Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Splash of Blood - Happy Easter Everyone!

I was walking to work one day, and I noticed something on the sidewalk. I had actually seen it before, but never attached any significance to identifying it.
It was a stain left by some dark liquid that had splashed and dried. There was a trail of drops leading away from it back up the sidewalk for a few feet where it ended. It was interrupted by a footprint that cut across the trail. I had seen it for a few days prior to this, but in my hurry to get to my desk each morning I had given it almost no thought. Why today it caught my eye I have no idea, but as I passed it again this day I noticed the color of the substance. It was a deep, reddish brown.
I stopped in shocked realization that I was looking at blood!
How many people had walked past or over it every day and given it no notice? How and why had this that had passed through someone’s veins been so haphazardly spilled? It was no small amount. If I had a wound that allowed that great a loss I would surely seek help with it. There was no way to tell how this occurred, and yet my mind called up violent images that seemed unavoidable. How could blood be spilled after all without violence in such a public place without edge or forceful impact? And then I had to ask how having spilled could it be so easily ignored, as I had in fact done? How could I not have seen it for what it was?
It had to follow, of course, that my thoughts would lead me to Someone else’s blood, also shed with violence, but violence that ended in glorious purpose. And just as so many of us had walked over this splash on the sidewalk, how many have waded through rivers of the stuff that rage across our lives grasping for our attention only to be studiously ignored in an effort to maintain our self determined path at cross purposes to the Truth? What does it take for God to get my attention?
Just who am I living for anyway?
In the process of the Hebrew sacrificial rites that ended when the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, one of the final acts was the pouring of the “drink offering”. Thus Paul, when he felt his death was near, wrote that he was being “poured out as a drink offering” (2Tim. 4:6). But just as Christ was the final sacrifice, so His blood is the final blood shed for our redemption, as He said at the last supper , “Drink from it all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matt. 26:27b-28) And yet as final as that act is the flow continues at whatever rate is necessary to cover the sins of this world, for where sin is grace abounds.
What all this means is that we must let go, dive in, “go with the flow”, drowning and dying to live again.
And it all started one night long ago in Jerusalem.
Satan called upon Death, his most powerful weapon, to finally put a stop to the machinations of grace which Christ had begun. Death was a warrior at whose feet everyone had ultimately fallen. Death took Christ up in his giant fist and began to squeeze the life out of Him.
This Blood, this stuff of eternal life began to flow one drop at a time.
The whip scourges the smooth skin of Christ’s back.
Death is confused by this sudden pain he has never felt before, caused by the touch of the blood of this Lamb.
The crown of thorns is beaten down upon His brow.
Death begins to squeeze harder and harder trying to stanch the flow.
The nails are driven through Christ’s wide open hands.
Drip. Drip.
His body is taken down from the cross.
Death has used up all his strength to vanquish the enemy of Hell.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
The stone is rolled away.
Death collapses, defeated, destroyed, a useless and empty husk.
Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip.
Death has himself died, and from his lifeless grasp Christ has risen!
“O death, where is your victory?”(1Cor. 15:55)
Thomas places his doubting fingers in Christ’s open wounds.
The apostles live and die for the life He gave them.
And as every river starts with just a trickle so this trickle becomes a torrent raging across time that no force of darkness can ever hope to stop, divert or slow.
“…this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many…”
He left a trail of blood that you can miss only after you have seen it first, and actively choose to turn away, but the Word was made flesh and He refuses to be ignored!
God could never again be relegated to the back of our minds as a mere “concept” anymore. He created a hallowed ground in every human heart; a holy of holies where only He can tread. His presence there suddenly made one thing obvious:
A choice must be made.
Always a choice.
Live or die.
You have a 50/50 chance of survival if you’re merely looking at the odds, but if you choose life it’s a 100% guarantee.
It seems a simple choice, but we make it difficult when we think we have a lot to lose. We try to hang on to what we have by shedding our own blood to pay the price for our freedom, but all I have is as nothing against the payment of this debt. And the only thing I have to show for my efforts are the scars left from where I’ve ironically slashed my own wrists trying to save myself.
Every year we celebrate Easter. Like many other things the true purpose of this occasion has been overshadowed by meaningless customs involving eggs, chocolate bunnies and new hats.
But some of us will remember.
I tend to look at it as two distinct events; His Passion and His resurrection. In reality I should see them as one. His death and resurrection were a single process that qualified Him as the complete sacrifice once and for all. Both events had to occur in order for His life to be enough to tip the scales in my favor.
Some only see the inside of a church at Christmas and Easter, and I suppose if you are only going to come twice a year those are the times for it. But I have to wonder if you aren’t hearing the same message both times.
At Christmas you hear the announcement of the angelic host:
He Lives!
Throughout Christ’s entire life on earth He prepares us for the show of strength that only He could perform. The one thing we take most for granted in Christ’s existence. For the Point of Easter, the Bottom Line, the Final Act is really the same that we hear at Christmas.
The inevitable conclusion of Christ is this same angelic message at Easter:
He Lives!

And as we come and sit on the banks of this never ending river of cleansing, bloody Grace, as we begin to comprehend that the supply never runs out we realize:
He Lives!
©Dan Bode 2005

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Truth and Forgiveness - Here's another old one. I realize that I haven't posted anything new lately. There are a lot in the works but nothing completed. I've been realizing that all the stuff I wrote before were really just lessons I would need for this part of my life. I run across them just when I need them.Weird how God does that.

Truth and forgiveness are intimately intertwined.
It is often the truth of who we are or what we do that requires forgiveness.
That is what makes the forgiveness of Christ so profound.
I have asked forgiveness of other people innumerable times.  I am guilty of some offense that requires the salving of my conscience on a regular basis.  It is the lack of truth in my life, thoughts, or actions that leads to the need for forgiveness.  It is the inevitable search for truth that ultimately leads to the act of forgiveness. 
I may be lying to myself on some point of my personality.  I may have done something wrong intentionally or not that requires correction.  It is the application of truth that determines whether these things are brought to light and made right, or left uncorrected to fester and become a thorn in my side.  Have you ever noticed how “one lie deserves another”?  No fabrication is made up of just one line.  It’s a whole complicated structure.   The further along we go in its construction, the more difficult it is to come clean with the truth.   
There is so much tied up in those words it would take a lifetime to unravel it all. 
As a matter of fact, it took a life in order for us to have access to it.
The process of confession and forgiveness is painful for both the offender and the one offended. 
For the offender he or she must acknowledge that they have done something offensive.  He must see that someone has been hurt.  He must be willing to provide some recompense for the offense in order to make it right. 
A sacrifice is required.
For the one offended the hurt must be revisited.  What did this cost him or her in terms of pain?  What sacrifice can reasonably be demanded to satisfy the debt caused by the offense?  What price will he put on a damaged life?  Is he willing and capable of allowing that debt to be wiped away, and risk experiencing the same hurt again as if it had not happened before? 
This was the point of Jesus’ dialogue with His disciples when He was asked how many times someone should be forgiven. 
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?"
Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matt. 18:21-22 NIV)
Would it be up to the seven times in one day prescribed by Jewish law?  Rather it should be seventy-seven times!  It should be far beyond what is considered humanly possible, because God has taken responsibility for vengeance.  It is completely beyond human expectations.  Not only that, but He has made a relationship with Him dependent on our practice of the forgiveness of those who have offended us!
“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matt. 6:14-15 NIV)
We must also understand that Truth is dependant on Grace in order for Forgiveness to be effective.
If I live by Truth alone I will become a legalist.  Truth alone does not allow for the impact of the pain of its existence.  Truth and honesty are virtuous attributes, but can they stand alone as foundational concepts to our lives without the strength provided for in Forgiveness and Grace?  I don’t think so.  Truth is often dealt with in terms of cold hard facts.  “This is the Truth, and there is nothing else to say about it.  Punishment for the offense must go forward.”  This is legalism.  There is no quarter given, no compassion shown.  No absolution offered.  This is the Law and nothing more.
This is where we begin to gain some concept of the depth of the Grace and Forgiveness offered by Christ.  Legalism is born of man’s inherent need for vengeance when wronged.  For this reason God took away man’s claim to revenge when He said, “Vengeance is mine.” (Deut. 32:35 NIV)  He sealed that claim even further with the death of Christ.  Man is not qualified to properly demand recompense when he is wronged.  Only God can be completely fair, and in His fairness He also knows that a sacrifice is required of someone at some point in order to satisfy that need for vengeance.  So He gave His Son to once and finally satisfy the need for vengeance, as the recompense for peace.
But it really goes even further than this. 
According to scripture it is appointed for man to die once.  The sequence of living is no accident: birth – life – death.  That’s it.  There is no continuously repeating cycle.  We die and we gain our reward. 
To die with meaning requires an abundant life, not necessarily a long one.
It’s easy to die for something.  Once dead our commitment to this world is over.  Death bed promises made to, or by, anyone are irrelevant; they mean nothing where we go. 
Dying is easy.  It’s the living with or through something that’s difficult.
It is significant to note that Christ did both.
He died for our sins, but then lived again with the intention of living through it with us again, and again, and again.
Anyone can die, and every one of us will.  But dying is only half the commitment.  Living again is the other half.
Such is the depth of His commitment.  Christ died to prove His point, but He is the only one capable of fulfilling it.
There is no telling what each of us might accomplish with a life committed to Christ.  Only He knows what we are capable of, and what we will actually do.
Dying is easy – crowns, mansions, streets of gold – not such a hard choice when you really stop to think about it.  It’s living a life of joyful anticipation that’s difficult.
That is why we are called to be “living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1 NIV).
It is hard to imagine that our greatest joy in this life is completely overshadowed by the joys of the next, and once having grasped that concept to then have to wait.
When my oldest daughter Jennifer was a little girl she once asked, among the enormous volume of questions she had in life, what heaven would be like.  I told her that I didn’t really know all the details, but it would be beautiful. 
“What will we do there?” she asked.
“Well the Bible says we’ll be spending a lot of time praising God for starters.” I said.
We said our prayers together and put her and her sister to bed.  After a few minutes she yelled for me in a way that any parent can tell that something is wrong.  Her mother and I ran into her room and turned on the light.  She was sitting up in bed crying.
We went over to her to comfort her thinking that we were dealing with fears of the dark or something like that.  Not so.
“You know when you told me what we’d be doing in heaven?” she asked.
“Sure.” I said, puzzled.
As she broke into tears again she asked, “What if I get bored?”
I suppose that’s part of the mystery.  How does one imagine the things of heaven can satisfy the needs of man?  We have to look at the possibility of heaven as reality in order for it to have an impact on the life we’re living now.
Living is the long wait for the best part.
The Truth we live with is that we have dirtied ourselves and are not qualified or able to obtain the rewards we are promised.  Therefore we must be given the cleansing Forgiveness required by someone stronger, and truthfully qualified, to give it.  Our feet must be washed by the hand of the Servant King who is the only One clean enough to dispel the filth we have picked up along the path.
So when next forgiveness is asked of me I must asked myself if what I give is genuine or is it merely to salve my own conscience?  Is the forgiveness I offer the complete forgiveness of the Sacrifice?  Is there Truth in my Forgiveness, or is it merely palliative to allow myself to feel better about myself?  Does it truly encompass the desire of the God of heaven?
Forgiveness inspires questions, questions, questions….
And all of their answers require the Truth.
©Dan Bode 2003