Where’s the Party?

The theme of the party is restoration. The venue is an empty tomb. The decorations are a cross and crown. The invitation is to everyone.

I am not a party person. I am so far on the “I” side of the Myers-Briggs scale I nearly fall off it. I love being a pastor, and I love my people, but socializing with a roomful of acquaintances on a surface level feels like I imagine purgatory would feel, if I believed in it.

Nevertheless, I enjoy a well crafted party with people I love. We’ve had our share this year, with the youngest’s wedding right in the middle of 2019. A shower. A wedding. A reception back home. All of it. And all of it we crafted carefully, with their tastes and our budget in mind.

We planned themes, grew and arranged flowers, drilled holes in centerpieces and hand-letters signs that told people exactly where to put their cards and how to play the date night game. While we did much of the work ourselves, we had a dress, a caterer, and a photographer that knocked it out of the park.

We missed nothing. It was a wonderful day.

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Time to Party

As we’ve been walking through Hebrews, off and on, these last few months, we come to a passage that also knocks it out of the park. So far, Hebrews has been shopping, setting the table, making menus, crafting decorations, and sending invites. The writer has missed nothing.

Now—in chapter ten—it’s time to party.

“And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.

Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” (Hebrews 10.19-25, NLT)

Verse 22 is the party—“Let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him.”

The theme of the party is restoration. The venue is an empty tomb. The decorations are a cross and crown. The invitation is to everyone.

Bold Faith

We are not simply to come to the party either but to come boldly. “Go right in” is the phrase people use when they know the person invited belongs. It’s what we say to friends—come on in, and use the side door (the one for friends). You know you can walk in anytime. We don’t offer that privilege to strangers. Only those who  have our complete love and trust get the “come on in.”

Other translations use the words “confidently,” “with full assurance,” or “boldly.” Literally, it’s “free and fearless.” It means the same—go toward God as you would anyone who invited you in like you belonged there. Because you do.

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For many, boldness is not our default. When it comes to any relationships, fear predominates. Fear that we will not be accepted. Fear that we can never be good enough. Fear that we don’t deserve forgiveness. Fear that our love will not be reciprocated.

Fear drives so much, and has since Eden.

God puts that fear to rest here. If we’re told to come boldly to the one who made us, who knows us best, whom we’ve actually offended the most, but who loves us everlastingly and unconditionally, then where is the place for any fear at all? If that relationship is restored, what is there to fear in any other?

What would it be like to live free and fearless?

Trust is hard. Fear is easy.

  • Relationships fail us.
  • Spouses leave, or don’t fulfilled their vows to honor us, protect us.
  • Friends betray us to move up social ladder.
  • Relatives abuse you in ways no one talks about.
  • Coworkers throw you under the bus to cover their butts.
  • Your child screams swear words at you, and you believe growing up means breaking apart.

Trust is fragile.

Trust is hard. Fear is easy.

If the only metric we have to measure relationships is human ones, and we are human so it is, then we project all that on God.

  • God becomes the girl who wouldn’t let us sit with her.
  • The kid who bullied you.
  • The spouse who betrayed you.
  • The relative who abused you.
  • The father you could never please.

Trust is hard. Fear is easy.

Two years ago, I went to a friend’s home in London for a writing retreat (I know, rough), and two of the other women voiced their life’s dream to got to Paris. They begged me to go, too, since I’d been a few times and could be a guide. So we made a day trip, and our first stop (OK, after Laduree and Berthillon) was Notre Dame. Notre Dame was my first love of buildings, and I couldn’t wait to see my old friend.

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We saw a long line near one door. Very long. One of the other women nosed around and found another door on the other side. No one was lined up there. So, maybe the other line was for the tower? Because my friend is bold, and because she has an auto-immune disease that makes standing for a long time difficult, she decided to use the door with no line. Boldly, we walked right in.

We gaped round the altar, stood in awe at the familiar rose windows, and walked the checkered floor I love so well. Yes, we cut the line, we realized later. But the door was open. And we decided to walk through it without hesitation.

That was the last time I saw my favorite place in one piece. I’m so glad we chose to go through the door.

This is the exuberant, joyful, excited boldness God wants for us when he talks about us coming near to him. Without fear, with excitement, believing this is the best dream of our lives. Because the door was opened, and all we have to do is walk in.

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We do not have to measure God by the instability of human relationships. God invites us—and he invites us as He would a friend.

Maybe when trust is hard is the time we most need this party. Not a fake it, put up a front, false happiness party—a party that says what matters will stand.

A party that defies death, decay, rising smoke and tells it all—you do not win.

Because it is finished.

Death—you have no victory.

Despair—you have no home here.

Fire and smoke—you cannot take away what matters.

Restoration is beginning. Reclamation is here. New beginnings are ready—don’t despair—come to the party.

Come boldly.

Who’s in Your Boat?

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Photo by Nikolas Noonan on Unsplash

This post first appeared here on The Glorious Table.

When I was eight years old, I sat out a tornado warning with my parents in a pickup truck on the side of the road. The truck swayed side to side as rain pelted its windshield, and thunder sounded as close as the back seat. The wind threatened to toss us into the ditch as the green sky darkened.

Outside, chaos raged. Inside, my parents’ arms wrapped around me, keeping me calm. Their presence assured me that even if the world out there was not all right, there with them, I could find peace.

Summer storms often light up the sky here in the Midwest. They can be sudden, just as my study of Scripture tells me that storms on the Sea of Galilee also came on quickly, giving little warning to fishermen in their boats. The workers usually stayed closer to the shore for that reason. Fishing boats were small and the lake large. Matthew records one such storm:

“Then Jesus got into the boat and started across the lake with his disciples. Suddenly, a fierce storm struck the lake, with waves breaking into the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him up, shouting, ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!’ Jesus responded, ‘Why are you afraid? You have so little faith!’ Then he got up and rebuked the wind and waves, and suddenly there was a great calm. The disciples were amazed. ‘Who is this man?’ they asked. ‘Even the winds and waves obey him!’” (Matthew 8:23-27 NLT)

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Photo by Matt Hardy on Unsplash

Imagine the howling wind, crashing waves, and harsh sea spray hitting you in the face and filling the boat. Envision the lightning flashes around you, knowing your mast is the highest point for miles. Can you feel the fear?

They’ve got Jesus, so it’s all OK, right?

“But Jesus was sleeping.” Curled up at the back of the boat, Jesus hadn’t a concern in the world.

These seasoned fishermen know this sea. Right now, uncharacteristically, they are terrified of it. They do not interpret Jesus’ untroubled sleep as great faith to be imitated. They see it as abandonment in their hour of need.

These professional watermen wake him, shout at him, blame him, and otherwise act like scared kids. What do they yell? “Rescue us!” Their words reflect faith or perhaps desperation, probably a mix of both.

Jesus responds in a way they clearly don’t expect. He raises his hand and tells the weather who’s boss.

The clouds break up. The water calms. The disciples’ jaws drop.

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Photo by Abigail Keenan on Unsplash

I think we forget that they didn’t know who he was. To the disciples, Jesus was a rabbi—a man who happened onto the scene and chose them. They didn’t know what we know. The transition that had to take place between, “Hey he’s a great guy! Smart, good, a little odd, but we’re lucky he picked us,” to “He is straight-up God” was not a day’s work.

It took scenes like this, when they saw a storm rendered powerless and realized the Lord of the wind and waves was standing two feet away. That probably seemed more terrifying than the storm.

Sometimes, even though we do know who he is, we can’t see the end of our story. We don’t know how it plays out. We only know the scene being shot, and that scene contains wind and rain and fear.

We know he’s God in those times, too, but we think he should have kept us out of the storm, and we’re still not sure he can get us through it.

Sometimes we’re all eight-year-olds sitting in the front of the pickup hollering and praying that it stops.

Here’s what the disciples had to learn: It isn’t trust to expect Jesus to keep us out of the storm. Trust is believing he will keep us through it.

It isn’t trust to expect Jesus to keep us out of the storm. Trust is believing He will keep us through it.

We often look at this story as an example what God will do for us. But the true point of story is not that he will calm all our storms. The point is that we find our peace in the midst of the storm in the one with the power to control it.

It tells us who he is and who is in charge.

God, I know I look at the storms too much and at who’s in my boat too little. I let fear overtake me, and I forget who is steering. Please help me to trust you to guide me through the storms and not demand you stop them. Help me trust you as the one who created the seas. Amen.

Scripture for Reflection

“Who kept the sea inside its boundaries as it burst from the womb, and as I clothed it with clouds and wrapped it in thick darkness? For I locked it behind barred gates, limiting its shores. I said, ‘This far and no farther will you come. Here your proud waves must stop!’” (Job 38:8-11 NLT)

“By his power the sea grew calm.” (Job 26:12 NLT)

Reach for More

What storm are you going through right now? It can be big, but it can also be the everyday grind of busyness and the struggle of time management.

Imagine, right now, turning around in that storm and seeing Jesus behind you. Is he holding the rudder, or are you? Who is steering the course, who is bailing water, who knows the way to shore? Write down your fears and, at your pace, hand them to him. Allow him to wrap his arms around you and calm your anxiousness. Find a picture of a shoreline and look at it to remind you he knows where he’s going.

Drop. Push. Go.

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One of my favorites from last summer.

 

It looked so easy when she did it.

The List

I’ve been working on my 60 Before 60 List this summer. Considering 60 is a LOT of things, and considering I front loaded that list with way more travel items than I can humanly manage without a TARDIS, I need to be working on it.

While at school in Santa Barbara in June (going to Cali was rough, but it was all in the name of education), I knocked off the “go sailing” item. That was #1. A few weeks later, our youngest and I went on a #motherdaughtertrip to Charlevoix, Michigan, a lovely little town snug between a giant lake and a large lake. It was glorious, and it was good. I completely forgot all responsibility, which is not normally a thing for me, so I suspect my brain needed a break.

On July 6th, we tackled another thing on my list. We rented a stand up paddleboard. Our daughter has done this once before. She also has ten years of gymnastics behind her. A girl who can do back flips on 4 inches of wood four feet in the air can balance on a paddle board, even in the wake of a number of pleasure cruisers going by.

She looked like Moana out there, hand raised over her eyes toward the open water, paddle at the ready. She was awesome.

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What’ SUP?

I, on the other hand, am still recovering from a back injury, which leaves me with a still-weak right leg and, shall we say, not the mountain goat sense of balance I once had. I mourn that reality. It’s one of the things I’ve loved about my body—the ability to climb up boulders and straddle a teetering log like a gecko.

I learned it early, as the youngest of seven and growing to only 5’2”. I’m not strong, and my endurance level is like my old AMC Hornet that desperately needed a gas filter, but I’m fast and sure-footed. Except not anymore.

My daughter said it was easy, so we pulled up to the half a foot of sand a few feet away from the “No Tresspassing” sign and traded her SUP for my kayak.

It went well. My legs shook, and I am grateful for no vidoegraphic evidence of my ungraceful stance, but I paddled. Back and forth, a few times in that small channel between the giant lake and the big lake. I could do this.

Until I couldn’t.

Making one last pass to the end, I went farther than I had before and tried to steer the board back toward the channel. Away from the steel (iron?) pier that marked the end of the channel and also the coast guard station. I tried. Really tried. That board had no intention of turning.

I hit the pier. Hard. My daughter heard it from twenty feet away. I leaned forward to grasp the bar on the pier, and the board slid out from under me. There I was, legs flailing, dangling from the pier and about to become a contestant in a very wet clothing contest. So glad at that moment I had decided to ditch the leggings and just go in the long tunic.

I let go, splashed into the surprisingly warm water, and grabbed the board to swim it back to the rocks on shore. This, of course, is when she started taking pictures.

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On the Rocks

It was while I sat on the rocks trying to figure out how to get back on the board that another woman came alone, going the same direction. Either she realized that she also could not avoid the pier or, clearly experienced, she intentionally chose to use it as her bouncing off point to redirect her down the narrow side stream. Whichever, as she approached the pier, she dropped to her knees, struck the pier, and pushed off with her right hand in the direction she wanted to go.

“Wham!” She yelled it as she slapped that metal surface. It sounded like a cry of triumph. I knew she knew what she was doing. It felt like maybe she even did it to show me how it was done. Not in a “look at me and how great I am at this thing you totally failed at” sort of way. It felt more like “I’ve done what you just did and I want to help you get past it.” Don’t we love women like that?

I watched as she took a quick hop back to her feet, one smooth motion. She knew that was my next question, and she looked at me as she did it. I think she nodded in encouragement. As she went on her way down the stream, I got back on that board.

Obstacles Can Sink You

There are so many obstacles in the way of our dreams and goals. So many iron piers loom ahead, and we desperately try to steer away from them. We think that hitting them will be the end. We believe that we will never survive that roadblock.

Maybe we should take a lesson from that anonymous paddleboarder. Maybe, avoiding the obstacles isn’t the goal. If we can’t avoid it, maybe we ought to be thinking about using it.

She dropped to her knees.

She knew the impact would send her flying off the board if she tried to take it standing up. Dropping down, lowering her center of gravity, working with the impact instead of against it—those things kept her on the board.

It’s not a bad idea to drop to our knees, too, when we see the obstacles coming. The impact could be destabilizing. But it won’t be if we’re on our knees, in prayer to our Daddy who holds us in the palm of his hand, so that we will not be shaken. Dropping to my knees could have kept me on the board. Dropping to our knees before God will keep us facing our goals and dreams and making certain that they are still aligned with his purpose for us. It will keep us centered, balanced, and sure.

I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help

She used that problem to redirect.

She didn’t let it redirect her—she used it to change course in the way she wanted to go. I had allowed it to redirect me right into the water. I saw that pier only as a huge obstacle, a scary problem, a thing I did not want to run into or deal with.

She saw it as a chance to point her board where she wanted it to go. When she yelled “Wham!” she shoved off the pier into a hard left turn, allowing the impact to turn her course.

Do we do that with roadblocks in our path? Can we use them as course correctors, things that make us look more clearly at the place we want to go? Do we push off of our problems, rather than let them envelop and sink us? Take in their force and use it to send us further and faster?

I learned more than how to stand up on a paddleboard that morning. The dunking was worth the education.

How fast can I get back to my feet after hitting the pier? It doesn’t matter. If we need some time to sit on the rocks and refocus, that’s time well spent. But I want to learn from paddleboard wonder woman.

Drop to knees. Push off. Pop up, Go.

The Big Questions

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This is one of the things you do when you stop questioning everything. Yes, worth it.

I’m a questioner. I knew this without putting a label to it, but Gretchen Rubin, in her book The Four Tendencies, labeled it for me and offered me ratification to be what I was. Questioners are happy to do anything for anyone—but we must be assured it makes sense, first. We have to know we’re making the effort for a reason.

This annoys my obliger husband—who follows rules because the rules are there to follow.

Sometimes, though, questioners can ask too much, fear too much, make too many excuses for our hesitation. We lean, hard, toward perfectionism. If we can’t assure ourselves the next step won’t fail, we’re reluctant to take it. We always want to know if there might be a better choice.

Questioners suffer a lot from buyer’s remorse.

Read more about how I deal with buyer’s remorse (and other regrets of a questioner) at The Glorious Table now!

Extravagant Ideals

Truly He taught us to

(Continuing in the series on books/stories that changed me in some way.)

An Odd Story

I don’t remember where I first read the story, but it was probably in one of my mother’s old Ideals magazines. They had glossy covers, harder than standard paper magazine covers yet still obviously of the genre, sized like a magazine with the same slightly slippery, big pages inside. They were typically a mix of bad poetry, Kincaid-esque photography, and short stories originally designed to lift war-weary spirits.

Until researching for this post, I had no idea Ideals still existed, but in fact it does. At Christmas and Easter, they still publish something that looks remarkably like what I held as a child, though the company has changed hands more often than 20-somethings change jobs. I haven’t read it since I was 8 or 10. Yet this one story stayed with me.

As a child, I read “The Gift of the Magi” in that magazine. I didn’t understand it. First off, I had no idea what magi were. Was that the young couple’s last name? How did one pronounce it? I hadn’t been raised on nativity scenes and Christmas stories read every December. Other than Rudolph, anyway.

It’s possible I had a passing knowledge of the supposed trio of wise men from The Little Drummer Boy, but that story called them kings, not that strange word that didn’t come easily to a little tongue. Magi? What even as that? And was it close to magic?

Living Wisely

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Photo by Joel Overbeck on Unsplash

I was a practical child. A non-dramatic little girl. I preferred to have a few friends, stay far away from emotional frenzy, and make wise decisions about life. Even then, I observed before I acted. It may have looked (and still looks) like a split-second decision to act, but believe me, the undercurrent of always thinking didn’t disappoint me. Safe, smart choices made for a safe, smart life.

I had a decent number of examples of the opposite sort. So I knew to stay the course that naturally came to me anyway.

You might have guessed by now that how we start is usually how we continue. That timid child is still here—she’s the default, without the sanctifying butt-kick of the Holy Spirit.

Why, Jim and Della?

So the story of two very young (he was 22!) people selling their dearest possessions so that they could buy one another Christmas presents did not compute to my logical mind.

Why would you ever sell your family heirloom pocket watch, Mr. James Dillingham Young? Don’t you know you can buy your wife a bigger Christmas present someday when you’re not young and poor? Can’t you just make her something pretty now? Haven’t you ever heard of Walmart, man?

And you, young woman. OK, your hair will grow back. But seriously, you had to have other options for something small and special. Something Enough.

We all know their lives are going to get better. Everyone starts our poor. Relatively, anyway. At least, I know we did.

Probably in an earlier edition of the same magazine, I also read the poem “The Friendly Beasts,” and I fell in love with it. I loved animals. I loved poems. I loved the idea of sacrifice, even though, still, I really didn’t know anything about this Christ child to whom all the animals gave their best gifts. (I also didn’t know it was really a Christmas carol.)

The Same Story

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Animals. Young lovers. The two are the same story. All gave the best they had, and some sacrificed greatly to do so. I didn’t understand the humans; I loved the animals. I memorized that poem.  

O Henry, the man who wrote “Gift of the Magi,” doesn’t appear to have lived as if he understood this story, either. Yet he wrote it, so maybe, like me as a little girl, he longed to understand it, wished for it to be real, more than really knew it to be. Such is, I suspect, the way most good stories are born.

“The magi, as you know, were wise men—wonderfully wise men— who brought gifts to the newborn Christ-child. They were the first to give Christmas gifts. Being wise, their gifts were doubtless wise ones. And here I have told you the story of two children who were not wise. Each sold the most valuable thing he owned in order to buy a gift for the other. But let me speak a last word to the wise of these days: Of all who give gifts, these two were the most wise. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are the most wise. Everywhere they are the wise ones. They are the magi.”

I thought I was wise as a child, with my careful calculations and safe choices. I’ve thought the same as an adult, prioritizing safety over risk, sensible over extravagant. The truth is, this is usually the case. Most of the time, like Jim and Della, we will do far better to hold off on the crazy impulses and wait for our wiser muses to kick in. We will do better to rein in the immediate gratification and patiently sit, waiting for the greater rewards.

Wise or Smart?

Yet sometimes, wisdom needs a Holy Spirit butt kick. Sometimes, wisdom is too wise for its own good. Sometimes, we need to do the very thing the rest of the world deems unwise indeed in order to live out the Kingdom God has given us in Christ.

Sometimes, our zeal to distance ourselves from risk and cling to safe choices makes us stagnant disciples, people who have observed too much and acted too little.

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field. Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!” (Matthew 13.44-46)

That sounds a lot like selling your hair or your watch to offer a loved one all you have. Only this time, the loved one is Jesus, and the stakes are so much greater.

No one, least of all Jesus, promises safety in this journey of learning to give like the magi. Not even O Henry did so, however happily most of his stories ended.

As Della analyzes her lost locks and head of shameful tight curls, he rhapsodizes,

“Love and large-hearted giving, when added together, can leave deep marks. It is never easy to cover these marks, dear friends— never easy.”

No, sometimes the marks stay. Generous, risky giving can leave marks of personal hurt, financial loss, or emotional tenderness. Neither the author of my childhood story nor Jesus blanches at the thought.

Jesus’ marks of large-hearted giving were nail scars in the palms of his hands.

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An Old Story

“In this world you will have trouble . . .” Live an abundant, crazy, generous life anyway. Cultivate wisdom, to be sure. Yet be willing to do the even wiser thing—give it all for what is worth infinitely more. Knowing Christ through our sacrifices.

“Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!” (Philippians 3.8-11)

As a child, reading The Gift of the Magi, I didn’t understand extravagant giving, the kind that didn’t make sense, that offers our most important treasures for what appears to be little gain.

To be honest, I’m still not so sure I do. But I’m learning, slowly.

Change Happens

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While I was spending my time sailing, sunning, and writing pages and pages of thesis proposals that would get rejected and repurposed EVERY OTHER MINUTE in California this June, our front yard got a makeover.

Out with the Old

We called the city because one of the venerable old elm trees in the front yard looked ready to tumble onto our also old (if not equally venerable) house. The trees are technically on city property.

They came. They saw. They said that all three trees were bad and would be meeting the saw blade. (Insert sob emoji here.) A fourth elm sat just inside the property line, and it was in worse shape, so we struck a deal with the contractor to take it down for cheap while he was there.

Upshot—the entire front yard went from shade to full sun in a few hours. I returned home to a driveway I didn’t even recognize.

In with the . . . What?

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I do love light, but unfortunately, my front garden does not. We had planted it as a shade garden and filled it with hostas, coral bells, ferns, and the like. Now, they are baking. Turning yellow and crusty. They are not happy. It’s too hot out there to move them, and so they sit in the sun, as I hope and pray they survive long enough to be set somewhere  more understanding of their needs.

Meanwhile, an interesting thing is occurring in the back yard. There, the trees are growing. The spruce that was as tall as I am (and that’s not very tall) when we moved in now towers over its surroundings. If I wanted to get all mathematical, I’d go out there and measure the hypotenuse and the shadow and tell you exactly how tall it is. But, did I mention it’s hot? And I am not all mathematical as a general rule.

The ornamental pear tree we planted that was supposed to be remain small isn’t. Upshot—things that were planted in full sun, like our rose garden, no longer are. They’re also unhappy about the turn of events.

 

What is my point in all this?

My own back yard tells me that seasons change. Things never remain as planned. What we once thought would be forever isn’t, and what we thought would never be sometimes is. What worked once for us doesn’t work anymore. Usually, we keep trying it anyway, desperately hoping that we will not have to adjust to a new reality.

New Normals

  • Our bodies change or get injured. What was once easy isn’t.
  • Our kids leave home and our marriages turn in toward themselves and find hollow cores where communication and commitment once filled the space.
  • Our kids leave home period, and that’s enough change for any of us who love having their laughter and surprise and support floating through our days.
  • We move from single to two people, from two kids to three, and every addition is a glorious gift but still one we have to adjust to and whose learning curve may be steeper than we think we can climb.
  • We move to a new home, and its exciting and terrifying, adventurous and lonely, all at once.
  • Our faith turns into doubt nibbling away at the corners of our hearts and minds. What were once easy answers don’t come quite so quickly anymore.

Change doesn’t have to be bad to discombobulate our lives. (I love that word.) It just has to be what it is.

Different. New. Unknown.

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It can scorch our days like a July sun or it can shade our nights with extra darkness. It doesn’t matter. It just messes with what we thought we had stable and safe.

If I refuse to adjust to the new normal of our yard, the plants out front will die. They will shrivel and thirst and scorch and wither. They weren’t made for the sun. The plants out back will languish without the light they crave. They, too, will die. They weren’t made for the shade.

If I accept that normal isn’t coming back and I move them? I can create an entire new design out there. I have a chance to start over. I can make beautiful out of a new situation.

Create Beautiful

We can spend our time resisting whatever our new normal is, or we can embrace it. Now, I’m not advocating giving up on something that matters. I wouldn’t hang up my marriage if it changed. I can ( and might) plant a new tree in the front yard. I can opt to fight for those plants and that arrangement, because they’re important. Fighting is an option. It’s one I’d always take if change threatened something that truly mattered.

But, some things have just run their season. It’s time for a new one. Some things are better off for a new season.

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What if, for instance, I embrace this new empty nest that threatens? What if I stop seeing it as a threat? I can sit in my home and mourn the emptiness. (I will, some days.) I can guilt them into not ever moving farther than five miles away. (I have tried.) I can Snapchat my children incessantly until they block me. (I don’t recommend this.)

I can learn new ways to love them like crazy from a distance, pour my heart into other young people here who need someone, and renew career aspirations that have been put aside. I think that may be the better option.

On a larger scale, what if we accepted that “A Christian America” isn’t going to happen? The season of churchgoing as normal is over, and we pastors (and all Christians) have an uphill climb to be relevant or wanted. People aren’t going to beat the door down of my church.

I could demand things go back to the way they were. I could throw up my hands and gnash my teeth about the current state. I could toss blame all over the place and find scapegoats to label and denounce.

I could embrace a different culture and find my way to create God’s image of beauty within it. I know which is the ultimately more productive choice.

What if a new normal has brought something into your life that also brings worry, fear, anxiety, or sadness? How can you grow into that today? How can you look at your new season and find the beauty in it? What do you need to embrace in order to grow in this season rather than wither?

I hope and pray you find it. If I can help, let me know.

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?

Running Afraid

I 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. Maybe a swimsuit would be more appropriate. . .)

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OK, this is Lake Michigan. Close enough.

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.” (Also, the first words the angel offers. Jesus prepped his people well.)

55cc1-img_4545First of all, how like the Jesus we’ve been meeting is this? No big light show 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 big cosmic scheme. No focus on himself at all. His first words focus on—them. 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.

If 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 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 look outward. 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.

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We have a Jesus who empowers us for a job

There is another reason we see the words, “Don’t be afraid.” The second time, it’s because he’s about to give these women 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 to hit the floor. Go. 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.

IMG_6983Go. 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 hallmark lately seems 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 women 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.

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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We Don’t Need Permission (First Encounters with Jesus)

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You’re not listening to me.

I’m joining Suzie Eller today for #LiveFreeThursday to talk about momentum. You know–just keeping keeping on. Sometimes, we feel like we need permission to keep going, or to venture out into something new. Maybe we can take a page from Jesus, though, and see–there’s a difference between being heard and making sure you speak up. Don’t hold back on the latter, even if the former is’t happening. You see, Jesus knows.

 

Maybe you understand this scenario all too well. You have an idea for solving a problem. You voice it. You’re ignored. A few weeks later, someone else “happens” to have the same idea. It’s hailed as genius. At which point, you briefly contemplate some extremely passive aggressive move to make that person’s life miserable. In Christian love.

Or you’re sitting with your dear family and you say something, something somewhere on the importance scale between, “I’m on fire, call an ambulance” and, “Dinner is ready.” Those people you live with are sitting within six feet of you. Their (non) response signals that they have all been hijacked by alien beings who removed their brains and replaced them with red jello. You briefly contemplate actually setting something on fire to see if it garners any attention at all.

Not that this has happened to me. Except–All. The. Time.

It’s hard. It’s frustrating. It does not feel good not to be heard.

Being Heard

So I can relate a bit to Jesus in his next public appearance, at the synagogue. “No prophet is accepted in his own hometown,” he says. That’s about right. At least if no one is going to listen to me, I’m in good company.

Everyone has heard of this young up-and-coming teacher, Jesus. Most likely, many of them already doubt the chances that a carpenter’s son could teach them anything. A pauper from Nazareth? Not really rabbi material. And yet, there are those persistent stories about his wise words…

So it’s SRO in the synagogue the morning he shows up.

Part of the audience is waiting for the next big thing—some spectacular show like the water and wine gig.

Part of the audience is waiting to trip him up and dismiss him.

How many of them are there really to hear him? I wonder.

I think I have some idea of how Jesus felt. It hurts not to be heard.

When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”

He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”

Then he said, “You will undoubtedly quote me this proverb: ‘Physician, heal yourself’—meaning, ‘Do miracles here in your hometown like those you did in Capernaum.’ But I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his own hometown.” (Luke 4)

Those hearing Jesus for the first time here see some important things in this first encounter.

First, they see a man who is unafraid to assert his identity and authority.

IMG_0767He knows they expect little. He is fully aware of their skepticism. He confidently takes hold of the Scriptures, reads, sit down, and then unleashes a giant bomb on the little meeting.

“These holy verses? They’re talking about me. I am the product of the prophecy. I’m the One. That’s all for today.”

Mic drop.

I love how Jesus just drops these little gems into conversation and then goes back to eating his Cheerios or whatever like it is a common, everyday occurrence to go around telling people you’re God.

Only God could pull this off successfully.

Second, they see a man who is unafraid to say some unpopular things.

As long as his listeners could smugly put themselves in the position of oppressed martyr, they were fine with his words about releasing captives and helping the poor. But Jesus had no plans to let them color themselves the victims in this picture. He insisted they join him in being the agents of change for the real poor and marginalized. They did not like it. Most of us prefer to feel like martyrs rather than oppressors. It’s decidedly more comfortable.

Jesus wasn’t too concerned about comfort. He knew who he was, he knew why he came, and he knew he had the authority to carry it out. And he wasn’t afraid to say so.

I love this sighting of Jesus.

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Yes, I’m the King. G’night.

I know that many people are rightly turned off by the presentation of Jesus as an angry, judging, vindictive God.

But I wonder if many others aren’t equally turned off by the presentation of a Jesus who can’t or won’t take charge and tell the truth like it is. A wimpy Jesus who hangs around going, “Hey, whatever, it’s all cool in the end.” A Jesus who is just OK with whatever we want to say his mission was and whoever we want to believe he was.

That’s not a Jesus I would want to stake my life’s purpose on. I would find no comfort in trusting a Jesus who couldn’t make up his mind to be who he was and stick with it. So I am comforted and empowered by this Luke 4 Jesus. He is bold. He is purposeful. He is unafraid. That’s a Jesus I can follow with confidence.

And in the times when I feel unheard and unheeded, it’s a Jesus I can appreciate.

I wrote an article recently on women in leadership and how we often downplay our own abilities. We put on a Christian costume of humility and allow ourselves to remain unheeded and unheard. In the name of being good Christian women.

Only it’s not good at all. Jesus demonstrates a better way here. Now, I am not Jesus. You are not Jesus. So, we don’t have the authority to go around asserting our opinions like they are infallible. We desperately need to err on the side of love and grace. But there is something important to see here.

When you know who you are, you know why you’re here, and you know Who has the authority to help you, there is nothing wrong in asserting that reality. We don’t have to coat it in sugar or wait for someone else to bring it up. We do not have to be given permission to carry out the mission God has given us. He’s already done that.

We do not have to be given permission to carry out the mission God has given us.

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I get that fear. For a long time, I listened to it, afraid to write about what really mattered to me and, I was pretty certain, to God. Look what they did to Jesus here. They chased him out of town for reading a passage that challenged their complacency and then claiming he had the authority to make it real.

I was not interested in being chased out of the virtual town.

Now, I’m OK with it, because being heard is more important than being liked.

That’s why I love the Jesus I find in Luke 4. He doesn’t care.

  • Isn’t this is a Jesus we can love? He isn’t afraid to tell the truth.
  • Isn’t this is a Jesus we can love? He knows what matters.
  • Isn’t this is a Jesus we can love? He knows who He is and why He came.

I want to be more like this Jesus.