Tuesday, March 25, 2008

New Life!

In the spring we look at new life, bursting from everything around us -- the trees, the grass, squirrels, birds and early flowers, even bugs. It seems irresistable; a little more sunshine and some warmth, and here it comes. That's how the creation is -- life is so strong it can't be held down.

God has included tremendous symbolism within his creation to reflect his wisdom and his plan of salvation. For instance, the resurrection of Jesus to eternal life -- which brings us the promise of new life now and eternal life with God forever -- didn't happen just anytime. It occurred in the spring, when new life was springing out of the soil in the Judean hills. God was doing something in the spring, twenty centuries ago, that was a much larger reality than the mere picture of new plants, new animals and so forth, springing (oops, there it goes again) to life from the earth after a cold, drab winter.

When Jesus stepped out of the tomb, he also came out of the earth; he moved into new life. And his new life looked different from the one he had before, just like a plant doesn't look like the seed. Paul uses this idea in 1 Cor 15 --
37. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body...
42. So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43. it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44. it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
And speaking of Jesus, he says:
45. So it is written: "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit.

That new life has a future promise -- the promise of a new, spiritual existence -- but also a present context. Most of what Paul talks about in I Corinthians 15 is the future, the resurrection promised to all believers. But in another way we're already there -- a new life now, that gives power and peace and hope and joy and confidence. Here's some more from Paul:

Romans 6:4 -- Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

What's that new life look like? Oh, there's a lot more to say on that. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Feet and dust and me

A long time ago -- even before I was born, and I'm old -- people walked around in open-toed sandals. That was a tad inconvenient, as most streets weren't paved and people often walked where streets didn't exist anyway. So pretty soon their feet got dirty.

Now, there probably wasn't much of a pedicure industry back then; it wouldn't do a lot of good to get your toes all gussied up, then have them get dusty thirty seconds out the front door. But there was a foot-cleaning industry, and it was run by the lowest-class slaves -- the newbies, just off the boat, or the ones that were in trouble and had to work their way back into the master's favor. When you came home from work, or went to somebody's house for pizza, that slave was there to clean up your feet and refresh you.

Since animals were in the streets, manure built up too. And since sandals didn't keep it all out, manure ended up on peoples' feet too. That would make the foot-washing job even less pleasant. Likewise, the feet themselves, in contact with the common dirt of the road, were considered a less honorable part of the body. So what we're talking about here is definitely the job nobody wanted.

Lo and behold, that's what Jesus took on during his last night on earth as a regular human. He'd been preaching humility and servanthood to his disciples, and he was certain they hadn't seen the picture, so he showed them one -- himself, washing their dirty feet. He was ready to be sacrificed on a cruel cross to wash their sins away from their souls, but he started with washing the dirt away from their feet. Every time I look at that picture, I get convicted again by his humility and my lack of it.

Some of us as Christians practice this ritual every year. It's a reminder of our Savior's deep, deep love. More than just a reminder, it's also a pledge to walk in his sandals, to serve others like he did, even if it looks dumb or humiliating or messy. Now, pride can even make us go through the motions to 'do service.' But his love in us -- if we really are listening to him -- brings it out from the heart, with a purity of motive. It's worth considering carefully, praying over and asking Jesus to let his mind be in you, as you look at someone else's toes.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Not Just a Parade

Sometime around this time of year (the exact date is unknowable for several reasons), Jesus of Nazareth rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.

Despite all the controversy he had caused, there was quite a crowd excited by the idea that Jesus would make an appearance in Jerusalem at the Passover. After Jesus had brought Lazarus back to physical life, a lot of people had started believing in him, (11:45) and were spreading the word (12:17).

John gives us several clues that something special was happening: -- the huge crowd acclaiming Jesus (12:12-13), described by the Pharisees as 'the whole world has gone after him' (12:19) and then Jesus saying that by his crucifixion he would 'draw all men' to himself' (12:32). And, the crowd shouted "hosannah", which comes from the Hebrew expression "save us now" used in Psalm 118:25.

So in this 'triumphal entry', we have a small picture of the actual spiritual result of the crucifixion: salvation for all humanity, arriving through a humble King. This wasn't just a parade but an announcement!

And by telling the story, John is inviting us to join this crowd in praising Jesus and looking to him for salvation. Shall we do that together? There's plenty of room!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Grace and Other People

Big Idea: I am forgiven by God for all my sins, and saved eternally through his Son Jesus (John 3:16). Considering the number of times each day my thoughts, words and sometimes my actions are against God's perfect standard of sacrificial love, it's a big relief to know that I'm forgiven. Don't you agree?

All of humanity has been purchased by the blood of Jesus. We've been brought back from the grave that was our destination due to our general rebellion against God and our individual sins, and we've been forgiven once and for all. Our salvation is secure because Jesus died once for all (Hebrews 7:27, 9:12 and 10:10). We live in a state of forgiveness.

But is that all? Can we do anything we want now, treat other people any old how, and live life without thinking?

What does 'living with grace' mean in a world full of other people?

Paul tells us how to live with others in Ephesians 4:32: "And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake has forgiven you."

Our own state of forgiveness is a starting place -- a clean slate, a new beginning, a clean floor on which to stand. It's also a template, an example, showing how to live with others. If God has forgiven me, Paul says, then I should live in the light of that forgiveness and be just as generous and tender toward others as God has been to me through Jesus.

One other thing: Even when someone has offended me, God has also forgiven that other person through Jesus (because Jesus stood in for the whole world, not just me) so in God's eyes that sin is already gone and forgotten. That means I don't get to hold a grudge.

Now, if the whole world just knew and understood this...

Here's a suggestion: show grace and acceptance to someone else today. The word will spread!