The Light of Resurrection

Waiting for spring, hanging off the northeast end of the U.S. mainland, it’s a challenge to get into an Easter frame of mind. The dark is still holding sway over the light, and resurrection-thinking requires a muscular faith. Although the calendar tells me that spring will come, this hope in a future date can seem like a flimsy thing.    

Pressing into a Truth that challenges me to fathom the unfathomable, I leave my heart ajar to the record of resurrection in John’s Gospel. After all, Mary Magdalene had nothing but Sunday morning silhouettes to go on when she visited the tomb.

But this one thing she knew:  stones don’t move themselves. 

The absence of death, the presence of angels, and the sound of her own name carried by the voice of Jesus opened Mary’s eyes to Life, and, reading it again today, my heart is blown wide open to the reality that there is a God at work Who is beyond my understanding.

The power that raised Christ from the dead spreads a layer of clear abundance across the sky, and it rebukes all my tattered scripts of scarcity and inadequacy.  Under the light of resurrection, the myth of “not enough” that presents itself as gospel is revealed for what it is – blasphemy, after all.

When I stand before a class or sit around a table with my weekly women and feel like handing off my notes to someone else and saying:
“Here, you do this. It’s too much. I’m not enough,”
I slam my heart shut like a tomb full of death.

When I reject wisdom that whispers:
“Wait; lean into relationship with Me and stop your ceaseless striving;
When, instead, I soldier on by the seat of my pants–I choose darkness over light; death instead of resurrection.

My faithless frame of mind locks me into a small room … and then sucks out all the oxygen.

This was not unlike the post-resurrection dwelling place that the disciple Thomas had created for himself. He’d been given a whole week in which to savor the bitter brew of hopelessness and disappointment, to hear about Jesus’ appearances to others—always when Thomas was conveniently absent. He had cobbled together his own response, apparently deciding that He was not going to be taken in by all the hype. He would not be deceived by any false messiahs who go and get themselves killed in the most humiliating manner possible.

Locked door and double-bolted heart notwithstanding, Jesus showed up with a fresh supply of oxygen and irrefutable evidence—the marks of crucifixion and his own unique wound, a spear-thrust through the ribs.

Thomas’s skepticism melted into adoration and an astounding confession of faith: “My Lord and my God!”

Mary’s eyes had been opened by the sound of her Savior’s voice.
For Thomas, it was the sight of His wounds that spoke resurrection.

Millions of us now, following in hundreds of generations behind Mary and Thomas, have never been invited to put our hands on the risen Christ or been treated to the sound of His voice speaking our name aloud, and yet the reality of resurrection and the power of Life over death is so much a part of our creed that we hold it as a mark of orthodoxy. God does not require an empty “faith in faith,” but offers reality, transparent vindication in the form of eye-witness accounts upon which I base my own belief.

“Jesus of the Scars” is Edward Shillito’s poetic invitation for me to join Thomas in bearing witness:

“The other gods were strong, but thou wast weak;
They rode, but thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds, only God’s wounds speak,
And not a god has wounds but Thou alone.”

When, through Thomas’s eyes, I see a wounded God, I am brave to come, wounded, to Him, for if it were not for those visible wounds all would be winter.
The stone would still seal in the stench of death;
the door to the upper room would stay forever locked;
there would be no framing of the heart to resurrection truth.

Like Mary, though, I am seen and known.
I hear the sound of His voice through His Word:
a whispered hope,
a release from shame,
a path away from the downward draw of brokenness,
a promise of eternal spring.

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Today, my family and I are beginning spring vacation (Hooray!) For a few days, things will be quiet here on the blog while we re-connect, relax, and make memories together.  May you also find joy in your celebration of resurrection life and the Savior who lives. 

This post first appeared at SheLoves Magazine.

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Rising in Grace and Glory

Because I am married to an unreasonably patient man, we hardly ever argue – except for when it comes to the Ascension.  His (perhaps quite reasonable) conclusion from Acts chapter one is this:

Jesus went up.
The disciples looked up.
Therefore, heaven is up.
My (perhaps quite unreasonable) argument is that on that day when His feet lifted off the Mount of Olives, Jesus was dealing in metaphor.  As a Teacher (THE Teacher), Jesus knew that His disciples would need to see Him leave – to watch Him actually go somewhere else with their own eyes — in order to get on with things.

And so he rose, but isn’t the power of God such that heaven could be anywhere?  Just as Narnia-Through-The-Wardrobe was a place completely “other-than” World War II era England with a different cadence of hours and a population of talking beasts, I tend to think of heaven as a place without a possible zip code — and yet still close at hand.

The immanence of God, the idea that He is right at my elbow and at the same time filling the entire universe, stops me in my tracks:
“’Do I not fill heaven and earth?’ declares the LORD.”

When I read and respond to powerful words that I read in Scripture, I am careful to filter my motives.  Am I rejoicing in this passage because of the unvarnished veracity of those words?  Or is my heart soaring because of a particularly effective combination of nouns and adjectives, because of a plangent metaphor that I wish I had thought of myself?

Given this tendency toward nerdy swooning, I had to read and then re-read Romans 5:2 back in January when I discovered it in The Message Bible:

We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.”

While I’m all the time imagining a closed door and cramped quarters, God has envisioned and provided for open access and my feet standing on the place of grace, planted in the fields of His glory!

I’ve never before chosen One Word for my year, and truly had no intention of breaking with that tradition in 2017, but standing  reached out from those verses and chose me for its own.  That word —  “standing” —  and God’s miraculous gift of hope are calling me to rise from my chair of unbelief, to ascend visibly, not merely for the benefit of others as Jesus might have, but for the broadening of my own view of the world.

With my feet planted firmly in those wide open spaces, how can I continue in my small prayer life with its locus around safety and good health?  I was rebuked in this tendency recently when my oldest son announced that he was starting a prayer group in his work place – a shop environment populated with hard-handed welders, most of whom make no bones about their disregard for the numinous.

Did I launch into immediate prayer for their lost souls?
Did I plead for the efficacy of my son’s efforts to irrigate that parched wasteland?

No, and I can hardly bear to reveal the words of my narrow soul:

“Oh, Lord, they just bought a house, and he needs that job.  Please don’t let this hurt him.”

Stooped, round-shouldered prayers shrivel my courage, but even worse . . .
What if they are contagious?

Since my children are all priceless to me, my deepest desire is for their greatest good:
Wise decisions
Satisfying relationships
Holiness and healthfulness.
But time-bound and short of sight, do I really know what’s best?

This new awareness that I’m standing “where I always hoped I might stand,” means that I can do away with my prescriptive prayers:
(“Lord, do this thing that I have planned for us . . .”)
Standing tall, I want to see over the top of my fears.  In hope, I want to catch a glimpse (however slight) of what’s on the other side of the walls that divide, and, in that ascending, transcend a few of the artificial boundaries that plague the white, the middle-aged, the orthodox, the comfortable.

In The Reason for God, Tim Keller reminds me that at the very heart of my belief system there lived “a man who died for His enemies, praying for their forgiveness,” (p. 21).    This was no sparkling success story for Mary to share at Galilean Tupperware parties.

Or was it?

Jesus’ death calls me to a rising that may take me lower into a humble, peace-loving place of repentance.  His rising invites me to ascend with Him to the people who are outside the gate, unlovely and unlettered, to be carried by the eternally transcendent questions and the answers that I affirm – not merely by the falsehoods that I fight.

Rising, we step through God’s open door and find that He is far bigger than we ever imagined.

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Join the Women of Easter

Some were mentioned by name.
Others were never identified, but throughout the life of Jesus, we learn that there were “certain women” who traveled with Jesus, who welcomed Him when he needed a meal or a place to stay, who “provided for Him out of their means.”  It is significant that there is no record in Scripture of any of these women flagging in their loyalty, denying Jesus, or abandoning Him when the chips were down.  A group of them were present at the cross, and then, without even realizing the significance of their actions at the time, certain women showed up at the tomb and bore witness to the resurrected Christ.

It was clear that God had chosen them to be there.

Liz Curtis Higgs honors The Women of Easter with her carefully constructed re-telling of the final weeks of Jesus’ life.  Liz focuses on Mary of Bethany, Mary of Nazareth, and Mary Magdalene, but also shares the stories of other women as they meander across history’s stage.  Rather than lifting her protagonists out of the story one by one with three distinct bios, she considers them in context as they interact with each other, with Jesus, and with other major players within the narrative arc of Scripture.

With her characteristic humor, insight, and thorough research, Liz shares powerful wisdom from the lives of first-century women that (if we let it!) will impact the way we follow Christ in the 21st century, because, the truth is that you can spot a Woman of Easter by the way she lives:

 Women of Easter are transformed by seeking what is “needful.”  

Mary of Bethany understood that there is a time for bustling around and being productive — and there is a time for quietly listening.  Big Sister Martha must have eventually absorbed some of that lesson along the way, because when their brother Lazarus died, “she who served the food also dished out the truth: “It is for Your coming, [Jesus,] that the world has waited.”  God had chosen one of His faithful women to make the bold proclamation that Jesus’ decisive “I am” was a revelation of His identity.   Martha’s response was a resounding, “Yes, I see that YOU ARE!”

Women of Easter recognize that Jesus endured the cross because we were “the joy set before Him.”

Mary of Bethany understood that when she anointed Jesus’ feet with valuable oil, she was performing an act of worship.  John 12 informs us that “Martha served” that day, and so together, the sisters showed up and met a need in preparation for Jesus’ future act of redemption which, at the time, they could have only dimly understood.

All our worship and all our acts of righteousness flow from the cross.  Just as Jesus took joy in the small gift of a widow, He sees our small gifts, and He rejoices, calling them “good.”

Women of Easter know when to stand back and watch Jesus at work.

Mary of Nazareth (Jesus’ mother) shows up in quiet maturity at the Wedding in Cana, and she set the stage for her Son to perform the first of many signs “through which He revealed His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.”  Scripture does not record Jesus saying, “Thanks, mum!” but actions speak louder than words, for while He was hanging on the cross in agony, He made provision for her future by asking John to take her into his home.

While four soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ clothing, four women stood with Him in quiet support:  Mary, Mary’s sister (possibly Salome?), Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.  These women were standing on a risky piece of real estate, for the Romans were not above inflicting the same terrible punishment upon families of an enemy of the state who was being crucified.  With Jesus’ feet only about a yard above the ground, these women were witnessing His suffering close by — and even so, Jesus was utterly alone in His anguish.  It could not have been an easy vigil for these brave women, but they kept watch while Jesus shook hell’s gates.

Women of Easter stay close to Jesus even when hope seems gone.

While there is no Scriptural evidence that Mary Magdalene was actually a harlot, the Bible does inform us that Jesus cast seven demons out of her.  Her background is . . . challenging, perhaps; nonetheless, she “is mentioned by name fourteen times across all four gospel accounts.”  Loyal, fearless, and willing to do whatever she needed to do to support her beloved Teacher, Mary Magdalene showed up at the garden tomb, not really sure how she was going to achieve her goal of rolling away a huge stone in order to attend to Jesus’ body.  My take-away from this is that when we show up for the impossible, we might be surprised at how God takes care of the details.

Women of Easter realize that it’s all about relationship.

Our first-century sisters didn’t realize that they were going to be eye-witnesses to the most important event in history.  They came to the tomb to attend to the dead body of a much-loved friend/relative and found a living, breathing Savior!  Then, having been commissioned by the risen Christ to share the good news, Mary Magdalene trumpeted the truth that changes everything:  “I have seen the Lord!

Liz shares the encouraging truth that even the very first Easter was not a picture perfect affair.  No.  It was “full of disbelief, fear, and confusion” as even Jesus’ closest disciples struggled to absorb the truth.

Likewise, with our Easter bonnets askew and our Resurrection Sunday dinner menus still up in the air, we are invited to come, by faith, to the empty tomb.  We are invited to rejoice, and we have been charged with the privilege of sharing the good news. By faith, we, too, are The Women of Easter.

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This book was provided by the publisher through Blogging for Books in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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One Weekend in History – For Ruby Magazine

For years I celebrated Easter as if it were a stand-alone holiday, singing “Up from the Grave He Arose” without giving much thought to the horror of the Dying or the silence of the Dead. Providentially, my early efforts to incarnate and to enliven an invisible God in the hearts of four sweet boys found a way into the obtuse heart of their mother as well.  Therefore, this Lenten season, I will be re-reading A Glorious Dark, a book about believing which confronts the loss and defeat of Friday and the awkward silence of Saturday with Sunday morning resurrection truth.  Where memoir meets theological pondering, author A.J. Swoboda’s story winds through his faith journey, with the bonus of startling spotlight quotes which he aims at himself and at all of us who say that we believe.  Here’s one of the dozen or more:

“Many envision faith as a kind of hall pass for laziness, excusing them from a life of action, doing, and working hard.”

Ouch and amen.

What we believe about one weekend in history, the three days’ journey from Golgotha to the garden tomb, impacts our whole experience of the Christian life.  That’s why I’m sharing this book review in the March issue of Ruby Magazine.  I would love for you to continue reading with me there.  Be sure to check out the other articles and be encouraged.  Click here for more information about subscribing.

capture

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This book was provided by Baker Books in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Gifts of Easter

In a decision that somehow manages to seem both arbitrary and precise, the Council of Nicaea met in 325 A.D. and determined that Easter would be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon that falls on or after the first day of spring.  Easter and spring are also holding hands in Anne Vittur Kennedy’s festive board book, One Spring Lamb.

From sparkly cover to peaceful conclusion, children will enjoy the rollicking rhymes and vivid illustrations.  Parents will appreciate the fact that this celebration of the resurrection is also a counting book in which two lilies dance in the breeze, and three little girls and four little boys are all dressed up for Easter Sunday.  The fun goes on all the way up to the challenge of finding and counting ten stuffed bunnies in a child’s cozy bedroom, and the stated conclusion that the best Easter gift of all is the joy of knowing that “Jesus lives and loves me so.”

By the way, that adorable spring lamb shows up somewhere in every scene!  My grandson and I enjoy a lively game of “Where’s the Lamb?  There he is!” when we read it together.  Who will be the first to spot the each time at your house?

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This book was provided by Tommy Nelson, an imprint of Thomas Nelson, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

 

Easter Morning and Every Morning

Holding hands around a table; a focus on gratitude and shared celebration; dressed in their Easter best, the Berenstain Bears lead the way into a fun and family-oriented celebration of Resurrection Sunday.  Presenting as normal the discipline of church attendance, prayer before a meal, and portraying the beauty of love and respect among extended family, Easter Blessings by Mike Berenstain (son of Stan and Jan who began the series in 1962) will come alongside the parents of young children with words and ideas for a meaningful celebration.

All the blessings that we enjoy (and take for granted) come through the hand of the God who orchestrated the miracle of the resurrection.  Join the Berenstain Bears in counting and listing Easter blessings.  Beginning with the glory of a spring morning and a cozy tree house, they move in ever widening circles to include friends, the church family, and the public servants who care for us and keep us safe.  In the weeks leading up to Easter, write them on slips of paper to hang on a spring-branches bouquet, or toss them, one by one, into a festive Easter basket and then read them all during Easter dinner.

What a gift to hold this small board book in one hand and to share it with a tiny lap child, to join the Bear Family as they worship in the Chapel in the Woods, and to be reminded of the greatest Easter blessing of all:

Yes, He is risen!  He is risen indeed!

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This book was provided by Worthy Publishing Group in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

 

Spring Is a Promise

“Spring is a promise in the closed fist of a long winter . . .”

Lifted from a poem by Luci Shaw, these words frame my thinking on this blustery day when the promises I made to myself and to God back in January about healthy choices and better habits have begun to sputter out for lack of oxygen; when no one even remembers what the groundhog saw or didn’t see.

Here in Maine, March 2o, the first day of spring, is just another number on the calendar, and so until winter opens its fist on the promise of spring, I’m sticking close to some promises of a more reliable sort.

And I’m sharing those promises today over at Faith ‘n Friends, so I hope you click on over and join me there!

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Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.