There’s more because Jesus lives

I’ve never done a funeral or a memorial service where the ones who are mourning their deceased loved one have said, “That’s all over. We’ll never see them again.” Some have maybe thought that, but what they say, at least what I’ve heard, are expressions of hope that their loved one’s soul is alive, in a better place and one day there will be reunions.

We don’t want to believe life ends at the grave. We cling to the hope that relationships don’t end when the heart stops beating.

There was an old beer commercial where some guys were sitting on a boat, drinking beer and, supposedly having a good time. One of them said, “It doesn’t get any better than this.” What a sad thing if that was true. How tragic it would be if some brief and quickly-over good times were the best we ever experienced.

Even if we have gotten to enjoy some great experiences in this life, we still hope there is something more. We hope the grave is not the end.

The resurrection of Jesus gives hope that we need and hope that is real. We don’t hope in what we do, but in what Jesus has done. We know there is more to this life because Jesus conquered the grave. He took on death when He gave His life on the cross for our sins. On Resurrection morning He won the victory when He was raised to life again. “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead” (I Corinthians 15:20).

We are like people standing at the door of a dark cave. We know we have to enter but we are scared because we don’t know what it is like. But then Jesus comes and says He has gone in the cave and made it out the other side. He offers to take our hand and never let go and lead us all the way. We don’t fear the dark unknown when we are holding on by faith to the all-knowing Lord.

“God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact” (Acts 2:32). It really happened. Jesus was definitely dead, but on Easter He was raised to life. He was the most alive person on the planet, and He remains alive today.

John Lennon wrote, “Imagine there’s no heaven.” Even though the song is popular, I don’t think many people really want to imagine that. It is far better to follow the encouragement of another songwriter: “I can only imagine what it will be like, when I walk by Your side. I can only imagine what my eyes will see, when Your face is before me.”

When I got the call that Ruth Tollefson had died, I was listening to that song, “I Can Only Imagine.” I was thankful that because of Ruth’s faith in Jesus, I knew it wasn’t over. Because Jesus lives, I got to imagine the joyful, peaceful life Ruth was getting to experience right then. Our hope is beyond our imagination, but it’s not a figment of our imagination, because Jesus has risen from the dead.

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Thankful Jesus got thirsty

I prefer to be a caregiver, rather than needing someone to take care of me. That might sound kind of noble, but really part of the reason is pride. It’s humbling to be needy and have to ask for help.

Jesus is the Son of God, the King of Kings. He doesn’t need a thing. But as He hung on the cross, He willingly became someone in need. He was thirsty. Extreme, painful thirst was one of the things that happened to those who were being crucified. There was Jesus on the cross, true God and also true man, humbly admitting His need and asking for someone to give Him something to drink. “Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty’” (John 19:28).

It was humbling what He received when He made His request, and it sounds a little disgusting. A sponge soaked in a jar of wine vinegar and stuck on a stick. Who knows what all was in that jar? Who knows where that sponge and stick had been and what it had been used for? The Creator of water, the pure Son of God gets what was probably a stinky sponge on a dirty stick stuck in His face.

In a way that nasty sponge represents what little the world can offer to try to quench the thirst of people’s souls.

Earlier in the Gospel of John we read of another time Jesus was thirsty. He was sitting beside a well and asked a woman, “Will you give me a drink?” (John 4:7). She was considered part of the wrong ethnic group and was surprised to get the request. Jesus’ thirst was physical. Her thirst was much deeper. She was thirsty for hope and forgiveness and love. Jesus told her He had living water. “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst” (John 4:13-14).

Jesus humbled Himself and became thirsty, so that the thirst of your soul could be quenched. All the world offers is a fancier looking version of that sponge. It only satisfies our thirst for a little while. Because Jesus became thirsty and suffered and died on the cross for our sins, our thirst for forgiveness can be quenched. Our thirst for love can be satisfied in the love Jesus demonstrated by what He endured on the cross for us.

Let’s have pancakes

At Billy Graham’s funeral one of his daughters shared about a time when her father showed her what God’s love is like. She had gotten into a marriage her parents had warned her against. It turned out to be a disaster. She was ashamed and embarrassed as she drove to her parents’ home. As she got to the house her dad was standing out front. He came to her as she got out of the car and gave her a hug and said, “Welcome home.” There wasn’t condemnation or a judgmental “We told you so.” There was grace, love and forgiveness.

Her story reminded me of a time I received a welcome home. When I was an elementary-school-age kid, a friend and I were playing in the woods and lost track of time. As soon as we got in the door at his house his mom started yelling at us that we were late and she told me I better get home right away. I ran home, scared and feeling guilty. As soon as I got in the door I told my mom how sorry I was. I can still picture the smile on her face as she cut my apology short. She told me it was no problem. I was only a couple minutes late. Those things happen. “Let’s have pancakes.” I was thankful to live in a home where, instead of being yelled at, I was greeted with an invitation to have pancakes.

Jesus told the story of the prodigal son who squandered his father’s inheritance, made a mess of his life, and then finally came to his senses and headed home. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). It’s the only time in the Bible God is described as running. He doesn’t run from things. He doesn’t run because He is late and in a hurry. He runs to greet His children and lovingly welcome them home.

Thankful for one who kept it simple

Some critics looked down upon Billy Graham’s preaching as too simplistic. In a way they were right. He did keep it simple. He kept preaching about Jesus and the cross. He knew everybody needed to believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior. He kept the focus on Christ, crucified and risen again.

Often when Billy came to the closing service of a crusade, he would tell people, “If there’s only one thing you remember from these meetings, remember this: God loves you.” Pretty simple – and also powerful and life-changing.

Billy believed there was great power in simply and clearly telling people what Jesus had done. When he and his wife received the Congressional Gold Medal, he had the chance to speak before those considered movers and shakers in Washington. Instead of political pronouncements he proclaimed the good news of Jesus and the cross and the resurrection. He knew that was what Washington needed to hear.

After many years of prayer, Billy had the opportunity to preach in the former Soviet Union. A lot of Soviet police attended the services to spy on what was going on. When asked about it, Billy said he was thankful the spies were there. He believed the simple gospel had the power to change the heart of the hardest Soviet spy.

In the 1950s blacks and whites were forced to sit in separate parts of stadiums in the South. That was not how it was to be at Billy Graham Crusades. At an early crusade Billy himself took down the ropes the ushers had put up to keep the blacks out of the white section. White segregationists were furious when he invited Martin Luther King, Jr. to pray at his 1957 New York City crusade. Billy’s life was threatened when he had a crusade in Alabama at which white and black people sat together. But Billy believed the simple gospel was for all people and that “God does not show favoritism” (Acts 10:34-35).

When I was about 10 years old I went to a movie produced by the Billy Graham Association. The end of the movie was a scene where Billy gave an invitation for people to come to Jesus. I began a relationship with Jesus when I was baptized as an infant, but I felt led by God to go forward that evening and recommit my life to Christ. Billy had made it simple enough for my 10-year-old mind to understand. I had sinned but Jesus loved me and He died on the cross for my sins and He wanted to come into my life.

My mother was in a hospital room and a Billy Graham Crusade came on TV. I left to have dinner, not thinking it would be the last time I saw her. I soon got the call that she had died. I thought it was a gracious gift from God that she went to be with the Lord while listening to Billy Graham preach. Only God knows how many others were also ready to meet Jesus, because they heard the simple gospel that Billy preached.

A wild and crazy love story

If there had been a Jerusalem Post in 700 B.C. imagine the headline: “Prophet Marries Prostitute. Says God Told Him To.” What a scandal!

Even without a newspaper or social media broadcasting the news, it still must have been shocking when the word got around about what Hosea, a prophet of God, had done. Out of all the women he could have married, he married Gomer. Gomer sure wasn’t the type of person people thought would make a good prophet’s wife. The main thing we’re told about her is that she was “adulterous” (Hosea 1:2).

People were probably talking and wondering what Hosea was thinking. They didn’t expect it would go well, and it didn’t. In Hosea 3 it says, “The Lord said to me, ‘Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. …’ Then I told her, ‘You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will live with you.’”

Now the crowd knew for sure there was something wrong with Hosea. They had questioned his sanity and what kind of man of God he was when he married Gomer. Then she continued to live the life of a prostitute and cheated on him and loved other men. Now Hosea, instead of wising up and getting out of this messed up situation, runs after Gomer. Before Gomer gives any indication of changing her ways, Hosea shows love to her, encourages her to change, and promises to be her faithful husband.

People probably thought this crazy stuff Hosea was doing must be offensive to God, but Hosea said it was actually God’s idea. The Lord told him to love Gomer to serve as a lesson in how God loves people. “Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods” (Hosea 3:1).

Could this story of Hosea really be true? Did God really tell a prophet to marry a prostitute? The Bible says it really happened.  We have a difficult time believing the story of Hosea and Gomer is true because we have a difficult time appreciating the incredible nature of God’s grace and love. We’re guilty of spiritual adultery. We have loved other things more than we have loved God. We deserve judgment. It would make sense if God wanted nothing more to do with us. But He doesn’t do what the world would consider sensible. He still loves us. He still wants us. He pursues us, even when we run away from Him.

It is tempting to make the story of Hosea into a “deadly be” story: “Be like Hosea.” Yes, we should love like Hosea. We wish we were more like him, but the main point of the story is: we are like Gomer. And yet while we were spiritual prostitutes, Jesus loved us and went to the cross for us.

The story of Jesus’ love for us is even more shocking than the story of Hosea and Gomer. But we rejoice that, as wild and crazy as it is, it is totally true.

Calm

Apple’s choice for the iPhone app of 2017 was an app called Calm. According to a news article the app has relaxing visuals and sounds that are designed to help a person unwind, de-stress and calm down. It also includes some bedtime stories read by various storytellers. I hope parents aren’t giving their kids a phone with the app thinking that can replace them reading bedtime stories to their kids.

It is understandable an app titled Calm would be popular. Calm and peace are things we long for, but in this world so full of noise, conflict and tension, calm seems to be in short supply. This app appears to help some people, but it does sound like another time when people look to technology to do what only God can truly do.

“Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). We’re invited to be still, calm down, rest in the truth that God is on the throne. The world is often chaotic, but the Lord is still in control. Be still and know that God loves you. Be still and know that God will keep His promise to faithfully care for you.

“The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). Rest in knowing God is with us. He delights in those who have faith in Him. God’s gracious love brings quiet and calm to our restless, troubled souls.

I was with my dad in his fishing boat crossing the Columbia River Bar and it seemed we were bouncing around quite a bit. I wasn’t concerned because my dad was a very experienced and capable fisherman and I had total confidence in him. After we crossed the bar and got into a little calmer waters my dad said, in his typical low-key manner, “It’s a good thing we hit the bar when it was calm.”

People have different definitions of what is calm. My dad had gone through a lot rougher seas than what we faced that night, so to him it was calm. When we face trials trusting in the Lord, we can remain calm, no matter how rough it gets. Jesus took on the cross and emerged victorious. He can handle whatever storm comes our way.

Jesus and His disciples were in a boat when a storm hit. The disciples were anything but calm. They were sure they were going to drown. But Jesus wasn’t stressed. He was sleeping. (This is one of my favorite stories in the Bible. Maybe because I’m a fisherman’s son who can sleep through most anything.) They woke Jesus up and He told the waves, “‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm” (Mark 4:39).

Like Jesus brought calm to that stormy sea, He can bring calm to your life. And He can do it more effectively than any app. He can calm our fears and worries and bring a restful, quiet peace to our soul.

 

Dreams that keep you awake

“A million dreams are keeping me awake. I think of what the world could be.” These words are sung by P.T. Barnum in the movie The Greatest Showman. Barnum had a tough childhood, but he didn’t let his past or his challenges stop him from dreaming. He dreamed of entertaining people in a whole new way and went on to develop the modern-day circus.

In another song Barnum talks about coming alive and “dreaming with eyes wide open.” Sadly a lot of people aren’t doing much dreaming and, in a way, they are not doing much real living. They are frustrated with how things are, but they haven’t been inspired by God’s grace to dream of how it can be.

Last May I was in Cuba and I met some Christians there who kept on dreaming, even during years of persecution and struggles. They dreamed of one day being able to worship the Lord in freedom. They still deal with some restrictions, but compared to how it used to be, many of their dreams have come true.

In July I visited places where great dreamers walked 500 years ago. I was with a group that toured sites that were significant in the history of the Protestant Reformation and the life of Martin Luther. Luther and the Reformers dreamed of a church where people were not deceived into thinking good works could get them right with God. They dreamed of people being able to read the Bible in a language they could understand. They dreamed of a church where leaders served people instead of manipulating and using them. They dreamed of people hearing the good news that you can find forgiveness and get right with God by faith in Jesus. Those big dreams changed the world.

Do you have any dreams or have you let the trials of life and broken dreams of the past cause you to give up dreaming? In Acts 2, on the day we call the birth of the New Testament Church, it says, “… your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” The Spirit of God has come and set the church free to dream.

Sometimes the only dreams people have are of making more money and getting more stuff. Those are small dreams. Because of God’s amazing grace we can dream big dreams. We can dream of broken relationships being healed; people plagued by anxiety finding peace; those enslaved by addictions being set free; those who are apart from God coming to know Jesus and finding new life.

Pray that God gives you a dream “of what the world could be;” a “come alive” kind of dream; a dream big enough that it wakes you up in the morning, inspired by the thought of seeing the dream come true and witnessing what God can do.