What’s The Big Deal About Resurrection?

It really happened.

The message of Jesus is a resurrection story. It’s not just another religious tale. This is not a myth. The way of Jesus is not a compilation of pleasant, moral teachings; it is historical. The Christian faith is not the exaggerated account and reconstructed ethics of an imaginary rabbi named Jesus; it is the result of a real human who lived a real life and then died a real death.

But he isn’t just a human.

And he didn’t stay dead.

The very fact that it is so improbable makes it all the more vital to consider.

Think about it. The original Christian leader, Peter, was a Jesus-denier. The first witnesses to the resurrection were women, in a first-century world that scorned their testimony. The movement started in Jerusalem, the epicenter of Judaism, where they began to worship a man who said you had to eat his flesh and drink his blood. To top it all off, the earliest believers were being tortured and killed for their claims of having seen the resurrected real-life body of Jesus. Not the greatest motivator to sign up for this new faith.

And yet it exploded.

How do you explain the birth and expansion of this faith if he did not rise from the dead? What do you do with the testimony of hundreds of people who had nothing to gain, and literally everything lose by making such resurrection claims? What if it’s true?

It means light beats darkness.

Life beats death.

Justice beats oppression.

Cancer is going to bow. Poverty is going to bow. Racism is going to bow.

All things become new.

It means it’s not too late for you.

It means there is more hope for you that you ever thought possible, because the very worst thing this world can throw at you is death. And Jesus beat it. Which means death may be able to snatch you from this world; but Jesus is going to snatch you from death.

Which means you don’t need to be afraid of anything.

Ever. Again.

Which means the word impossible has been fundamentally altered for those who believe Jesus. His earthly ministry is bookended by two impossibilities: a virgin’s womb and an empty tomb. I don’t know how bad your situation is, but, he’s got this. There is nothing he can’t do. There is no mountain he can’t move. There is no life he can’t redeem.

Oh redemption. What a delicious word.

Great news! Jesus lived the life I should have lived. And then he died the death I deserved to die. But early Sunday morning, just as he promised, he rose. And so will you, if you’ll just believe.

Let’s go change the world.

Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.

I like honest conversations.

And I love the fact that God’s shoulders are big enough to handle our intellectual, emotional, and theological struggles. It’s why I am so drawn to the death of Lazarus (John 11).

On a holiday where billions will celebrate Jesus’ ultimate victory over death, I am reminded of the painful reality of living in the gap between the promises of God and realization of those promises.

Here’s the summary. The gospel writer goes out of his way to emphasize that Jesus loves Lazarus and his family. They were very well-acquainted with the healing reputation of the Messiah. By John 11 Lazarus is sick. Playing their friendship card, his sisters send word to Jesus, informing Him of Lazarus’ condition. You know, do your thing, Lord. Much to everybody’s surprise, Jesus does NOT come. Jesus does NOT heal. And Lazarus dies.

There’s the tension.

You could have stopped this. You could have fixed this. You could have prevented this. You could have intervened before bad became worse. And yet You did not. You stopped death for others; You prevented disaster for others; You saved the day for others. And yet You left us hanging. (And you love us?)

What do you do when God leaves you hanging?

It’s the question that has haunted me in recent years. Why? My God, my God, why? I’ve even invented my own angst-filled question-like emoji for my prayer journal in my moments of particular frustration. Why not me? Why not us? Why not help my child? Why not heal my sickness? Why aren’t you showing up? My God, my God, why?

If You would have been here, my brother would still be alive.

As the grieving sister Martha laid out her complaint to the Lord, Jesus made a promise: Your brother will rise again. To which she responded with a declaration of orthodox, albeit abstract piety:  I know he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day. But somehow we’ve all felt the impotent effects of intangible theology divorced from real life.

I was recently in a conversation  with a precious Muslim refugee. As the dialogue turned to the hope of life after death and my faith in Jesus, her response to my predictable evangelical pie in the sky was convicting: “To be honest with you, my deepest longing is for peace on earth. Is there any hope for salaam? My family is stuck in a war zone.” Great question.

Jesus, my brother is dead, and our hearts are broken. Is there any hope for peace on earth? I suppose I affirm the doctrine of a distant resurrection, but is there hope for broken hearts on earth? Lord, you’re too late.

And then Jesus drops the bomb. I am the resurrection.

I am.

I’m not sure why it means so much to me, but it has become one of the defining realities of my journey with God. Every time it feels like God is disappointing us with delay or disappointment (or silence!), you can be sure of this: He is about to reveal something new about Himself. I am the resurrection. I am the healer of broken hearts. I am the author of peace on earth (yes on earth) and goodwill toward humans. I’m actually starting to realize the gifts of God are great, but God himself is better.

Why does He allow death? Why the unresolved tension? Why are so many of us waiting in the valley of delay? I’m not sure. But I know this: He is creating a people stronger than death. Stronger than disappointment. Stronger than circumstance. He has a love stronger than the grave. He rules a kingdom that can NOT be shaken. Everything down here on earth is shakeable, which is why the plan has always been to bring up there down here. On earth as it is in heaven. Envy is shakeable. Comparison is shakeable. Worry is shakeable. Health is shakeable. But not Him. Not His kingdom. And not His people.

But my brother is dead, Lord. Not for long.

This weekend reminds me that it’s never too late. It’s never too hard. It’s never beyond his scope. It’s never beyond his reach. It’s never out of his control.

I thought it was game over. But it’s only Friday; Sunday’s coming.

See you at the Odome.

April Fools & Faith

We don’t know what to believe.

From the promises of a slippery salesman to the smooth words of a coercing boyfriend, life has taught us to be suspicious. It’s certainly not just April 1st, we live in a world where we have no idea when and where to let our guard down and trust.

It clearly didn’t start this way. All you have to do is watch a young child and it’s clear that our default setting is belief. Wide-eyed and vulnerable, a child enters life fully prepared to give the benefit of the doubt and take you at your word.

But life has way of beating the belief right out of us. Broken promises, hidden agendas, and the ubiquity of deception train up a child in the way she should not go as we learn to put up our guards and protect our souls from the dreaded shame – or pain – assigned to the gullible.

Doubting has become a virtue. Cynicism is a badge of respect. And yet cynicism is really just soul-laziness. It’s the easy way out. It’s the acquiescence to the peer pressure of the age to never get your hopes up. But the kingdom of God is released by faith, not doubt. And faith is substance of things hoped for.

Hope requires courage. If you will not dare to hope, you have no fuel for faith.

Make no mistake about it, we already believe. As Seth Godin comments on April Fool’s, we just believe the wrong things. Like the player who never settles down and marries the woman he knows is Mrs. Right, we roam and flirt from object to object, never fully committing. Never really believing.

Believing is really about listening to a word. In the absence of the right words from the right Source, we wander into the wrong words from the wrong sources. This was the essence of the original question toward Adam in the Garden of Eden. Who told you you were naked? We might ask similar questions. Who told you you were ugly? Who told you  you’ll never make it? Who told you you are unwanted? That’s why if you have attached your soul to those words and believe you are unlovable, unworthy, hopeless, and cursed, no one can talk you out of it. No one can make you believe.

Faith is always about a word. It is a fixing of our attention on that word. I spent most of my life thinking faith was feeling, and because I could not conjure up that feeling, I must not have the gift. But faith is not a feeling, it’s a focus on a word and the person who spoke it.

It’s why one of the primary assignments against your life is to keep your eyes off of the words of Jesus. Because if you saw what He says about you, you just might get your hopes up. And faith is the substance of things hoped for.

So on this April 1st I dare you to get your hopes up. I dare you to treat the words of God like a child treats a birthday promise. I dare you to major on the promises, listen to the promises, memorize the promises, speak the promises, pray the promises, and attach your life to the promises. Because if the Cross tells you anything, it tells you that God keeps His promises.

I’m a believer.

april-fools
April Fool’s Day