“Resurrection…Really?”

He is not here, He is risen. 

This message comes from Sunday morning – where we find an empty tomb. The most crucial moment in history is about a resurrection. The empty tomb reveals that everything Jesus said was true.

It is one thing to say what you will do, it is another thing entirely to have it happen. It is one thing to predict the future, it is another thing to have it unfold exactly as you said. This is especially the case when it involves resurrection – coming back from the dead.

Jesus spoke about many things in a relatively short period of time. Amoung them, He provided insight into the heart and nature of God. He upended the religious system followed by Israel. He did so by espousing God’s deepest desire – to walk in relationship with people. What God wants was more than a system of beliefs to follow was to walk in relationship with each person.

Jesus offered a new path.

Then He was arrested, tried and put to death. The message He delivered would die with Him – or so it seemed. Except – the resurrection occurred.

Even though He said He would come back to life those closest to Him were skeptical. They witnessed Jesus dying a cruel and gruesome death on the cross. They saw Him taken down and placed in a tomb. Hope – hope in Him and His words – faded.

But then, on the first day of the week – Sunday morning – some women go to the grave to anoint His body. Typically they would have done it sooner, but nothing was typical. They never expected Jesus to die. So by the time they prepared the spices and ointments to anoint His body, as was their custom, the Passover had arrived and they had to wait.

As early as they could on Sunday morning they went to the tomb only to find it empty. Two men appeared and asked them “why they were looking for the living amoung the dead?” Previously Jesus said it was going to happen. Could it be?

They react as you would expect. In Luke 24 we read their response.

So they rushed back from the tomb to tell his eleven disciples—and everyone else—what had happened. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and several other women who told the apostles what had happened.

This reaction is understandable. These women had their lives impacted by Jesus through both His words and love. He offered them respect and value – so much more than was typical of their time and culture. They arrived at the tomb to perform one final act of devotion. And then this. With hope fading, if not lost entirely, it was now being renewed.

They were ecstatic. However, something happened. They were not believed. The next line reads…

11 But the story sounded like nonsense to the men, so they didn’t believe it.

It was considered nonsense. Resurrection – hardly. These women must be overcome with grief, delirious, emotionally stricken, anything but sane. It would be best to ignore them. They have no credibility. Their opinion did not matter as much. Do not believe these women.

In hindsight we can see the foolishness of the rest of the followers of Jesus. Yet, I wonder.

I wonder how often we dismiss those we see having no or little credibility – at least from our perspective. They are unbelievable because they do not measure up to what we perceive as a credible voice. They are too:

  • Liberal
  • Conservative
  • White, Black, Indigenous, Hispanic, Asian, Mid Eastern
  • Rich
  • Poor
  • too…

Whatever else we use to distinguish people from us. What do we use to define and dismiss someone else’s voice?

In this case we find it was women speaking nonsense.

These other followers had witnessed the facts as they understood them. They too had seen the unthinkable happen – Jesus put to death. They saw with His death the death of all He had promised and taught. To think anything different was… nonsense.

Thus, the nonsense of their message caused these women to be dismissed. How could you take them seriously?

Only…

They were right.

It makes me wonder if in our rush to judgement we dismiss voices we do not think are credible. We dismiss them because we see them as ill informed, not worth listening to, sheer nonsense.

I am not suggesting that we follow or believe everything we hear. In an age where “facts” or “truth” is hard to define, we would be foolish to do so. However, I am suggesting we be slower in our rush to judgement.

What sounded like nonsense was the describing the most significant event in history – “He is not here, He is risen.”

I wonder…

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“Why the Change?”

It seemed impossible.

One moment things are heading in a certain direction and then before you know it they go so sideways. It would be believable, even expected if an event occurred to create the shift. If there were – an event, new information, some revealed new truth, anything – which caused the shift in behavior.

None of these were present.

In fact, the opposite was true.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem to shouts of “Hosanna, Hosanna. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” it appeared as if nothing was going to affect the celebration of His arrival into the city. He was after all entering as the Messiah, the King, the One who would rescue Israel. The city erupted. They were ready to receive who they hoped was their Messiah.

In the days following, these cheers shifted. Instead of shouts of praise there were shouts of “Crucify Him, Crucify Him”. Why the change?

What caused this crowds to shift their perspective of Jesus to the point where they were calling for His death? We know they did, but why?

During the next few days, Jesus did things to reinforce His role as Messiah. He challenged the religious leaders. He pushed against the influence of Rome. He did the very things the people hoped the Messiah would do. And He did them in very visible ways.

The last time He was in the city there were threats to His life. If He ever came back He would die – at least that was the warning. But here He was. He came, not remaining in a dark corner or in hiding, He was out in the open for all to see. He went to the Temple. There was no doubt Jesus was in Jerusalem.

Those living there embraced what they witnessed. Jesus’ actions built up their hope that things were different. He reinforced in their minds that He was the Messiah. He acted as they hoped the Messiah would.

If you read through the accounts of the week – between Palm Sunday and Easter – you discover some common themes. Jesus first action was to go into the Temple and deal with what had become a burden.

During certain feast days, including the Passover, people would come to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices. They would come to the Temple area and purchase animals to be sacrificed rather than bring them along on their journey. In coming to the Temple they were told they needed Temple currency to conduct their commerce.

So, they exchanged their money – paying a premium to do so – and then buy what they needed to continue in their worship.

It is these money changers, who were taking advantage of the people, that Jesus reacted to. Their hinderance to those seeking to worship, their over-running the place where gentiles were to come to be able to learn and seek God was too much for Him to bear. He acted.

The crowds were pleased.

He interacted with the religious leaders who devised traps to catch Him -catch Him in either breaking a law or defying Roman authority. Instead He cunningly walked through their traps. The people marveled at the authority He demonstrated over those who thought they new what God required and desired.

His actions continued to raise their hope.

But, by weeks end something turned. What happened?

It was not one thing. What appears to have shifted was their expectations for their Messiah. They were misguided. They expected someone who would rescue them from Roman rule and not someone who would rescue them from their sin. They expected someone to establish a kingdom through battle against enemies not someone who would provide freedom for their souls.

Their expectations and what they needed were different.

They expected more from Jesus. More than what He seemingly fulfilled. He missed doing what they expected from Him. They were disappointed. Their disappointment impacted their understanding.

It led them to choose to release Barabbas, a known revolutionary, instead of Jesus. A replacement instead of the real thing.

I wonder.

I wonder if I choose replacements as well? Do I make a second choice because I get disappointed simply by not understanding what I need most? Do I substitute the real thing for something less?

The expectations the people had for their Messiah were different than what He came to do. When they were not met, it changed the hearts of those in Jerusalem in the first century. Does it change my heart in the 21st? Do I settle because I do not understand what God desires to do in my life?

I wonder…

“I Would Never…”

How would you finish this sentence?

Would you finish it with an action, a statement, or a thought?

I would never do… I would never say… I would never think….

Likely each of us can think of something to include where the dots are. In doing so, we imagine something outside of our nature. We believe we would never act on or go to a specific place beyond our intentions. The space is filled with something so outside of our nature we would never act on or go there. It just would not happen – NEVER.

I recently read about someone who made a similar declaration.

What was proposed was so outside of how this person saw their own character and strength. It confronted them with going down a road that seemed impossible to go down. But something happened.

They, like most of us, saw themselves in a different light than where they actually were. When certain circumstances arose, instead of acting as they thought they would, they did what was unthinkable. They acted in a way they never expected.

It was devastating. But, at the same time was revealing and lifechanging.

For the first time, they saw the degree of their own weakness. They understood how much pride was present in them. They recognized the courage they thought they had was missing.

What was most startling was that from the moment the sentiment of “I would never…” to when the unimaginable became a reality was extremely short. They had committed to never acting in the way they suddenly were acting in. The moment they realized what occurred, they were devastated.

It made me think about how, if this was possible for this person, what about me? If they could be so wrong about how they would react to their circumstance, could I too be wrong about my reaction. If they could miss read their weakness, or courage, or loyalty, could I as well.

You may know who I am talking about.

In these weeks leading up to Easter there are many story lines surrounding Jesus’ road to the cross. One of them involves Him telling His closest followers what was about to occur.

Jesus revealed to them how He would be betrayed, be deserted, be put to death and rise again to life. They heard all the words but it was only the first few that captured their attention.

They were leery of coming to Jerusalem. The last time they had been there Jesus faced the wrath of the religious leaders. He escaped that time, but another trip to the city may not end the same way. Facing death was a real possibility. However, betrayal – desertion – these were not possible.

Peter said as much.

As one of Jesus’ closest followers, Peter could never see himself acting in that way. He was more loyal and courageous than to abandon Jesus. That is until he was faced with circumstances that pushed him.

In Matthew’s account of Jesus life we read these words,

31 On the way, Jesus told them, “Tonight all of you will desert me. For the Scriptures say,

‘God will strike[e the Shepherd,
    and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’

32 But after I have been raised from the dead, I will go ahead of you to Galilee and meet you there.”

33 Peter declared, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you.”

34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, Peter—this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.”

35 “No!” Peter insisted. “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!” And all the other disciples vowed the same.

These last words are haunting. Peter was never, ever going to go there. What Jesus revealed was just not possible. He would never desert Him. He would never abandon Him. He would even die – if need be – rather than go there.

Now in fairness to Peter, the other followers of Jesus agreed with Peter’s assessment. But Peter was the first to speak up. He was adamant. This was a “never” moment.

But by morning, what Jesus revealed was going to occur Peter did. He denied three times even knowing Him. He crumbled under the pressure and where he thought he was he was not.

It reveals to me how full of pride we can be. We anticipate we will be stronger, greater than we really are. Instead of seeing our weakness and frailty we like to see our strengths.

Yet, like Peter, what we think of as “never” occurring may in fact be where we go. I believe Peter had every intention of withstanding whatever he would face until he gave in.

We do too.

Only we can learn from Peter that we continually need the grace, mercy and strength of Jesus to help us. We cannot in our own strength overcome or face what is before us. We cannot do that by ourselves. We need Him.

“I would never…” It is not as certain as we think. So rather than that statement we would be better off to say, “I can only….with Jesus help”

Man in the Middle

It is an instant reminder.

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” or so it is said. And we know how one well crafted picture can launch an incredible story. We see the story occurring in our minds, whether we ever see it put on paper or not.

Pictures move us. A picture can cause action. It can lead to change. It can bring about transformation.

News outlets hope for those kind of pictures. Images which bring about stories, which alter life. Ones causing action to occur.

In this season of Lent, we are given many images to ponder. Each having deeper meaning than we often see at first glance. This one is no different.

It is a common image. Three crosses on a hill. The symbol of death. The symbol of what happened to revolutionaries against Roman rule. Its intention was to deter any “would be” challengers from trying to overthrow the state. If caught – a slow, painful, certain death.

Yet, they still tried.

It is why there were three men on crosses that day. Two known revolutionaries, and one… one who needed defining. This one is purposely, if not intentionally, placed in the middle with a sign indicating His crime. “King of the Jews”.

In Luke’s account of Jesus life we discover in the midst of their dying, these three men engage in a conversation. It centered around hoping this man in the middle, this Son of Man, would alter their course – even as they face death.

The humanity of Jesus is pointed out throughout Luke’s account of His life. The term “Son of Man” is used often to describe Jesus and how He identifies with all people. Even in death, He identifies with us. He is with us, identifying with us.

One of the men asks for what most of us want in tough circumstances – “get me out of this”. Help me escape. Take away the pain. Rescue me from my mess.

In Luke 23 we read his plea.

3One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!”

It is who we are. We want to escape. It does not matter why we are where we are – just rescue us. Just get us out of our predicament. We can relate.

Likely many of us have prayed that prayer. We have asked for that kind of help. Intervention to change our circumstances. This man is much more like us than we might want to admit.

The other man with Jesus recognized their contribution to where they were. He also realized he did not deserve being rescued. He was being punished for his actions. Rescuing was not on his mind – mercy was.

We read,

4But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? 41 We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

While not as common in the midst of our trial, we honestly can identify with this man. We are guilty. We may wish to be innocent, but we understand we are not. We deserve nothing more than punishment.

All of humanity was revealed that day on three crosses.

Jesus was in the midst of them all. In the midst of our – seeking rescue, needing mercy, guilty – deserving punishment, and so on.

We can relate to both of these men on either side of Jesus. It is why Jesus is in the middle of them. He is in the middle of humanity regardless of where we find ourselves. He is in the middle ready to offer to us what we do not deserve.

He is ready to offer mercy.

Mercy is never deserved. It is never earned or merited in any way. It is only mercy when there is no other way it could be gained. It is what this man in the middle provided.

Jesus said to the man seeking mercy,

43 And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Mercy sought, mercy received.

Why?

Because more than anything that is the heart of God toward people. God understands we do not deserving anything but punishment. If we were to receive what our circumstances warranted, we would be on a cross. None of us are innocent. We are all guilty. But, Jesus came into our midst, identifying with us so we can find mercy. So you can find mercy.

Have you found His mercy?

When you see three crosses it is an invitation for us to find mercy from the One on the middle cross.

It is not hard to find. We just need to ask for it. It is after all on His heart to give to us. It is the heart of this “Man in the Middle – Jesus”.

Remember…

It was a special meal.

The menu consisted of a lamb or goat along with bitter salad greens and bread made without yeast.

It was consumed with a sense of urgency. Those eating it were fully dressed, wore sandals, and carried a walking stick. The night they ate this meal would be like no other. It was a night they would never forget.

It was a night to remember.

For generation after generation this meal was annually eaten as a reminder. A reminder of the events, which took place on the night the meal was first eaten.

There was reason to remember. After all, it was the night when their world changed. They went from captivity to freedom. This all occurred on the night they would eat the Passover meal.

In Exodus 12 we read what happened. God stepped into the life of the nation of Israel and released them from their captors – the Egyptians. Their time in Egypt was about to come to an end after generations of being held in bondage.

They arrived in Egypt, centuries before, as an opportunity to escape famine and death. What started out as finding life, turned into a struggle to maintain life. The kindness shown to Joseph no longer mattered. They were slaves.

But, after crying out to God to rescue them, their deliverance was about to come. Moses had arrived and the release seemed imminent. God had responded to their pleas for help.

It did not seem that way at first. They thought their deliverance would have already taken place. But, the hard heart of Pharaoh kept Israel from its release. Plague after plague, caused him to soften and then as soon as the plague disappeared he changed his mind. One final plague was administered and freedom was upon them.

This last plague seemed drastic. But it would finally break through the hard heart of Egypt’s ruler. Deliverance was at hand.

As the lamb or goat were prepared for the meal the blood of the animal was spread upon the doorpost of their home. This sign was for the angel of death. A sign that death would not come to this home. The presence of blood meant the death angel would “Passover” the home. Without the blood present death would come.

For century after century the descendants of Israel would meet to remember. They would remember the night “Passover” occurred and their future as a nation was forever altered.

This reminder was more than recalling an ancient event. It reminded them of God being faithful to them. It reminded them of hope in the midst of trouble. It reminded them that no matter how dark things got, God was not far away.

It continued to remind them of these things the night Jesus sat down with His closest followers to eat the meal of remembrance, to eat the Passover. Only this time, there was about to be greater meaning to the meal.

How could that be? Greater than supernatural intervention? Greater than hope when all hope was lost? Yes. Greater.

When Jesus sat down for this meal He paused to alter what had become the prescribed menu and act of remembering. He paused to add a new twist to “Passover”.

He revealed a new sacrifice would be offered. It would do more than rescue them from a plague of death, it would rescue them from an eternal plague – sin. Instead of a lamb or goat being offered – He was about to be the lamb. His life, His blood would be shed for them.

It would not be applied to doorposts, it would be applied to their hearts. The result of it would be even more freeing. They could now be forgiven. They could be forgiven because the blood of the Saviour of the world would be applied to their lives. This meant their sin could be removed and they would be free. Forever free.

Jesus brought about another reminder. A reminder of another act of sacrifice. His sacrifice. An sacrifice for all who call on Him – Jesus. Where we need not face death but life – new, abundant, full life.

“Second Chances…”

Give me a second chance.

Each of us wishes for the opportunity to take back what happened and start again.

We long to…

  • Use different words than the ones we used.
  • Act in a manner differently than we did.
  • Think different thoughts

We would love to go back in time and redo what is done.

Only…

Second chances do not automatically happen. Words do not come out differently after they are said, simply because we want them to. Our actions have consequences, regardless of whether we receive forgiveness or not.

Second chances do not come unless someone is willing to give us another opportunity to go back to the beginning or start again. Someone else has to leave our past behind.

Without a second chance we have few options. We can commit to do better in the future and press on – forgetting what is behind us. We can try and make amends. We can live with regret.

Likely we do all three. In some areas of our lives we press on. In some we try and restore or repair the damage in our relationships. And we have some areas where we are mired in regret.

In the midst of this Lent season, there is one second chance I always think of. Of the many historical events, this is one I wish I had the opportunity to be at in person.

It took place at a funeral – which seems a little ironic these days.

The family and friends were gathering to share their grief with each other. Word was sent to Jesus early enough that death should not have occurred. He was summoned to come and help. Yet, He did not arrive until after the fact – intentionally as it turns out.

Once He arrived the sisters of the deceased were glad He was there, yet they could not help but wish He had arrived sooner. His tardiness meant their brother was already in the tomb as opposed to being alive and well with them.

His interaction with them pointed out there is still hope.

They are not very convinced. Seeking to find a new normal was the focus of these sisters. Trying to think of “what if or if only…” did not help with their grief. What was done was done.

Jesus makes His way to the tomb and sees the incredible heartache around Him and so He acts. We read about the events in John 11.

33 When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled. 34 “Where have you put him?” he asked them.

They told him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Then Jesus wept.

He was moved to tears seeing the sorrow around Him. There was also anger over the pain they were experiencing. Those witnessing it realized the situation should be different.

36 The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much he loved him!” 37 But some said, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”

38 Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance. 39 “Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them.

But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.”

40 Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” 41 So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.”

Jesus was not slow in responding to the news about Lazarus. He was about to give him a second chance. One everyone present would see.

43 Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!”

It is an amazing miracle. The incredible power of God on display. Jesus overcoming death. Lazarus finding new life. Lazarus given an opportunity to start again, to have a second chance at life.

We do not know much about the rest of his life. We do not know what his death experience showed him. We are never told. But I cannot help but wonder how this moment in time altered the rest of his life.

I cannot help think how it would alter me.

Jesus came to bring each of us new life – life that is different than what it was before. In doing so, He provides each of us with a second chance – a chance to have new beginning, where our past, with its mistakes and all, no longer has to define us.

Like Lazarus, Jesus seeks to find us so we can find new life. He goes looking for us. He calls out to us to “Come forth” to come out and discover the life He brings.

Will you hear His voice as He calls you? Welcome to your second chance.

“Unexpected”

“I never thought it would happen!”

Does that describe your yesterday? How about today?

It would not surprise me if it did.

When you woke up this morning did you expect things to unfold the way they did by days end? Or were you caught off guard? Was what occurred unexpected?

Lately, more of my days are like that.

Living an expected life, where things are very planned and orderly, has not been my experience. Routine is not something I look for or enjoy. I have had jobs where I did the same things day after day. It required routine. It was not an environment I thrived in.

I enjoy variety and the unexpected. I enjoy it when each day is unique and filled with unexpected events. Where there is an air of unpredictability. Where you begin each day not sure how it will unfold and the unexpected is the norm. It is an environment where I can thrive. Or at least it was….

There is something about unanticipated events. They have a way of making you look forward to the day ahead. New challenges, new opportunities, new adventures. Never knowing what to expect or what is next.

The unexpected can occur through many different means. It can be the presence of someone you work with or have not seen for a long time. Their lives can intersect with yours and create the unexpected. It can be the result of some issue, arising from an email or phone call. It can happen at any moment.

In that moment not only has your day changed, but you feel energized and encouraged. Your spirit is lifted and there is a smile on your face. You have been surprised – in a good way.

But unexpected events can also be devastating.

Instead of excitement, at the new opportunities presented, you can be reeling over what you did not expect.

I have started working part time where the unexpected is the norm. Each day is unique and different. The course of the day can be completely turned around because of one phone call. It seems ideal.

But, I am finding the unexpected is not as exciting in this environment. The unexpected has double meaning. For me, it means my work that day will take a different direction. What I was intending to do can quickly and suddenly change.

For those who instigated the unexpected in my day, they have experienced an unexpected as well. However, the impact on them is much different.

I have begun working part time for a funeral home.

I have worked with families who face grief many times. I have walked through the sorrow with them when they faced an unexpected moment. Their unexpected, also altered my week. But, when it did my focus was on meeting and helping them find comfort and peace in the midst of their sorrow. My interaction was to bring God into the midst of their “unexpected” and bring His presence to them.

My interaction as the “pastor” involved direct contact to help those remaining walk through their “unexpected” moment.

My role, at this point, is less direct contact with the family and more contact with the deceased.

It takes some getting used to.

I recognize this not for everyone. It requires a certain mindset. It involves respect for the person who has passed and support for those who are preparing to lay to rest their loved one.

While it has only been a few weeks, I have noticed one big difference. In these unexpected moments, there is less opportunities to bring hope. There is less occasions for me to speak hope into their lives and bring words of comfort and peace.

That might change.

But for the time being, I find the unexpected, while changing my day and activities, means people are confronted with sorrow. Each day is another day for another family to be faced with grief.

We know every day is like that. Death is all around us as part of living in this broken, fallen world. But these days I see it with great regularity.

I see it with little opportunity to bring comfort and hope.

That is unexpected.

“Giving Up Something”

“What are you giving up?”

It is a common question as we begin the season of Lent.

For 40 days prior to Easter, excluding Sundays, this is a time of preparation. A time to focus our thoughts on the most significant event in history – the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

During these days of Lent the priority is to engage in self-examination and reflection. The aim is to strengthen our faith through disciplining ourselves. This is done through engaging in spiritual exercises – Bible reading, or prayer, or, it is done through stopping certain behaviours, thus…the question.

The ceasing of certain actions centers around giving up habits, or things you enjoy for a period of time. So whether it is TV, smoking, chocolate, or something more creative, you stop these actions for 40 days. Doing so is intended to demonstrate your devotion to God. You make God aware of how serious you about your faith. You show God your desire to follow Him by “giving up” things to prove your devotion. It is also for us to reset our focus.

The number “40” is significant because of two historical events. One is the “40 years” the nation of Israel spent wandering in the wilderness after leaving Egypt. Their disobedience caused them to spend a long time in the wilderness.

The other is right after Jesus was baptized and was preparing to begin His public ministry. For “40 days” He fasted in the wilderness. During that time He faced temptations.

In the first case the nation of Israel emerged from the wilderness and entered the promised land. Jesus emerged from the wilderness after 40 days having successfully overcome the temptations He faced. He immediately began to impact the lives of people.

It is compelling imagery. From wilderness to fullness.

Leaving the wilderness – a place where nothing or very little was present – and entering a place of more is compelling. From wilderness to blessing.

Every year, as we enter this season of Lent, I am struck by how we try and reset.

This season is a time to refocus. It is a time to reflect upon what Jesus accomplished for us. But I wonder if our reflection and efforts ingrain within us the attitude that the previous 12 months are irrelevant? When we approach Lent and “turn on” our spiritual desires for this brief moment I am left to wonder. Does our preparation for Easter, our annual wilderness experience, negatively impact us? Does it cause us to hope this 40 day annual journey will simply erase any undisciplined patterns we have engaged in during the rest of the year?

What I have witnessed causes me to raise the question.

It makes me wonder whether we have misunderstood the point of Easter in the first place.

The whole purpose of Jesus coming into the world and going to the cross, was because we could never, ever do what was necessary to remove our sin from us. No degree of penance, sacrifice, good behaviour, could ever remove this weight from us.

God knew that – and so Jesus came.

He came to take away what we could not. And no matter what we give up could ever repay what He has done. With that said we do need a reset. We need moments where we can set aside our past and move forward. We need a time, like Lent, to refocus on what matters.

God knows we need this time. Which is why He has provided for us some clarity about how we can reset.

In Lamentations 3 we read these words,

23 Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. (NLT)

What God reveals to us is that each day we are able to reset. His mercies are new every morning. We cannot go back and change what happened yesterday. But each day we begin with His mercy. We can reset each day.

This is amazing news for us. We can be forgiven and have a new start each day. We do not need to wait for a specific time of year to obtain that new beginning. We can have it every morning.

As we walk through Lent this year, I encourage you to make it a practice to recognize the mercy you have been shown. The mercy you have been offered each day.

This mercy comes to us because of Jesus. Because of what He did at Easter.

“Time Out”

When you see this title what comes to mind?

To a large degree it may depend on your stage in life and experiences. If you a parent with younger children your first thought could be about a form of discipline to correct behaviour. Giving your children a “time out”.

If you are heavily involved in sports your first thought is about taking a “pause”, like you would in a game, to catch your breath and prepare for the next push toward success.

If you are constantly on the go and feel things are going 100 miles an hour all the time, your thoughts might focus on taking a moment to step back from the busyness of life. Where you take a break from the hectic.

Some see a “time out” as an escape. “Stop the world I want to get off…” I have heard people express their longing for a “time out” because they want a way to escape the pressures of life. I understand why.

I get how pressure can build to the point where you desire to get away from it as quickly as possible. I understand how escaping seems like the best alternative to facing what is often overwhelming.

Thinking about a “Time Out” can mean different things for each of us.

When I think of a “Time Out” I think of a “pause.” A time to stop, catch my breath, regroup, refocus, refresh my thinking, all with the intention of being able to start again. I never think of a “time out” as an escape.

For me, I think of a “time out” as more of a “pause” before another chapter begins. It is not an escape from this world, but a moment to wait, regroup, before the next stage of life unfolds. It can even be a moment to step back and be refreshed so you can continue.

As I see it, each of us needs a “time out”. We all have moments where we need to take a moment to catch our breath and refocus.

However, taking a “time out” could be seen as a weakness. If we are unable to cope with the present circumstances and need to step away for a “moment” we could appear weak. Our inability to cope must mean we are not strong enough to face what we are facing. Having to regroup means we are weak.

At least it can be seen that way.

Only someone much stronger than anyone I know needed “time out’s” frequently. In a short period of time, about 3 years, there were a number of occasions when a “time out” was needed.

It was required during many different circumstances: when there was increased activity, more intense pressure, or when faced with new challenges. You can even read about the many times when “time out’s” were taken.

Jesus often “went off on His own”. He took a “time out” to refresh, regroup, refocus, and commune with God the Father so He could face what was coming next. He understood how important it was to pause.

Let me give you a couple. In Luke 4:42 we read this,

42 Early the next morning Jesus went out to an isolated place. The crowds searched everywhere for him, and when they finally found him, they begged him not to leave them.
(NLT)

And then in Mark 1:35 we read,

35 Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray. (NLT)

These actions by Jesus makes me wonder. If Jesus needed a “time out” I likely need more “time out’s” in my life. I likely need to be more intentional about taking time to refocus, regroup, and be refreshed so new life can come to me.

How about you? Do you need a “time out”?

Family

How do you define family? Is family the people you live with and are related to, or do you have a different definition?

Most of the time “family” is the term we use to describe those who are our relatives. The people we have very little say about being connected with. As it has been said “You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family”. Someone else said, “You don’t choose your family, they are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.” These are the people who we are connected to whether we want to be or not.

With that said, there are all kinds of families.

It does not take much to recognize not all families are the same. I have spent a great deal of my life working with families. No two families are alike. There are many different family dynamics. Each family has unique components to it. These unique traits may be the result of the people themselves and their own personalities. Or the uniqueness may be in how they interact with each other.

Nevertheless, I find there are certain qualities which families, at least most if not all, would desire to characterize their own family. They would like to describe their family this way:

  • Family is the place where you can be yourself. There is no need to pretend, impress or try to be something you are not. Any pretenses can be set aside, because family accepts you as you are.
  • Family is the place where honesty abounds. It is the place where you can be open and forthright with everyone. You can say what you think. You can do this because…
  • Family is the place where love and support is felt. It may be spoken, which helps, but family is where you genuinely feel love and supported. This does not mean if you mess up, you are given a pass. Rather, you are pushed to make things right, pushed because of love. The other members of your family love you. They have your back – they stand with you and support you in good and difficult times.

This week I think about family a lot. In part, because of family birthdays. We celebrated my wife’s birthday on Monday and my brother is having his on Thursday.

For my wife’s birthday we had family home to celebrate. Not everyone, but we did have some family come we did not expect to see. Being together is always a good thing.

When family gets together will there be traits or actions we get irked by or annoyed with? Sure.

In any family there are things members do which get on each other’s nerves or bug us. But, if the above qualities are present we look past those things. We are family and it is always good to be with family no matter what.

As I write this I understand not every family has these qualities. Being annoyed is not a fitting way to describe the tension existing in some families. But trying to create a “family place,” where these qualities are present, is still desired. This may mean we look beyond the people we are related to and find “family” elsewhere.

God knows how vital “family” is.

He placed us in families because He intended them to be the place where all of these qualities exist. However, He also knows how we as people can destroy family.

Therefore, He provides us with the opportunity to find family. Followers of Jesus are described as being part of the family of God.

The image works on so many levels.

We are called as His followers to be real and honest. We are called to love and support one another. In theory it means as followers of Jesus we demonstrate a “family” atmosphere. However, in practice I am not always so sure “family” is what we are.

Being real and honest is not always possible when we find we are, we instantly are pounced on because we do not measure up as “perfect people”. Feeling love and support takes more than words of support – it requires actions demonstrating value, and respect.

I have witnessed the family of God being “family” and I have witnessed it being anything but. What made the difference?

It came down to whether these qualities of family were intentionally focused on or not. If they were, there was a greater likelihood for family to exist. If there was not a focus on them, it was more a room of strangers than a family.

Which makes me wonder today – “How is your family?” Is it family or something else?