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Archive for the ‘Mystery’ Category

Some thoughts about Easter after a day to reflect on the message of Jesus’ resurrection in the gospels:

Matthew 28 is almost, but not quite the shortest chapter in the whole gospel of Matthew.  I realize that the chapter divisions were not part of the original writings of Matthew and were added over a thousand years later.  But to see it put so starkly with chapter divisions is amazing.

The reason I think it is stark is because we can look and see all the verses Matthew devotes to telling the story of Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, trial, execution and burial.  75 verses of Matthew 26 and 66 verses of Matthew 27 detail all of those horrible events.  Yet only 15 verses tell the most amazing part of the story, Jesus’ resurrection.

Matthew’s account forces our minds to focus on the simplicity of the truth.  It’s the Joe Friday version of the Resurrection.  Just the facts, please.

And what a set of facts they are!  Just before dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary get up to “go look at the tomb.”  On their way an earthquake happens.  The ground shakes just as it did in the afternoon on Friday when Jesus died.  This earthquake signals the completely opposite story, Jesus is alive.

The earthquake is brought by an angel rolling the stone away from Jesus’ tomb and then casually sitting on it.  Yet there are guards posted around this tomb.  They are supposed to be keeping the tomb from being opened and Jesus body disappearing.  But they cannot prevent the tomb from being opened by the angel.

In fact when the angel appears the guards get frightened out of their wits and fall over as if they are dead men.  They faint completely away.  Nothing has prepared these battle-hardened and courageous soldiers for what they are seeing.  The scene Matthew paints is that they are at their posts with their weapons ready only passed out in fear.

The women come upon this scene, see the guards down and the tomb opened and no doubt think someone has attacked the guards, opened the tomb and stolen Jesus’ body.  Then they hear the good words of the angel telling them to not be afraid, He is risen just as He said he would rise.  Hurry, go tell His disciples of all this news.

And they run off.  But to make sure they have the story right because things could be kind of confusing, after all how can a dead man live, they run into Jesus who says Hello, Greetings.  They fall at His feet and worship Him.  They are convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that He is alive!  They have met the Risen Lord!

Now the guards get back into the picture.  They come to, get up and some of them head for the city to report everything that has happened.  They know the facts of what happened and they report them to the chief priests and rulers of the people.  Those leaders do not like this set of facts and invent a story to explain why Jesus’ body is no longer in the grave.

That story requires people to believe some incredible things happened.  First, that the guards fell asleep.  Any Roman soldier falling asleep on their post or failing to carry out their assignment would be punished by death.  No Roman soldier is going to willingly spread the story that he slept on duty unless he wanted to die.

Second, the guards didn’t just fall asleep but they slept so hard that the disciples could move a two-ton rock without waking them up.  The rock moves without any noise being made to disturb the guards’ sleep.  No noise from the disciples, no crunching of the ground and pebbles as the rock moves.  Right.

Third, the guards are supposed to have slept right through the earthquake.  Everyone in the city had to have known about it.  You can’t hide an earthquake that is strong enough to move a huge rock.  The ground is going to shake; people are going to wake up.  But yet these guards were so sound asleep they missed the earth shaking?

Fourth, into all of this sleeping by the guards, the disciples just got lucky.  They found everyone asleep, they moved the stone away without a bit of noise and they got Jesus’ dead weight out of the tomb without making any noise to wake up the guards.  At night, in the pitch darkness no less as the moon begins to set behind

Jerusalem.  What an amazing coincidence that the disciples just happened to be there at the right time to get Jesus’ body out of the grave.  How lucky can you get?Matthew is just giving us the facts.  Facts that show us the truth that Jesus is alive.  He was seen by the women running back into the city.  The guards saw the angel move the stone and open the tomb as casually as if he had been rearranging his living room furniture.  The story is made up by the rulers that has no grounding in reality but is incredibly hopeful in its deception.  If the small lie doesn’t work, go for the big one, right?

It is just the facts.  We can believe that Jesus rose from dead.  The facts are there from those who were present at the time to report the news.  Even those who didn’t like the news understood the story and needed to find a way to spin it to their liking and hopefully keep everyone on the same page.

Believe it!  He Is Risen!  He is Risen Indeed!

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He is Risen indeed!

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He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree,

that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.

By His wounds you have been healed.

1 Peter 2:24

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As they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said,
“Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me, one who is eating with Me.”

Mark 14:18

So after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out.
And it was night.

John 13:30

And as they were eating, He took bread,
and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them and said,
“Take, this is My body.”
And He took a cup,
and when He had given thanks He gave it to them,
and they all drank of it.
And He said to them,
“This is my blood of the covenant,
which is poured out for many.
Truly, I say to you,
I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine
until that day when I drink it new
in the kingdom of God.

Mark 14:22-25

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Somewhere in my lifetime, something was lost in Christian worship.  It is hard to put one’s finger on it and say “Aha!  That’s it!”  But it seems to be something that is fundamentally at the center of what worship is for Christians.

Among North American evangelicals an ethos has developed which seems to say that worship is supposed to entertain the people so they will come back for more.  We are trying to fill needs that would otherwise be filled by listening to talk radio, going to concerts, movies, theater, or even the local pub for conversation.

We tell ourselves that we need to have top-flight preachers who can hold people’s attention.  People whose words effect life-change in those who listen to them.  We prefer a band whose music and singing is pitch perfect, whose stage presence and ability to understand audience response causes our emotions to well up inside our hearts.  We want drama that is just as good as anything on the stage or silver screen.  We’re interested in actors and writers who can convey the whole range of human experience to us as if we had never seen it before.

One of the newest things in the North American evangelical experience of worship is to promote conversational teaching experiences as well as intimacy in worship.  We don’t want to be preached at anymore, we want someone to talk to us.  In some places, the message is even deleted from the service in favor of an open dialogue with the congregation, a back and forth conversation about a particular topic.

To be sure this promotes a relational feel to the service.  It helps us to feel connected to the person who is leading the teaching and creates an intimate atmosphere.  Intimacy is further promoted and developed by turning the lights down.  Some have said this makes people feel more spiritual.  I’ve heard others say it helps men to feel more comfortable.  Still others have said it gets people to lose their inhibitions about singing or raising their arms in public.

I wonder if these are the right motivations for God’s people to have when they assemble for worship.  I even question if these are the right motivations we should have when looking for ministry leaders or setting the vision for our church ministry.  I question that because they seem to be centered around us and not God.

I think this is what has been lost and is quite possibly the reason for the growing shallowness of the evangelical church in

North America.  The numbers may be great, but we haven’t led them to any place that is better than what they couldn’t find elsewhere.  We spend great amounts of time in church talking about God, but somehow we fail to introduce people to Him.The mystery and awe of meeting God is gone.

We no longer see Him high and lifted up on His throne with the smoke filling the Temple as Isaiah saw Him because we’re too busy making things run right so the people are entertained and will come back next week to hear the message and support our ministry.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the one-size-fits-all solution for this situation.  I do know that God longs to meet His people in worship.  Jesus Christ didn’t come to earth and live as a human being to entertain the crowds with His teaching or His miracles.  He came to introduce us to the Father by announcing the nearness of the kingdom of God on earth.  When we worship, we should know we are in God’s presence.  Through His death and resurrection, Jesus Christ opened the doors of heaven for us to enter the throne room of God.

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Why am I adding to nearly infinite numbers of blogs out there?  Haven’t we had enough?  Isn’t it time to surrender?  Doesn’t the Bible say something about the making of many books which has no end?  Yes, Solomon wrote that in Ecclesiastes 12:12.  Doesn’t it also say that where there are many words transgression is nearby as well as a command to keep words to a minimum because a fool’s voice comes with many words?  Yes it does, those are found in Proverbs 10:19 and Ecclesiastes 5:3.

Yes the Bible says all those things and whether or not we’ve had enough remains to be seen.  So hopefully I will restrain myself and keep the foolish words to minimum.

I’m starting this blog to help me sort through the issues of what it means to be a part of God’s people in the 21st century.  I wish the title rhymed better than it does but it hit me like a flash and stuck.  The words came to me one night as I stared at the ceiling pondering some things that I thought were missing and disconnected between God, my life and how I respond to God.

First, we all have a background story that helps determine where we’re coming from and the shape of our lives.  This is true for us as individuals and as corporate entities like big business or the Church.  Yet our society tends to leave the past in the dust.  Maybe it’s just me, the history buff and college history major, but the old axiom seems quite true, “those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it.”  Thus the past includes the present as it shapes what we observe in the events of the world around us.  I’m hoping to explore some of that personal and corporate history in the Church as part of this blog.  This is History.

Second, we live in a world that increasingly calls itself post-modern, presuming that we have moved beyond the modern world.  In fact, I think the case could be made that we are living in modernity 2.0.  Whereas modernity was marked by a search for logical, linear, and rationalistic answers to life’s questions, post modernism claims to have moved beyond that search to claim there are no logical, linear or rational answers to life’s questions.  Both seem to appeal to a mindset that appeals to absolutes grounded in human thinking.

Would it not be better to adopt some humility and admit that absolutes are best grounded in God who is both knowable and unknowable by our finite minds?  He is knowable to the extent that He has revealed Himself.  He is unknowable in that we cannot fathom His fullness with our finiteness.  There is always more to God than what we can see.  This is Mystery.  I’m hoping to use this blog to explore what it would means to seek God in all of His transcendent mystery.

Finally, knowing God, even in part, requires some kind of response from us.  We were meant to know God not just intellectually or rationally, but in three-dimensions.  The case could even be made that we were meant to know God in five dimensions, the basic three of this physical universe, plus the dimensions of time and spirit.  Responding to God in those five dimensions of life could reasonably be called worship.  Worship has many dimensions as well, most obviously what happens in church on Sundays.  This is Liturgy.  I hope this blog will be a place to learn from a wide-range of worship traditions that would help us all become better worshippers of the one true God every day of the week.

It’s called History, Mystery, Liturgy.  I invite you to join me on this journey and I pray God will get the glory for this conversation.

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