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The City of Vancouver has a problem. It’s ranked as the tenth cleanest city in the world, one of the most livable places in North America, and boasts one of the world’s most beautiful metropolitan reprieves, Stanley Park. That’s not the problem. The problem is homelessness. In spite of a goal to completely eradicate the dilemma by 2014, the number of homeless people on Vancouver’s streets is on the rise. But that’s not the worst of it. If we are honest and look deep enough, we have to admit every one of us has contributed to those numbers.

We have all left the safety of home and camped on skid row, figuratively speaking. We’ve cast away the restraints with which our consciences have tried to surround us. We’ve said to the Father of our souls in one way or another, “I’m out of here!” Perhaps we’ve only dared to slip out under cover of night and return before dawn to hide our forays. Or we’ve ignored the Father, while living under His roof, so that others in the household will think all is well. We have all left home one way or another. Away seemed like the answer to our penchant for happiness.

Dr. J. Begbie, a professor at Duke Divinity School, has a theory[1] about this movement we all experience. He sees this trend as descriptive of the Bible’s story of our world. He calls it the “home-away-Home” progression, and he says music illustrates this same phenomenon. There is a beginning, followed by tension, followed by resolution. He says it is one of the fundamental patterns governing our lives. He describes it this way:

Home is “the equilibrium of the good earth and the Garden of Eden, with the first humans live in harmony with God and delight in each other.” That’s only a distant genetic memory for us, but we sense it, don’t we? We long for it in the quiet moments of our lives.

Away describes the tensions that have entered. “Humans rebel, they say no to God.” We’ve done that. We’ve wandered, explored places we should never have gone. We’ve been homeless.

 Home is God’s “work on a resolution, beginning with a character called Abraham, climaxing in Jesus, and finishing with what the last book of the Bible calls ‘a new heaven and a new earth’…not simply a return to how things were but to a universe remade.” That’s the resolution we each need in our lives—souls remade.

Jesus describes a similar story about our problem of homelessness. He talks about His going home to the Father to prepare a place for those who turn to Him. It’s the Home our souls have longed for. It’s where the Father resolves the tension of our wayfaring souls.

We’re all at different places on the journey. Jesus says no one is so far away that they have to remain homeless; if they truly want to come Home He can bring them there. That’s what you and I need, isn’t it? Someone who can turn our hands and feet, heart and soul toward Home. He’s there for the asking.

Father of my soul, I’ve been away far too long. My wanderlust has led me places I never meant to go. Only You can make me fit for Your Home of homes. Let Your love bind me to Yourself so I will always be where You are. Thank you Jesus.

 

[1] Willard, D. ed., A Place for Truth, IVP Books, Downers Grove, IL, p.217-219.

(Photo Credit: Ajith Rajeswari, Wikimedia Commons)

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EASTER LOVE-WORK, Conclusion

Behind the Scenes

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Nothing is as simple as it appears. To most things in life there is a behind-the-scenes complexity that is known only to those intimately involved. For instance, we’ve heard that 90% of the iceberg lies submerged below the sea. A two-hour movie takes hundreds of hours to film, multiple costumes for each character, and sometimes years of legal wrangling to obtain filming rights. Or think about our bodies. What has been happening in our brains to enable us to read, decipher and understand the squiggles on this page is staggering. Reality is just that way; there is always more than meets the eye.

When the lifeless body of Jesus was lowered to the ground from the bloodied cross, hastily wrapped up and tucked into a nearby burial tomb, it seemed like the end of a dream. The sun set on that day. The Sabbath day came and went. Then early on the first day of the new week some women went to that tomb. They had spices. They wanted to do for their dead lord what there had been no time for on His dying day. Tradition demanded they pay Him this final honour.

But something had been happening behind the scenes in places much vaster than the confines of that dark tomb. Jesus, Son of God, the fullness and the exact representation of God was at work. We’re told He was “disarm(ing) (evil) powers and authorities, mak(ing) a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross”. He was “cancel(ling) the written code, with its regulations that was against us and that stood opposed to us.” He was “reconcil(ing) to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven”; He was “making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:19,20; 2:14,15).

That is definitely more than meets the eye. Its complexity fits, though, doesn’t it? Real things, things that take honest effort are like that, aren’t they? How much more must things involving God be full of behind-the-scenes action. So, how is this relevant to us, to our lives here and now?

I think that word ‘reconciling’ is the key for us. It speaks of relationship. It describes a broken relationship made right, a separation ended, an estranged alliance recovered. That is the way God sees it. He was heartbroken by the rebellion every one of us would defend as our personal right. He knows what that would actually mean for us beyond this world’s brief existence – absence from Him is only eternal darkness and terror, hatred and loneliness. But because we haven’t any way of seeing behind the scenes, we have to trust Him on this. He wants so much more for us. He knows that His presence alone is what gives us light and love, hope and meaning. So He came to earth for the express purpose of doing what it would take, playing by His rules of justice, to reconcile us.

That is what Easter is. That is what was happening those silent days between Jesus’ death and that first Easter morning. And that is why the resurrection is so relevant for you and me. Without it, we could not have the relationship with Him we were designed to have. Without it, we would be eternally lost, alone and afraid.

It makes perfect sense when we see what lies behind Easter. But we need to do more than admit that it’s reasonable. We need to be willing to accept the reconciliation He offers. It will mean life change—relationship always does. What Easter means is that now the behind-the-scenes work can be happening in us. God’s Spirit has a world of good to do in us to enable us to know Him in deeper ways, to transform our character, and to love others by His power.

As the singer/songwriter Don Francisco reminds us, “He’s alive! He’s alive and I’m forgiven, heaven’s gates are open wide!”

(Photo Credit: Andrew Kudin, Wikimedia Commons)

EASTER LOVE-WORK, Part 4

Ransom

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When Tom Hanks plays the merchant mariner Captain Phillips in the 2013 film by that name, he learns something about ransom. Somali pirates, hostage taking, threats, and finally an eleventh-hour rescue keep viewers on the edge of their seats. We understand the concept of ransom. When I have something you want, you can ransom it back by exchanging it for something I consider precious.

As Jesus stands before the Roman establishment, betrayed by His culture, His religious leaders, and one of His own disciples, a ransom is happening. This is no accident. It is not even an event that catches Him by surprise. There is no ransom forthcoming on His behalf to rescue Him from His unjust captors. He Himself is the ransom being offered. It’s the scandal to top all unprecedented feats. There is more here than meets the eye.

Remember the crowds that had met Jesus only days earlier as He crested the Mount of Olives on the back of a donkey? The echoes of their hosannas have hardly had time to fade away. Now they are replaced by cries of ‘crucify him!’ What strange passion has altered the people’s loyalties?

Beaten by guards before being brought to mock trial, Jesus puzzles His captors with His quiet yet powerful responses. He is passed from Jewish elders to Pilate’s jurisdiction. From Pilate to Herod, and back to Pilate, none understand the transaction that will take place.

In confusion, Pilate considers His options. Roman justice requires him to release the innocent. Yet, the crowd of Jews will surely revolt if Pilate lets Jesus go free. The loophole of releasing a prisoner to the people as a Passover concession has closed; the mob demands the release of a murderer rather than Jesus.

So Pilate succumbs. He releases Barabbas and condemns Jesus to crucifixion. Now the shouts of the people line Jesus’ path not with palm branches and hosannas but with laughs of derision. He submits Himself to the humiliation, the pain, and the destruction of His body for one reason. He is the ransom.

Isaiah 53 prepares us centuries before for this day, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

But could we ever be fully prepared for this? Jesus, the Son of God, comes to be the ransom for you and me and every one of the billions of people who have lived on this planet or ever will. He is the only one precious enough in the Father’s eyes to be the exchange. What do we mean by exchange?

Who of us claims to be perfect? None. We’ve all missed the mark by God’s standard. We’ve been taken hostage by sin and Satan and our own self-destructive flesh. There is no limit to the violence and darkness and death with which we’ve allied ourselves. God has not created Hell for us; we’ve designed it for ourselves. But He just won’t leave us to our own designs. And so, Jesus hangs there on the cross to be the ransom for us. It’s more than a fair exchange: one perfect man for countless imperfect ones.

It’s an eleventh hour rescue. We have three days to absorb it all. Let’s use that time wisely. Let’s start by praying, “Jesus, my ransom…”

(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

EASTER LOVE-WORK, Part 3

Recognizing Peace

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Worldwide, it’s the Passion Week. Something about this week leading up to Easter resonates deeply with the souls of many people. Some may not know even why. Movie producers have provided the film ‘Son of God’ in anticipation of this week. We recognize that there is something otherworldly going on, but we’re not entirely sure what it is. Who is this Jesus? Why can’t people just let His story die?

Following the exultant shouts of Hosanna with which the people welcome Jesus that first Palm Sunday, He continues to climb the path toward Jerusalem. He knows the people are ecstatic today. He rejoices with them. But He knows more than that; He knows the crux of their passion. He knows the soul of their nation and the heart of their city Jerusalem, and it saddens Him. Luke 19:41-44 gives us a glimpse of how Jesus sees the situation as He prepares to enter the apex of His ministry.

“If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

We’re told Jesus weeps as he says this. He is saddened because the people He has created have been blind to their Creator. He wants them to have real peace—not just freedom from the superficial bondage uppermost in their minds—but freedom from sin’s deadly effects. They refuse to see this though. They refuse to recognize that He, Jesus, is God come to them.

Remember how the prophecy of His birth had given Him the title of Immanuel–God with us? Now, as Jesus prepares for the task that will secure the ransom for all people, He sadly reflects on how few will accept it. Most will reject it. They will not acknowledge their need for that kind of peace. The truest expression of freedom that the hosanna-crying crowd has grasped is merely political. They have failed to understand their own eternal soul.

It’s easier to say ‘they’ than ‘we’, isn’t it? It’s easier to point the finger and be appalled at the foolishness or shallowness of others than to look inward, don’t you think? Maybe Jesus isn’t only talking to the inhabitants of Jerusalem here. Maybe He’s not just weeping at the thought of what they have missed. Maybe He’s weeping over you and me. Maybe He’s looking across the millennia, beyond empires and seeing you and me. He’s got your face and mine in mind as He looks toward the place where He will sacrifice His life to make eternal life available for us. Our souls are foremost in His thoughts as He mourns our self-imposed condition.

Is there any hope for people like us who haven’t recognized real peace when it’s been dropped in their laps?

Yes! A resounding Yes! It’s only a prayer away. Regardless of where we’ve been spiritually, we can begin to recognize the Giver of peace. We are invited to humbly call out His name, “Jesus”. We can ask Him to reveal Himself to our deepest core where we can respond “yes” to His question, “Do you want my peace?”

Easter is happening now. Let’s step up to the most expansive invitation ever offered humankind. Then we will never have to say, “If I had only known…”

(Photo Credit: Son of God film by 20th Century Fox)

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=WcIXCok9HPg#t=8

EATER LOVE-WORK, Part 2

Rising Action

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The background music intensifies. The storyline in our favourite movie or book pulls us deeper into its world, and we begin to tense with anticipation. We instinctively know something important is about to happen. It’s called rising action. It’s the phenomenon of events coming together in a way that must lead to a climax of some sort or other. We don’t know yet what it will be, but we sense it will be significant. It’s why we’ve committed ourselves to sit in front of the screen, or spend so many hours reading the book. There is something in us that resonates with the aligning of events toward a purpose. The chaos of seemingly random acts is beginning to come to order. We are on the cusp of seeing with clarity. But we’re not quite there yet. Every sense is alive in anticipation.

It’s A.D. 33; it’s the final week of Jesus’ life. Jesus has trodden the dusty paths of Judea, coming and going through its hub, Jerusalem, numerous times in the past three years of His ministry. He has healed the wounded, disputed with hypocrites, and mastered storms. He has resisted others’ attempts to manipulate His ministry. He has limited His followers’ attempts to publically pronounce His Messiahship.

Today is different. Those around Him sense something is about to happen. He has revisited the hamlet of Bethany where He had raised His friend Lazarus to life, and the word is spreading. The national holiday of Passover is only days away and crowds of Jews, flocking to the city for the festivities, are drawn to detour by the hamlet. What show-stopping action might the miracle-worker be doing today?

Giving instructions to two of His disciples, Jesus waits. They return with a young donkey and Jesus nods His approval. They help Him mount and turn onto the path that leads over the Mount of Olives toward Jerusalem. As they crest the hill an amazing sight greets them. Crowds of revelers are streaming from the city toward Him. Behind Him a group has been growing, snatching up boughs from the base of palm trees. A chant begins to work its way through the throng.

“Hosanna!” they shout victoriously. It is the rallying cry of a people who want to throw off the yoke of bondage.

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” the other group responds. The shouting, chanting voices echo across the valley as the two groups meet. The crowd begins to form along the two sides of the path like spectators preparing for a parade, waving their branches. As the donkey steps into the melee, someone lays his bough at the colt’s hooves; the crowd follows, delighted with this display of honouring its rider. Branch after bough are tossed before the colt and rider creating a carpet of green and gold across the valley and up the rise to the city gate. The teacher is being given the welcome of a hero, a rescuing army commander, a king. But some don’t like that.

“Teacher,” a red-faced religious leader protests, sidling up to Jesus, “Rebuke your disciples!”

Jesus turns a victorious look on the objector and replies, ”I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” There is no stopping this now, He says. The time is ripe. The action will rise to a pitch never before experienced on this old earth. The Creator is becoming the selfless Saviour and nothing in Heaven or Earth can stop it.

Today is Palm Sunday. Today we remember the rising action of the greatest event ever accomplished. Today, we too have the opportunity to lay before the Messiah our boughs of worship. We too must choose if He will be our commander and king, or one who offends our own self-centered worldview. Do we want just a good teacher whose sayings we can take or leave as we choose? Or are we willing to see He is much more, that He gives all and requires all from those who will accept Him?

Can we shout with the followers of millennia past, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”

(Photo Credit: Felix Burton, Wikimedia Commons)

EASTER LOVE-WORK, Introduction

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Among the many things we can say about God, it’s clear He is not all talk. His nature of love impels Him to action, and He acts ceaselessly. We see this in Psalm 118 where the Psalmist repeats the phrase, “His love endures forever” like the chorus of a song. There’s another psalm that raises that same theme by chanting, “His love endures forever” twenty six times in as many verses. God’s love becomes a motif of everything He does in the lives of people, like the smell of cedar on a walk through a westcoast forest. As we approach Easter we will benefit by mulling over what that Easter love-work entailed for God. What did He experience and what does it mean for us?

There is a trailer out for the newly remastered Jesus film: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vkv7R5twZE0&feature=player_embedded). We see a clip of Jesus’ followers joyously leading Him, mounted on a donkey, up the path to Jerusalem on a pavement of robes and palm branches. These people saw in Jesus a great leader, and presumed He would lead them out of Roman tyranny, the worst bondage since Egypt. Little did they know that within the week, their hopes for political freedom would lie in a tomb with Jesus’ dead body.

But God knows a greater bondage every one of us is born into. In Isaiah 61 He uses words like brokenhearted, captives, and prisoners to describe our desperate condition. The psalmist personifies it, foretelling the solution, “In my anguish I cried to the LORD, and he answered by setting me free” (Psalm 118:5). Our bondage is that we are prisoners in the camp of death. Our anguish is that we were designed for life and our truest self knows death’s sentence is unnatural. We all like fish have flung ourselves out of water and lie gasping on the shore. We have tried to live life without God and found there is only death and dying without Him. Have you ever sensed this?

Very early in His earthly ministry Jesus summed up His objective. He went to the synagogue in His hometown Nazareth on a Sabbath, stood up among the people, and read something. It was the scroll of Isaiah written some 800 years earlier.

He read, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” He passed the scroll back to the attendant and sat down. We’re told, “the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.” I think every one of them felt the weight of the truth of the human condition in that moment. Poor. Prisoners. Blind. Oppressed. Probably heads were nodding in agreement.

“Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing,” Jesus revealed. He was saying He was the One and Only One, anointed before time began, to do a task we none of us could do ourselves. It would be a work of love, of perfect sacrifice, of replacing bondage with freedom that only He could do for us. It would be Easter.

You’d think the people would be overjoyed to hear of their imminent release. Some were. But if you know the story of Easter, you know from that moment of revelation of His purpose there would be people furious with Him. It’s like that today too. Maybe you’ve been one of them. We fish, flipping ourselves furiously on land, don’t want help. We don’t want another’s interference in our lives. We’d rather lie wheezing for breath, gills flapping uselessly, than admit we need help. Why can’t we choose to live on shore, we demand. It’s our life, isn’t it?

With this understanding we’ll begin to look at how Easter is God’s love-work on our behalf. Let’s give ourselves time to ponder it before Easter arrives. It starts with seeing our bondage to death. Unless we come to terms with that, we’ll never understand what Easter is really about. I’m praying God will help me understand. Will you?

(Photo Credit: freebibleimages.org)

GOD FOR THE BROKENHEARTED

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When spring rains loosened the hold of tons of earth on a hillside in Oso, Washington recently, chaos erupted. We’ve followed the news. We’ve seen the pictures of the mud-flooding devastation. The death toll continues to rise amid the sounds of rescue workers, excavators, and tracking dogs. The community has been ravaged.

Sadly, we all have times in our lives when despair overwhelms us. Life is not always easy. What do we do when our hearts have been broken, when chaos fills our lives with muddy debris? When the scaffolding that supports our day-to-day existence falls like matchsticks around us, where is God?

That’s a question God loves us to ask. The apostle Paul asked it, querying, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” (Rom.8:35) God has so anticipated us asking the question that He has answered it even before our chaos erupted. Listen:

“Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

“Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

“The LORD is near to all who call on him.” (Psalm 145:18)

“…behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.” (Psalm 139:5)

“But the LORD stands beside me…” (Jer. 20:11)

“The LORD watches over you –” (Psalm 121:5)

“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.” (Psalm 91:4)

Did you catch that? God is nearer to us than our own skin. He is beside us, behind and before us, above us, below us, with us and for us. And He wants to be within us, but for that to happen He waits for an invitation. But how do we sense His presence? How do we go from ‘I feel so alone’ to ‘I feel His presence’?

I am sure God is not limited to only one way of making His presence known. For some people, God’s presence is most palpable in nature; the glory of creation speaks most strongly to them of His nearness. For some it is through music; songs of praise and worship or great orchestral symphonies evoke His presence most clearly. Some people have had dreams and visions of Him. Some have heard an audible voice. Some hear His heart of compassion most distinctly through reading His Word. As we think back over our lives, over the times we have felt most keenly the need to know His presence, we can answer that question best for ourselves.

For me it has been through prayer. When I have felt brokenhearted, when I have been desperate for help, prayer has been the means of sensing God’s nearness to me. Through prayer I have been most vulnerable to Him and through prayer found most relief from my inner turmoil. In prayer I have grieved, expressed anger and frustration, despaired, pleaded for help, confessed, praised and thanked God, and submitted myself to His plans for me. That is when I have best known His presence around, about and within me.

If you are in a place of heartbreak and trouble, don’t be afraid to cry out to God that most pressing question: ‘Where are you God?’ But, also, be willing to open your ears and eyes and heart to His presence, His answer. Search out that place where you are least distracted by the world around you. Find that setting where your heart can best be touched by knowing His presence. It is a place of deep peace that lets that broken heart of yours rest for those moments you linger there. Then you and I will be able to say with confidence, “The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid…The LORD is with me; he is my helper.” (Psalm 118:6,7).

In this life, troubles mostly come and occasionally go; hearts and lives are wounded and rarely ever the same again. The only constant is the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. Are we receptive to His presence? Then let’s ask the question: ‘Where is God?’ He’s here with the answer.

(Photo Credit: SPC Matthew Sissel; Wikimedia Commons)