Category Archives: Easter

Embracing the Opportunity the Church Has Right Now

Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:15

We, as the Church, have an opportunity. A glorious one.

As the world stumbles through its days, weariness sets in. Darkness looms. We live in unpredictable times. All that seemingly appeared to secure our feet in this earthly realm is falling away. Though everyone’s loss is different, we feel the weight of grief. We are in this together.

Recognizing our obligations to one another has been a characteristic of God’s people since the beginning. Sharing about my experience last year reading through the Old Testament, “… as I read the Old Testament again, so much stood out for me that didn’t in previous studies. The themes of welcoming the foreigner, and the counter-cultural ways in which we should treat each other, spoke to me in verses that I had previously glossed over. The more I come back to these passages, the more I see how much we, as the church, still have to learn about loving others. The question is: How will we respond?”(http://www.theartoftaleh.com/how-can-the-church-do-better-at-loving-others/)

In this crisis, we have an opportunity to not just wash our hands but other’s “feet.” To be the Church is to offer ourselves to serve others with the skin of Jesus. However that looks: sewing masks, working as medical personnel, calling on neighbors, acknowledging others’ fears and grief, advocating for the marginalized falling through systemic loops, and calming our children.

So as people prepare to celebrate Easter in a way that didn’t fit expectations, let us hold out the hope. Show others why we embrace a kingdom that seems upside down. As Ann Vos Kamp writes in The Broken Way, “A Christ-shaped life is not a comfortably shaped life, but a cross-shaped life.” May we all squint from the glory that radiates.

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Remembering that Kingdom Living is About Being “Forgiveness People”

The anger simmers. I’m trying to keep it from reaching a full on boil. Someone stole my bank card number for the second time in two weeks. In addition, it happened a few times in recent years. But the timing of it all really struck me. We are all dealing with so much right now. Who would do this?

The impact of the violation permeates through my mind. I am aware of the broken state of a relationship with someone I don’t know. But their actions hurt me. A growing sense of distrust of my companions in this world enters in.

The impact of the violation permeates through my body. Once again, I must invest time and energy making phone calls, getting a new card and reconnecting all my online bill payments.

The impact of the violation permeates through my soul. I feel the wound of brokenness. Although I recognize we live in a sinful world, the consequences of trespassing on my being cannot be dismissed or ignored.

And despite my anger at being trespassed against, I am forced to reconcile a truth: I have trespassed against others. That fact also permeates my mind, body, and soul. I can feel the pain I have inflicted on others. Who would do this? Someone who feels desperate. Someone who has relied on their own devices to fix a problem. Someone susceptible to the deceitful whispers of evil. Someone ……. like… me. While I have never stolen a bank card, my actions at times have “stolen” from others. Peace. Time. Energy.

Our sins may vary in degree of earthly consequences but they share one thing in common: alienation from God and each other. Recognizing our common humanity opens us up to the truth that we all need Jesus. As we approach Easter, I am especially mindful of his radical message of forgiveness. He spoke it through words and actions. It was met with the same resistance then as it is now because humility, surrender, and compassion don’t flow easily out of a broken humanity. One that feasts on pride and control.

But when we fail to recognize the beauty of Jesus’ message, we miss out on being full participants in the unfolding of his new kingdom. N.T. Wright, in his book, The Lord and His Prayer, writes about Jesus’ original followers as “forgiveness people. “Failure to forgive one another wasn’t a matter of failing to live up to a new bit of moral teaching. It was cutting off the branch you were sitting on. The only reason for being Kingdom -people, for being Jesus’ people, was that forgiveness of sins was happening; so if you didn’t live forgiveness, you were denying the very basis of your own existence.”

Praying the Lord’s prayer demands living into the words. It means being like the one who taught it. There is a reason many turned away from Jesus’s offer to become “apprentices.” It’s hard.”

When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Pray then in this way:

Our Father in heaven,
    hallowed be your name.
10     Your kingdom come.
    Your will be done,
        on earth as it is in heaven.
11     Give us this day our daily bread.[c]
12     And forgive us our debts,
        as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13     And do not bring us to the time of trial,[d]
        but rescue us from the evil one.[e]
Matthew 6:7-13.

Trespasses. Sins. Debts. Regardless of the semantics, the nuances are the same: broken relationship.

“In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part.” Matthew 6:14

The Kingdom vision compels me to reach toward the hard act of forgiveness. Of acknowledging the common struggle of the flesh that my offender and I share. Jesus took on the pain necessary for restoration. May I embrace the same because he made it possible.

What the Women at the Tomb Teach Us About Not Settling for the Status Quo



Their actions demonstrated the power of liberation.

On what appeared to be a solemn, yet, ordinary Saturday evening, they approached Jesus’ tomb. These women who had joined the entourage who followed Jesus in his life and kept watch over him in his death seek him again. They have come to touch the body of the one who touched theirs.

He saw them. He addressed them. He validated them.

For a while, they saw the cultural laws and nuances flipped upside down; in their favor. The confining identity to which they had settled began to tear. It seemed too good to be true. Perhaps it was.

But their devotion hasn’t waned.  They come to honor his body one last time. They arrive bearing courage along with the spices. Have they no fear of what they may encounter?

Even guards and rocks are no match for the power ignited in the soul by this alleged Messiah. They can no longer settle for status quo thinking regarding their identity. Love liberates in a way nothing of this world can

And he wasn’t finished.
Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew,[a]“Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.” (John 20:16-18)

Plenty of voices from the world could dictate their next steps. But these women encountered Jesus. And he has the last word.
 
How do you need Jesus to speak into your life?

When God Speaks But The Fulfillment Appears Incomplete

Traditionally, the Holy week observances exhort us to reflect on events of Jesus’ last days. Moments that affirm the story of a new kingdom unfolding “on Earth as it is in Heaven.” We recognize and recount Jesus’ death and resurrection.

But what about Saturday? Why, as Christians, do we brush off that “extra” day? The Jews recognize Saturday as the Sabbath day. However; for those of us who follow Christ, the Sabbath transitioned to Sunday. Perhaps the implications of what that in-between day meant to those closest to him do not even cross our minds. We know what happened on Sunday. But I’m guessing they were left:

Reeling from the gut wrenching events witnessed the day before. Had the words uttered by Jesus as they lived under his leadership adequately prepared them for the reality of his crucifixion? How do you set aside the images captured in your mind? On what do you draw in order to move your legs forward from their state of “paralysis?”

Pondering why they felt compelled to risk everything to follow this man who claimed to be the Messiah. Certainly others had claimed the same title in the past. Yet, what were the convincing characteristics of Jesus? Peter, in his second letter, reflects on what his eyes observed.
16For we did not follow cleverly devised fables when we made known to you the power andcoming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we wereeyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice from the Majestic Glory said to Him, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”…
Hoping: that Jesus was right. “I will not leave you orphaned. I’m coming back. In just a little while the world will no longer see me, but you’re going to see me because I am alive and you’re about to come alive. At that moment you will know absolutely that I’m in my Father, and you’re in me, and I’m in you.” (John 15:18-20)

Believing: All the promises poured over them by Jesus including: “I’m telling you these things while I’m still living with you. The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you. I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught.” (John 15:25-27)

Can we not empathize with the disciples as they wrestled with the tension of faith in the face of dreams unfulfilled?  It points to our humanity. One that cannot grasp the unfathomable character of God.

In visiting my great nephew a few weeks ago, I was reminded of the stage of human development when the existence of objects (and people) within a baby’s sphere, only claim existence if they are seen.  Anxiety appears in the wide eyes of a five month old when the mind realizes the person in view is not the parent. Their sustainer, provider, source of life. The mouth begins to quiver, the eyebrows furrow and tears form in the pockets of the lid….until a rotation of the body points to the one whom for whom they long.

Perhaps, like an infant, our eyes and mind, and heart often find themselves disconnected. Have you ever heard the Holy Spirit speak to you a word about your future but later find your ability to see it waning? Dreams planted in your heart that seem to have failed to bear fruit?

Like the disciples, we are left wondering and seeking Jesus. Though our hearts bear evidence of an undeniable connection, our eyes fail to sense him. We haven’t rotated our view. We are looking at the place we expect him to show up. But he hasn’t moved. We’ve been consumed with waiting for Jesus to appear according to our assumptions.
If we are still, we will live into that moment of transition from quivering lips and teary eyes to abundant rejoicing at the reunion. And the reminder that our perspectives fail us. He is always here.

Where have you been expecting to see Jesus? How can you rotate your view?

What We Have in Common With the Thief on a Cross

“I tell you the truth. Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

Words uttered by a dying Jesus to a man who is actually guilty of his crime.

Who does he think he is? This man; the recipient of Jesus’ promise of joining him in His Kingdom. He is , after all, a self professed criminal. A thief; indicating a desperate desire to seek security in things of this earth. This man is one of two criminals who hung alongside Jesus. All three facing the same sentence. We know nothing else of this man’s life except this glimpse into his last moments.

The attitudes, behavior, and goods upon which these men built their lives may have given them security in life but are unable to save them in death. Both men are left to endure their own slow torturous deaths while observing the display of horror aimed at the man, who hung between them. A drama that they not only observed but one in which they actively participated. According to Matthew and Mark’s accounts, both joined the crowd in hurling insults at Jesus. For these men, there would seem to be no peace on earth and no peace in death.

An outburst comes from one of the criminals; a challenge rooted in curiosity and desperation. He wants off the cross; “If you are the Christ…”. It’s an attitude of what’s in this for me? His plea is for Jesus to do whatever it takes to end his earthly suffering. A vision focused on this world and this moment.

Instead of receiving his request, he is rebuked. But not by Jesus. By the other criminal. “Don’t you fear God? We all are receiving the same sentence. “ This man; who had previously participated in the mockery of Jesus now seems to have a change in heart. A profession that Jesus did nothing to deserve his death sentence.

In these last hours of unimaginable pain, of emotional intensity, of deafening noise, he has noticed a presence in Jesus that is not of anything he witnessed on this earth. A presence of hope in something bigger than this moment. A presence of divinity to forgive those orchestrating this earthly horror against him.

Who on Earth could do that?

No one. Except the One who originates outside of this world. The Son of God.
This man waited until the last minute to cry out his trust in Jesus. Why should Jesus welcome him into paradise? Why should he get to follow Jesus to an eternal home of delight when he lived an earthly life following sin?

He believed that Jesus was where security is found. His vision was beyond this world and this moment. In his simple understanding, he claimed it . “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus answers, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
The original text tells us that his cry to Jesus was not a one time plea but one that had been repeated. The same for the other criminal. He witnessed the same events and yet out of his lips poured repeated expressions of unbelief . Both at an hour of desperation; both at an hour of realization that nothing of this earth will bring hope or peace.

He who dies with the most toys, still dies.

Who does he think he is?
Who do you think you are?

The answer to both is this:  We are all sinful beings in need of a Savior.
I see myself in the face of this man.  How about you?

At whatever place in life we receive that grace extended to us through Christ, whether it be years shortly after birth or minutes before death, Jesus’ promise stands: life eternal in His Kingdom.

In the words of an old spiritual, “You may have the world, give me Jesus.”

(This piece was originally presented as a spoken meditation on one of the Seven Last Words of Christ )