Archives For God’s love

Open empty tomb. Watercolor painting

The day of Jesus’ resurrection has always been an orienting point for Christians. From the beginning, it was the day for their weekly gatherings. Later it became a pivotal day in the annual Christian calendar.

Prior to Easter each year, we reflect on Jesus’ perfect submission — from His victory over Satan’s temptations in the wilderness to His ultimate act of obedience on the cross. We examine our own devotion and deal intentionally with the temptations and distractions that keep us from full obedience.

Then, on Easter, the commemoration of Jesus’ resurrection pivots us from contemplating the humility of the suffering Lamb to celebrating the power of the risen Lamb; from identifying with the crucified Servant to exalting the victorious Savior.

This shift is rooted in the events that occurred on the very day of Jesus’ resurrection, beginning with the question posed to the women who went to His tomb: “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?”

Easter posture is not, however, merely standing and facing the resurrected Lord. It is standing and facing our future because of His resurrection.

It is true that the question had something to do with their location at the tomb. Luke reports, however, that the women had “inclined their faces to the ground” and that this posture prompted the messengers’ question. Why? Because early Christians knew they lived in a world governed by the words of Genesis 3:19: “You will eat food by the sweat of your brow until you return to the ground, since you were taken from it; for you are dust, and you will return to dust.” The women’s posture that morning was entirely reasonable in light of these words. Each and every body laid in a tomb would return to the ground, the dust.

A change had occurred that morning, however, that the women’s posture did not reflect. Jesus’ resurrection had brought about a new posture. The women should not be inclined toward the ground looking for Jesus but standing and facing Him as their risen Lord.

Easter posture is not, however, merely standing and facing the resurrected Lord. It is standing and facing our future because of His resurrection.

Forty days prior to Easter, some Christians have ash placed on their foreheads and hear the words: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” They are reminded of the brevity of life and the urgency of present obedience.

The question is good for you to hear: Why do you seek for the living among the dead?

If you have been to a funeral this past year, you don’t need an ashen symbol to remind you of the brevity of life or that death still grips creation. As you inclined your face toward the body that was to be placed in the ground, you were confronted with the fact that this is not how God created that person. The eulogies testified to the fact that there is no one in the world who spoke, sang, laughed or loved like the one whose body lay in the casket.

It is at just this point where the women’s lesson is vital for us because the Easter posture is a posture of hope. Death results in the body returning to the ground — for now. Sorrow and grief are real — for now. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, however, we can stand and face our future with hope. The apostle Paul says it this way: “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ, the firstfruits; afterward, at His coming, those who belong to Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:20-23).

Are you struggling to face your future? Maybe you have experienced a great tragedy in your life: the death of a friend or family member, a diagnosis of a terminal disease. Maybe the loss of someone or something that has provided security has shaken your confidence in the future: the betrayal of a close friend or spouse, the loss of a job. Maybe anxiety is just your persistent struggle; you struggle to face the future even in the absence of crises.

The question is good for you to hear: Why do you seek for the living among the dead?

Allow the fact of Jesus’ resurrection to give you the confidence to face your future. With His resurrection in mind, stand up and face your future with hope.

Christopher Graham is assistant professor of theology at Criswell College and its program director for the master of divinity degree and master of arts in theological and biblical studies. This article is adapted from the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

Keep Christmas alive

ib2newseditor —  December 29, 2016

pouring-teaIt feels so wonderful! The spirit of Christmas adds oomph to life. We live in anticipation and we’re even nice to strangers. We become very intentional about giving to others.

But as we turned the calendar page to December 26, did that Christmas spirit fade? As you pack up those Christmas decorations, consider these five simple reminders to help keep that spirit of joy and generosity at the forefront all year.

1. Live expectantly. Anticipation is at a high during Christmas, but a sense of expectancy is a good thing all year long. It keeps us on our toes, helps us use time wisely, and reminds us to lean on God. So, live with enthusiasm every day of the year. “Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant” (Romans 12:11-12a MSG).

2. Be extra nice to strangers. Are you kinder to total strangers at Christmas? Your job as a Christian is to be God’s ambassador, representing him with your every word and deed. Take your ambassador job seriously all year long. Be nice to strangers.

3. Practice a “shoebox continuum.” Wasn’t it awesome to stuff gifts in shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child or backpacks for Appalachian children? Don’t stop. Each month this year, gift a carefully prepared backpack or box to a local child in extraordinary need. Include a “God loves you” note.

4. Engage in better benevolence. Use Christmas ministry projects as a springboard to yearlong generosity. For example, instead of a give-and-run delivery of gifts or dinner for a local needy family, make a plan to show God’s love to them all year. Get to know them. Listen to their story. Invite them to church and welcome them. Pray with them. Introduce them to Jesus.

5. Smile freely. The Christmas season lends itself to joy. Joy isn’t seasonal for a Christian. It radiates from inside, and it’s there on happy days and desperate days, on New Year’s Day and Groundhog Day and every other day of the year. Radiate the joy of Jesus in non-December months.

The “spirit of Christmas” is not a December event. It’s a Christian’s lifestyle and mission. It’s our everyday marching orders from Christ. Exude the true Christmas spirit—God’s Spirit—as you live with joy, expectancy, love, and generosity.

© Diana Davis, dianadavis.org

Bald Cypress horizontal

The sheltering bald cypress tree.

My parents have a large bald cypress tree in their front yard. Its branches extend to the street and over the house. The bird feeder under the tree is popular place for robins, sparrows, cardinals, blue birds, and many others. Rabbits and squirrels come around eat the seed that falls from the feeder.

Stepping away from my everyday life, I recently went back home to northeast Missouri and spent a few days with my parents where the room I sleep in is next to the tree. Early in the morning I would awaken to the sounds of the birds singing happily as they gathered under the tree for their morning meal.

Buddy the squirrel

Buddy eats a piece of bread.

Later in the morning, I’d take time to relax on the front porch and watch not only the birds, but the rabbits and squirrels that would come to the tree. My mother regularly feeds them, and has even named the regulars. There’s Buddy, a squirrel who was very thin and appeared to have some kind of back injury when he first came to the tree, but has been fattened up with Sunbeam bread and now bears little trace of his injury. He’s been joined by Big Nose Kate (Doc Holiday’s girlfriend in Tombstone), Spot (named for the white spot on his chest), Roddy (the Rodent), and a few other squirrels. My family jokes that Buddy has invited his friends and family to come eat at the “best restaurant in town.”

My mother calls the tree a “happy place.” And it is. Sitting there, watching these small creatures take refuge under the shelter of the tree as they enjoy the available provisions, reminded me to slow down and take time to marvel at God’s creation. I could not help but bring to mind Matthew 6:25-26, “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?” How much I could learn from these little creatures.

Watching them as they moved about without a care in the world caused me to think how complicated I have a habit of making things, and about the lesson the little birds and squirrels were teaching me.

One day, a storm came through town in the early morning hours and several limbs were blown from trees blocking roads and causing power outages. But the bald cypress remained strong and provided shelter in its branches. When the storm had passed, everyone was back under the tree’s sheltering shade. Oh, how God is so much more to us than that tree!

As David wrote long ago in Psalm 91:1-2, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust!’” The entire chapter is a reminder of the peace and security only God provides.

The tree is my mother’s thinking place, a respite from the stress of life. It was the same for me in my time there. A place to slow down and delight in God’s goodness.

– LMS

We all matter to God

As Americans we look forward to summer with excitement and nostalgia for summers’ past. For many, the summer of 2016 will be one they’ll most likely want to forget.

So far we’ve seen multiple terrorist attacks overseas and even in our own country, with the killing of 49 Americans in Orlando, FL in June. In the most recent attack in Nice, France, at least three Americans, including a father and son, were among the 84 people killed.

Our own country is also being torn apart from within by racial strife. The killings of two black men, one in Baton Rouge, LA, the other near Minneapolis, MN, by police. In seeming retaliation, five police officers were assassinated in Dallas, TX, followed just more than a week later, by the assassinations of three officers in Baton Rouge.

One of the Baton Rouge officers slain was Montrell Jackson, a 32-year-old who had been married only a few years and recently become a father. Jackson was also black.

The Washington Post reported his sister, Joycelyn Jackson, learned of her younger brother’s death while sitting in a Sunday worship service at her church. According to the Post, “She understands the anger behind the movement Black Lives Matter but that ‘God gives nobody the right to kill and take another person’s life…It’s coming to the point where no lives matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or whatever.’”

Jackson is expressing what many feel. As a society we argue over the semantics of whose lives matter, while the killing continues. It should hardly be a surprise that life has so little value in a culture where more than 56 million infants have been aborted since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court struck down a Texas law that tightened abortion clinic standards. The ruling, which made access to abortion clinics in that state and others with similar laws even easier, was celebrated by many Americans.

As summer temperatures heat up, so are tensions. A spirit of evil and chaos seems to have taken hold. But we need not despair, God is with us and he is merciful and just.

Joycelyn Jackson knows this and so should we.  When the Post asked Jackson what she would say to her brother’s killer or anyone considering violence, she replied, “If I could say anything to anyone, it is to get their lives right with God. Hell is a horrible, horrible place to be.”

– LMS

HEARTLAND | Monday, November 12

O love that wilt not let me go,I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekst me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.

(George Matheson, 1882)

Check out Ascend the Hill’s version of the classic hymn below.