Easter morning

{a repost from 2014}

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“Hear the bells ringing, they’re singing that you can be born again!” That melody floats through my head this morning. The melody that drew me into salvation as a child of 4-years-old who inquired what it meant to be born again, and then was … Keith Green’s invitation set to music.

Another phrase that seems to capture what Easter means for me this year, today:

Be free and have fun!

I overheard these words spoken by a grandmother sending her grandson off to play at a park a few weeks ago. And they have reverberated through my mind and heart ever since. Not only as such a good (different) parenting focus, but the words I need to hear from a resurrected Jesus this morning, every morning.

Easter means I am free and so are you who are united to Jesus by faith. Free from sin, free from slavery to the effects of my sin and others’, free from anxiety and worry, free from performance on the treadmill of perfection, free from my past and my failings, free from others’ judgments or opinions, free to say “no” to doing too much, free to love – to serve wholeheartedly – to create.

Free to have fun in the truest sense of fun. To be creative, to delight in a world that can be as delightful as it is broken.  To have fun with my daughters and not only be a disciplinarian. To have fun with my husband and in so doing make both of our loads lighter. To take myself more lightly and laugh a little easier. To have fun doing what I don’t give myself permission to do in my quest for achievement and success: to have fun painting, reading novels, blogging, sharing a cup of coffee with a close friend, making life and our home beautiful.

What about you? What could it mean to live in the light of Easter morning? Of the empty tomb calling out to you – “be free! and have fun!”? Where are you still living under the weight of “Silent Saturday”? Of the agony of Good Friday?

Three posts I recommend for your perusal. “We are the Sunday morning people” by Lisa-Jo Baker, “Woman, Why?” at (in)courage, and “We Need All the Days of Holy Week” at Grace Covers Me.

Enjoy … be free … have fun! The tomb is empty; Jesus our Lord is risen; death has lost its darkness and sin has lost its power. 

The perplexity, fear, and joyful disbelief of Easter morning

Perplexed. Frightened. Startled. Disbelieved for joy. Alarmed. Astonished. Afraid.

All of these describe the response of those who witnessed Jesus’ resurrection. Joy is our primary emotion on Easter morning, but fear overshadowed all else on that first Easter morning. Fear and astonishment. Nestled in the middle of the gospel accounts is this, “disbelief for joy,” and that seems to make the most sense to us. It’s what we can connect to as ones who eagerly proclaim resurrection hope.

I wonder what it would be like to stop and sit in the other responses: perplexed at how this could be – at what this could mean. Frightened, startled, alarmed, astonished to find the tomb empty. This shook those first witnesses to the core. We expect it because we know the end of the story, and we can’t bear to sit with the weight of the grief of Good Friday for long. (I was all too happy that we did a pre-Easter celebration with my daughters yesterday – like skipping the uncomfortable scenes of a movie, we press fast-forward to today’s joy.) But what would it have felt like to go to the tomb early on a Sunday morning, while it was still dark, fully expecting to pay homage to the memory of beloved Jesus, and to find instead that it was empty? Of course Mary’s first response is that someone has stolen the body (John 20:2):

“They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

That makes sense. But that Jesus is alive? It is too good to be true. If it’s true, everything changes. And that is perplexing, frightening, and alarming. What will happen next if resurrection has happened? It interrupts with discomfort the order we depended on (even the grief inherent in the old order of things can feel comfortable because it is familiar). If Jesus is alive, what else will change? Do we dare to hope that freedom from Roman oppression will also happen? What does this mean for our mission? Will we die, or will Jesus bring us with him to heaven immediately?

No wonder there are numerous letters written to the early church discussing the implications of Jesus’ resurrection. It changes everything.

What has it changed for you, and for me?

I have hope that I will meet again those who have died. Bethany, Nancy Leigh, Beverlee, Uncle Ashby, Grandmother and Grandfather Davis, Papa, a sister-in-law I never knew (Sarah), Lynn, Karla, Katharine. And you who have lost beloved family and friends will see them again, too – Nan; Liz; Jill; Megan, Kelli, & Patti; Mike & Shelby; the Rodriguez family; Kimberly & Erick; John – thinking and praying for each of you particularly this Easter morning.

I have courage to enter into the messy and broken places of my heart and others’ lives as we grieve to live in between resurrection and full restoration when Jesus returns. I can weep with those who weep, who miss their beloved ones, whose hearts are breaking because of the brokenness of this world. I can sit and mourn without having answers. I can listen and be impacted by the grief of life in a world that’s not yet what it should be. 

I can ask my questions and doubts, and create space for you to do the same. Jesus compassionately showed doubting Thomas his scars. He did not berate him for his disbelief. (For disbelief might be one of the most honest first responses to the reality of resurrection.)

sad untrue quote

photo from poetrystoryteller.blogspot.com

I can choose joy (belief in a bigger purpose, a deeper reality) in the middle of suffering and heartache and frustrations. I have an unshakeable hope waiting for me, guaranteed by the Resurrection. “Everything sad will come untrue,” writesSally Lloyd-Jones in The Jesus Storybook Bible.

I’ll close with one of many teachings on “what now, in light of Jesus’ resurrection?” This one penned by the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

Holy Week: Monday

It sits just on the other side of triumphant Palm Sunday, and days before the remembering, mourning, and celebrating of Thursday through Sunday. It can feel lost – this “Holy Monday.” (And is that an oxymoron? How can Monday ever be holy? More often “mundane” is an adjective of choice.)

I wonder if “Holy Monday” (and “Holy Tuesday” and “Holy Wednesday”) are needed so that our hearts are ready for the sobriety of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. For something shifted in the crowd who welcomed Jesus with palm branches waving, surrendering their outerwear as a pathway for their donkey-saddled King. Something shifted between this “Triumphal Entry” and the angry crowds begging for his execution on Friday. It was the overlooked days of “Holy Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday.”

The days when I overlook – or fail to look – at my king, humbled and riding on a donkey, but riding nonetheless TO ME; the days when I overlook the tears Jesus wept over this city (and symbolically, over every city in which any of us dwell); these days are the ones when my heart can go rogue. It slips out beneath my notice and goes after its old lovers. The ones promising quick satisfaction without waiting for long promises to be fulfilled. The lovers who tell me I’m beautiful (especially if I use their line of clothing and beauty products). The ones who lure my restless heart with excitement and adventure (forgetting to highlight the fine print warning of: use only at great risk to your soul). It was these false lovers who won over the hearts of the crowds in the four days between Palm Sunday and Good Friday. The false lovers were clothed in religious garb. They planted questions like –

“How dare he claim to be the Son of God? Who does he think he is?”

“We were promised a Messiah to rescue us. We are still under Roman oppression. Jesus cannot be the promised one.”

“This Jesus is not what we really want. He is working too slow – or not at all.”

And these same religious leaders were at work behind closed doors making deals with an insider who would betray Jesus (Judas). They were plotting his death while the crowds went about their business on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. They were stirring up the crowds, with insidious doubts at first and then with explicit commands.

Holy Monday can become “Holy” only when I first admit how similar I am to these fickle crowds. I want a king who comes on my terms, to deliver me in my way, and to make me powerful with him. A king who calls me to follow after him, deny myself, and lose my life to save it? No, thank you. I think I’ll go find someone else. Holy Monday becomes holy when I look at the God who has won me wholly. Even (especially) in the days when my heart feels prone to wander.

Easter morning: “be free and have fun”

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“Hear the bells ringing, they’re singing that you can be born again!” That melody floats through my head this morning. The melody that drew me into salvation as a child of 4-years-old who inquired what it meant to be born again, and then was … Keith Green’s invitation set to music.

Another phrase that seems to capture what Easter means for me this year, today:

Be free and have fun!

I overheard these words spoken by a grandmother sending her grandson off to play at a park a few weeks ago. And they have reverberated through my mind and heart ever since. Not only as such a good (different) parenting focus, but the words I need to hear from a resurrected Jesus this morning, every morning.

Easter means I am free and so are you who are united to Jesus by faith. Free from sin, free from slavery to the effects of my sin and others’, free from anxiety and worry, free from performance on the treadmill of perfection, free from my past and my failings, free from others’ judgments or opinions, free to say “no” to doing too much, free to love – to serve wholeheartedly – to create.

Free to have fun in the truest sense of fun. To be creative, to delight in a world that can be as delightful as it is broken. To have fun doing harm to evil (thank you, Dan Allender, for this poignant phrase from the “To Be Told” seminar I attended last month).  To have fun with my daughters and not only be a disciplinarian. To have fun with my husband and in so doing make both of our loads lighter. To take myself more lightly and laugh a little easier. To have fun doing what I don’t give myself permission to do in my quest for achievement and success: to have fun painting, reading novels, blogging, sharing a cup of coffee with a close friend, making life and our home beautiful.

What about you? What could it mean to live in the light of Easter morning? Of the empty tomb calling out to you – “be free! and have fun!”? Where are you still living under the weight of “Silent Saturday”? Of the agony of Good Friday?

Three posts I recommend for your perusal. “We are the Sunday morning people” by Lisa-Jo Baker, “Woman, Why?” at (in)courage, and “We Need All the Days of Holy Week” at Grace Covers Me.

Enjoy … be free … have fun! The tomb is empty; Jesus our Lord is risen; death has lost its darkness and sin has lost its power. 

 

When you break Lent (and it breaks you)

Lent.

The period of 40 weekdays that in the Christian Church is devoted to fasting, abstinence, and penitence.

I chose what I thought would be four hard but do-able items for my Lenten fast this year. Call me an overachiever, or more accurately, an over-estimator of my own strength. A month ago I posted about my hopes for Lent. How hard could it really be? And how refreshing and empowering could it be! In taking away many of my heart’s distractions – phone apps, Target, sweets, t.v. – I assumed that God would replace my heart’s misplaced affections with a renewed love for Christ and the people around me.

About three weeks in, I broke Lent. Fully and completely. Not just one day, but I think it was about every day of the week and I broke every single “fast” multiple times. I rationalized why for each of them.

  • Going to Target will help me stick to our family budget on some key grocery items like Kashi cereal and goldfish.
  • “Non-essential” phone app category expanded dramatically. I started Lent with 6 icons on my home screen that I deemed “non-essential.” I’m ending Lent with twice as many.
  • Television is the only way that my husband and I can really share down time together after busy days in the midst of a busy week
  • I really just “need” a quick pick-me-up. Nothing like a bite of chocolate to do that.

My response to breaking Lent? First, my typical pull-yourself-up-by-your-boot-straps approach: “Just try harder, Heather. Get it together. You can do it!” As this failed, I descended to self-blame, punishment, guilt and shame. “This is really not that hard. There are millions of people in the world who LIVE without these things daily, and you can’t just go without for 40 days?? What is wrong with YOU?” That also got me nowhere fast.

And then I realized that maybe this is the real purpose of Lent. To reveal (again) that I cannot fulfill the Law. Any law – of God’s eternally perfect law, other people’s expectations, or my own standards. Maybe Lent is meant to show me how little I can do in my own strength, and therefore how MUCH I need Jesus and His life, death, and resurrection that we celebrate at Easter. Truth echoed in these verses from Romans 3:19-20 –

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Breaking Lent is one way that the law breaks me. It’s a beautiful breaking, for it leads me to the One who restores and makes new. If I didn’t practice a Lenten fast this year, I would be that much less aware of my helplessness to gain eternal life and a relationship with God on my own strength or efforts. And so, in an upside-down backwards way, breaking Lent has broken me of trying and pointed me in desperate hope to Jesus whose death we remember this week and whose life we celebrate next Sunday. Listen to this hope found in Romans 5:6 and 21 –

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. … so that … grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

As we round the final corner of Lent, walking into Holy Week’s somber reflections, let us remember that we cannot earn Easter on our own merit. Our best trying leaves us hopeless. Let us fall in our weariness and allow Jesus to pick us up and bring us with Him to the cross and then the hope of the empty tomb this week and always.

Lenten fast and reading “7”

cropped-img_0363.jpgThere is a beauty to winter’s barren branches rising against the crisp blue sky. A beauty quite different from that of the branches clothed in spring’s fresh buds and blooms of life or when radiant in fall’s glorious colors. It is not unlike what’s gained from a fast. It is in what’s not there that we can see and appreciate what is, and even anticipate what will be again. Reading the book 7 by Jen Hatmaker has been good to remind me of the beauty of what is not. The beauty of less rather than more, of giving away things rather than gaining more possessions, of turning off media instead of plugging in, of growing in appreciation instead of discontentment, and of making God’s Kingdom priorities bigger than that of my own “American kingdom” of self. I don’t want to make  a new Christian law to follow, which I could so easily try to do – something that focuses on me trying harder and doing more. Yet I see its value in the way that what she does is so counter-cultural that I can’t help but begin thinking more about the eternal treasures we are to be storing up instead of earthly goods to acquire. Now if only that thinking would translate into doing … 

Enter the Lenten fast. The introduction from our church’s Lent devotional guide sets the scene:

Lent is a season of preparation and repentance during which we anticipate Good Friday and Easter,
inviting us to make our hearts ready for remembering Jesus’ passion and celebrating Jesus’ resurrection.

It is traditional to choose something to fast from for 40 days beginning on Ash Wednesday (with Sundays as “feast days”). In combination with some of what I was challenged by in the fasts, I decided to choose a few things nearest and dearest to my heart: (1) Target, naturally (2) non-essential phone apps (3) sweets/desserts and (4) tv for Seth and me

And I am here to tell you that I have kept this fast perfectly and will never be turning back again. Ahem. Not quite. I’ve been surprised by how difficult it has felt at moments, at how naturally I want to distract myself with Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, email; at how much I have longed to just escape into a good tv show at night; at the way I crave something sweet in a hard mom moment; and at how I’ve longed to run to Target with my daughters in tow just to buy something shiny. I think that without even thinking, I was using apps, reaching for sweets, and making a Target list in the first few days of Lent. Yikes! Am I really that addicted? Apparently so.

But there has also been something sweet that has crept in amidst the new “barrenness” of my life in these areas. Less budget drain and more time spent playing with my kids because of no Target; more focus on the present because of no phone apps; more rest and conversation with my husband because of no tv; more reminders to turn to Jesus in prayer instead of reaching for the nearest sweet escape (not to mention, more energy!). Every day has not been like this. I have fought these self-imposed restrictions and wiggled my way out of them occasionally. I have been angry more quickly some days because my false refuges have been taken away. What’s come to the surface of my heart is not always beautiful. But then again, with more to repent of, I am brought back to Jesus more often.

One of the Lenten passages this week was Matthew 6:1-21. I was struck by the phrase, “your Father who sees in secret.” In the context of this passage, it’s talking about doing these things in secret: giving to the needy, fasting, and praying. What do I do in secret, that only my Father sees? And how does what I do in secret reveal where my heart’s true treasure is located? Too often what’s revealed is that I am unloving towards my family, resentful of what I give, that I’m self-indulgent and prayerless. When performance for others is stripped away, what is left? Here is a place of repentance, as I seek the identity of being clothed in the righteousness of the One who perfectly obeyed – even in secret – and where I am reminded that Christ’s life in me – in the very core of who I am when all else is stripped away – is my only hope of glory. But what a very sure and certain hope it is! So fasting leads to repentance which then leads to celebration. And this is the Easter worship of a Life crucified then resurrected and now waiting for me in heaven.

Life After Paci & Good Friday

Look at this big girl! You would never know that merely 15 days ago, we were bidding farewell to her beloved pacifier(s). It went so differently than I expected. The actual “paci-release party” turned out not quite as I envisioned it, as so many things in life. Instead of the poetic balloon release, the paci actually weighed down the balloon too much. And so the balloon floated down the stairs of our deck onto the sidewalk, where a few neighborhood dogs were circling for the kill – before I rescued the paci and told the neighborhood kids that no, now was not a good time to come over to play. We only lost one of the helium balloons, and the girls did not escape down the stairs of our back deck in all the chaos (though there were several near misses). We brought everyone and their balloons and paci inside, and Seth very unceremoniously threw away both pacifiers in the kitchen garbage can, telling Lucia that they were going “bye-bye” and she was a big girl now. I think she understood. At least until it was time to go to bed and she kept searching for one. That was the hardest part for me as her mom. I added a lengthy period of rocking instead, and she actually fell asleep without a fuss. Same with naps the next day. I was astounded.

But we have noticed the absence of our beloved pacifier in other, unexpected ways. Like the severity and frequency of tantrums in the week after its absence. Pretty unbelievable, and more than once, I wished along with Lucia that we had her favorite comfort object to help soothe her. She’s having to learn a new way to soothe herself, and so are we. I actually began to count the number of tantrums the girls have been having lately, because it seemed like a lot. And I wanted data to prove to myself that it really wasn’t a lot, or that maybe it was. Yesterday, the total was a very unimpressive 7. But today, we had a two-dozen tantrum day (and that doesn’t count the 2 hours I was at lunch with a friend). Yes, TWENTY-FOUR tantrums between the two girls. No wonder the days feel long sometimes. I was quite thankful for Seth’s presence at home with us today. We all needed him.

No coincidence that it’s Good Friday. I was hourly (no, more frequently) reminded that I need Jesus. I am not the good mom I want to be. I lose my patience when they lose their tempers. My emotions are not sanctified but reveal the many places of false refuge I go to rather than God. I lose it because I “need” peace and quiet, routine, space to think, predictability. I “deserve” all of this … and more. I choose not to follow the Spirit’s leading towards self-control, peace, love, but to indulge the flesh – the part of me that still wants to rebel against God. I pull it together in public. Just like my daughters, who were perfect angels at nursery tonight. The Savior they need is the Savior I need. The one whose death we remember today and whose death we feel in each little “death” to the flesh, each time we choose to die to what I want & think I deserve in order to live to God, to live to the Spirit in me. As I was reminded at our women’s retreat last weekend, we are united to Christ in his death, so it should be no surprise that there are times when resisting sin will feel like dying, too. If only I could attach my sin to a helium balloon and send it away forever. Oh, wait. It got nailed to a cross, taken on by the only innocent One, God’s beloved Son, and it is gone forever. Sin/death/the devil will NOT have the last word. We will celebrate that on Sunday. Praise God that Friday is Good and that Friday is not the end of The Story. Resurrection life is coming.

A prayer for Easter life

“I am the resurrection and the life.”  I need some of this life. My friends who are grieving the loss of their friend to cancer need the resurrection. Death is so foreign to life – its opposite, isn’t it? We need resurrection hope this Easter.

And I need the hope of life as I grieve the separation from family and feel like there are too many places that are dead within me. I need Your life to awaken me. To remind me of the joy of this calling of being a mother. I feel an absence of life when there is truly an abundance of it. The abundance of lives has made my life feel weary. Mundane. Monotonous. Even (especially?) on Easter.

Lord, who is alive, give me life. Joy. Hope. Lift my eyes from my self-imposed misery to the miraculous empty tomb. Empty of my sin because it died with Jesus at the cross. Empty of my misery because the living Redeemer is pushing back the darkness. Empty of death because my Savior vanquished it on the third day …

Easter: joyful disbelief or cynical doubt?

As I read and reflected on the Easter story this morning as told by the four Gospels, what stands out is the response of those who heard the news of the empty tomb and the risen Jesus. Initially, there is fear. Yet the fear becomes “great joy” or it gives way to cynical doubt.

There is Mary Magdalene who is one of the first at the tomb on that first Easter morning. She hears the news and is filled with fear. But then she sees Jesus, and her fear turns to the disbelief of joy that he is alive and so she worships him and spreads the news to the rest of the disciples. Most of them do not immediately believe, but persist in cynical doubt. Luke actually says that the disciples regarded the women’s report as “an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” However, Peter went to see for himself. And then he went away marveling at the too-good-to-be-true truth of Jesus’ resurrection.

Thomas persists in his doubt because he missed the first resurrection appearance of Jesus to the disciples. He boldly claims that he will “never believe” unless “I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side.” I wonder why Jesus didn’t show up immediately to dispel his cynical doubt. But he doesn’t. He waits eight days, and then he appears and invites Thomas to, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Instantly, Thomas is transformed from a doubter to a worshiper.

Where are you this Easter morning? Be assured that Jesus can (and will) meet you wherever you are. Maybe he will call your name personally, as he did for Mary in the garden that first Easter morning, and you will be overcome with joyful disbelief. Or perhaps you, like Thomas, are more cynical and it will be a longer journey for you. Jesus can meet you here, too, transforming your doubt into the worship of faith.

He has risen. He has risen, indeed. And he is alive. Let us then worship with joy this Easter morning.

the irony of “Good Friday”

There is much we celebrate about today that is ironic. I remember as a child wondering why this Friday in which Jesus died is known as “Good Friday.” It certainly seemed like a very BAD Friday when he died. So bad that darkness covered the earth prematurely and Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” The Trinitarian Godhead is mysteriously wounded … so that we could be healed from our sins. And so it becomes our Good Friday.

There’s also the irony of the “righteous” religious leaders who crucified the only truly innocent man who ever lived. Pilate himself affirmed Jesus’ innocence, yet succumbed to the political pressure exerted by the “righteous” Pharisees who demanded that Jesus be killed. When Jesus is taken to Pilate’s house, John includes this ironic sentence about these leaders: “They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover.” WHAT?!! They wanted to be “clean” and “pure” enough to eat the Passover, but in so doing they crucified the Passover Lamb of God himself.

And then there’s the way that Jesus is taunted while he is being crucified that he “save himself.”

So also the chief priests, with the scribes and the elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.”

Yet if Jesus had saved himself the painful agony of the crucifixion, bearing the wrath of God on behalf of us sinners, none of us would be saved. Jesus would not truly be King if he had come down from the cross. We would have no one to believe in for true salvation.

Good Friday is a day of truly hidden glory. The glory of the King of Kings dying the death of a criminal so his subjects could be in relationship with him. Hidden behind the taunts of the “righteous leaders” who needed his salvation more than any others (and still do!). A bad, horrible day of mourning and weeping and darkness that will turn good for all who believe upon him.

“What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered/Was all for sinners’ gain;

Mine, mine was the transgression/But Thine the deadly pain.

Lo, here I fall, my Savior/’Tis I deserve thy place;

Look on me with Thy favor/Assist me with Thy grace.”

(from the hymn “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”)