counted the number of times Lisa and I have moved since we’ve been married. We got married before our senior year of college, then moved to St. Louis after graduation. We lived in three houses in the nine years we were there. Then we moved to Ft. Worth, and later to Springdale, Arkansas. We have now been in Iowa for nearly six years, and are on our second house in Waukee. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s 8 houses and 7 moves in 26 years of marriage. I know some who have moved more and some who have moved less, but we all share one thing in common: we all hate to move.

Boxes, packing, lifting, loading, change of address forms, unpacking, sorting, arranging and rearranging, you know the drill. It’s a painful process that is only made bearable by the anticipation that at some future point we’ll be finished with the move and will settle into our new contexts. There is something good on the other side of the move. That’s what gets us through it.

Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we can have a new attitude about death. Death for the believer is like making that big move. It’s difficult and can be unpleasant, but we know there’s something better on the other side.

This is what Paul was trying to convey in 1 Corinthians 15:20-28.
But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back. After that the end will come, when he will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, having destroyed every ruler and authority and power. For Christ must reign until he humbles all his enemies beneath his feet. And the last enemy to be destroyed is death. For the Scriptures say, “God has put all things under his authority.” (Of course, when it says “all things are under his authority,” that does not include God himself, who gave Christ his authority.) Then, when all things are under his authority, the Son will put himself under God’s authority, so that God, who gave his Son authority over all things, will be utterly supreme over everything everywhere. (1 Corinthians 15:20-28, NLT)

Paul has previously argued that Jesus was raised by the Father and remained raised forever more. Because Jesus has been raised, he becomes the “first fruits” of all who have died. “First fruits” implies more fruit and later fruit. Jesus was raised to a life that knows no death and in that sense becomes the forerunner of all who follow. The resurrection of Jesus guarantees our resurrection. Therefore, resurrection is both proof that Jesus was who he said he was and promise that we will share in the resurrection as well.

Death came through one man, Adam. In Adam, all die. That death involves more than physical death, though that is certainly included. In Adam, all experience death. We all share in the solidarity of Adam’s guilt. But Jesus came as the second Adam and reversed the trend. In the first Adam, all die and experience separation from God. In the second Adam (Jesus) all may find life and union with God. The last enemy to be defeated is death. Through the resurrection, Jesus claimed victory over death, eliminated the power that death holds over our lives, and demonstrated authority over death by placing it under his feet. We must face physical death. But the resurrection ensures that we will not face spiritual death. We have eternal life. Because of that, death is not a bitter end. It is a new beginning. That new attitude about death provides us with hope that sustains our lives.

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Hope that Sustains

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Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 15 to address two questions.
Question one: Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Can we be certain? Paul’s first answer is found in 15:1-7. He cited the consistent nature of gospel preaching as one proof of the certainty of the resurrection. Jesus died on the cross for our sins, as evidenced by burial, then rose from the dead on the third day, as evidenced by the eyewitness reports.
Question two: If Jesus did rise from the dead, what difference does that make in my life? What are the implications for me? Using his own personal testimony in 15:8-11, Paul shares how the resurrection provided hope for transformation. Through that resurrection, he transformed from leading persecutor of the church to the leading apostle. If Paul could experience that level of transformation, we can experience life change as well!

Beginning in 1 Corinthians 15:12, Paul moves to the second argument defending the certainty of the resurrection. Scholars have pointed out that Paul uses the philosophical rhetoric known as Reductio ad Absurdum. Reductio ad Absurdum is a philosophical argument that takes a proposition and challenges it by taking the consequences of the proposition and reducing it to the most ridiculous outcome. His line of logic is found in 15:12-19, and is based upon seven “ifs.” Check this out:

1. IF Christ is preached as risen, how can you say there is no resurrection?
2. IF there is no resurrection, then Christ has not been raised.
3. IF Christ is not raised, then the content of preaching is empty and lacking substance.
4. IF the dead are not raised, then we are false witnesses.
5. If the dead are not raised, then Christ was not raised and was proven to be deserving of condemnation. He was a false prophet. The accusations were true and Jesus was guilty as charged.
6. IF Christ has not been raised, then your faith is worthless, you are still in your sins, and those who have died have perished as ones irretrievably lost.
7. IF our hope in Christ is for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone else for living in delusion.

The rest of this section is focused on the second set of implications of the resurrection. Tomorrow I’ll begin sharing how the resurrection impacts our lives between the time of transformation and our time of death. The resurrection provides a hope that sustains.

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Hope that Transforms 4

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When we moved from Texas to Arkansas, the Lord blessed us with a nice home that was in a stalled development. Har-Ber Meadows was the dream of a philantropist named Bernice Young Jones. She had envisioned a 600+ home development that was characterized by sitting porches, rear entry garages, and 55 acres of parks and lakes. There were stringent rules on the architecture, to the extent that after about 75 homes were built, the subdivision died.

We were able to purchase a home at about half the original asking price because it had sat there empty for nearly three years. The home was great. The yard? Well, not so much. The builder placed sod around the circumference of the house, but as a cost saving measure, simply seeded the rest of the lot. The house was great but the yard was horrible.

I called a lawn service company to come and provide and estimate of what it would take to turn the yard around. After walking around the yard for a few minutes, he told me that I had no lawn to rescue! It was all weeds. He suggested that I have the lawn saturated with weed killer the re-sod the entire lawn. When I saw the estimate possessed a number with a comma, I knew I had to come up with “Plan B.”

In St. Louis we had learned how to groom and maintain zoysia grass. It was pretty simple and very low maintenance. Then in Texas we learned all about St. Augustine grass, which was so sharp and brittle it felt like walking on broken glass. The advice I received in Arkansas was to plug my lawn with bermuda grass. Bermuda grass sends out runners and spreads quickly. So I went to the store and picked up two 6′ rolls of bermuda sod and began to place plugs in random spots throughout my yard. Guess what? Within a year the bermuda grass had spread like wildfire, choking out all of the weeds. My lawn went from worst to first!

The reason I tell this simple story is to illustrate how the resurrection of Jesus transforms our lives. When a person commits their life to become a follower of Christ, he goes to work and plugs our weed filled lives with his love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness. Given time, those plugs begin to crowd out all of the stuff that gets in the way of us reaching our God given potential.

There are two ways we can approach life. We can focus on weed management or we can allow God’s love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness transform us from the inside out. Weed management doesn’t work. It didn’t work then and it doesn’t work now. The only way we can experience life change is inside out by the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ!

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Hope that Transforms 3

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The New Testament is clear. Our hope is rooted in the context of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In 1 Corinthians 15:1-7, Paul asserted that the consistent nature of gospel preaching is one proof of the certainty of Jesus’ resurrection. He then followed that declaration by sharing the first implication of the resurrection: transformation.

In 1 Corinthians 15:8-11, Paul took an unpredicted turn. He had provided a listing of those who were eyewitnesses of the resurrection, but then suddenly cited his own personal testimony of encountering the risen Lord (cf. Acts 9:1ff). Paul equated his own experience with the experience of the apostles, et al, save for one detail: his birth was “abnormal.” The word here he uses was the word commonly used for a miscarriage or an abortion in the first century. But his emphasis was on the unlikely nature of his transformation. Unlike the other eyewitnesses who had walked with Jesus for up to three years, he had not “come to full term.” So why was it so unlikely that the risen Lord would appear to Paul? Because he had persecuted the church (15:9). Because of God’s great grace, even Paul could experience life change.

Paul’s point is simply this: the transformation he experienced from zealous persecutor of the church to the hardest working apostle in the first century was possible through the resurrection of Jesus, not through some form of personal reformation, like the kind so often sought today.

There is a big difference between personal reformation and spiritual transformation. For example,
Reformation is based on self-effort and self-improvement;
Transformation is strictly the result of grace.
Reformation focuses on behavior modification;
Transformation focused on transformation of the heart.
Reformation relies on rules and regulations;
Transformation relies on the law of love.
Reformation is accomplished through will power;
Transformation is accomplished through surrender.
Reformation seeks a “better you;”
Transformation seeks a “different you.”
Reformation lives as though all the world’s a stage;
Transformation lives for an Audience of One.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the power to change your life. You don’t need to make resolutions or turn over a new leaf. You need a complete transformation that works from the inside out.

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Hope that Transforms 2

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The New Testament is not bashful about basing the Christian hope squarely on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection of Jesus is central to the gospel. So it should come as no surprise that Paul began his epic teaching on the certainty and the implications of the resurrection with a review of the content of the gospel.

For the Corinthian believers, the gospel was a message that they had decisively received and continued to stand upon, even though they may not have fully understood it. When I was six years old I gave all I knew of me to all I knew of Christ. Frankly, I knew very little about either one! But I can still recall the time and place where I made the decision to commit my life to following Jesus Christ. Paul wanted his readers to be clear on the fact that the message of Jesus is the gospel that saves. It had saved them and continued to transform them. Paul handed forward this message to them, but it was not his own. As he had received it, he passed it forward. In verses 15:1-7, Paul presents the content of the gospel as based upon two historical events, each which possessed its own evidence.

Event #1: “Christ died for our sins, according to the Scripture” (15:3).
Jesus death was sacrificial and on our behalf. Paul uses atonement language (think Old Testament sacrifices) to help us understand that Jesus, though thoroughly innocent, became the perfect sacrifice for sin. He not only was the perfect sacrifice, he was the perfect substitute.

Evidence #1: “He was buried” (15:4).
Much of the apostolic preaching of the early church included the burial of Jesus Christ. It was also included in the early church creeds, such as the Apostles Creed. Why? Burial is verification and evidence of death. That’s why the graveside is such a challenging part of the funeral process. Nothing presents the reality of death more clearly than the burial of the body. Paul’s point is this: Jesus really died a physical death on the cross. He did not swoon or enter into some kind of soul sleep. He literally and physically died and was physically and literally buried. Paul was not using a metaphor or an analogy; he was being woodenly literal.

Event #2: “Christ rose from the dead on the third day, according to the Scriptures” (15:4).
The Greek here uses the passive perfect, which simply means is that Jesus was raised by the Father and that he remains raised. During his ministry on Earth, Jesus raised three people from the dead. Each of them was raised to die again. But Jesus was raised forevermore, claiming victory over sin and death. Just as Jesus physically died and was buried, he was raised again to life.

Evidence #2: “He was seen by…” (15:5-7).
As burial certifies death, the eyewitness reports certified the resurrection. Paul gave an extensive list, but it is not an exhaustive list. For example, the women who first saw Jesus were not included.

This is the foundation of the gospel: Jesus’ physically died as evidenced by his burial, was experienced bodily resurrection from the dead as attested by a number exceeding 500 people. That is the seed of our Christian hope.

Tomorrow I’ll continue in 1 Corinthians 15 and address the first implication of the resurrection: it is the power to change your life!

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Hope That Transforms 1

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Spring is here! For many, its their favorite time of year. In spring we witness the earth awaken from winter’s slumber. The trees bud, the birds sing, perennials burst from the soil, and the grass comes to life. We change out our wardrobes and fire up the grill. We gas up the lawnmower and clean out the garage. We breathe in the smell of burgers and brats and revel in the sound of the crack of the bat at the nearby little league field. In Iowa, its helpful that we celebrate Easter in the spring. Easter, after all, wouldn’t be the same in July’s humidity or January’s ice. Easter and spring a neatly linked where I live because both are symbols of hope.

Hope is a popular word in 2011. It has been politicized and romanticized, but it finds its roots in the context of the Christian faith. Hope is a Christian word. And for the Christian faith, hope is the product of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Each world religion has had its founding leader. Each of those leaders has lived, died, and was buried. Only the Christian faith is based on the resurrection of its founding leader.

So during the month of April I’m going to be preaching and blogging about the resurrection of Jesus with the desire that we can reconnect with our truest Christian roots of hope. And as far as the resurrection is concerned, there’s no better place to begin that in the 15th chapter of Paul’s letter we call 1 Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 15 was written to address two questions. The first question is “Did Jesus really rise from the dead?” This is a question seeking certainty. Question two is “What difference does the resurrection of Jesus make in my life?” That’s a question seeking implications of the resurrection; the proverbial “so what?” if you will. So I’ve chosen to speak and write about these implications each week this month. The resurrection is not just an event settled in history and geography. It matters today and it matters to you!

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The Road to Emmaus (part 2)

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Jesus went “undercover” on the road to Emmaus. As he visits with the travelers on that first Easter morning, he inquires about the reports concerning the events that happened at Jerusalem that weekend. Once the couple recovered from the shock and disbelief that this stranger was clueless about those same events, they began to unpack all that had happened related to Jesus of Nazareth.

“He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and he was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people. But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified him.”

“Then some women from our group of his followers were at his tomb early this morning, and they came back with an amazing report. They said his body was missing, and they had seen angels who told them Jesus is alive! Some of our men ran out to see, and sure enough, his body was gone, just as the women had said.” (Luke 24:19-20, 22-24, NLT)

It was an amazing report indeed. But there was one problem with their description.

“We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel.” (Luke 24:21, NLT)

The couple on the road to Emmaus were confused about all that had taken place. But even more, they expressed their confusion in terms of disappointment. The Messiah, they believed, was to come and restore Israel to the geo-political status of the historical rule of King David. They were looking for the Messiah. But the Messiah they wanted was about their agenda and their interests.

Have you been disappointed by Jesus? Sometimes when I counsel with people who are experiencing life’s difficulties, disappointment with Jesus will surface during the conversation. We’ve all been there from time to time. But when we’re tempted to wallow in disappointment with Jesus, I think it’s helpful to re-evaluate our expectation of Jesus.

What are your expectations of Jesus? Financial security? A happy marriage? Perfect kids who earn full scholarships to the University? An upwardly mobile career path? Physical health? Early retirement? To be loved and adored by all who grace your presence?

The travelers were disappointed. But they had expected wrong things from Messiah. Jesus clues them in from the Old Testament: “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26, NLT)

Jesus’ death and resurrection are not designed to eliminate suffering from your life. And above all, never forget that his passion and resurrection are not so that you can attain glory. It was so that he could enter his glory.

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