Posts Tagged 'Resurrection'

“Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church” (1 Corinthians 4:15-17).

“Jacques Ellul insists that this resurrection life must be lived in this world, but at the same time he insists that the Christian ‘must not act in exactly the same way as everyone else. He has a part to play in this world which no one else can possibly fulfill.’” (Eugene Peterson, Practice Resurrection, 261)

Graduate school is a lot of fun. I am learning so much about achievement gaps, high-stakes testing, functional behavior assessments, response to intervention, No Child Left Behind, and more. I am learning about Bloom’s Taxonomy, KWL, Evidence Based Practice, content standards, teacher accountability, labor unions, graphic organizers, charter schools, magnet schools, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and…well, there are more ways for a human to be ‘broken’ than I could have ever imagined…and I could go on and on for a while. I have learned more than I thought I needed to know, and less than I probably need to know. Who would have thought that teaching children to read would be such a complicated ordeal?

Education is a serious enterprise in the United States. I am getting my money’s worth out of this experience and I am glad for it because I am spending a lot of money getting this education.

About 9 months ago or so, I began to realize something strange. It goes something like this. I am in school to learn about more than the multitude of variations of ASD that a child might have. I am learning about more than the thousands of children’s books published every year in the United States. I am learning about more than what is required to be a certified teacher in the state of Ohio (3 different praxis exams including HQT requirements for NCLB, comprehensive exams, 52 hours of graduate school, a semester of student teaching, a portfolio, and more).

You know what is scary? I have been learning about myself. You know what I realize? I’m ugly. I realize that I am pretty much un-fun. You know I have had to learn how to laugh and be the class clown again? I’m boring. I’m sensitive to rebuke. I Hate failure (I recently lost three points on an assignment; not happy). I’m jealous of the success of others. I’m impatient (the trip to Cleveland about kills me). I’m arrogant. There are a few people who are smarter than I am (I didn’t get the highest grade on a recent mid-term). I’m comfortable. I like leading, and not so much following. I like talking, and not so much listening. I like being in charge, and not so much taking orders. And, trust me, there’s more.

I am learning not just what is required of a teacher, but I am also learning the sort of teacher I do not want to be. This has been the most important lesson I have learned and not just from going to class at CSU, but also from working a part time job at a local school. And I realize, most importantly, that the teacher I do not want to be is a teacher who is not the things I just listed, above, that I am. I don’t know if that makes sense or not. I’ll say it this way then: not having my own pulpit any longer is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. It is harder to lose a pulpit than it is to gain one.

What I have learned, though, is that those things I described above are the very things that I had become. I hate mirrors. I keep asking God, ‘Is it safe to land?’ He keeps saying, ‘Wait’ (which I suspect is God’s way of saying, ‘Oh, I have a few more revelations for you.”) As I look back on nearly fifteen years in the pulpit I realize that I had quite forgotten what it was to be a terrified 25 year old fresh out of Bible School and stepping into a pulpit for the first time. I had grown quite comfortable with my skills. Frankly, I had become impatient, arrogant, condescending, comfortable, boring, sensitive, jealous, boring, and un-fun. And more. You know what I forgot most? People. I did a lot of serving, but I think sometimes I did it so I could be up front, in charge, and not (always) because I loved people.

I forgot what it was like to work 60 hours a week and have to get up on Sundays to worship. I forgot what it was like to have visitors in town and want to stay up late Saturday thus necessitating an absence on Sunday. I had quite forgotten that most people do not have Bible College educations and even less have seminary educations. I forgot to be with people and their hurt. I forgot what it was like to serve because I was called to and not because I was paid to. I used to complain that the money I was paid tied me down, bound my hands and prevented service, real service. As I look back I realize it did so, but not in a way I expected: that is, I stopped serving because I could and wanted to and started doing so because I had to.  I forgot what it was like to drown in sin, to struggle with addiction, and to feel hopelessness. I forgot what it was like to think God had moved a million miles in the opposite direction.

I forgot how to suffer. I forgot how to hurt. I forgot how to feel. There is a certain amount of pleasure and satisfaction that comes from a sermon well-written and better-delivered. And don’t get me wrong: a great sermon goes a long way on paper. But for all that I suffered, I forgot to suffer. I forgot to weep with my people. I forgot to hold them. So protective of myself was I, so angry at not having leadership, so frustrated by the lack of growth, so bitter at betrayal, so jealous of fellas half my age preaching in churches a hundred times the size of mine…I was becoming more and more the person I was warning the congregation not to become. I gave up the safety of insecurity and vulnerability and weakness for the caves of strength and clarity and well-spokenness. I traded. In the end, the only way for Jesus to awaken me was to destroy me.

Now, here I am, alone with the self I hate, the one I created in the image of the world. Here I am, now, alone with my introspection. I am the Bob Eucker of preaching: thought I belonged in the front row only to find out…not so much. Here I am, now, saved by grace only much more aware of it than ever before in my life. I am learning what I had forgotten: how to love and be loved, how to be known by Jesus, how to walk by faith. I am learning to let Jesus be in charge. I am learning to follow and listen. Learning that temptations are all around and there are people who will spoon feed them to you if you ask.

I’m in no way undermining the consequences or the failure or the sin of those who hurt my family. But, and this is a huge but, but, neither I am clinging to them for dear life and breath any longer. Holding on was probably worse than experiencing them to begin with. Genuine love, true joy, is possible when the person counts on Christ for his love and joy and not on the perfection of circumstances or identity. I spent almost ten years forging an identity in this community where I live only to have it taken away in a matter of hours and days. I spent the better part of 20 years becoming a preacher, but along the way I forgot how to be a disciple.

Sad. But true.

I should wrap this up for now. In learning what sort of teacher I do not want to be, I have inadvertently, or not, learned the sort of preacher that I had become. I also have learned why I became not so useful in the church. You see, I let My Ministry become that which defined me and my life and my existence. I learned from Tim Keller that this is a bad thing to do. My identity, Paul wrote, is not wrapped up in who I am or what I do. That is why he writes that we are to imitate Christ. Our identity is wrapped up in who He is which is, precisely, why Paul writes that we are to become like Christ.

I do not know yet what part I am to play in this world, but I am learning that if I must continue that I must find myself in Jesus first. So all I’m really trying to say is this: be careful. Maybe you are a young preacher, setting out on your way and looking to forge an identity or be the next big thing on youtube or the next big itunes podcaster. Don’t give in. You were meant for less.

Maybe you are a long time faithful person in Jesus. Don’t despise the wilderness.

I am meant for less. Thankfully. Because where there is less, there I will find Jesus, the one who has been looking for me all along. And now that I am exposed, undone, out in the open…now, I suspect, he can finally see me, and I can finally see Him.

And He is a sight to behold!

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Daily Office

“Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!” Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….” Then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” And the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.”– Matthew 9:1-8

Let me ask you a question: Do you think this man’s paralysis had something to do with the sin that Jesus forgave?

Whatever else we might say about this passage of Scripture, this much is true: the man who was brought to Jesus on a stretcher got more that day than he bargained for. I don’t think Jesus forgave this man’s sins simply to irritate the scribes who happened to be hanging around that day. Nevertheless, they accuse him of blasphemy and Jesus rejects that charge out of hand: No! This is not blasphemy at all and I will prove it so.

And he does. Then he sends the man home, and there, in that simple phrase is what blows my mind about this story. It’s good that Jesus healed the man. It’s good that Jesus forgave his sins. It’s good that Jesus disproved the charge of blasphemy. The whole story is good, but that part where Jesus sends him ‘home’ is great. It is fantastic.

I am aware there is a lot going on in this ‘panel’ of Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus is healing. He is demonstrating his power. He is demonstrating his divinity (whatever that might entail). All of this, coming after the Sermon on the Mount—actions empowering his words—is a mighty testimony to the faithfulness of Jesus to his calling as the Son of God. As you may have guessed, however, something troubles me about the way preachers typically (and, not incidentally, traditionally) have preached this passage—as if it were disconnected from the Sermon on the Mount (5-7) and the great teaching that follows (10-13).

Typically this is a passage preached simply to demonstrate that Jesus was divine, God, that he was able and empowered and authorized to forgive sins. Yes. Yes. Yes. All of this is true, but that’s not the complete picture. Let’s not forget that something else happened that day too: “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” “Go home!” he says. “Go home.” It could be that he was like that fellow who laid by the pool all day (John 5) or that lame fellow in Acts 3 whom Peter healed and hardly ever went home or perhaps he had been rejected by his family. My point is: maybe he hadn’t been home for a while. As a paralyzed man, a sinner obviously cursed because of his sin, maybe he was unwelcome at home. I cannot think of a more liberating thing to happen to that man than for Jesus to look at him and say, “Go home!”

Thus the crowds respond the way they did, in a way, I might add, quite unlike the response of those who lived near the tombs in the region of the Gadarenes. It’s one thing to command the demon-possessed and quite another to heal a man from paralysis, right? But put yourself in the man’s place and hear Jesus say: “Your sins are forgiven; rise up; go home!” I suppose he could have said a lot of things; he chose to tell him to go home. Maybe that was Jesus’ way of saying that he was completely healed: he gave him back his home, his family, his dignity. Carried in on a mat, by ‘men’; carried out by the grace of God, on his own two feet.

In the April 2000 issue of Interpretation, L Gregory Jones, then dean of Duke University Divinity School (he may still be, I have no idea), captures well what I am getting at in his essay Crafting Communities of Forgiveness:

“At heart, Christian forgiveness is the means by which God’s love moves toward reconciliation in the wake of the sin and evil that mar God’s creation. Forgiveness aims to restore us to communion with God, with one another, and with the whole creation. We are not created to be isolated or self-enclosed individuals, and God’s forgiveness aims at reshaping us for faithful fellowship” (123).

So Jesus sends him home. He reconciles him to God (“Your sins are forgiven”) and he reconciles him to humanity (“Take your bed, go home”) and to the whole creation since the man is now whole, he can take his rightful place among the living and contribute to the everyday comings and goings of humanity. Jesus is about making us whole, perfect, complete and we are not entirely complete until we are reconciled to God and man. His forgiveness of the man not only restored his hope with God, but also enabled the man to do something, I suspect, he hadn’t been able to do for a while: go home.

Like the men in the Gadarenes, Jesus brought this man back to life. He raised him up, brought him back to life. Now he lives to God, to his family, and to the community. The reconciliation, healing and resurrection that Jesus gives to us is about so much more than our mere selves. The healing and resurrection of one person changes everything and everyone.

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Daily Office

“When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.” He said to them, “Go!” So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.”—Matthew 8:28-24

Isn’t it amazing that all Jesus says in these verses is ‘Go!’?

Demons talk.

The whole town talked.

Those tending the pigs talked.

But Jesus was quiet, except for the, ‘Go!’

Then the town folk told Jesus the same.

Strange, isn’t it?

But that’s not the only thing that stands out in this story. I noticed that these two demon-possessed men were on ‘the other side’ (of the lake), in the ‘region’ of the Gadarenes, and they were among the ‘tombs.’ I get the impression that these people were tucked away as far as possible from humanity. There were some pigs nearby, and maybe a few folks, but there wasn’t much. These men, living among the tombs, were as good as dead. That’s why they were living in the tombs—among the dead. No one considered these two living men alive.

No one could see these men as men any longer. They were dead, some sort of zombies right out of Resident Evil. And that is what we do with dead people: we banish them to the place of the dead. A place suitable only for the dead and pigs.

I suspect we do so because we do not want to look at them, or have to deal with them, or participate in their lives. They are dead and Lord knows that we mere humans, mere Christians, have no power to raise the dead. At least that’s what proper theology teaches us, right? That’s why when people die, we quit praying: there’s nothing else we can do.

Jesus was desperate to get to these men and the devil was desperate to prevent him doing so. The storm on the sea was a measure of prevention by the enemy: Jesus must not get to those men, he must not because he will see them as they are, as men. He will see them as men who have a spark of humanity in them still, men who can be saved, men who can be resurrected and brought back to life. “No one could pass that way.” But no one was trying to either.

Stanley Hauerwas’ latest book is called Hannah’s Child. It is a compelling read even if some of the stories he tells make the reader a bit uneasy. I was surprised to learn that Prof. Hauerwas spent twenty years of his life married to and living with a woman who had a mental illness. It is a remarkable story for this simple reason: Hauerwas never put his wife away. He stayed with her until she left him. He did not banish her to the tombs even though it was quite clear that Anne had serious issues that could have caused harm to Hauerwas or their son. This story, told in Hauerwas’ pitch perfect tone, makes this statement he utters near the end all the more remarkable: “In other words, to privilege Jesus’ cross and resurrection is to make a claim about reality that invites and requires Christians to see the world differently than others” (263).

A lot of Hauerwas’ theological conclusions frighten me and in no way persuade me, but I’ll say this for him: the cross and resurrection did cause him to see things differently. He saw his wife as one he loved because of Jesus. He saw his Anne as one whom he could in no way abandon or banish to the tombs. That aspect of his story alone is reason enough for me to spend time with his books.

I wonder if the two men in the ‘region’ of the Gadarenes ever got lonely? I wonder if their own company ever bored them and caused them anxiety? What does it mean to be ‘possessed by a devil’ anyhow to such an extent that people fear you and banish you to the place of the dead? I wonder why people were so afraid? Do you think it is easier to put away such people and pretend the world is not inhabited by such people? Do you think we are safer when they are put away?

The world sickens me most of the time. I was at the Emergency Room tonight with my son and wife. We were waiting on the Dr’s to set Samuel’s broken arm when I noticed an old lady laying on a bed in a different room. She was all alone. No family. No brother. No mother. No husband. No children. No pastor. No preacher. No friends. No sisters. No nothing. I forgot myself for a moment, old pastor habits are hard to break, and went into her room and spoke with her for a couple of minutes. She had a speech impediment, was very old, and I suspect she had some, at least, mild mental retardation. I left her room when I heard my son’s agony as they set the bones.

A little later, I peeked out of my son’s room to see if she was still there. I was on my way towards her when a nurse headed me off and gently told me that the law prohibited me from going into her room and speaking with her if I was not family. Seriously. The law prohibited me from speaking to a 90 year old woman who had no one else to speak with, no one else to comfort her. The law finds it better for her to be utterly alone than it does for someone to love her.

I sort of felt like Jesus for a moment when the people pleaded with him to leave, and if that is too self-serving, then let’s just say I understood in a very limited way how the two demon-possessed men must have felt when the town folk pleaded with Jesus to leave—Jesus, the only one who had looked at these two men and saw men, the only one who had dared to go where no one else would go. This Jesus was pleaded with: “Go!” “Leave!”

As disciples of Jesus we see the world differently than others. Maybe not better, maybe not perfectly, but differently. We see people differently. We are not ones who banish the living to tombs and regions. Instead, we are the ones who go to the tombs, or hospital emergency room rooms, or home, and we love the ones that the rest of the world has banished. We refuse to put these people away because they, too, are sons and daughters of the Father. We go to the places Jesus went. We love the people Jesus loved. We take the power of life with us into the tombs and invade the territory of the enemy. We bring light to dark places.

And so, I suppose if we are followers of Jesus, we will make the trip across demon enraged seas, we will pass the place no one can pass, we will find a way to get to the people who are held in bondage by the power of the enemy, and we will resurrect them and bring them back to life. Why? Because I suspect that the thing dead people want the most is life, a human touch, a spark of their humanity. I believe that Jesus holds this power and is waiting to unleash it through his disciples. He is already going into those places, blazing a trail ahead of us. All that remains is whether or not we will go with him.

He challenges us to see the world differently.

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“To believe in Jesus in the Christian sense means not less than trusting him utterly as the One who has borne our sin in his own body on the tree, as the One whose life and death and resurrection, offered up in our place, has reconciled us to God.”

–DA Carson, Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus, 29

 

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Friends,

I have to be away from the blog for several days. This past week I have been at my in-laws. We were able to be together for the last four days of my brother-in-law’s life. Bobby was 30 and died from a brain tumor. He died Saturday evening around 7:30 or so. This morning we worshiped with his congregation in Poland, Ohio.

Crowder always seems to have words.

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I thank God that death had no claim on Bobby. Thanks be to God for the resurrection of Jesus Christ–our hope!

“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.”

Praise God! My sister in law said something amazing this morning at worship. She said, and I don’t even know if she planned it or not, but it was brilliant: It only took 30 years for God to accomplish in and through Bobby all he desired to accomplish. Bobby was a changed man because of Jesus Christ and a powerful testimony to all who knew and loved him. Bobby was so changed that he more than once gave testimony that he ‘thanked God for [this] disease.’

He died quietly and peacefully. He was surrounded by his friends, family, and a friendly dog named Cody who roams the halls of the Hospice. But more importantly, he was surrounded by the grace of God. We thank God Bobby is safe and hurting no more. We thank God for his abundant grace that saved Bobby 6 years ago. If you breathe a prayer for us, especially his wife Brandi, thank God that Bobby didn’t have to linger on for days. Thank God for His grace.

God Bless CRN.info this week as the writers here continue witnessing the powerful grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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