Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Why the Cross does NOT have the Final Word

At my desk at City Hall one day, I scanned Portage la Prairie’s Fees & Charges Schedule for 2018. It’s posted on the City website, should you ever need to know how much it’ll cost you to buy a pet license (free until the end of March), photocopy a tax bill, rent a mosquito fogger, have your water turned on, or buy a grave—among many other things. 

I perused the cemetery fees with great interest. Adult burial plots range from $870 to $970, not counting opening and closing. No matter how hard I studied the schedule, I could not find a fee for a grave that you want to rent temporarily. 

One of the popular songs on Christian radio for the past year has been, The Cross Has the Final Word, written by Cody Carnes and recorded by The Newsboys. Although I understand what the song is trying to say, I think it misses the mark. The intent of the key phrase is that the power of Jesus Christ and what he accomplished by dying on the cross trumps everything—sin, disease, war, religion, and death. 

But it wasn’t his cross that achieved all that. If the cross really had the final word, then Jesus Christ would be just another crucified Jew. We may never have heard of him. If an instrument of death has the final word, then death wins. If the cross has the final word, there is no hope for me. 

As a kid, I learned how Jesus’s followers buried his body in a rich man’s tomb, fulfilling a prophesy made centuries earlier. I always assumed this spoke to Jesus’s poverty, that he lived without enough means to buy a burial plot of his own. While that’s probably true, a more profound thought occurred to me a couple of years ago.

It wasn’t until our church started singing a song called Resurrecting (by Elevation Worship) that it finally dawned on me. It says, “The tomb where soldiers watched in vain was borrowed for three days.” The body of Jesus wasn’t placed in a borrowed tomb because he was poor, but because he would only need it for a little while! I wonder what our local funeral directors would say if I walked in and said I’d like to take care of some pre-arrangements, but I only needed my grave for three days.

The final word is not the cross of Good Friday. It is the resurrection of Sunday. It is Christ’s empty tomb that really has the final word. Which means it isn’t truly empty at all, because it’s filled with hope. A song written by two of the worship leaders at my church says, “The empty grave holds my hope each day.” I love that, because it speaks not only of life after death, but life right now, filled with hope and purpose every day. Who here doesn’t want that?

Titus 3:8 says, “God’s gift has restored our relationship with him and given us back our lives. And there’s more life to come—an eternity of life! You can count on this.” 

No matter how far from God you think you are, the truth is that you’re never more than one step from him. Easter is the perfect time to take that one step. The late Reverend Billy Graham said, “I’ve never met a man who accepted Jesus Christ and regretted it.” 

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Everybody's Doing It

Right around the time the mayor challenged me to write about mortality, a couple of other related things happened. A Facebook friend accused me of wishing my life away because I wanted January to end. And my mother lamented, “what is it with all the deaths lately?”

I was beginning to get the message.

To the mayor, I said, “Well, we’re all dying. I suppose mortality is a relative topic for a blog post.”

To the Facebook friend, I admitted that in many ways I do wish my life away. That’s because I believe something C.S. Lewis said: “There are far, far better things ahead than anything we leave behind.” Anything! I wouldn’t mind one bit if God chose to call me home today, but I’ll trust his timing.

With my mother, I held my tongue. But last time I checked, the odds of dying are a hundred percent. I may be lousy at math, but I do grasp the concept of a hundred percent.

Everybody’s doing it, but hardly anyone’s talking about it—even when it’s imminent. Why is that?

With Easter approaching, I think it’s a great time for us to consider this matter of death and the hereafter. In fact, I think we can talk about this for at least four weeks. You can tune out or tune in, it’s your call. Either way, your turn to die is coming. The only piece we don’t know is when or how.

I know some people believe that once we die, that’s it. We cease to exist. They could be right, but if so, there’s nothing more to say. 

So I’m going to plunge forward with this series on the premise of my own belief, based on the Bible. It’s summed up fairly economically for us in Hebrews 9:27-28: “Everyone has to die once, then face the consequences. Christ’s death was also a one-time event, but it was a sacrifice that took care of sins forever. And so, when he next appears, the outcome for those eager to greet him is, precisely, salvation.”

So, with that out of the way, I hope you’ll keep reading.

“Every man dies, not every man really lives.”
If you’ve seen the movie Braveheart about William Wallace, Scotland’s martyr to freedom, you are familiar with the quote above. If you knew you were going to die tonight, could you honestly say you have really lived? I hope so. It’s not a matter of longevity. I’ve known people who have packed far more life into thirty years than some do into ninety—and I don’t mean bungee jumping or globetrotting or sampling every delicacy known to man. I’m talking about making an impact, leaving a legacy. Using whatever time you have to invest in the purposeful work God placed you on this planet to do. Bringing his kingdom to the people around you, using whatever talents and passions he’s given.

If you can’t say you’ve really lived, what would need to happen for you to be able to say you have? I sure hope it’s not some superficial bucket list, some tourist trap you’ve always wanted to visit, a golf course you’ve hoped to play, or a mindless feat of daring you haven’t quite worked up the courage for. I hope it would require a bit of self sacrifice. That’s where life is found. (Check out Matthew 16:25).

Something to think about until we continue next week.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Changing the Atmosphere

My little town on the prairie is a happenin’ place. The announcement of the world’s largest pea protein processing facility opening here, followed by the announcement of Simplot’s plan to double its production, is breathing optimism into the atmosphere. I’m no economic development expert, but it doesn’t take a genius to know the ripple effect means all this good news is only the beginning.

As it should, much praise has been poured out on our municipal councils, city and RM staff, provincial officials, and all involved in making these industrial dreams come true. It takes the efforts of many people working together and putting in long hours to make massive projects reality. We applaud you all!

Today, though, I’d like to suggest there just might be an element to this success that is being overlooked in our media, board rooms, and coffee shops. A catalyst that no one can see. A force at work behind the scenes. Dare I speak of it? Consider the evidence and judge for yourself.

In 2014, my church (Prairie Alliance) embarked on a prayer journey where we discerned what God is calling us to be in our community. This led to the start of 24/7 prayer weeks, where ordinary people sign up to pray in one-hour slots, so that prayers go up around the clock for that week. I’m not suggesting for a minute that ours is the only church praying. A movement is definitely afoot across Portage la Prairie’s community of faith. Ours is simply the one with which I’m familiar.

During these prayer times, folks are given a list of specific things to ask God for. This list would fill three of my blog posts by itself, so I’ll point out a few items as they relate to recent news headlines. You can decide whether a connection exists. 

The list includes a section where we pray for our front-runners. It names our city and RM council members by name, as well as other community leaders. We ask God to deliver our citizens from pessimism to optimism, from a victim mentality to an empowered one; from a scarcity mindset to an abundance mindset; from fear to joy; from caution to vision. Are you seeing a link?

We’ve been praying for creative partnerships in Portage – for organizations committed to similar goals, that they can leverage resources for greater effectiveness. Have you seen this happening anywhere?

Here’s a sentence lifted right out of the prayer guide:

“Pray for the success of industry and business in Portage; that the resources generated by this success would be poured back into Portage for the good of the city.”

You can call it a coincidence. Or you can call it psychological, that what we pray for we somehow, subconsciously, cause to happen. Or you can consider the lyrics to the Chris Tomlin song we’ve been singing for years, “God of this City,” or the promise of the Bible where it says, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (II Chronicles 7:14) 

However you see it, doesn’t it make you curious to know what else is on that prayer list? It’s not top secret; anyone is welcome to jump on board. Trust me, if you live here, you’re “on the list.” You are being prayed for. Momentum is building. Oh, did I mention the repeating tag line in that song? For greater things have yet to come, and greater things are still to be done in this city…”