Confusion and Joy

My message for Easter Sunday Celebration at First Friends Church in Emporia, KS.

John 20:1-21

Confusion and Joy

These were the emotions that accompanied the experiences of Jesus’s closest friends and followers on the day of his resurrection. And why not? Any one of us would feel the same. For years they had followed him, listened to his teaching, witnessed his miracles and even the glory. They believed he was the Messiah, the one who would rescue God’s people Israel from their cruel oppressors. He would be their hero, arrayed in armor for battle, leading the charge.

Only he wasn’t. And he didn’t.

Instead he surrendered without a fight. He wouldn’t put up a defense in his trial. He let them bind him, whip him, beat him, spit on him, mock him, pull out his beard, and then he carried his cross to the place where they would crucify him.

Maybe they were wrong. Maybe he wasn’t the Messiah. Maybe they’d all been conned by a smooth talker who knew just the right things to say. Maybe they were wrong and he was just a good teacher intent on reminding Israel of God’s love and mercy. Maybe…the maybes were endless. What do you do when your dreams come crashing down?

The disciples holed up in an upper room, one with a good solid lock on the door.

The women gathered their spices and went to finish the job of burying the man they had followed who treated them like no man ever had before. Like persons of worth. Like bearers of the divine image. Like God’s children, not objects, not slaves, but companions for the journey. The women rolled up their sleeves and got to work as soon as the Sabbath had ended and they set out to anoint the body before it had another day to swelter in the tomb.

When they arrived, they were met with a puzzle. The stone was rolled away. The door open and unguarded. The tomb empty. What had happened? Who had been here, where was the body, how do they now carry out their final tribute to their friend without a body? The questions multiplied by the minute. Not once did they dare to hope that they would see him alive again.

Mary took charge, running to find Peter and John. She told them what they had seen, and they ran to the tomb to see for themselves. John stopped at the door, but Peter being Peter ran right on in and stood in the space that had just held the body of their friend. Empty. Just the cloth binding that had wrapped his corpse lying on the shelf to show that the space had been occupied.

They returned, more questions than before. No answers. No idea of what to do next.

Mary stayed behind. Overwhelmed with grief and frustration, unable to perform this last service for her teacher, she wept. Through her tears she gazed again into the tomb and there—where minutes before there was darkness and empty space—sat two angels. I don’t know if the day could have gotten any stranger for her at this point, but they speak to her of her tears. Why is she weeping when Jesus is not dead? Who is she looking for?

She turns as she answers, as if to search for him once again, she just wants to know where his body is. And then she sees him. Thinking he is the gardener, she asks him where they have taken him. She volunteers to go and carry him back to where he belongs. He speaks her name and she knows. It’s Jesus.

Her confusion turns to joy in a moment, so great that she throws herself at his feet. Fresh tears burst forth. There is no logic in this moment, she doesn’t try to figure it all out. He is alive and that is all that matters to her. She is consumed by a joy as overpowering as her grief had been moments ago.

Jesus gave her a message and she carried it faithfully to tell the disciples that he was alive, risen from the dead.

Other Gospels tell us that they did not believe her. It was news too good to be true, the delusion of a woman lost in despair.

That night he stands among them and blesses them. “Peace” he says, imparting to them divine wholeness, healing, restoration, forgiveness for their faithlessness, all in one breath. And then he begins to speak to them of the mission he has for them. Just as the father had sent him, he now is sending them to carry his message of the kingdom, to bring hope and healing and light where darkness, brokenness, and resignation have reigned for so long.

If this were a fairytale, at this point we would say that they all lived happily ever after. But we know that is not true in this case. They did not immediately lose their questions, their doubt, their need. They did not immediately receive the peace he offered. They did not immediately understand their mission. Like us, they were human beings living real lives with real hardship. But on that day, resurrection day, their confusion was overcome by their joy.

Jesus is alive.

They walked with him, and listened to him again for a time before he ascended into heaven. And he promised them that they would not be left alone. That promise is ours as well. We have been given the Holy Spirit to guide us in our real lives with real hardship, real questions, real doubts.

Today we celebrate the day that their confusion turned to joy, and we can join our joy with theirs because in rising from the dead, he defeated the last fear, the last stronghold. Jesus has conquered death and hell and the grave, and no matter what we experience in our earthly lives we know we do not walk alone and the victory he won is ours as well.

Jesus lives and so do we, free to live in this bodily life, free to look forward to a life that does not end, free to know that our lives can have eternal significance as we follow him.

Christ has risen, Alleluia!



No unclean thing

This year I decided to read through the Bible in a year. I regularly read and study scripture to preach and teach, but It had been a while since I read straight through. Sometimes I read the portions, and other times it is more convenient to listen to the audio version. This practice really helps me to keep the words and stories of scripture in their broader context.

A few months in to the daily readings I had reached the stories of the Exodus and entering the Promised Land. I typically like to read these stories. They tend to be full of adventure although at times the numbers and counting of people and animals gets tedious. I found myself sighing and wondering why it was important to know that there were 54,400 descendants of Issachar among the other numbers of other tribes in the Desert of Sinai? I saw that in part it is important because each of those lives is celebrated as a gift and blessing from God.

Later, as I read through the book of Numbers, I came across a passage with more accounting and it stopped me in my tracks.

The half share of those who fought in the battle was:
337,500 sheep, of which the tribute for the Lord was 675;
36,000 cattle, of which the tribute for the Lord was 72;
30,500 donkeys, of which the tribute for the Lord was 61;
16,000 people, of whom the tribute for the Lord was 32.
Numbers 31:36-40

Did you read that?!?!?!

I dropped my Bible and literally said out loud “What the heck, God?”

How could God accept human captives as tribute? How is it that the descendants of the 12 tribes were celebrated and these lives were treated like cattle? I was completely gob-smacked! Understanding the cultural setting, I know that these were warring people who battled here, there, and everywhere on their way to and through Canaan. I get that it was a violent age with different norms and expectations. But I also believe that God is the same then, and now. So, seriously, “What the heck, God?”

Sitting in my discomfort and pondering this God whom I serve with my life and career, I came to a realization. Words so clear and distinct, God could have said them out loud, in a calm, flat tone. “There is no untainted offering.”

I really don’t know about you, but I was offended. Of course there are untainted offerings! My offerings are untainted! Mine come from a pure heart, clean hands, and a desire to glorify God alone. How dare God say that my offerings are not pure.

Then I stopped and pondered for a moment, are they? Are my offerings pure? My money comes from the church, I give it back to the Lord in multiple ways by supporting other ministries, missionaries, and feeding the poor. That money comes from the hands of people who work hard in our community, in businesses and service professions. When I though deeper, I wondered: do I really know all the threads that support those earnings? Could there be anyone in those businesses cutting corners, or defaulting on loans, or choosing inferior products, possibly made by slave labor? I have no control over who gives to the church or where their gifts come from.

Well, maybe my financial gifts can’t be entirely accounted for, but surely my service can. I love on people, it is kind of my specialty. Listening, gently nudging at times, but mostly delighting in the people God has made fuels my ministry. I do it all for God, right? But I love it, too. Maybe sometimes I relish people’s dependence on me. It might even feed a little bit of pride.

Oh, and speaking of pride, sometimes I obsess over my sermons and musical offerings, or get worried when people might not be responding to me in the way I want…Ok, so maybe my offerings aren’t 100% pure. But are they really comparable to human trafficking?

When I buy cheap clothes made by underpaid or forced labor.
When I drink coffee picked by today’s equivalent of serfs.
When I eat chocolate most likely from cacao harvested by children.

Can I really claim to be exempt or superior?

And here we are, back to why would God accept our dirty, scratched, and broken offerings. Grace.

God knows we are dust. God knows we don’t have anything else to offer. God knows our inability to produce holiness, righteousness, and purity on our own.

The only untainted offering is God stepping out of eternity to dwell among human beings as a human being. The only untainted offering is God smiling at the child, the leper, the outcast, the prostitute through the eyes of Jesus. The only untainted offering is God still loving as humanity sentenced him to the death penalty, carried out by the hands of the state. The only untainted offering is God returning to those who had fled from his side for fear of their own safety. Building the church with imperfect people. Sustaining it through millennia using lives and resources also bearing the marks of sin.

Accepting my gifts. Accepting yours. Seeing us for all we are, and loving us. God’s grace is the only untainted offering, and it is something He offers to Us.

These thoughts are humbling, but hopeful. For me, knowing that God will continue to be the giver of every good and perfect gift sets me free from the chains of perfection. The only gift I have to offer is myself, and God himself can take this imperfect gift and make it whole. I am a work in progress, but even now at times God’s grace moves through me to pour into the lives of others.

Next time I am tempted to judge the offering of another, I will remember: the remarkable event I am witnessing is not one of a gift being offered to God, but that God in his grace and mercy accepts that gift–scuffs, stains and all.

Acceptance & Grace
What could be more ReFreshing?

On Being Wrong

So recently, I was wrong.
I know, right? This almost never happens to me. I am usually right. I bet you are, too.

I was wrong, but not in my content, my facts, I was wrong in my attitude. I was wrong in my presentation of my facts. I was wrong in the way I treated someone else with whom I disagree. And because of all that, I might as well have been wrong in my content.

Right facts presented with wrongness in the way I speak shuts the door on communication. It means that the person I disagree with will never listen to my words, they only hear my tone. It means they will immediately become convinced of their own rightness because they are the injured party, a victim of my words.

The walls of defensiveness are up, and they will not come down. Not in this conversation, and because of memory, possibly never in future conversations. I have set the tone for our interactions. It will take a lot of right interactions to reverse the effects of this one wrong one.

What is to be done, then? Apologies have been made, and forgiveness offered. But I can’t get it out of my head, just how wrong I was in my rightness.

I think we all find ourselves here from time to time. We come to the end of an interaction, and we wonder about what we could or should have said better, but time does not allow for do-overs. Our only choice is to take the wrong from this situation and make good on what we have learned.

To speak with respect, even–and maybe especially–to those with whom we disagree. To offer grace, and think the best of those who may be misinformed. To take a breath and release the indignation that comes from being convinced of our own rightness. To recognize the beautiful image of God in the person before us. To offer respect so that respect may be offered in return. To hear the heart, to see behind the words and tone to the deep concerns that drive them.

To find the common ground on which we stand, even if that is simply our own humanity.

Finding a way to make good on our past wrongs.
Now that’s ReFreshing

For some great resources on wrongology, check out Kathryn Schulz’s TED talks:

Being Real

I can’t tell you how many times I have been accused of “having it all together.”

“Ugh. If you only knew,” I think in response, while laughing it off.

But you don’t know, because I never told you.
I never told you I have chronic migraine.
I never told you I spend an average of 4 afternoons a week in a dark room hoping to rest enough to be able to participate in my evening ministry commitments.
I never told you I am terrified in new social situations, where I don’t know the people or the protocol.
I never told you that I need tons of affirmation before I really believe that what I just did was good enough.
I never told you that I stopped having babies because with three here and three miscarriages, I decided 6 pregnancies was enough and I didn’t want to risk more heartbreak.
I never told you that while I love my dad, his sexual addiction and life choices have wounded me so deeply that I am still discovering new places of pain.
I never told you that I get through the day by squeezing every drop of energy out of my reserve tank, and hope each night that I didn’t steal too much from tomorrow.

I also never told you these are the reasons I know that God is good, even in the hard things.
That “My grace is sufficient for you, because my power is made perfect in weakness,” holds special significance when all you feel is weakness.
That letting people help you blesses them.
That letting people in brings healing balm and comfort, even when it is scary.
That simply existing has value, that I am worthy of love even when I am capable of contributing nothing but breath.

And so are you.

When you see me, and my confident exterior, know that it covers so much.
When I sit with you and am quiet, it represents the deepest trust because I don’t have to be witty, or wise.

I don’t have it all together. I am guessing that you don’t either.
And that is ok.

Authenticity & self-acceptance.
How Refreshing

Failing with Grace

Everybody fails at some point, so it is important to be prepared.

I started the year with high hopes of reducing my sugar intake as an intention to continue fasting with an eye toward health and justice. January was a good month. I got off to a bang, kept my sugars to 24 grams or less every day. I granted myself one sugar-added item, and one white flour item a week. Things were going great.

Then February happened. I do not know how once a week contingency turned into twice, then daily, then no-holds-barred sugar-fest. It happened, though. When things first started snow-balling, I was anxious, then guilty. By the time Valentine’s Day came along, I no longer cared. All of it took me seriously off guard.

I have failed. Miserably.

This was not a problem when I fasted from shopping.
This was not a problem when I fasted from eating meat.

Why is sugar so much harder?

I don’t know that I have an answer to that question. I have some theories, maybe even some contributing factors, but on the whole, I just have to take responsibility for the fact that I made a commitment and have not lived up to it.

So what do I do now that I have failed?

I could wallow. I could sit in misery and guilt and failure. Sometimes wallowing is fun, in a sick and twisted way that is totally unproductive…but still fun. A big part of me wants to call the whole thing off because it is just too hard. Then I remember that I ran my first half marathon in November, resulting in four black toenails that I see everyday, and realize that difficulty is not usually a factor for me in making or keeping commitments.

No wallowing, no giving up. I have to move forward.

I have decided to reboot my fast starting March 1st. I thought about rebooting for Lent, but I knew I wasn’t in the right head space. I have been sick and my routine has been based mainly on convenience instead of intentionality. Reboot too soon, and I know I will find myself in the same place a month or two down the road.

I need a plan. I have to be organized. Some things in my routine and in my family schedule have to shift so that I can maintain my fast.

I could also use some support, so if you would like to join me in fasting from added sugar just send me an email or leave a comment below. The original terms of the fast can be found in My 2015 Fast.

Basically, I am avoiding added refined sugars by reading labels, going without, or substituting natural sugars. I will be following the recommendation of the American Heart Association to keep added sugars to 24 grams (6 teaspoons) per day. This is not a diet. I am giving up something that I obviously depend on way too much for comfort and convenience. I am hoping to add health to my body, and to add to the peace of my soul by seeking solace in the ultimate source of Peace.

Failing with Grace means knowing that no matter what happened yesterday (or even this morning, for that matter) I can start again. I can walk without guilt or shame, and continue moving forward.

Now that’s ReFreshing!

“But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on..”
Philippians 3:13b-14a

Reality Checks Are Good Things

I am a sucker for a good mystery series. I like the intrigue and figuring out the puzzles, unraveling the knots to find the answers. The thing is, most mysteries these days are of the murder variety. That means I end up watching a lot of violence along the way. And that bugs me.

It used to be that sleuths tracked down more thieves than murderers. Sherlock Holmes only encountered 3 murders in his first 12 adventures. Where have all the other stories gone?

I don’t have an answer.

I do know that watching all that violence takes a toll on my psyche. I get jumpy. I worry about whether we locked the doors before going to bed. I walk down dark streets with a tighter grip on my keys.

The thing is, I live in Emporia, Kansas. We have a below average crime rate. We went 3 years without a single murder, from 2010-2012. Most murders here are like most murders elsewhere–personal. Random violent crime is really rare here and across the nation.

The only news article I could find regarding this trend of exaggerating the crime rate and the incidence of violent crime is from the BBC, How Realistic Is Murder on Television? It gives the actual murder rates for some television series, comparing those to real life locations. They give the statistics in murder rates per million. The highest average total violent crimes per million in the past 10 years in the U.S. is 27. The violent crime rate per million in the same year in Emporia was 21. In the popular television show Murder She Wrote the murder rate alone is 1,290 per million. I sense a little overkill.

AnvilI needed that reality check. Not only are crime rates exaggerated in television series, but violent crime is emphasized on news broadcasts and talked to death in the blogosphere. If we are not careful, it is easy to believe that we are in constant danger. We begin to think that the whole world is a terrible place where things are getting worse every day.

It is not that bad things do not happen, or that injustice is not a problem. There is war. People are killed. Children are kidnapped. Just not as often as we fear.

I am not particularly a big fan of statistics, but they saved my sanity when I realized that my perception is skewed by media input.

Reality checks that bring us peace are so refreshing!

This TED Talk sheds more light on decoding the facts about the global situation.

Baby Steps

I was pondering recently how different I am today than I was 10, 15, or 20 years ago. (Alas, the peril of birthdays!)

I don’t know if the me then would like the me now. I am not sure the me now would like the me then, either. (Sometimes I shake my head, but I love her dearly. Honestly.) We certainly would not agree on many things.

We wouldn’t like the same clothing, although our fashion would be the least of our differences. We would have different views on what makes a body healthy, a marriage satisfying, and children happy.

We would certainly have different views on politics, religion, and world affairs. We would both claim to love God and follow Jesus, but the way that faith expresses itself in our lives would stand in stark contrast.

Some things have not changed, or I should say some things began there in the form of seedling decisions and have grown bigger and stronger.

My choice to love instead of respond in hate, the seeds of non-violence.

My choice to love others who are different from me, the seeds of broad acceptance of people as they are–expressing the image of God in them, instead of trying to remake them in my own image.

My choice to allow the Holy Spirit to shape me, the seeds of so much growth and change in how I read scripture and see my life in light of its truths.

Like looking back in snapshots, I can clearly see who I was in those moments, but the path between them gets blurred. I don’t remember when I decided that while there were things I would die for, there is perhaps only one for which I would kill–my children. I don’t remember when I decided that I would rather be healthy than wear a certain size. I don’t know when I decided it was ok for me to speak my mind and trust my husband to listen and love me anyway (and he does in surprising ways as the years of marriage continue to stack up).

Maybe I don’t remember because all of those changes came slowly. Testing the waters. Going a little deeper.

Baby steps toward being the fully-formed person who will probably look back on this post in 10 years or so and shake her head at all the growth that still needs to come.

Taking that journey one step at a time and trusting the Way to lead me,
How Refreshing!