Pastor’s Perspective – April 2021
There are times when I feel lost. When what used to be tenderness becomes weakness. What used to be strength becomes rigid. What used to be perseverance turns into obstinance.
This happens to us when we become stuck. When we refuse to relinquish who we are in God and stubbornly cling to who we once were. Being spiritually stuck is like a caterpillar resisting the transformation into a butterfly because of a fear of flight. It is being trapped in the pain of transformation without the willingness to be changed by God. When we are stuck, we find ourselves trying to do what is right without the fullness of God’s Spirit. When this happens, we grow tired, angry, and resentful.
I am not the only one who finds themselves stuck in this transformation.
The Church is filled with men and women just like me. We are reluctant to become who God is calling us to be for fear that we will lose who we are. We are unwilling to step away from the habits and comforts of the old person in order to step into the mystery of the new life in Jesus Christ.
We are perfectly comfortable accepting the sacrificial death of Jesus in our lives but are oddly unwilling to go full out and allow ourselves to be crucified with Christ. We believe without doubt that Jesus physically rose from the dead on Easter Sunday, yet we have difficulty embracing the new life promised by the resurrection. We are reluctant to “die to ourselves.” We gladly look forward to the resurrection into eternal life (and are daily comforted by it) but live in misery and tepidness in our daily lives. We have evidence of spiritual gifts and success, but struggle with the daily eternal values of faith, hope and love in the fullness of God’s strength.
It is during Holy Week that I always experience the conflict that leads to this spiritual struggle. Many of us neglect important parts of our spiritual lives. We pick and choose the type of followers we want to be and ignore the necessary values that God desires in our lives. When we choose our own way Holy Week is skewed. Some only desire the power of the resurrection and reject the sacrifice of the Cross. They celebrate Easter Sunday as if no sacrifice was necessary and no blood was spilt. They want the candy without the hunt for the Easter Egg. They want the pearl without the work of seeking and the struggle to find. They desire the Christian life to be lived without thorns and struggle. They want resurrection without death. The rapture is their ultimate goal and they seek change without the pain and struggle of transformation. They love the concept of salvation but deny the need to be molded by the hands of a living and expectant God.
Others live in the Cross alone. They embrace the pain but never contemplate the cessation of that pain. They are stuck in the sacrifice, without the joys of the resurrection. They consistently play out their own sin and worthlessness without recognizing that Jesus already paid the price for our sins and transgressions. They live in the darkness of death without the light of life.
Neither group has surrendered fully to God. Each team has chosen a theme that fits their life or purpose and has fooled themselves into believing that they are walking in the truth of the gospel. But both polarities have missed something terribly and wonderfully important.
In Christ our view of death must be transformed. Without the transformation of death; without the new vision of what death is in Jesus Christ, we are bound to become entrenched in a negative and devastating view of life that shields us from life in God.
Each time I celebrate Holy Week I am plunged back into the polarized denominational visions of the work and salvation of Jesus Christ. As a young Roman Catholic the Church taught me to emphasize the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The emphasis was placed on Good Friday, fasting, and withdrawal from the joys of life in the attempt to be good enough to one day stand before God. As a teenager my Baptist Church often ignored the messy story of the Cross and focused on the glories of His resurrection. Eternal life and unconditional grace was the focus of this vision.
The disparate images and visions have contended with each other for decades, both in my life and in the lives of many believers around the world. The good news, literally, is that we do not have to choose between these competitive visions. God in Jesus Christ calls us to embrace both. And the only way to resolve this conflict is to reframe it within the context of the New Covenant in Jesus Christ.
This new covenant is sealed by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and calls us to commit to following the way of Jesus in our lives. This way does lead us to die for the sake of the Gospel; but it does call us to pick up our cross and leave what we have known and what we have been in order to follow God. This is always the task of the people of God; whether it be the task of entering the ark of God, leaving the place of Babylon, or walking boldly out of Egypt in our newfound freedom. The task of leaving what we used to be is the life of faith. It is what the people of Israel were called to do, and it was the context for the Pauline understanding of putting to death the “Old Man.”
To put it starkly, our journey from being lost to being saved demands that we are willing to leave the old life behind. This is the struggle of faithful life in Jesus Christ. This is the always the struggle of covenantal life. Every covenant asks you to reimagine yourself in a new context, with new rules, new expectations, a new life.
Single people have certain benefits and deficits in their lives. As do people who are married and have children. Each blessing demands a sacrifice. Each opportunity demands that we relinquish a privilege. We want to have it all. But that is not possible in a covenantal relationship. As a husband and father I must lay down my rights to date other women or perhaps to go out with the guys on a Saturday night. My responsibilities might include changing diapers or helping a child study for school, but without the sacrifice there is no new life.
The Bible is filled with stories of those who wanted it both ways, from Lot’s wife in the book of Genesis to Ananias and Sapphira in the book of Acts, we have stubbornly clung to the remnants of our old lives before God called us into the new life in Christ. The scripture is clear that we cannot simply mourn the sacrifice, nor can we simply claim the new life. We must do both. We leave one so that we can claim the other. We must both leave who we were and push forward to who we are called to become in Christ. This and only this allows us to leave bondage without the skewed memories of the good old days. This and only this allows us to walk without regret into the new life in Jesus Christ.
Holy week is a time in which we remember not only the work of God in Jesus Christ, but our own past. It allows us to nail our old ways and old life to the Cross with Jesus and leave them with the bones of the dead. It allows us to mourn the sins that lead to death and emerge three days later in a new life. A life free from our past, free from our addictions, temptations, and struggles.
We cannot be fully alive in Jesus until we are fully dead to ourselves. We cannot fully relinquish our pain without giving up our spirit and life to God. We cannot be the people of God without embracing the new covenant of the Lord’s Supper; the death of Christ (and ourselves) at Calvary; and the hope of the New Life in Resurrection. Each moment is important. Each is necessary. Like the Trinity itself, the three can stand apart but are not truly complete when they stand together.
Join me in fully embracing the mystery of our salvation in Jesus Christ by accepting all of what God calls us to this Holy Week.
– Pastor Dan