Sunday, April 13, 2014

Easter in Real-Time

Last night, I had the unique experience of getting to see a documentary about someone I know. It was a friend who, quite literally in a former life, started a nightclub that revolutionized music culture in Dallas and club culture across the country. The interviewees in the film described this club as "wild," "lecherous," and to some degree a drug haven (though the latter part was not necessarily the intention of the owners or managers). 

Today, my friend is a devout Christian leading a quiet and peaceable life with his wife and daughter. He's given up his night club project and has taken up our seminary-- as treasurer of the board, his business skills keep the lights on at our little school. This is not to say necessarily that "nightclubs are bad" and don't mix with Christianity (who doesn't love a good dance party?): rather, these are just elements of a much larger story about a man who came to faith in Christ from an unlikely set of circumstances.  

Attending the premiere of this film in the week leading up to Easter gave me a tangible, real-time reminder of what this whole Christianity thing is all about: new life. Jesus Christ died on a Cross two thousand years ago to forgive sin, yes, but He also rose from the dead to manifest new life: life beyond sin and its consequence, death. In offering Himself for the world, He defeated those powers and ushered in a new creation that has the power to re-make the world. That means to be a Christian isn't just to say, "Glad I'm off the hook for that bad stuff I did" but it's to say, "In Christ, I am a completely new person." 

My friend is a new person. The old man is gone. His former self, I'm sure, would not recognize him today. In fact, I think a lot of his old friends don't even recognize him. His flesh-and-bones story of transformation is an illustration of the fundamental reality of the Christian gospel: God has come to heal the world so profoundly that it becomes as new. And it's evidence that this healing is much, much deeper than mere behavior-change. It's not about just getting one's act together, slipping up a bit less or dropping a bit more in the offering plate on Sundays. It's about total and complete death to the old and definitive, irreversible newness of life. It's about resurrection. 

But one more thing last night taught me about Easter: this new man went to the premiere of the film. He joined his old community and extended the hand of fellowship to them. He didn't turn his back on them or write them off as "the heathens" he left behind. Rather, he stood in front of all of them afterward and said he wanted this film to be produced so that he could share with his old community the good news of new life he has found in Christ. 

And see, that's the thing about this new-creation life: it spreads. Jesus doesn't hoard what He won in his resurrection, but offers it to anyone who would come to Him. In fact, He was raised for our sake. And He doesn't call His followers to run away from their own stories-- however dark-- in order to hide in some Christian-ghetto. No; He says, "Go into all the world." After last night, I'm convinced that nothing less than the power of the resurrection could have compelled my friend to re-live some of his darkest memories on a large screen and then stand in front of that entire crowd and speak to them with love and humility. He faced shame, ridicule, and even anger in that moment. But he did what he was re-born to do: live, that others might live too. 

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the declaration that His death and resurrection are available to us too, in every specific and situated element of our own stories. And it is a calling to receive it in such a way that we become agents of that very thing-- in every specific and situated element of our own stories. I'm thankful for my friend's example of this to me last night. 

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