Hanging Out In the Tomb

It was a hurried job.
It had to be.
The sun was already low in the sky and soon would set.
And when it did, the Sabbath would begin and all work would cease.
Even the heartbreaking work of burying the Messiah.

They were shocked that Pilate had agreed to give them the body.
After all, people who were crucified were never buried.
Instead, their bodies were thrown onto the garbage dump outside the city, a testament to their place in society as convicted criminals and a warning to all to avoid their fate.

But money talks.
Or perhaps it was the shame Pilate felt for crucifying a man he knew was innocent.
Or even the shock that someone as rich as Joseph and as powerful among the Jews as Nicodemus had asked for the body at all.

For whatever reason, Pilate agreed to hand the body over to these men, just as God planned.
The soldiers reversed the order of what they had previously done, lowering the execution stake to the ground, prying out the three nails and pushing his dead weight off the cross and onto the ground.

Nicodemus and Joseph worked as quickly as they could. They hastily wrapped him in long strips of cloth from the neck down, using a paste of oil and spices to bind the strips together, the cloth sticking to his battered flesh. And then they carried him to Joseph’s own tomb, carved out of the rock of the hillside.

When they got to the tomb, they reverently laid his body on the hard shelf of rock and covered his face with a square of linen. Then someone – or many someones — leveraged the stone into place, finishing before the sun went down.

And it was done.
The work of burying the Son of God.

But then Sunday came.
The woman arrived with more spices to redo the hasty job, wanting to honor their Lord.
And they found their work unnecessary.
Because the greater work had already been done.

They didn’t understand what their eyes were seeing until the angel explained it to them.
“He is not here! He is risen! Go and tell his disciples!”

And they ran with joyful hearts to share the news.
Except the disciples did not believe them.
Peter and John dashed to the tomb to see for themselves.

And there they found the grave clothes piled neatly on the stone slab, with the linen square that had covered his face neatly folded and off to the side.

No strips of cloth could hold the Messiah.
And unlike Lazarus, he had not needed human help to unwrap his body.

No door of stone could hold him in the grave.
And while he did not need it rolled away for his sake – after all, he could walk through walls with his newly resurrected body – it was pushed aside for our sake, for the sake of the world, to show that the tomb was empty.
—-
As I meditated on these facts, the accounts from Scripture about the resurrection, I was reminded of the many verses in the New Testament that say that I, as a Christ-follower, have been crucified with him.

But they also say that I have been raised with him as well.

In his letter to the church at Colossae, Paul puts it this way:
“Therefore if you have been raised with Christ [to a new life, sharing in His resurrection from the dead], keep seeking the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” (Colossians 3, AMP)

And it struck me anew.

I have been raised with Christ to a new life.
The old has gone, the new has come. (I Corinthians 5)
The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work in me. (Ephesians 1)
I have been given everything I need for life and godliness. (2 Peter 1)
There is no condemnation for me because I am in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8)

These are facts.
Things I know in my head to be Truth.

So why, oh why, do I tend to hang out in the empty tomb?
Why do you?

Instead of going all in with our new lives in Christ, we try to mix in the old life with the new.

We have been clothed with His righteousness.
But we act like we are still bound by strips of cloth.
We excuse our actions with phrases like, “I can’t help it, that’s just who I am” – when who we are is a completely new creation.
And instead of “taking every thought captive to Christ” we bind ourselves with grave clothes to old thought patterns, old lies that the enemy has long whispered in our ears.
Instead of digging into the Bible to find out His thoughts, we fill our heads with meme theology and musical phraseology – things that may or may not match His Word.

We have been made a glorious fragrance in the nostrils of God (2 Corinthians 2).
But we drape ourselves with stained and stinky grave clothes.
We mix what God has said in His Word with what we wish He had said and try to live in that middle ground. And our fragrance becomes muddled, the decay of the old mixed with hints of the new life, a nauseating, hypocritical stench.

We have been offered the adventure of a lifetime, following God into the great unknown, launching out into the deep with Him.
But we prefer to hang out in the empty tomb, afraid of what might happen if we dare to trust Him.
It feels safer there.
The cost might be too great.
He might ask us to take heartbreaking risks.
He might require us to actually live what we say we believe.
To rest on His promises.
To agree with Him that “in this world we will have trouble” but that He has “overcome the world.” (John 16)

The angel asked the women, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”
And I ask myself, “Kathy, why do you respond like the dead when you are really one of the living?”

Why do you doubt God’s promises?
Why do you fear?
Why do you question His love for you?
Why do you not access the power He has given?
Why do you choose to believe the lie that “He is not good and does not know what He is doing”?
Why do you so often try to take the controls from His hands?

The very place where you choose to hang out, the place where you wallow in the old and do not embrace the new, the place where you see the power but refuse to access it – this very place proves the answer to all of those questions.

Because the tomb is empty, it is proof that God keeps His promises.
Because the tomb is empty, it is proof that there is NOTHING to fear.
Because the tomb is empty, it is proof that God loves us more than we can ever comprehend.
Because the tomb is empty, we have the power to go all in for Him.
Because the tomb is empty, we can choose to believe what He says and reject the lies of the enemy.
Because the tomb is empty, we can trust Him to control every single part of life, no holds barred.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to hang out in the tomb.

I want the adventure of following God with my whole heart.
Without fear.
Leaving the old behind.
And constantly living in the new.
I want to walk out – and stay out – of the tomb of the old and into the vibrant life of the new.
Clothed in His righteousness.
Walking in His power.
Smelling of His goodness, grace and glory.

It’s a moment by moment decision, by the way.
A constant surrender.
Empowered by His indwelling Spirit.
A heartbeat to heartbeat choice. And the only way to really live!

A Tale of Two Kingdoms

MY kingdom come, my will be done:
I am defined by my statistics. I am a woman. A middle-aged woman. A white, middle-aged woman. A white, middle-aged, single woman. A white middle-aged, single, American woman.

These things are the core of who I am.

So, since I am a woman, I need to be beautiful as defined by my culture. Sexy. Alluring. Dressing provocatively. Constantly managing every part of my appearance.

Since I am a middle-aged woman, I need to keep all the signs of aging away. I must pull out all the stops to keep my body from showing the years it has lived.

Since I am a single woman, I must hunt for Mr. Right, manipulating my circumstances and the people around me so that I can achieve “happily ever after”.

Since I am an American woman, I must pick sides on all issues, preferably in line with those I love or those who look like me or those I socialize with regularly. I must scream and shout and stomp my feet to persuade others who don’t think as I do that they are wrong.

Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done:
My first and most vital definition of me is not who I am but Whose I am.
I am a follower of Jesus Christ, The Way, The Truth and The Life.
I am forgiven, set free, and empowered to live a holy life.
I am a beautiful creation of The Most High God, designed and crafted by Him for specific purposes and good works that He has prepared in advance.
I am not a citizen of this world but a temporary traveler, simply passing through.

All other labels I wear – woman, white, single, American – are not filters for my life.
They are facts – but they are miniscule, virtually unimportant facts when stacked next to my identity in Christ.

And when I center my life on Whose I am, everything changes.
I still want to be beautiful. But I want to be more consumed with my inner beauty than my outer.
I still want to be married (well, sometimes) but I am more consumed by doing the will of God than finding some definition of happiness.
I still am a white American – things I had no choice over. But while those things inform my experience, they do not define me, my actions or my responses.

MY kingdom come, my will be done:
I am defined by my successes and failures.
A college degree means I am smart.
But the lack of a Master’s Degree means I am not quite smart enough.

The number on the scale or the number in the waist band of my jeans is the greatest measure of my success as a human being.
Followed closely by the number on my paycheck.

How many people know my name defines my success as an author.
And getting people to know my name drives everything I do.

Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done:
I want to do my best, I want “success”.
But not for my sake.
I want to do my best so that I can shine for the King.
And “success” is not defined by me. But it is defined by Him.
Not based on my feelings but on His Word.
Not based on your opinion, perceptions or thoughts but on His standard.
And definitely not measured by any degree, certificate, number or title.
I already bear the title of Beloved Princess, Daughter of the King of Kings.
And that is where I find my greatest success – in surrendering to Him.

MY kingdom come, my will be done:
I am impatient and unkind – even if it is only in my head. I’ll put on the fake smile and the fake nice words because it is expected.

I envy what you have, knowing I deserve it more than you. So I boast in what I do have to show that I am better than you.

I don’t seek to honor you, because if I honor you, I have to take a back seat.

I don’t value you so I am overly sensitive, touchy and easily offended. If you don’t see the world my way you are obviously an idiot at best and most likely completely evil.

Therefore, I must keep score. I must remember everything you have done to wrong me and I must make sure it never happens again.

When I see you fall, when I see you sin, I am secretly glad. That means that I am better than you.

And if I share a tidbit about you here or there that doesn’t quite tell the whole tale but makes me look better than you, so be it.

I will always protect me.
I will always trust me.
I will always put my hope in me.
And I will throw away any relationship that doesn’t make me happy.

Because, obviously, I need to look after me.
If I don’t, who will?
I need to manage it all.
My looks, my reputation, even my personality.
Not to mention my money and my stuff.
If I step on you to get ahead, too bad. You should have gotten out of my way.

Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done:
“Love endures with patience and serenity,
love is kind and thoughtful,
and is not jealous or envious;
love does not brag and is not proud or arrogant.
It is not rude; it is not self-seeking, it is not provoked [nor overly sensitive and easily angered];
it does not take into account a wrong endured.
It does not rejoice at injustice, but rejoices with the truth [when right and truth prevail].
Love bears all things [regardless of what comes],
believes all things [looking for the best in each one],
hopes all things [remaining steadfast during difficult times],
endures all things [without weakening]. (I Corinthians 13)”

Whose kingdom shall I live for?
Which one works best?
Which one leads to the best outcomes?
My will?
Or His?
What about you?
Which Kingdom? The choice is yours.

On the Burning of Notre Dame…

Notre Dame Cathedral caught fire yesterday.
Some of it was salvaged.
Some of it was obliterated.

My news feed blew up as it happened.
People posting about when they had visited.
Or how they wished they had visited.
Its history.
Its beauty.
Its grandeur.

And I agree, it is very sad to see a landmark that has been around since the 1200’s destroyed. Or at least badly damaged.

But the thought that reverberates in my mind and heart is this:
It was going to burn one day, no matter what. It was simply a matter of timing.

The Bible is very clear that this world is NOT eternal.
God will destroy it Himself when the time is right.
John saw it happen in the final vision recorded in Scripture in Revelation 21:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away (vanished), and there is no longer any sea.”

ALL of it will be gone – to be replaced by the new heaven and new earth.
All of the structures, both man-made and God-made.
All the things we treasure – houses and cars and clothes and jewelry and jobs and hobbies.
All of it.

But there is one eternal thing: people.
And there are two eternal destinies: heaven or hell.
Heaven for those who have declared their need for God, their inability to save themselves from their sin.
And hell for all those who have made themselves or something else their god, putting their faith in anything other than Jesus’ redeeming work on the cross.

So, while I think it is sad that Notre Dame burned, I am far, far more concerned about these facts, these things that are happening TODAY:

In Guatemala, twenty-one sexual abuse cases are reported each day. (Unicef, quoted in the March CAG newsletter)
And 10,000 rapes reported there annually. (And those are the ones that are reported!) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Violence_against_women_in_Guatemala

In Nigeria, from February through mid-March of this year, 280 people in Christian communities were killed in attacks by Boko Haram. https://www.abcactionnews.com/news/world/hundreds-of-christians-killed-in-nigeria-attacks

And across the world, in the past year:

4,136: Christians killed for faith-related reasons
2,625: Christians detained without trial, arrested, sentenced and imprisoned
11: countries scoring in the “extreme” level for their persecution of Christians. Five years ago, North Korea was the only one.
(From Open Doors, opendoorsusa.com)

And right here in Charles County, Maryland, the place where I live, the stats say that there are over 32,000 people age 18 and under who do not know Jesus.

What is a girl (or guy) to do?
I am just one person in the middle of a tremendous need.
Just one.

But I am warrior.
Outfitted by the King of all Kings with armor that will not fail.
Eternal salvation as my helmet.
The breastplate of HIS righteousness guarding my heart.
Held together by HIS Truth around my waist.
My feet covered in preparation to take His message wherever He sends.
And the sword of His Word to battle the enemy of our souls and all his minions
But most of all, privileged to use the glue that holds it all together: prayer.
(Ephesians 6)

And so I fight.
I fight on my knees.
But I also fight with my wallet.
Giving first to my home church.
But then to those around the world who are being His hands and feet where I cannot go.

I fight on my knees.
But I also engage with others who don’t know Him, inviting them to find out more, showing them by my love how life was meant to be lived.
An invitation to church.
A cup of coffee shared.
A listening ear and a warm hug.
Loving them where they are – but speaking the Truth in love, helping them to the next step in their walk towards Him.

I fight on my knees.
I fight my own forgetfulness, striving to remember that only people are eternal.
I fight my selfishness, striving to put others’ interests ahead of my own agenda.
I fight my fear, striving to stand on the promises of God even when my eyes fail and my feet falter.

I am only one.
In a world filled with needs.
Filled with hurt.
Filled with horrors.

But I am not alone.
I stand on the side of the God Who Was and Is and Is To Come.
I fight for the cause of the Lamb of God, who was slain.
And I walk in the power of the fact that He did not stay dead but is the Risen, Living Lord.

What will you do this week, even though you are only one?
Will you invite that unsaved family member or friend to join you for Easter services?
Will you reach out in undeserved kindness to the unlovely person you know?
Will you forgive the unforgivable?
Will you fight on your knees, praying for those who don’t know Him?
Will you temper your words, guard your mouth and speak only the Truth in love?
Will you use your earthly goods for eternal causes, for the things that will not burn?

Because you and I are only one.
But imagine what would happen if each of us did whatever it is God is calling us to do for whoever He puts in our paths.
God used 11 men who fled in fear before the cross to transform the world after the resurrection.

How will He use you to do the same?

1 x Broken = A World Transformed

I bet more than one person out of 5,000 men plus women and kids packed a lunch that day.
Or at least grabbed something to nibble on later as they pursued Jesus.

No, they didn’t expect to have a gathering in the wilderness.
It happened quite spontaneously.
They spotted Jesus and his disciples and followed them to the middle of nowhere.

Poor Jesus was just trying to get some time alone with His Dad.
He had just gotten the news that Herod had killed his friend, cousin and coworker, John the Baptist.
But the crowd spotted his direction, word spread like wildfire and suddenly the gathering was greater than 5,000 people.
So Jesus did what He did best.
He laid aside His need and ministered to the people in front of Him.

And at the end of the day, the people were hungry.
So the disciples said, “Send them away so they can eat.”
But in the midst of that sea of humanity Jesus directed, “You feed them.”
And they found that their only available resource was one lunch.

I am guessing there was more food tucked away in bundles here or there.
A snack at least.
But we know that only one boy was willing to share one meal with one Savior.

One boy.
One lunch.
And one willing heart.

So little in the face of such a great need.
Thousands upon thousands of hungry bodies.
Attached to even hungrier souls.

And I love what Jesus did.
Even more, I love what He did NOT do.
Think about it.
Jesus could have handled the need for food in so many ways.
After all, He spoke the world into existence.
So He could have spoken table upon table of food into being.
He could have said the word and a plate of food could have shown up in each hand.
He could have thought a bundle of bread and fish into existence for each family there.

But that’s not how it went down.

He took the power of one.
One lunch.
And He broke it.
So that He could multiply it.

When I break things, they get smaller.
The whole stays the same but the pieces diminish in size.

But that is not what happens when Jesus does the breaking.
Instead of the whole decreasing, it exponentially increases.

In God’s economy, brokenness equals expansion.

And not just with five barley loaves and two fish.
But over and over again in Scripture the broken pieces – the broken people – become a multiplied return when they yield to the hands of God.

A stuttering murderer named Moses becomes the spokesperson for God before Pharaoh.
A coward in hiding named Gideon becomes the leader of the nation of Israel.
A widow from a despised nation, Ruth, becomes the great-grandma of King David – and the great, great, great (etc.) grandma of Jesus!

And that’s just a few from the Old Testament!

In the New, Saul the persecutor of the Church becomes Paul, the premiere ambassador of the gospel.
Peter, the hotheaded, uneducated fisherman becomes the esteemed leader of the Church.
And it is out of Stephen’s murder that the early Church rapidly spread, fleeing persecution and yet sharing God’s love as they fled.

That’s the power of one broken thing – one broken person – in the hands of a multiplying God.

As Paul wrote, God uses the foolish things to teach the so-called wise. (I Corinthians 1:27)
The weak to shame the strong.
He uses the broken things to let His light shine through the cracks.
He uses the jars of clay – us – to hold eternal glory and the amazing message of grace. (2 Corinthians 4)

I don’t know how many lunches were actually in the crowd the day that Jesus fed the 5,000+.
Maybe there really was only one.

But I do know this – it was the willingness of the young boy to share what he had with Jesus that made the difference.
His lunch wasn’t grand.
And he was just a kid.

But he had the critical piece, the thing that God can use the most.
He was willing.
Willing to be useful.
Willing to be used.
Willing to offer what he had so that it could be broken in the hands of the Master.

That boy had no idea what Jesus would do with his offering.
All he knew was that Jesus was worthy of the gift.

I don’t know about you, but I feel very, very small in light of the issues plaguing our world.
Pick an issue.
Pick a country.
It’s everywhere. In varying degrees.

Poverty.
Trafficking.
Persecution of believers.
Corrupt governments.
Substance abuse.
Injustice.
And 2,500 of the world’s 6,500 people groups with NO knowledge of the gospel at all.

So much need.
It’s so overwhelming.
Makes me want to run away and hide.
Be the two-year old with his hands over his face who thinks you can’t see him because he can’t see you.
Be the ostrich with its head in the sand.
Shutting down.
Shutting out.
And saying, “I’m just one person. One broken, flawed, sinful person with limited resources. There is nothing I can do.”

And without God in the equation, that would be a true statement.
But with God?
I offer Him me.
Solitary, very-much-one-of-billions, insufficient, sinful me.
I bring Him my lack.
My inability to meet the need.
I offer Him my brokenness.
My failures.
My selfish heart.
And my sinful nature.
I offer Him me.

And He does what He does.
As my determination to direct my own steps is broken, He multiplies my territory, bringing me to new adventures with Him.
As my heart is broken over this world, He multiplies my prayer life – and my willingness to do whatever it takes to be useful for Him.
As my selfishness is broken, He multiplies His love in my heart, giving me His eyes to see the needs and His strength to do whatever He is calling me to do.
As my will is broken and comes into conformity to His, He multiplies my impact on the world.

Five loaves and two fish, broken in the hands of the Master, satisfied the hunger of thousands that day.

One life, broken in the hands of the Master, can change the world this day.

And tomorrow.
And the day after that.
If we will give over what we have.
Allow Him to do the breaking.
And then watch as He multiplies the result.

Delighting In The Details…

I was tired yesterday. The past few days have been exhausting and the last thing I wanted to do was to go shopping. But groceries were needed and so off I went. I decided that while I was out I would also go to the local teacher supply store with the intent of just looking around. I needed to pick up some classroom décor and a few other items for my upcoming year of teaching in Guatemala but thought I would just check out the selection and get some prices for future reference. I was surprised to see a sign on the door that said they are going out of business in just a few weeks.

As I walked in, I was greeted by a lady who I later found out was the owner. She said, “Did you see our Facebook post this morning?” I said, “No, ma’am, I did not.” She replied, “When you get to the register, tell me you saw it.” I smiled and said, “OK.” I didn’t realize that by telling me to do that she was giving me 50% off of everything in the store. It was already marked down to 40% – but if you said you saw the post just for April Fool’s Day you got the additional 10% off. I walked out with an abundance of supplies – more than enough for my classroom and some to share – for pennies on the dollar.

As I chatted briefly with the owner, I explained to her what I was doing – transitioning for a year from church ministry to classroom ministry in Guatemala. And I found out she is a fellow Christ-follower. Her shop’s closing is a heart breaker for her – but she was delighted to know that the supplies she offered at the prices she gave were a huge blessing to me and will bless other teachers and kids in Guatemala as well. We both walked away from that encounter marveling at the goodness of God and His mysterious ways.

—-

It was stressful. Last week a very young friend of mine had to have emergency surgery, his second operation in just a few weeks’ time. As I walked into the OR recovery room, I was very surprised to see a familiar face sitting at the monitoring station near his bed. It was the exact same nurse who had taken such marvelous care of him three weeks ago. I don’t know how many beds there are in the recovery area but it is a huge children’s hospital, ranked 5th overall in the US. So there are a lot! As it turns out, she was not the nurse assigned to his bed but was doing lunch coverage for all the nurses. And so it just so happened that she was the one to greet me as I came in.

Same event, different story… My little friend was in the ER prior to surgery, miserable and dwarfed by his huge bed. His exhausted Mom was doing her best to comfort him while we all waited to find out what was going to happen next. As we were hanging out, the very young doctor came in to check on him. She looked at me and asked, “Are you his grandma?” Considering that I am only 7 years older than his Mom, it provided us with a good laugh – which was so needed!

“The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives.” Psalm 37:23 (NLT)

“Those who are wise will take all this to heart; they will see in our history the faithful love of the Lord.” Psalm 107:43 (NLT)

“Praise the Lord; praise God our savior! For each day he carries us in his arms.” Psalm 68:19

“For since the world began, no ear has heard and no eye has seen a God like you, who works for those who wait for him!” Isaiah 64:4 (NLT)

Every detail of my life.
Of your life, too, if you are a follower of Jesus.
He sees.
He knows.
And He is at work.

Yes, you are one of billions.
And yet, He is big enough to know you intimately.
And small enough to meet your greatest need.

He knows how to direct your steps.
When you need a deep discount.
When you need a familiar face.
When you need a good laugh.
He knows.

And He is always at work.
Even when you cannot see Him.
Even when you do not feel Him.
Even when the enemy is filling your head with lies.
And your heart is questioning His goodness.

Even then, He is at work in your situation.
Cheering you on.
Eagerly anticipating how you will choose obedience.
Choose trust.
Choose to place your hope in Him.

He is a gentleman, though.
If you choose to power through on your own strength, He will let you.
If you choose to not obey, He will allow it.
If you choose to not access all of the amazing promises He has given, He will not force you.

But you will reap the consequences.
You will miss out on the blessing.
He will still love you.
But you will have trouble seeing it.
He will still be at work.
But you won’t acknowledge it.
And He will still offer peace beyond understanding and joy in every circumstance.
But you won’t feel it.

But even then, He will patiently wait.
Renewing His mercies every morning.
Holding open His arms, willing to carry you through.
Waiting for you to turn your face toward His.

He longs to be your everything.
Will you let Him?
The choice is yours alone.