Beyond Fear: The Shove of Resurrection

For some people the Resurrection stories are some of the hardest in all of the Bible to believe. After all, it’s never been easy to make sense of Resurrection. But in some ways they are among the easiest to believe, because it doesn’t take too much imagination to identify with what we read there – people overwhelmed by fear, paralyzed by worry and struggling to find a clear idea of what it all means.

It doesn’t matter which Gospel you read, because this is what we encounter in almost every story that involves Jesus appearing after Easter morning. It is probably most vivid, however, in Mary’s encounter with Jesus at the tomb.

We don’t find her laughing or celebrating, but instead John tells us that she was weeping. She didn’t know what to believe. She didn’t know what had happened. She assumed the worst – that someone had stolen his body – maybe the one thing that could make a terrible week even worse. The event that gives us hope and faith had reduced her to fear and anguish.

And yet, that’s not how she left the tomb. Because Jesus was there and he helped her make sense of it all. He showed her that there was more to this story – and hers. Because she had a role to play – go and tell your friends what you have seen and what you have heard.

At the tomb on Easter morning Mary experienced a journey from fear to mission – from where have you taken him to I have seen the Lord.

Mary isn’t the only one to experience the Resurrection in this way. In Luke 24 we read how a walking Bible Study with Jesus helped two men get to a place where they too could say we have seen the Lord. It was on a beach that Peter had the conversation and received the forgiveness he desperately needed.

Three times Jesus asked Peter if he loved him, once for each time Peter had betrayed him, of course. This is the moment Peter received the forgiveness he needed and this is the moment Peter discovered the purpose and mission Jesus has for his life.

Because in a post-Resurrection world, forgiveness always leads to discovering your purpose and receiving your mission.

That’s why this story matters so much.  We know, with Mary at the tomb, what it is like to be assaulted by grief. We know, with the men on the road to Emmaus, what it is like to walk away in despair. We know, with Peter on the beach, what it is to desperately need forgiveness.

And so we rejoice after Easter that the worries that threaten to stop us in our tracks don’t. We celebrate in the light of Sunday the possibilities for new life that come when we begin to understand how God’s story is still unfolding in us, even now. We experience joy in Resurrection when we realize the purpose and mission for our lives that comes from receiving and experiencing God’s forgiveness and grace.

The Resurrection matters because we have become convinced that there is a power within us that is strong enough to break the bonds of fear. We live by the grace that is stronger than judgement and rest in the forgiveness that frees us from anything that would prevent us from living in the light of God’s love. We cling with everything we have to the promise of Romans 8 that because of all that has happened we trust that there is absolutely nothing with the power to separate us from God’s love.

Resurrection matters when it becomes the reality that lingers every day of our lives as we live into the new mission we have been given. God’s victory over death invites us to tell when and where we have seen the Lord. The light that shines out of the empty tomb calls us to bear witness to God’s love in a world that desperately needs a glimpse of it any way it can get it. We experience the joy of new life by getting to participate in the new thing God is doing in redeeming and restoring the world.

A journey that begins in fear ends in becoming partners with God to change the world.

That’s why Easter matters.

 

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When Harvard Discovered the Sabbath

I was struck by a headline that came across my Twitter feed on Monday.

According to the Harvard Business Review, the key to being happy and not becoming a grump at work is to have a life outside of it.

The article was written by Ran Zilca, the Chief Data Science Officer at Happify. That there is a website called Happify is certainly a topic for someone to explore.

The idea that the key to happiness comes from realizing that there is more to life than work isn’t a new one. The work that God has given us, as significant as it is, doesn’t define our life.

Instead, as Luke Timothy Johnson taught us in Introduction to the New Testament, the Bible’s view on work-life balance isn’t that nuanced – regardless of your job your primary vocation is to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Period.

According to Zilca, overworked and overwhelmed workers who haven’t been able to experience a life outside of the one their employers create for them showed much lower levels of gratitude than others.

In sum, being chained to your desk isn’t the best way to become a grateful person.

Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote about this all the way back in 1951: “This is our constant problem – how to live with people and remain free, how to live with things and remain independent.”

The research reminds us that Sabbath is as important today as it has ever been – no matter where or how we work.

In Exodus 20 God gives us the command to the Sabbath: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work…For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.”

The Sabbath isn’t just about taking a break from work. No, we are commanded to take a break because that is what God did, in resting on the seventh day of creation. After all, if God can take a break who are we to say that we can’t?

But it is more than that. In obeying God’s command to observe the Sabbath we realize that despite what we tell ourselves the world will go on just fine without us. By taking a 24-hour break from the constant cycle to produce, we create the space for our souls and our bodies to become renewed. In ignoring the foreman’s whistle we are reminded that what we have isn’t of our own making but instead is the gift of the God who loves us more than we can imagine.

Sabbath helps us discover the way God’s love expresses itself in providing for us. We remember all the ways we have been taken care of and we allow God to teach us and show us again the particulars of grace and mercy.

In short, Sabbath teaches us how to become grateful for all we have been given. We experience gratitude by remembering all we have received from God. We become thankful by recalling all the ways God made a way for us. We experience renewal by recounting all the undeserved gifts that have been dropped into our laps.

This is what Heschel reminds us in the definitive book on Sabbath, appropriately titled, The Sabbath: “The world was brought into being in the six days of creation, yet its survival depends upon the holiness of the seventh day.”

The same could be said for us. Our ability to experience real life depends on our ability to turn our business off. The first step to experiencing contentment is realizing joy doesn’t come from our paychecks. We were created for more than work and life is about so much more than promotions earned or tasked completed.

Whether you trust new data or old wisdom, the lesson seems to be the same. Put your phone away, leave your calendar in your desk and rest and revel in real life.

 

 

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The Church of the White-Walled Doctor’s Office

I hate this place.

They do their best to make it nice. They know you are nervous when you come here. They know you are doing everything you can to hold yourself together. They know your family hangs in the balance while you wait to hear your name called.

So they smile. They put you in nice, comfortable chairs – as nice as you can have in a doctor’s office. They invite you to look at the pictures, big black and white pictures – of moms and dads, grandparents and grandchildren. Smiling. Enjoying. Living.

This could be you – that’s what they want you to think. The pictures are supposed to put you at ease, to make you feel better about being here. They are here to help you believe.

But the pictures and the faces also confront you. They are of other people. They are of other families. These are not pictures of you.

The nurse calls our names and we look at each other, hearts racing, blood pressure skyrocketing. She walks back and I sit, waiting for another person in white to walk out and call her name.

Why is it always white? Everything here is black and white. It’s all celebration or despair, nothing in between. Everybody comes here to walk the tightrope of joy and tragedy, heartbreak and relief, praying against death and desperately hoping for new life.

We hear her name and look at each other again. Can’t avoid it any longer. We walk into the room – we’ve been here before. A familiar room and a familiar face.

She doesn’t remember us. We’ll never forget her.  She was the one who delivered the news that broke our hearts. Her words brought the grief that wouldn’t go away.

No heartbeat. 

This might not happen for you they told us. You might need to consider other options. And we have.

We’re as surprised as anybody to be back here for this, back in this room waiting, back here sitting and staring at a screen, back here trying to make sense of it, back here waiting for a verdict that will change everything, one way or the other.

She talks to us, asks us the usual questions, and then she gets a big smile on her face. We can’t go there yet.

We don’t smile when we come here.

“Your baby has a good, strong heartbeat.”

Our shoulders drop. We finally smile. We hug and we laugh and we cry, different tears than we’ve ever cried before.

“There’s your tax break, Ogle”, my wife says almost immediately with a wry, Chicago smile.

“Will this be your first?” the nurse asks us. Yes, we smile.

We tell her our story, about how this room is the last place we expected to be, about how we were learning about “other options”, about how pretty much is a really important metaphor when placed before impossible.

For nothing is impossible with God.

It turns out this office is full of preachers.

“I’ve worked here a long time and I’ll tell you that sometimes God knows more than the doctors. When God wants you to have a baby you are going to have a baby!”

I can’t help but think about our friends – women who would be great mothers and are still waiting. Has God decided something different for them? I hold it down, there are some days for theodicy and some days for celebration.

They take us into another room and we sit for about three minutes before another staff member – one who gave us our options and cared for us so well the last time we were here – comes bounding in with a huge smile on her face. “I’m so happy. I’ve got to call your doctor – she will be so excited.”

We tell her our story and she can’t help it either. “Sometimes God knows things that the tests don’t – you all are going to be great parents.”

For nothing is impossible with God. 

We look at each other again, eyes bright with hope and relief. We know there will be more trips here and more things to worry about. Every trip to this place, a friend will tell me later, is a chance for them to tell you what might be wrong with your baby. But not today.

Today we hope and dream for the life that is just starting to grow. Today we laugh about changing diapers and early morning feedings.  Today we know we’ll be spending a whole lot less time and money at Barnes & Noble and a whole lot more at Buy Buy Baby.

And we remember. As scary as this place is, God is here. Of course God is always here, has always been here. God is here with us today and didn’t leave the last time we were here.

God weeps with the ugly cry weepers and rejoices with the new parents celebrating life and dreaming dreams.

A few months later we sit in our living room. It’s a wreck now, nothing compared to the chaos it will become in a few weeks. Our house is littered with stuff, contraptions and must-haves only an entrepreneur could dream up. We’ve painted a room purple and jammed more pink into it than we ever imagined possible.

We smile and we wait, full of nerves and anxiety, wondering what we haven’t done yet and certain of all the ways we aren’t up to this.

We look at each other again and we remember – that even here, in this mess, we aren’t alone. God is here too. And that is enough.

That’s what we learned at The Church of the White-Walled Doctor’s Office and from the preachers in scrubs.

God is up to something and new life is on the way.

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Ways Off the Path: The Spiritual Discipline of Becoming Less of a Jerk

(Note: This is the second in my Lent series, Ways Off the Path, on some of the ways we can fall of the path and get separated with God.  You can find a link to last week’s post at the bottom of the page.)

Once, in an online employee profile a co-worker shared that she believed one of my primary spiritual gifts is sarcasm.  I’m fairly certain it wasn’t a compliment.

In my defense, I come by it honestly.  I spent a good part of my 20’s being trained as a newspaper reporter, where cynicism and sarcasm aren’t personality types but job requirements.

So, it isn’t much of a surprise that some of my colleagues have been known to ask how I chose House M.D., as  a spiritual mentor or that I’ve long been drawn to the characters of the Coen Brothers and shows like The Wire.  For years my mom has suggested I spend less time on these stories and more time on lighter fare like The Hallmark Channel – but I’m proud to say that up to this point I’ve been able to hold her off.

Everybody has their own ways of pursuing spiritual growth, but one of the ways I am choosing to try to follow closer to Jesus these days is what I call, in a phrase you can only learn in Divinity School, becoming less of a jerk.

photo-1444828589547-4ee6f3cb625a

Well, that’s not exactly true. But during this holy season of Lent – this time in which we are encouraged to take an honest and searing look at our lives and the habits that keep us away from God – I am working to become less critical of myself and of other people.

One of the byproducts of being trained as an analyst and to be skeptical is that you become an expert in identifying the ways that people fall short of the glory of God and the inherent failures of groups and systems.

There is a place for clear-minded and honest analysis, because we can only grow more faithful if we are willing to tell the truth about ourselves and our communities and organizations.  But when these efforts command so much of our time and attention, the costs can be too high.

We pay the price that comes from perfectionism when we fail to meet the impossible standards we set for ourselves.  It doesn’t matter that no one can meet them – that’s beside the point we tell ourselves.  And the standards not only lead to self-doubt and self-criticism but also being unable to live the life God wants for us. Instead of honestly trying to be obedient to God’s call on our lives, we find ourselves stuck and unable to move because we become paralyzed by the fear of not being able to live without failure.

Another steep price we pay is that we miss out and fail to appreciate the incredible gifts of the people around us.  When all we can see is the ways it can be better, we become blinded to the ways that God has been and still is at work in and through our community.

The truth is the more devoted we become to critical analysis the harder it is to appreciate the good things in our lives.

And when we miss the good things in our lives, we miss the blessing and the presence of God – in our friends, in our families, and in the countless people who reveal God’s love to us each and every day.

I was reminded of this last week when my wife and I were discussing a chapter in the book we are reading together for Lent.  As we were reflecting on the chapter, she reminded both of us that we are so much better off focusing on the blessings God has given us than stressing out on the things we don’t have. (Writer’s Note: I clearly married up.)

So, during these forty holy days of Lent I am trying to build a habit that will stick – to spend less time in analysis and snark and more time in celebration and appreciation.  We all can be good at a lot of things, but I am hoping to become better at learning how to see and celebrate the way God is at work in my life, in my family’s life, and in the life of the church and the people and the community we love.

It generally takes about six weeks for habits to take hold – so I have high hopes for this season of life.  I don’t know what you are up for Lent – probably something much holier than trying to become less cynical and critical- but whatever it is I hope and pray that you experience God’s grace and power to see the change you long for.

Ways Off the Path

Week 1: Paying Attention to the Wrong Things

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Ways Off the Path: The Spiritual Discipline of Becoming Less of a Jerk

(Note: This is the second in my Lent series, Ways Off the Path, on some of the ways we can fall of the path and get separated with God.  You can find a link to last week’s post at the bottom of the page.)

Once, in an online employee profile a co-worker shared that she believed one of my primary spiritual gifts is sarcasm.  I’m fairly certain it wasn’t a compliment.

In my defense, I come by it honestly.  I spent a good part of my 20’s being trained as a newspaper reporter, where cynicism and sarcasm aren’t personality types but job requirements.

So, it isn’t much of a surprise that some of my colleagues have been known to ask how I chose House M.D., as  a spiritual mentor or that I’ve long been drawn to the characters of the Coen Brothers and shows like The Wire.  For years my mom has suggested I spend less time on these stories and more time on lighter fare like The Hallmark Channel – but I’m proud to say that up to this point I’ve been able to hold her off.

Everybody has their own ways of pursuing spiritual growth, but one of the ways I am choosing to try to follow closer to Jesus these days is what I call, in a phrase you can only learn in Divinity School, becoming less of a jerk.

photo-1444828589547-4ee6f3cb625a

Well, that’s not exactly true. But during this holy season of Lent – this time in which we are encouraged to take an honest and searing look at our lives and the habits that keep us away from God – I am working to become less critical of myself and of other people.

One of the byproducts of being trained as an analyst and to be skeptical is that you become an expert in identifying the ways that people fall short of the glory of God and the inherent failures of groups and systems.

There is a place for clear-minded and honest analysis, because we can only grow more faithful if we are willing to tell the truth about ourselves and our communities and organizations.  But when these efforts command so much of our time and attention, the costs can be too high.

We pay the price that comes from perfectionism when we fail to meet the impossible standards we set for ourselves.  It doesn’t matter that no one can meet them – that’s beside the point we tell ourselves.  And the standards not only lead to self-doubt and self-criticism but also being unable to live the life God wants for us. Instead of honestly trying to be obedient to God’s call on our lives, we find ourselves stuck and unable to move because we become paralyzed by the fear of not being able to live without failure.

Another steep price we pay is that we miss out and fail to appreciate the incredible gifts of the people around us.  When all we can see is the ways it can be better, we become blinded to the ways that God has been and still is at work in and through our community.

The truth is the more devoted we become to critical analysis the harder it is to appreciate the good things in our lives.

And when we miss the good things in our lives, we miss the blessing and the presence of God – in our friends, in our families, and in the countless people who reveal God’s love to us each and every day.

I was reminded of this last week when my wife and I were discussing a chapter in the book we are reading together for Lent.  As we were reflecting on the chapter, she reminded both of us that we are so much better off focusing on the blessings God has given us than stressing out on the things we don’t have. (Writer’s Note: I clearly married up.)

So, during these forty holy days of Lent I am trying to build a habit that will stick – to spend less time in analysis and snark and more time in celebration and appreciation.  We all can be good at a lot of things, but I am hoping to become better at learning how to see and celebrate the way God is at work in my life, in my family’s life, and in the life of the church and the people and the community we love.

It generally takes about six weeks for habits to take hold – so I have high hopes for this season of life.  I don’t know what you are up for Lent – probably something much holier than trying to become less cynical and critical- but whatever it is I hope and pray that you experience God’s grace and power to see the change you long for.

Ways Off the Path

Week 1: Paying Attention to the Wrong Things

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