I Am the Resurrection

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It’s four days before Easter, and as I write this, I’m hacking up my guts with coughing and suffering through the mother of all sinus headaches. It’s what happens when I catch a cold, because I do not catch common colds. Fortunately, I don’t catch them often, either.

Not terribly conducive to writing Good Friday and Easter sermons, not to mention all the things a mom does to make Easter wonderful.

2018 has been like this. It’s been a two steps forward three steps back kind of year so far, and looking toward Easter, even if it is only four days ahead, seems like a resurrection hope on the other side of an abyss big enough to put Texas in.

I know I’m not the only one.

Working on that sermon, I found a diamond in a story many of us know well. It’s a detail easily overlooked—but the difference it makes to our hopes.

Jesus hears that his dear friend Lazarus is sick. He waits a couple days, then tells his disciples he’s going to “wake him up.” His disciples are concerned.

They politely try to remind Jesus that the last time they went to that part of the country, people tried to kill him. Not really on the tour itinerary anymore, they’re thinking. And, Jesus, the dude’s taking a nap. This is not something that requires you to risk your life. Or ours.

Since euphemisms are clearly lost on the disciples, Jesus has to explain that Lazarus is, in fact, dead. Well that escalated quickly.

They go anyway, because Jesus.

John 11.17-27 When Jesus arrived at Bethany, he was told that Lazarus had already been in his grave for four days. Bethany was only a few miles down the road from Jerusalem, and many of the people had come to console Martha and Mary in their loss. When Martha got word that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. But Mary stayed in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”

Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.” “Yes,” Martha said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.”

Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?” “Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.”

I am resurrection and life. Do you believe this?

This is Martha’s worst nightmare. They’ve apparently already lost their parents. Lazarus is likely their only source of income. Two women alone in the world at that time? It was a terrifying prospect. She mourned the loss of her brother deeply. She also looked at the future with eyes filled with fear.

But notice this one point—he’s not asking Martha if she believes in something she’s seen. Lazarus is still in the grave. Jesus hasn’t performed his own stunning special effects show of now-he’s-dead-now-he’s-not.

He’s asking Martha is she believes in something that has not happened. Has she known him enough, followed him deeply enough, understood his heart and his identity enough, to believe he is what he says he is, regardless of the evidence in her life?

Lazarus is dead. That hasn’t changed. Martha, do you believe anyway?

Jesus is the Resurrection of all things.

That includes anything in my life or yours that needs resurrection. He can (and did) raise Lazarus from the dead, but he is also the Resurrection of all the small deaths in our lives. There is nothing can’t be raised.

Of course, Martha has to put Lazarus in the ground first.

I wonder if sometimes we don’t receive our resurrection because we’ve never properly buried the thing we need revived. We cling to it, sure we can revive it. Sure it’s not really so bad as to be dying.

We won’t give it up to the grave, and then we don’t understand why it’s not revived. I’m not even sure right now, after the beginning of this year, how much Jesus wants me to let go of and bury. I don’t know if it will be four days or four years or more. I don’t know what’s on the other side of this tomb. I do know that if I want resurrection, I’ll have to bury a few things first.

Is there anything in your life Jesus can_t resurrect_ No, but you might have to bury it first.

But Then, the Dead Body

There are parts of our lives we have to bury if we want them healed. Then, maybe worse, we have to let him deal with the dead carcass of what we’ve created.

When Jesus tells Martha to roll the stone way from her brother’s tomb, she replies that it will stink something awful. The man’s been dead and behind that rock for four days. In an Israeli climate, that body’s going to reek.

This is true of our smelly things, too.

If we hand our things over to him to resurrect, we know they could stink all the way to heaven. We know they could make us smell, too. The stench is often of our own making, but we don’t want to roll that stone away to smell it.

If Jesus is going to resurrect it, it’s probably going to get smelly and messy before it gets good. The cross got that way. It was bloody and grimy and messy—but it led to an empty tomb.

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How much do we really want resurrection? Enough to let Jesus roll that stone away? Enough to allow him to pull away the grave clothes of our pain and sorrow and inabilities? Enough to listen as he calls us out, still wrapped in our mess, believing that he has a resurrection in mind if we simply come out into the open?

Martha, do you believe this? Do you know me and love me enough to trust that, even if it gets smelly and hard, you can trust me with the outcome?

Probably my favorite quote from Jen Hatmaker’s book Of Mess and Moxie is this—”We live because Jesus lives, because he is real and present and moving and working and he will not have us conquered. This is not hoodoo; it is a powerful reality. Flatten your feet, because nothing in your life is too dead for resurrection. It can be worse than you think, and more crushing than you imagined. And even then, we live.”

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Nothing. Not financial issues, parenting issues, job issues, relationship issues, sin issues, nothing —nothing is too dead for resurrection.

Do we believe it enough to let those things die, and then let him raise them the way he has planned?

I am the raising up. The everything rising from the dead. I am the not dead, the opposite of death. I am death you don’t win, and death, where is your sting? I am the rising—no one can stop me from raising myself or you.

Is there anything in your life Jesus can’t resurrect? No, but you might have to bury it first.

Do we believe it?

Do It Again

A week ago was Easter. Today is Easter. Every day is Easter, from my point of view (and the point of view of some pretty reliable historic sources). True story. Because if what the Christian church says happened on Easter really happened, then every day after that is a repeat celebration. An encore. One more chance to stare up into the heavens in what really should be daily freaked-out surprise and say, “I can’t believe you did that for me!” 
If Jesus truly–physically, spiritually, historically, existentially, and any other ‘ly’–was dead and then wasn’t anymore forever,  then today is still Easter. And that needs to mean something. Quite honestly, if such a thing happened, and you don’t think it merits more than one day’s notice in 365, you’re not taking this whole life and death thing we’re all in very seriously. 
At one point in my life, I did look at that cross in freaked-out surprise and say, “I can’t believe you did that for me.” I cried, right there in front of late night TV. No one had ever told me about Jesus, but somehow I knew. It happened when I was watching the movie Jesus Christ Superstar. Not a conventional conversion, I admit, but a fact. It took a few years of being around better people than I to realize exactly what that belief meant. I’m still working on it.
One thing a conviction that Easter is a daily celebration means is that we face those days with anticipation, not fear. My personal ministry revolves around helping people be freed from fear. Easter is the ultimate release from fear. Without Easter, I’d have nothing to say about fighting fears. I might try, and I might unleash all kinds of pop psychology to make you feel better temporarily, but really, without Easter, I’ve got nothing.
On Easter, it seems appropriate to point out that fear comes from somewhere. It was never innate to human nature. Humans started this gripping emotion called fear by running away from God in the Garden of Eden. Why? Because they knew they had messed up, they knew He knew it, and they didn’t know what He was going to do about it. 
It’s the same basic principle that caused me to hide in my closet when I was eight and I skipped out on dishwashing duty to go out and play even though I knew that my name was clearly on that chore chart and my mom would find me. No one who knows in her soul that she has deliberately opted to go against the established order of rightness feels good about that choice for long. We may go through all kinds of emotional gymnastics to pretend and believe we do, but eventually that delusional behavior bites us from behind. How long we choose to run from it depends on how stubborn we are. 
We don’t like accountability for our actions. We don’t like the notion that any behavior could actually be wrong. (It’s just different.) And we certainly have lost all enchantment with the word ‘sin.’ It’s quaint but irrelevant. 
Except no matter how far or fast we try to run away, we have soul-deep-knowledge of a variety that won’t be suppressed that there is wrong; that in fact, there is wrong in us, and it scares us. We hide, because our Parent might notice our name on that chart at any minute and realize we aren’t doing our job.
Then hiding hits the blinding light of Easter, and it has to make a choice. Run farther into that dark closet, or stare at that cross in the morning sunlight and surrender to the inconceivable surprise that it happened because I couldn’t stop hiding. And now I don’t have to. 
Personally, I’ve come to realize that hiding in the closet because I’m afraid of the consequences of my own behavior comes with a few problems:
One, the anxiety about what my parent might do imprisons my soul. I could just go and find out and get it over with. But why do that when I can spend hours imagining it? Or a lifetime. (God’s reply–“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6.23)
Two, It locks my relationship into the realm of fear, when it could be transformed into the heathy thing it was meant to be–a parent and child teaching and growing. (Which is what God wants, too. “So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, ‘Abba, Father.’ For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.” Romans 8.15-16)
Three, hiding becomes my default whenever I don’t want to face something, robbing me of experiences outside the closet. (Which is not what God wants. “The Lord is my light and my salvation—so why should I be afraid? The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble?” Psalm 27.1)
Four, it’s really hot and stuffy in an upstairs closet in a century-old house with no air conditioning. I think this may have been the beginning of my claustrophobia issues.

It’s Easter. Still. Running was never part of the nature God intended for us. He proved it by walking straight into the consequences of our behavior, facing the terrors there, and blasting them to bits with one shove of a stone away from a tomb and a sunrise beyond our craziest dreams. Today, instead of turning around and going about your day like it’s a normal day, look up. Stare into the sky. Say in freaked-out surprise, “I can’t believe you did that for me.” Yell it if you want to. Then close your eyes, and let the Easter light do its freeing work.

On The Hunger Games and Easter Sunday

Easter, and high school students, and Katniss Everdeen. I promise you—they do

intersect and make sense. 


Sunrises. We like sunrises. Who doesn’t?
A couple times this year, most recently this afternoon, I have had the chance to speak to a room full of high school students about bringing God into their culture. I talked about a few ways they could do that, but the final idea I gave them was simple—bring hope.

Is “hope” really a cross-cultural concept when we’re talking about the Millennial generation? You bet it is.

Witness the biggest genre of YA literature for the past several years—dystopia. A story playing out amid the ruin of a world that no longer resembles the one we know. The dictionary definitions of dystopia include:

  • “An imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one.”

  • “ A society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression, disease, and overcrowding.”

  • “An imagined place where people are unhappy and usually afraid.”

Well that sounds like quite the pleasant little backdrop.

Witness two of the blockbusters of this genre—Hunger Games. Divergent.

Now darkness is hardly new to YA literature, and I would be the first to argue that some darkness is necessary to challenge and empower the reader. But there is a not-so-subtle difference in what has been going on in recent years. Harry Potter was dark. Lord of the Rings has its share of dark. But those series ended with people going on to assume lives in which darkness did not reign and evil did not win. Those books ended with—hope. As Samwise says, “Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer.” Those authors believed and conveyed this.

The new ones don’t. Heroes are antiheroes. Conflict is “not great” versus “really bad.” You’re not sure you even want to root for anyone in the end. No one wins. Heroes even die in the final pages. The books reflect the attitude of a culture that has shifted. In the words of another LOTR character, “Do not trust to hope. It has forsaken these lands.”

They just look like hope.
This is the call, I believe, to writers who want to matter and to make their faith matter. 

Bring back hope.

Thus, I told those kids. And I’ve told my daughter, who wants to write this kind of literature. Whatever you do, whatever you write, whatever you are called to do in this life—do it with hope. Draw hope. Photograph hope. Cook hope. Put out fires, police streets, wait tables, perform surgery, counsel families—with hope.

Not happy-clappy ridiculous hope that ignores real life. That’s not hope—that’s wishful thinking. We already have a little too much of that in faith-based writing.

But real hope? If you intersect the culture with hope, you are bringing in an explosive device they are not quite prepared for. Bring it anyway. Bring it especially.

On this day after Easter, those of us who celebrated yesterday have the greatest, no, the only, source of this explosive hope. If you have a relationship with God—a living, vibrant, relationship, not just a go-to-church obey-the-rules one—you have a source of hope your culture needs.

You have it because God calls you, me, and all humans, precious souls whom he ransomed from pointless lives. Because God proved it with the power that kills death itself. Because he promises he made us for more. Because Easter proves there is an ultimate great hope, that evil can be defeated, and that we get to participate in the greatest story ever. It’s not our story. But we’re in it. Are we in it to create hope?

I kind of like that I get to be a Samwise in this world. A proclaimer of darkness-killing light in a world where it does indeed “shine out all the clearer.” Sam’s pretty cool. Sam is a hope spreader. It was needed in Mordor—it’s needed in your backyard.

(don’t) just do it

It’s risk time again. And as often happens while doing this listening-to-God-life thing, what I thought I’d write about today isn’t what’s hitting the page. The original plan will be here next month, I promise. And it’s a BIG BOOTS adventure, so do stay tuned!

(“When you see someone putting on his Big Boots, you can be pretty sure that an Adventure is going to happen.” AA Milne)

But today, I have to face this Lent thing. I do, because it’s here, and I don’t feel I can ignore it, which is usually the way I handle Lent. And yes, facing Lent is a risk. Because what I’m going to say risks making people mad, which I hate more than waiting in line at the DMV, which you KNOW is serious not-liking.

Thinking about anything that 1—messes with peoples’ traditions, 2—potentially questions their motives, and 3—asks serious questions about God and the crucifixion is going to get real scary real fast.

What I’m going to say is, I don’t get it. I’ve never done it. Never seen any reason to.

Maybe I’m too much of a legalist for Lent observance. If I gave up desserts for Lent for instance, you know the first thing that would follow. Hmmm, if I eat this snickerdoodle at 3:00, is it a dessert or an afternoon snack? If I give up social media—hey, checking my Facebook while sitting in the car waiting to pick up a kid is totally a good use of time. Plus it’s purely for professional purposes.

You get the idea. Give me a rule, and I’ll find the loophole. Make me draw lines in my life of what is OK and what is not OK, and I become a line drawer. I will focus on where those lines are and what the precise definitions are, and it will become all about those lines. Those rules. Those loopholes. Where is Jesus in there?

I’m not seeing it all bringing me closer to Christ during Lent.

What it could manage is dragging me closer to that all-too-human bent toward legalism. Checking off the rules on my wall of what I can and cannot get away with and still be OK with God.

Which is what God begs his people to get away from several times. It’s what I definitely need to stay away from, since I’m good at finding my worth–dare I say salvation?–in my achievements and things checked off on a list. I’ve clawed my way out of legalism, thank you very much. Don’t intend to be hauled back without a fight.

God so does not want me to go there. So why would he want me to observe Lent?

And, here’s the other thing. I see people giving stuff up for Lent, and I usually note one of a few motivations:

1—I’m giving up ________ because it’s tradition. My church does it. I’ve always done it. It would be weird not to do it. To which I think, it’s my Swedish tradition to eat blood sausage and fish balls, but some traditions are meant to die. Quickly.

2—I want to lose weight, and giving up chocolate or ice cream or sugar is a sure-fire way to get rid of ten pounds AND sound really holy doing so. It’s a win-win.

3—When I give up something, I can talk about it on Facebook, so other people can see how holy I am. Unless I’m actually giving up Facebook, which means you’ll have to see how holy I am by my absence. Which does work, in a strange negative-energy sort of way.

And—do I really need to say this?

These are not good reasons.

If I’m giving up, say, chai tea lattes for forty days out of ignorance, personal gain, or pride, not only am I going to be cranky for forty days, but I suspect I will be no closer to Jesus than I was on Fat Tuesday.

The other reason I’ve never practiced Lent is that it’s not supposed to be a one-shot deal. I rebel at the idea that I can think about being like Jesus for only one season. Being like Jesus is supposed to consume my everyday will. Isn’t it flirting with apathy just a little to say I’ll work on this God thing seriously until Easter, and then, well, we’ll see after that?

So help me out here. Why would I do this?

Sigh. I have many friends whom I deeply respect giving up some of these things for Lent. They are not people of apathy or loose motivations. They have reasons. They love God with all their mind and hands and heart and will. I want to figure out those reasons.

So I decided to look into the original purposes of these forty days. There, maybe, I’d find answers for all my whys. The original purpose, apparently, was to prepare the believer–through prayer, repentance, giving, and self-denial. It never says what the believer is being prepared for. And that bothers me, since it look very much like what I have problems with. We don’t know why, but it’s got to be good for us. Like a religious edict to eat your brussels sprouts.

Just do it” is a motto I can get behind when I’m sitting in committee meetings for a couple hours. But in matters of faith practice? Not so much.

But another thing I read catches my attention. “The forty days of Lent was meant to remind us of the time Jesus spent fasting in the desert to prepare for his ministry.” That word ‘prepare’–it comes again. But this time, there’s a reason. A preparation for something. A purpose behind the denial. And here it is—

so Jesus can go out and do what he came to do, with laser-focus on why he’s doing it.

Would that change the way we do Lent?

I doubt that leaving chocolate behind is going to prepare me for loving the world. I don’t believe, in my heart of hearts, that giving up caffeine will give me focus on what matters going forward. What I need, if I’m going to understand and do this Lent thing, is to know what will bring me to a place where I’m more prepared to focus on what God put me here to do and, yes, just do it.

I need a practice toward something rather than a push away.

So, as I think about coming to terms with this Lent, I realize there is something I can do. I can move toward being more like him. I can practice something that will prepare me to love the world. I can focus on his humility and make it as much mine for forty days as I can, hoping it will take hold and last.

That’s the risk I’d ask you to take this Lent. Find your motivation. Be honest about it. Whether or not you’ve ever given up so much as a quarter of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, figure out why or why not. It is risky. You may not like the answer. (Im’ not sure I like mine. But i’m going to do it.) 

It’s always risky to look at Jesus and ask him if you know him well enough to be walking with him through life. It’s scary because–He’ll answer.

What are you moving toward this Lent? What is He preparing you for? Just do that.