How the Resurrection of Jesus CHANGES death!

1How the Resurrection of Jesus CHANGES death!

Easter Day is now a memory for all of us…but the POWER and IMPACT of Easter will change our lives in the here and now AND in the future. Follow me here because this truth and this Jesus is truly the HOPE of the world. Who needs hope in life? We do…because whether we want to admit it or not, we are all on “the clock.” Life is moving forward and one day we will all have to face the reality that Jesus conquered. So, this devotional, though longer, is SO important for you to embrace. Here’s what I want you to do…read what is below. Read it slowly and prayerfully. It will change your life and YOUR anticipation and perspective on what the Bible calls, “the final enemy.”

Easter SHOUTS this truth – the resurrection of Jesus CHANGES everything about death and the grave. NOW, you might be thinking, “how morbid.” But trust me, people like you wonder about these things. You may not want to admit it, but questions about death and our anxiety about death swirl around every person’s heart and mind. So read below…if you want MORE, email me!

Because of Easter, death can now be our friend.

“Easter is God’s ‘victory over death.’ Death is no longer the curse that it was. It is no longer the power that rules. It is no longer the enemy to be feared. But here’s the twist. In doing so, Jesus also reclaims death and befriends it – not death in its perverted form, but death in its state of grace. Jesus reclaims death as a natural blessing to the rhythm of life and shows us that it is possible to befriend it.”

Death Definition – Death is the termination of all biological functions that sustain a living organism. That’s what the medical profession says about this mystery of human existence.

Even so, permit me to share with you about death from a biblical and historical vantage point:

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew Sheol, the place of the dead, was seen as not much different from Homer’s Hades. People were said to be asleep in Sheol. In and around the time of Jesus, most people were steeped in Greek philosophical and Roman ideas. For Homer, death was pretty bleak. Hades, the “god of the dead,” was not a nice guy.  The Romans spoke of the ‘hope’ of death, and indeed built temples to the goddess of death, Spes. But death for a Roman was very much filled with this-worldly ideas of the future: peace and security, social stability, crops and harvests, large families and good fortune.

In our time, it has been shown again and again, in study after study, that a primary driving force in human culture is not only an awareness that someday we will die but also the terror or high anxiety about that passage in life that most people feel. For example, have you thought about dying this week? It’s weird and scary, isn’t it?

Yet, along comes Jesus and the Resurrection and, frankly readers, that changes everything! Here are some lessons from the resurrection:

The Resurrection changed our relationship to death. Death’s sting was that either we “were no more” or that we were consigned to the gloom of Sheol/Hades with little hope. Death’s sting is the fear or death-anxiety common to all of humanity. It is through our death-anxiety, that we are held in emotional and spiritual bondage. Even so, those are the realities from which Jesus in and through His resurrection has freed us. You see, if death is an enemy, it is no longer an enemy YOU need fear. When the New Testament (NT) talks about death it is not synonymous with the cause of death, the experience of dying, the moment of death or the grievous aftermath experienced by the survivors. All of these remain most unwelcome, in need and want of God’s compassion, comfort and/or healing. Rather, in the NT death per se relates to the destiny of those who are dead. That destiny is the eternal, loving, and transformational presence of Jesus.

The Resurrection has also changed the nature of death. Jesus shifts in the nature of death in two broad ways:

Death itself has changed. Death used to mean “consigned to the grave” (whatever that meant). Death, as our destiny, shifts radically into an entirely new reality to be embraced because of Jesus. Because of Jesus…because of the resurrection, there is the new death reality, and if that reality IS our reality (through the gift of God’s grace and a growing relationship with Jesus), then this is the truth that inspires us to know that death can actually be embraced. We can embrace death, not as the thing that rips your spirit from your body (the moment), but embraced as the place of joy that lies beyond that moment…beyond the death moment, is awaiting you and me, are everlasting arms and love.

Another interesting issue that the NT asserts is the denial of death altogether. Now, this is a bit technical, so stay with me. The NT does not equate the moment-of-death with death itself. The NT treats death (or ‘perishing’) as something believers will not experience. Here are the verses that highlight this truth:

John 11:25-26 – Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Clearly, Jesus doesn’t mean we won’t experience the moment we call death, but rather, that our destiny is not and never will be death as ‘the grave’ or ‘sheol’ or ‘hades.’ In other words, Jesus says, “That ain’t going to happen to you!”

I would suggest that Jesus does not refer to the moment of death as death. Rather, for Jesus, he usually calls that moment is “falling asleep.” Jesus won’t concede to calling DEATH death because if he holds the keys of death and hades, no one is ultimately stuck there. Being stuck there is the problem that he forever ended.

Finally, what do we do with the reality of the moment-of-death? Do we fight it? Do we embrace it? Is it a friend? Or is it a grotesque curse of the fall that we resist it to the end? Here’s where all this leads – dying is an inevitable reality. Through Jesus’ resurrection, because of Easter, dying is not “death-as-destiny,” it’s simply a process prior to death and our “doorway” into the presence of Jesus.

I propose to you that when you reflect on the NT and the Easter event, that you see death has changed – Jesus sees dying independently from the cause-of-dying. Permit me to explain. There are causes of dying…cancer, heart disease, strokes, car accidents, and a multitude of other reasons that cause death. All of those things, we instinctively want to avoid, prevent, treat and/or cure.  In other words, cancer is never my friend…heart disease is never my friend, etc. We all know this. We automatically oppose these enemies of humanity as did Jesus whenever he encountered them.  He referred to sickness and disease as oppressors and treated them as such.

Now remember the question I started with? Is death now our friend? It seems to me that statement is not talking about embracing either the cause of death nor the state of the grave that Jesus negated (that understanding of death as an afterlife prison of sorts). It seems to primarily be referring to the acceptance of the dying process once it truly begins as a human inevitability. This dying process we accept on the basis of the equally inevitable resurrection aftermath. That is, dying is no longer bound to death, but to our place before the throne of God’s love. If we are bound for a fulfilled or restored or eternal Kingdom of God, then once the cursed cause of death (which we’ve fought in every way through medicine and through prayer) has done its work and we are now truly dying, then instead of fretting and thrashing against that reality, we can practice acceptance and surrender so that dying itself becomes an occasion for a fulfilled experience of Jesus’ presence. You see, we never need to surrender to disease, dying or death because our surrender is always only to Jesus. And it is because of him that death is NOW our friend. Thus on this side of death, we do not need to move from fight-mode against any disease or other reason that brings about death as if we were giving up. But we do need to remind ourselves again and again that there is NEVER a time to ultimately despair when facing death because we never do.  That’s because of the Risen Jesus. You see, my healthy children are given into his care, my granddaughter who struggled with Leukemia is given to his care, my elderly father is given into his care…the people I know facing death, are given into his care.

In my experience, the first order of business to be acted upon through the dying process seems to be “presence.” First, my presence to their situation, to their pain, and to their needs. And secondly, God’s presence throughout that journey, whether it is a healing or dying path. Ultimately, because of God’s grace and Jesus’ victory, the dying process leads to the presence of Jesus…for eternity.

Let me FINALLY close this here – we need not flip-flop between fighting and despairing when facing death because it’s all about the surrender to the presence of Jesus. More than that, we need not focus on the process of dying as our enemy or even as our friend. What we DO need to focus on is the presence of the living Jesus with you and me…with us through every experience…with us from now and through eternity.

Brokenness…a trying but important journey!

Brokenness-3A flu bug has recently made its way through many of our friend’s lives. It seemed like every day I was hearing about another person who got affected and “infected.” Although usually, news as such inspires prayer and calls/texts of support, it also brings to mind VIVID memories of experiencing illness in my own life.

You know this to be true – everything looks a little different when you’re lying on the bathroom floor. And while I do sometimes find myself wishing I had cleaned the floor a little better, normally the things that take up a lot of my time and attention don’t even come to mind at all when I am sick. Things like unanswered emails, unplanned events, work commitments and all those daily to-dos simple fall right off the radar.

Illness has a way of boiling things down to their basics. When I’m lying on the bathroom floor, it’s just me and God in a way that is rarely true in my everyday life. And although I sometimes do ask God to help me feel better or at least calm the roiling sea in my stomach, often when I’m sick, all I can think to pray is, “Thank you thank you thank you” because there are only certain things that I can learn ONLY when I am “broken.”

No one likes pain. No one purposely goes someplace that is dangerous without first counting the potential cost. To go blindly into an inevitably painful scenario is simply naïve and stupid. Even so, believer after believer in Jesus Christ often expects pain-free living when initiating and growing into spiritual maturity and effectiveness in God’s Kingdom. Yet, we all know reality, don’t we? And when you stare squarely in the face of “reality,” the only viable conclusion that any thoughtful and honest Jesus follower can come to is that struggle and brokenness is going to be real part of the faith experience.

In fact, a man by the name of Parker Palmer once wrote, “when spiritual intimacy is developed in the heart of a sincere Christ-follower, brokenness will be the end result.”

Any denial of the actuality of the brokenness experience will only cause the hurt to entrench itself in a dysfunctional emotional underground that will eventually lead to a variety of potential behaviors. Someone once told me, “you are only as sick as your secrets”. Because of that psycho-spiritual truth, the earnest Christ-follower should pursue a path of vulnerability that leads to an honest wrestling with the dynamic of spiritual brokenness.

Truthfully, every growing disciple must wrestle with the time-honored truth that the change that occurs in the human heart only occurs when it is “mixed lavishly with pain, sorrow, and crushing.” That is what is called, ‘brokenness.” Now, there are many ways that we use the word “brokenness”. We break open bottles of wine…we break a horse…we break into a house or into a box to get to a toy. Look it up online – every definition given, and there were numerous, had to do with no longer being in “working condition”. Words like “weakened, lacking, hurt, imperfect” are woven into the fuller definition of the word. Now, as I looked at that definition, I was first tempted to get discouraged. But then it dawned on me…God wants into the heart and spirit of a disciple…and often being “broken” is the only way that that can happen.

As he worked through the process of his own brokenness, the Apostle Paul actually quotes God as He spoke to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). That is the perfect prototype for God-honoring living.

Brokenness is not a path that we can avoid in our lives. As I mentioned above, sooner or later, we all clock time on the “bathroom floor.” Now, I believed for many years that God could not and would not use a “broken tool.” It was not until I started to embrace my brokenness that I came face to face with the truth…”God’s favorite tools, those servants who are most powerfully His, are those that have been broken.”

Brokenness is where trustworthy and enduring faithfulness is forged.

As Alan Nelson remarks, “As you study different difference makers, you will find that many of them rose out of personal tragedies and overcame personal barriers such as poverty or physical or relational challenges. Tough times are necessary for the production of strong personality traits.”

The bottom line…once you take a serious and comprehensive look at the reality of what Holy Spirit can do in the midst of a broken heart and life, you will undoubtedly and consistently discover that brokenness leads to new faithfulness, new dreams, and bigger visions.

We are all a mess. Yet, spiritual truth reveals to us that we will not be the person God dreams for us to be until we look deep within ourselves, acknowledge and embrace our brokenness and humbly lay it at the feet of Jesus.

Gene Edwards states: “…many people pray for the power of God. More every year. Those prayers sound powerful, sincere, godly and with an ulterior motive. Hidden under such prayer and fervor, however, are ambition, a craving for fame, the desire to be considered a spiritual giant. The man who prays such a prayer may not even know it, but such dark motives and desires are in his heart…in your heart.”

Only when all of our personal and spiritual wounds are replaced by a new life and power in Holy Spirit can we be whole, available and useable for the Kingdom. Until we are able to allow Holy Spirit to perform a spiritual coup d’etat in our hearts, our spiritual fruitfulness and faithfulness will be deterred. Without embracing our brokenness, we will end up not obedient and worship-filled servants of the Kingdom but slaves to our passions and dysfunctions.

God uses people who are humble, teachable, and responsive. God empowers hearts that are tender and open to supernatural indwelling. Because of the depth of human sin…because of the prevailing pride that infects the human spirit…brokenness is the only means of preparing oneself for embracing all that God has in store. Brokenness is not necessarily revealed most vividly through a person’s humility…although often humility is the result of brokenness. Brokenness involves destruction. It is often the way that God allows the reality of the sinful world to work on the heart and spirit of the disciple. God does not cause suffering…but God uses suffering. Suffering is often the “school” of a growing disciple. Suffering is often necessary to accomplish all that God purposes in every person’s life…in other words, our obedience…our submission to the Lord begins at the point of our brokenness. Just as Jesus said in that garden during Holy Week, “not my will, but YOURS be done.”

There are some things that can only happen when a person understands that the only way to be the person God wants us to be is to allow suffering and the vulnerability that accompanies a disclosure of that aspect of a person’s journey to hit us full force. The only way a full heart allegiance is going to be rendered to God is for a complete and total surrender to occur. Only when a person is able to say, “I can’t” will they be able to allow the Spirit of God to heal them. Only then will the “I can’t” transform into a confident, “God can.” Only in brokenness will a disciple move beyond feelings of spiritual entitlement and consumption in order to move into true worship and authentic personal sacrifice.

In actually, brokenness is one of the many complex human experiences that is easier to recognize than to describe. If someone were to use an academic system as a paradigm for describing brokenness, one might say that it is an “upper division” class in the pursuit of Christian maturity. God seeks brokenness in the hearts and lives of His disciples (e.g. Luke 9:24ff, Romans 12:1, Psalm 51:16ff). God knows that most often the avenue to effective spiritual development comes via the pathway of brokenness. It is in brokenness that dependence upon the Lord is shaped…it is by experiencing the “stripes of pain” that we experience the depth of His healing and love!

As this devotional closes, here are some notable quotes on the power and presence of God that is released in our brokenness and humility. May the Lord bless YOU as you gaze into the depths of your soul accompanied by the healing presence of the Spirit of God.

Henri Nouwen once remarked, “The way of the Christian is not the way of upward mobility in which our world has invested so much but the way of downward mobility ending on the cross.”

David once wrote at a time of his own brokenness, “In your strength, I can crush an army; with my God, I can scale any wall” (Psalm 18:29).

“Beneath all the great accomplishments of our time, there is a deep current of despair. While efficiency and control are the great aspirations of society, the loneliness, isolation, lack of friendship and intimacy, broken relationships, boredom, feelings of emptiness and depression, and a deep sense of uselessness fill the hearts of millions of people in a success-oriented world.” Henri Nouwen

“There is nothing more whole than a broken heart.” Rabbi Manachem Medel