Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Things I've Learned in 2016

       As it was for many of you, 2016 was a challenging year for me. From start to finish, I dealt with many situations most of my peers hopefully won't encounter for a very long time. I also experienced new joys and familiar pains. My faith was (and still is) being tested moment by moment, and while sometimes that's painful, sometimes it is wonderful. Now, when the calendar dwindles and we look back and reflect, I want to share some of the things I've learned over the past twelve months.

Consistency Pays Off

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.
Galatians 6:9

       This year I have seen incredible physical changes. Most weeks I have exercised between three and five days, focusing entirely on bodyweight exercises. While working out I've often wondered what else I could achieve if only I was so consistent in other things. The physical changes would be even more dramatic if I consistently ate healthy, sure. But more than that, what if I could study, or write, or pursue friendships with the same concentrated effort? Still, to be in my early 30's and have the best muscle definition of my life and more energy than I know what to do with is something that greatly pleases me. 
       One other area where I did show some consistency was in writing my 12 part blog series on Story and Jesus. I am tremendously thankful for the people who encouraged me on that journey, the result of which some have said is my magnum opus. Writing and completing that meditation on Jesus has changed my life, and I hope touched the lives of others. In time, I hope to expand on those thoughts and write an entire book.  
       I've also learned the value of ritual. When I write, I set out my diecast Thor figure, with his stern glare, to remind to focus and finish what I've started. I also light a mahogany candle, the scent of which signals my brain that now is a time to create. While I wish that I had a set time every day to write, placing Thor and lighting the scented candle help me find that creative space whenever time allows.

God Understands

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit
Psalm 34:18

       Looking back on everything I learned while writing about Jesus this year, the thing that struck me most is the story of Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus. The Gospel of John tells us, "Jesus wept." There's been some debate as to why, but in the context of the story it seems obvious to me. Jesus cried because his friends were crying. He understood what was going on, but they didn't. He knew that Lazarus was going to come forth just as soon as the stone was moved and he could speak the words, but they didn't. And even though he knew the outcome, it still pained him to see them suffering.
       God doesn't change. My heart has been broken multiple times this year, and I don't know why God let that happen. I don't know God's plan, or what might be on the horizon. God doesn't owe me an immediate explanation and I'm at peace with that. My peace comes in knowing that the same God who wept at the tomb of Lazarus is weeping with me when I'm hurting and things just don't make sense. And I know that as long as I seek Him, all things will work together for good. 

It's Not About the Immediate Outcome

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 2:10

       This year I have spent more hours in prayer than several other years combined. I don't say that to brag, but only to stress how much I need God in my life. Only God can change hearts, and as much time as I have prayed for him to change others', I've spent more time begging him to change mine. While seeking his will, I have had to do things that frighten me, that stretch me. More often than not, the outcome has been neither what I wanted nor expected. But I keep going. Paul talks about the good works that we are to walk in, but he doesn't say a thing about the results. Sometimes, we do what is right because of the doing. 
       I am proud. I am selfish. And I am prone to self-pity. So when I don't get what I want, I'm learning to see it as an opportunity for my faith to grow. God doesn't bargain with us, and the Bible isn't a recipe book. We can't do all the right things for a guaranteed result. His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts. All we can do is trust in the Lord with all our hearts, and not depend on our own understanding. In all our ways we are to acknowledge Him, and He will direct our paths. Where we end up is entirely up to Him. 

In Conclusion

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.
2 Thessalonians 3:16

       With everything that has happened to me over the last twelve months, I can honestly say that 2016 has been a transformative year. I am not the same man I was last December, physically, mentally, or spiritually. I am tremendously thankful for the people God has brought into my life this year (or re-brought into my life), who have challenged me to become a better man. I am also indebted to those few, close friends who have allowed me to lean on them when things have become nearly unbearable. You know who you are. 
       Looking ahead to 2017, I don't expect things to change, for the challenges to cease. I only expect more of the same, perhaps in greater amounts. All of these challenges, I believe, have simply been preparation for more changes to come. Life may not get any easier. But in the end, I'm just trying to be the man God wants me to be, and it's all for His glory. 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Advent IV: Jesus

God communicates with us in many different ways. One of the most special ways is through story. We tell stories to people with whom we desire a relationship, and God's word is filled with them. The stories are true, of course, but they are still narratives and not fact sheets. As with everything else in creation, stories have structure. By looking at the different parts, we can learn more about the whole.

Advent IV: The Story of the Child

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6

       In every writing class, the first thing every student learns is "show, don't tell." As narrators, if we tell our audience that Steve is fearsome it doesn't carry much weight. But if we show two other characters talking about how Steve frightens them, and everyone else, our readers know not to mess with Steve. The Christmas story as recorded in the Bible is filled with people talking about the child, from ancient prophets, to angels, to eyewitnesses. 
       700 years before Jesus was born, the prophet Isaiah wrote:
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
       The name Immanuel means "God with us." We know that Isaiah wasn't embellishing. The child of the virgin is literally God, come to us. Once we accept that, everything else we hear will make perfect sense. Later the prophet tells us more, saying that the child will be called "Wonderful Counselor; Mighty God; Everlasting Father; Prince of Peace." He will be a supernaturally understanding mentor. He will be an infinitely powerful deity. He will be a father who is never absent. He will be the embodiment of peace. The baby in the manger... He is all of those things and more.
       When the angel Gabriel came to Mary (the virgin Isaiah mentioned), he reiterated many of the same things.
He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."
        Just in case anyone forgot over the past several hundred pages in the Bible, or the last seven centuries, the child is God, a king who rules forever.
       The angels who addressed the shepherds had one more thing to add: "For unto you is born this day... a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." The consequences of sin are everywhere, in the things we do that we wish we wouldn't, in broken relationships, in the evil things people do to one another. The angels told the shepherds, and us, that the baby, Jesus, came to save us... all of us, if we will only accept God's gift.
       Matthew, the disciple and author of the gospel that bears his name, tells us most of what we know about Mary's story. We know from other passages that Mary spent time with Jesus's friends, so it's safe to assume that Matthew got his information directly from Jesus' mother. No one tells the story of a pregnancy and birth better than the baby's mom, and it was she who told Matthew the story of her visit from Gabriel, the trip to Bethlehem, and the visit from the shepherds. Let that sink in for a minute.
       For many us, the Christmas holiday is quite painful. Ever since my sister and I grew out of childhood and into young adults, the desire of my heart has been to see my family grow, to share special memories and Christmas traditions with new family members and children. So far, the only thing that has grown is my longing for those things. Then on December 23, 2013 my father, who we thought was the picture of health, passed away from a sudden heart attack. For us, Christmas will never be the same.
       But I will remember the message of the angels, told to the shepherds, recounted by Mary, prophesied by Isaiah. At Christmas, we celebrate the arrival of a Savior, the conqueror of sin and death. Two thousand years later, the news might be old. But the joy is everlasting.
       So if you hear me singing Christmas songs, or catch me watching a silly Christmas cartoon, I'm not faking happiness. While this is a most painful time of year, it is also the season of greatest meaning to me. And I will strive to keep the joy and the spirit of Christmas alive in my heart always.

God rest ye merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember, Christ, our Saviour
Was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan's power
When we were gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Advent III: The Story of the Magi

God communicates with us in many different ways. One of the most special ways is through story. We tell stories to people with whom we desire a relationship, and God's word is filled with them. The stories are true, of course, but they are still narratives and not fact sheets. As with everything else in creation, stories have structure. By looking at the different parts, we can learn more about the whole.

The Story of the Magi

O star of wonder, star of night,
Star of royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect light.

       While the Three Wise Men probably didn't see Jesus until he was at least a month old, they have become an essential part of the Christmas story. We only assume that there were three of them, given the three gifts they brought, and only Matthew mentions them at all. Information on them is limited, and for that reason I find them fascinating. 
       Remember, the angels told the shepherds that their message of joy was "for all people." The shepherds were Jewish believers. The Magi, the Magicians if you will, were gentile pagans, sorcerers, wizards. Their chosen profession is condemned throughout the Bible clearly and consistently. Yet the message of joy was for them too. 
       The shepherds had the birthright to approach the King of kings, but lacked the social and academic qualifications. The Magi had the social status, but lacked the everything else. Both groups were called to see him, because the message was (and still is) for the whole world.
       Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, "Where is he who has been born king of Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him." When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
"And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel."

       These Magicians were searching for something. They were looking to the stars as astrologists. God tells his Story in the stars, as he does in many places. In his wisdom, he used the stars to bring the Magicians to scripture, and from scripture literally to himself. 
       And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
       A Herald isn't always a person. Sometimes it's an event, like a new star in the sky. An Ally and an Enemy are sometimes one in the same. Sometimes we leave the gold, frankincense and myrrh behind for a treasure that is far more valuable. And the Road Back isn't always the one we came in on.
       But the Story is always true.
       The Magi might better be called the Searchers. Even though they were looking in many wrong directions, they were looking with open minds. And God used the stars, an evil king, and ancient prophecy to bring them to worship him. When we are truly seeking something real, something true, we never know where God will choose to reveal himself.

For [God's] invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
Romans 1:20 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Advent II: The Shepherds and The Angels

God communicates with us in many different ways. One of the most special ways is through story. We tell stories to people with whom we desire a relationship, and God's word is filled with them. The stories are true, of course, but they are still narratives and not fact sheets. As with everything else in creation, stories have structure. By looking at the different parts, we can learn more about the whole.

The Story of The Shepherds and The Angels

Hark! the herald angels sing,
"Glory to the newborn king"

       While downtown Bethlehem was packed with people, for the shepherds it was just another boring night. Somewhere a sheep bleated. Someone told an off-color joke. Everyone smelled bad. Just another miserable night for the outcasts. Until...
...An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
"Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"

       In story, when the Herald archetype appears it signals a major change for the characters. The Herald doesn't just make an announcement, he pushes the Hero further into the adventure. Like the angel who appeared to Mary, this angel arrives with an invitation that cannot be ignored, propelling these individuals into radically new worlds. The major change these angels announce literally changes the course of history. We still use it define timelines: Before and After Christ. But more than that, this was a message of joy "for all the people." Not just some people. Not just chosen people, rich people, nice-smelling people. All the people. The reason for the joy? A (capital S) Savior. 
       The "glory of the Lord" must be a holy and awesome thing. We know that in the past, when the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle not even Moses could approach. It was simply too much for him, a man who had seen some astonishing things. Bet the guy who'd just told the off-color joke felt pretty silly. "Hope the angel didn't hear that one." 
       "Fear not." Yeah, right. 
       Imagine the craziest concert laser and pyrotechnics show you've ever seen. Now imagine that you're a first century sheep farmer, who has never seen a sparkler. The show the angels put on would put your concert to shame. To the shepherds it must have been awesome in a way we can barely grasp. God was starting the next phase in his great Story, bringing joy and hope to his beloved creation, that had not known either for so very long. It was only right that he start it off with celebration.
       But to whom did God invite this one time only special event? Shepherds. God may have been celebrating, but he does nothing without a purpose. Animal farmers aren't exactly aristocracy. But the angels had just said, "For all people." If that included low and dirty shepherds, that included kings, and it includes us. Had God started by inviting the best, how long before the invitation would have trickled down to the least? The Savior has come for all people. 
       Rather than sitting back in the glow of what they had just seen, the shepherds were fired up. They couldn't sit still.
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.
       The message of the Herald set them in motion, out their Ordinary World in the pasture, and into the city to see the Savior of mankind for themselves. But consider this:
And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.
       They became heralds themselves. Everything they had seen was so incredible, so awesome, that they couldn't stop talking about it. These guys probably didn't get much social interaction, they were awkward and noisy when excited. They didn't have "indoor voices." Yet they were the ones God chose to start spreading the word. If God can use them, he can use us too.

And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Luke 2:20

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Advent I: Mary's Story

God communicates with us in many different ways. One of the most special ways is through story. We tell stories to people with whom we desire a relationship, and God's word is filled with them. The stories are true, of course, but they are still narratives and not fact sheets. As with everything else in creation, stories have structure. By looking at the different parts, we can learn more about the whole.

Mary's Story

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel."
Isaiah 7:14

       When we are first introduced to Mary, she's a young woman engaged to a man named Joseph. Her Ordinary World is a simple, traditional one. She's from Nazareth, a lonely, backwater, hick town. She's a "good" girl. She's preparing for a wedding, probably arranged by her father. The life she was living and preparing for was simple and traditional, ordinary. Then something extraordinary happened.
       In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will have no end."
       As far as Calls to Adventure go, an angel showing up at your front door is about as big as they come. Gabriel arrives with a message from God that will turn Mary's entire life inside out. When God calls us to anything it's life-altering to some degree. But aren't we glad that most of us have never had that call delivered by an honest to goodness angel? Under the circumstances, Mary's reaction is perfectly natural.
And Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?"
       In other words, "I think you've got the wrong house. You can't mean me. I'm not even married yet, and I'm not sure I'm ready for a kid." The Refusal of the Call reminds us, the audience, that taking on this role comes at a cost. Having a child without being married today still earns some sideways glances. At that time it could ruin a young woman's life.
And the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy-- the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son... For nothing will be impossible with God"
And Mary said, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her.
        If God could provide a child to a infertile old woman, and another child to a virgin, he could provide for all of Mary's needs. She accepts the call. And the first thing she does is visit Elizabeth and her husband, a priest named Zechariah. As soon as Mary walks in the door, Elizabeth and her unborn baby know what Mary has done.
"For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord."
       The role of the Mentor is to provide information and supplies to the Hero. Perhaps all Mary needed was reassurance that yes, she was pregnant with prophesied Messiah. And yes, she had done the right thing by accepting God's call. Often what people need most from us is encouragement. Not advice or constructive criticism. Just encouragement. Mary must have been terrified. But here was an older family member, the wife of a priest, calling her blessed. What a relief that must have been.
        But Mary still has another threshold to cross. She still has to have the baby. And as it is with anything worthwhile, it won't come easily. To fulfill the scriptures, the Messiah had to be born in Bethlehem, and Mary's baby was coming soon. For Mary and Joseph, there was a more immediate reason for them to go: government order.
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.... And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
       Even though I have no children of my own, I've seen how life changing it is when the baby finally arrives. From this moment on, Mary's Ordinary World is long gone. The established Ordinary World of her entire religious system is about to dramatically change. Prophecy is coming to fruition, and she is closer to it than anyone else. Did Mary have any idea how much pain she would have to endure? Or any idea of the miracles she would see her little boy perform? All we know for certain, is that after the shepherds left and real life started to settle in...
Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Return with the Elixir

What more could I possibly say about Story? The life of Jesus is Story, and Story is the gospel. God calls out to us in every aspect of creation. The heavens declare the glory of the Lord. God's eternal power and divine nature are seen through the things he has made. He has made the mountains, he has made the oceans, the forests, and he has made Story. In every Story. Every. Single. Story. We can see the power of God if only we are willing to look.

Return with the Elixir

While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.
Luke 24:51

       We come at last to the final step of the journey.
       The Hero, having come through her final sacrifice, has secured once and for all the treasure. All the conflict that plagued her world is resolved, wrongs made right, all is well. The treasure has changed her world, and the world around her, bringing peace and hope. Where there is no conflict, there is no story. So it's time for this tale to end, and that's okay. Our Hero and her Allies have earned the rest. Now it's time for Dorothy to go back to Kansas, because "There's no place like home."
       Michael Mann's 1992 adaptation of The Last of the Mohicans ends with Hawkeye, his adoptive father, and the woman he loves, looking out over the American wilderness. When we first met Hawkeye, he was a carefree trapper, with obligations to no one but himself. Seeing Cora, however, changes his life. The rest of the story is about him trying to rescue and protect this strong woman. He even offers to sacrifice his life for hers. Instead, another man takes his place.
       Cora isn't the treasure. What she and Hawkeye represent as a couple, their combined fortitude and commitment, is the treasure. The characteristics they bring out of one another are what the American frontier need, and together they will nuture something great. The Love Interest brings out the true essence of the Hero and in the best love stories, the Hero brings out the true essence of the Love Interest. The relationship is the treasure.
       The same is true in the story of Jesus. The relationship is the treasure. For a time, the only way to know God was through religion and the Law. There was no room for a proper relationship. When Jesus came, he followed the Law perfectly. He passed the test! Now we can say, "See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are." Is there any other kind of relationship closer than parent and child?
       But there's more. Jesus' last recorded words on this earth before he returned to heaven, were these: "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of earth." God's restored relationship with us extends so far that he, as the Holy Spirit, is with his believers always. Paul tells us that it is "a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control."
       Finally, after Jesus told his followers that they would tell the whole world about him, and that God would be with them, he returned to heaven. Then two men in white robes (presumably angels) said, "This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven." The next part of the story is this: Go. I will be with you and give you aid. I will come back.
       Returning to The Last of the Mohicans, we recall the movie's most famous lines: "No! You stay alive... Submit, do you hear? You're strong! You survive! You stay alive, no matter what occurs! I will find you! No matter how long it takes, no matter how far, I will find you!" There's a reason this moment resonates so strongly with us. It calls out to the longing we all have deep in our hearts for safety and rescue.
       Where are you right now, right this very moment? Are you safe? Not just from hell (though that is important), but from being overwhelmed by the fears of this world? There can be absolutely no peace in this life without having absolute certainty of where we will spend the next. How do we know? The only way to know for certain that we are safe is say to God, "I believe in you, and accept the work of Jesus on the cross. I want a relationship with you. Not rules and religion, but to know you and your mercy and grace. Please come into my heart. Please come into my life."
       And if we have told God those things, we must live them out by faith. We may not feel power and love and self-control. But God tells us that his Holy Spirit provides. And like everyone who has ever been in a wonderful, exciting relationship, we must tell everyone about him.
       Someday the conflicts of our lives will be resolved. God will write "The End" and all will be well.

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith and not by sight.
2 Corinthians 5:6-7

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them.
Isaiah 11:6

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Resurrection

The Resurrection

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
Isaiah 53:5

       Hollywood screenwriter and story consultant Chris Vogler, who categorized the 12 steps I've used in this series, describes the eleventh step as such:
 At the climax, the hero is severely tested once more on the threshold of home. He or she is purified by a last sacrifice, another moment of death and rebirth, but on a higher and more complete level. By the hero's action, the polarities that were in conflict at the beginning are finally resolved.
       Vogler isn't a theologian. I don't know anything about his religious beliefs, or if he even has any. Yet here we have the man who changed the way Hollywood approached story in the 1990's using language familiar to any Christian. You might say that Hollywood is a godless, evil place. I would say that where there is Story, there is the Gospel.
       The seventh installment in the venerable Fast & Furious franchise, Furious 7, is one of the stupidest, most melodramatic movies I love. Since it made over $1.5 billion worldwide, I guess I'm not alone. In the sixth movie, our Hero, Dom (Vin Diesel), had reconnected with his lost love, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), but she still has no memory of him. The throughline of Furious 7 is Dom trying to get Letty to remember her love for him and all that they've shared.
       At the climax, in order to save his friends and save the world, Dom has to throw a backpack of grenades from a collapsing parking structure and onto the landing runners of a distant helicopter. Seriously. Of course he does, but he doesn't quite make it out of the parking structure in time. His friends pull his lifeless body from the cement wreckage. This is his last sacrifice (for now).
       Dom isn't breathing, and doesn't respond to CPR. Taking his head in her lap, Letty tells Dom that she remembers everything, their secret wedding, and all the good times and bad. She gives him a kiss, and he returns to life. Yes, at its heart, Furious 7 is a fairytale for bros. Through Dom's sacrifice, the distance between him and Letty is finally bridged, the conflict between them finally resolved.
       The parallel is obvious.
       Jesus, who had so recently been celebrated, is beaten, mocked and crucified. "So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them." Crucifixion is one of the most hellish means of execution ever designed by man or devil. Yet this was the manner of sacrifice God chose. And Jesus hung there, in pain and fighting for each gasping breath for six agonizing hours. Nothing worthwhile comes without great effort.
       One of Jesus' disciples, the gospel writer Matthew, tells us that near the end Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Never forget, God desires a relationship with us, and a relationship requires relatability. Jesus had undergone a ceremony of confession, just as we must. Jesus had been tempted, just as we are. Jesus had been celebrated, just as we hope to be.
       In his final moments, Jesus experienced separation from God because of the consequences of sin, just as all of humanity has since Eden. As the Apostle Paul wrote, "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." Jesus didn't deserve that experience. But for our sake, he accepted a pain greater than the physical trauma of crucifixion.
       Before bowing his head and giving up his spirit, Jesus' final words were, "It is finished." The last thing he had to do to establish his relationship with creation was to die. And so he did.
       But that's not enough. Story demands not just a death, but a rebirth. If the story ended here, the polarities would remain unchanged. There would be no resolution to the conflict. In 1 Corinthians Paul puts it simply: "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve."
       Jesus went through everything we do in order to build a relationship with us. And when that was done, he did one thing we can never do: He beat the consequences of sin.
       What does that mean for us? A Story...

       "For God so loved you..." (Ordinary World)
       "That he sent his one and only son..." (Crossing the First Threshold)
       "That if you believe him..." (The Reward)
       "You will not die..." (The Road Back)
       "But have everlasting life." (The Resurrection)