Easter thoughts

I really cannot imagine how the next generation will hear about 2020, or what they will think about the pandemic, or if they will really laugh that it was toilet paper that was a “hot” commodity for the first 6 months. I know we’re not fully back to our “normal” but we’re getting there in some places. I know it’s had an impact on us in different ways, but I’ll be honest that it’s taken a while to admit to the impact personally.  My kids are out of the house, I have worked remote for nearly 20 years before all this, and I was already going to grad school online….so in my mind, I didn’t have as much adapting to do as everyone. I realize it was a monumental shift for most, and my hat is off to everyone who has to navigate it different than I did!

That being said, I’m an extrovert. So in spite of having worked from home for all these years, not being able to gather – specifically at church – has probably had the biggest impact on me. Not that I don’t know how to seek God or learn on my own – I do. But in gathering, that truly is where I find so much joy, being with others whose lives are also being transformed by the life and way of Jesus. I know doing things digitally and “fellowshipping” remotely has taught us in new ways to be the Body of Christ scattered– and I so much want to hear what we all have learned in the midst of it!

Today, sitting in a common space that once used to be bustling with people having coffee and lunch after church… I realized something. I miss the feeling of all of us having BEEN in the presence of God – and having worshipped and been taught — together. Maybe bored sometimes – sure. Maybe challenged, maybe not. But seeing each other, seeking God, seeking to learn. I miss that.

I miss it because being together is a good reminder that we are not on this journey alone. Some of the videos I have seen this past year of people singing, together, across continents and countries has been just beautiful and healing. This one from Zimbabwe singing the Blessing song just about brought me to tears, especially given much of the hurt our country is feeling over racial things right now. It felt like my brothers and sisters from across the ocean singing healing to our wounded places, reminding us that in Christ… we ARE ONE.

https://youtu.be/OA1tVs7VNcY (you might have to copy and paste this, or just look up “The Blessing Zimbabwe” )

So as we step into Easter this weekend, regardless of whether your church is meeting in person, if you are still watching it at home…. If your church is big or small, or you are one that feels like you are on the margins and have been pushed out of the body of Christ for some reason (you know who you are, and let me remind you – you still belong)…. I offer you this humble thought on Good Friday, when we remember that our lives have been changed forever.

My dear family in Christ:

Remember that we are a force to be reckoned with, when we put ourselves in the presence of our God, then we walk forward in the love and joy and freedom we have found knowing Jesus. There is no depth of love that can every compare. You ARE the city on a hill, you ARE the light that is meant to shine hope and share an anchor we have.

It’s not that we huddle in our little groups and worship (which I’m sure folks think is strange) because we are proud, or exclusive, or want to perpetuate an “us-vs-them” mentality

It’s not that we have checked our brains at the gate, or been duped into believing some tale that gives us an escapist perspective that nothing matters

It’s because we’re willing to admit there is mystery in what we do not understand

It’s that we have been through knock-down-drag-out fights with the stuff of life and are STILL HERE

If we’re still in the dark, still in the hard stuff – it’s that we know there is a way out, because our God is not made of darkness

It’s that in spite of cultural messages that tell us we have to have the latest and greatest to stay relevant – we know we are being made new every morning when we talk to the One who created us.

(I guess that means I’m on v48.353… )…. hahaha!

It’s because in spite of bodies that age and break down, in spite of old injuries or surgeries or glasses or maybe a bout with cancer or two – we know and have experienced the Source of life – and that keeps us young forever

It’s because we haven’t settled for the subtle message that “everything will be ok”. We have wrestled with the God that created us and we know He’s real, and his promise to not abandon us is true. THAT’s why it is well with our soul

It’s because our faith is built on the stuff of wilderness and wandering, of calling back and of knowing we are here to live into a kingdom of forgiveness, mercy, grace

It’s because we too, may have at one time thought we didn’t need God, or his power living in us…But now we know it’s more important than anything else that lasts in this life

It’s because we know this is for everyone else too…. And we know the story isn’t over yet

That’s why we gather. That’s why we worship

That’s why we celebrate a leader, a master, a king….one that is not an idea, or just someone in a history book, or just a moral leader

It’s because the very life that brought him up from the grave brings us to life IN ALL THINGS.

So tonight, may things be surrendered at the cross that need to be surrendered. May we take the cup He offers, however hard, and say “your will, not mine”, knowing our Savior is right there with us.

And come Sunday… oh Sunday……may you worship with abandon, however you do it. May you delight in the body God gave you, however young or old. May you know your worth as a child in a kingdom that has been wrestling to make itself known since the day He walked the earth, but one that will never cease to be built as long as His story is told in us.


Silent Saturday

I don’t think I’d ever heard the term “Silent Saturday” until last night when I was watching a sermon by Max Lucado on Good Friday. Silent Saturday is the day after Jesus crucifixion (well, when we remember it) before we celebrate his resurrection on Easter. It’s when all those that knew Jesus and followed him mourned his death, because they lost their beloved teacher, the Messiah they had been waiting for. Its because they didn’t know what was going on in the big picture, because this isn’t how “The day of the Lord” and the coming of his kingdom was supposed to go, in their minds. Yet it was Sabbath, and so they followed the command to observe it, spending the day in their homes, not working, just resting…. and grieving.

I cannot imagine what that might have been like for them. They couldn’t even get closure. Yes he was buried in a tomb, but no ceremony, no corporate time together to process. No “what do we do now” discussion…. they just had to wait.

As I see the death toll now from those who have lost their lives due to the corona virus, I have a feeling they get what the disciples must have felt in a way none of us do. My heart has been heavy for them in this time.

But it actually got me to thinking. I have heard tons of sermons, read posts and devotionals, and sang songs about Jesus the Passover lamb, about how his blood was symbolically applied to all of humanity on the cross. Its beautiful really, when you think about it:

God delivered Israel out of Egypt and essentially said – I will be your God, and you can be my people, and we can go and change the world if you let me be your God. All the world will be blessed through you and the light I bring as you live in covenant with me. That is exactly what Jesus message was too: My kingdom is here, are you with me? Do you want to help make things right? Learn my way. Follow me. Live differently. Return to Yahweh.

So here is what struck me this year. Keep in mind, I have been knee deep in Old Testament scriptures the past 2 1/2 years, and so as we talk about kings and kingdoms, I come into this knowing that both in the Ancient Near East (ANE) world, and even in Israel, when a king came to power, they generally killed off any threats to the throne first off. It’s just how they did it. Then they built temples and palaces. If they were a good king, their nation and its inhabitants thrived. If they were not, everyone suffered and eventually they were taken over by another ruler…. and the cycle continued.

When John wrote his gospel, he tapped into a kind of cosmic battle idea of light vs dark. He speaks of Light coming into the darkness in the first chapter, he quotes Jesus saying he is the Light of the World in chapter 8, and then he talks about the ruler of the world being driven out in chapter 12.

From an ANE perspective, and from a cosmic perspective, this is fascinating to me. In his triumph on the cross, Jesus did what every other king had done until that time as well – he battled against the enemy that would ruin his kingdom. Only this time, the enemy he fought was an invisible cosmic one that destroys lives, ruins families and nations, causes greed and pain and war and deceit and addictions and every other horrible thing we can think of . This enemy says “protect yourself, you’ve all you’ve got, take what you want, who cares about anyone else” – when God has always said he was right there, if they searched for him… and that there was a good and right way to live. Jesus battled an enemy that wraps the human soul in chains and keeps it from even choosing what is right and living in radical love.

So tomorrow is day we as believers will celebrate Jesus resurrection. We will remember it is the day he took his throne as king – again – having gone to the kingdom that was being ravaged by an unjust ruler and fought and won. His citizens were declared free now, from the sin that had eaten at them since right after creation.

Earth and humanity – reconciled. Still suffering the effects of abuse and torture, of greed and power struggles, of failure and pain – but finally with a king who will forever be a good Shepherd to those who will follow him. Finally, One who can lead the citizens of His kingdom into healing his world, and making things right, one by one.

As to temple building and palace building… God had already declared the whole world to be his temple through the prophets many times earlier. But what Jesus did? He cleansed the human heart and built a temple right there.

That, my friends, is the beauty and wonder of the resurrection. The cosmic battle has been fought, and we have been invited to take our place as citizens of a kingdom with a good king.

Silent Saturday might be a day we remember the disciples grief and loss… but in reality He was just off fighting a war on our behalf. How can that not make you pause in gratitude?

Blessings my friends!

The Undoing

Today at church the pastor spoke of one of the (seemingly) smaller pieces of what happens after Jesus’ crucifixion and before his resurrection. It’s a passage of scripture that can easily be brushed over in any given reading, if you do not stop to understand the reason why it’s in the text:

[Matthew 27:51] “…at that moment the curtain in the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom…”

It is not lost on me that this year, I have been reading about the instructions God gave Moses in building the temple… the ones that put the curtain up in the first place.

I have been swimming in the cultural context, if you will, of the time in which the story of the Exodus takes place. People who spent years in slavery, with a promise of land from a god that spoke to their ancestor Abraham. I am sure they re-told stories, but by the time Moses came to deliver them, they must have wondered where this god was. They spent generations watching people around them worship many different gods, and it’s highly possible that they also were not monotheistic at the time (think about the golden calf incident). The idea that a god would not just lead people out of slavery but then would make a covenant with them AND come to visit them? Who was this God?

Holy and dangerous – is how God came across to them at Sinai. They feared him when he spoke and begged him not to speak any more. “Speak through Moses” – they pleaded. We will listen to him. But God was insistent on finding a way to be in the very midst of his people, even though they were stubborn and repeatedly failed to trust Him on the journey in the wilderness. Hence – instructions God gave Moses on having a “tent of meeting”, or a mobile tabernacle. God continually met with Moses and Aaron in this sacred place, and when He did, people noticed. As this recently-delivered community of slaves questioned and argued and challenged Moses, God still came, in a cloud, to lead and help give direction. Yet in the tent of meeting, a curtain was there to protect the people from His presence, and no one was allowed in except Aaron and the priests. In fact, when the cloud moved, the text tell us that Aaron and his sons had to very carefully place the curtain over the ark of the covenant, then cover it with leather and more cloth, before it could be carried. If anyone touched it other than the priests, they would die. God’s presence good to have in their midst – yes – but it was also very dangerous for them. (Num 4:5-6, 15)

I know it’s hard for us to understand this kind of holiness. I certainly struggle with it, but that is probably because I’ve only ever been presented with the openness of relationship with God that is represented in Jesus and his work on the cross. Don’t get me wrong – God is still holy, but the fear of being in relationship with Him has been settled long ago, and I’ve come to trust that bigger truth.

Following the Israelites across the pages of the Old Testament, we find that this ark of the covenant eventually came to rest in a physical temple. The building grew bigger, and so did the curtain. More and more layers. More and more distance between the everyday person and the very presence of God.

Yet God’s heart, His desire to dwell with his people, never changed….even though they continued to be stubborn (as do we sometimes, right?)

After Jesus died on the cross, the curtain tearing in the temple was thus the great undoing of years of separation. God forever declaring He would no longer be contained in a physical place, that instead access to his presence would forever be open to whoever might come and seek Him.

Pretty beautiful, isn’t it? In some ways, this is the side of Easter that takes some meditating on to really let its truth sink into your soul.

My friends, I don’t know your church background, and I don’t know what you have been taught about God either. You may struggle with belief in an ancient story, or may question the absurdity of the claims that God can dwell with us here in this broken world. You may doubt that you really can go straight to God, that He would ever really want to hear from you. Oh, let me promise you – He does, and he made a way for you to get there. But all of these things are real, honest, and matters you will have to wrestle with, for they are the stuff of faith.

In this week leading up to Easter, I encourage you to sit for a moment and let there be some “undoing” in the space between you and God too. He’s there, and I promise He’s patient.


An early Easter observation

(Quilt photo taken from the Houston Quilt show 2016)

Ok, I’ll admit it: I have never really been one for walking through the church calendar years and observing all the days. I get why they are there. I understand the point of Ash Wednesday and Lent, and there have been years where I have really tried to enter into the season more than others. In a world that seems so void of hope and so very broken, for someone who always tries to look on the bright side of things, it’s difficult to let myself”enter in” to the depth of the my sin and the sin of the world, and lament. It’s much easier to focus on the breakthrough of Resurrection Sunday and the hope it brings – not in a happy-clappy sort of way though. I’d like to think I have learned (and am still learning) how to experience the full depth of life it brings.

That being said, I still make a point to read through the stories of Jesus being arrested, interrogated, flogged, and crucified. Why? Certainly not because I forget. I think each year I search for some new aspect that brings insight into what He experienced, how He walked it out, and what I can learn. This year is no different.

All my life I have heard stories of people who have been hurt by “the church”. The reasons are many: They didn’t feel cared for enough, they were shunned or judged for not being “holy enough”, they asked questions and doubted, they challenged church teachings that didn’t seem right, they were gossipped about or made decisions that others didn’t agree with. Some are stories of the church bringing shame or fear where it should bring freedom. There are worse things too, stories of spiritual abuse and calling evil good that I can’t even write about here. You know, because some of you have lived through them, or know people who have.

They are people who have been hurt who stop feeling that God, or his people are safe at all. People who have fled to take hold of the hope of Jesus, only to have Him get lost in the church machine to the point where it seems like business – not the life Jesus came to bring. People that have been hurt by ones they trusted.

My heart breaks every time I hear another story of someone giving up. Not because they can’t find God outside of church, but because too often they walk away from the richness that is theirs by right. Yes, we are imperfect at carrying the very life Jesus came to bring … but sometimes that imperfection is more hurtful than we realize.

This year, what I notice in the Easter story is that Jesus too, was the victim of “spiritual abuse”. Lies were told about him. No one wanted to hear his side of the story (not that he put up a fight, but his life said it all). All He ever wanted to do was show people what God was really like. Some got him. Most didn’t, and he paid for it. Every one of you reading has probably heard that Jesus’ death was in part, to show solidarity with the suffering. I don’t disagree. But this year my heart goes out to those who have been shunned, let down, deeply hurt, and even abandoned by the church.

I am so, so sorry. And because I, too, have gone through two very hurtful, spiritual abuse scenarios in my past, times when I was about to give up on church, I know in part where you have been. Sometimes it’s hell trying to recover, and you wonder if you can claw your way back to faith, or even if you want to. I get it.

This Easter, I hope in some quiet way you can see that Jesus gets it too. He knows. He feels your pain and knows the heartbreak of being misunderstood and treated wrongly. Somehow, in the mystery of God, my hope is that this Easter brings you to a place of resurrection in your own life. Not to the church (because for some of you it may feel like an abuser), but to the God who loves you, the Jesus who authors life and brings soul-healing in ways words cannot describe. My prayer is that you can step aside and take a moment to create some space where you can be whoever and however you need to be with Jesus, and let him help you carry that pain and disappointment, and exchange it for hope and something new.

Let him come find you, because you’re worth it! If I were with you right now, I’d sit and listen and cry with you, and then we’d somehow find our way back to life together.