Good Friday Reflections

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

1 Corinthians 15:17-19

If Good Friday were the end of the story and the Man on the cross merely died, the way I’ve lived my life for the last 17-odd years has been nothing more than a waste.

Without the Resurrection, the sacrifices I’ve made, the pain I’ve endured, the hours spent in prayer and Bible study, the money gifted to the Church and missions – wasted. Useless. Meaningless.

But don’t ask me. Ask Moses, a Ugandan man who’s been run out of his home along with his wife and 6 children because of his decision to follow Yeshua instead of Mohammed.

Or Sukbati whose husband was murdered for his faith and who now must support five children in the midst of her grief. Yet she has said she will not give up on Jesus.

Without the Resurrection, Good Friday is no longer good. It becomes just a day that another man died – one of billions. And Moses and Sukbati and millions like them suffer needlessly – giving up ease in this life for no reason at all.

Worse yet, without the Resurrection, we are all still in our sins. Me, Sukbati, and all believers. Believe it or not, friends, that’s worse than any persecution or pain this life can throw at us.

It means an ancient and creeping death sickens our hearts and decays our spirits, destroying any hope of restoration with our Creator and making mockery of the innate desire for immortality we all hold deep within. That is what sin is, and how rightly we should feel horror at it.

But the good news of Good Friday is that it did not end when Yeshua declared, “It is finished,” and gave up His spirit.

Firstly, His death was an act of purpose – He gave up His spirit; it was not taken from Him. He died on purpose, giving His perfect life in payment of the debt we have all incurred by our rebellious ways.

Then, on the first Easter Sunday, God raised up His one and only Son, so that the final victory over sin and death has been won. Sin brought death into the world; the sinless life of Yeshua Messiah, Christ Jesus my Lord, took on death and defeated it by His return to life.

Now we who are in Christ live a life of self-sacrifice – not because we are good people or for some hope of self-improvement – but because we are grateful for the Man who bought back our souls from death.

The life I live, I do not live for the praise of others but out of sheer thankfulness. If He gave His perfect life for me, I can certainly give my broken mess right back to Him. It may not be much, but it’s all I have. And I give it willingly, grateful even if I am ever called to suffer the rest of my years for His sake, because He already suffered for mine.

The hope of Easter is not a hope for today or for any earthly good at all. It’s a hope for a future far beyond today; a hope that in 100 and 1000 and countless years beyond, those of us who follow Jesus now will be following Him still, rejoicing in His presence, forever freed from sin, death, and despair.

Forever adoring the One who first adored us so much that He gave up the life of His one and only Son that we may join Him in eternal worship.

Hallelujah! He is risen!

When Relationships Chafe

We love because he first loved us.
(1 John 4:19)

Ready or not, the holiday season is upon us.

In my country, the official kick-off was Thanksgiving Day – a day of feasting and gratitude ironically followed by the slightly sickening commercial festivity known as “Black Friday” which actually begins Thursday evening until “Cyber Monday” takes over and filches more dollars from the American pocket. But I digress…

This year, my family had a phenomenal Thanksgiving week. We were blessed to spend some time in Florida with my dad and stepmom. One of my sisters and her family came, too, and what with the great company, fantastic weather, and delectable food, I doubt we could have concocted a better way to spend the week.

But I realize not everyone is so fortunate.

For many people, the family time aspect of the holidays spells nothing but frustration. We all have those family members who tend to be more querulous, and some among us spend the holidays biting our tongues – or wishing we had.

Every family bears a bandaged wound or two. Every family carries scars from past hurts. It’s a part of being human in a fallen world. The brutal truth is that our real-life family gatherings are more apt to resemble a Griswold family Christmas than a Hallmark movie.

The enforced familial closeness of the holidays can and often does cause simmering tensions to boil over.  But you know what? Even then, family time is good.  In fact, I would venture to say this season is wonderful because of the relational difficulties.

You see, one sunny Florida afternoon, I walked back to my earthly dad’s house and talked with my heavenly Dad along the way. In particular, I was praying over the absence of one other sister at our feast. One of our family’s bandaged wounds.

As I prayed about the situation and about others who are more difficult to love, the Spirit of God whispered the words of 1 John 4:19 into my heart. We love because He first loved us.

Naturally, I went back and read the rest of the chapter and I see what He means. When we are faced with prickly relatives or with co-workers, members of our church family, or even strangers at the grocery store who are a little more challenging to endure, it is at precisely this point that we have a choice to make:

Will we love only those who are easy to love? Or will we love them because our Lord first loved us?

I feel now is a good time to mention that this “when He first loved us” moment was hardly one we can boast about. Romans 5:10 reminds us that we were enemies of God when He loved us enough to offer the dearest part of Himself as ransom for our crimes. He didn’t love us when we were lovable but when we were in full-tilt rebellion against Him.

Our Lord Jesus, Himself, tells us more than once to love our enemies (see Matt. 5:44, Luke 6:27, 35, et al). And back in 1 John 4, the beloved disciple has a great deal more to say about love, not the least of which is a sobering reminder that love isn’t lived out in Hallmark moments but in the gritty and often painful moments of forgiving the unforgivable and answering sharp words with graciousness.

Not because those who hurt us deserve it, but because neither did we. And yet, He loved us anyway.

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
(1 John 4:10-11)

While we’re busily putting Christ back in Christmas and squeezing in Advent devotionals between shopping sprees and holiday parties, let’s be certain that our daily choices match our lofty sentiments. Let’s try to keep in mind that forgiving can only be done when there is something to forgive. Grace and mercy can only be shown when they aren’t deserved.

In love, let’s hold one another accountable to living and loving in humility and with the grace God extends to us. Not necessarily because our families and associates are worth it, but because HE is. And we trust Him enough to obey.