Our Lenten journey is coming to a close by celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ this Sunday. I have enjoyed exploring the different ways we can encounter God’s heart for us. We will conclude this series with the promise of the new life we have in Christ.
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ … —it is by grace you have been saved.
This passage is fresh in my mind as I reflect on God’s saving power through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is true that we experience a singular salvation event when we come alive to God’s unconditional love and the new life trajectory the Lord leads us into when we are saved by faith. It is also true that the Lord leads us daily and is always available as our savior. If we embrace the prayer in the Psalm above, “take me by the hand and teach me,” our hearts will understand that we will need the Lord’s saving grace often as follow Jesus into new areas of growth in our lives.
My prayer for us this Easter is that as we experience God’s daily grace of salvation, we would remember when the Lord first saved us. Celebrating what God has done for us in Christ is a perfect opportunity to share God’s great love with those who have yet to receive God’s gift of salvation.
You know something’s got to give
A change needs to be made
It’s not just bettering for better’s sake
It’s not sustainable anymore and without change, it will only get worse.
Even though things are good, better is coming sooner than later.
Things are going so well, that space needs to be made for the real growth that is happening.
Like a child outgrowing her shoes or a hermit crab outgrowing its shell, the way up is forcing its way out.
Stress and pressure are powerful motivators for change. Even though stress and pressure are uncomfortable, and even painful, it is not all bad either. The above examples are two ends of a spectrum. These ends represent the need for change due to negative or positive stimuli. Moving toward the middle, the stimuli reduces. It has been said that the only constant in life is change. Even in the middle of the spectrum where motivating stimuli is minimal, change is inevitable.
We all find ourselves somewhere along this spectrum. The thing to do is to get a bird’s eye view of your situation. Where are you along this spectrum? And, if you find yourself somewhere around the middle, are you experiencing a respite, the doldrums, or are you like the frog in the pot, unaware that the temperature is slowly rising?
With last weekend being Easter, I’m reminded of what Jesus said to his disciples during his last supper with them before his passion. “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” John 16:7 (NASB) In this Jesus reveals that in order for his disciples to make the greatest impact, he would need to step aside and let them follow the Holy Spirit’s lead, just as he himself had done.
Where do you identify in this story? With Jesus, realizing that he was the bottleneck for his followers’ development as leaders? Or, with the disciples, understanding that growth only comes when we push our limits, explore other paths, and follow the Spirit’s lead (John 16:13)? The way up is out.
As a personal example, my attention to this blog has been intermittent at best. I have been preoccupied, and at times even overwhelmed, by other more pressing things. This has led to a lack of output, which leads to a sense of stagnation. Yet, not a day goes by where I feel I have got to write something. I miss this. I miss writing for you and for me. My heart tells me that in order to get beyond this stuck, plateaued, and stagnate feeling, I need to put myself out there, start writing again, and open myself again to the flow of thought, creativity, composition, and correspondence. The way up is out.
Of course, this is only one of many areas in my life that need me to be brave and find the way out that leads up.
Enacting change doesn’t have to be drastic. The idea I’m trying to share is to be proactive. Evaluate, make a plan, and start. Start small, but start. The key is that the change we make takes us out of our old patterns that weren’t working and onto a new path with new goals and new outcomes. We can allow change to happen to us, or we can gain a bit of perspective and enact the change for ourselves. It’s all up to you, and it’s all unto me. My hope is that as we examine our situation, we find the areas that need change and the pathway out that will eventually lead up.
I am writing this on Good Friday and have been reflecting on the trajectory of Holy Week. Resurrection Sunday is the culmination of Holy Week. We can’t get to Sunday without walking through Friday. Resurrection is not possible without first dying.
Jesus’ death and resurrection provide for us more than I can adequately give account for here, the primary of which is the forgiveness of sin and eternal life in Christ. Following Jesus as he walked through this last week of his earthly life reveals another aspect of his death and resurrection that is worth our attention.
Since we are surrounded by so many examples of faith, we must get rid of everything that slows us down, especially sin that distracts us. We must run the race that lies ahead of us and never give up. We must focus on Jesus, the source and goal of our faith. He saw the joy ahead of him, so he endured death on the cross and ignored the disgrace it brought him. Then he received the highest position in heaven, the one next to the throne of God. Think about Jesus, who endured opposition from sinners, so that you don’t become tired and give up. Hebrews 12:1-3, God’s Word Translation
At some point in our lives, we will walk through the darkness of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, hoping and praying for Easter Sunday to come, so that we can get the relief from our sufferings that we so earnestly long for. What we often forget is that on mid-day of Friday, as Jesus died, so we must die too. For us it is an internal dying, letting go of anything and everything that would keep us from living in the fullness of life that God has planned for us. This life is full union with God in Christ. As a friend shared with me recently, we must continue to let go until we find that place of “It is enough, just God and I.”
This union was the hope and goal of all the saints in the great cloud of witnesses. (Hebrews 12:1, NIV) It is also a life long process, with episodes that greatly resemble the Holy Week that Jesus exampled for us. The beauty of this process is that it concludes with resurrection and new life.
I write this as I am walking through my own Good Friday experience. I have people I trust who have been telling me to “trust the process,” and “You will make it through, just keep your eyes on Jesus.” They have been a lifeline to me. I pray that wherever you find yourself this Holy Week, that you would be encouraged just as I have been by this passage and the good words of loving friends.
I think the Triumphal Entry is one of my favorite events in the gospel narrative. There is so much going on, so many layers, and so much drama. But, as I was reading it this week, I saw a simple principle nestled in among all the layers. Praise is a pathway to peace.
When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!” Mark 11:7-10, NIV
Regardless of the political environment and expectation surrounding this event, the people acknowledged Jesus as their Messiah, their deliverer, and the one through whom they would experience God’s peace. This caused them to erupt into spontaneous praise.
Praise reveals what our hearts hold true. That sense of fulfillment, even completeness, that fills us as we praise might be the most appropriate definition of God’s shalom (peace). Shalom is wholeness and contentment in God’s presence and providence.
The crowd in this story quickly let their expectation of a warring Messiah rob them of the peace they had tasted when they worshiped Jesus as the Prince of Peace. Even when God betrays our expectations, let’s remember Paul’s encouragement.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28, NIV
In the traditional Christian calendar, this Sunday is Ascension Sunday, remembering Jesus’ ascension into heaven just prior to Pentecost. Just before his departure, Jesus told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father, which we now know is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ ascension created two periods of waiting — one for Pentecost and the other for his return or second coming. The first period was marked with worshiping God through prayer, praise, and serving others. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost empowers us to continue loving God by loving others in this second in between time.
To embrace this second season is to live fully in the present presence of God through the Holy Spirit. God is with us and within us. God’s kingdom is established through us as we live out Jesus’ commandment to love one another.
As we commemorate Jesus’ ascension and look forward to celebrating Pentecost I pray that we are established in the love of God for one another and in the ways God is leading us as a community.
Grace and peace,
“Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”
(Matthew 28:19-20, CEB)
“I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.” (John 13:34, CEB)
Even though it’s evening on Resurrection Sunday, I still want to wish you all a Happy Easter. Below is a collection of scripture passages that tell the Easter story.* I compiled it to be read at the Community Easter Celebration my church held outdoors this morning. I thought I would share it with you here. This blog post is dedicated to Giovanni Serrato and Stacey Hamilton for their willingness to read it before the gathering this morning with next to no advance notice.
Enjoy! He is risen!
Grace and peace,
In the beginning was the Word
and the Word was with God
and the Word was God.
The Word was with God in the beginning.
Everything came into being through the Word,
and without the Word
nothing came into being.
What came into being
through the Word was life,
and the life was the light for all people.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.
The Word became flesh
and made his home among us.
We have seen his glory,
glory like that of a father’s only son,
full of grace and truth.
(John 1:1-5, 14)
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life.
This is how the love of God is revealed to us: God has sent his only Son into the world so that we can live through him. This is love:it is not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as the sacrifice that deals with our sins.
(1 John 4:9-10)
Christ Jesus: Though he was in the form of God,
he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
But he emptied himself
by taking the form of a slave
and by becoming like human beings.
When he found himself in the form of a human,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
That evening a man named Joseph came. He was a rich man from Arimathea who had become a disciple of Jesus. He came to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate gave him permission to take it. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had carved out of the rock. After he rolled a large stone at the door of the tomb, he went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting in front of the tomb
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they could go and anoint Jesus’ dead body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they came to the tomb. They were saying to each other, “Who’s going to roll the stone away from the entrance for us?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away. (And it was a very large stone!) Going into the tomb, they saw a young man in a white robe seated on the right side; and they were startled. But he said to them, “Don’t be alarmed! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised. He isn’t here. Look, here’s the place where they laid him. Go, tell his disciples, especially Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.
It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “ Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. Jesus said to them again, “ Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
After his suffering, he showed them that he was alive with many convincing proofs. He appeared to them over a period of forty days, speaking to them about God’s kingdom.
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus told them to go. When they saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted. Jesus came near and spoke to them, “ I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”
* I am completely aware that this collection of scripture passages deals very little with Jesus’ earthly life and is thus not fully narrative. For the sake of time and poetic/literary license, I moved quickly from the pre-incarnate logos to death on a cross with only a quick glance toward Jesus’ earthly life. Thank you for understanding, and I hope you enjoyed the reading.
This weekend we celebrate Palm Sunday or what is also known as Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. I remarked to a friend that this is one of my favorite Sundays of the year for two reasons, the narrative drama and how Jesus calls us to follow him beyond our expectations of him. Jesus clearly disappointed the people in Jerusalem. They were expecting him to lead a revolt against Rome as their new king. His actions clearly stated that his kingdom does not work that way, and that he was going to go about it differently. This reminds me of a song lyric that says, “Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander.” There are times when we walk happily along with Jesus, and times when we are clinging to him for every step.
Palm Sunday is the beginning of the reversal that leads to Good Friday, which makes Easter possible. Like we discovered in the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from death, some things need to die in order for them to be resurrected and restored. The same goes for our expectations. What I know about Jesus is that he seeks to lead us into alignment with him that we can then fully follow him wherever he may go. This doesn’t mean that we check our expectations in at the door, so to speak. Since our expectations are established through past experiences, they may not always serve us well as we make ourselves present to God in the now which leads into the future. With each new experience our expectations can continue to be reshaped, updated, or let go of completely in order to be restored, or we can find ourselves disappointed with God, because God didn’t meet our expectations. The choice is ours. Just as the nature of the kingdom of God is counterintuitive, so it is that we may experience a few surprises along the way as we follow Jesus. It is not to disappoint us but to teach us that the way of Jesus just may be different than we expect.
Recently I read a number of accounts of restoration and resurrection in the Bible. Surprisingly, none of them were in the Easter story. What I was reminded about, though, is that God has always been in the business of restoring and resurrecting.
The account that stood out to the most was the story of the resurrection of Lazarus. Yes, Jesus waited until Lazarus was dead to make his way to Bethany, but when he got there he fully entered into the situation, listening to and comforting Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary. Jesus allowed his grief to align with their grief, since he dearly loved this family. It was from this place of empathetic union that formed an environment where healing could flow, even resurrection.
Jesus wasn’t the disaffected physician or the practitioner seeking to simply fix their problem. He loved them on purpose. Yes, he knew that by bringing Lazarus back from death would cause many to believe in him, but that didn’t stop him from loving his friends because they were his friends.
It is interesting that this resurrection story occurs just weeks before the Easter story, and is but one of many instances that Jesus brought people back from death. This speaks to me that resurrection and restoration are vital aspects of the mission of God’s kingdom and are, as Jesus exampled, an outcome of love. As a mission of God’s kingdom, it is also a mission of the people that make up that kingdom.
Looking forward to Easter, the purpose behind our many Easter events is to bring about an environment of love where restoration and resurrection can take place. May this be a vital part of all our preparations and planning. It is only fitting for the people of God’s kingdom.
Grace and peace,
When Jesus saw her crying and the Jews who had come with her crying also, he was deeply disturbed and troubled. He asked, “Where have you laid him?”
They replied, “Lord, come and see.”
Jesus began to cry. The Jews said, “See how much he loved him!”
My five year old son rode his bicycle without training wheels for the first time today. The moment he did it was joy-filled and exhilarating. It was also nerve wracking and a bit terrifying.
No more training wheels!
As he wobbled down the sidewalk, he veered into the yard, nearly missing a tree. Within the span of ten minutes, he is zooming around the block with a sense of accomplishment and a taste of freedom. Another milestone in the life of an American boy has been crossed, and I, his father, bear witness to it.
As I write this on a Sunday evening in March, Easter is three Sundays away. Over the last few weeks I have been thinking about Jesus and his disciples as they journeyed toward Jerusalem for the Passover and the events of Holy Week. Along the way, Jesus asks his disciples about himself.
When Jesus … asked his disciples, ”Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. ”Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:13-16)
This was a watershed moment that informed the rest of their journey toward Easter. Peter bore witness to Jesus’ life and ministry as the Messiah. It was as if the training wheels were taken off and the road ahead would become increasingly challenging for both Jesus and the disciples. At the same time, though, there was an empowerment that happened. The disciples had been brought into the life and economy of the kingdom of God. They were no longer an entourage of tag-a-longs, but associates, agents, and participants in Jesus’ ministry, which was to bring about the realization of the kingdom of God.
Opportunities to bear witness are more regular than we might realize, and do not always have to be as significant as Peter’s to be worth our while. We may see that in bearing witness to God’s faithfulness, to a loved one’s accomplishment, to a friend’s thoughtfulness, or to a random act of kindness, we just might empower those around us, setting them free to take the risks necessary to embark on the next leg of the journey they find themselves on. It’s just loving our neighbor as ourselves.
We all have expectations, and they are not all crazy. They do, though, at times need to be realigned. In the story of the walk to Emmaus, the Jesus encounters two of his disciples and helps them get their expectations of him pointed in the right direction. Luke 24:13-35