the Good News

I cringed inwardly. “Even if you were the only person on earth, Jesus would have died just for you.” Why did this sit so poorly with me? The speaker was only reiterating things I have heard all my life. In the week that followed, Easter “media” echoed his message again and again. Facebook posts, blogs, worship songs. “Jesus died for me!”

Yet somehow this familiar refrain left me terribly uncomfortable. An inner voice kept crying, “This is all wrong. Jesus’ death was not primarily about ME. I am not the center of this story!”

My Sunday school training quickly kicked in, “No, of course not. It’s about Jesus.” But somehow even that answer didn’t satisfy.

Then it occurred to me that Jesus wasn’t even then center of His Own story.

A recent conversation with a friend echoed in my mind. “You know,” she said, “We have so personalized and individualized the gospel today. But it wasn’t always the case. The message of John the Baptist, Jesus, and the disciples was that the Kingdom of God was coming. That was the good news.”

In describing His mission, Jesus often said that He must proclaim the Kingdom of God. Many of His parables began, “The kingdom of Heaven is like…”, and much of His teaching introduced a new way of living, a new way of thinking, that was out of step with the norms of his society—guidelines for citizens of a new Kingdom.

Jesus did not live to glorify Himself. He didn’t come to earth so that we could see the Father. Nor did He die so that I could be forgiven, have a personal relationship with Him, or live eternally.

He came, quite frankly, to turn the universe on its head; to bring about a new world order; to defeat evil once and for all and establish a Kingdom full of righteousness and peace.

In the process did He receive glory? Absolutely. Did those who saw him catch a glimpse of the Father? Of course. Did He provide a way for us to be cleansed of sin, live in loving relationship with Him, and never die? Thank God—yes, yes, and yes. But these are all small brush strokes in a bigger picture.

In His 33 years on earth, Jesus lived for something greater than His own personal story. In return, He invites each of us to live for something bigger than ourselves. The fact that we are given a part in the divine Story—invited to be citizens of this eternal Kingdom—should fill us with awe and wonder. It should make us feel small and humble and throw us to our knees in all-out worship.

Instead, we make Jesus’ time on earth about ourselves. This is understandable, in one sense, since His death is my only hope of life. But to distill the the mystery and magnificence of Jesus’ sacrifice down to simply what it means for me personally is to cheapen it, to miss the bigger picture, and to live small. Quite frankly, it is not Kingdom behavior.

As I walk away from Easter this year I am challenged to lift my eyes to something bigger than myself. I want this world to fade and become insubstantial, as I catch glimpses of the new Reality that Jesus brought about. I am hungry to learn more and more what it looks like to live each day as a citizen of this Kingdom.

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Mercy

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo, just a week or so after my previous post, I find myself needing to revisit my thoughts on mercy. Revisit and revise.

The realization struck me last Sunday in church. The week before had been Easter, and it had been a wonderful celebration. I had left feeling full and fortunate and grateful.

But the very next Sunday, as I gazed around at the remnants of the Easter service—lilies, an empty cross, candles—I became aware that in the space of just one week I had lost my focus on the life-changing, earth-shattering, universe-altering fact of God’s incarnation, death, and resurrection. As I pondered, I wondered how long it had actually taken for me to become re-immersed in my own small world with its tiny worries. One day, maybe? Just a few hours? As I reviewed my week I realized that I had lived mostly as if Easter hadn’t happened.

And it was then that the force of God’s mercy finally struck me.

You see, those beautiful things in my last post—sunrise, color, taste, etc.—those are actually gracious gifts from God. Grace is receiving above and beyond what I truly deserve. And the many comforts and joys of this life are just that.

Mercy, on the other hand, is not receiving the wrath that is due me. And standing there one week after Easter, having carelessly tossed aside the sacrifice of the only Son of God—no, not in the big “I reject salvation” way, but in my many small, moment-by-moment choices and attitudes—I finally caught a fleeting taste of the immense mercy of God.

When I am fickle, He is steady. When I am petty He is forgiving. When I am untrue to Him, He remains faithful.

It’s a wonder He puts up with me day after day, and doesn’t simply obliterate me where I stand, in all my self-centered foolishness and pride. I would certainly deserve it.

And that is the mercy that is new every morning: the fact that I am around to see another dawn. That I am given breath and life to search, grope, screw up, stumble, and draw nearer to Him one more day.