Suffering

suffering w: christ

… that I may know Christ and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Phil. 3:10-11, NKJV)

I’ve loved this verse since my college days… “marching orders” for how my friends and I planned to take our campus for Christ. In the midst of studying at the library and dining at the cafeteria, we would gather for worship and all night prayer vigils. We had the fervor of the gospel burning in our hearts — literally, we saw nothing as more important than telling our friends about the life adventure that awaited them if they chose to follow Christ.

The thing is, in my fervent reading, I think I focused on the “power of his resurrection”. I don’t think I dwelt long enough on “the fellowship of his sufferings.” I mean, what does it mean to be “conformed” to the death of Jesus, anyway?

Christians just finished celebrating the Easter holiday. We reflected on the awesome mystery of redemption and atonement accomplished in the cross of Christ. We tried to imagine the despair of the first disciples as they stood by helpless, watching the Son of God undergo a friend’s betrayal, a sham trial, brutal beatings, and Roman crucifixion. And we tried to identify with their hopelessness after they laid him in the tomb and rolled the stone to seal it shut. We can’t really know what it felt like, though. Or can we?

I’ve known something if helplessness and hopelessness these past few weeks.

Benjamin’s recent battle with ulcerative colitis has worn us, wearied us, beaten us down. And even though this suffering doesn’t directly stem from sin on his part, it is a result of living in a world broken because of the fall. The effects of sin surround us. We’re all affected. Each one.

B sickSo as we wade through the mire of disease and unknowing, as we ask the Lord for healing and wait for His response, we find something in common with Jesus and His followers as they experienced His death. A kind of fellowship.

Mystery. Despair. Helpless. Hopeless… but not for long.

Sunday is coming.

“He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.” 

(Matthew 28:6 NIV)

Redbuds

My redbud tree is blooming.

Redbud 1It does every year at this time. As the days grow longer, the grass greener, the wind warmer, I see magenta-pink little buds dotting the brittle gray branches. And I’m comforted by the rhythm of seasons.

The dramatic seasonal changes in Indiana have taught me much about living and dying … and coming back to life. Spring, especially, reveals that the grave is not the end.

And bare branches blooming have taught me that no matter how bleak the winter, life stirs just below the surface.

Redbud 2 The change in seasons marches with regularity, like a predictable timepiece — not enough to set a watch by, but surely enough to develop a certain level of expectation. And somehow all the players in nature follow the plan — the robins, the grass, the buds — they all follow the score like a finely-tuned orchestra poised to strike the first note.

Somehow, I’ve also come to expect that when I make plans that seem to line up with what God is doing in and around me, they should unfold predictably — like I expect them to. Evidently, God doesn’t have the same expectation.

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. (Is. 40:28)

Until recently, I assumed my plans and dreams were God’s plans and dreams for me — only that God’s were bigger and better (of course) because he has a better perspective. I didn’t think God’s plans for me would include grief and disappointment and darkness. So much winter.

Turns out, God’s plans are completely different than mine. Unsearchable, unquantifiable, unpredictable. Turns out, he’s asking me to know that he is still good even in the middle of night.

Oh redbud tree, teach me to bloom when my bark is stark and stretched from harsh winter freezes. Teach me to respond to the Son even when everything around me is fragile and dormant. And redbud tree, teach me to dance in the music of life rather than become entangled in the cords of death.

You’ve shown me life like that, redbud. You and Jesus. Yes, Jesus has shown me how to live that way, too.

Looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. (Heb. 12:2-3)

Redbud 3

Not the end

Stories to Live ByLazarus was sick. Maybe it was staying out late fishing in the rain that turned his cold to the worst. Maybe the infected cut on his hand from mending the nets had turned to gangrene, or a pounding ache in his head that won’t go away.  But now, his sisters Mary and Martha had exhausted their salves and home remedies.  They sent for Jesus.  They needed the Healer.

But Jesus didn’t show up.  It wasn’t for lack of love for Lazarus, but because he loved him.  He wanted Lazarus to experience God’s glory.

When Jesus finally made his way to Bethany, Lazarus had been dead for four days.  Mary and Martha’s grief overwhelmed them.  They both came to him with questions…

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (Luke 11:21 and 32).

Lovingly, Jesus met them in their pain. He mourned death. He wept. But Jesus knew something they didn’t know.  Jesus knew about belief so strong that it conquers death. Jesus knew about resurrection and life — real life.

At the tomb, Jesus showed them.

He told them to roll away the stone.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” (Luke 11:39-40)

…   …   …

Oh, how many times I have faced a brother’s tomb and come to Jesus with questions?

When a brother betrays his wife with years of a secret addiction; when a brother takes a joy-ride in his father’s sports car and kills his best friend in the accident; when a brother smiles, but in the end sees no option but to end his own life…

I ask, “Where were you, Jesus?  Couldn’t you have seen what was happening and stopped it?  Couldn’t you have stepped in?  You’ve healed others, why not my brother!”

Patiently he tells me roll away the stone of my doubts. Gently, he asks me to believe.  Quietly he whispers.

“I know it hurts. Remember Gethsemane? But I know how the story ends.  It’s for God’s glory. Trust me. The grave is not the end.”

empty_tomb_wide

“I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (Luke 11:25-26).

 

This, friends, is the beauty of Easter.

What a wonderful Savior.

…   …   …

boy walking photo credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

empty tomb photo credit: icr.org

Check out Institue for Creation Research for an article on the impact of the empty tomb.  It’s a great read!

Do bunnies lay eggs?

I’ve always been a little disturbed by the commercialization of Easter.  It just doesn’t make sense to me.

Easter Bunny w:eggsDying chicken eggs, hiding them, only to hunt for them later in the day?  A big rabbit hopping into my bedroom at night leaving a basket full of candy and toys?

Really?

What is it really about, anyway?

It’s about the brokenness at the cross.  It’s about new life.  It’s about the way God lavished his grace on each of us through Jesus.

If that’s news to you, I’d like to show you a video.  It’s God’s invitation to a relationship with him… extended to you.

So what’d you think?  No bunnies.  No eggs or candy.  Just life the way it’s intended to be. Want some?

 

photo credit: © Frenc | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

video credit:  ©2013 Cru #FallingPlates Used by Permission