Of Eggs and Lambs and Waiting for Easter

I almost missed what the preacher said, right there in the middle of the music and the Lord’s Supper and my fingers already moving to play the next notes. “We don’t know how broken we are. And we don’t know how loved we are.”  It wasn’t until the next day that it sank in deep enough to feel…right through into the Humpty-Dumpty heart of me.

Here in the middle of Lent, with the cross set before us, we are taking time to face our own sin. Our self-indulgence, our lack of love, our pride, our vain ambition for things that are passing away. And maybe the worst part of our sorrow, in the most honest quiet moments, is the dim realization that no matter how much we can look at our brokenness, God sees more. Not just a matter of what we can know, but a matter of moral capacity…how much we are able to fathom, to feel, to bear in our spirits. He is the only One who understands just how diseased we are– the bone-deep fragility of men and women afflicted with sin. We are without excuse, without remedy, without hope even on our best days, although most of us have learned to cover up nicely, or at least distract ourselves from what we cannot put together again.

The Prophet Isaiah puts it out there in livestock terms: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way…” (Isaiah 53:6) We may not have much personal experience with sheep, but anyone who has ever tried to shepherd a group of more than five children on an outing can grasp the general idea. I think it’s safe to assume that sheep are never fully aware of their path, or where it is leading them, or just how dangerous it is for them to be out there alone. I heard someone say once that “It’s not that sheep are stupid…it’s just that they are completely defenseless.” Indeed.

I have no defenses against the selfishness and death that eat away at my life, nor any defense in the face of the standards that I can’t measure up to. But Isaiah finishes his thought...”and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”  My sin-disease and personal culpability laid fully on Someone Else big enough to bear both– on Jesus, the One Isaiah said was “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter.” (Isaiah 53:7)

In this middle-gray land of March, halfway between death and life, there is also time to hear the Love that calls us. And isn’t that what we all need here, when we are looking death in the face?…To see beyond its wretched ugliness and finality, into the eyes of the Beloved One, who carries our death on His own shoulders, lays it into the ground, and leaves it there? “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering…” (Isaiah 53:4) Here in the middle of Lent, the only way we will even be able to face the rubble inside, is if we can also see Love’s glorious broken body standing in the middle of it.  “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)

And I have no defense against Love like this.

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“We are His portion and He is our prize,
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes–
If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.
So heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss,
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest.
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets
when I think about the way
He loves us…
Oh how He loves us.”
(How He Loves, John Mark McMillan)

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“Forty days, I am reflecting on my cross, my sins….Looking hard for release from this messy body of death. And there is Jesus. Jesus with a crown of thorns. Jesus bent low, God carrying my rotting mess, Grace doing what I cannot do, and I cannot ascend to God but He will descend to me….

Jesus will have to do everything. He will have to accomplish it all. I am ashes and I am dust and I am in dire need and Lent has given me clear eyes to see my sin and I am the one broken under all this skin.” (Ann VosKamp)

 

 

Take Heart

As the sun warms and life quickens, here in early Spring…as the icy hold of death is cracked loose, slips away like a dark dream in the face of bright dawn arising…as we turn our faces toward Resurrection Day, there is this Word for all those holding onto hope:

“Look up into the heavens. Who created all the stars? He brings them out like an army, one after another, calling each by its name. Because of His great power and incomparable strength, not a single one is missing….how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles?…how can you say God ignores your rights? Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of His understanding….He will feed His flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in His arms, holding them close to His heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.” (Isaiah 40:26-28, 11)

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“Courage is what is elemental to living — composed of two parts fierce hope, and one part wild believing.
It’s hope that can create a quake that cracks all despair.
It’s hope that stands in your dark with a lamp lit with prayers.
And it isn’t the likelihood of your hope that sustains you, but the object of your hope that sustains you.
We lay our hope, full and tender, into the depths of Him.”
(Ann Voskamp)

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“All this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change at all
All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found
Could a garden come up from this ground at all
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust”
(Beautiful Things, Gungor)

The Most Important Holiday

Here at the brink of Easter the world teeters on the brink between death and life: fuzzy baby animals and pastel colors rioting everywhere against the matted brown remnants of Winter. And a person could feel overwhelmed at the rubble of brokenness, at all the things that don’t work right in this world. There isn’t one of us who hasn’t felt the weight of Adam’s curse in ways large and small, and maybe that’s why we plunge so eagerly into the glut of the calendar holidays,  to forget just for awhile the aches and pains, the way relationships can get so tricky, the masks we wear and the walls we hide behind, all the little distractions that tangle around the feet of those who run. But here just before Easter Sunday, if you have eyes to see, life and death hang in the balance.

And here at Easter is the crux of the matter– all the Earth’s history and future summed up, condensed into one wrenching weekend. The world that was spoken into existence by God’s Word and broken by man’s rebellion lives in feverish denial of its sickness and in dread of death to come. The eternal living Word that entered our world dies at its hands (carrying all of its brokenness on His shoulders), and then just walks out of it again. And God’s creation groans and heaves in the cataclysm. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) Here at the cross, life and death lay at Jesus’ feet. Jesus is living proof that there is nothing that God’s love and forgiveness cannot accomplish for us.

Easter is the one holiday we need to remember all year. Death is not the same terrible enemy. And Life is not the same futile effort. Now all of God’s promises to us are coming true in Jesus. Now there is always Hope. “I…pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 1:19-20)

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“‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.  I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’” (Ezekiel 37:4-6)

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“Great is Your faithfulness, oh God;
You wrestle with the sinner’s heart.
You lead us by still waters and to mercy,
And nothing can keep us apart.
So remember Your people,
Remember Your children,
Remember Your promise, oh God…
Your grace is enough for me.”
(Matt Maher)

When Winter Seems to Never End

We are still hemmed in by piles of snow, but here we are planning our weekly Lenten lunches for the community, talking about how to make Easter real for hungry souls. And we can feed them sandwiches, fill up bowls of hot soup in cupped hands, re-tell the stories of our Savior’s Passion, but Easter’s new life seems very far away to a world gripped in Winter still.

And you don’t need to look far to see the bruised and the weary, hear the prayers going up for deliverance and answers, watch the upheaval of change and the demands that stretch to breaking. You can hardly escape the relentless newscasts about hate-fueled violence, see the world reeling on its axis. A resurrection can seem like a distant improbability to the one firmly stuck in cold hard realities. And under the gray-metal skies and endless cold, a heart can begin to numb– get the life leeched right out of it even though it is still beating– forget to look up, to look ahead and hope. This is what Lent is for, to remind us of the promise that goes back to the very Beginning, and it sets up the cross in the middle of everything, with the very flesh of God suffering death and bringing life to us. The prophet Ezekiel wrote down the promise for his own people: “’Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!…I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.'” (Ezekiel 37:4-6) Jesus repeated it to His dear friends just before He called their brother back to them: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in Me will never die.” (John 11:25-26) Lent sends our cold numb hearts to the cross and the empty tomb, bids us gaze on the proof of God’s love, let the certainty of hope run in our veins again and look forward to what He is accomplishing. Every year Spring brings that reminder of what is True and Eternal: the promise that in the end, Life wins. “.…thanks be to God, who hath given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” ( Corinthians 15:57)

The bare-boned trees stand silently cloaked in snow, but there is resurrection coming.

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“Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.” (Isaiah 35:6)

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 “For people who are stumbling toward ruin, the message of the Cross is nothing but a tall tale for fools by a fool. But for those of us who are already experiencing the reality of being rescued and made right, the Cross is nothing short of God’s power.”  (1 Corinthians 1:18)

Endings and Beginnings

As always, this change of seasons from Winter to Spring reminds me of the realities of life and death. Of the fact that Life has conquered Death and there is no more fear– just a change. It reads like a song: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55)… just a change from one season to the next like the way the bulb’s green shoots struggle up through hardened dark earth into the sunshine of Spring. So death turns into life before our eyes in this one season, and we realize what a miracle Easter Sunday is, all over again. We need that reminder as we face the future and hard seasons yet to come…that it is only one more change, until at last it all turns into Glory.

I talk to the children upstairs in church about the holiday that is coming, and they tell me that what makes it special is candy and hunting for eggs. I loved that about Easter too, when I was four and seven. And the new hat and dress, and carrying the little matching purse. Big family dinner at Grandma’s house, and hunting for the baskets she had hidden for us that were full of candy. Mama’s hyacinths and daffodils lining up along the yard. All that is still Easter in my best memories. But now I am searching for words to explain why we celebrate Easter, and they don’t even know how much it means to have death swallowed up in Life, and grief turned to joy. For now they will have to accept “Easter is the most important day” as yet another mysterious grown-up declaration.

But those of us with older eyes watch the bulbs push their way skyward and breathe in the scents of a world awaking into life, and we know it is a promise unfolding before us: death is not the end but only a change. Like the Church-planter wrote in one of his letters, “The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” (1 Corinthians 15:42-44) All this dust can change, become something new and better. Spring is our yearly reminder of the most important Easter Day, when Jesus showed us that Winter’s death was no match for God’s resurrection power, and He can bring life to all our dead places.

 

 

 

“When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’” (1 Corinthians 15:54)

 

 

 

 

 

“All around,
Hope is springing up from this old ground;
Out of chaos life is being found in You.
You make beautiful things;
You make beautiful things out of the dust…”
(Beautiful Things, Gungor)

Of Grace and Second Chances

Sometimes the circumstances of the past invade the Now before we even realize, padding in on the heels of a story, a song, a dream in the night, and suddenly the pain of yesterday is large as life right here, as if the clock had turned back when we weren’t looking. And what is there to do with something that can’t be changed and still cuts as deep as the day it was carved into our hearts?

One precious young sister said it quiet this week on the phone; “I try not to think about it, and maybe it will go away”– except I could hear in her voice that it doesn’t, and all the sweeping-under-the-rug just makes very large lumps in the Everyday. It made me ache with wanting to take that away for her, wash her slate clean for good….and I know how my own slate is marked up with things I keep erasing, until they surface again when least expected. It’s Grace that washes the past away, I told her, because Jesus came to carry that weight of shame for not being good enough, that guilt over bad choices, the regrets that make us long for a do-over, only there aren’t any. We don’t have to be afraid to face them, with Jesus there, because He can heal our hearts.

Another friend wondered if she had made a mistake with her children, burdening them too hard with the stuff of life, and how do you even know until you’ve already seen the marks and it’s too late? My heart felt the weight of my own mistakes in mothering, all the things I wish I had understood sooner, and the trying so many errors before I found better ways to do it. It’s Grace that works in our children where we can’t see it, I told her; Grace that makes up for our lack and fills in all the gaps in our understanding, and even if we never get it right, He is making all things good and right for our children in His own way.

Someone in small group shared the emotions she didn’t want to feel, said she had been carrying them long and was looking for something better. I fingered my own scars and it whispered through my heart again, that refrain of Grace taking up our past and all our ugly, Someone big enough to carry it Himself so we could be made new and healed. It’s what He does, I told her– heals us on the inside where only He can see, and He knows what you are going through…it’s why He came for us. “Yet it was our weaknesses He carried; it was our sorrows that weighed Him down….He was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed.” (Isaiah 53:4-5) 

All this Easter week we hold up our weak and hurting places to You, God… our past and our secret places…all our fears and what-ifs, and the things we can’t quite forget or heal…we offer these to You and lay them down at the cross where Grace and Love pour out to make us clean and make us whole. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.'” (Jeremiah 29:11)  This is Grace healing everything broken and bent, because Jesus was willing to be broken for us. And there’s always a future and a hope.

 

 

“Oh Your cross, it changes everything;
There my world begins again with You.
Oh Your cross, it’s where my hope restarts;
A second chance is Heaven’s heart.”
(Second Chance, Rend Collective Experiment)

 

“Because our God’s acquainted with grief, He is intimately acquainted with us, with our thorns hidden and driven deep. We don’t cry alone….it’s that bent Easter Tree that guarantees His love for us.” (Ann VosKamp)

Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes

“Thank you, thank you for saying that! God sent you to me today!” she said with the intensity of a proclamation, and stopped in the middle of her work-out to give me a tearful hug. I was dumbfounded. Really? The music picked us up again and we kept pounding out the beat while my mind wondered over our conversation, looking for the words that meant so much to her, and all I could think of was what a humble blessing when God uses you unaware.

I knew her only casually, as another mom-of-young-adults, a bond that made us look for one another through the crowd at the gym, and ask about our fledglings occasionally. Today we happened to be the only two there in a lull of activity and before I knew it a question about who would be home over Easter turned into a heart-spilling of anxious concern for decisions being made, and all I did was share what I am learning: that the burden isn’t ours to carry any more, that God is faithful to work in our daughters’ lives as He has always done for us. Truth that bolsters my heart, and shouldn’t His goodness be shared? Such a small thing to offer, multiplied to abundance received by His Spirit.

It never ceases to amaze me how God puts the puzzle pieces together, and how He turns His making of us into blessing for others, so that the struggles of one heart can encourage another, all of us woven together in unexpected ways, and His Resurrection life still flowing outward from the Cross. It is the mysterious way the Body of Christ works when each part is fitted together as He chooses, each part different but necessary, and Him the Head. It is how we share the Good News with others– just living in His grace and telling what He is doing in our own hearts, because other hearts are hungry in ways we don’t even know.

We sing that old song with the children upstairs on Sunday mornings, “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine” and maybe we need to bring it downstairs to the men and women too. Who knows how God might use each willing part of the Body to pour out this Resurrection Life everywhere?

 

 

“My future hangs on this: You make preciousness from dust,
Please don’t stop creating me…
Oh, Your cross, it changes everything…”
(Second Chance, Rend Collective Experiment)

 

 

‘Tis the Season

There’s something about Spring that makes us want to shake off the old and paint everything bright and new. It’s a cyclical thing, this restless itch to take down the curtains and vacuum into corners and redecorate the bedroom. Fortunately, just noticing the recurrence of that effect keeps me from spending boatloads of money on re-doing the house every year. I really do like my home and feel comfortable in it, so I can content myself with a thorough cleaning and rearranging, knowing it is just the change of seasons at work.  But that inner energy is worth harnessing, can be useful elsewhere if I am not afraid to let it root into dark closets and throw up the shades on musty rooms of the soul.

A youth pastor from the UK wrote in his devotional this week that the seasons of our life are valuable, even purposeful– orchestrated by God to do much-needed housecleaning in our minds and hearts. He pointed out that when circumstances change radically in the everyday, it forces us out of the mind-numbing routine, jolts us out of the ruts we tend to wear down into life. New seasons “awaken our spiritual values…challenge us with the realities of life and death…help us to look at our Christian commitment and connection…help us look at what God would have us do with our lives.” An energizing opportunity, if we can accept it for that.

The One who set the sun and stars in space and decreed that seasons change; the One who keeps the world turning in its place, and the miracle chain of life and death at work in sea and earth and sky– He is the One who holds my days and knows every one of them. Dare I believe that He marks this season of my life with just as much purpose and design? King David wrote it down: “How precious to me are your thoughts,God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand— when I awake, I am still with you.” (Psalm 139:17-18) 

What if the season of life we are going through right now is God’s opportunity to speak to us, shake out the curtains and open up the closets of our hearts, set some issues of life and death before us? What is here for me to learn, in the busyness…or the solitude…or the seeking…or the pain? What do I need to grieve and let go of, so that something else can live? And what if all the painful digging up is only loosening the soil of my heart for something new to grow, shifting the boundaries of my little world to stretch it bigger? If I could open up the eyes of my spirit to see the Wind of change blowing through, could I catch a glimpse of His purposes for me, of what He wants to accomplish in me?

We rest in the faith that You are at work through every long Winter, and it will again pass into Spring; we hold on to the hope that Spring will come and new life will sprout under life-giving rain. “You, God, are my God,earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1) Stir up our souls till we long for You to make everything new, in this season of life that comes from Your hand.

 

“Peace be still, You are near;
There’s nowhere we can go
That You won’t shine redemption’s light,
Our guilt withdrawn.

As You rise, we come alive;
The grave has lost, the old is gone,
And You’re making all things new…” 
(All Things New,Elevation Worship)