Wrestling with the Hurricane: The Empty Tomb of Jesus

Jesus is alive. Too many saw Him, met with and touched Him after His tomb was found vacated—too many of these died savagely with this testimony on their lips. Still, for many the resurrection remains beyond belief—a thought that lies beyond the ability to cope. Even so, all people must wrestle with this greatest event in human history.

In a science fiction novel set millions of years in the future, a character summarized global history, noting,  “Following the death of Jesus Christ, there was a period of readjustment that lasted for approximately one million years…”

How do you cope with such a colossal event…?


“How can you cope with the end of a world and the beginning of another one?  How can you put an earthquake into a test-tube or the sea into a bottle? How can you live with the terrifying thought that the hurricane has become human, that fire has become flesh; that Life itself came to life and walked in our midst?

“How can you cope with the concept that mankind tried to kill the God but He lived and now is our judge? How can a person come to Easter services and not be profoundly transformed by the fact that once in the history of humanity a truly innocent man died in our place and rose to life never to die again and he offers us eternal life?

“Christianity either means all of that, or it means nothing. It is either the most profound and devastating disclosure of the deepest reality in the world, or it’s a sham, a nonsense and just deceitful acting. Most of us, unable to cope with saying either of those things, condemn ourselves to live in the shallow world in between. We may not be content there, but we don’t know how to escape until we are personally transformed by the resurrected Jesus Christ—from observers to worshippers of the living God.”

Adapted from NT Wright, For All God’s Worth

He is risen indeed.

—j

2021 Will Be…

“Whatever may happen, however seemingly inimical to it may be the world’s going and those who preside over the world’s affairs, the truth of the Incarnation remains intact and inviolate. Christendom, like other civilizations before it, is subject to decay and must sometime decompose and disappear. The world’s way of responding to intimations of decay is to engage equally in idiot hopes and idiot despair. On the one hand some new policy or discovery is confidently expected to put everything to rights: a new fuel, a new drug, détente, global government. On the other, some disaster is as confidently expected to prove our undoing: Capitalism will break down. Fuel will run out. Pandemics will lay us low. Climate change waste will kill us off. Overpopulation will suffocate us, or alternatively, a declining birth rate will put us more surely at the mercy of our enemies.

“In Christian terms, such hopes and fears are equally beside the point. As Christians we know that here we have no continuing city—that crowns roll in the dust and every earthly kingdom must sometime flounder, whereas we acknowledge a King that men did not crown and cannot dethrone, as we are citizens of a city of God they did not build and cannot destroy. Thus, the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, living in a society as depraved and dissolute as ours. Their games, like our television, specialized in spectacles of violence and eroticism. Paul exhorted them to be “steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in God’s work,” to concern themselves with the things that are unseen. “For the things which are seen are temporal but the things which are not seen are eternal.” It was in the breakdown of Rome that Christendom was born. Now in the breakdown of Christendom there are the same requirements and the same possibilities to eschew the fantasy of a disintegrating world and seek the reality of what is not seen and eternal—the reality of Christ.” —Malcolm Muggeridge (with a few minor updates)

2021 will be glorious.

—j

Because of Bob…

Bob Ayala was singing the very first time I darkened the tent flaps of Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa. Some friends from Seattle has discovered the Christian tent-venue in Orange County and invited me to tag along. I was stunned. Bob was a Christian balladeer who sounded like a mixture of Jose Feliciano and Neil Young, but his lyrics were introspective, spiritual and utterly gripping. Because of Bob, Calvary became my home and I am now one of her pastors. But I digress.

Whenever Bob came to town I was there. He sang and emoted through his oversized Gibson J-200 guitar, and God spoke through him. He couldn’t see, but God gave him eyes that pierced human pretense and dug deep into a man’s soul. After three years listening and absorbing his gift, I decided I needed to meet him—and learn.

When I first called him, he thought I was joking. My first question was an obvious one—what kind of guitar he played (it was the finest sounding instrument I ever heard), and he told me. My other question strained credulity and made him laugh. “Do you give guitar lessons?” I was serious. I’d been playing guitar for a few years, but lacked artistic form—something he possessed in abundance. I wanted that. He hummed and hawed and finally said, “Well, I could use the money, so okay.”

That began our friendship. Lessons soon evolved into visits, endless chess matches, jam sessions in his tiny living room and nights out with he and his bride, Pam, in Westwood Village feasting at LaBarbara’s Pizza.

Then, one day he asked to borrow my el-cheap-o 12-string guitar, which I happily handed over. I dropped by for a visit a couple weeks later when he asked me to listen to something he wrote on my guitar, specifically for a 12-string instrument. He called it “Ancient of Days”. It went on his first album and has been my favorite worship song ever since. In 1979 he performed the music at Kathee’s and my wedding—Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, played classically with a slight folksy bent. He surprised us both with the greatest original wedding song never published. It had no title and still rings in my and Kathee’s hearts after all these years.

I received a call from Bob in 1982 when he asked for my thoughts about a life-changing decision he needed to make—and for prayer. Melody Green, Keith Green’s widow asked him to take over the music ministry for her late husband at Last Days Ministries in Texas. This was huge, and I knew that if he said yes, I would not see him again for a long time. The answer was obvious—God was calling.

The last time I saw Bob was back stage at a Keith Green Memorial Concert where we spoke briefly between sets. We felt rushed and he was justifiably preoccupied. A few years later he and Pam called me from Texas. We chatted for a couple hours and he excitedly told me about his new CD (Who Was This Man). That was the last time we spoke. Pam passed into heaven in 2008 and Bob moved to the east coast where he led worship for a truly blessed congregation.

It was because of Bob that I have led worship and performed songs for more than 35 years. It was because of Bob that I discovered the joys and convictions of C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, learned to emote with my guitar and play chess with a blind man wearing soaked white teeshirts, sitting in front of fans on sweltering SoCal afternoons. I know, I know—it was because of Jesus—but He used Bob to get to me.

Bob left for heaven yesterday—the same day as C.S. Lewis did years before. I think it was God’s way of saying ‘well done’ with a smile. You may not remember his first album, Joy by Surprise, but the album cover was simply prophetic: Bob stepping out of a dark doorway into a sun-drenched Narnia, seeing for the very first time—the face of Aslan.

“…The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.” And as He spoke He no longer looked like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us, this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that [Bob] lived happily ever after. But for [him] it was only the beginning of the real story. All [his] life in this world and all [his] adventures… had only been the cover and the title page [of the book]; now at last [he is] beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” —C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle, The Chronicles of Narnia

 

Watch, Listen, Grow

I have the best job in the world—making the Bible simple, as it was meant to be.

CLICK HERE to hear my audio sermons (and a few by some excellent friends).

CLICK HERE to watch my video messages at Biblical sites in Israel, Jordan, Greece and Turkey.

Here’s a sample…enjoy.

In Excelsis Deo

Imagine eternity.

Imagine infinity—imagine absolute life and infinite power, with no beginning and no end. Imagine infinite size and mind, boundless knowledge, unapproachable holiness in both being and motive—perfection beyond anything anyone ever dreamt—ultimate power to create and destroy with utter absence of malice entwined with supreme, omniscient Justice. Such power—such absolute personhood—holy and just, vast and unstoppable—light so brilliant and holiness so blinding that only the holy can enter. Yet He is compassionate, tirelessly loving, overflowing with grace and mercy—all superlative qualities lavished on sullied beings—on the rebellious, rejecting, wicked little creatures that He, in the beginning, created to be the recipients of His giving nature—of all His love and grace. Suddenly the simple, often clichéd words Jesus told a desperate Pharisee take on new force, new weight, fresh worship:

 “For God so loved—He gave…”

And, as if that were not enough, He told us to approach this infinite, eternal, all-powerful, all knowing, all holy, all righteous, all discerning, supremely just, immeasurably vast God as “Our Father…”

That is miraculous. That is Christmas.

O come let us adore Him.

—j

A Light in Mordor

There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tower high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

It’s like a chapter from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings—hope dims in the creeping clouds of Mordor while armies driven by fear and rage cower in the eaves of the deepening shadows. But it was just today’s Facebook and news reads. Angry? Depressed? Fearful? Hopeless? It’s easy to slide into the reeking pits of the Land of Shadows.

Who do we believe? What is truth? We won’t find it in Mordor. The shadows “are only a small and passing thing,”—hope, truth, light remain like the stars and aren’t going anywhere. Man has made his mess, God made the stars.

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm.” —Psalm 20:7–8

Arise.

—j