How to find the good life (is it in North Dakota?)

9 Jun

Do you want to have a good life?  Apparently you can find it in North Dakota.  I wonder what people from North Dakota have to say about that?  I’ve never been, but I often say to my wife, after dealing with some kind of difficulty in our family, finances, or jobs, that maybe we should sell it all and go live off the grid in North Dakota.  Maybe the good life is there.

When we are dealing with the messiness of life, when life seems turned upside-down, we can long for more.  We want the good life.  Are you longing for it?

Jesus’ disciples had just had their lives turned upside-down.  Life seemed like it was in a shambles.  After three amazing years, the best years of their lives, Jesus was arrested, put on trial, beaten and killed.  In a matter of a few short hours, all they worked for, all they gave during those three years, was ruined.  Now they locked themselves in a room in Jerusalem, hiding away, afraid that the religious establishment could arrest them just as easily as they came for Jesus.  Only a few of the women were courageous enough to go place the traditional burial spices on Jesus.

And those women came back with astounding news.  He is risen!

He is risen?  Dead people do not rise again.  So what could this mean?, the disciples wonder.  A stolen body?  What is going on?  He is risen?

Eventually Jesus himself shows up to two of the disciples.  You can read about it in Luke 24.  Then he shows up to Peter too.  All of sudden there is some strong evidence that he really did rise again.

But how would you feel?  Your life has just been wrecked.  You thought for certain you were living the good life.  Following Jesus, things are great.  You are riding a wave of national popularity, recognition and prestige.  You have latched on to a rising star.  Things are good.  But now all is lost, and it feels like life is a mess.  Not only the disciples, but we, too, can feel like that.  Many of us are wondering how to live the good life.  Many of us are wondering what life is all about.

It is great to hear some good news, but really, does lots of good evidence remove all doubt?  NO!  Why?  It is hard to believe in someone and give our lives to follow them when we can’t or don’t see them face to face.  It is also hard to believe in someone and follow their teachings when their teachings don’t always make sense to us.  It is also hard when we see people who say they believe in and follow Jesus and those Christians disappoint us or act in a way that is NOT as Jesus would act.

So, yes, we do still doubt.  That means to follow Jesus there is still FAITH involved.  It’s OK to doubt, to ask questions, to struggle through things with Jesus.  Jesus welcomes that.  It is a part of growing and learning, like our kids who ask “why” and “who” question as they grow and learn.

I’ve been listening to a podcast lately called The Deconstructionists, and it is two Christian guys embracing doubt and faith questions and struggles and trying to make sense of it.  They interview lots of people who are wrestling with doubt as well.  And instead of increasing my doubt, through their podcast I have found that their embrace of difficult questions actually increases my faith!  I would encourage you to listen to The Deconstructionists.

So where does that leave us?

Resurrection Sunday is the most incredible day of the year for disciples of Jesus. But it came at a cost. The only pathway to glory was through suffering. Multiple times on the day of Resurrection we see various people mention how the victory Jesus won came through pain.

We’ve heard it before in our world.  “No pain, no gain.”  People understand the principle that when you go through difficult times, you grow.  When you do the hard work of weight training, you strengthen your muscles.  I remember when I first started working out in the fall of 2009.  I went to the gym and worked out with our LBC student intern at the time, Joe.  He and his friend Matt put me through a beginner’s workout.  But even on a beginner’s level, I was so out of shape I couldn’t do much.  Push-ups, pull-ups, dips, maybe a couple of reps and sets each.  When it came to running, I was a little better.  But that night in bed, guess what happened?  My muscles were on fire.  It hurt so bad.  The soreness.  I got out Icy-Hot or something, and because I was in pain, I put on way too much cream.  It stunk up our bedroom and then we couldn’t sleep.  In time, I stuck with exercise, the pain subsided, and my abilities grew as I strengthened.

For Jesus, it was a bit like that, and yet his pain produced for us something so infinitely better: He went through the sacrifice of the cross so our sins could be forgiven.

A few years ago I was walking through our laundry room to go out to our deck to fire up the grill and make burgers.  Opening the door from the laundry room to the deck, I noticed how dirty the doors were.  Then I saw on the dryer a box of Magic Erasers.  There was one left.  So while I was waiting for the food to cook, I decided to use the Magic Eraser on the door.  You know how grimy doors can get over time.  Those Magic Erasers really cut through the dirt.

Permit me this analogy, but Magic Erasers reminded me of the death of Christ.  Did you ever use one?  You get it a bit wet, and you use it to scrub off the dirty spots.  But what happens to the eraser?  As it removes the stain, the eraser takes a beating.  In essence, it dies.  It disintegrates in your hands.

As Jesus hung on the cross, the Lord placed the guilt of the sin of all humanity on him.  And he took our sin, our stain, to his death.  He gave his body and his blood for us.

Anyone can die.  That’s nothing special.  But only Jesus lived a perfect life and didn’t deserve to die.  None of us can do achieve perfection.  We all sin, and that creates a brokenness between us and God.  The result of that brokenness is that we die and are separated from God.  But God loves us and wants to be in a relationship with us now and for eternity.  That brokenness was not acceptable to Him, so he sent Jesus to fix what was broken.  The stain of sin needed to be cleaned.  And that brings us to his resurrection.  Anyone can die, but onlt Jesus didn’t stay dead!  He defeated sin and death by rising again through the power of God.  That means there is hope in him!

In Luke 24, after Jesus broke the bread when he was talking with two disciples, he immediately disappeared before their eyes.  They finally realized who he was, that he was truly risen, and they returned at once, running I imagine, the 7 miles to Jerusalem.  I know about how fast it takes a person running a steady jog to cover 7 miles.  Around an hour.  Breathing heavy, they burst in on the disciples and declare “It is true!  The Lord has risen!”

Notice how the response has changed.

No longer is it a “He has risen?”  but it is an emphatic “It is true!  The Lord has risen.”

Because he has risen, we now have hope.

Hope that our sins can be forgiven.  Hope of a relationship with him that previously was not possible because of our sins.  Hope of being with him one day in heaven.  Hope of being with him right now, during our days on earth, able to have a foretaste of what it means to live life in his kingdom.  Hope of his resurrection power changing our lives and changing the lives of all those who follow him.

Jesus’ resurrection matters now.  God, through Jesus, is saying to all of us that he wants us to experience his resurrection power. 

It was only just beginning to dawn on those disciples what Jesus’ resurrection meant.  God was doing a new thing.  Through his resurrection he defeated the power of sin, death and the devil.  He was victorious.  His power is greater.  And he wants to change our lives as well.

I can tell you without question that living life as a child of the King is the best possible way to live.   Our world offers us so many alternatives, and they look good.  Many of you have felt firsthand in your own lives that following the way of our society has left you empty, dissatisfied, lonely, and wondering if there is any meaning to life.

Jesus comes to us and says “I hold out to you a gift.  This gift is new life as you believe in and follow me.  Because I am the way, I am the truth, and I am the life.”

This new life is what resurrection is all about.  Do you need to embrace his gift of new life?  Just like Jesus showed us, it isn’t a life of ease that he is promising, but it is the BEST possible, most abundant life.

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