Tuesday, March 18, 2008

My Easter Post

It's been one of those weeks where lots of things and thoughts have coincided and come full circle. Painful events, inspiring stories, deep thoughts on how they all connect. And, then, it is the week that culminates with the one holiday Christians claim as the event that changed everything - Easter.

I have to admit, Easter has never been a big planned-out holiday for me. Outside of the Easter baskets, I have no traditions that I follow through with - so very much UNlike Christmas. As I think about it, I'm glad. There are no traditions to keep from focussing on what it really is all about.

I have been re-reading a book that has a huge revelation that comes at the end, that I never saw coming the first time around. The book is a bit allegorical, so I should have known, but long story short, a character that is unorthodox, bucks the system, is generally disregarded for having heretical thoughts, pretty much a character that you just aren't sure you can believe is "the good guy" - turns out to be the one to sacrifice for the good of all in the end. He becomes Jesus in this story. As I'm reading it the second time around, I can not believe that I never saw it coming the first time- that I didn't connect the dots much earlier on in the story to recognize Him for who He really was. But, then again, why would I presume myself to be that much smarter than everyone else was 2000 years ago?

Back then, very few saw Him for who really was either. Some people turned to Him to solve their problems, to perform miracles. Others dared to ask His advice, but of those, only a handful were willing to follow it (Him). No one saw the big picture, and even Jesus asked in the last moments that God would choose another way. But, it was the way God set it out to be.

I think that most people who believe in an afterlife, generally accept the notion that there is a God who created it - and us, for that matter. With that in mind, sometimes I wonder why people think that God would then not have any plan for who would spend that afterlife with Him. If I did the creating, I know I would want a plan. But, I get the feeling that people don't like that idea - it's too limiting. But, here's the deal - the way I see it - God originally planned for all of His creation to enjoy it forever. But, in making His creation, He knew that He could never demand this desire to spend time with Him - this "relationship" - so free will became a part of it. And, with free will came the choice to do wrong - and there you go, that dreaded un-politically correct word "sin". The core of my beliefs rests in the fact that we chose this path - not God. In His pre-ordained vision, He of course, "saw it coming", but with free will in the picture - that's what we get. And there you go, a world that is full of pain, division, and full of people exerting their choices in every fashion imaginable.

Here's the deal, I don't want to spend eternity in this world, not the way it looks now. And yet, if everyone is meant to be able to go on to an afterlife, without having a "change of heart or attitude"- that's right back to where we're at now. I want to spend an afterlife in the world God created before we messed it all up. Before Satan got a hold of it, and us, and deceived us all into believing that we're better off all by ourselves. That we don't need or want a Creator, a God in our lives.

Here's some other lies I think Satan's put out there:

- Why would I want to spend eternity in Heaven anyway? It sounds incredibly boring and lifeless.... - I can relate to this one, but why wouldn't I be tempted to believe this, I imagine it has to be top on the list for Satan to have us misunderstand. He certainly doesn't want us longing for such a place. However, I have to come back to this vast world and everything we have in it - and who created it all? The water-colored sunrise, the roaring waterfalls, rain forests so vast and dense there's wildlife within them we've never even discovered, the miracle of a brand new baby, the body's ability to reach the pinnacle of physical intimacy - the God-given passions and desires to laugh, to smile, to feel so deeply we cry.... If He can do all this for this world, how much more amazing will Heaven be? He created us - He knows us - Heaven will not be a let-down! And, though it's so hard to fathom - the love behind all this creation will be the One we are spending it with - a love so deep, so strong, so unconditional, it's just too hard to comprehend. Pretty much for me, I imagine the greatest joy I ever experienced here on Earth - that moment that life could never get better than this - and then I imagine it being even better than that - and lasting------

- That the only ones meant for Heaven will be the ones who follow all the rules - and judge everyone else for all of the ways they've messed up. - I think that is the OPPOSITE of what it will be like. If a person thinks they have it all together, better than everyone else, then I believe they are the most messed up of us all. Jesus was constantly attacked by the Pharisees, recorded time and time again in the New Testament, the Pharisees that believed they were superior to everyone else, because they supposedly followed all of the Laws - and hence looked down on all, including Jesus. They were responsible for his death. They couldn't handle the idea that God wanted ALL to come to Him, not just the law-following Jews. And yet, Jesus' message was aimed to everyone, all who were crippled, outcast, and scorned. He spent time with what society viewed as the bottom of the barrel. It's those with a humble heart that God wants - not those who perceive themselves as the best.

- Why would I want to spend time in an afterlife, if it's filled with the "bottom of the barrel"? - Once again, I think it comes back to who of us can say we are better than anyone else? Only God knows our hearts. Yes, I struggle with the idea of a Ted Bundy who can make a "last breath" confession of faith, but I don't think any of us can grasp the possession Satan can have on a heart - and in the total opposite what can happen when Jesus fills and restores a heart to what God hoped for all along. I think only the creator, God, is capable of seeing what kind of hearts we have. In addition, what if I did believe there are some who are too far gone for God to accept? This is not my belief, first, because I believe the promises of the Bible, but second, what kind of world would this be without that hope? All deserve hope.

- Who says that there is sin in the first place? Are there really any absolutes in this world? - Now, this one, while a popular belief, just doesn't hold water for me. The whole idea of no absolutes is an absolute in and of itself! If one says there is no sin, perhaps no creator - just a constant evolution of humanity - why are things getting worse? Evolution demands that things improve and the best and strongest move on, but, it appears to me - our very own acts (that I would label "sin") would eliminate that very theory.

- Based on what I know about Christians - and all of the awful acts that they've done throughout history (as well as now) - why would I ever want to be a part of that group? - That's easy - it's not about the "Christians" - it's about what God first desired - and what Jesus brought to reality. Being a Christian does not mean you become perfect - and simply having that label doesn't necessarily mean that one is truly following Jesus. But, if being a Christian means we ARE followers of Jesus - look at Him, not us - we're the flawed followers - He's the true leader. Look at Him, read about Him, if you want to really get what it's all about. Remember, Jesus didn't hang out with what would have been labeled the "God followers" at the time because they had completely distorted the truth. Don't lose out on the gift of Jesus because of poor examples of "followers" here on earth (and throughout history).

- Why does it all have to be through Jesus? Why so limiting? - That is the operative question, now isn't it? Here's my take, though - Why not? When I grew up, I had a huge fear of both God and Heaven. I was so worried I wouldn't make the right choices, I would mess up and not confess those sins in time before I got struck by a bus! But most significantly, I would pick the wrong "religion", denomination, or church that would keep me from getting to Heaven in the first place. So many people believe that, no wonder the world is disillusioned against Christianity in general! I may be a member of First Baptist Church but I would really prefer not to be labeled in that way. Even labeled as a Christian leads most people to believing I am judgmental and rigid. if you are going to go anywhere with a label - the only thing that accurately defines me is that I aim to follow Jesus. I recognize that I've screwed up, I'm not the person God first desired for His creation - but through Jesus, that's how God sees me.

As hard as it is for us to grasp - because we chose our own path, we destroyed our opportunity to commune with God. He's perfect, we're not. And, once again, it comes back to our own choices - and the ultimate desire to restore us back to what He ultimately desired for us to experience. An eternal relationship with Him. So, the only way to fix the problem is to use that free will of ours to make another choice - a choice to bridge that gap by accepting that sacrifice Jesus made for us. To my knowledge, no other belief system offers such an answer to such a problem. Instead, it's all about the good that you may or may not be able to accomplish to try to get there on your own. When you think about it - any loving parent, while desiring for their children to do good works and be successful, would so much rather have a relationship with them - able to talk to them, meet with them, love on them - rather than see them go off on their own to try to prove something. As it is with God, He just wants our fellowship - a fellowship that can be achieved by coming to Jesus, the One who who sacrificed for us.

It is that very sacrifice that we honor and, yes, celebrate, on Easter. Part God, part man, saying, 'I'm doing this for you - for my beloved, for my children - I will take on all of those choices you have made from the past, the present, and the future - all of those choices that have separated you from Me (God) - because I love you that much'.

I know, such a long post. And, quite a bit of preaching from me. But, I haven't always "got" this holiday. Ultimately, I'll never fully grasp it until eternity - which I now know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, I'll be a part of in Heaven. However, now that I have a bit of an understanding, I just can't help sharing what I've figured out. Just like that book I'm re-reading - the message is so simple, but yet, so hard to grasp. I just don't want anyone to miss out because they are caught up in beliefs that are quite literally designed by the devil. The last thing Satan would ever want is for you to realize that it really is that simple - or for you to grasp the depth of love that Easter really represents.


Anonymous said...

Great post, Steph - every word. I often have those times when I start off thinking about some really deep subject or aspect of God, then I take off on these rabbit trails and have all sorts of revelations, too many for me to capture and relate to others! But you did a fantastic job.

The book you're talking about reminded me of a recent book I read called, "The Book of Jane," a modern day retelling of the Job story. It was so much easier to grasp just how a person's friends could blame them for things; how any of us could do that, not just those "bad guys" in the Bible. It gives me such a great new perspective.

Some Christians have a bad habit of blaming the Jews and others for a lot of things which, although they were guilty of those acts, we are JUST as capable of doing ourselves! God wanted us to have that cautionary tale when he told us about the Pharisees, David and Bathsheba, Peter denying Christ, even Judas betraying Christ. We are all capable of such acts and therefore even those who do them deserve our mercy and grace. It took me a while to "get" that - I used to look down in judgment on folks like that until I finally learned God wasn't telling us where to point fingers; he was showing us our own reflections in the mirror of our hearts. Not that you did that in your post, but as I read your thoughts I was reminded how I used to enjoy looking down on the Pharisees' snobbery and the Jews' stubborness as if they were obviously idiots and I never could be. As if I could never be part of the mob shouting to crucify Christ.

Easter has become fresh for me this year as I have tried to explain it to my kids. Isabel gets so sad when we talk about Jesus' death; Rachel gets so angry because "he didn't do anything!" Tyler always stations himself in the next room so he can hear and ponder to himself. Seeing it through a child's eyes is such an amazing experience.

Now I have contributed my own rambling...

Happy Easter - He is Risen!

StephieAnne said...

Thanks for clarifying exactly what I was trying to get at, that we are all so guilty. By mentioning the Jews and Pharisees a couple of times, I wondered if it might not come across that I was blaming them only - but I tried to start it out by saying that even in reading this allegorical book, I could see how easily I could have fallen into that camp at the time. I think the Jews are especially profound in that they were the "chosen" and unbelievably the ones not to recognize the miraculous workings of God, if they could have "lost sight" - how much easier for the rest of us!

Thanks for the encouragement - awesome to hear how impacted your kids are - clearly, you're doing a great job sharing what's most important!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I knew you were "getting" that aspect too. I grew up listening to my mom say things about the Jewish people from time to time - not horrible things, but that attitude that their stubborness was somehow much worse than ours could be - and only in the last couple years has she come around to admitting we are ALL like that. (Well, maybe not her...haha) Studying the Torah this year and exposing myself to Jewish philosophy has really deepened my Christian faith and, I feel, drawn me closer to Christ as I understand his culture and the scriptures he grew up on. Previously I had considered those books some of the more boring ones in the Bible but they've taken on whole new meaning in light of their fulfillment in Christ. I would highly recommend finding a Messianic Jewish website that has weekly Torah and NT readings (I use www.umjc.net). They pair the Torah readings with NT readings that directly relate; it takes about 10 minutes, once a week. It's awesome to see the "crimson thread" come to life! And to think Easter coincides with Passover; that the blood on the doorposts and thresholds in Egypt was duplicated in the bloodstains on the cross...it is almost too much to digest.

Colie said...

Wow Steph - great post and a wonderfully clear message. I put off reading it for a while because of the length but then set aside some time to dive in.

I have a lot to say and then realize it would just be reiterating your thoughts. So - Happy Easter! Enjoy the celebrations and thanks for being so authentic!