He is Risen Indeed: Setting Women Free

The gospels all have slightly different versions of that glorious Resurrection morning when death was conquered once and for all. But one thing remains – the stone was rolled away from the tomb and we were set free, free, free. Women especially can rejoice in the breath of Life poured out on resurrection morning. 

tomb

Freedom

Without the cross there wouldn’t be a Resurrection and without the Resurrection there wouldn’t be a Christianity.  Without Christianity, Jesus would be just another man who lived and died, and the tomb would be something that sealed the grave of a nice but crazy man from Galilee who didn’t really deserve death. History would not have been irrevocably altered. Paul would not have spread the gospel which reached to the furthest corners of western civilizations.

Mom’s wouldn’t be teaching their little ones about the Risen Lord while they walk down dusty dirt roads, or reading the “Easter story” snuggling together on the couch before bed. Dad’s wouldn’t be complimenting their gussied up pretty girls on their way to Easter morning service, or straightening the tie of their little daddy look-a-likes.

tomb 3

Expectation

 

Easter represents a new life birthed from the freedom to love God and be loved by Him. The tombs that kept us captive in the “never-enoughs” and “too little’s” of our driven culture fall away as we live in expectation of the newness of life that God does in us, through us, and for us. 

The gentle winds of spring tickle with new life, stirring hearts that have grown cold from a long winter of where’s, and why’s, and how long’s. The stone is rolled away from the dead and barren of the I wants into the Living Spirit of  Your’e Enough. 

We witness lambs frolicking in joy and think about our Suffering Lamb, slain and Risen to breathe joy into our steps. 

The rolling away of the stone is an important element of the Resurrection story. The rolling away of the stone reveals that there is nothing of human flesh in the Resurrection story . It is the power of God from the cross to the grave, to eternity. The power of the Resurrection gives us life, but the rolling away of the stone exemplifies God’s setting us free to live that Kingdom life. 

In Christ’s Resurrected Freedom we witness –

Lent Love 1

Deliverance

God didn’t raise Him up and then say, “OK Son, I have gotten you this far. Now you are going to have to do some hard work to get free of the burden. Oops, sorry, my bad.” 

God removed the stone so that His resurrected Son, the God-Man, could walk freely into His new position of authority.

Winter often lasts for many years, sometimes a lifetime for the never-enoughs. They simply can’t move the stone leaving their deliverance ever so close, but behind impenetrable rock.

They can see it, touch it, feel the nuances of every groove with their fingertips, even smell the spring breeze flowing between the cracks, tempting them with thoughts of what if, but the stone barring the exit from the tomb is just too heavy to push completely out of the way. 

The stone rolled against Jesus tomb most likely weighed one to two tons. The stone was usually set at an incline that sloped down from the sides to the center,making it easier to close, but nearly impossible to open.  It was positioned on the outside of the opening to the tomb with no way to roll it away from the inside. It was too  heavy for a couple of women to roll away.

“When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.  And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.  And they were saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?’ And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed” (Mark 16:1-5). 

Take a good look at that picture, close your eyes and think about it. It is a dark place, cold, without sunshine. Thoughts begin to swirl with word like,  hopeless… weak… trapped… suffocating… impossible… never… abandoned…  I would freak out locked in there! 

A never-enough cannot roll away stones. 

Oh, dear sweet never-enoughs, we don’t have to. You don’t need to freak out over the darkness or difficulties. It doesn’t matter if you are without strength, feeling trapped, or left alone. There is a God who rolled away the stone. We not only get to walk from the tomb delivered, but we get to skip out in the loving embrace of Joy. Like lambs in springtime we have been set free. 

Freedom. Expectation. Deliverance.

“But I am just a woman…” 

So were they.

And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. (Mark 16:6-7). 

The very first who were given the task of telling the Good News were women. The very first Evangelists were women!  No stone placed in front of us is too big for God to move when He sends us into His service.

Into Holy Love.

” Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone… He is not here, for he has risen… Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead… So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples… Then Jesus said to them, Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me” (Matthew 28, selected portions).

When Christ rose from the dead setting us free from the tombs of our minds and hearts he also us free to go.  We were commissioned by the Risen Lord into His purposes from the first moments. Now, pay attention that at that time, in that historic period, women were completely oppressed. The words of women were not respected so that even Jesus disciples who learned at His feet alongside women doubted the truth of their story. In Jesus speaking to them says something important – He said women were equally as important in spreading the gospel message.

Why do you think Jesus told women first? He could have waited. He set a precedent of freedom from gender oppression first at the tomb! He is Risen daughters, you are free!

Minds are free. Hearts are free. Lives are free. 

Bear with me as you read all the gospel accounts. We aren’t called just once into spreading the Good News to both men and women, but in all four gospel accounts. 

“He is not here, but has risen… Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24). 

“Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’Jesus said to her, “Mary.’ She turned and said to him in Aramaic,“Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”   (John 20: 15-18).

Freedom. Expectation. Deliverance. 

Power. 

Fear not. God has moved the stone. 

 

 

 

 

Beyond the Stained Glass Window (Power, Politics, and Pontification)

My courses at Fuller have been a tremendous blessing to me. As someone who enjoys education, self-discovery, and (hopefully) personal growth, I enjoy being challenged to become more of a reflection of the God I love. Interdenominational discussion boards not only confirm my eclectic background and international experience, but cause me to ponder “community,” specifically the American church in its cultural context.

cross-stained-glass

My grief over the “word of faith,” “seed of faith,” “prosperity gospel” or in our case “faith message,” was rooted in the pain of losing a child. My ongoing grievances stem from teachings that have a total lack of understanding the complete sufficiency of Christ, and what it means to worship God from a place of internal transformation as opposed to external “blessings.”  To love God simply because he is.

Prosperity “doctrine” stems from a culture that has embraced credit cards, self-gain, and an egocentric view of the gospel. “Invest in the Kingdom of God and God will open the windows of heaven and pour out blessings.” “Sow the see and reap the benefits.” Even when the motive is a “better life” it is not witnessing to the gospel of the Kingdom “among us” as Jesus modeled, nor the power of the Holy Spirit – the very presence of God living in us. Jesus had an extreme concern for caring for the poor and only mentioned the coveting of financial gain as evil. The prosperity Jesus promoted was the will of the Father lived out in his comforting, constant, and transforming presence. 

I am also wondering if there is a link between the “give me now” Christianity and the “give me now” political climate I am seeing unfold in the church. I am disturbed by a lack of compassion, respect, and “what would Jesus do” in regards to many political issues and leaders. People seem to be tossing aside morality, acts of justice, mercy, respect, and well, common Christlike sense for what appears to be a “what are my needs” “what will serve me best.”  Candidates spend more time bashing each other than discussing topics of importance- some more than others. Some with an arrogance that surpasses any semblance of humility or decent human kindness.

Jesus went about “doing good.” He resisted the cultural norms, customs, and laws of His day despite the persecution it brought him. When God delivered Israel from Egypt the first thing He did was to teach them to recognize idols, covetousness, and the bondage Egypt had placed upon them, by instructing them to resist those things. The law of the heart is a love of  God and a love for others. He was trying to get them to accept His all encompassing sufficiency, and though they wandered in the dessert, they wandered in the constant presence of God.

I’d rather you take my money, just don’t take my God. I’d rather you take my freedom, just don’t take my God. I’d rather you take my life, just don’t take my good…

Should be the cry of every confessing Christian alive.

Throw me to lions but you can’t have my God. 

And, we should be humble enough to know that if we are faced with lions, we may chicken out like Peter did…

By grace we stand. 

 Americans tend to look down on the poor, those who live simply, are content with little, and small churches with bi-vocational pastors, but uphold the rich as the epitome of success. Case in point – look at our leading Republican nominee hopeful and the demographics of those who support him. The poor and marginalized are worried. The middle class are worried. 

 (I know there will be those who argue we’re “Kings Kids” or espouse that making more money means we have more to give away, but we don’t wealthy preachers living among the poor, or keeping less than they give away. They do not model to those who look up to them that we are to resist the culture of now, but instead model excessive lifestyles of unnecessary wealth, instilling in those who follow them they should covet material wealth as well.  As a King’s Kid, I  want to resemble the King in His love for humanity and care for what he did.)

But I digress- 

It has been an encouragement to be on course forums with individuals congregating in one place, where I can witness many deeper thinkers, philosophers, contemplatives and movers and shakers who understand that social justice and mercy are conjoined at the hip, and like Job, we learn empathy and caring the most from our places of pain and lack, in our small churches, and in involvement in all aspects of community, both here and abroad. 

They challenge me further to think beyond my cultural barriers and “folk religion.”

Sadly, much of America emphasis external obedience and external desires, as the Good News,  as opposed to internal transformation, dying to self, and  contemplative spirituality  within much of American evangelicalism. (I get it – that used to be me. I thought dying to self was self-abasing legalism and never getting it right.) The voices of great leaders like Dallas Willard who mirrored the inner presence of God are needed now more than ever.

Mature Discipleship is not about what we can get from God, but what we bring to God in partnering  in his creative and redemptive process. It begins in Christology and ends in Christology with a lot of praxis sandwiched in between.

Instead of resisting the culture of now, we demand that God conform to our golden image of “gimme, gimme, gimme, I need, I need” (A line from the movie What About Bob?  A favorite of ours.)

 It begins in Christ, evolves in Christ, lives in Christ, plays out in Christ -all in obedience to the Father and enabled by the Holy Spirit; a trinitarian community of One who eternally models for us a “new creature” world view. 

We simply have forgotten what God means when he says “Be still and know that I am God.” Movies on demand, pain medications, debit machines, credit, fast food, cell phones, ipods, instant access to almost everything, have created a society with endless chatter running through our minds. Sexist reality TV shows like the Bachelor have people idealizing shallow relationships driven by self motivation instead of a reverence for humanity and concern for the other.

How often do we sit in absolute stillness and just be? 

How often do those who are vocalizing maintaining our own personal freedom, finances, and safety stop to think about the enslaved, poor, persecuted, and fleeing, and cry out to God to do what is best for them?

Enter in the God of creation who created beauty our of nothing – order out of chaos and and on the 7th day said,

“Trust me.  Then go and love me and your neighbor above and beyond every things else. That is what I require. Nothing you do or give me means a thing unless you:

Seek justice, love mercy, walk humbly. (Micah 6:8)

That is what you must esteem to be like Me.”

May we all aspire to be like Jesus, and look to model his ways in ourselves, our community, and our country.

As we face the culture of now in lifestyle, politics, and religion, may we resist it – in exchange for a culture of eternity. 

True freedom lies in Christ alone. 

Pain, Politics, and Necessary Silence

I have met so many people through my spiritual formation coaching, travels, and seminary who have the most painful tales of spiritual abuse and wounding by “the church.” Sexual abuse from weekly church attending relatives who after preaching fire and brimstone went home and violated the little ones they should have protected. The only witnesses were the terrified or those who chose to pretend it wasn’t happening. Others who were told by bible toting family members that God’s judgement or curses would fall upon them when they unknowingly dabbled in an “occult” practice such as Astrology, Ouija, or Tarot.

 

Then there are those who are picking up the broken pieces that are left from the hyper-faith or positive confession movements when they don’t understand why the things they claimed and proclaimed never happened. They were told it was a matter of “faith.”  Statements such as “I don’t know why it didn’t work for you, it has always worked for me,” leave them bleeding and broken instead of held up during a time of need.

When miscarriages, cancers, or catastrophic accidents followed, they were left alone to question if they done something wrong to “deserve” it. It was impossible to see a God of hope through the darkness of judgment.

NoNeedtoFear

“No Need to Fear” by Kathy Self  (www.colorbrush.com) 

 

As if our loving God would beat and break someone for doing something without any awareness of the implications. It would be like a parent doling out the harshest punishment to our children for doing something we had never instructed them about. Never even mentioned or imagined.

As if our God is holding up a faith stick to see and whoever performs the highest, prays the most, claims the loudest, or speaks the most positively wins the prize.

And sometimes, they find their way to me through my spiritual formation, coaching, or travels. And I hurt with them as my own wounds now healed enough to effectively minister to others are also open enough to feel their pain. I don’t ever want my wounds to fully close.

There are seasons I allow myself to withdraw inward to my safe place with Jesus and forget how utterly painful the world can be.  Closed up in my room with my bible and Jesus, I let him speak to the inner recesses of my heart. A planned escape into a silent retreat where God beckons from the chaos and confusion.  I decided this morning it was time for that season, and my silent retreat is just days away.

It feels good forgetting. Even just for a moment. God lives in moments of time suspended by eternal threads of hope. 

It was something that I was never able to do before as  traumatic images and words followed me into the spaces that I tried to forge out of sheer will.

Sheer will produces nothing. The peace that comes from God, also must come through God – through the Holy Spirit, our comforter. I can speak up a holy tornado of tongues, multiplying into a diverse and neat sounding cacophony of angelic noise, but silence was something that wasn’t modeled in all my years of charismata.

Inner silence is necessary to the presence of God in the day by day pain of living out a history that isn’t always happy. His small still voice which can’t be found in the quaking of “demanding” prayer. 

I found silence in the contemplative traditions and those who model it.  I can’t help but feel its absence in many of the busy, noisy, feel good churches of today. I can’t help but wonder if the contemplative tradition was taught more in the churches would we see more healing, and in response to healthy disciples, more love, more peace, and less self-defense.

Healing takes place in the silent and sacred spaces. The places where God can speak to our hearts without shouting. Sometimes it happens as He uses a human vessel to help facilitate the confession of pain. When trusted images bearers listen to the story of Lament in a persons life they bring the presence of God into the sacred space. That’s what journeying together as a community is all about.

I facilitate a meeting between God and his person. A meeting that is filled with transforming and healing love. Once you have been touched by the restorative and healing power of our magnificent God you know you will never be the same. You don’t want to be – it’s like being born again- again. And again. And again. With each step further into being, another piece of stony heart is tendered into flesh.

I am thankful I had facilitators in the silence with me. I still do – especially when unknowing and unthinking others trigger the pain of the past and trauma rears up and tries to re-wound what God has healed. 

For every kind word I have heard uttered in the name of Jesus I have heard as many unkind. The church is angry and getting angrier by the minute. Differences in doctrines, opinions, lifestyle, produce anger in a “I am wiser than you” kind of attitude. Everything from women’s roles to speaking in tongues,  evolution to worship styles, and yes, political candidates – have become an opportunity for me to tell you how I think you should act or feel. I will insist that you vote- but really I am insisting you vote for my candidate. What other one can there possibly be? My doctrine is the correct one, my opinions the right ones.

All the while they are proclaiming the direction the country should take through the political process, world economics, immigration issues, constitutional laws, healthcare, and the myriad of other intensely complex issues that are required to make an educated guess at the best options –  they are hiding behind words of the gospel message as the foundation for the absolute wisdom of God’s “truth.”

Many are willing to divide, judge and fight –  ensconced behind a wall of self-interpreted scriptural principals. In the last few weeks I have had two Christians from polar opposite sides of the political spectrum angrily tell me that the “bible clearly states…”. I must admit that the conservative side of the spectrum appears much angrier as they fight for more self-maintained freedoms over otherness. 

Then there are the beautiful places. The sacred places in church community where bleeding is met with as much care as if it were Christ’s – caught in a cup of tenderness, not covered over by a band-aid of cliches.

Where opinions are heard and hearts are held. 

Dallas Willard said, “Kingdom rightness respects the soul need of human beings to make their judgments and decisions solely from what they have concluded is best. It is vital, a biological need. We do not thrive, nor does our character develop well, when this need is not respected, and this thwarts the purpose of God in our creation” (Divine Conspiracy, 1997, 175)

For many of us, our convictions go deep. I spent most of my Christian life leaning towards passive non-resistance.. It is murky for me, and deep. I have five members of the military in my family including sons and daughters, and a son who is in law enforcement. I couldn’t be prouder or sleep better knowing what they do – and the God they do it for. They understand my conscience and I understand theirs. It goes beyond “agree to disagree” to a mutual respect and knowledge of each others deep love for God, and making “judgments and decisions solely from what [we] have concluded is best.”

I can’t find that “out there” right now in the world of social media, news, and unlimited community. It is time for the introvert to retreat into the secret place of the most high with the the lamenters I am compelled to serve, and just be for a while.

Maybe when I get back, people will be listening to each other…

soaring towards the light, soaring towards hope.

 

The above painting by Kathy Self so perfectly captures my life. Transformed out of the cocoon of darkness into the magnificence of a butterfly, soaring towards the light; moving out of the darkness of a cult and hyper-faith, as God so faithfully drew me “further up, and further in.” Check out Kathy’s web site for other beautiful and reflective pieces of art. 
(I apologize for typos – I really need a proof reader)