God Doesn’t Want us Better; He Wants us Dead

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

John 12:24

We won’t experience true life until we embrace our death.

Imagine your shock, if while walking through a grave yard, you came across the following tombstone:

Here Lies your name

Born your birth date

Died Approximately 2000 years ago (exact date unknown)

 As disciples of Christ, embracing our spiritual death is critical to the flowing of Christ’s life.

When Christ died on the cross two thousand years ago, as believers, we were crucified with Him. Our sin nature and every sin we would eventually commit were put to death in Him. This was a complete work, performed by the only person worthy to undertake it. When Christ cried, “It is Finished,”[1] all human striving for religious achievement was put to rest; all sins washed clean in the flowing of His life blood.

The reality of our death with Christ is worked out day to day by denying ourselves. Jesus says to follow Him, we are to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily and follow Him.[2]  Denying ourselves has to do with avoiding evil, but it also has to do with avoiding good.

Evil:  Denying evil is about remaining in the love of Christ. We are able to love God and our neighbor because God first loved us. When we are saturated in the satisfying love of Christ, we have no need of anything vile. His power in us allows us to consider ourselves dead to any evil.

Good: Denying good is much harder to understand, but  just as vital. We are to avoid “religious” activities rooted out of a desire to live a “good” life for God. We are to deny any attempt to earn God’s love with our own righteousness. If righteous could be obtain by our efforts, Christ died for nothing.[3]

The Christian life is not about us trying hard to avoid being evil and striving to do good. It’s about bringing ourselves to the cross of Christ, reckoning ourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus; dead to the sin of evil and dead to the sin of trying to earn a righteousness of our own by living a good life. Out of our death flows His life.

The Christian Life can be summarized in one very powerful verse:

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I life by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.

 Galatians 2:20

Challenge: Pick a failure area of your life. Bring it to the cross of Christ and consider it dead. Depend upon the life of Christ in you with that area.

Lord, I’m sorry for trying to do “good” things for you. It seems the more “I” try, the more I’m prone to evil. Please show me every time I slip back into relying on myself, that I might deny me and depend upon you. I must decrease and you must increase.[4]

 

[1] John 19:30

[2] Matthew 16:24

[3] Galatians 2:21

[4] John 3:30

Sentenced to Die

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him Second Corinthians 5:21

What would it feel like to find yourself in a prison cell, sentenced to die? Yet, being released at the last hour for another to die in your place; a man free of wrong, willing to die for you.

Exchanged Life

A young man squatted in a dingy prison cell. His features were hidden by the deep shadows of his dark imprisonment. Only a thin plane of sunlight penetrated the darkness, revealing countless dust particles floating around rows of disheartened men. The man was seated, away from the light, staring, motionless, into the darkness.

Outside the prison, upon a hill, stood the place of execution, where condemned men were put to death. Today would be this man’s turn. In a way, death was a welcome ending to his pain. However, more strongly, the condemned man felt the fear of death’s mysteries. His soul, it seems, had died long ago, but the fear of physical death consumed every fiber of his being.

As he waited in the cruel anticipation of a violent death, his mind raced across the span of his life. What would have made a difference? What could have changed his inclinations towards evil? The answers to these questions could only be tossed out into his universe of despair. Like always, he knew no answers would come. There was no hope, never had there been hope.

Slowly and ever more increasingly, the young man became aware of the sounds of a great number of voices. There were shouts and roars, but none of the words could be recognized. The sounds increased and erupted past him like a huge ocean wave. An enormous mass of shouting people had passed just outside his cell and were proceeding toward execution hill. The time was near. The man could not remember so great a crowd ever gathered to witness a death before.

Just then, the outside door of the prison was slammed open hard against the wall. Keys jiggled and the main security door was unlocked. Prison guards streamed towards his cell. The hopeless man trembled and recoiled in fear. Death was pouncing upon him.

The guards unlocked his cell and converged upon him like as many wild tigers. They seized him, and drug him out into the bright sunlight outside the prison. When they had cleared the outside door of the prison, he was slammed face down hard on the ground. The impact knocked him into a daze. In a semi unconscious state, he waited for the first slapping sting of the lashing whip.

After awhile, he senses returned and he slowly opened his eyes, spitting dust from his mouth. He tilted his head slowly, expecting his flesh to be ripped open again at any moment. Amazingly, he was alone. People were flowing in masses towards execution hill, but he was left unattended on the ground.

Slowly at first, but with increasing urgency, the freed man got up and made his way into an old warehouse, across the block from the prison. Looking around as he fled, expecting his fantasy to end at any moment. He made it to the abandoned building and flung himself sobbing to the ground, filled with emotion.

After a long while, the man’s curiosity couldn’t be contained. He left the building and circled around the back of execution hill. He came up upon the crowd and mixed himself safely among the masses. With much effort, he fought his way through until he could see what the commotion was all about.

Three men hung dying on crosses, the pain etched across their faces. Two of the men he knew from his time in prison, but he didn’t recognize the man in the middle. This man seemed much weaker and closer to death than the others. As he stood watching the dying man with blood gushing down the wood of the middle tree, their eyes met. A strange magnetism drew his soul, locking him in on the suffering criminal.

Their eyes met. Though he was among a mass of people, the man on the middle cross was looking directly at him. The dying man’s  eyes were not desperate and frantic, but peaceful and loving.

After a few moments the freed man turned and walked away. As he fought his way back through the crowd, he over heard someone asking about the man on the middle cross, “Why are they killing him, what has he done wrong?”

“He’s done nothing wrong,” the answer came. “He’s dying in place of a man set free.”

 

Choosing Joy

“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep on choosing it every day.”  Henri Nouwen

Violet

A few months ago I was crowded into a chapel attending the funeral of a little girl named Violet. Violet died during her birth, the first child of Joseph and Judy.

Many wore violet articles of clothes to the service, honoring her life and the courage of her parents. Though Violet’s life was short, her life impacted us all.

After the service, we were all given violet helium balloons to release on cue. When we did, the sky was filled with floating circles of purple, growing smaller and smaller as they drifted to the heavens; a salute to violet’s life and a message of love to her from us all.

As moving as the balloons were, what hit me most was the parent’s response. We learned from the eulogy that in the midst of incalculable sadness and grief, Joseph and Judy were choosing joy.

 Can Joy be a Choice?

As I ponder Violet’s parents’ resolve, I wonder how it’s possible to choose joy, just days after her death.

How could this really be true? Isn’t joy supposed to be something good? Seeing the pain on Judy and Joseph’s face, I’m conflicted.

Paul’s command in I Thessalonians 5:16 comes to mind, one of the shortest verses in the Bible: “Rejoice always;”

The word ‘rejoice’ is from the old French word ‘rejoiur’, which means full of joy.

I’m to be full of joy even when my circumstances are difficult. I’m to rejoice always. But this is extreme. An only child died at birth. Violet is dead. Are we to be full of joy even then? My heart fights this notion.

What makes choosing joy possible?

In another place I read “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)

Be full of joy in the Lord.

God is joy. He is the source of joy, it exudes from Him. “In your presence is fullness of Joy.” (Psalm 16:11b)

Choosing joy is choosing God in the midst of anything and everything I’m going through.

As children of God we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing including being sealed in Christ with the promised Holy Spirit.

We are in Christ and He is in us. See also Galatians 2:20a:  “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I how live, but Christ lives in me;”

So joy, true joy is found in our nearness to Christ and His nearness to us.

Joy is possible at all times and in all situations because of the nearness of God; period.

God is joy. Choosing joy is choosing God.

 Choose Joy

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.” James 1:2

Joy is eternal, unaffected by the circumstances of our lives. Joy is  God himself.

Though all these things are true, experiencing joy is not automatic. There is a choice involved. We are commanded to be full of joy in the Lord. We are directed to always choose joy no matter what is going on.

God is our reward,  His nearness is our good. He is our life.

Judy and Joseph love Violet so much. Their whole world was flipped upside down on the day she was born. Months of anticipation and excitement were at once turned to horror and indescribable sadness. Yet through it all, when hearts were crumbling, they clung to each other and choose God’s nearness. They chose to find their comfort in God. They chose Joy.

“In your presence is fullness of joy.” (Psalm 16:11b)

Challenge:  What circumstance is zapping your joy right now? No matter how difficult your situation is, choose at this moment to rejoice in God’s nearness. In spite of all, choose God, choose Joy.

Lord, thank you that in all I go through, you never leave me. Indeed, you are closer than breath. You are my joy. Help me to continually choose you. Amen

Dead Bugs on the Windshield

The clouds opened up and the rain poured.

We sure need it, thought Peter as he stared at the drops disappearing into his brown, parched back yard grass. Looking out his porch screen, he noticed the holes.

There were a hundred things  needing to be done between the house repairs, his duties at work and his other responsibilities. Peter was completely overwhelmed.

To him, life was one big problem. He didn’t even know where to begin. Exhausted, he laid down on the chaise lounge  and shut his eyes. Before long, he was asleep and began dreaming.

In his  dream, Peter was driving  a convertible in the mountains. Around a curve,  he came upon a lake nestled in a valley between rolling hills of lush meadows and trees. Peter gasped at the  beauty and pulled into an overlook parking area to take in the view.

The sun was low in the sky and the colors of the sunset were beginning to dance across the lake. Peter reclined his seat. The air was cool. The wind gently slapped his face and he detected a sent of mountain laurel. The more Peter pondered the scene, the deeper and richer the splendor appeared.

In his spirit, Peter knew he was looking at  heaven. He felt a  deep security and hope. The problems, which  had seemed so gigantic moment ago were like nothing compared to the beauty and magnificent splendor before him.

The rich implications of being a child of God began to flood his heart. He realized, as never before, how unbelievably awesome it is to have been forgiven of all his wrongs.

He had done nothing to earn God’s love. God loved him with an eternal love, unaffected by life. Joy and peace welled up into euphoria.  He just laid there soaking it all in, like parched, cracked soil drinks in an early morning rain.

Peter was not sure how long he lay in bliss, but before long and very slowly at first, he began to notice tiny specs on the windshield of his car; little bits of dirt, smudges and dead bugs. He hadn’t noticed them before, but as he shortened his focus he could see them clearly. The closer he looked, the more he saw. Soon the imperfections began to distract him from his appreciation of the grandeur he had been enjoying.

He tried to ignore the windshield, but before long he had been completely overtaken by the details of the mess in front of him. The reality of the brilliance beyond the windshield had been lost.

Suddenly a voice came from the seat beside him.

“What happen, Peter?”

Startled, Peter turned to see a man dressed in a white suit seated beside him in the car.

“How long have you been sitting there?” asked Peter.

“The whole time.”

“How did you get here?”

“It doesn’t matter, Peter.

Why did you take your eyes off of what you were looking at; the reality beyond and what has been done for you? You were focusing on truth and hope and enjoying your inheritance as a son, but then you chose to stop looking at it. Why did you  start focusing on the things close up on the windshield?” The man asked.

“Who are you?”

“I’m a messenger, Peter.

Why did you start focusing on the windshield? That stuff was there the whole time you know.”

“I don’t know?” Peter explained. “I  began to notice how dirty it was. There’s so much needing to be cleaned.”

“Is that your goal, Peter, to have a clean windshield?

You’re forgetting something very important. How did you feel when you were focusing on what was beyond the windshield?”

“It was the most unbelievable feeling I’ve ever had!” Peter exclaimed, a great big smile returning to his face as he recalled it.

“Everything about this world seemed insignificant! My problems and obligations were like little bits of sand on the floor.

All that seemed important was the splendor beyond the windshield. I wanted my family and others to see and experience it.”

“That’s good, Peter,” said the man. “That’s exactly what you should have been feeling. But then something changed. You began to believe a lie that has haunted you.”

“What lie?” Peter asked.

“You began to believe  that the way you handle your cares and problems can change God’s love for you.

Did you really think a few dead bugs on your windshield could effect all that brilliance?

You fell for one of the greatest deceptions the enemy uses to rob God’s sons and daughters of their joy and strength.

All he has to do is to get you to take your eyes off the marvelous truths of the gospel for a moment and to begin to focus  on your problems. Before long, you think  it’s all up to them again. You start living like an orphan and your joy is zapped..”

“But we have problems and obligations. We can’t just ignore them, right?” questioned Peter.

“That’s right, Peter. We can’t just ignore them. But if your goal is carefree living, you’re end for a weary journey of endless striving.

Can you prevent bugs from running into your windshield and dying? Can you prevent dust and dirt and rain?”

“No.”

“Of course you can’t! Dead bug end up on the windshields of life. Until you realize your goal is not to prevent them, you won’t  see them in the proper light. Does that make sense, Peter?”

“I think so”, said Peter. “But I certainly can’t just ignore all this stuff. How do I look at this filth?”

“Peter, when you were looking at the mountains and the lake, were the smudges and dirt and dead bugs on your windshield?”

“Well, yea. I think so.”

“Look at the mountains again, Peter. Tell me if you still see the smudges?”

“No, not while I’m focusing on heaven, I mean the mountains.”

“Now, look back at the windshield again and pick one of the worse dead bugs, the one you think should be cleaned off first.”

“OK, I’m looking at it. It’s that one, next to the rear view mirror.”

“Good. Keep your eyes on that bug, but begin to focus on the mountains again. And tell me what happens to the bug and the mountains?”

“Well, the bug seems really small and insignificant when I focus on what’s beyond the windshield. And when I focus on the beauty beyond, but still have the bug in sight, the mountains and lake seem even richer than before. Why’s that?”

“Peter, beauty is magnificent to gaze upon, but it’s even more marvelous when seen in light of something not so wonderful.”

“I can’t believe it!” exclaimed Peter. “You mean all this time I was fighting and striving and working myself weary to prevent these dead bugs and this dirt from landing on my windshield. And all along, they were going to end up there whether I wanted them to or not?

And not only that, the very things I was striving against the wind to prevent are the very things that God is using to help me focus on his truths more deeply?”

“Amazing, isn’t it Peter,” said the man.

“Yea.” said Peter. “But what should my goal be if it’s not to reduce the problems in my life?

“Great question Peter, but I think you already know the answer. What do you think your goal should be?” asked the man.

“Well,” said Peter.  “All I can think about is what I was experiencing before I noticed the bugs on the windshield. My mind was filled with thoughts about God and how much He has done for me and how much He loves me. I was amazed at the fact that He actually sent his son to die for me, so that I could become one of His children.

All I could think about was how I wanted to be the best child I could be for him. I wanted to please Him in my role  husband, father and friend.”

“Peter, you’ve answered your own question. The longings you have, while focusing on Jesus and his great love for you, become your goal in life, nothing else.”

“But what about the bugs?” pressed Peter.

“You can view them in two different ways,” said the man. “You can view them only as problems and obligations, there to weigh you down. Or, in light of your goal of pleasing your Father, you can develop a passion for serving Him in everything He calls you to do, including approaching the dead bugs that go along with living on this side of the windshield.

Having a passion and resolve to give God glory in all  you do, can unmask the problems. You can then see them clearly for what they really are, little dead bugs and dirt on a windshield, having no effect on the marvelous truths beyond.”

Peter seemed to understand. He was looking again at the brilliance beyond the windshield.

“Peter.” The man said.

“Yes.” Peter looked over at the messenger.

“There’s one more thing I need to tell you.

No matter how many dead bugs and how much dirt and grim which lands on your windshield; and no matter how ugly the mess appears, never, ever think that it’s all up to you to take care of it by yourself.

Remember; the richness of your inheritance. When you were adopted as a child of God, you received the full rights of a child; the wonderful hope of heaven beyond the windshield. But not only that Peter, God gave you something for now.

When you became His son, God came to live inside of you in the form of His Holy Spirit. This is an unbelievable truth! God does not expect you to take care of all this mess alone. God Himself indwells you.  He wants you to depend on Him to work in you to handle every dead bug.”

Peter smiled. Already he was seeing the mess in front of him in a different light. He had the power of the universe inside of him, ready to show forth in strength at each and every opportunity.

Peter looked at the man, but he was gone. Without a second thought, Peter turned his focus again to the soothing, powerful, peaceful truth beyond the windshield.

Meanwhile, back on the porch, Peter’s 8-year old daughter Lisa came crashing through the door to the porch.

“Daddy!”

“Wha, Wha What’s going on? Oh hey sweetie. I was asleep. Is any thing wrong?”

“No Daddy, not really, well yea, we had an accident. Randy had an accident.”

“Is he OK? Is he hurt!”

“He’s not hurt Daddy, but he’s scared. He caused an awful mess! We were trying to reach a game on our closet shelf and we couldn’t reach it. Randy brought in Mom’s paint cans from the bathroom and stacked them up so he could reach it. He was able to get the game, but then he lost his balance and fell. One of the cans came open and blue paint got all over the carpet.

Seeing Peter’s look, Lisa stepped back. “But, we cleaned most of it up Daddy!  Please don’t get mad at him. He didn’t mean to!”

Peter could feel the pressure mount. He could never fully clean blue paint from the carpet and he had no money to spare to get it professionally cleaned or to replace it.

Add it to the list, he thought. One more thing for him to do, one more. Peter stopped in mid thought, paused, then continued his thinking. One more dead bug on the windshield. One more opportunity to see the beauties of God’s truth through a stained carpet bug on the windshield. One more opportunity to see God work in me to handle this challenge of life.

Peter looked at Lisa. He could tell she was scared and worried. “Where is Randy?” he asked.

“He’s hiding Daddy! He’s scared of what you’ll do.”

“Let’s go find him. I’m not mad. I know it was an accident.”

Peter found Randy huddled in the pantry, terrified and sobbing. His bottom lip was trembling as he cried. When he saw Peter a look of terror filled his eyes.

“Randy, it’s OK!” Peter assured him. And then their eyes met. Instead of the anger and rage he was expecting, Randy saw something else in his daddy’s eyes.

“Come on Randy, we’ll figure out a way to clean it up.”

Peter reached out his hand and Randy took it. They walked out to the porch, Lisa following.  They all crawled into the chaise lounge where  they hung out for the longest time,  laughing and enjoying each other until the sun started setting and mom called them in for dinner.