Archive for the 'New Life' Category

Easter–Right Before Our Eyes!

Recently we learned of the sudden illness and death of a good friend. She was the organist in the church I served immediately before retirement. Her husband is also a good friend. Marti’s death was the third significant loss for that congregation in a relatively short period. First was the announcement of the pastor’s imminent reassignment (after four years) to another church; the second was the not-unexpected death of a long-time church member whose daughter is also a long-time active member.

I emailed Pastor Jen to encourage her as she made her way through this difficult period, and to let her know my wife and I would attend the memorial service that would be held the afternoon of Palm Sunday.  “It’s a good thing Easter’s coming,” I commented, “because we really need it.”

Dianna and I arrived home early last week to find Spring enthusiastically springing forth in our yard. From a distance we saw our huge Palo Verde tree gloriously shouting “YELLOW!” . When we got closer, we saw that the green-leafed Oleanders had turned pink and white. These signs of new life proclaimed “…the Word of Life…right before our eyes…” (1 John 1:2 MSG)PART_1428255890142_20150405_101636

Early Easter morning our dog Rufus  woke me for his daily walk. Along the way I wondered how our neighbors would spend the day. A  few houses had more cars than normal, likely a sign of company. But we didn’t meet any of the humans or dogs we usually see. Had those humans overruled their dogs? Gone to a Sunrise service? Stayed home to fix Easter brunch? Traveled to be with family? Like that first Easter, it was a very quiet morning.

As Rufus and I turned toward home (and the rising sun), I found myself reflecting on people who really need Easter this year.  I thought of those whose burden of grief included multiple losses–our friends in that congregation; others whom we knew in other places; countless others whose names I don’t know—but God does, thank God! I thought of victims of disaster and violence whose stories fill the headlines—for a little while.  I thought also of others who are footnotes that go mostly unread and unnoticed.

I thought also of people already at work that early Easter morning. Las Vegas’ 24/7/365 culture encourages both locals and tourists to believe we should be able to eat, shop, gamble, be entertained, pampered, transported, whateverwhenever. The good news is that people are working, especially as economic recovery continues. But much of this work is in demanding, draining, dead-end jobs. Many of those jobs come with long hours and (for two-earner households) conflicting schedules that play havoc with family life, sleep, and any semblance of normality. But it’s the best they can do. If they complain, they’ll be gone and the next interchangeable human part will take their place.

“It’s a good thing Easter’s coming, because we really need it.” Our hyper-connected world keeps us (over)-informed of our brokenness—broken people, broken lives, broken minds, bodies and spirits; broken rules, relationships, systems, and covenants; broken communities that don’t know where healing begins; a broken planetary ecosystem that may already be terminal. If Easter’s coming to all these broken places, let it come soon!

Which brings up the role you and I play in redeeming our world. Now that Easter’s come, HOW DOES THE WORLD WITHIN OUR REACH KNOW? If we’ve truly been raised up to a new way of living (as our pastors told us yesterday), CAN ANYONE TELL THE DIFFERENCE? If we’re “Easter People” and “Every Morning Is Easter Morning“ as the song says, HOW IS THAT REVOLUTIONARY NEWNESS OVERFLOWING OUR OWN LIVES TO TRANSFORM THE WORLD WITHIN OUR REACH? How does the Good News of the death of Death (1 Corinthians 15:50-58 MSG) become as in-your-face inescapably real as our Palo Verde tree brilliantly proclaiming “…the Word of Life…”?

The Good News of Easter in your life and mine might look like:

  • Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers…” (Matthew 5:9) Instead of the polarized yelling-past-each-other that has become the norm, let us learn and model a different style of political and religious conversation. Let us honor the other, with whom we disagree so intensely, as a child of God and thus our brother or sister. Let us listen more deeply and speak less divisively.
  • The earliest church got in trouble with the Roman government because it took such good care of “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40, 45). Let us offer the same revolutionary care to those in our own communities who are “hungry…thirsty…homeless…shivering…sick..in prison”. (Matthew 25:35-36 MSG)
  • The earliest Christians soon found themselves breaking well-established boundaries as the Good News of Jesus spread from Jewish society to the Gentile world. (Cf. Acts 10:1-11:18)Let us identify and lovingly but firmly break unjust (unholy) boundaries in our world that separate people from God and each other.
  • Early Christians understood idolatry with laser clarity. (An idol is whatever takes first place in your life; anything or anyone you award that absolute first priority that belongs only to God.)The Father of Jesus Christ is the only true and living God. All other gods were/are inferior and completely powerless. New believers coming out of various pagan backgrounds were taught clearly that they had to choose between the one God of Christian faith and the impotent idols of their former life. When Roman emperors began asserting claims of divinity and demanding the loyalty oath “Caesar is Lord!” followers of Jesus responded “Jesus is Lord!” The two statements are mutually exclusive. That profession of faith cost countless Christians their lives. Let us be laser-clear about the rampant idolatry, celebrity worship, and consumerism in our culture. (Sounds like fuel for a future post!)

Palo Verde yellow is our 2-year-old granddaughter’s favorite color—at least this week. What if we made Palo Verde/ “…Word of Life…” yellow our favorite color. Let it call us to live bright, colorful new lives. Our neighbors who need Easter so badly just may begin to discover along with us “the Word of Life…right before our eyes.”

New Life Ain’t Easy–Flood Journal 3

About four months ago a hard freeze combined with preventable human error (mine) to cause a pipe in our attic to burst. The Flood ruined most of the inside of our home. Since then we have lived in a rented house  about three miles away.Thank God for homeowners’ insurance that pays the rent and related expenses! We’ve made the best of life in “The Cabin”, as we’ve come to call our temporary quarters. Even our dog has adapted enough to call the place “Home—for now”. But he still has days like today when we went to our home (now known as “The Jobsite”) and he didn’t want to get back in the car and go  back to “The Cabin”. He knew where home was.

It’s taken longer than we expected to put together the pieces to start reconstruction. The biggest, hardest piece has been coming to a meeting of the dollars (and minds) between ourselves, our contractor, and the insurance adjuster. But a few days ago the meeting happened! We signed the contract to proceed with the reconstruction. Checks are in the mail from the insurance company. We can see an end to our stay in “The Cabin” and a new beginning in our renewed home. It hasn’t been easy getting to this point, and we expect the rest of the journey to be equally challenging.

This whole process reminds me of the challenges of living the new life God gives us in Christ. For example, our insurance, like most homeowners’ policies, pays to restore the house to its immediate pre-Flood condition. We certainly won’t do that. We’ll do better. We won’t put 15-year-worn carpet back in the house. We’ll correct electrical issues uncovered during “de-construction”. We’ll buy new furniture rather than items as well-used as what we lost. We’ve already decided we can live without some of those things the water ruined.

In the same way, new life in Christ isn’t more of the same. It’s new. It’s not the life we’ve been living, only with a confirmed reservation at the Heavenly Hilton in our back pocket. New life means new priorities and new values. It means taking up some new habits and attitudes and letting go of some old ones. New life in Christ is guided and shaped by our growing experience of Jesus’ life, teachings, and constant presence.

New life requires many choices. All those choices come with costs. We chose to upgrade flooring. We chose to make good (finally!) on our six-year-old threat to remove a wall. We chose to replace the aging original water heater rather than risk FLOOD 2—THE SEQUEL when it dies sooner rather than later. We struggled to balance personal preferences in style and color, finances, stewardship, and boring stuff like functionality, practicality, durability, and energy consumption as we chose cabinets, countertops, paint colors, and all the other elements that go into a home.

One key factor in our choices has been how much of our own money we will invest in this rebuilding process. The answer is turning out to be “enough to do it the way that’s right for us”. It’s not like taking the insurance money, paying your deductible, and being done with it. Having some skin (and dollars) in the game means we’ve “counted the cost” as Jesus advises us to do at the outset of any building project (Luke 14:28). We understand the cost and we’ve chosen the cost in order to achieve the results.

New life in Christ requires many choices. All those choices come with costs. As we said earlier, Jesus shapes the priorities and values that guide our choices in this new life. Following Jesus leads us daily to choices that go against the dominant culture. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:43) “Blessed are the poor in spirit…the meek…the merciful…the peacemakers…” (excerpted from Matthew 5:3-11) “ “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:1) “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34). “…just as you did it to one of the least of these…, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40) You get the idea. Following Jesus faithfully confronts us with difficult, costly, countercultural choices. Grace isn’t cheap. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote honestly and powerfully about “The Cost of Discipleship”.   

We want to leave a legacy for those who follow. With our home, that means making choices that lead to a desirable and salable property when the time comes. No, we don’t expect the next six generations tolive on “the old home place”. Yes, we do anticipate a day when choice and/or necessity lead to selling  this house and living somewhere else. Beyond practical and material considerations, this home has hosted some great family moments. We expect the renewed home to host many more. We’re trying to rebuild it in ways that will enhance its warmth and welcome.

Our new life in Christ is never solely about me and my “highway to heaven”. It’s about the difference I make within my reach. Who and what is better off because I chose to step up? How has my presence and involvement in others’ lives helped them see Christ? How have I been an instrument of building God’s New Creation? The answers will be different for each of us. The answers will be surprising, exciting, and life-changing as we invest ourselves fully in living the new life of those who follow Jesus together. New life ain’t easy by any means. But it’s the best life ever.


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