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Posts Tagged ‘resurrection’

I read once that Tolkien wrote with the pessimism of the pagan poets [1].  They uphold honor in despair, dying well, the heroic quest at the cost of losing everything you love.  But I read Tolkien and see hope scribed into every chapter.  No light, whimsical child’s hope: Tolkien’s hope is not ignorance of all things capable of clouding the good.  It’s a “fool’s hope,” [2] where anyone can see that in all likelihood, if things go on as they are, the fool will be disappointed.  In Tolkien, the fools know themselves to be fools.

 

Elven-King Fingolfin’s story weighs on the side of hopelessness.  The Silmarillion describes him as “fey” [3] when he challenges Melkor himself, living up to the epic’s heroic virtues.  What hope has an elf against a Vala?  But the Vala ought to be contended, resisted, fought.  Though the high king of the Noldor (elves) finally fell, his fight was not without effect.  The Dark Lord Melkor limped forever after.

 

At first reading, it seems that Aragorn commends this sort of despairing courage when he instructs his friends, “There are some things that it is better to begin than to refuse, even though the end may be dark.” [4]  But Gandalf, the wizard who knows his life-encompassing hope is foolish, lends a bit of insight early on.  Recognizing he is a fool, he embraces humility.  Do you hear it in Gandalf’s words? “Despair, or folly?  It is not despair, for despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt.  We do not.  It is wisdom to recognize necessity, when all other courses have been weighed, though as folly it may appear to those who cling to false hope.” [5]  He acknowledges that he may not have all the facts.  Indeed, thinking that he knew what the end would be was the prideful downfall of Denethor, who let his enemy select the facts he discovered, and so turn him to despair, and madness.  Tolkien’s works regularly discourage the assumption that we know the future.

 

He also discourages despair.  I know it doesn’t seem true.  There are some pivotal scenes driven by characters that rashly pursue death and glory.  Aragorn is accused of it when he takes the Paths of the Dead, but that perspective is refuted.  Though the way had been shut for long ages, the time had come.  Such is the way of hope.  Things go on in a certain way until the due time, and then change springs upon the world.

 

Perhaps most potent is the image of grey-eyed Dernhelm.  The warrior’s silent, calm assurance going in search of death chilled Merry.  And it awakens our empathy.  Why shouldn’t it?  Who hasn’t felt that life is going from bad to worse, and decided to rush forward to the end instead of waiting to be burned with the house?  I think maybe Tolkien intended to carry us along with this character, so that we could reach the same end.  Dernhelm was proud, seeking glory before duty, though demonstrating loyal love to King Theoden by staying close to him.  And glory was achieved.  And darkness did descend on the desperate hero.  Even as Dernhelm revealed herself as Eowyn, golden hair glittering in the storm-piercing sunrise like a figment of hope; she was cast down, poisoned, and taken for dead.  [6]

 

But now we come to it:  Tolkien’s hope is the kind that stands further and deeper than all those things – than despair and darkness and loss.  He knew about a resurrection hope, about seeds bringing forth fruit after they have fallen into the ground and died.  Maybe he knew that fruit is more glorious than merely putting an end to your enemies.  His hope embraces grief.  It accepts hard things.  Good is not determined by the outcome, but by some transcendent standard.  And this hope joyfully trusts that there is someOne good who may intervene yet.

 

For Eowyn woke, and repented her destructive ideals.  Day came again.  Darkness was not unescapable.  Faramir described the moment, “I do not know what is happening.  The reason of my waking mind tells me that great evil has befallen and we stand at the end of days.  But my heart says nay; and all my limbs are light, and a hope and joy are come to me that no reason can deny.  … in this hour I do not believe that any darkness will endure!” [7]  So Eowyn moved and married, healed and tended gardens. [8]  Her story is a fuller exposition of the transformation the Fellowship underwent in Moria.  They lost their way and lost their guide.  They had descended black depths and awakened demons so that they lost hope.  But on the field high on the mountain slopes, “they came beyond hope under the sky and felt the wind on their faces.” [9]

 

[1] Hopeless Courage by Loren Rosson, III (http://www.hollywoodjesus.com/lord_of_the_rings_guest_03.htm)

[2] The Return of the King: “The Siege of Gondor” by JRR Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin One-Volume Edition 2001; p. 797)

[3] See etymology of “fey” at http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=fey&allowed_in_frame=0

[4] The Two Towers: “The Riders of Rohan” by JRR Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin One-Volume Edition 2001; p. 430)

[5] The Fellowship of the Ring: “The Council of Elrond” by JRR Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin One-Volume Edition 2001; p. 262)

[6] The Return of the King: “The Battle of the Pelennor Fields” by JRR Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin One-Volume Edition 2001; p. 823-824)

[7] The Return of the King: “The Steward and the King” by JRR Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin One-Volume Edition 2001; p. 941)

[8] The Return of the King: “The Steward and the King” by JRR Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin One-Volume Edition 2001; p. 943-944)

[9] The Fellowship of the Ring: “The Bridge of Khazad-Dum” by JRR Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin One-Volume Edition 2001; p. 323)

 

See also, The Silmarillion: “Of the Ruin of Beleriand and the Fall of Fingolfin” by JRR Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Resurrection Part 6: Also

But if the Spirit 

of Him who raised Jesus 

from the dead 

dwells in you, 

He who raised Christ from the dead 

will also give life to your mortal bodies 

through His Spirit 

who dwells in you…

He who did not spare His own Son, 

but delivered Him up 

for us all, 

how shall He not with Him 

also freely give us 

all things?” 

~ Romans 8:11, 32


“If then you 

were raised with Christ, 

seek those things which are above, 

where Christ is

sitting at the right hand of God.” 

~ Colossians 3:1  


To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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I was looking for a CD to listen to last night, a sermon that, ironically, encourages Christians to turn the world upside down with the plan, “We’re going to go out there and DIE.”  He speaks from Galatians of dying to self.  But the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church (another reminder given me this week, from a Facebook friend).  On my way to finding that CD, I found another one.  This one is by Andrew Peterson who has been one of my new favorite artists the past 7 or 8 months.  Mom bought it for me for my birthday in December, and through circumstances didn’t give it to me until February, when I listened to it once or twice and wasn’t that interested.  The title?  “Resurrection Letters, Volume II”  I took that as a sign, and am listening to it at work today.

Actually, I am eager to share more, so I’ll tell you.  I lost the CD, in my room, while preparing for work this morning.  I looked all over for it.  Where could I have set it down?  Desk? No.  Bed? No.  Stack of jackets?  No.  Dresser?  No.  Where did it go?  I sat down to pull on my boots and decided to ask God to help me find it.  I got about as far as “Lord,” when I looked up and, blending in among boxes and shelves and cubbies on the second tier of my dresser right at eye level, was the CD.  “Thanks.”

Next, I got to work, put in the CD, and it wouldn’t play.  Well, it was playing, but I couldn’t hear it.  Our speakers at work have been fading for a while, and I haven’t even tried to play a CD in some time.  But some system sounds were working in the past month, at least on and off, so I figured I would try.  When it wasn’t producing sound, I was really disappointed.  This CD is something I need to hear, today.  So I started troubleshooting.  It turns out that the only problem was a loose cord connecting the speaker to the CPU.

So I’m listening to the Andrew Peterson CD at work, the Michael Card CD in my car.  Pondering resurrection and hope.  And crying out for the Spirit to move, mightily, in my life.  Use me to turn this world upside down.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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I guess God wants me to be thinking about these things.  On Saturday I was at a prayer meeting for a friend headed off to Africa on a three month mission trip.  Another prayer warrior present told me afterwards that one of his pastors has been in Nigeria for a few days, where the gospel was preached.  The report is that 150,000 people came forward to be saved by the blood of Jesus.  Numbers like that blow my mind.  I’ll admit, however hopeful I am, I’m skeptical.  But what if God really is moving in places like India and Africa?  What if the people in closed Muslim nations really are dreaming dreams about Jesus and running across Bibles and meeting people who will quietly preach the truth to them?

The man told me something else about Nigeria.  He said that in eight days, they witnessed two people raised from the dead.  The first was being carried, four days, by his father, to the evangelists.  By the time the child reached them, he was dead.  But the team of preachers prayed anyway, and the child came back to life.  Hearing that, another person attending the revival went and got his son from the morgue.  He’d died of a bullet wound in his chest.  They prayed for him, and he is alive now, too.

What would have happened if there had been no hope in those evangelists for the impossible?  What if, believing death to be God’s final answer, everyone had behaved rationally and ignored the impossible?  How often do I fail to even consider asking God for a miracle?

These reports are third or fourth or even fifth hand.  But I think it’s hard to confuse whether someone was dead and is now alive.  And why would you lie about things like that?  Still, my American rationalism, my lack of experience with supernatural things, pushes hard against reports about miracles.  Should I believe it?  What does it mean for me anyway?

My story isn’t over…  A few hours after that Saturday meeting (probably early on Sunday), a good friend was encouraging me that the Spirit of God is moving – an admonition to keep crying out to see Him move here, in the world around me.  My friend said that there are a group of church-planting pastors in India who prayed for someone and saw them brought back from the dead as well.  I hadn’t shared what I’d just heard from someone else.  So.

Two sources.

Two countries.

Three resurrections I heard about,

in one day.

And the time is coming, in less than a week now, when we celebrate the resurrection of Christ.  We remember that He has all authority, and has given power to us, through His Holy Spirit.  We have hope that even death that lasts for decades is not forever for those who believe.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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I’ll admit: I would be scared if I saw a resurrection.  Scared by such display of amazing power.  And then I don’t know what I would be.  Would I have unshakable faith?  Would I crave more?  Would I ever be able to not hope again?

Personally, I’ve only prayed for a resurrection once.  I wasn’t present with the dead person.  I didn’t get called to go over.  I didn’t pray out loud, and I didn’t command anything.  It was this month, and it didn’t “work.”  I found out a friend of mine – who is no more charismatic than I am – was praying for the same thing.  Our hearts cried for it.  Our minds could not make sense of the grief of the situation, and so we found that we are wired for hope.  We’ve both been learning about hope – hard hope.  Perhaps we were both being obedient in asking for something impossible.  Whatever the case, we’re both left wondering what we’re supposed to learn from hopes dashed, delusions denied, death held.

If we see a resurrection, we cannot help but hope from then on?  Or does it work the other way?  If we ask for a resurrection and don’t get it, can we ever hope again?

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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At the very end of Jesus’ earthly sojourn, He promised that those who believe in and follow Him will do miracles even greater than those He had been seen to do (John 14:12).  I’m having trouble imagining greater miracles.  But let’s at least agree that bringing dead people back to life should be included in the list of wonders accompanying the preaching of His gospel.

Peter knew this.  So did the early followers of Jesus.  They believed in a God with unlimited power.  They counted on it, acted on it.  In Acts 9 we read about a disciple named Tabitha.  She got sick and died while Peter was nearby in Lydda.  A group of believers decided to send for Peter.  Two men made the journey.  Peter didn’t hesitate to go with them.

But what was he thinking?  He’d seen people raised from the dead.  He knew it was possible.  He was filled with the Spirit of God and had just seen a whole city convert because Jesus Christ used him to heal a man named Aeneas.  What would you be thinking if someone came to you because their friend had died?

When Peter arrived, there were some people mourning.  We probably shouldn’t rebuke them; no promise had been made that Tabitha would be returned to them – unlike Jesus who had plainly told His disciples what would happen.  Peter sent everyone else out of the room, knelt by Tabitha’s washed, lifeless body.  And he prayed.  Then he commanded.  She opened her eyes and got up and was presented to her friends alive.  Simple.  People had seen and touched a dead woman and now spoke with her, continuing to receive her charity.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Michael Card has a new album out, all from the Gospel of Luke.  The subtitle is “A World Turned Upside Down” and the corresponding book is “Gospel of Amazement.”  The two songs I like the best are “What Sort of Song?” and “A Breath of a Prayer.”  Another song, “Pain and Persistence of Doubt,” accuses the characters in the gospel, and those who hear the song, of clinging to doubt and rejecting hope.  Quoting the angels at the tomb, Michael Card sings: “Why search for the living here among the dead; can’t you see that He’s simply not here?”  I want to defend myself, defend them.  Jesus was dead.  Crucified.  Dead seems pretty hopeless.  And you’re condemning us for not hoping?  Hope is one thing when we’re wishing, when something is going wrong, when someone is just sick.  But shall we believe delusions and run and tell everyone and pray for things that are impossible?

Hope hurts.  Resurrection is only amazing because death is real.  When you hope for another outcome, especially after death already

is

the

outcome,

you’re setting yourself up for painful disappointment.  Who can be blamed for accepting reality?  Building a life on what happened before instead of on what might happen, on cryptic words and promises?

In Jesus’ case, it didn’t matter that no one was hoping for His resurrection.  He had it taken care of, and would raise Himself from the dead because He had promised it;  because His resurrection proved He had conquered sin and death.  When Jesus raised Lazarus, and the few other people during His earthly ministry, He surprised believers with His choice to wait, to not grieve, to touch and command the dead.  None of the outcomes were dependent on human faith.  Whether the family or disciples hoped or not, Jesus was going to act.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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So young people are leaving the church: a disastrous omen for the future of Christianity.  We must do something.  Something different than what we have been doing.  Because the church is failing this generation. 

 

It is common to point to the pizza and games youth-group-without-accountability-or-education program as the culprit for the apostasy of college students.  Church should not be about entertainment, say the pious parents who with the next breath criticize the musicians on the praise team and complain that the worship style at their congregation doesn’t suit their tastes.  Perhaps we are not sheltering youth enough.  Maybe they need more authority figures, a connection with the whole church, including their parents. 

 

Some on the conservative side of the question point to the content of what we teach young people.  Survey after survey reveals that teens don’t know the basics of Christian theology, and certainly aren’t decision-making from a Christian worldview.  These kids have no foundation to abandon, Christian leaders rightly argue.  They’re hungry for answers.  And when we don’t equip them in the realm of apologetics, high school and college professors have little difficulty refuting the shallow traditional faith of their students. 

 

Maybe the church is too legalistic, parents and pastors suffocating kids with expectations of holiness, that ever-imposing scale of good deeds versus bad deeds on which to measure God’s favor and wrath.  When at last free of the oppressive constraints, these young adults bust out with a liberal longing for pleasure, enjoying an affirming group of friends that encourages them to stop stifling their own feelings.  So we the church ought to offer more grace, somehow imparting to the up-and-coming generations the relationship aspect of Christianity.  Like so many who have been in the church for decades, these teenagers just want to know that God is love, and He wants to be your friend, to give you your best life now. 

 

“These are the leaders of the future,” is quoted, by some with hope, by others with dark foreboding.  But our model of ministry leaves a wide gap between involvement in youth ministry and being incorporated with the rest of the congregation.  Smaller churches have no college ministry.  Even those with college ministries have merely moved the disconnect to a later date.  Those in the club of grown ups are unwilling to speak to or invest in the younger individuals – let alone take their advice – trying to move into life and faith that is overwhelming without examples.  There is truth to the protest that kids are irreverent and disrespectful and self-absorbed.  But listen to what we’re saying.  Those are the kids.  What toddler have you met who knows anything different than irreverence and selfishness?  Yet the older people attempt to train them, not fight them.  Church has failed to welcome the post-education demographic; can we be surprised they leave?

 

Yet maybe that is exactly what the young adults ought to do: leave.  An institution so divided and impotent as the evangelical church, so lacking in love or substance, is more likely to inspire bitter memories of religious hypocrisy and to shore up doubt in the power of a God mostly ignored in the actual workings of the organization.  I will say more: perhaps the adults should leave, and the young parents who feel they ought to raise their children in Sunday school should never come back.  Christians should take on the personal responsibility of living a communal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ: embracing grace as a gift both received and distributed; trust in the power and authority of the Creator God of the Resurrection; loving, serving, and discipling their fellow children of God; humbling themselves before the voice of God coming through Scripture, teachers, and youths; pursuing fellowship with God and with each other; and living out a life so different from the world that those exposed have no doubt that only the miracle of God could give such abundant life! 

 

And just maybe when we see such a symptom of desperate unwell in our churches, we should repent, falling on our faces before the Lord of Wisdom, desiring His healing and direction rather than the empty programs and various solutions proffered by man. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Yesterday a friend was sharing how puzzling it is to him that God despises child-sacrifice (such as the kind recorded in the Bible, to the idol Molech) but God still asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to Him, and even that God Himself practiced human sacrifice in the form of His Son, Jesus. 

 

Sacrifices to idols and to Molech are an effort for man to please god by giving him a thing most valuable.  Our most valuable offerings cannot appease God.  Only a perfect sacrifice could satisfy the requirement that remission must come by the shedding of blood.  Only God Himself was good enough. 

 

God, even more than life, is the highest priority.  Faith in Him is more important than anyone’s life, and disobedience is not justified even in a situation where a life is at stake. 

 

The child sacrifices to Molech had more to do with bartering with god than with repentance for sins or faith.  Abraham, in contrast, was the patriarch of faith, and the Bible implicitly says that the command to sacrifice Isaac was about Abraham’s faith (interesting since Isaac was old enough to have resisted Abraham, but he didn’t). 

 

Abraham’s faith was tested when God asked Him to sacrifice Isaac.  But what does child sacrifice really have to do with faith? 

 

Hebrews 11 explains why he got so much credit for his faith in the story of sacrificing Isaac:

 

Hebrews 11:17-19, “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,  Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called:  Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.”

 

Abraham believed God would make his son live, no matter what.  God also knew when Jesus gave His life that there would be a resurrection.  Jesus knew about it, and told His disciples to expect Him to come back on the third day. 

 

Even if Abraham just believed Isaac would not stay dead, we might think that he was self-deluded and irrationally hopeful rather than a man of great faith, unless God gave Abraham a strong reason to believe this.  Did He? 

 

Abraham had some difficulties believing God’s plan for him.  Years into the covenant and promises, Abraham and Sarah still hadn’t born any children.  So Abraham tried things his own way, siring Ishmael through Hagar, his wife’s slavewoman.  God made it quite clear that He had promised a son through Sarah, and that Ishmael was not the heir. 

 

Then Abraham believed God, but Sarah doubted until she conceived Isaac.  God reiterated that the promise to make Abraham many nations, to bless the world through his Seed, (the Covenant) was through Isaac:

 

Genesis 17:15-16, 19, “And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be. And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her. And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him.”

 

They gave birth to a son.  So Abraham had learned his lesson about doubts.  He knew that either God would intervene, or God would raise Isaac back to life. 

 

Abraham knew that God’s command (to sacrifice Isaac) could not supercede God’s promise (to make Isaac into many nations).  This point is made in Galatians:

 

Galatians 3:17, “And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.” 

 

The just always lived by faith. 

 

In Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, I see a vivid example of God’s plan for salvation depicted in the story of the Sacrifice of Isaac. 

  • The promise was from God, and He would keep it. 
  • The son was miraculously given by God. 
  • The command was God’s. 
  • The faith was in God. 
  • And the substitute sacrifice was God’s. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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So the Saturday before Easter, the Sabbath between Jesus’ death and resurrection, is one of the most fascinating periods in the Bible to me.  I wonder each year what Jesus’ disciples experienced.  Scattered, afraid, sad.  Peter denied him.  Judas committed suicide.  John was no doubt taking care of Mary.  But there were others: the rest of the twelve, the band of companions who had seen to the physical needs of the group, including women who saw Jesus crucified and made plans to go to His tomb on Sunday.  What did they all thing?  How did they cope?  Did they just sleep?  Were they self-centered, worried Judas would betray them next?  Did they think?  Did they think they’d been wrong, that Jesus wasn’t Messiah after all?  Did they remember what He said about dying and rising again?  Did they believe still that Jesus was the Messiah, but had been defeated? 

The last question is part of the subject of a little story I wrote several years ago, and which I published on When the Pen Flows in July: Nathanael’s Dark Night

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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