Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Some books that help me live better:

Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis

Prayer Ole Hallesby

The Life You've Always Wanted John Ortberg

any of the seven volumes of The Chronicles of Narnia C.S. Lewis

The Purpose Driven Life Rick Warren

Soul Salsa Leonard Sweet

any book by Laurie Beth Jones

any book by Alan Loy McGinnis

The Screwtape Letters C.S. Lewis

more in a later post...
Prayer in Jesus' Name is our point of contact with God. God wants to hear from us and wants to answer our trusting prayers. I would appreciate your prayers for the following:

(1) Pray for Isaac. He's a four-and-a-half year old member of our congregation who needs healing.

(2) Pray for real peace in Iraq, for protection of US military personnel, and of Iraqi civilians.

(3) Pray for wisdom for leaders around the world and for the courage to act on that wisdom.

Thanks for praying with me!

Sunday, April 27, 2003

Easter After Tremors:
Seeing Jesus
John 20:19-31

[Shared with the people of Friendship Church, April 27, 2003]

When I was a young man the thing that kept me from following Christ was the Easter story: the Church’s insistent proclamation that Jesus had risen from the dead. I couldn’t believe and I couldn’t understand how any rational human being could believe, that Jesus had been resurrected. I liked Jesus. I thought that what He had to say and the way He loved others was attractive. But I had never seen a human being come back from the grave. So, how could I possibly believe?

After attending worship at what would eventually become my home congregation, Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Columbus with Ann, I started to investigate, reading a number of books that presented evidence to convince readers rationally that Jesus had risen from the dead. Today, you can find lots of books like that. Many of them are very good. But it was my experience that for every piece of evidence one could present supporting Jesus’ resurrection, there was a counter-argument just as compelling.

Nonetheless, something led me to trust not only that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, but also to trust Him as my Lord and God and Savior. That “something” came in all the people whose lives I had seen changed when they followed Jesus Christ: The person who wrestled with mental illness for decades and finally found peace and purpose for life in the arms of Christ. The elderly contractor who cared for his ill wife for decades and provided that care with cheerfulness. The reluctant congregational president who, when forced to make almost impossible decisions, forged ahead with a love and passion that one would have hardly expected to see in someone who seemed so ordinary. The parents of high school classmates who knew what a loser I had been but still accepted me, encouraged me, and to this day, remain my loving boosters. What led me to believe in the risen Jesus was all the people I saw who lived with Him in the center of their lives.

Pinchas Lapide is a Jewish scholar who studies the New Testament, the portion of the Bible which Jews reject because it affirms Jesus’ resurrection and that Jesus is the Savior of the world. But Lapide, after extensive study, concludes that God the Father really did raise Jesus from the dead. Listen to what he writes in his book, The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective:

When this scared, frightened band of the apostles which was just about to throw away everything in order to flee in despair to Galilee; when these peasants, shepherds, and fishermen, who betrayed and denied their master and then failed Him miserably, suddenly could be changed overnight into a confident mission society, convinced of salvation and able to work with much more success after Easter than before Easter, then no vision or hallucination is sufficient to explain such a revolutionary transformation.

What ultimately convinced this Jewish scholar that Jesus really rose from the dead was that he observed the risen Jesus living in the people who first claimed they’d seen Jesus resurrected from the dead. He believes in Jesus’ resurrection because of the way the lives of Jesus’ followers—ordinary women and men—changed after the first Easter morning.

Have you seen the risen Jesus living and active in ordinary people like you and me?

Are people able to see the risen Jesus in you and me?

There are times when we can feel confused and upset by the seeming absence of God from our lives. We wonder, “If Jesus is risen and living, why has this happened in my life? Or, why has tragedy befallen someone we care about?” We must remember in times like those, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, that this isn’t heaven. This world is imperfect. Horrible things happen. But if we open our eyes, we can also see that the risen Jesus is alive and at work in the lives of people who follow Him.

Hector Vasquez is a Lutheran pastor who once lived and worked as a missionary in Guatemala. There, he says, he and his wife Mirtha “learned an important lesson—the success of any church is not dependent on great decisions or great wisdom, it depends on the ability and knowledge of [God’s] Holy Spirit [working in] each one of us.”

According to Hector Vasquez, early one morning, he found a group of people standing outside his home. They represented several indigenous communities where he and his wife were starting to do community work. These people had a request:

They said, “Pastor Hector, our communities sent us so that we can ask you to send us pastors and teachers to teach us and our children. We know that what you do is good and, therefore, what you believe must also be good.”

When people observe the risen Jesus living in us, animating our lives, they want the same intimacy with the Savior that you and I enjoy!

The Church is the family of the risen Jesus. When we let the risen Jesus be our Lord and God, the whole world sees Him! When we allow Him to unleash His passionate love in us, we see Him too! "Love God and love neighbor" are more than mottos stitched on a pillow somewhere; they are our way of life when the risen Jesus takes up residence in our lives!

I don’t understand how Jesus’ once-dead tissue and organs were brought back to life on the first Easter Sunday. And it’s only natural for us to wonder how and even if, it all can be possible. That’s certainly how Thomas, one of Jesus’ first followers felt.

According to our Bible lesson for this morning, the risen Jesus had made several appearances to His followers. They had excitedly shared their news with other followers who hadn’t yet seen the resurrected Jesus. One of those who hadn’t yet seen Jesus was Thomas.

“Unless I’m able to see Jesus and touch the scars left behind by His crucifixion and by the sword that pierced His side, I’m not buying this whole story,” Thomas tells the others. On the Sunday following Easter, a Sunday like this one, Thomas gets the shock of his life. Gathered in a locked room, probably listening disbelievingly to his fellow Jesus-followers yammer on about how they had seen the risen Jesus, Thomas looks up and there stands Jesus. Thomas falls down on his face, worshiping Jesus, calling Him, “My Lord and my God.” And then Jesus addresses Thomas:

“Have you believed Me because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Jesus is risen from the dead whether we see Him or not.

Jesus is with and is blessing those who follow Him whether they can point to Him or not.

Jesus is alive and at work even when we don’t know it.

Like a doubting Thomas, I sometimes wonder what good it does, for example, for me to write my columns for the local newspaper. I try to lift Jesus up so that people will know and follow Him. There are times though, when I think that all I do is provide liner for bird cages. But then, I get reminded of how the risen Jesus is at work even in my meager words. A few months ago, a woman approached me and said, “You’re Mark Daniels, aren’t you? I work in this bar and somebody tacked up one of your columns on the bulltein board in the entryway. People talk about it all the time.”

Can you imagine a more unlikely scenario? A yellowed fragment from a bird-cage liner that proclaims the Good News of a Savior Who loves sinners like us, Who turns those sinners into God’s friends through His forgiveness and the power of His resurrection...that piece of newsprint is somehow used by the risen Jesus to give people hope. Somehow, the risen Jesus can even show up on the bulletin board at a bar. He really is risen!

Whether they know it or not, the people of today's world world are desperate for the hope that only the risen Jesus can give. When in our everyday lives, you and I let Jesus take control of who we are, what we do, and what we say, both we and the world around us see the risen Jesus. Then, like Thomas, people will feel compelled to worship at Jesus’ feet and like him and us, to call Jesus, “Lord and God.”

[The Lapide book is cited by Pastor Brian Stoffregen in his weekly e-mailed exegesis. Hector Vasquez recounts the incident here cited in an article appearing in the Spring, 2003 issue of Voices of Congregational Life.]