It’s Gonna Stink

It takes courage to let Jesus roll away the stones we_ve carefully placed in front of the smelly messes of our lives.

Garbage in, but mostly out

There is an ongoing struggle in our house. My husband sincerely believes that the garbage needs to go out on Thursday night, the night before the garbage truck comes. This is logical to him. He likes logic and, more than logic, he likes to know when things are going to happen. He is a total creature of habit.

I, on the other hand, have a different viewpoint on when the garbage needs to head outside. When it’s full. Or, worse, when it stinks.

Some times of year, it can really stink.

I like my schedules, but if something stinks, it needs to go, regardless of whether the city has scheduled its demise that day or not.

He has habits; I have reactions.

So there is another part of the story we started last week that piques my interest. And my nose.

After Jesus goes to Lazarus’ tomb, the conversation between him and Martha that we began last week continues.

When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled. “Where have you put him?” he asked them.

They told him, “Lord, come and see.”Then Jesus wept.The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much he loved him!”But some said, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”

Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance.“Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them.

But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.”

Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” 

Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!”And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!” (John 11.33-44)

Jesus is the resurrection and the life. That means that there is nothing in our lives that is so dead Jesus cannot resurrect it. Not any big deaths in our lives, and not the small deaths either.

Nothing.

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Nothing is too dead for resurrection.

  • Not financial issues
  • Not child issues
  • Not job issues
  • Not relationship issues
  • Not sin issues
    Not medical issues

Nothing is too dead for resurrection.

But here’s the thing. Sometimes, we have to bury those things before Jesus can resurrect them. And sometimes? They will stink.

Jesus asks Martha if she believes who he is—the resurrection and the life. His real question, though, is this—Do you trust me? No matter what happens, do you trust me with your brother’s life—and yours?

We cling to those things that need resurrection, don’t we?

We know the marriage needs intervention, but we’re comfortable, at least, in our dysfunction. We don’t want to give our inch. What if he takes a mile? What if the immense work of changing the way we interact doesn’t change anything? What if we open up something that vomits all over us and never, ever goes back into its safe can?

Letting Jesus roll the stones out from in front of our messy marriage will stink, and we know it. But if we don’t bury what’s comfortable, we’ll never know the resurrection to what’s beautiful.

We know our relationship with our kids is tenuous, but listening and learning is hard. Believing the worst of them is impossible. Believing the worst of ourselves is uncomfortable. Learning boundaries and giving freedom threaten to break us in shards.

It stinks when we struggle with those we love most. But if we don’t bury what we have, he can’t raise it to what it could be.

We know we need to change some things for our health, or we need to accept that parts of the way we’d like to look or be are not going to happen this side of resurrection bodies. (I do not want to accept that.) Learning to live with physical limitations (not to mention saggy boobs) stinks.

But if I don’t bury my need to look and feel 35, how is he going to resurrect what is and make it what it can be? (Also, if I don’t bury my need to binge eat macarons and chocolate.) 

We know He’s calling us to something more, higher, deeper—in faith, in work, in calling, in hope. But taking the steps toward that means burying what is for the dream of what might be.

It takes courage to let Jesus roll away the stones we’ve carefully placed in front of the smelly messes of our lives.

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Oh, but look what can come walking out of the tomb if we let him.

Resurrection. Life. Renewal. Restoration.

All the fullness of life.

Do you know why “This Is Me” became the runaway hit song from Greatest Showman? Because we all know the feeling of hiding our mess. We know what it’s like to be afraid of revealing all that we are, the good, bad, and ugly, to a critical world.

We all long for the resurrection and life, not just in the future, but now, right now, in our mess today. It’s just that sometimes, we don’t long for it enough. At least, not enough to bury what is and let Jesus handle the smell.

Martha looks him in the eye. She knows it’s going to stink. She’s never experienced an actual resurrection before. It’s got to be frightening. She buckles in, nods her head, and says, “Yes, Lord. I believe.”

Blessed is she who has not seen and yet believes.

Little Atheists

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I was an avowed atheist when I was six.

Our parents dutifully sent my sister (8) and me off to Sunday school every week (well, semi-dutifully) with a quarter in our right fist and shiny shoes on our feet to see what we could learn. We didn’t go to the church service afterward, and no one came with us. I have only hazy memories of a blue flannel Jesus and some woman telling me he was good.

One afternoon, my sister and I rode our bicycles in circles around the garage, and she told me all about the things she had learned—how Jesus loved her and died for her and rose again.

I told her it was all baloney.

I didn’t believe a word of it. I have no idea how I was so certain of that at six, but I suspect that I figured my parents must not really have believed or they would have gone with us. Also, blue flannel Jesus was terribly boring. Also, I probably didn’t like that my big sister knew more than I did.

It all seemed pretty clear at six.

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Who knew that, long after I’d quit walking up the street to that little Presbyterian church, God had plans to capture me with his love anyway? Little atheists don’t know as much as they think.

Last year, we explored here  a series of questions God asks. Today, because Easter and all. we’re going to look at a seemingly straightforward one:

Do you believe this?

Backstory: Jesus receives a message that his dear friend, Lazarus, is deathly ill. His sisters Martha and Mary, also his dear friends, are looking for him to come set things right. They trust him to show up big for them—but he doesn’t. In fact, Jesus chooses to wait a few days before setting off to see his friend—days he knows are precious.

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.” (John 11.17-27)

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I’ve always loved this story, because it displays raw emotion mixed with real faith. Martha grieves—real grief, real tears. Real terror, because with her brother gone, who was going to take care of her and her sister? She knew what happened to two young women alone in that world. Her emotions ran out of her like spring rain swelling a waterfall. She is hurt, scared, grief-stricken, and confused.

Confused that the one she knew could help her didn’t come. She knew it—look at her words. 

“Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

She is too painfully aware that Jesus could have chosen to come, and she might not be in this despair. She is aware of something too many of the disciples don’t seem to be. Jesus is Lord of life and death itself.

She knows this.

This is why her response is so incredible to me. She knows he could have, she knows he didn’t, but she still chooses to believe.

Jesus’ response is perfect.

“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?”

Do you believe this?

Jesus could not ask this question at a worse time. This is not a philosophical question for Martha. Everything is in her heart and her eyes. Her world is shattered. If there is a resurrection and a life, and if this man is in charge of it, it has to mean more in this moment than an “I’ll fly away” Hallmark special effect someday in the clouds.

It has to mean something now.

Why? Because he asks her this question before he does anything.

Her brother has not yet been raised from the dead. Jesus has shown no hurry to do so, or apparent interest. Yet he’s asking her if she believes right now, in her grief, in her heartache and horror, before she ever sees her brother unwind those graveclothes from around his face.

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She’s known him for years. This family has the ease of old friends. The question is, does she really know him? Does she know him well enough? Has she studied his life, looked at his heart, listened to his words enough to really believe, even in this impossible moment?

That’s what he asks all of us, isn’t it? Have you studied me? Not about me, but me? Have you learned my heartbeat? Do you know what makes me joyful and what gives me sorrow? Do you understand what I am capable of? If you do, do you believe I am the resurrection and the life?

Now. Before I do anything in your life to prove it.

He’s asking her for a personal trust. He wants a relationship that can weather the storms ahead. He needs Martha to believe him no matter what happens, not for him, but for her.

If Lazarus had remained dead—if Jesus had chosen not to raise hm back to life—would Martha’s answer have been the same?

“Yes, Lord. I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.”

Blessed is she who has not seen and yet believes.

Even when we don’t see, do we know enough of who he is to believe?

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I am the resurrection and the life.

I am the raising up.

I am the Not Dead.

I am death you don’t win.

I am the death where is your sting?

I am the “no one can stop me from raising myself or you.” Raising you to and from all manner of things. If you believe before you see.

That’s been hard for some of us in this season. With news of people murdered while worshiping, children slaughtered while learning, white supremacists marching, and babies stolen from their terrified parents, it’s just hard some days to remind myself that I follow a God who proved there is no situation he cannot resurrect.

But I do believe this.

In fact, in light of the insanity that surrounds us, believing he is in control of all things not being dead is the only theology that makes any sense at all. (And my friend, we all have theology. It doesn’t matter if we believe Jesus is baloney—we still have one.)

Unlike my six-year-old self, I do believe this. It’s all there is to believe in a world that needs hope. It’s the only thing that can bring our deaths out of the grave and unwrap them before our eyes.

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?

Obey Scared

IMG_6537_2I think my mother’s last words to me were, “Make sure they lay me out in my pink dress and headscarf.” Not really what I hope to focus on with my final utterance to my kids. (Especially since I already told them to cremate me and toss the ashes in Lake Superior. I don’t have the slightest concern about what I’ll be wearing.)

Last words matter to us. But what about first words? Preachers and theologians have focused a lot on Jesus’ last words on the cross. But what about his first words after the cross? Might they matter as much as if not more than the last?

We’re at the end in our series on encounters with Jesus. I have loved getting to know him better. Next week—something new! But this week, we finish with the beginning—the resurrection.

Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb. Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there. Remember what I have told you.”

The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message. And as they went, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid! Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.” (Matthew 28.1-10)

We have a Jesus who sees us first

An unsuspecting group of women go off weeping to a grave, and instead of a dead body in need of spices and rewrapping they get this. A decidedly NOT dead body. And what are the first words out of the resurrected Jesus’ mouth? “Don’t be afraid.”

First of all, how like the Jesus we’ve been meeting is this? No clouds opening and sunbeam spotlight on him, with angels doing a tap number about how great he is for what he’s done. No talk of what this all means in the great cosmic scheme. No focus on himself at all. His first words focus on—the women. And how they must feel.

Because fyi, despite all our Easter happiness and joy today, seeing someone you watched die be not dead and chatting with you would be terrifying. I am giving these ladies a lot of props for standing there and not completely freaking out and running away screaming.

17b9e-window4If you still want proof that Jesus is God, look at this. Any human would have made this moment All. About. Me. I would. You would. We would be ordering up the photoshoot with USA Today and signing autographs. Setting up an NPO. Offering our services to the political party of our choice.

But not Jesus. He looks at these faithful women, sees into their hearts, anticipates their need, and makes it about them.

Don’t be afraid.

Even in resurrection, he calls us to humility and looking outward by his own example. The immense power of the resurrection is used not for personal gain or public display or political security but to teach us to follow his example.

Telling those who need to encounter the resurrected Lord—don’t be afraid. Come to the tomb, see for yourself, and don’t be afraid.

We have a Jesus who empowers us for a job

There is another reason he says don’t be afraid. The second time, it’s because he’s about to give them a job. Go. Tell the guys. (Who, of course, did not roll out of bed to get here before you, awesome ladies.)

Jesus appreciates our worship and loves our study to know more of him. But he commands our feet hit the floor.

IMG_0839Go. This is not a tea and crumpets party I’m kicking off now. It’s a kingdom. It’s a movement. It’s an upside-down inside-out party where scared people act, hurting people heal, blind people see, and dead people live. There is room for absolutely everyone except for bystanders.

Go. Go how? Go the way Jesus tells his other disciples to go later—by feeding and loving his people well. (John 21) Go be agents of the kingdom here and now. Spread the news, by words, deeds, and example, that there is a new world order and its hallmarks are peace and grace.

Can you see the beauty of the call? It’s so needed in a world whose hallmarks lately seem to be arrogance, offense, and fear.

We have a Jesus who gives us a job to do and supplies the resurrection power to get it done. If only we refuse to be afraid. And if we don’t . . . there’s always this gem in there.

We have people who obeyed afraid

Look at this again. “The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message.” They were scared as heck—and they ran to obey anyway.

They obeyed before they had even seen Jesus himself.

They obeyed uncertain of their success. (Would those men believe anything they said?)

They obeyed without knowing the next step.

They obeyed scared.

Could that be what you need to hear this day after Easter? When all the joy and faith of Easter is still fresh in your heart? Before the elections, tragedies, or personal anxieties of the world return with their hope-suffocating tendencies? What is that thing God wants you to move forward on? Will you obey scared?

Jesus’ first post-death words, with all the options open to him, were “Don’t be afraid.” That’s a Jesus we can surely love.

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