when He is risen, but death still hurts.

Last year on Easter, I went to a sunrise service, had breakfast with friends, and then went to pick up my dad from the airport. We shared Easter dinner together with my aunt’s side of the family, and then I got to spend about a week with my dad before he flew back to Colorado. That was the last time I got to see him.

Last year, I had Easter dinner with my dad. This year, he is not here. How do I celebrate that death has no power, no sting, when its power overwhelms me and its sting still hurts?

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Christ’s tomb is empty, but my dad’s urn is still full. What does it mean?
“Today you will be with me in paradise,” Christ said to the thief who hung dying beside him. Not, “In the last days,” but “Today.” What does it mean?

“What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.” 1 Corinthians 15:36. NIV. Or, “Every time you plant seed, you sow something that does not come to life [germinating, springing up, growing] unless it dies first.” -AMP.

On the night before He hung on the cross, Jesus told His disciples, “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.”

Where is that joy? Why does it feel like death has swallowed it up — when in reality, death is the one that is swallowed up, destroyed, rendered powerless?

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The very day before my dad died, before I even knew it was coming, I went to church and listened to a sermon on Nehemiah 8. I wrote verse 10 in my journal: “Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” I continued writing, “What does that mean, God? Teach us, lead us. The joy of the LORD is your strength.”

I am looking for the joy of the LORD today. I found Him in the stillness of the early morning hours, in the dark sky, in the foggy mists, in the creeping dawn. I found joy at first light, as the world turned golden orange and the water sang.

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Then the day came on, the sun rose rapidly in the sky, the stillness turned to busyness, and the cool mists burned away in the stifling heat… And now it is dusk. The sun has gone down again, and I am still not any closer to understanding Christ, His death, His sacrifice; His resurrection, His victory. I am drawn to Him, to the dawn. I need His hope, but I don’t understand it.

What does Resurrection mean today? For me? For the orphan? For the widow?

It is easy to sing of Christ’s victory, “He rose and conquered the grave, He conquered the grave.” It’s easy, when death seems far away, when you haven’t yet felt its sting, or when that sting has faded to a dull memory. Today, though, it hurts. Today, I sing, “He conquered the grave” not with a shout of triumph, but with a cry of desperation. It has to be true. He has to be risen. Death is defeated, it has to be, or what else can I do?

This sorrow will not pass, but perhaps joy can mingle with it… perhaps “pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.” I am looking for the eucastastrophe.

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Cherished and Enough.

IMG_7624“But if the gospel of Jesus is relational; that is, if our brokenness will be fixed, not by our understanding of theology, but by God telling us who we are, then this would require a kind of intimacy of which only heaven knows. Imagine, a Being with a mind as great as God’s, with feet like trees and a voice like rushing wind, telling you that you are His cherished creation.”

–Donald Miller, Searching for God Knows What (emphasis mine)

“To find your identity within the will of Tze-Yo-Tzuh [He who is] …that is the highest of all freedoms.”

–Gene Luen Yang, American Born Chinese

“If man was wired so that something outside himself told him who he was, and if God’s presence [in the Garden] was giving him a feeling of fulfillment, then when that relationship was broken [the Fall], man would be pining for other people to tell him he was good, right, okay with with world, and eternally secure.”

–Donald Miller, Searching for God Knows What

Oh dear one, listen to that voice like rushing wind that thunders like the mighty waters, yet is also quiet, and still, and whispering…

“You are My beloved child. That is enough.”

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A good day.

I had planned to post this on Small, Still Voices this week, but we’re currently taking a little hiatus. I didn’t want to wait to post this, seeing as it refers to the days we commemorate this week, so I’m going to publish it here as part of my personal act of worship.

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Community, we know what Friday is. It is a day of remembrance, and we call it good– because it is. This day we mourn our sin that caused the death of our Savior, but we also marvel at His grace, at His beauty, at His willingness to sacrifice His own life for the sake of ours. This day we think about His death, but we also know that the death of Christ was not the end of the story.

Today, I want to think about the night before this good day. I want to think about the night Jesus was betrayed, about the songs he might’ve sung at the last supper Passover meal, and the prayer he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane.

I am blessed to have been able to visit Jerusalem and see what’s left of the garden on the Mount of Olives, the tiny park of majestic, ancient olive trees enclosed in a metal fence. Olive trees can survive for centuries, but these trees may or may not have been there with Jesus on the night of His agony. It doesn’t really matter, because it was still beautiful to see these gnarled, stubborn trees growing and growing for so long that part of their trunks have to be held up by cinder-blocks just to keep them upright.

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The place was real, the olive press. Jesus knelt here and asked for the cup to be passed, asked to be spared from the suffering that would press His blood into the anointing oil of gladness that would save the world. And yet, He submitted. “Not my will, but Yours be done.” He prayed for us, too. He prayed for his disciples that couldn’t even stay awake long enough to keep watch and pray with Him.

Before going to the garden, Jesus ate a meal with His disciples, the Passover meal, where it was tradition to sing Psalms 113 to 118. I love studying these psalms and thinking about Jesus singing them. (We can’t know for certain that He did, but it is likely, and the psalms speak of His glory regardless. For this post, I am going to assume that these hymns were sung at Passover.) In Psalm 115, the disciples would sing about the idols of the nations with mouths that cannot speak and eyes that cannot see, and all the while here is their God sitting among them, signing hymns with them.

In Psalm 116, Jesus would sing, “How can I repay the Lord for all His goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all His people. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. O Lord, truly I am your servant; I am your servant, your faithful son” (v.12-15).

Finally, in Psalm 118 comes the prophecy: “The stone the builders have rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes” (v.22-23). On the night of His betrayal, the night that led into His suffering and death, Christ would sing verse 24, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

I encourage you to read these psalms today. I encourage you to think about the garden, about the suffering and obedience of our Savior. But most of all, I encourage you to draw closer to that Savior, because He has conquered death and is very much alive. Sunday has already come, friends, it came a very long time ago. Let us rejoice and be glad in the goodness of our God.

Photos by Robyn: Sculpture by Rick Wienecke; Olive tree from Gethsemane.

Sparrows

Eric Bégin / Nature Photos / CC BY-NC-ND

Sometimes, I read Scripture and don’t even pay attention. This happens a lot when I assume, “Oh, I’ve heard this story before, yadayadayada.” For example, a lot of what Jesus said and did in the Gospels has been preached and quoted a lot, and sometimes I breeze past it because I think, “Yeah, I got it, bless those who persecute you,” or “Check, fishers of men, heard that before.”

I have been trying to push through this by reading the book fo Luke with my friend Alison. We are reading verse by verse, and we can keep each other in check when we try to skip past stories because we think we’ve heard them before. I can’t tell you how many times our conversations have turned to: “You know, I’ve heard this preached a thousand times, but…”

It’s so wonderful to discover Jesus anew again, to give Him the room to speak instead of relying on sermons and Sunday school lessons to tell me what He said. Yesterday, when reading Luke 12 on my own, I had one of those moments:

Jesus starts off by talking about how we should not fear those who can kill the body and then do no more, but we should fear God, who after killing the body can throw us into hell. I don’t think this is supposed to be scary, I think it is supposed to be encouraging: God alone is in charge, and we are more than our body.

I think this is supposed to be an encouragement because right afterwards, he says:

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs on your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; for you are worth more than many sparrows.” Luke 12:6-7

This is the verse that made my soul swell within me. I’ve heard this thrown out in sermons a thousand times, God knows the number of hairs on your head. That is amazing. However, it is the part about the sparrows that makes me want to run to Jesus and throw myself at His feet.

You see, in essence, these sparrows are worthless to the world. You can buy five of them for two pennies, and they are so small they probably won’t offer you much sustenance anyway. I don’t do math, otherwise I would divide it up and tell you exactly how little it would cost to purchase just one sparrow. You probably wouldn’t have to, they’d probably just give it to you for free, or you could capture one in your house. Sparrows were around in abundance at the time, they were so cheap probably because there were so many of them. And yet, Jesus says, not one single sparrow is forgotten by the Creator of the universe.

I struggle a lot with feeling worthless, and I think Jesus saw that in some of the people He walked amongst. He ate with prostitutes and disgraced women, tax collectors and lost men, people who probably thought their life was worth less than two pennies, and yet He loved them. He wanted to tell them, “Even the animal you deem most worthless is cared for intimately by the Father, how much more does He care for you, dear child!”

Jesus talks about birds again in verse 24. This time it’s ravens, how the ravens don’t sow or reap and yet the Father feeds them. It’s a slightly different principle, but I have to believe He’s trying to hammer this point home when he says: “And how much more valuable are you than birds!”

Don’t believe the lie that you are worthless. I am so grateful that God knew we would struggle with this, and He wanted to tell us over and over that we are worth so much more. “Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Jesus, I can’t get enough of You. Keep it coming!

The Fisherman and the Shepherd

If you’ve ever heard me talk about the disciples before, or my favorite characters (other than God of course) in the Bible, you probably heard me gushing about the one Jesus called Peter. Ever since I started learning more about the disciples in the Gospels, Peter has stood out to me to the point where I read certain verses now and just say, “Oh, Peter.” It probably has something to do with the fact that he gets the most in-depth attention in the story, the most complete character arc, if you will. But I’m sure it also has to do with the way Jesus loved him, constantly and consistently, even after he still didn’t get it, even after he finally got it but ran away. Peter just seems so real, you know? His character makes sense, and Jesus’ love for him doesn’t, which makes his life such a great picture of Grace.

The Sea of Galilee

So we’re studying the book of 2 Peter in church this month. I’ve also been going through Luke, and I just finished reading about Peter’s first encounter with Jesus (which you can read about at Small, Still Voices on Friday.) Then, Peter came up again in my reading of Donald Miller’s Searching For God Knows What. So you could say I’ve got Peter on the brain.

Donald Miller talks about Peter’s last recorded conversation with Christ on earth, where Jesus asks him to feed His sheep, and Miller really drew my attention to the significance of that encounter so much so that I felt I should blog about it. Now, I could write a book on Peter (but that probably already exists), and in fact I’ve led an entire Bible study session centered on what we can learn from Peter’s story…. but there is always more to glean, more to think about, and so today I just want to meditate on this single encounter in John 21.

In this last chapter of John, the disciple whom Jesus loved records a moment after the Resurrected Jesus has already appeared to His disciples and a few of them have gone fishing. Simon Peter is back where he was at the beginning of the story, in a boat on the Sea of Galilee. He is doing what he was doing long before he ever met Jesus: fishing.

He has just spent three years living and learning and walking with the Creator of the Universe. He saw Him transfigured before his very eyes, but he also watched Him betrayed to death, and then he saw Him return, completely alive. And now Peter’s back on the sea, fishing.

Perhaps he was hungry. Perhaps he didn’t know what else to do. Perhaps he wanted to be back in a place of comfort where he knew exactly what he was doing. Maybe he wanted to return to this fishing business because he was good at it, he understood it, it made sense. But he fishes all night and never catches anything, until Stranger calls out to him from the shore in the early morning light and tells him to let down his nets again.

The same miracle happens again, the one I had just finished reading about in Luke 5 at the beginning of Peter’s story. It’s as if Jesus is gently reminding him of the time he once pulled his boat ashore and left everything behind to follow the Lord, that time when he was called to something greater: to catch men in the net of the Gospel of salvation and grace.

Jesus called him to something greater, and He wouldn’t let Peter run from it. “Feed my sheep,” he said, “Take care of my lambs.” The fisherman is called to be a shepherd.

Am I returning to something other than what Christ has called me to because it’s safe, reliable, and all I’ve ever known? Because it’s all I think I’m capable of?

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Christ calls us to something higher, and He equips us with everything we need to do the job. He breathes His Holy Spirit into his disciples, and the Spirit teaches Simon the fisherman how to be Peter the shepherd. It’s exciting to think that God is working in me right now to prepare me for each moment, hour, day, and year that lies ahead. It’s comforting to know that He won’t leave me alone in the boat on the sea, but will continue to call me ashore and help me to follow Him. What is it that He is calling me to? What is it that He is calling you to? Oh, Peter.

P.s. Who is your favorite disciple?

New book, same story.

So, if you couldn’t guess from my last post, I’ve been reading the good ole book of Jeremiah in my journey to read about the story of the Israelites chronologically. As I finished Jeremiah, my next plan was to read Ezekiel. I was excited at first, because, while Jeremiah had his depressing moments, his prophecies of God’s promises to restore Israel and take care of them even in exile were very encouraging to me. So I thought, bring it on Ezekiel!

But I’m twenty chapters in now, and I’m tired of reading about exile.* I want to get to Ezra and start reading about the return of the Israelites to the Promised Land. (I know it’s going to be similar, but at least I can jump to a different time frame.) It’s tiring to read over and over again about Israel’s sin, the same sins, over and over, and God’s plan to punish, purify, and restore them.

However, it is sobering too. Because of Israel’s sins, God drove them into exile, destroyed Jerusalem, and killed many, in order for His just nature to be satisfied. He would again tend to them and turn His face toward them, but justice had to be enacted first. And still He loved His people. And still he pleaded with them to stop following false idols and come back to Him.

We no longer live in an age where exile and punishment are necessary to satisfy the righteous anger of God. Centuries after the Israelites returned to their inherited land and still continued to sin, God decided to come to earth and take the wrath Himself. And that just blows my mind.

Reading Ezekiel has been challenging, and I almost wanted to skip it, since I’ve read it already before and it’s all about the same themes as Jeremiah, but I’m glad to stick with it now. The book of Ezekiel recounts God’s overwhelming power and surpassing greatness that the prophet sees in his visions, and recounts how that powerful God has complete sovereignty and deserves all of our honor and praise, and all of our very lives. It also shows how God acts on His words. He warned the Israelites, and they didn’t listen, and now what He already spoke is being fulfilled. It has to, because He is just and righteous.

And yet that power, the power of One full of fire, surrounded by brilliant light on a throne of sapphire,** loved and loves relentlessly this crooked creation, and confined Himself to flesh to dwell among us and take our punishment upon Him. I know I seem to be saying this a lot in recent posts, but that is a good thing. I want to declare the Gospel, I want to walk in this, live by this, marvel at this daily. All of the Bible speaks of Christ, even the books of exile, and I love it.

Ezekiel means “God Strengthens.” I’ve moved from God will uplift, to God will strengthen. More in the days to come. <3

*Don’t worry, I found the need to balance it out with some New Testament letters. Currently I’m in Philippians.
**See Ezekiel 1:25-28 for a description of the prophet’s vision of God.