Love That Conquers Death

INTRODUCTION

Good morning! Today we are continuing the series we began on Easter Sunday. We’re talking about how the resurrection changed everything.

Without the resurrection, Easter would end on Good Friday and the cross would remind the world of torture and death. Without the resurrection there would be no Ascension, no one to send the Holy Spirit, no upper room experience to launch the church, Paul would have remained Saul, and we’d be missing most — if not all — of the New Testament. Without the resurrection our faith would be useless, grace would be faceless, and death would still be the final frontier.

BUT THE RESURRECTION CHANGED EVERYTHING. The resurrection means that God made a way to free us from sin. The resurrection means that Jesus conquered the powers of darkness. The resurrection changed the meaning of the cross for all eternity. Before the resurrection, the cross was an instrument of death and a symbol of disgrace, but because of the resurrection the cross became a declaration of God’s love. That’s why when we look at the cross, we’re not overcome by grief, but instead we’re reminded of God’s incredible and unstoppable love that he displayed to us through Jesus. That’s why we can say, “This is love.”

Death is not the easiest thing to talk about, unless you sell grave plots for a living. I actually know a person who used do that for a living. He was a door-to-door salesman. That’s a tough gig. Can you imagine sales pitch?

Hi, my name is Marty. Have you thought about death lately? Well, you should because death takes no bribes and you’re going to die…

If you can sell a grave plot, you can sell anything.

I was on my way to lunch with a friend of mine. We drove past a cemetery and my friend turned to me and said,

“Joel, did you know that people are dying to get in there?”

All kidding aside, death is the great tragedy of the human experience. Andrew A. Rooney (1919-2011), the American radio and television writer, who died at age 92, put it well when he said,

“Death is a distant rumor to the young.”

Andrew A. Rooney

It’s true, isn’t it? When we’re young, we spend all our energy on living, so even though there’s nothing in this world that’s as certain as death and taxes, while we’re young, death is the last thing on our mind. The Bible says that

There’s a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die…

Ecclesiastes 3:1-2, NIV

Birth and death form the boundaries of life on earth. These days, though, one the of things people spend a lot of time trying to do is pushing these boundaries. The quest to stay forever young is a booming industry. We’ve developed all kinds of methods to inject, suction, and tuck away the mileage, but the inescapable reality of wrinkles, a receding hairline, dentures, and eventually an AARP membership are signs that we are reaching the last boundary marker. 

And all kidding aside, the fear of all fears is death. Sociologists have observed that just about every society has its own version of “immortality symbols”—things that give the assurance of living forever. In ancient times, it was about being properly enshrined or buried among the gods. Think about the pharaohs in Egypt or the Taj Mahal in India. For Americans, it’s about big houses and cars, enormous trust funds and retirement accounts—things that we think will live on long after us. We want to make a name for ourselves, leave our mark, and therefore carry our legacy forward. Some of these things are not bad; they may even be decent motivations. We may be thinking about leaving the world a better place for future generations.

But as far as being immortality symbols—something that makes us live on after death—they come woefully short. Death is the great ending, the great finality, the inescapable curtain call.

So, when Jesus went to the cross on Good Friday, it was anything but “good.” His followers were devastated. The dream was over. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus said, they “had hoped that He would be the Messiah,” but now that hope had ended. Their heads hung low, their hearts heavy, their eyes swollen from weeping, and their purpose crushed. How could this be? Jesus was supposed to change everything!

If you’ve ever seen Les Miserables—the Broadway play or the movie—I think the scene where Fantine sings, “I dreamed a dream that cannot be” captures the kind of heart-broken despair that the disciples must have felt that Friday.

It’s good not to rush past that moment. You see, the darkness and the tragedy of Good Friday capture how we often feel in life: overwhelmed by brokenness in the world, filled with discouragement or despair, aware of the darkness and fear in our own hearts.

Death is the end of all possibilities. And if there is no answer for death, then all other answers do not matter. What can lift our heavy heads?

Love is Stronger than Death

“Love is as strong as death,” the poet sang in the Song of Solomon.

“No,” said the Father on Easter morning. “Love is stronger.”

On that first Easter morning, God the Father showed the world that there is a love that is stronger than death.

The preaching of the New Testament—particularly in the book of Acts and in Paul’s writings—makes a point to say that God the Father raised Jesus from the dead. This is crucially important because we are not meant to see Jesus as some sort of Superman figure, brought to the brink of death by some evil villain, who somehow musters up the last bits of life to burst free. The Gospel writers and the first preachers of Jesus want us to know that Jesus did really and truly die. He was buried. Fully dead.

But God did not abandon His beloved Son to the grave. He vindicates His faithful obedience and sacrificial death by raising Him up to new life! Here are two ways the Testament expresses that reality:

First, when the Jewish authorities arrested the apostles, Peter stood up before them and said in Acts 5,

“The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins.”

Acts 5:30-31, NIV

Then later, in Acts 13, when Paul was in a synagogue in Antioch, he said:

“We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: “‘You are my son; today I have become your father.’ God raised him from the dead so that he will never be subject to decay. As God has said, “‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.’ So it is also stated elsewhere: “‘You will not let your holy one see decay.’“Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his ancestors and his body decayed. But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay.”

Acts 13:32-37, NIV

Paul would develop this even further in his letters to the churches scattered around the Roman Empire. He understood that the resurrection of Jesus is not just good news for a few; it’s good news for the entire world!

But some Christians in Corinth weren’t sure. They wondered if all of this was really necessary to believe. Couldn’t they just say that Jesus was a good teacher and that he was still here spiritually? Why did it matter if He had actually been physically raised from the dead?

These questions brought out some of Paul’s clearest teaching on the resurrection. I want us to take a closer look at what he said and make three big observations from it.

“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

1 Corinthians 15:20-26, NIV

Paul is saying at least three things to us. First: THE RESURRECTION DEFEATS DEATH.

Paul calls death an enemy. Let us be clear about this: death is not a friend; death is not a doorway into eternity; death is a beast. It is an enemy. But it is an enemy that was destroyed by Jesus’ victory on the cross.

DEATH THREATS IN HISTORY

History shows us that when power is abused, the weapon that is wielded is the fear of death. Tyrants and thieves, dictators and despots, all resort to one ultimate threat: the threat of death. But when death no longer holds a sting, tyrants no longer have any power. This is what happened in the early centuries when Caesar after Caesar would threaten to kill Christians if they did not renounce Christ and worship them. Yet these Christians were free of the fear of death. They knew that they belonged to the One who had conquered death, the One who have been raised up.

This is why it’s so important that we understand what really happened to Jesus. He did not have a near-death experience and then get resuscitated. He did not pass out on the cross, only to be refreshed by the cool air of the tomb. He died. The piercing of His side, which caused blood and water to flow out, is a medical note on the finality of His death.

The disciples were not hallucinating when they saw Jesus. That is why the Gospel writers recount stories of the disciples not recognizing Jesus at times. There was something familiar, but also something very different about Him. His body seemed to have new—perhaps spiritual—properties that allowed Him to appear in a room with locked doors, and yet His body seemed to have the same or similar physical properties that made Him hungry and able to eat. Thomas could touch His scars and see the wounds.

The disciples weren’t using the word “resurrection” to describe Jesus going to heaven after dying. They had other ways of talking about something like that. When they said He was alive, they did not mean, “in their hearts,” the way we sometimes speak at funerals of a person living on.

The ancient world had categories for spiritual journeys in the afterlife or hallucinations or visions of a ghost. But what happened to Jesus shattered all their categories. They had no words to describe this. That’s why the four Gospels give somewhat differing accounts of the resurrection. So many stories. So much breathless recounting of something they had no words for.

So, by the time Paul is writing to the Corinthians, he can say to them that he is simply last in a long line of witnesses to the resurrection. Here’s how Paul put it:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas,  and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”

1 Corinthians 15:3-8, NIV

This is the second major point we can note from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians:

THE RESURRECTION IS GOD’S NEW BEGINNING WHEN ALL POSSIBILITIES HAVE ENDED.

Resurrection is not resuscitation—like CPR. Resurrection is not hallucination. Resurrection is not a spiritualization of the afterlife. Resurrection is what only God can bring about when all other possibilities are gone.

Conclusion

One of the questions we need to ask ourselves is, Do I need resurrection in my own life?

What things are dead, what possibilities have ended, where has the story gone off the rails?

Maybe you don’t want to think about those places or areas in your life because, really, what’s the point? How could you possibly change the story now? It’s over, right?

Well, that leads me to my third and the last point about the resurrection:

RESURRECTION IS A GIFT!

Paul wrote,

“For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”

1 Corinthians 15:21-22, NIV

What did we do to deserve this gift? Nothing. What can we do to earn it? Nothing. Resurrection does not emerge from potential. Resurrection is not an achievement. No one can raise themselves up from the dead. But in Christ all will be made alive!

Hallelujah! Are you catching why this is such good news?

One day, all who are in Christ will be raised up with glorious new bodies. We will have bodies like Jesus. We don’t know much more about what those bodies will be like, but we know that it will seem similar and yet radically different. Using the same materials, it will have new properties. All of that is wonderful. And it has led to Christians saying for 1700 years now—in the words of the Nicene Creed—that

“we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”

Nicene Creed

But you know what? Resurrection life can begin in you today. Right now.

Paul, after writing to the Corinthians about the significance and meaning of the resurrection, wrote this to the Christians in Rome and said:

And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

Romans 8:11, NIV

The Holy Spirit, who, with the Father raised Jesus from the dead, is bringing new life to you. The same love that did not abandon Jesus to the grave will not let you go. He loves you with a love that is stronger than death.

Paul finishes out the chapter—Romans 8—with this powerful assurance:

Because Jesus took on death and let it exhaust its power on Him . . . Because the Father in His love raised Jesus up from the grave, vindicating His faithfulness and demonstrating His belovedness . . .

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,  neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:37-39, NIV

Now for all who are in Jesus, nothing—nothing, not even death—can separate you from the love of God. This is love.

Pray

Gracious God, you have loved us with an everlasting love. You sent your Son to earth because you love us. Jesus, you laid down your life, willingly. You are one with the Father. His love and your love are one. In your death on the cross, we see this love. And in your resurrection we see the Father’s love that would not let you go. Jesus, we say “Yes” to you today. We want to let you love us. We want to be in Christ so that the Holy Spirit can be in us. Come now, Holy Spirit. Bring your resurrection life in us. Make our hearts that were dead in sin alive again. Stir us with new power to obey you and to love you. Send us into the world with this life. Fill us with the hope that one day we will know this resurrection life in fullness. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Love That Forgives Our Sins

The resurrection changed everything. Because of the resurrection, we know what the cross was all about: a demonstration of God’s love! The Bible says, in Romans 5:8 that

“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Romans 5:8, NIV

Because of Easter, we understand the meaning of Good Friday: God’s demonstration of his love for the world!

THE TENSION OF THE CROSS

If you’ve reflected on the cross, you might notice the tension it creates. At the cross, we see Jesus, who died in our place for our sins. At the cross we see Jesus taking upon himself our guilt and our shame.

And at the cross we see the powers of darkness celebrating a premature victory. That’s not where the story ends. The cross creates a tension that is followed by an earthquake, an empty grave, and the resurrection of Jesus. 

But without the resurrection, Easter would end on Good Friday and the cross would remind the world of torture and death. Without the resurrection there would be no Ascension, no one to send the Holy Spirit, no upper room experience to launch the church, Paul would have remained Saul, and we’d be missing most — if not all — of the New Testament.

Without the resurrection our faith would be useless, grace would be faceless, and death would still be the final frontier.

But the resurrection changed everything. I’ve always liked the way Philip Yancey, an American author, talked about the importance of the resurrection. He said,

In many respects I find an unresurrected Jesus easier to accept. Easter makes [Jesus] dangerous. Because of Easter I have to listen to his extravagant claims and can no longer pick and choose from his sayings. Moreover, Easter means he must be loose out there somewhere.

The Jesus I Never Knew (1995)

The resurrection is the ultimate game-changer. 

The resurrection means that God made a way to free us from sin. The resurrection means that Jesus conquered the powers of darkness. The resurrection changed the meaning of the cross for all eternity. Before the resurrection, the cross was an instrument of death and a symbol of disgrace, but because of the resurrection the cross became a declaration of God’s love. That’s why when we look at the cross, we’re not overcome by grief, but instead we’re reminded of God’s incredible and unstoppable love that he displayed to us through Jesus. That’s why we can say, “This is love.”

LOVE THAT FREES US FROM SIN

This morning I’d like to look at how God this love frees us from sin.

“Sin” is not a popular word. In fact, it’s a confusing word. And the reason why “sin” is confusing is that our culture has removed absolutes; everything is relative. We live in a world where the line between right and wrong has faded or has its been totally erased. Truth has become circumstantial. Morals and ethics blurry – what’s right or wrong for you is not necessarily right or wrong for someone else and in this climate, “sin” becomes illusive and obsolete…or so we think.

PAINTING JUDAS AND JESUS

Let me tell you a story to illustrate. Just over 500 years ago, Leonardo Da Vinci, the noted Italian artist, painted the Last Supper. It took 7 years for him to complete it. The figures representing the twelve Apostles and Jesus were painted from living persons. The life-model for the painting of the figure of Jesus was chosen first.

Hundreds of young men were carefully viewed in an endeavor to find a face and personality exhibiting innocence and beauty, free from scars and anything that would compromise the look of innocence, and purity.

Finally, after weeks of laborious searching, the perfect young man was found. He was a 19-year-old boy whose features were perfect. He was selected to portray Jesus. It took 6 months for Da Vinci to paint the figure of Jesus.

Over the next six years Da Vinci continued to paint his masterpiece. One by one the right people were found to represent each of the eleven Apostles – with space being left for the painting of the Judas Iscariot.

Judas, you remember, was the Apostle who betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. For weeks Da Vinci searched for a man with a hard and callous face; someone with a countenance marked by scars, deceit, hypocrisy, and crime. This person’s face needed to depict a character who would betray his best friend.

So, after many discouraging experiences in searching for the right person to represent Judas, word came to Da Vinci that the perfect man had been found in a dungeon in Rome. The man had been sentenced to die for a life of crime and murder.

Da Vinci made the trip to Rome and the man was brought out from his dungeon and led out into the light of the sun. There Da Vinci saw before him a grimy man with long shaggy hair covering his face – Da Vinci knew he had found the person he wanted to represent the character of Judas in his painting.

By special permission from the king, this prisoner was carried to Milan where the picture was being painted. For months the criminal sat before Da Vinci as he finished his painting.

The day finally came when Da Vinci finished painting, and he told the guard to take the prisoner away. Suddenly, the man broke loose from their control and rushed up to Da Vinci crying,

“Da Vinci, look at me. Do you not know who I am?”

Da Vinci, looked at the man and replied,

“No, I have never seen you in my life until you were brought before me out of the dungeon in Rome.”

Then, lifting his eyes toward heaven, the prisoner said,

“Oh God, have I fallen so low?”

He turned his face to Da Vinci and cried,

“Leonardo, look at me again for I am the same man you painted just seven years ago as the figure of Christ.”

Our culture doesn’t really have a word for this. We tend to psychologize our shortcomings so that they can be recast as the result of someone else’s failure: We are the way we are because of our parents, or our community, or the poor education we received, or some other way the system failed us.

Now, all these systems may have a part to play in our failures, but that doesn’t erase the problem; if anything, it expands it. It isn’t just individuals who have failed; it’s entire communities and systems. And still—what is the word for that?

SIN ACCORDING TO THE BIBLE

The Bible’s word for that is sin. Sin means missing the mark or failing to be who God created us to be. It is a falling short of the original vocation, the first calling to be God’s image-bearers in the world who reflect his wisdom and love.

Sin is also a rebellion, an intentional turning away from God, a decision to move against Him or independent of Him.

Sin is a transgression, a crossing of lines and boundaries, a violation of another person.

And ultimately sin is a power. It is Sin with a capital “S” that holds us captive and paralyzes us with shame.

Take all of it together and we realize that sin is a dead end. It’s a grand “Game Over” that is a cancerous condition embedded in the human heart. So, the question is, What do we do now?

Love That Forgives Betrayal

Well, the Bible tells us that there was a follower of Jesus who fell short in a spectacular way. In fact, his failure was so dramatic, so epic that his story should have ended on the spot.

His name was Peter. He wasn’t just one of the disciples of Jesus; he was one of Jesus’ closest friends. And his sin was not just a minor departure. His sin was a flat-out denial of Jesus. Three times.

It’s no wonder, then, that Peter had gone back to his old way of life. He seemed to still be around the disciples, but he was not quite the same.

When the disciples heard the news that Jesus was alive, Peter and John ran to the empty tomb. John got there first, and Peter followed. They saw the grave clothes of Jesus, stained and sullied, in the empty tomb. What do you think was going on through Peter’s mind? John went into the tomb and believed, but the Bible doesn’t say what Peter’s reaction was.

Jesus appeared to Mary. Then, Jesus appeared to the disciples, passing through a locked door. As if that weren’t enough, Thomas asks to see His wounds, and Jesus shows him His hands and His feet.

Was Peter there also, in the room with the disciples? John doesn’t say.

But then, in the next chapter, Chapter 21, John gives us a long account of an encounter with Peter and the risen Jesus.

Peter, who seems to still be in contact with the disciples, announces that he’s going fishing. They say that they’ll go with him. Maybe they were trying to encourage Peter by hanging out with him? Maybe they trying to keep him company in the midst of his shame? Maybe. The Bible says,

“I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.”

John 21:3, NIV

What was going through Peter’s mind that night on the boat?

OK, maybe Jesus is alive, but that only makes things worse for me, doesn’t it? Now I know that I shouldn’t have denied Him . . . and He knows that I did. How could I ever face Him?

It’s hard to say, “I’m sorry,” isn’t it?

How could Peter recover from this? He was supposed to be the leader. He was the who walked on water. He had confessed Jesus as the Messiah. Now, he had denied Him. How could he regain any credibility with his friends? In fact, it’s a wonder they still hung around him.

You see, this is what shame does. Shame isolates us. It tells us we’re the only ones. It says that our sin is uniquely disqualifying, that no one else has ever done anything quite like it. It makes us the exception in the worst way. We’re the one person who can’t be forgiven; we’ve done the one thing that cannot be set right; we’ve gone past the “point of return”; we’ve fallen too far.

Shame tells us it’s Game Over, You’re Done, The End. And, in a sense, it’s true. Sin is a dead end.Or as the Bible puts it,

“For the wages of sin is death…”

Romans 6:23, NIV

BUT FORGIVENESS…

Jesus shows up that day in the middle of Peter’s fishing trip. The Bible says,

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

“No,” they answered.

 He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water.

John 21:4-7

The thing I love about this moment is that Jesus meets Peter where he’s at. Peter tries to retreat to his old familiar place, to his comfort zone, and Jesus meets him there.

Jesus didn’t just meet Peter there; Jesus re-enacts the scene of Peter’s first calling. It was like He was taking Peter back to the start, back to where it all began.

But something is radically different this time: the resurrection has occurred. The resurrection is a Game Changer. And it changed the way Jesus called Peter.The first time Jesus called Peter, it was about a purpose: “Follow me and I’ll make you a fisher of men.” This time, it was about a person: “Peter, do you love me?”

Three times Jesus asked Peter a question about his love. There’s a whole sermon in there, but for today, what I want you to see is this:

When we retreat in shame, Jesus comes after us again and again and again. His love will never stop chasing us. His love will never let go of us. His love can change everything.

Conclusion

What Jesus did for Peter, He wants to do for us. In fact, before He found Peter and spoke to him, He had appeared to the disciples. They were in a locked room, afraid and confused, wondering if Jesus really had been raised from the dead, and if so, what that meant for them. John writes,

 “19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

John 20:19-23, NIV

The risen Jesus breathes new life—the life of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead!—into His followers. He announces that true peace is theirs.

No more fear, no more shame, no more guilt. Peace. The true and deep sense of being put back together again, of being set right—set right with God and with one another.

And then, Jesus sends them out into the world. This peace is not just for them. This newness of life is not just for a select few. The good news is good news for the world!

Because of the resurrection, our sins can be forgiven!

Think of it: Our sins—the times we’ve missed the mark, our falling short, our transgressing and crossing of lines—are forgiven because Jesus died and rose again.

And the power of Sin that kept us bound, that paralyzed us, that held us in the same patterns of failure, is now broken.

To be forgiven is to be free. Free from guilt, free from shame, free from the power that enslaved us.

And free to be fully human; fully alive! To be what God made us to be. To reflect His image, His wisdom, His love in the world.

That day, Peter’s life changed forever. He went on to lead the start of a movement that would be called the “Church.” He preached boldly and suffered greatly. He shepherded a flock of believers and taught them what it means to be forgiven and free. A deep love for Jesus anchored him through the most difficult of days of his life.

And it all began the day that Jesus found him on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and restored him.

Friends, your life can change today. The whole trajectory of your life can change today. Maybe you’ve thought it was “Game Over,” that you’ve hit rock bottom, and a dead end because of a mistake you’ve made, or the destructive patterns in your life.

I’ve got good news for you: It’s not over. Just like it wasn’t over when Jesus died on the cross and was buried, it’s not over for you. Because Jesus carried our sins upon Himself on the cross—because God raised Jesus from the dead in victory over sin and death—it is not over. Sin is not the end.

The resurrection changed everything. The Bible tells us,

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

While we were enemies of God, while we were stuck in sin, while we were caught in the trap, Jesus came and died for us.

Romans 5:8, NIV

Before we knew how to call His name, God came running after us. God comes running after you. Just like He came after Peter.

Today is your day. This is love. And it can change everything.

Prayer

Dear Jesus, I need your help. I’m stuck. I’ve hit a dead end. I don’t want to admit it, but it’s true. I’ve crossed a line I shouldn’t have crossed; I’ve fallen short of what I know you made me to be; I’ve failed in my love for you and in my love for others. But still, you came for me. You died for me. You were raised up for me. And you call to me. So today, I’m saying, “Yes.” I want to give you my life; I want to love you fully and follow you closely. I know I can’t do it on my own. I need your resurrection life. Just as you breathed on your disciples with the Holy Spirit, breathe on me. I receive your Holy Spirit. I welcome your saving rule in my life. I receive your forgiveness and your freedom. Thank you for this peace. I am yours. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Developing Disciples or Division 1 Athletes?

74 Million High School Athletes

Today, there are some 74 million high school athletes in the United States. Many of them aspire to compete in Division 1 athletics, and some hope to one day play professional sports. These dreams are noble, admirable, and with hard work, obtainable.

However, the gap between those high school athletes who aspire to compete in college and those who are actually given the ticket to compete is significant. According to the NCAA,

More than 460,000 NCAA student-atheltes – more than ever before – compete in 24 college sports every year.

While the college athletic environment is growing, the reality is that less than 1% of all high school student-athletes will compete at the NCAA level. From here fewer than 2% of NCAA student-athletes go on to enjoy professional athletic careers.

A Christian Perspective in a Highly Competitive Context

The modern athletic setting is a reflection of the highly competitive nature of modern society. Which begs the question, how should a Christian parent, whose children compete in sports, approach the competitive context of sports?

As a Christian, father, and high school coach, I am wrestling with this reality. My two young boys show promising athletic signs, and as a former athlete, I am attracted to the possibility that with the right training my boys might also be in the elite 1% of high school athletes. However, as a Follower of Christ, I must not only check my own ambitions but consider whether my goal should be to develop Division 1 athletes or disciples?

As much good as the athletic setting has to offer, I am convinced that my greatest responsibility as a Christian parent is to point my sons to something that will outlast a career in sports or any other career for that matter. My greatest responsibility is to disciple my boys and lead them into a lasting relationship with Jesus.

Disciples vs. Division 1 Athletes

This relationship will become the foundation on which a successful life – whether in sports or elsewhere – is built. Matt Chandler, Lead Pastor of Village Church, offers similar advice to parents who are seeking to understand the role sports should play in their child’s life.

 

References:

NCAA Recruiting Facts. (2018, September 26). Retrieved from https://www.ncaa.org/sites/default/files/Recruiting%20Fact%20Sheet%20WEB.pdf

NCAA Student-Athletes. (2018, September 26). Retrieved from http://www.ncaa.org/student-athletes

Awaken Your Prayer Life

What Do You Pray About?

Not long ago I heard someone ask me,

If God were to answer all your prayers right now, would it impact anyone else expect you?

Wow. There’s certainly nothing wrong with bringing our personal requests to God, but if that’s all we pray about we should probably take another look at the true purpose of prayer.

I love the way Martin Luther, the great reformer, framed prayer:

Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance. It is laying hold of His willingness.

Luther had the right perspective on prayer. God is not opposed to answering prayer. God answers prayer all the time. We just need to gain His perspective.

A Perspective on Prayer

I heard someone once describe prayer like this:

If the request is wrong, God says, “No.” If the timing is wrong, God says, “Slow.” If you are wrong, God says, “Grow.” But if the request is right, the timing is right, and you are right, God says, “Go!”

Experiencing the power of prayer is one of the greatest encouragements Christians because it reminds us that prayer works and it should direct our adoration and thanksgiving to God. This is what the Apostle Paul was talking about in his letter to the Colossians when he wrote:

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col. 3:17)

Unanswered Prayers

We may not always receive the answers we’re looking for. When I was a child, each night at bedtime I used to pray and ask God not to make me too tall because it wouldn’t be good for my soccer career. I’m glad God didn’t answer that prayer because I ended up becoming a basketball player.

The Prayers Kids Pray

Luckily God doesn’t always answer our prayers in the way we’d hoped, but I’m sure He enjoys hearing the things we pray for. Here are a few of my favorite “Dear God” prayers by kids:

Dear God, if you watch me in church on Sunday, I’ll show you my new shoes.

Dear God, please take care of my family and take care of yourself, if anything happens to you, we’re going to be in a big mess.

Dear God, I want to be just like my daddy when I grow up, just not as hairy.

Hearing children pray can be pretty funny, but what makes a child’s prayer different from anything else is its childlike purity. They are simple, honest, and trusting. They are expectant and full of faith. A child’s prayer cuts to the heart of the matter and doesn’t question the feasibility of the miraculous. As far as a child is concerned miracles are as natural for God as eating ice-cream is for them.

A Perspective on Prayer

If you’ve lost the childlike faith from your prayer-life or if it’s been a while since you prayed, consider this perspective on prayer. It can help you awaken your prayer life.

Prayer is our privilege

As Believers, we have direct access to God’s throne of grace. Choosing not to utilize this privilege is like owning a mansion in Monte Carlo but choosing instead to sleep on the lawn outside. The home is yours – enjoy it with its privileges! Likewise, prayer is our privilege! God desires that we enter in and engage him in prayer.

Prayer is a partnership with God

 

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, Jesus told them, when you pray, say this, “Our Father, who is in heaven…” (Luke 11:2, NIV). Right from the beginning, we are told that prayer is a partnership. We are praying to our Father in Heaven. Prayer is an alliance. In prayer we enter into a partnership in which we are aligning ourselves with God’s ongoing activity on earth:

“Your kingdom come; Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. (Luke 11:2)

A partnership also implies that we have a relationship in place with God. Relationships work best when good communication takes place. Good communication must include speaking and listening. Listening to God in prayer creates a God-shaped heart within us, it’s where God-sized perspective is gained, and it is where God-sized dreams are born. Neglecting to pray is the undoing of our partnership with God and the demise of our spiritual life.

Prayer is a discipline

Corrie ten Boom, who put her life on the line to save Jews during the Nazi Holocaust, spoke of prayer in these terms:

Don’t pray when you feel like it. Have an appointment with the Lord and keep it. A man is powerful on his knees.

Prayer is a powerful discipline.

The Challenge

Make prayer a priority. Pray with your spouse. Pray with kids and grandkids. Pray when you’re alone. Pray when you’re with friends. Pray often. Pray in all circumstances. Pray without ceasing. Pray and don’t give up. Pray with joy. Pray prayers of thanksgiving. Pray prayers of faith. Pray, pray, pray. Make prayer a priority in your life. Luther put it best:

I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.

Make prayer your lifestyle. Make it your lifeline and watch your spiritual life awaken.