Monday, September 30, 2013

"The Great Story - The Exodus and the Deliverer"

Preached on Sunday, September 19, 2013

Scripture readings: Exodus 3:1-15 & 4:10-16; Exodus 12:1-13

June 2013: Bee Balm in My Yard
Surely everyone here has heard this saying, “You can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy.” I didn’t move to the country till I was twelve but, by the time I was in college and being evaluated for the ministry, the psychologist who completed my evaluation wrote, “Dennis is something of a country bumpkin.”
I think the saying is a good one, but there are things that we really need to get taken out of us. Parents know this about their children, as well as the importance of putting certain things in. And there are places and circumstances that we need to be taken out of.
One word for this is “deliverance”. The Bible has lots and lots of different words to describe the action of deliverance: salvation, redemption, rescue, ransom, healing, forgiveness, grace, and more. The great story of the Bible is a story of deliverance almost from the beginning.
God turned the story of the creation into the story of deliverance from the very moment when human ambition took our very nature as humans and our whole world in the wrong direction. Deliverance is the story of God taking us back and retracing our steps from the wrong direction to the right.
God gave Moses the basic plan that goes all through the story of the Bible: “I have come down to rescue them.” (Exodus 3:8) This is the heart of the whole story from the Exodus, to the Gospels, to the Book of Revelation. God came into our world in Jesus, so that he could say this in the most radical and complete way possible: “I have come down to rescue them.”
God’s story of deliverance is the story of how he will take the ruin of the old creation and make a whole new creation in its place. He will take our own ruins and make us into new creations as well.
What has gone wrong with us, and with the world, affects everything, and so the story of God’s deliverance is huge, and it has to work on many levels. It is a plan that will take everything into account; the universe and each one of us.
Deliverance began on the level of an individual and his family (as their lives were changed by grace and faith). These people were Abraham, and Sarah, and the rest of their family. Eventually the family grew into a tribe. The plan was for the tribe to grow into a nation, and for the nation to become a kingdom based on grace and faith.
At first it became the kingdom of Israel, but the plan has always been for the kingdom of Israel to reach out to all people and become the kingdom of God.
The king of the kingdom of God is God, himself, in Jesus, and that kingdom is a living thing, built upon the work of God, coming down to rescue us from our slavery to sin and death, and leading us to a promised land through the cross and the resurrection.
The kingdom of the cross and the resurrection is the grace of God taking the form of deliverance that makes our faith possible. Faith in who God is and what God has done (and will do) is what opens our lives to the deliverance that he has provided. It is by faith that we die to ourselves and live a new life as a gift from God every day.
In the Book of Exodus we see the story of deliverance working on more than one level. One level is simply God working through geography, taking his people on a journey across many miles from point “A” to point “B”; from Egypt to Canaan.
On the most visible level God used Moses to lead his people out of the land where they were slaves for generations. God used Moses to lead his people on a journey of many miles to a place where they would no longer be under the power of their former owners. They would be able to live as free people in the land that God promised to Abraham and his family.
The biggest problem with this is that the people of Israel really didn’t want to go. They were not only owned by the Egyptians. They were owned by a state of mind, or a state of heart and spirit. They were owned by a cycle of dependence, fear, and blame. They were owned by not knowing how to be free and how to take responsibility for themselves under God’s care.
As slaves, they had a kind of freedom in their not having to plan for themselves, or to take risks. So they had the freedom of not needing to live by faith. Since they were slaves, their owners owed it to them to take care of them. Since everything they got in life was owed to them, they also had the freedom of not needing to be thankful. This is a terrible freedom.
As slaves they were owned by a cycle of dependence and expectations. Until they learned how to be free, their lives would play out as a continual crisis of fear and blame.
In the story of the Exodus God’s people were always afraid, and always complaining, and always blaming Moses and God himself. In this story there seems to be a problem that goes like this: “You can take God’s people out of slavery, but how can you take the slavery out of God’s people?”
As free people they would need to live by faith and gratitude, instead of living by fear and blame. Deliverance, in this case, required another kind of journey; a much longer and harder journey.
This is the journey we all have to travel. In some ways it is simply the journey of growing up. It is the journey that everyone must take if we want to be truly mature. It is surely the journey we all must take in order to stop being a burden and a source of frustration to others, and to become a blessing to others.
Faith and gratitude, as opposed to fear and blame, are the only way to live. They are the best form of freedom.
The best way to learn faith and gratitude comes from the faithfulness of God in Christ. This faith and gratitude are empowered by the work of the Holy Spirit that makes us new creations through the cross and the resurrection.
There is another story of deliverance, on a personal, individual level, in the life of Moses. Moses was the son of Hebrew slaves, who was found by an Egyptian princess, and raised as a prince in Pharaoh’s palace.
As an Egyptian prince, Moses would have studied all the fields of knowledge possessed by the Egyptians. He would learn about their philosophy, and literature, and engineering, and religion. He would be trained as fighter, a warrior, and a military commander. He would understand the principles of Egyptian government, and know how to exercise authority.
Moses also knew that he was not an Egyptian. He knew he was the son of Hebrew slaves. He never entirely lost his connection to his birth family. He knew the story of his people and what the Egyptians has done to them. He grew more and more concerned about them and he wanted to do them good.
Trained, as he was, to lead armies, Moses knew how to kill and he knew how to lead, so he killed an Egyptian slave driver who was beating a Hebrew slave. This triggered a sudden decision to change his course in life. Moses thought it was time for him to start leading his people.
But he was premature. His crime was reported. He had to escape. He became a renegade, a refugee, and a shepherd in the desert. Moses began his life as a success story (if it is possible to be a success without having done anything) and he became a failure. He became a wasted opportunity.
When God called Moses from the burning bush, Moses was a different kind of slave. Moses was accustomed to power and success, but he had misused his talents and his potential, and he had become a slave to self doubt.
Moses needed his own journey of deliverance. He didn’t need a journey from self-doubt to self-confidence. He needed a journey from self-doubt to faith in the undeserved grace of the power and the ability of God. He needed faith in the faithfulness of God. He needed to know that no failure on our part can disqualify us from the calling of God.
I don’t think that Moses, as a leader of his people, used very much of his Egyptian training. There is no name for what Moses became. He became the servant of God and he became a prophet. (Deuteronomy 34:5-12) There is no job description for such work and you can’t train for it, although you can grow in it; and Moses grew.
A servant is ready to do whatever his master says to do. A prophet has no job description either. The word prophet means nothing more that to tell others whatever God has told you, and to show to others whatever God has shown you.
Moses claimed to be excused from God’s calling on the grounds of inability and disqualification. Moses asked, “Who am I?” (Exodus 3:11) For one thing, Moses said he couldn’t speak. God told Moses that mouths and the words to say were God’s own gifts. God would give Moses what to say and the ability to say it the way God wanted it. Moses had his own journey of faith and gratitude to take; his own journey of deliverance.
Moses had begun and failed at his first attempt at leadership, because it had been based on his idea of what his upbringing deserved, and what others owed him. Directly, Moses had killed the slave driver, so the Hebrew slaves owed him their loyalty.
In the future, Moses would have to learn not to be a leader who was owed something. He would have to learn to be a servant. God would lead his own people through the servanthood of Moses. The role and the job of Moses were grace-given, and they were God’s grace itself.
All our jobs and callings and roles in life are grace. We do not deserve them. Freedom comes from knowing this. Deliverance comes from knowing this.
Deliverance, in the story of the Exodus will be the story of how God delivered his people from slavery, from injustice and oppression, from disappointment and failure, from wasted potential, from hunger and thirst. God loves deliverance and it is his passion, on every level. It is why, in the end, God will say, “Behold I make all things new.” (Revelations 21:5)
It is part of our journey to have a passion for the deliverance of other people in all its many forms. It is our job to pray for and work for the deliverance of other people in any form where it is needed.
We need to say that understanding God’s passion for deliverance helps us to understand the plagues of Egypt. There are many things we can learn about these disasters that came upon Egypt as a way of getting the Egyptians to let God’s people go. The most important point is that God simply cares about delivering people from all bad and enslaving things.
The first plague was when God turned the Nile River to blood. In this plague, no one was hurt and no one died. It was a terrifying inconvenience. There was no punishment in it at all. It was nothing more than a warning. But it was a serious warning, because God cares about the deliverance and salvation of people.
It is a dangerous thing to stand in the way of the love of God. God will not allow his most important work and his deepest desires to be postponed forever. To stand in the way of the deliverance of others is, in some way, deadly.
If someone wants to change, and you make change hard for them, you are hardening your own heart. You are creating something monstrous within yourself. There are families that select their members for different tasks as if to say, “You will be our ne’er-do-well. You will be our good boy or girl. You will be our clown. You will be our dummy.” This is a kind of enslavement. There are teachers who will pigeonhole a student and keep them down. Bullies are always on the lookout for rebels in order to nip in the bud any threat to their status. The alcoholic friends of alcoholics who want to get sober put all kinds of guilt and obstacles in their way.
Those who want to prevent deliverance in others may seem to succeed, but the consequences are always deadly to themselves. They enslave themselves in their own little imitations of hell. They have seen the good thing that the God of love wants, and they have rejected it and, in doing so, they have rejected God.
The oddest thing in the world is that the Hebrew slaves also rejected their own deliverance. They resisted Moses every step of the way.
In the final plague, when the Angel of Death was going to visit every home in Egypt and claim the life of every first born, even the Hebrew slaves had to be protected. They were just as guilty, in their resistance of God, as the Egyptians were and they needed to know that it is a dangerous thing to stand in the way of the deliverance of God.
The only protection from the Angel of Death was for a lamb to be sacrificed for every one, in every home, and the blood of that lamb had to be put as a mark on the door-frame, and the lamb had to be eaten in that home. The blood of the lamb and the meal of the lamb stood for the sacrifice that was made for their deliverance from sin.
June 2013: Pictures from the Vicinity of Hooper, WA
The most important deliverance is our deliverance from sin. It is often the hardest deliverance to face and to accept. I may be perfectly convinced of my own sins until you try to point them out to me.
The mark of the blood saved the people who bore the mark. Not just any mark would do. Paint wouldn’t do. The lamb represented a life that was given for the sake of their life. Even the forgiveness of God is not a matter of mere words, or thoughts, or feelings. The problem of sin is the problem of spiritual death.
We have all tried to be our own gods. We all try to go our own way and be in charge of ourselves. We try to be in control of what we want and what we don’t want. The only way to do this is to try to put at least a part of your life outside the jurisdiction and fellowship of God.
To go outside of God’s fellowship is not only sin. God is life itself, and to try to live outside of him is to go outside of life itself. So we are all the slaves of sin and of the angel of death. To resist deliverance and to look for some way to escape is very much the same thing. It is deadly.
God’s forgiveness is his mission to give us life, and he has no life to give us but his own. To defeat our death meant God coming down to fight death personally. We have plagues of our own making, and God’s mission was to take our plagues on himself. In Jesus, on the cross, God became the first born who died. But, in Jesus, God met death and defeated it, hand to hand.
For us, we have a journey of our own to make. It is an exodus of our own from slavery to freedom, from sin and death to harmony and life in Christ. And Christ is our Passover lamb who has been sacrificed for us. (1 Corinthians 5:7)

His blood has been shed for us, but even that is not enough. We have to receive it. We have to want it and wear it. I mean that we have to live in Christ, in faith and gratitude, every day. The lamb had to be eaten, and Christ must be our food. We need to take Christ in. Then the great story of the God who came to be deliverance, in the flesh, in the Exodus and in Jesus, will be our story. Deliverance will be our story.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Great Story: From Pawn to Prince - Joseph and the Ultimate Conspiracy

Preached on Sunday, September 22, 2013

Scripture readings: Genesis 37:2-36; 50:15-26

In Sunday school a class was learning about Adam and Eve and their family. The teacher asked her class, “Why do you think that Cain wanted to kill his brother Abel?” One boy raised his hand and said, “Maybe it was because they had to share the same bedroom.”
July 2013: Manito Park, Spokane, WA
The Bible is full of terrible stories about rivalry, and anger, and hatred, and violence; even within families. The Bible is full of similar stories about societies and nations. As terrible as such stories are, there is nothing unusual about them. Such stories are in the news every day, if we have the stomach to pay attention.
There are people who will argue that such a world is proof there is no God; at least no good, loving, and powerful God. The Bible is an honest book. It never covers up the terrible state of the world and of the people in it.
There is something behind the Bible that insists on putting a good, and loving, and powerful God right in the middle of this terrible world. The claim of the Bible is that this strange “something” behind the Bible (this “something” that insists on putting God right in the middle of this terrible world) is none other than God himself.
The Bible dares to say that, when Jacob’s sons captured their younger brother and contemplated killing him and sold him into slavery instead, “The Lord was with Joseph.” (Genesis 39:2) When the wife of Joseph’s owner falsely accused him of attempted rape, and got him put in prison, the Bible dares to tell us that, “The Lord was with him.” (Genesis 39:20) When Jacob’s family was in danger of starving and Jacob decided, at last, to go down to Egypt where there was food, the Lord spoke to him, “I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again.” (Genesis 46:4)
And so the Lord is with those who are hated and abused and betrayed by their families. The Lord is with those who are falsely accused and unjustly imprisoned. The Lord is with refugees fleeing from disasters and migrating over borders into foreign lands to seek a better life, or to seek their very survival. The Lord is present in a terrible world.
The Lord is more than present. The Lord has purposes and plans in the middle of such a world. The Lord works out those plans, even in the middle of the most terrible stories of evil done by humans to their fellow humans.
Joseph never forgot the day when he listened to his brothers discussing his murder until they changed their minds and decided to sell him into slavery instead. It was a day that the brothers, themselves, never forgot. They could never forget the grief their actions brought to their father.
Joseph seemed to forgive them, but (more than once) his forgiveness seemed impossible to them. They couldn’t comprehend Joseph not trying to get his revenge, especially when their father finally died.
Joseph had to weep when he heard about their fear of him. When they came to ask for his forgiveness, he told them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:19-20)
This is never actually explained. It is simply given to us, hard as it is to understand. “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good.”
Many people have misunderstood what Joseph was saying. It does not mean that God meant, or willed, the evil intentions of his brothers. God didn’t have to manipulate the minds of the brothers in order to get them to think badly and hatefully of their brother. God didn’t have to plant thoughts in their heads so that they would want to do Joseph in or get rid of him in some way. They could be counted on to will that evil on their own initiative.
In my family, I am the oldest of three children. I have two sisters: one about 2 ½ years younger than I am, and the other about 8 years younger than I am.
Because I can remember when I was a baby, I can remember a book that my mom read to me soon after the time my first sister was born. It was about a little boy who got a younger sister. It was about how he was jealous of her, and how mad he was at having a younger sister who got so much of his parents’ attention. But the story went on to tell how he learned to love her and help take care of her. I think I know the reason why my mom bought that book for me.
I began my career as a brother with resentment. I remember crying because I couldn’t sit in the front seat with my parents anymore, because my sister had to sit there. (The standards of child safety were so different back then!) I didn’t cry from sorrow, I wept out of pure rage.
Then I took my job as older brother to heart; even though there were times when I couldn’t help still feeling the old jealousy. I knew what my job was; and even more so, when my youngest sister came along.
I protected them. I hugged them. I helped them play together and be nice to each other, even when they didn’t want to be nice. I was also selfish and mean to them.
When I meant to be bad, God only meant what was good. When I was a bad brother, the Lord would find a way to be with my sisters anyway. Even though God was with them, I was never proud of giving God all that bad raw material to work his wonders with.
God had nothing to do with my jealousy and competitive attitude. When I meant evil, God meant grace and used the raw material of his own goodness. God used his own plans for forming the lives of my sisters.
With Joseph and his brothers, God’s part was to add something completely outside of all human possibilities. God added the plan to save many lives from death by starvation. God added the plan to bring together a family, and a set of bad brothers.
The solution to the famine was the easy part. It took God years of work to get these brothers to truly care about each other. It took God even longer to get the older brothers to trust the very brother they had wronged.
We have the most difficult time trusting the God whom we have wronged by our sins against love. Just like Joseph’s brothers, we think a truly good heart is impossible in such a world. We think that God somehow wills the evil of this world in a secret conspiracy to get his good plans done.
God doesn’t have to will a storm or a famine to get his will done. God doesn’t have to will a war, or a crime, or outrageous behavior. These things simply come. Human beings, by their very nature, make some of these things so easy to come by. And God adds the otherwise impossible element of grace and goodness to the equation.
God’s plan is to overcome evil with good. Paul told us to do the same, if we wanted to follow the love and power of God. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21) Because the Lord is with us, we can find ways of bringing something seeminlgy impossible and unexpected into the terrible equation of this world. This is something that Joseph cooperated with, through faith.
The brothers thought that Joseph should hold a grudge and pay them back for all the wrongs they did to him. His answer was, “Am I in the place of God?” Maybe he meant, “Are you afraid that I might be like the God you are afraid of?”
As a person of faith it was not Joseph’s place to act as a judge in the form of a punisher. For one thing, he didn’t see even God acting like a punisher, but as a savior. As a person of faith, all Joseph could do was cooperate with what he saw God doing: being a savior.
Joseph was not able to explain the complete incompatibility between what his brothers did and what God did, but he was committed to being a part of what God did. He forgave his brothers.
The most important thing that Joseph understood was that he actually loved his brothers. When Joseph heard of their fear, he wept. The story of Joseph tells us about his weeping over his brothers more than once.
Joseph forgave his brothers not just because he trusted that God could take their evil and turn it into good. Joseph forgave his brothers for the very same reason that God could be trusted to turn their evil into good. Joseph and God both loved his brothers, just as God so loved the world. (John 3:16)
In the course of his life, Joseph became what God, himself, became in Christ: an active and redemptive victim of the sins of the world. Joseph could have made his victim status into a cause by living out a well earned resentment every day. He could have resented the wasting of his life for all those years in slavery and in prison. Instead, Joseph became a blessing to others as a slave, and as a prisoner, and (finally) as a prince in Egypt.
We can brood over our failures, and our wounds and scars, especially when we can see them having roots in the unfairness and the wrongs done by other people. We can brood over the injustices done to us. We can brood over the wasting of years and hopes.
The story of Bible gives us a different way to live. The Bible gives us a view of the world based on faith in the goodness and the faithful love of God.
It tells us a long, long story, full of many terrible things, in which God means good; in which God works for good. Paul told us this, “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
God came to work for good even in the terrible stories of the injustice and the brutality that was directed against him when he came to earth as a servant. God came to work for good even when it required crucifixion and death. God added what was humanly impossible to our world by becoming human for our sake, by taking our place, and by becoming (in his own flesh and blood) the start of a new human life and a new human nature. His suffering and death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead tell us that nothing need be wasted or lost.
In 1944, when the Nazi’s were destroying their own country from within, and the allies were destroying it from all around, and from the air, there was this German pastor and teacher named Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was in prison, implicated in plots and crimes against the Nazi German state. He was on his way to being hung for his involvement in the plot to assassinate Hitler.
Bonhoeffer had numerous chances to escape from Germany, and even from prison, but he didn’t take those chances because he felt his own people and his own family needed him where he was. Because of his determination to face hardship and trouble (and even to seek it out) many of his friends thought that he had wasted his opportunities in life.
Here is something he wrote about this in a letter from prison to a friend. “I heard someone say yesterday that the last years had been completely wasted as far as he was concerned. I’m very glad that I have never yet had that feeling, even for a moment….for I’m firmly convinced – however strange it may seem – that my life has followed a straight and unbroken course, at any rate in its outward conduct. It has been an uninterrupted enrichment of experience, for which I can only be thankful. If I were to end my life here (in these conditions) that would have a meaning that I think I could understand…” (“Letters and Papers from Prison”, 11 April 1944, punctuation altered by me)
His life had followed a straight and unbroken course of his love for others, and his love for the truth and for the right. Whatever evil was being done, God intended it for good and so Bonhoeffer committed himself to joining the conspiracy of God.
This is the long, and sometimes terrible, great story of the Bible. It tells us that, in all the twists and turns that human beings bring to the world, God brings something completely different so that no good thing is ever wasted and no good thing is ever lost. This is what God has made possible through his cross and through his resurrection from the dead.

This is why we can take up our own part in the great story, hopefully; full of faith and hope, and love. This is the story of what God intends to do through us, through Christ in us. This is how we follow him.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Great Story: God Builds a Nation with Tools of Grace and Faith

Preached on Sunday, September 15, 2013
Scripture readings: Genesis 12:1-13; Genesis 22:1-18
July Summer 2013: Church and Manse Gardens
We are living characters in a living story about a living God who created the world as a place to live with us. It could have been the story of a happy adventure. It became a story gone wrong, almost as soon as we came along.
We humans put the story wrong. God created the ideal setting for human life, and gave us no reason to be moved by anything other than love. It was a sin against love that made the story to go wrong and this sin altered human nature, because we were made to love.
God showed us, from the very moment that we went wrong, that he himself would come to set us right. God also allowed the human story to continue, in order to demonstrate that we could not expect to save ourselves.
The experiment of Cain and Abel, the children of Adam and Eve, demonstrated that some future generation will not be able to change the world. The experiment of righteous Noah and his family demonstrated that, given a fresh start, the best and brightest people in the world will not be able to change the world.
God, himself, would need to come into the world for our story to be set right; but first he would create an environment for his coming. God would create a family, a tribe, a people, a nation in which to make his home and live.
God would use this special environment to discipline the human race in the use of the proper tools for transforming human life. These tools could only be used at their best when the building material for our transformation was finally delivered.
There is a sense in which God became human, in Jesus, so that God, himself, would be the new human material for a human story that was set right.
The Bible word for the core center of human nature is the word “heart”. In the Bible the heart is not just about human emotions and feelings. The heart is about priorities, and choices, and the human will.
More than simply beating, our heart is what makes us tick; and the wrong things make our heart tick. Every human being has a “heart-problem”.
We inherit our heart from Adam and Eve. They gave us the motivations that make all humans tick. God became human in Jesus to make a new human heart so that all humans could receive that heart; so that all human hearts might tick with the love and the passions of God. This is what we were created for.
Jesus met and exposed himself to the disease of our sick hearts. He met and defeated our sin and death. So Jesus has a heart with the perfect resistance (the perfect immune system) to sin and death. Having the heart of the Son of God within us gives us eternal life.
The tools of God for transforming human life are like surgical instruments that will make the transplant possible. God first introduced those instruments to Adam and Eve, when they left the Garden of Eden. Noah knew about these instruments as well. But God planned to create an environment full of people who would be trained and disciplined to use these instruments, and teach their use to others, when the time came for the new human heart to arrive.
God’s surgical instruments of transformation are grace and faith. The environment of people which God intended to create was the family of Abraham. In our story, which is God’s story, God planned to transform Abraham and Sarah into a family, and then into a nation.
Then (through the coming of God in Christ, through his death for our sins on the cross, and through his resurrection to conquer death) God would transform the nation of Abraham into a kingdom for all the nations. It would be a kingdom that had the heart of Jesus at its center. Every man, woman, and child of that kingdom would have the heart of Jesus beating within them, and that kingdom would be called the Kingdom of God.
The two surgical instruments of God to transform human life are grace and faith.
The Bible tells us about a seventy-five year old man named Abram (though we usually call him Abraham) and his more-or-less sixty-five year old wife Sarai (or Sarah). They were a couple who were settling into a dignified and childless old age. They were city people and well-to-do.
The Lord came to Abraham and told him to go into the desert to live, and become a nomad, and that he would lead Abraham to a land that would become his family’s future home. (And, by the way, Abraham, you and your wife are going to have a baby.) This calling was the gift of grace, and this grace made the faith of Abraham possible.
The Bible doesn’t tell us that the Lord visited Sarah with this news at this time. I think he was very prudent to give that job to Abram.
Mark Twain told a story where a school boy was asked by his teacher to define the word “faith”. The boy said it like this, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.” In Lewis Carol’s “Through the Looking Glass” (“Alice in Wonderland”) the White Queen says to Alice, “Why sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
It can look as if the Lord gave Abram any number of impossible things to believe at the same time. Seeing it like this can give us a serious misunderstanding of faith. It can make us think that faith is a matter of thinking something, or holding a troubling thought in your head, and telling yourself not to bother about it.
The truth is that we often find ourselves believing impossible things. If those things are nothing more than our own ideas (or if they are the ideas of just anyone) then that can get us into a lot of trouble.
But the call to go and live as a nomad, and the call to go and be parents, and the call to go and live a blessed life (and to be a blessing to others, and to the whole world, for all time to come) were not Abram’s own ideas. They were God’s ideas.
And Abram didn’t merely hold them together in his head as well as he could manage. Abram actually did those impossible things. He didn’t live to see them all through to the end, but he started them, and the generations to come also did their part in those things.
It was all to create an expanding environment of faith: a culture and a way of life of faith. As a way of life, it wasn’t a way of merely thinking. It was always a way of life. It was a way of living.
At the same time, Abraham, and those who followed him, didn’t do a very good job of it. Whether we could have done it any better than they did, we will never know, and that’s not even the point.
The surprising point is that they actually did it. They didn’t do it in a very attractive way. They didn’t do it in a very likeable way.
But they did it. And they faltered. They hesitated. They stumbled.
They sinned. Abraham lied about his wife being his sister and not his wife, at all, so that the Egyptians would not kill him in order to get her.
They lied and they cheated. Jacob tricked and cheated his father Isaac and his brother Esau. Jacob’s therapy, under the surgical instruments of God’s grace and faith, was to get tricked by almost everyone who knew him for the rest of his life.
They took advantage of each other. Lot took advantage of his Uncle Abraham’s generosity. He took all the best land when Abraham offered him first choice when they needed to divide their territory between them.
But here the instrument of faith still worked, because the Lord didn’t want Abram in the land that Lot would have chosen. Lot chose to live in the land of Sodom and Gomorrah which, even in our ignorant times, we sort of know must have been the wrong place to be.
What happened to Abraham is that he did live by faith. When he gave his nephew Lot the first choice of territory Abraham was living by faith.
Faith is not so much about thoughts and expectations, although our thoughts and expectations can wreck our faith. Faith is not even about our obedience, though faith requires our obedience in order to avoid being make-believe and phony. God will not allow a make-believe faith that avoids actually living itself out. As James says, “Faith without works is dead (or useless).” (James 2:20)
Faith is a kind of surrender. Faith is like dying to yourself because it is the only way of coming to the end of your self, and coming into the resources of some one else. Faith is letting the water support you when you swim. Faith is letting the surgeon do his work. Faith allows God to make you a new creation on his own terms.
“The Story” of the Bible, as we are learning it, is about God’s love for us, but that doesn’t make the story all about us. When you meet someone who wants the story of their life to be about you, what better time can you find to make your story about them? That, in part, is how faith works. It is that kind of surrender.
The sin of Eden was a sin against love and trust. Faith is a relationship of love and trust. Imperfect Abraham and his horrible family tell us a story of a relationship that was always based on love and trust, however imperfect it worked out. More than that, their relationship of faith was based on the strange twin of faith. Faith has a twin surgical instrument of transformation that we call grace.
Grace and faith cannot work separately. They are tools that go together. The call of God to go and be a blessing was a gift. It was grace.
The people whose lives most fill our hearts are the people who have become a blessing to us. They are grace. The people who live the most are not the daredevils and the wild ones. The people who live most are not even the heroes who get all the attention of this world and who get reported in the news, unless they are people of blessing.
The people who live most are the people of blessing. For those people everything and everyone is grace. Those are the people who teach us most about love.
God’s calling to Abraham and Sarah was pure and undeserved grace. The grace of this calling had the power to unsettle an absolutely settled old man and his old woman. Without the appearance of the grace of God in his visit and calling to Abraham, Abraham and Sarah would never have moved, and we would never have possessed their heritage of training in the transforming purposes of faith and grace.
Like Abraham and Sarah, faith makes us let go of ourselves as we know ourselves. It is the same as dying to ourselves, and so the impossible happens.
It was almost thirty years later when Abraham and Sarah had their son. They lived the life of always hanging in the balance between faith and impossibility for thirty years. And then it happened. Grace and faith did their work.
The story of Sarah’s maid Hagar was a shortcut to the promises of God. It went wrong and became the story of a surrogate mother who got thrown out with her child in the middle of the desert. But grace came and created faith.
Abram was almost the killer of his son, and Isaac was almost killed by his own father. What a life! As horrific as this was; grace came and even Isaac, for all he went through grew up to be a quiet man who had the faith to pray to the God of his Father Abraham.
Jacob ran away from home because he had cheated his brother of his share of the inheritance and because his brother threatened to kill him. After years of exile, the Lord commanded Jacob to go back to his brother. Jacob had no idea, apart from his brother’s death threats, of what to expect when he came home. But Esau was gracious to Jacob.
Jacob was so surprised that he told his brother “To see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably.” (Genesis 33:10) Grace and faith go together.
If you want to know the God of The Story (the God who made the world for you and you for the world; the God who came in Jesus to set all things right), if you want to call yourself a person of faith, you have to know God’s pattern. You have to know that God’s plan is to transform you by his special surgical instruments of grace and faith, and that calls you to a life of impossible possibilities.
I had to go into the ministry because it was the peculiar version of impossibility that God had designed for me. Just because you fear something that does not mean that God is calling you to it. But, sometimes, God will require you to face what you fear so that you surrender your idea of what you should be. Then you will find his idea of what he created you to be.
If you have a fear of water, the God of grace and faith may require you to be a deep sea diver. If you have a fear of gambling, the God of grace and faith may require you to be a farmer. 
So what are you afraid of? What barriers seem to make it impossible to be what God calls you to be? Is it the barrier your age? Is it the barrier of time? Is it the barrier of your upbringing, or your life history? Is it the barrier of your talents, or your own pride and dignity, or something else?
There is no other God than the God of grace and faith. There is no other reality, and so where else will you go?
You have to face the impossible and not allow it to be an objection against your life with God. In this way, God is truly relentless. That is why this story is so long. The length of the story is the relentlessness of the God of grace and faith in making all things new, including you. So we see that it is a serious business to say that God is love.

The story of God building a nation upon the life of Abraham is the story of a God who transforms lives using the tools of grace and faith. These are the instruments of love, and God intends to use them to build an new heaven and earth. Then the kingdom of God, and his dwelling place, will truly be with us. But, until that time comes, grace and faith are the way that God has designed for us to live with him right now. The heart of God’s grace and faith are in Jesus. Follow him.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Great Story: Good Start, Wrong Turn, What Next?

Preached on Sunday, September 8, 2013 

Scripture readings: Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Genesis 8:13-22

Summer Vacation, June 2013: Around the Home-Place
In 1971, I graduated from what they used to call “junior college”. For our graduation speaker we had John Madden, who was still a fairly new head coach for the Oakland Raiders. I remember that he gave a great speech but I don’t remember anything he said.
But it was fun. Coaches are fun to listen to because they never forget to stay close to the basics. For instance John Madden is famous for saying, “You can’t win a game if you don’t score any points.” John Madden also said, “To get more yards it’s best to move the ball from the line of scrimmage down the field.” Even I can understand that.
The Bible is a big book; a seemingly complicated book; seemingly a whole library of all kinds of books: there’s history, law, wisdom, poetry, predictions. But, in another way it is a very simple book.
You could call the Bible a war story (as it is in so many ways), but it is just as true to call it a love story. You know the old formula for romantic movies: God creates world, God loses world, God chases world, God wins world, God marries world. Genesis is like the opening chapter, and the Book of Revelation has the marriage and the honeymoon at the end. It really does. But even if you have the habit of taking a peek at the last page of a story (like I do, to see if the story is worth reading), you would never begin a story without reading the first page.
Genesis is the beginning of a long story that shows us who God is and who we are. It is a very personal story of love, and war, and hopes, and disappointments, and conflict, and sacrifice. A story like this can never be told by charts, and outlines, and manuals.
The Bible is like a huge, overflowing photo album. Do you remember those? You sit together with God on his sofa and you pass the bulging book back and forth, picking up the things that fall out, and you remember the big story through the many stories of the photos, and newspaper clippings, and invitations, and letters.
The Bible is not a textbook, but an object that you pass back and forth between you and God. It is useless without contact and intimacy. It is useless without questions, and listening.
The first chapter of Genesis is like the building of a dream house from a plan that you yourself have made. The creation follows God’s house-plan for a world that he would share with you. The plan, as we read it in Genesis, is organized by rooms and what goes into them.
When I was eighteen my family built our long cherished dream house. By calling it our dream house, I don’t mean that it was ever a fancy house. We talked about it for years before it was built, and it was intended to be a house not for just anybody, but for us. The house would be as perfect for us as we could imagine, or afford to build.
We fit the house, and the house fit us. It had a parental, master bedroom, and there were three bedrooms for us kids. The living room was away from the den so someone could be in the den watching television, and my dad could be in the living room listening to Dixieland. We wouldn’t bother each other, and the kitchen was in between.
I have told you that my dad had built a lot of furniture. The rooms of this house were designed to hold that furniture and make it look as if that furniture was made for that house, but the house was built to fit that furniture.
My room had a huge set of bookshelves. My room was designed for me.
The creation in Genesis tells us about the plan for the house that God would build for us and share with us. The plan shows us the house room by room. First it shows us the vast room of dark and light. Then it moves us into the room of sky, and air, and water. Then it moves us to the room where the water is cleared away to make a room of land. That is our room.
The plan gives us a tour of the house from the biggest room, which we can think of as the heaven of the heavens. It’s God’s special room. Then it moves through the rooms, to our room.
After showing us the rooms, the plan shows us how God furnishes and fills the rooms.
The first room is filled with the sun, and the moon, and the stars, and the planets. Even though there are some humans living up there in the international space station, and though there are plans for more, that big room is still not quite the place for us.
The second room is filled with birds and fish. Some people sail, and water-ski, and fish, and fly, but that room is still not quite the place for us.
Our room is filled with plants and animals. This is the place for us. This is the place that fits us, and the place where we fit.
In God’s tour of the rooms, God takes us through them twice, each time moving from the farthest room to our room. The story of God’s creation is a story that moves toward us.
God is unimaginably amazing, but he is also amazingly humble. So The Great Story is about God’s desire for us. Creation shows his glory, but it also shows his love.
We know that the story quickly goes wrong, and that the rest of the story is about God handling the wrong and making everything right. In the Book of Revelation, when everything is back in place, when everything is made right, we are told this: “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He shall dwell with them and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them.” (Revelation 21:3)
The completion of the story brings us completely around; back to the simple basics of Genesis. It is the story of God and us.
But to truly know God and to truly know ourselves we have to see how the story has played out, and how it is still playing out. To truly know ourselves is to know that we have gone wrong. To truly know God is to see what he has done about us, and what he is doing still.
The answer God gives us, for this, is not in the form of a theory. It is in the form of a story. The most revealing part of the story comes in the part where God comes closest to us. The part of The Great Story that is most revealing about God and about us is the story of Jesus.
The Story of Jesus is the story of what God would do if he came into our world as one of us, and what we would do if we met such a God. The story tells us that we would misunderstand such a God and kill him.
It tells us that when God came the closest to us he took care of those of us in need, and he went on to die the death that we dished out to him. He took the worst we could do to him and he turned it to our salvation. He turned our worst into to our transformation. But it takes a story to tell this.
God made us for love. God made us in his image and in his likeness: a spitting image, a chip off the old block. God made us for a common life in which he would fit us and we would fit him. In other words God made us for love.
Ancient kings would have monuments built along the borders of their kingdom with their image and name on them. These images served to tell outsiders that these lands were ruled by a particular king.
We were created to be little monuments to God. We were created as little signs that would tell anyone who looked our way that this was a world created by a God of love. We were created to be the proof that such a God exists. And that shows us how far we have fallen.
As the image of God, we were created to share in the rule of God over his creation. We were not created to dominate the creation but to be inspired by the house plan of God with a place for everything and everyone, and everyone and everything in its place; everything functioning in balance, as a picture of harmony and as an image of love.
Adam and Eve did much, much more than sin against a command. They sinned against love. They chose suspicion and doubt over love. When they sinned, they chose running from God over confessing to God. They chose to make their own plans and to get their knowledge of good and evil on their own terms.
Everything God put in the garden was good, including the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but one of the things that God put in the garden was his rule to not eat the fruit of that tree. It was like a mother baking a pie and telling her husband and children not to eat it. Of course she made it to be eaten. Of course it was her plan that they would eat the pie and love it; but not after school, and not after work. She would want them to wait until after supper when the pie would fit the plan her love had made.
Adam and Eve decided that the fruit was good, but that the plan and the rule were bad. They decided that God who made the rule must not truly love them, or else he would let have eat the fruit now. So they gained a way of knowing good and evil that was false and bad.
This bad knowledge became part of our very nature, our spiritual DNA. The children of Adam and Eve never ate the forbidden fruit, but they inherited the bad seed of that fruit. It ran in their blood.
So when Cain and Abel grew up and made offerings to God, Cain decided that God’s acceptance of his brother was bad. Cain decided to rule over his brother (and to overrule God) by killing his brother. Cain killed one fourth of the human race in a single day.
This would go on and on. We see a world very much like their world in our generation.
The fruit that went bad is still in our blood. We try to reform and, when we do, we still find so many reasons to be ashamed. We organize constitutions and governments to help us govern well, and human nature manages to use our best plans in the worst ways; for selfishness, for greed, for show, and for the lust for power.
After generations of patience, God concluded that young human race was a failed experience that ought to come to an end. But God paused, and God chose the best people in the world (Noah and his family) to be the core of a new human race.
Even with the best possible people, it turned out to be the same old human race. Noah became a wino, and his sons mocked their father. The best of us carry the seed of the fruit that went bad in our blood.
God knew this would happen. God knew that he would have to bear with us and let us build a world that would tell the truth about ourselves. God would let that world go on, and on, and on as a gift of love that would hold a mirror up to all our faces and show us that we have to turn our faces to God.
After Adam and Eve had realized what they had done to themselves (and what it might mean to God’s plan) they were afraid to let God see them. Instead of loving, and trusting, and going to God, to see what he would do, they ran away, as if they could live as they were without God. That is the part of the story we write for ourselves every day.
They tried to make a cover-up that didn’t cover up anything. They tried to make clothing out of fig leaves. And when their individual cover-ups failed they tried to escape by blaming others.
God’s reaction to this was faithfulness and grace. He made clothing to cover their feeling of nakedness and shame. He made this clothing from the skins of animals, which brought a new thread into the story. It gave them, and us, the message that we cannot cover ourselves. Something or someone else must pay the price for our sin and for our re-creation.
God promised that the serpent (the Devil and the powers of evil) would go on to bite the heels of Eve’s children (and that meant biting us to keep the old poison flowing). Then God made the promise that there would be a son who would crush the serpent’s head.
This promise came true in the story of Jesus. The serpent’s forces crucified Jesus who was both the Son of God and the Son of Adam and Eve. Jesus was wounded in his hands and feet, just as if the serpent had bitten his heel.
Jesus crushed the serpent’s head; the power of the devil (the power of sin and death). He crushed them by meeting our sin and death on the cross and defeating them by rising from the dead.
By doing this he is able to give us life. He is able to restore his image in us and make his home with us again.
The Genesis part of the story makes the promise that this is a long, long story. God made this promise to Noah after the flood. “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” (Genesis 8:21-22)
I often feel sorry for God; for all that he sees and puts up with; and for having to work through us. But that is only part of the great story.

The great story God wants us to know is the story in which his patience, and his continued presence, and his constantly faithful interference in our lives, and his sacrifice of himself to give us life, becomes our life. The great story becomes the place where we live in peace with God and with each other.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Measured by the Cross: Hope

Preached on Sunday, September 1, 2013

Scripture readings: Isaiah 25:1-9; 1 Corinthians 15:1-28

The first funeral I ever did was for the still-born baby of a family I didn’t really know. They had a farm outside of the little town of Hazelton, Idaho. I think the baby was a boy. I seem to remember that the parents were about forty, or slightly younger. They had two other children, a boy and a girl, about eight or ten years old each.
Old Family Photos
I met with the family at the hospital, and at their home. I thought and prayed about what to say.
I remember, after the mother came home from the hospital, one of the church deacon’s and I went to their house with some food. We didn’t find them at home; and they had locked their doors, even though they had dogs.
Serving in Hazelton had taught me, in a very short time, to think that was odd. How could anyone get into their house to leave something for them, if they locked their doors when they were gone?
The scripture and the outline I used probably still exist in a folder, in a box somewhere. There was a graveside service in a cemetery in Twin Falls, in December of 1980.
I know I said something like this:
"Some people may say that this child never lived, but that is not true. This child lived in the hearts of the mother, the father, the sister, the brother, and the rest of the family. This child lived in their hopes and their expectations.
"This child is still alive in the mind and heart of God. This child actually lives with God. This child is a real, living child; and the father and mother still have this son they will not see for a while. The sister and brother still have this brother who is living with God and they will see him someday.
"The sadness for this family is that they were not able to meet, and know, and grow to love this child the way they expected. That has been truly lost. They will grieve for this. The sadness for this family is that they have to say good bye to this child they truly loved, long before they will ever be able to say hello.
"We believe that they will be able to meet, and to know, and grow to love this child when, at last, they get to say hello. We will all get to say hello to this child. God has made this possible through the death of Jesus on the cross and his resurrection from the dead."
That was really about it. I knew it would be a bitter cold winter day. I knew that what we did at the cemetery had to be short. I remember the tiny coffin.
It all made a huge impression on me so, even though it all happened more than thirty years ago, I know I am not too far off from remembering the whole thing. I’ve talked to people about this experience and that short sermon many times.
One of the things I had never fully understood before my first funeral was why I was afraid of death and funerals. My understanding began to shape itself because of that funeral for that baby and my meetings with the family who was so confused and grieving.
I began to understand (and I began to be able to say) that I hate death. I just hate it, and I firmly believe that God hates death too. I believe the Bible teaches us this.
Funerals can be wonderful and beautiful as tributes to a life that has passed, and to the promises of God. Funerals can even be fun. But they are wonderful, beautiful, horrible fun.
I welcome doing funerals as an honor given to me and as a sacred trust. But I know that, in my work around a funeral, I am ministering to broken hearts and lives.
There are no human words or actions of mine that can heal; only love, time, fellowship, prayer, and the comfort of the scriptures. And these only heal as instruments in the hands of God, who says, in Jesus, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one; I died and behold I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” (Revelation 1:17-18)
In my own personal experience, I have had visions of heaven. I have died in the sense of drowning at the age of seventeen, inhaling water because I was underwater and couldn’t hold my breath any longer.
I remember God telling me to trust him, but not what I should trust him for. I remember everything going dark, finding myself in a place where there was nothing but light. There was no here or there. There was no this or that. I had no body. I was in a place where I saw no one else, but I was not alone. I was surrounded, and I was with God.
I didn’t see heaven at that time. I know people who have seen heaven under similar circumstances. This church has had a pastor with a past experience of dying from a massive heart attack in a hospital emergency room, going to the borders of heaven, meeting Jesus, and being sent back to life in this world. That was Jim Jennings.
Jim told me all about it once. But he also told me that he was still afraid to die, because dying meant separation. Dying meant saying good bye. Even if that good bye was to be a short one, it was a radical one. Jim was a humble, honest, faithful Christian man and a loving husband.
He had enormous love for God. He had enormous love for his wife. He had enormous faith in God. I know it was love that made Jim afraid of death. I think it was his faith that made him hate the thought of death.
The Apostle Paul hated death. He called death the enemy. He wrote to the Corinthians and said that, even for God, death was the enemy. Death is an enemy that God has conquered. And God promises to put death under his feet to be crushed and destroyed. Paul writes: “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Corinthians 15:26)
Paul teaches us that the healing of death is the resurrection. Paul also teaches us about heaven: but heaven and the resurrection are not the same things.
Here are some lines from Paul (in Second Corinthians) that describe heaven as our home when death separates us from our bodies and our physical life. “Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith and not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.” (2 Corinthians 5:6-9)
When we die, our soul (our spirit) finds itself at home with the Lord. There is a place where it is a comfortable and joyful thing to be a soul (a spirit) away from the body. That place is called heaven.
In Philippians, Paul also says this about heaven. “Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” (2 Corinthians 5:1)
In this same letter to the Philippians, Paul wrote about being on trial for his life. There was a real chance that his work to spread the good news of Jesus would earn him a death sentence. His friends were afraid and they were praying for him. He wrote this to comfort them. “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” (Philippians 1:21-24)
Here you see that there was a fear of death, on the part of Paul’s friends at the thought of losing him. And Paul had a definite reluctance at the thought of dying, which would require saying good bye to his friends who loved him. The Bible is not only true; it is also very honest about this.
But there was something besides heaven that Paul also wanted. It came through the death of Jesus, and yet it was the very destruction of death. “I want to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11)
Remember that the process of knowing something, as the people of the Bible understood it, was an experience of intense intimacy. It was like the relationship between a husband and wife. Being away from the body and at home with the Lord is a kind of intimacy, and (as such) it must be a wonderful thing.
Knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection by being a fully resurrected lover of Jesus would be an even greater form of intimacy. Paul says that this would mean an intimacy with the cross of Jesus, as he had never known it before: “becoming like him in his death.”
It would mean knowing the cross as something more than forgiveness. It would mean knowing the cross as life from the dead. It would mean knowing the death of Jesus as someone who had gone through death with Jesus to being resurrected with Jesus.
God hates death. Some people seem to think that God chose death for our world as the punishment for our sins, as if it was up to God to devise a way to make us hurt for what human being had done. Death is no more a punishment for sin than getting burned is a punishment for touching a hot iron.
I did that once. My mom had warned me not to touch a hot iron, but I did it and I used to have a scar because of that. The burn and the scar were my punishment. Even though my mom had warned me, she didn’t have to punish me. She even ran to get some ice to put on the burn, to give me relief.
Paul says (as he does in Romans 6:23) that “the wages of sin is death”; but he only means that death is what comes from the fact that sin has become a part of our lives. Sin is a separation from God that comes from a choice of the heart. We still choose sin because we don’t want to be interfered with, not even by God himself, no matter what excuses we may make.
Sin is getting away from the control of God. Sin is going outside of God, which is the same as going outside of life. Anything that takes us away from God can never be anything other than death.
In a way, death is very much the mercy of God. It actually provides some relief from sin. It’s an interim arrangement to help us cope until God destroys sin, and death along with it. Death means not having to live forever in a state of war; in a confusing, fearful, hateful, and brutal world.
Death doesn’t actually heal anything. It hurts those who grieve, but it also protects life, and allows life to go on. If God only destroyed death without destroying sin, the world would be a much worse place than it is. Imagine a world where Hitler and Osama bin Laden could never die
Since death is only the consequence, or the damages, of sin, if God only healed our sin by his forgiveness of our sins, without destroying death, then at least some of the damage caused by sin would go on and on. Life would still be broken in a world where love had to say goodbye in death.
If God were not strong enough to destroy both sin and death, then he would not be strong enough to destroy even sin, in the first place. That’s what Paul means when he says, “If Christ is not raised your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” (15:17)
Isaiah tells us that a God who is strong enough to be truly trusted is a God strong enough to destroy all the brokenness of this world, including sin and including death. “On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth.” This is the trust that Isaiah said would come from the death of death at the hands of God. “Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord; we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.” (Isaiah 25:7-9)
The German pastor and spy Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed for his involvement in the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler during WWII, wrote this as he contemplated all the destruction and death that was going on around him. “Death reveals that the world is not as it should be but that it stands in need of redemption. Christ alone is the conquering of death…. God wills the conquering of death through the death of Jesus Christ. Only in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ has death been drawn into God’s power.” (Conspiracy and Imprisonment: 1940-1945, vol. 16, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, ed. Mark S. Brocker, etc. pp. 207-08)
Heaven is a glorious half-way house in the grace of God and in his battle with death. From the point of view of a faithful God, even heaven is not enough. There must be a true resurrection. In the death and resurrection of Jesus, God will give us more than glory for our soul. God will give us the glory of a new body and soul, in a new heaven and earth.
We will be a new creation because we will be recreated in the image of the resurrected Jesus. We will have the look and feel of people who carry the very antidote to death in our veins. Perhaps we will be too happy and full of love to die. We will have what Paul calls a “spiritual body” because everything that Jesus did on the cross, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to reconcile us to God and to each other, will live and breathe in us.
The cross is more than God’s weapon against sin. It is his weapon to give us life. We live trusting in the promise that God will not only give us rest but actually make all things new. God will put an end to all goodbyes. God will recreate everything better than before.
I served a church where there was a great older couple named Dale and Mabel. Dale had diabetes and got a horrible infection in his leg. The leg had to come off, and the doctors had an artificial leg made for him. Dale was able to use that leg, but it was not the same. He even had ghost feelings of the leg that was gone.
The resurrection will be more than a new leg for Dale. It will be more than a sort of spirit-leg for the soul of Dale in heaven.
Why wouldn’t a spirit-leg in heaven be enough? Isn’t heaven wonderful enough for us? Heaven will be full of the presence of God, and of his angels, and of countless people from all times and places experiencing the victory of their faith. When we are there, it will be so good that we won’t want anything else.
But, as good as heaven will be, there is a hope beyond heaven, something even better than heaven. The resurrection will be a kind of luxury that we could (maybe) live very well without, but we have a God who wants to surprise us with gifts beyond our wildest expectations. We simply have a God who rejoices in making more and more possible and in knowing the growing eagerness in our hearts.
So through Jesus we live in a daring and almost incomprehensible hope. We have the power to buck all the trends. We have the power to live in resistance to the world. We live in contradiction to the world. We take risks. We live sacrificially. We love unconditionally. We forgive the sins of others completely (or we pray to so forgive them). We live for the redemption of others (and of the world for which Christ has died).
The cross is more than forgiveness. It is hope. The cross creates a whole new reality that no one can see who does not also see Jesus.

We live in hope. We trust the Lord so much that we know (when all is said and done) we will be able to say, “Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us.”