Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Presents


Every year, my wife and I celebrate Easter with our kids in a typical, American fashion: baskets, eggs, candy, etc. We also throw in an inexpensive gift. I’d like to say there’s a deep, spiritual reason behind all this, but the truth is: we just love to celebrate and see the joy on our kids’ faces.

But maybe this gift-giving tradition in our family points to something we all need a little more: a sense of wonder and joy at Easter. I’m not trying to say that everyone should start exchanging gifts at Easter (Christmas is more than enough commercialization for me). No, I think we need to be more mindful of the reality of His Presence as our great Present.

I was reading the Easter story from John’s Gospel before writing this blog, and I was struck by the emotion of Jesus’ first interaction with others after His resurrection:
He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
John 20:15-16 NIV
Despairing and confused, Mary understands that Jesus’ body is missing, and the only context she can grasp given everything she’s learned about life and death is that someone must have stolen His body. Why would anyone do that? Certainly the past couple of days have been bad enough, but to now have His body stolen? Poor Mary…  until she hears Him say her name! What joyful surprise as she recognizes the Master’s voice! What a great Easter present!

I’ve asked the question “Why Easter?” and acknowledged a certain absurdity to the celebration. But the truth is that none of us fully appreciate the great gift we received on that Resurrection Sunday. 
Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
John 20:29
“Hallelujah! The Lord is Risen! … Christ is risen indeed, hallelujah!”

copyright ©2013 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Dark Saturday

I woke up and started to cry again, eyes welling with tears as I recalled the events of the previous day. In exhaustion, I had finally ended the day with a restless sleep, awakening repeatedly to a cacophony of emotions and inner voices:  Gone. Empty. Worthless… Meaningless! Three years of my life… lost! It had all been a lie!!

It was like this last night, wavering between grief and anger: sorrow at his death, angry that he let it happen… and disappointment… so disappointed in my actions. “No sir! I’d never abandon you!” Yet within hours, I pretended as if I never even knew him. So disappointed… but what was he thinking? I tried to defend him! I was quick to grab the sword away from that fellow and strike, but the Master reprimanded ME… and then healed the guy that took him away! All those miracles that he performed, but not one for himself, not even when he needed it most. Not even then!

And if not for himself, what about us??? Surely he knew that we needed him!! I wonder how the others are doing? Aww… I don’t know if I even care. I don’t want to see anyone right now. I’m not sure how I’m doing. I want to sleep and I want to run away. I want to forget, maybe go back to fishing. Just get away from all this. But I should check on them first. I’m sure they’re just as messed up as I am. So disappointed…

I wonder how his mom is doing? And John? John was as close to him as any of us. I really don’t want to see anyone, but it would probably be better if I got us all together. Maybe it would help if those of us who… miss him… so much… maybe it would help if we all got together.

But we’ll need to be careful. I’m sure they’ll be looking for us. Probably want to gather all of us up to make sure they’ve properly handled the big “threat” we are. Yeah, we’ll need to be careful.

So disappointed… what if I had spoken up? I’d probably be dead, too. But to be honest, I feel dead already. Three years wasted! King of Glory? He was more like a sheep going to be slaughtered… no, not even a sheep. A lamb… a lamb like the one we ate at our last supper together. So innocent… so dumb and innocent! What did he do that was so wrong anyway that all those religious leaders wanted him dead? They were just jealous! They saw the potential, they understood that he was bringing a much needed change, saw him as a rival, and had him eliminated! And he let them!!! 

Leaving us alone. And what do I have to show for three years? Just my cynicism. Yeah, it would take a miracle for me to ever trust again. I really need to sort this out… somehow find a way to put this in the right context. But I should go find the others...

copyright ©2013 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Friday, March 29, 2013

Contextual Friday


Context. It frames up a conversation so the dialogue can be directed and efficient. It provides both the boundaries and the background of a conversation: draw the lines too narrow and the topic may never be explored enough to understand the key issues; set the boundaries too wide and conclusions become elusive.

Context: a 25 year old sailor in the middle of the Mediterranean privately reading a Bible, asking the Lord to reveal His truth. Believing that God will answer his questions, the young man is bold enough to ask: “Who is Jesus?” Having been raised Roman Catholic, this particular sailor was familiar with the liturgical year, and on this particular morning, he knew what day it was: Good Friday. But although he was raised in a church, the sailor had come to doubt many things. Over the preceding months, he had explored different world views: atheism, agnosticism, Hinduism, etc. But most recently, the sailor had started reading the Bible, coming to the realization that God was and is a Reality. In the most unlikely-to-be-recommended book of Scripture for seekers, this sailor was drawn close to God through the book of Proverbs. In it, he had found a haunting truth. The book was telling him that he was acting like a fool and in the face of this piercing truth, the sailor had come to key decision point: either embrace the truth and change his ways or run from the truth, knowing deep in his heart a deeper reality beaconed. 

Embracing the new and awkward truth of the book of Proverbs, the young man continued reading the Bible, diving into the poetic pages of Psalms. Praying for both understanding and direction, the sailor asked God to reveal: “Who is Jesus?”, and upon finishing his prayer, opened his Bible to the next chapter in the happenstance reading of Psalms: 
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? ... All who see me mock me;   they hurl insults, shaking their heads. “He trusts in the Lord,” they say, “let the Lord rescue him… My mouth is dried up… They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment. (See Psalm 22)
Having been raised Catholic, the sailor recognized the scene from some Gospel readings he had heard as a boy. It was a depiction of Christ’s death, but the man understood the book of Psalms had been written a long time before Jesus was born as a baby. This prophetic description from the Old Testament scriptures was speaking prophetically to the sailor. It was God’s answer, clear and direct. 

Twenty-four years ago today, that sailor was me. 

Contextual question for Good Friday: why is it “Good”? The short answer, understood in part by Sunday School children everywhere is that the day of Jesus’ death is when He died for our sins. But let’s be honest, without the context of what happened on the third day following His death, Good Friday would be remembered as a day of darkness and despair… the celebrated King of Glory had been savagely tortured and killed. The same crowds who shouted “Hallelujah! Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord!” had now cried “Crucify Him!!” on that first Good Friday.  The man touted as the promised Messiah, was laid in a tomb. Without the context of Resurrection Sunday, Good Friday would have remained a day of mourning in the Church. The despairing friends of Jesus would have found deeper places to hide for fear that they would be next. Or perhaps a new leader would have risen up, inspiring followers while pointing to Jesus the martyr. But this was not a man-made movement. God brought the full context on Easter when Jesus conquered death, emboldened his disciples, and explained why His death was truly a great thing for us! 

Contextual application: the night before His death, Jesus prayed to His Father, asking to NOT go through the great pain of the cross. His understanding of the suffering He would endure was so clear that Jesus suffered in anticipation, sweating blood. (Luke 22:44) But in obedience to the Father and out of love for us, He traveled the path of suffering, setting his eyes on the glory that could only be attained after pressing through the darkness. 

We, the remnant of His church, are called to follow His example. To persevere through both trial and triumph as His representatives, holding onto the context that our suffering is not in vain and that the darkness is never so awful as to diminish the glory of our final victory. Easter is a season of new life… of new hope… a hope that refuses to despair because the certainty of our faith is that God wins in the end. And we celebrate that victory with Him, as His adopted children and co-heirs in the Kingdom.
“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:14
Happy Easter!

copyright ©2013 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Abiding in Christ - Obedience

Ultimately, there can be no lesson about how to abide in Christ without also discussing the importance of obedience. It’s the foundational requirement of discipleship, but if I'm totally honest with myself, it's the hardest thing to do. Obedience is more than following the directions we agree with or that make sense, it's also stepping out on the water when He tell us to join Him. It's scary and unsettling; we tend to plead with Him: "Just give me the pattern you want me to follow, and I'll figure out a way that I can do it for You, Lord!" But that's not the way He's made for us. He wants us to stay close to Him, following Him step by step, often without knowing where that second or third step will lead us. 

We can't fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) unless we are first following the Greatest Commandment (Matthew 22:36-38) to be in a love relationship with God, remaining in Him... regularly... daily... ever more often... walking with Him. In religious zeal, we can tell Him: "I'd follow that uncertain path, but these are the plans I've laid out to serve You, Lord." But if we truly desire to transform the world so it reflects the Kingdom of God, it remains our primary mission to remain in His Presence, letting the uncommon way that He leads us change the world around us. It's not what we do but what He does through us. 

If God is Who I know Him to be (eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful, and fully-good) and if He has created me to be the object of His affection, overlooking all my many faults, what kind of fool would I be to turn away from this great offer? So if "grace" is being offered what I don't deserve, whole-hearted gratitude is the only right response. And if the gift of grace is a life and and a love that I could never earn, everything I have is a small price to exchange for that gift. Dietrich Bonheoffer pointed out that the only right response to God’s grace is obedient discipleship.
Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “Ye were bought at a price”, and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
An obedient disciple is not legalistic, following a rigorous set of laws while simultaneously pronouncing the same unachievable burden upon others. It’s true, we cannot legitimately claim to be followers of Christ without obeying God, but this is not the same as obedience to an earthly pastor or to a set of rules. Rather, following a pattern for righteous living is an idol that keeps us from Jesus, a way of justifying ourselves and thereby excusing us from the one opportunity we have to truly abide with Jesus. 

Like the rich man that missed out on his chance to be made perfect (see Matthew 19:16-22), we are all in danger of losing Christ in preference to a set of rules. The biblical definition of sin is to “miss the mark”; it is being less than perfect. Now if I take the example of the rich man from Matthew 19 and expand it, I understand that simply following a set of rules in preference to following Christ is a way to miss the goal. It’s a religious focus on form over substance or on structure over content; it is incorrectly concentrating on the cup rather than the life-giving water. Obedience to Christ is the only correct response to the grace that has been given to us and is a more powerful witness than any legalistic set of rules. In the presence of our Master, we genuinely reflect God’s love and compassion for people who have wounded us.

So a follower of Christ quite simply obeys the Master. A disciple’s obedience to the Master is demonstrated by prayer before making plans. Disciples are also open to divine redirection that can lead down paths they would not choose for themselves. The disciple follows the Master, even to death, figuratively or literally giving up one's life. But like Christ, our death to self carries an eternal reward. In dying to ourselves, we embrace an eternal life with Christ. As Jim Elliot, a missionary martyred in service to Christ, pointed out: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” 

Obedience fuels the fire of faith in our hearts and draws us closer to the God Who loves us. So while sin hides God’s Face from us, obedience to God opens us up to a greater experience of His Presence. If we truly want more of God in our lives, we need to lean into complete obedience. In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Bonheoffer correctly pointed out: we don’t just obey because we believe, we believe because we obey. There's something in every act of obedience that makes our faith grow and that makes the reality of God more apparent. 

copyright ©2013 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)