Easter’s Resurrection Experience…

Today was my last Easter celebration as a college student. Well, at least as an undergrad. When I think back to my first Easter Sunday here in Eugene, I recall skipping both services of church and even the Easter celebration at CCF (Collegiate Christian Fellowship). Why? I missed church in the morning because I wanted to sleep in and I missed CCF because I had some homework to catch up on. For whatever reason, I just didn’t feel like partaking in the festivities this day brings. It took me five years to finally take seasons like Easter’s seriously.

Danny’s message this morning was a quick summary of Jesus’ narrative, more specifically the passion. Taking bits and pieces from each of the Gospels, we tracked from Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane to the empty tomb and Jesus’ appearances to the disciples. The main thing Danny wanted to highlight was what the news of Jesus’ resurrection meant for the disciples. It wasn’t a mere “Oh, glad you’re okay” type of mentality; it was something much more. There was a message delivered to the disciples beyond the basic news of the empty tomb.

Mark’s Gospel is probably my favorite gospel for tracking the story of Jesus. It’s simple and to the point. Its original ending, verse 8 in chapter 16, cuts off at the empty tomb and the women being told to inform the disciples, but ultimately running away in fear. Such an abrupt ending to the gospel, though, might make some feel uneasy. And thus we stumble upon the rhetorical value of Mark’s account; its short ending was meant to cause a stir amongst the early readers.

It was meant to cause the reader to reconsider the story leading up to this point of resurrection. What the news of Jesus’ resurrection did for the disciples was very similar; it caused them to reconsider all the teachings He had given – especially the predictions about rising on the third day. As Danny said this morning, the disciples experienced a resurrection of their own on Easter Sunday: The religious systems they had grown up with were killed on Friday and raised to life in a completely knew understanding – a new faith.

On my way home, I considered what it really means to have a resurrection experience. N.T. Wright discusses this very issue and, drawing from Romans 6, says that our souls experience this death and resurrection in the act of baptism. Our old ways of understanding how the world works and how God works were killed in going under the water and we were given a completely new life – not a mere refurbishing of the old – in Jesus Christ. In many ways, I think our experiences with Jesus’ resurrection ought to be like those of the disciples; a complete alteration of everything familiar.

What I’ve been trying to do throughout this weekend is power through Luke’s Gospel and do so in way that I’d feel, as best as possible, the severity of the situation. I wanted to feel the pain, confusion, and pure anxiety of the disciples in the wake of Jesus’ death. I wanted to wrestle with the day in between where I’d be in limbo with wanting to return to my old life but having an overwhelming compulsion to live something new – based off my experiences with Jesus. And I wanted to experience the confusing and bewildering joy of hearing about the empty tomb on Easter Sunday. Instead of my freshman-year Easter experience, I wanted to milk this one for all it was worth. When it was all said and done, I came back to Starbucks, plunged through the rest of Luke, and came across a simple verse that I think encapsulates Easter weekend and what it is meant to do.

“Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation,” – Luke 22:46.

In the hour I first truly saw what it meant to be a follower of Christ, it was a spiritual awakening. Here Jesus was rebuking His disciples for literally falling asleep, but in light of Danny’s message this morning, I felt the spiritual implications. As N.T. Wright says in Surprised By Hope (discussing Paul’s understanding of the resurrection), “It’s time to wake up,” (248).

But haven’t you already had this spiritual awakening, this resurrection of the soul? Haven’t you already felt the powerful revelation of God? I would answer “Yes” to those questions, but with one clarification: Just because I’ve experienced a spiritual resurrection doesn’t mean that I’ll always be awake for time immemorial. As even Jesus’ disciples struggled, strained, and stumbled in the wake of His resurrection, so we also are prone to slide into a comfortable form of Christianity that demands little from us and yet gives us all the reassuring about living forever that we could need. “You’ve been saved; there’s not much more than that,” is the message we might here. And yet the Scriptures indicate otherwise; in fact, Jesus indicates otherwise.

In His foretelling of future trials and tribulations for His disciples, Jesus says, “By your endurance you will gain your lives,” – Luke 21:19. Or as Matthew says, “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved,” – 10:22. So then this race of salvation doesn’t just stop with the believing; it continues on until we can run no more, until we pass from this world to the next. It doesn’t matter how fast or slow we run, but rather that we run and complete it.

If you, like me, were moved by your pastor’s message this Easter Sunday, that’s great. But we would do these messages injustice if we were only to apply them on Easter Sunday and no other day. N.T. Wright suggests that we ought to strain to live like Easter people – people of the resurrection, people of the very kingdom of God.
If Jesus’ teaching in Luke 8 about the word of God taking root is any indication of what our lives are supposed to be like, then perhaps we ought to pray that we are the good soil – fertile enough to be fruitful for a lifetime.

Happy Easter and God bless!

“Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here.” – Mark 16:6

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Additions to New Life List…

As I said last year around this time, I don’t like the theme of New Year’s resolutions; merely with the word “year” they suddenly seem limited to just one year. Any thing that I find needing some kind of change ought not to be just for one year; it ought to be a lifetime change. Since we have a new Life in Christ, we must make all necessary adjustments and changes in an effort to live that new Life in a more Christ-like fashion.

So instead of making a New Year’s resolution list, I’ve made a small list of things I’m adding to my New Life resolution. I’ve mentioned a couple of them in other posts, but I feel it necessary to add them to my list merely because they were major challenges in 2010. The others are somewhat new, but honestly they were things I’ve had at the back of my mind for some time. Anyhow, here they are:

1.       Quit Facebook

If you’ve read my last post, you’ve already got a good idea of how I feel about my relationship with Facebook. It has just gotten to a point where it’s too time-consuming, too impersonal, and too addicting. There have been days where if I didn’t tell the world about the most recent thing that had happened to me, I’d freak out. Okay, it wasn’t that bad, but I did have this seemingly-constant awareness of my “status” or what a future “status” might be. It just got annoying. My sabbatical from Facebook might not be completely permanent, but it’ll be for a long while nonetheless.

My challenge, though, won’t be how well I quit Facebook now, but rather when I’m bored. It’s easy to quit anything for a day or two or maybe even three. But when life starts slowing down and you find yourself in a moment of boredom or laziness, it’s really tough to continue to quit. So hopefully I’ll be able to remain disconnected from Facebook in my moments of boredom.

2.       Get A+s in all my classes

A very recent idea came to mind just earlier today; Western Seminary in Portland. This might seem like a bit of a surprise and if you’ve read my posts about law school possibilities, you might be rolling your eyes thinking, “Oh boy, here he goes again,” but I honestly believe this is something different. In my short time as a Christian, I’ve loved reading Scripture. And in my college career, I’ve loved learning new ways to look at Scripture and evaluate the text that is actually there rather than what others have said is there. A blog I’ve been following, Near Emmaus, has had interesting posts about Christian thought and how we approach Scripture. One post in particular got me so interested in the comparison between Mark’s gospel and John’s gospel that I’ve begun studying through them both with an Oxford commentary in hand. I’m such a nerd.

This is also the blog that basically sparked the idea in my mind. I know at least two of the bloggers are studying at seminaries in Oregon (one at George Fox and another at Western), which made me consider what seminary would like for me. If you know me and my thoughts about systematic theology, you probably know I have a few disagreements with it and you might be wondering why I’d consider seminary. But that’s just it; although I’m primarily against the need for systematic theology, studying it stirs my mind in a God-centered fashion. Even though I disagree with several doctrines, reading and studying through them has created a thirst for God in an intellectual manner; a thirst that I doubt any secular university could quench.

The only problem I face, though, is getting accepted. My GPA isn’t the greatest right now (2.75) and the only way I could get it back up to a 3.0 is if I get A+s for the next three terms in at least three classes each term. I’m not even kidding; it’s A+s across the board or no seminary for Jeremy. I’ve done the math several times over and if I go two terms of 16 credits each with A+s across the board, I still only boost my GPA to 2.99. It’s 36 perfect credits or bust.

3.      Talk with People; don’t just text or email

Part of the reason why I’ve quit Facebook is because it was too impersonal. In a like manner, so also is texting or emailing someone I could call just as easily. Like I said last time, you can call me old school, but I think it’s far better for humans to learn or remember or relearn how to interact with other humans apart from the social networks and text messages. And let’s be honest; it’s so much harder to convey tone of voice in a text, email or Facebook post than it is in actual conversation.

Even beyond how impersonal the social mediums can make me; I’m not very outgoing to start with. Making myself call the people I want to talk to instead of texting them will get me comfortable in actually talking out loud (instead of writing out my words). Also, on one level, I feel that sending a text message or a message of text to someone rather than calling them up is in a way cheating; you’re enabling yourself to edit what you want to say before you “say” it. Communicating with others through texts, wall posts, or anything non-oral takes away the spontaneous nature of human conversation. I’ve definitely missed out on that in 2010.

4.      Get a passport

It wouldn’t hurt. Besides, who knows what’s going to happen in 2011; I may need to go to a distant country for some odd reason. It’d be handy to have a passport which would enable me to travel.

So that’s my list. There aren’t very many things, I know, but they’re tough ones to change, especially beyond this incoming year. But like the marathon runner who makes small tweaks and adjustments to his running form during the race, I must make these tweaks to keep running hard. It might be uncomfortable at first, but by the end of it all, when we cross that finish line and see Jesus face to face, I think it’ll be more than worth it.

God bless y’all and have a happy new year!

Here’s to Moving On…

This weekend has been good. I’ve hung out with some old friends from high school, I’ve enjoyed the familiar coastal weather, and I’ve spent time with my grandpa, someone who greatly appreciates the company. One thing that I know is looming over me, though, is the fact that I’m leaving tomorrow. Both my ride and I have somewhere to be tomorrow evening, so I don’t have much of an option. Part of me is okay with this, but part of me isn’t. Part of me sees the freedom that Eugene provides and it’s something I want to get back to. But the other part of me sees a man who has done so much for me in my life who’ll spend tomorrow night alone.

It’s hard every time I leave here because I just see my grandpa sitting in his chair watching TV with no one right there with him to talk to. He calls plenty of people and talks enough for five radio hosts, but he still lives alone. There’s something about the physical presence of another human being that intrinsically provides comfort and peace. You may not notice it or how to define it, but it’s there. It’s something I’ve longed for in the permanent sense, something that I believe a wife would provide just by being there, but it’s something that doesn’t need marriage to exist. It’s there between two friends, two brothers, two sisters, a daughter and mother, and between a father and son. And though he’s technically my grandfather, he’s filled the role of a father. He’s been the dad that I never had just like I and my brother have been the sons he never had. To know what he’s done for me, how much he loves me and how alone he usually is, it just breaks me.

Sometimes I hate being in Eugene because I’m not here in Lincoln City to be with my grandpa, to talk about baseball or about how we don’t want either Boston or LA to win the NBA championship or about the random game shows he watches that are older than me by two whole generations. And just the other night, we talked about the life my brother and I were forced to go through and how though it sucked and was very painful, we’ve still come out stronger because of it. What I should have said, but didn’t, was how much he contributed to make sure my brother and I had a fighting chance in this world. I wanted to tell him there hasn’t been a day where I wasn’t thankful, wasn’t grateful for who he is and what he’s done. I wanted to tell him that I wouldn’t be the man I am now if he hadn’t done all that he has. Why didn’t I? Why, when I had the prime opportunity, didn’t I tell him how much I’ve appreciated him? I can’t tell you because I don’t know. I just know that I nodded in agreement to what he said, as I usually do, and went about my day.

The only reason why I’ve been thinking about all these things is because I can see my life going in a direction away from him. I see myself growing further and farther from him and when I consider all that he has done, I’m broken. I think I have finally felt how hard it is to not look back when stepping forward to follow God. Every time I’ve read that verse in Luke where Jesus talks about not looking back (9:62), I always thought I understood what He meant by it. I always thought that I was fully aware of how hard it all is, but this weekend has taught me otherwise.

Coming back to Lincoln City with a lot of the familiar things and the wonder of the things that have changed brings about a longing for the past. I know that there probably is something in all our lives that creates yearning for the “good ole days” and the way things used to be. And I don’t want to say that it’s wrong to be nostalgic about certain things, but I do think it isn’t wise. I do think that we only create more problems for ourselves when we try to recreate the memories we have and still move forward with Jesus.

It seems to me that He’s more concerned with making newer memories with new people, new relationships, new settings, and the new life that He has given us. He doesn’t want us to think or believe that the old is now bad, but rather He wants us to move on into the life He’s prepared for us. And as I’m finding out this weekend, it’s tough. It’s tough to let everything go, to trust that God will take care of the people we’ve loved from our past, and sometimes to believe that He’s got something better in our futures. But I think what has been pushing me forward these last few weeks and especially this weekend is the memory of the past pain I’ve suffered. The loneliness I felt at night when I’d come home from school or work or practice. The depression I felt before I truly started to trust in God. Or even the past friendships and relationships that broke my heart. With as much as we want to believe that the “good ole days” are the most desirable days for our future, the harsh reality is that they are never as glamorous as we make them out to be. They’re incredibly bittersweet.

And this isn’t to say that our future is full of bliss and happiness, because certainly there will be painful moments, possibly more painful than anything we’ve gone through up to this point. But unlike the past, the future is where hope resides. You cannot change the past, no matter how much you want to. But you can take what you’ve learned from the past and fight to make a better future. These are all things that I’ve already known, but I think this weekend with all the memories has made it all sink in a little deeper.

My grandpa is still alive and kicking and probably will be (I hope) for some time to come. While he’s alive it wouldn’t be right for me to completely disconnect and move on. But I think it’d be worse for me to grip tighter to the life I’ve had with him and neglect the life that God has planned for me. Yesterday is desirable because it’s familiar and comfortable. Tomorrow is fearful because it isn’t. One thing that is, though, is God. I read through a chapter of Proverbs this morning and one verse that is familiar to many people, but contains a truth that must never be forgotten is 16:9; “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” No matter how fearful tomorrow is, if we’re reacting to our hearts’ passions, God is there with us, guiding and leading us through the lives He’s planned, through the novels He’s written for us. We would mess it all up if we chose to cling to the last page or the page we loved the best. We wouldn’t let Him write better ones.

2009–>2010…

Several weeks ago, I wrote a blog about my last year’s list of twenty-two things I hoped to do throughout the year. In the blog I explained that I didn’t like to call it a New Year’s resolution because I feel it would limit everything that I’d aspire to do down to one year. But although I don’t like calling it a New Year’s resolution, I do think New Year’s Day is a good day to take stock of what you excelled in and what you failed at throughout the previous year. It’s good to evaluate our strengths and weaknesses at the end of each year and the beginning of the next in order to improve our livelihoods. One thing I think should be adjusted to the concept of New Year’s resolutions, though, is the whole “New Year” part. Instead of building a list for this next year and hoping I stick to it between January and December, I think it’s probably best to construct a New Life Resolution.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come,” (5:17). And although I believe the promise is true, that we’ve been given new lives, I think it’s the hardest thing to live up to. 2009 has taught me that living in accordance to Jesus’ ways is impossible on my own. Perhaps one day after I’ve died I’ll be made complete, but until that day comes, I will always have some taint of the flesh living within me. There will always be a part of me that wants to sin, that wants to do wrong, and that wants to rebel against God. What good does this new life do if there is always that sin living within me? Well, it has granted us the ability to do something we could have never done apart from Christ: fight.

I think it’s my biggest tendency as a Christian to lose sight of the spiritual war. I get thrown off track with the simplest distractions such as TV, internet, or just daily life. And in those moments of distraction, temptations often emerge. It is much easier to withstand those temptations, to resist them, when I’m living in pursuit of God’s ways. This was a hard learned lesson this past year. Time and time again I found myself conducting the same sinful habits of lust, holding grudges, casting judgment, and placing myself above others. The root issue was not being caught off guard, being tricked by the Devil, or anything provoked by accident. Every single time I sinned was because I chose to sin. But as 2009 fades and 2010 dawns, I realize I still have that ability to fight.

No matter how many times I’ve sinned, no matter how many times I’ve dropped the ball, and no matter how many times I’ve fallen short, Christ is still there to pick me back up. This means He’s still hoping I continue to fight. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul asks him to “share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus,” (2:3). Unlike my human nature, a soldier is asked to fight even when he or she doesn’t want to. When the battle heats up and things get deadly, my human nature compels me to flee. But a soldier stays, a soldier endures, a soldier fights. When he doesn’t feel like it, when he isn’t in the right mood, when he’s been having a rough week, when people have been irritating him, a soldier continues to press on. If there is one thing I’d like to add to the list of my New Life resolution, it’d be to fight regardless of how I feel.

When I consider all the things I love in this world, all the things I care most about, they’re things that I have to work hard and struggle for: good grades, healthy friendships, good health, jobs, etc. I’m sure there’ll be others that I come across as life goes on, like a healthy relationship with my spouse, but these are the ones I’ve known. And these all are assuming freedom that has been fought for by others. It seems that even though I care about having a Godly reputation, upholding Jesus’ moral purity, I still disregard it as something I need to fight for. I know there’s a spiritual war, I know I’m supposed to fight, but with the way I’ve lived my life, it seems as though I don’t care at all. When the bullets come whizzing by my head, it seems like I care only about ducking down behind my sandbag. But no battle can be won if no one fights.

I cannot sit here and say that 2010 will be much better than 2009 because I don’t know what’s going to happen. But I can say that I desire, more than anything, to fight. Even if I fall a hundred more times than I did this past year, I’d be happy knowing I fought harder. I’d be happy knowing the wounds I acquire did not come from sitting behind my safe firewall but rather from charging back against the temptations and trials. There is a quote from Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers that I think is my favorite quote. King Théoden was so overwrought with shock that his kingdom was falling to their enemy that he asked Aragorn, “What can men do against such reckless hate?” Aragorn’s reply, “Ride out and meet them.” I cannot think of a better way to approach this new year; not with timidity, not with shame, not with fear, not with any kind of anxiety, but rather with the hope of overcoming evil with good.

Happy New Year.