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What if the worst does happen… then what?

Modern-day, western Christianity says if we really love God, if we have enough faith, we’re protected by a force field that nothing truly bad can penetrate. Should something terrible manage to get through, this fiction continues, we can pray it right out of our lives.

My real life experience has proven otherwise. Bad things happen. And sometimes the only way out is to walk through.

No matter how many crosses or garlic cloves actors use to ward off movie vampires and murderous mummies, in life there is no Christian talisman. The cross, after all, is synonymous with a torturous death that had to be endured before it could be overcome.

Jesus is frank:

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.(John 16:33b)

Should we encounter a nightmare scenario, it won’t mean that evil has won. Those who trust God may have to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, but Christ walks with us to the other side.

Our relationship with God doesn’t have to crack under the strain of hard things. It can survive and deepen. Job is the Old Testament example.

By God’s own testimony, Job was blameless. (Job 1:8) Yet, God allowed this guy’s life to fall apart without warning and without cause. (Job 2:3) In a single day, he lost his wealth, his children. On some other day, his health was attacked. There had been a “hedge” of protection around his life. (Job 1:10)  Clearly, for reasons that are inexplicable beyond His Sovereignty, God sometimes allows the enemy to get at us.

We know that Job kept faith, though he had so many questions. God brought him to a deeper understanding of Himself and restored Job without ever explaining why things happened as they did.

God still causes His people to triumph through tragedy.

  • A friend’s only child, a son, was murdered. She endured the court trial, saw his killer convicted and jailed. Despite profound loss and grief, she somehow kept believing and trusting God. Decades later, she still says with conviction that “God is good.”
  • A family’s home caught fire while they slept and burned to the ground, a complete loss. Everyone escaped alive, including a visiting missionary couple later said to be accidentally responsible for the blaze. Think this family struggled with having missionaries set their house on fire? Still, their faith and their marriage survived a life in ashes.
  • A man who had been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer stood in church to proclaim that a year later he is cancer-free. A miracle to be sure. Yet he had not escaped suffering. He had endured cancer treatment and had, by God’s grace, prevailed.

In this Holy Week, when we Christians remember how Jesus Christ became our Savior, it’s worth noting that the captain of our salvation was made perfect through suffering, the very thing most of us spend a lifetime trying to avoid.

Christ “tasted death for every man” (Hebrews 2:9), a torturous, humiliating, excruciating death. Nobody dragged him to the cross. He went willingly, drinking to the last drop the worst the world had to offer. Three days later, He got up fully alive, overcoming the very thing that sought to overcome Him.

No matter what happens from now on, Jesus Christ has fully prepared those who trust in Him for what happens next. “No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37)

 

 

Let’s Eat!

Bread and water are life-sustaining… but only if eaten.

My favorite local bakery is La Farm in Cary, where the smell of French breads and pastries can literally make the mouth water – never mind the soups and sandwiches and fresh-brewed Counter Culture Coffee. This is the kind of place where you have to arrive early if you expect to see, let alone sample, the full day’s selections.

It opens at 7:00 every morning of the week. By 9:30 on Saturday mornings, the stacks of scones, croissants, tarts etc. have severely dwindled and there is nary an empty chair in the house.

(Yes, I know it’s Lent, when people are abstaining from delicacies, but trust me. I am going somewhere with this!)

As much as I enjoy simply being in this place and taking in the aroma, being there is nothing if I don’t have something to eat. The beautiful breads and carefully-crafted pastries are a feast to the eye, but La Farm bakers intend their work to be eaten and enjoyed.

I am happy to oblige. For bread or water to do me any good, I have to take it in. It’s not enough to surround myself with it. Nourishment comes from eating and drinking.

In the book of John, crowds were following Jesus around because he had miraculously fed them. He confronted them about being more concerned about filling their stomachs than about being spiritually nourished. They didn’t get it. They reminded him of the manna from heaven their forefathers ate in the desert.

Jesus replied: “I am the Bread of Life.” Then he explained:

Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.  For my flesh is food indeed and my blood is drink indeed. He who feeds on Me will live because of Me…. He who eats this bread will live forever. (see John 6:53-58 for full text)

They were talking natural bread, a one-time meal that would need repeating to address their continual hunger. Jesus took it to a spiritual, eternal level.

To experience true life that never ends, He said they needed to do something more than just passively stand in the crowd and look, listen and wait for a bread basket to come their way.

Jesus says life is experienced by the one who: Eats, Drinks, Feeds. These are verbs, action words. Seems to me, He essentially is telling a bunch of spiritually starving people:

Look, you are following the only truly life-sustaining Bread there is, but you haven’t been eating. If you want life that does not end, you have to act. You have to take me in. I have to become a part of you. I have to nourish you from within.

The problem with church-people, I think, is that many of us are habitually coming to God’s House of Bread and leaving hungry because we aren’t eating.

We enjoy the aroma from the oven and the sound of living water as the Bible is taught and worship songs are sung. But we aren’t really ingesting Jesus’ words and allowing Him – the Living Word – to transform us from the inside out.

Some of us are just following Jesus for the loaves and the fishes – for the  quick fix to a material and sometimes momentary need — when He wants to fill us up with Himself so that we are never hungry again.

I wouldn’t dream of leaving the local bakery hungry. (I always eat plenty at La Farm and usually take a little something home for later!) Think about that next time you’re in church… and be sure to eat.

 

The Cross: The Ultimate Intervention

 The A&E television series Intervention will start a new season tomorrow. The story line is pretty much the same every episode: a bunch of people come together to stage the rescue of a hapless family member whose substance abuse and/or prostitution to support their addiction has brought them to the edge of a precipice.

In short, it’s a televised last-ditch effort to save somebody from the grave. Invariably, the person at the center of the intervention insists they don’t need help. Sometimes they relent and accept rescue. Other times, they tell their family members to go to hell and walk away.

It would be tempting to judge these people as whacked and to congratulate myself for not being “like them” – were the show not so graphic a depiction of the human condition.

At our core, we all are fatally addicted to sin; we can’t help ourselves.  To quote T.D. Jakes, “There is no human remedy for sin.” Each of us needs Divine Intervention. Yet, like the church in Laodicea, we live in denial.

You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. Rev 3:17

Search the Bible and you’ll find one helpless sinner after another and a God who stands ready to intervene.

Consider two snapshots:

  •  In Ezekiel 37, the prophet stands in a valley of dry bones. These bones belong to the long dead, bleached by the sun, brittle, disconnected. God asks the question: Can these bones live? From a human perspective, they’re hopeless. But the question is being asked by God with Whom nothing is impossible. So the prophet replies: “Lord, you know.”

The bones can do nothing for themselves. God takes the initiative. He does all the work.

He tells the prophet to speak to the bones these words: I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.

Then God does what He says right there, right then. The image is of God opening the grave, calling out and reassembling a bunch of raggedy skeletons and speaking life to them so that they stand upright, a living, breathing, mighty army.

  • In Zechariah 3 Joshua the high priest is standing before the Angel of the Lord in filthy robes. Filthy as in: vile, dishonored, morally defiled, unclean. Picture a priest standing in a holy place before a holy God to perform some religious ceremony while wearing clothes covered in excrement. Despicable. Beside him, ready to accuse him, is satan himself.

“Look at this guy,” satan is prepared to say. “He isn’t fit to serve God. He doesn’t deserve to be here. Look at him; he’s nasty, full of sin.” Joshua stands mute. He can say nothing in his own defense. The charge is true. The Lord Himself rebukes satan.  The Lord gets the filthy robes removed from Joshua and gives him new, clean clothes.

This is the human situation before God. Dead, filthy, justly accused, hopeless without the work of Christ on the Cross. That work is The Ultimate Intervention, and that’s worth contemplating during this season of Lent.