Resurrected. The state of one risen from the dead.

(Taken at the Stations of the Cross (1736-1744)
in Salzburg, Austria last spring)

This is it. The week that we celebrate Jesus’ sacrifice for us. We reflect on how Jesus died to save us from our sins. Treasured Son of the One who breathed life into all of us. Staked with nails, thorns biting flesh, struggling for breath, abandoned, humiliated – no success in sight. Glory laid down. He did this willingly to save those who brought this upon Him … to save us. Out of love, Christ chose death.

“He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed.”

We remember and we are thankful. Wondrous love, by any measure.

How incredible that our Creator transforms death into victory! His power is so great that He weaves death as an essential thread with life and love.

To understand death is to understand God better:

“This is how we know what love is: That Jesus laid down His life for us … and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”

And right off the bat, there it is:

The definition of love = a willing laying down of self

“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake, he is the one who will save it.” — Jesus

You may well be familiar with these verses, and know all about how God calls us to lose our lives for His sake.

If so, how are you doing with that?

It’s hard, isn’t it? Hard to give up control. Hard to let certain things go.

This was taken from my journal last April:

As I drove home from Ohio in the dark last night, I talked to God, trying to recycle stability. Hoping to make a diving catch before failure hit the ground. Instead, all that He has been teaching me these past months crystallized. He spoke to me plainly. This is a death. This time in my life is a death … of all the things I’ve tried so hard to save. On the road to death, Jesus walked alone. And now God is walking me straight down that same path.

He tells me there is no resurrection without a crucifixion. That death makes way for new life. I keep thinking about Paul’s words about being poured out as a drink offering. And I see that Jesus eventually asks whether we will drink the cup of suffering with Him. God isn’t taking this particular cup from me. I am to drink it.

Death makes way for new life.

God has gone to great lengths to convey this important message to you and me. He has set life cycles and metaphors out all over the place. He coded the message of resurrection into creation. Did you know that deciduous trees face death each winter? In order to survive, the leaves must die in autumn, allowing the tree to conserve water, and making way for new buds in spring. Early last November, I remember a particular day when many of the trees in my part of Michigan still held onto their leaves. At this late date, they dressed up in their finest gowns of wine, butterscotch, and lemon, and partnered with the sun. The result was stunning: showy, perfect beauty. But within days, the trees laid down their glory. Pools of red gathered beneath them. I minded, but they didn’t. They willingly sacrificed their glory for greater life. And God spoke to me of the beauty of fallen leaves.

But we’re not always good at catching God’s messages. Not at all. Especially not death messages. So God sent His Son down to tell us about how death leads to new life. And because His straightforward talk and everyday parables still weren’t enough, Jesus did it. Died. In front of everyone. He laid down His glory and pools of red gathered under Him.

What if we had that kind of beauty … the beauty of sacrifice? Of giving? How would our lives be different?

“Sometimes God will put you in places that feel like death, but you know if you embrace these things by faith, the life of Jesus will come through your brokenness …
There is no way around this big truth: if you want to live, you will have to die. Out of death comes life. Out of weakness comes strength. Out of jars of clay comes the power of God.” — Rick Thomas

Places that feel like death. Terrible places. Serious illness. Financial disaster. Broken relationships. Problems for our children. Addictions. Divorce. A dear one passing away. And we can’t help but think, “If God really loved me, He wouldn’t let me suffer.”

So in essence, we believe that He would lead His treasured Son to suffer, but not the rest of us? Seems a little … convenient.

“He was despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.”

What if the only way for us to become truly like Jesus is to become acquainted with grief? What if it makes us more beautiful? What if it purchases new life?

“… That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” — Paul

Listen, this is a hard topic. Not exactly celebratory. These are thoughts we skirt around and don’t deal with until we have to. And there are times when God calls us to hold on to something important and persevere with all our might. There are times when God brings healing and miracles and happy gifts. He supplies trusted friends, counselors, and pastors to support and guide us.

But sometimes He teaches us about dying. If things are going pretty well for you, you probably don’t want to think on this. But if you are in a place where you’ve already fallen to the ground and are getting buried, then this truth is pure gold. This is Resurrection. 

I had spent much time in this hard season trying to figure out what to do. Only to realize I had been asking the wrong question. The right question wasn’t what I should DO … it was who I should BE. Who would I choose to be in the midst of trial? Would I be a person who just tried to escape, or would I be a person who allowed God to work in me through it?

Jesus said, “You don’t know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”

And later …

“My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

For the past year, taking Communion has been especially meaningful to me. I have knelt at the altar and held the plastic cup and Christ has asked me: “Will you drink the cup with me?”

And I have said Yes every time. Because now I get it. When Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life – no one comes to the Father except through me,” He meant His sacrifice purchased a way for our forgiveness and eternal life. Amazing! But He also meant something like this … “My life is the example for your best Way, too. It offers Truth for the meaningful Life you really want.”

”I AM the way.” And so God personally demonstrated it for us. This is how we know what love is.

Maybe someone reading this wants something more concrete. How to begin? How to survive a crisis? How to live a “cross-style life” (phrase borrowed from Stephen Manley)? I imagine there are many good answers. But I’ll just share a few that God taught me. (Please know, guys, that I’m still working on applying these to my life and am not in any way perfect or even good at it.)

  • Start by immersing yourself in God and His Word. He will be your best teacher. That’s the entrance to the way through.
  • Give up control of things that are keeping you in captivity. This is an amazingly important and freeing step. Truly, it’s just like turning a key that unlocks a door. If you want to know what is really controlling you (instead of trust in God), bring yourself to admit your greatest fear. So often, we are clutching things (sometimes good things) that are keeping us from the best things.
  • Understand that God’s Way usually isn’t about a one-time decision or a physical death for us. Jesus talked about us “taking up His cross DAILY” for a reason. We aren’t going to be perfect at this, but we can work at applying it day by day, one choice at a time. One day at a time, just work at choosing humility over pride, love over selfishness, intention over our comfort zone.
  • Give your way through a time of prolonged suffering. When things are taken away, find ways to give. No one can take that away from you.
  • When new life comes, find a way to bring God glory.

Without death, there is no resurrection.

The truths I’m talking about are a life-creating cycle. Jesus was born … to die … to be resurrected … so others can be reborn … and eventually they die to self … and are resurrected into a fuller life … which leads to more rebirth … etc. And so love and death and life work in trinity to point to eternal life rather than this life. Death is a beautiful and necessary strand.

And you know what? You don’t stay buried. Instead, you rise out into a greater understanding, a more meaningful earthly life. God brings you out into joy. In the past year-plus, God has enabled me to move a mountain and gain rock-solid assurance with every need met and added blessings on top. I have a much better understanding of Him. I know who I am and I know how to go forward. And I am writing about a season I’m now safely through because I want to tell others about God’s resurrection plan for them.

“Weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”

Hey, it’s spring … It’s morning … It’s Resurrection!

And new life is all around us.

Jewish Memorial Temple, Dachau Concentration Camp, Germany

Scripture references: Isaiah 53:5, I John 3:16, Luke 9:23-24, Isaiah 53:3, Philippians 3:10, John 14:6, Psalm 30:5

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