Bad news… You Won

We can forget what victory means to Christians.  For us, our victory came from the cross.  Jesus has asked that we pick up our cross and follow Him.  It’s a bit confusing because He took our place, but only from the guilt of our sins.  We still have to travel in His footsteps and that journey has its ups and downs to say the least.

So in seasons like this one, we celebrate moms around those who have lost their moms, or had bad relationships, or were abused, or any number of other painful memories.  It’s important to find the cross in these circumstances.  That doesn’t mean to try and pretend there is happiness where sadness overwhelms.  God promised that all things work together for the good of those who believe in Him.  Does that mean your pain is good?  no!  But what is important is that we find that healthy ground where we build our lives on the foundation of God and not on life’s tragedies.

Jesus died for us and we thank Him.  We praise Him.  We worship Him!  But oh what pain He endured.  That pain allowed us everything we hold dear today.  The reason God can straight face to us that all things will work for good is because He endured the worst of it… and it was for OUR good.  We will have our moments.  God never said, ‘I will make life easy for you’.  In fact, there is quite a bit of scripture that alludes to how difficult being a Christian truly is.  Why?  Because we will be attacked by the enemy on top of everything else life throws at us.

But we can find the cross in those moments.  Instead of loathing the past, we can count each scar as a lesson learned.  Instead of bottoming out in loneliness we can tribute loved ones and incorporate their great characteristics in our lives.  Here is what happens if we don’t get a handle on our lives during the bad times.  We end up living around the holidays.  And there are a lot of holidays.  Someone died on my birthday, I was injured at Christmas, I was robbed at Thanksgiving, etc. etc. etc.  We can shut down, isolate, and run from each and every important date for the rest of our lives….

OR… or we could accept that what is important is God.  We made those dates important for our own means.  God doesn’t make us more sad on Mother’s Day.  It’s just another Sunday.  We immortalize the date and subject our souls to personal torment that we create.  Find the cross in that day.  Yes you have endured much.  But next year, there is reason to enjoy the day.  We are over-comers.  We can’t be victorious if we let dates defeat us each year.  Another tool of the enemy is the over dramatization of certain days or times that we give more meaning than others.  They have only the meaning we allow them to have.

We can find ways to honor the fallen, learn from the wicked, grow from neglect, persevere through pain, and triumph over all that does not come from God.  But to do that, we need to see the cross.  That moment when pain and defeat turns to hope and eternity.  When “it is finished” turns into “it has just begun”.  When the sign over the tomb turns from “do not disturb” to “vacancy”… this is when we find our moments of the cross.  This is what the cross does for us.  It says that Christians win even when they seemingly lose.  It means that even death is not defeat.  God’s love has saved us no matter how lost we become.

I felt the need to remind us of two things that keep circling back to each other.  As Christians, we will face hard, hurtful, seemingly impossible moments.  We should not be shocked or disappointed when these times come.  We often mention tests or trials from God.  I do not believe that God does mean or hurtful things to those that He loves (to those that He gave His son for).  Rather, God will help us and while He does so, we can learn from those moments.  And the second thing is that we always have a way back into the light.  Look to that empty cross.  Recall that empty tomb.  And ponder the throne that is occupied.

With God in our corner, today does not have to be a day of sadness.  Sadness is not wrong, but its meant to be temporary.  If you are in pain every year, every holiday, at every solemn memory… find the cross.  There is victory to be had.  There are healthy, proud, confident ways to move forward in honor of the past.  Don’t concede your future based on today’s pain.  If we do not come to terms with our past, it will consume our future.  Whatever pain on whatever day, I pray you plead to God for help and seek His out on this side of heaven for the same.  We want to celebrate with you the victories that you can turn your near defeats into.

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Jesus Didn’t Come to Win

The world doesn’t understand how Jesus lost for us.

We understand victory.  Triumph.  Splendor.  The cross was a dirty mess and it’s not in our nature to know what to do with that.

If you were a movie producer, how would you tell the story?  Whether it includes explosions, great speeches, or slapstick comedy, most of us would put a happy ending on the matter.  Just before the whip was raised… right as the crown of barbed thorns was lifted up… before the first nail was struck…

Something would have happened.  This wouldn’t even constitute a plot twist, it’s only natural for things to work out in the end.  Killing an innocent man is not a generally accepted principal.  Soldiers would have rushed in.  Angels would have descended.  The earth would have shook.  Supernatural.  Massive.  Epic.  Awesome.  We would have easily accepted these things.  But this story isn’t a fairy tale.  It doesn’t compete with summer blockbusters.

In this story, the innocent is brutally murdered… but the target was us.  He didn’t sacrifice Himself and then pull off an amazing, out of no where, attack scheme that allowed Himself to live too.  This is where we break away from the movies.  We didn’t all meet up afterwards for celebration.  We all didn’t make it.

God’s triumphant plan was not to blow the enemy away.  He came to save the lost.  This was more of a search and rescue.  And as the dust settles, we learn that we are saved through Him.  We learn of His sacrifice  We learn of His love.  And then we realize, He wasn’t just tortured and killed… He took our place.

And so we are left in this moment of miserable joy.  So happy that we are saved, so devastated that our sin held such a cost.  So excited that we serve someone willing to pay this price and yet so mournful of the horrible events endured by the one so loving.  We cheer, we cry, we laugh, we surrender to our knees and tremble.  How could someone do this for me?  What value am I?  And this holy, loving, perfect, one-true-God, He says, ‘this is what I’m willing to do for you… to reach you… to get through to you… to have you near me’.

The world doesn’t understand it because although many have died at the hands of the enemy, the body count still remains at one.  Jesus’ death is the one that ‘counts’.  Our sins are on Him.  For everyone else the price has been paid.  Our death is where the victory occurs.  And we really struggle understanding that sometimes.  We are so used to the phrase, “and they all lived happily ever after…”.  That only works by ending the story before its all over.  For us… because of Jesus… our story starts to get really good in the ‘end’.

And so those that believe sing that God is a “good Father” and that we are “Loved by Him”… perfectly defining the relationship.  A protective Father that loves us and is willing to sacrifice greatly for us.  And we, those deserving of a horrible fate, bask in His love for us.  We are not any adjective.  We are not our professions.  We are not the sum of our status’.  We are defined by God’s love for us.  We are a character in a story told about this amazing triumphant victory.  But that victory has to be chosen by the recipients.

It’s difficult to explain this amazing story where the Savior came to lose.  It takes time to wrap our heads and hearts around the fact that He came to lose for us.  In our place.  Instead of us.  Because He is a good Father and He loves us.  And we are loved by Him.  For 3 days Satan celebrated a short lived and greatly misunderstood victory.  Every day since is a celebration for us.  I think the important take away is that we can’t simply explain this story to others and have them accept it.  We have to show it to them.

They need to see the Savior.  We need to live like Him.  It’s a love story.  For God so loved the world… It’s a story that doesn’t make sense and it greatly needs an interpreter.  We can live those words.  We can share that love.  We can choose to be thankful for God’s gift and respect him with our actions.  We can show love.  We can show sacrifice.  We can teach through our choices.  And when we look enough like our Savior, the world will rejoice in the gift they find in Him.  After all, Jesus didn’t win in the traditional sense.  He didn’t come to win.  He came to love.  He came to serve.  He came to sacrifice.  You could argue He won by defeating Satan, but technically we can still choose to side with either one.  Which means we still have work to do. And its imperative that we learn to love the way Christ taught us.

 

Don’t Call it a Comeback

I’m going to assume you know the outcome of the Superbowl this year (2017).  I won’t even try to recap as I’m sure its being covered by much more thorough analysts than I could ever claim to be.  And many if not all will somehow tie in the age old wisdom that we should never give up.  For years, this message will be recounted when teams are down late in the game.  And while that message has great value, I hope you will consider another angle.

As Christians, our lives with God aren’t back and forth struggles.  They may feel like it at times, but the reality is… God never moves.

We may choose to follow in His footsteps.  We may opt to go on our own for a little while.  We can come back and forth.  We may reject Him altogether.  We can always come back.  He never moves.  Along with His expectations, He never changes.

So it is with the life of Jesus.  He came to earth with a single task.  Save humanity by self sacrifice.  There was no back and forth.  Satan never scored a point.  That is the beauty of the plan.  By Satan ‘winning’ (killing Jesus), we truly win.  It’s why He came.  He was tempted but didn’t give in.  He was tortured, but never gave up.  He was discouraged, but never stopped loving.  The score never changed.  There was no down and out.  There was no 11th hour or 2 minute drill to try and come from behind.

What’s the point?  Comebacks are hope-fuled opportunities for disaster.  I’ve seen it before.  There is still time left.  The team starts to get everything together.  The game gets more intense.  It really looks like its about to happen… but then it doesn’t.  Even worse than losing was the final hope they wouldn’t.   The Christian story isn’t about score.  It’s not about each play or moment of the game.  The game… has already been won.  There is nothing to come from behind from.  Jesus wasn’t down by 35 points late in the game… There is a great Carmen song where Jesus and Satan are boxing.  When Satan knocks Jesus down the ref starts counting down from 10 instead of up from 1.  Only when he gets to 1, its spelled won.

That song cleverly illustrates the sacrifice Christ made.  He took our place.  We can’t lose, He lost for us.  So instead of drowning those sorrows, feeding that fear, or dusting off those bad habits, consider that Jesus actually won the game before He added all the players.   When we accept Christ, we aren’t gearing up for a winning team.  We are suiting up for a won team.  If Tom Brady showed up at your home today and offered you his super bowl ring, that wouldn’t make sense.  To Christians… that is kind of our story.  It wasn’t a comeback, we already won.

This is what Jesus did for us.  We pick our team by choosing how we live for Him.  There will be no hail marys.  No onside kicks.  No trick plays.  This one is in the history books.  The only thing not decided… is your response.  Do you accept Jesus’ gift?   Will you share the victory with others?