When Easter Becomes an Afterthought

Has Easter crept up on you this year? Maybe it’s the fact that after several years of having Easter in April, it’s surprising us in March this year. It could be that, at least here in Canada, it’s still feeling pretty wintery for spring. The Easter bunny is still hibernating here.

Whatever the reason, Easter is almost upon us and I’m just now beginning to think about it. If I’m not careful, I’ll get wrapped up in the events of the week and Good Friday will be here and my heart won’t be ready. The holiday weekend will pass by and Easter will be only an afterthought. A blip on the calendar. This is not how I want it to go but quite often, it is.

I’ll try to squeeze some Easter things into an already crowded calendar. More of a check list that “I Did Easter 2018.” Maybe along with some photos to post. It still leaves me feeling empty.

Every year I’m left feeling this way and it’s occurred to me more than once that I don’t think that’s how it should be.

Are we just too busy? I think that’s part of it. Do we take the time to contemplate the week leading up to the cross? No I don’t. I’m left trying to get through the week, only to find myself sitting in church on Good Friday, trying to get my mind to stop.

I could say I am too busy but is that the truth?  I heard author and pastor, Carey Nieuwhof say something to the effect, that we say we are too busy but what we are really saying is we didn’t make the time.   I didn’t make the time to step back 2000 years ago and walk that journey of the disciples, the many Marys, including Jesus’ mother and witness the horrific crucifixion.

I didn’t make the time for Jesus, prioritizing so many other things ahead of Him. The consequences of that choice is I’m left with Easter as an afterthought.

Obviously I need to change my priorities. How about you?

 

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I need to make time for Jesus first, not cleaning the house, writing or baking. I need to be more a Mary this week than a Martha. I need to chose the good thing, the better thing. I need to sit at His feet. Travel back 2000 years and read the scriptures with new eyes. Instead of whispering to myself that I know all that already. Maybe starting today, I need to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to do a new work in my heart. To show me new truths and insights into the Easter story. To remember it’s not just a story but a grace fulfilled, a love that stood in for all of us. A priceless gift that none of us ever deserved it but we are loved. That.Much.

What about you?

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. Rev 3:20 NIV

Maybe this Easter, He’s standing at the door knocking. He already has our hearts, but now He’s asking for our time. Our attention. For every part of our being.

It’s not too late for Easter to be anything but an afterthought.

Some Thoughts on Mary Magdalene

It’s been over two thousand years and still the rumours fly. There are so many falsehoods out there about Mary Magdalene that it’s hard to know what’s the truth unless you take the time to learn about her. Read the scriptures and a few commentaries. I’ve been doing some research on her over the last couple of months. She is a complex character who has been made to be larger than life. I think if she was alive today, she’s be surprised and embarrassed. She had a servant’s heart and the fact that people practically worship her instead of Jesus, would grieve her. So let’s clear up a few of those rumours.

Here are a few things Mary Magdalene was not:

Romantically involved with Jesus or any of the disciples. It’s a lie no matter how true Hollywood would like to make it. There is no scriptural evidence of this.at.all.

A prostitute. Again no scriptural evidence. She was not the woman who poured expensive oil over Jesus’ feet or the woman about to be stoned.

A figurehead for women’s movement. Many women like to hold up Mary Magdalene as an example of women’s liberation. As good as any man, maybe better. In all honesty, I’ve probably done it myself. It’s just the way we like to twist the truth to suit our own agendas. I believe she was a strong woman. An integral part of God’s plan. But it was to suit God’s will and purpose not anyone else’s.

Here are a few things Mary Magdalene was:

A woman who was possessed by seven demons. Demonic possession meant that Mary Magdalene was a social pariah. She wasn’t allowed to be with people. She was unclean. Jesus cast those demons out and healed her. Luke 8:1-3

She became a follower of Jesus and lived out a life of gratitude by serving Him and his disciples. She probably helped out monetarily as well. Luke 8:1-3

She witnessed the crucifixion. Unlike some of the disciples, she watched her Saviour die. She was incredibly brave. Mark 15:40-41

She was the first to see and talk with Jesus upon His resurrection. Mark 16:9

She was the one who was given the joyful mission of telling the disciples that Jesus was alive. Mark 16:10

These are incredible and wonderful things but what stands out for me is Mary Magdalene was included in the story of the Resurrection. She didn’t have to be. Why didn’t God let John or Peter be the first to see Jesus? To tell of His victory over death? Instead God choose to use Mary, an uneducated woman who had once been possessed by demons. Was it because she was superior in any way? No. If you’ve read any of the bible at all, you realize that God isn’t into superiority when it comes to people. Nor is He concerned with promoting anyone’s agenda. God doesn’t tell us why He chose Mary but here are a couple of my own thoughts.

God says it himself. He’s concerned with our hearts not our outward appearances. (I Samuel 16:7) I think Mary Magdalene had a pure heart. A grateful heart. She lived her life out serving the one who had rescued her. She recognized the extreme gift of grace she had been given and never forgot it. She lived out her love for her Master by serving Him and those who served alongside him. She wasn’t in it for her glory. She just wanted to be near Jesus. To help out as He walked grace out for the rest of the people. If we’ve ever been truly grateful for something, then nothing can stop us from showing it. Mary’s life exemplified this.

She was a woman. In 1 Cor 1:27, it says: “Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.” (NLT) All the pharisees and religious leaders of the day thought they deserved honour and glory. They thought they had earned it. They did all the right things but their hearts were black. Jesus called them “vipers.” God isn’t interested in the religious elite or anyone who thinks they deserve to be. “There is no room for pride in God’s kingdom,” a very wise woman once told me. Mary was humble in heart and deed. It’s one of those upside down kingdom moments, when Jesus turns all our preconceived assumptions on their heads and shows us the truth of who He is and what He stands for.

Finally, Mary Magdalene was good enough to be used by God. The ancient world probably wouldn’t have agreed. She had a past that contained a few skeletons in her closet. Yet God didn’t see that at all. He didn’t need a perfect candidate to go tell the greatest news ever to the people who cared the most that day. He just needed somebody who loved His Son deeply. Who was present and willing. She was there early in the morning in that garden because she cared what happened to Jesus, even in death. She didn’t have to earn her way there. She was good enough, as she was.

So many times, we avoid Jesus or Easter or the cross because we think we aren’t good enough in some way. It’s a lie. Just like Mary, we have to be willing, present and have open hearts. It really doesn’t matter what litters our paths. The cross has a way of evening things out. Because in the end, there was only One who was good enough and He died, crushing death completely. So we didn’t have to be good enough to approach His Father. We could come. Just as we are.

BRAVE: At the Foot of the Cross

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The cross on our church’s front lawn. The purple cloth will change to black on Good Friday and then white on Easter Sunday.

Did the wind whistle across the top of that hillside, over two thousand years ago? Or was it eerily quiet? A few moans, cries and the haggard breathing of the dying, the only sounds interrupting the loud silence?

How many gawkers were there, looking for a cheap thrill? Gossips, wanting to get the scoop on what was going down? How many family and friends of the two thieves? Or were they all alone in their death sentences?

John was there.  The disciple.  Mary, His mother, as well.

Where would you be?  By now, the worst anyone could have imagined, had happened. He was on the cross, barely hanging onto life. Had some of his followers, come out of the shadows of fear, to watch?  To bear witness of what was coming next? What was coming next?

I’ve often thought about what I would have done had I been alive then. I have no easy answers. I hate blood and gore. I’m sure I wouldn’t have been able to watch the whipping and the beating. I haven’t even been able to watch it in the movies. Would I have stood there, covering my eyes, willing the bile in my throat to stay down or would I have run away? Would the mockery and taunting, have angered me?

I may have followed the procession up the hill. That slow, agonizing parade to the top of Golgotha. The scraping of the wood against the dirt as it was moved along the road. The sound of dragging feet, too beaten and tired to move anything but painfully slow. Would I have waited as He hung there, dying? Blood and sweat dripping down his body, the planks of wood, perhaps pooling at the base?  If I did, I’m not sure how close I would have gotten. I think I would have been a ways off. Afraid to get too near. Afraid of what I’d see so close up. Definitely not brave.

John was close. So was Mary. He could see them and talk to them. He didn’t have the strength to yell, so you know they were nearby. What was the difference between John and Mary and those who wouldn’t come close?

For John and Mary, I think it was about love.  Mary is easy.  She was his mother.  Of course she didn’t just want to be close, she needed to be. It’s a mother thing.  John is a little different.  He was the youngest of the disciples.  Probably more a young adult. Yet braver than all the rest?  I think so.  John and Mary saw beyond the blood and gore.  They saw the man they loved. The Master they followed and the God they trusted.  They didn’t understand what was happening but they knew to stay close by.

What about me?  You? I wouldn’t have wanted to get too close because of the blood. I’d be afraid I’d vomit from the sights and smells. The anguish. The pain. I wouldn’t want to see that mess. Does the same hold true for me today?  What about you?  We can only imagine the horror.  Still we don’t want to get too close. Why? Because two thousand years later, we still might not like what we see so close to the cross.  No blood now.  It’s.just.us.  The closer you get to the cross, the closer you come to the truth.  Let’s face it.  It’s not always pretty.  We see our mess.  The broken relationships.  The faults we try to cover up.  The lies we hide.  The sin we justify and rationalize. I t all comes out of the dark, at the foot of the cross.  Because Jesus is the light of the world and He had victory over the darkness and the one who rules it.  It’s not the cross that saves us but the person who died on it.

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As we come close to Him, and imagine Him hanging there in our place, it will hit us hard.  We see the truth of our lives and our yuck.  Some of us will respond by running from it.  Believe the lie that things will never change.  We’ve gone too far.  There is no hope.  Stay in the shadows, watching.  Or run as far away as we can, never looking back. (If you are running, slow yourself down and hear Him calling you by name from the cross. Take a moment and look back. Take a good long look.)

We may be immune to it.  Which is the worst thing of all.  At least running away, we realize we are in need of something. Cold hearts are prideful hearts.  I’ve been reminded of this as I’ve been reading about growing up in the church and in a pastor’s family, in The Pastor’s Kid by Barnabas Piper.  The bible becomes just words.  We’ve heard the Easter story so many times, we think to ourselves, “Meh”.  The love laid bare on the cross that day should rock our worlds but far too often, it doesn’t. That love story has grown cold.  Our hearts are hard.  (What do you have to do this Easter to light that fire again? To make it new and fresh?)

Or.  We can stay close.  Like John and Mary.  Bravely look at our hearts. Our lives.  Accept the outrageous gift of grace offered by Him, hanging there on those planks of wood.  Be mesmerized by the love in His eyes for us.  Believe who He says He is and then bravely, stand there and wait for what’s going to happen next.  It’ll take our breath away.

The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive?  He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.  Luke 24:5-7 NLT

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.  No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39 NLT

How Easter Changed Everything

Today as I drove my kids and my husband to school and work, it rained and was grey and dull.  My spirit felt gray and dull too.  Where was all the glory from Easter?  It appeared that it had faded into the recesses as the world took over once again.

Easter Changes Everything.  That was the title of our production at church this weekend.  But does it really?  Because it seems that on the Tuesday after Easter, everything is still the same.  Everything still falls flat.  Every day seems the same.  How is there hope in that?

Yes, eternal life is our hope.  I believe that and I am not minimizing that or the cross in any way, don’t get me wrong.  How do we work out that hope in the present?  Because I believe life here on earth while we wait for our home in heaven is not meant to be spent merely as a waiting room.  Jesus told us that He had come to give us not just life but abundant life.

After dropping everyone off at their destinations, I drove to meet a friend for breakfast.  I am still starved for relationships in this new city.  I rarely speak or talk to many people throughout the week.  Being an introvert, I can do this for weeks on end.  Until I can’t.  Meeting up a with friend today, breathed life into my depressing, same old, same old Tuesday.  Girls just need to chat it up every now and then.  That’s how God made us, even us introverts.  And it was good!  We spoke, we listened, we encouraged each other.   As I left the restaurant, suddenly the day didn’t seem so grey.  Loneliness I didn’t even know I was feeling was blown away, like dust off a table.  A seed of hope sprang to life.

We were created for relationship.  With God.  With others.  It will always fill some void in us.  It was one of the things that Jesus prayed for his disciples the night he was betrayed.  It always blows my mind that Jesus took the time to pray for his disciples and believers that night.   Throughout that prayer, Jesus speaks a lot about “being one as He and His Father are one.” (John 17)  He prays for protection.  He calls them His own.  It is a constant stream from the Father, to the Son to His Followers.  It is about relationship.  Good and healthy relationships build up, encourage, inspire and make us better.  They bring fullness to our lives.

Our relationship with God can be that too.  We no longer have to go through a priest or sacrifice animals.  We can go right to Him.  Read our bibles, pray, watch for Him as He works in the world.  As He shows Himself.  May we have eyes that see and ears to hear.

Our relationship with Him can bring fullness to our lives.  Easter changed that.

When Jesus showed himself to his disciples, he said, “Peace be with you!”  My study bible says that his greeting may have been said to calm their fears.  Remember they had all deserted Him on the Friday before.  We are all deserters at some point.  But His forgiveness is just a prayer away.  Nothing can ever separate us from His love for us.  If God sent His Son to die for us, do you think there is anything that can stand between us?  The cost alone of sending your one and only son, had to be worth it.  We were worth it.  It was complete.  No loopholes.  Nothing can separate us from His love, except ourselves.  Our choice.

Even on the worst days, the hope of His love for us can give us the handhold to hang on.  To hang in there.  Easter changed that.

Finally Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to His disciples and all believers after He went back to Heaven.  This still applies to us today.  The Spirit is our guide.  It is through the power of the Spirit that we do the work that God has for us.  We rise above the world and get glimpses of the Kingdom in our everyday lives.  The hope of this gives us life.  Gives us reasons to persevere even on depressing, rainy Tuesdays.  Easter changed that.

As the world gets back to business and the Easter holiday fades away as just one more holiday, I want my mantra to be, “Easter changed that for me.”  I pray the hope and glory of Easter shines through ever new day for you and for me.

If I Lived 2000 Years Ago….

It’s Holy Week which is the week leading up to Easter.  Growing up in a mainstream church, we never really talked about Holy Week.  At least I don’t’ remember doing so.  When I went to a different church while I was in university I was introduced to Holy Week.  How the whole week is an important journey to the fulfillment of God’s plan for His people.

The week leading to Jesus’ death on the cross was quite some week.  It wasn’t a quiet week by any means.  It started out with a bang on Palm Sunday.  Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem while people praised Him and laid palm branches for the donkey to ride on.  These people would be crying for his death by crucifixion at the end of the week.  It was a week like no other.

I have often wondered over the years if I had been alive then, whose side would I have chosen?  Would I have let fear of change, keep me from seeing the truth, like most of the chief priests and religious leaders?  Would the idea of keeping things the way we’ve always done them, have blinded me from Who was Truth, Who was changing things because they needed to change or else we would die?

Would I have been one who praised him on Sunday, pulling down palm branches to lay at his feet, only to find myself scoffing and mocking a mere five days later?  Yelling “Crucify Him!” with a mob.  Would I have thought we had “won” because He died on a cross?

Would I have realized the truth after He died, and tore my clothes in grief?  The realization that He was indeed, King of Jews, had come too late.

Or would I have been one of His followers?  Would I have gone out to the seaside or wilderness while He taught?  Would I have traded in the laws of religion for His message of truth and love and forgiveness?  A new way.

Maybe I would have been one of the women who followed Him and His Twelve, supporting them out of my own pockets?  Providing for their needs and sitting at His feet, soaking in every word?

Would I have scattered and hid, once Jesus was arrested?  Would I have given up hope that He was the One?  Or would my relationship with Him be rooted deep enough to stand this test?  Would I have known Him well enough to not lose sight of who He was and where He was from?  If I faltered like Peter, would I have known that He loved me so much, that I could run back to him, repentant and forgiven.

Would I have gone out to Golgotha?  Would I have watched them raise Him up on a cross, bloodied and beaten beyond recognition?  Would I have been angry?  Sick?  Filled with sorrow and grief?

And after it was over, would I have gone with other followers and holed up in someone’s house, speechless with grief and horror?  Later, having to hash it out with others, trying to make sense of the senseless?  Where would I find myself that Holy Week had I been alive?

I know what I would hope I would have done.  Where I would have been.  Whose side I would have chosen? I also know how easily it is to give in to pressure and be swayed.  How easy mockery and scoffing roll off these lips.  How fear can make me act irrationally, doing things I never would have thought possible.

I wonder about these things because they can just as easily apply today.  The way we live, what we say, what we believe; it all comes down to whether we believe He is the One and Only Son of God or not.

Is my relationship with Jesus deep enough to withstand fear, lies, mockery and persecution?  Do I know Him well enough to stand firm even when all else fails?  If today, I was transported back to Holy Week, where would I be and who would I be standing beside?  What about you?

The Tale of Two Disciples

My favourite disciple is Peter.  The fact that he was like a bull in a china shop at times, endears him to me.  I’ve felt and acted like that too.  Charging into conversations, situations without thinking, just reacting.  Words popping out of my mouth before I can even think them over.  Saying I’d NEVER….only to find myself caught in the act. So Peter’s my guy.

Judas, on the other hand, is no one’s guy.  No one wants to be associated with him.  Perhaps that’s because we don’t necessarily understand him.  Fear surrounds him. Could we be like him?  He complained when Mary used some expensive perfume to wash Jesus’ feet.  “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?  It was worth a year’s wages.”  He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. (John 12:5-6)

The sad truth is, he could have been Someone’s guy, but he chose to reject and then betray that Someone instead.

The contrast between these two disciples as I’ve been reading through the New Testament with the LentChallenge and studying Beth Moore’s, Jesus The One and Only, bible study, has been jumping out at me.  Let’s look at Judas first.  Judas loved money more than Jesus.  His heart was owned by greed not Jesus.  It was hardened.  In the most literal sense, it was made of the coin that he so greedily lusted after.  Hard, cold, unyielding.  Money was the counterfeit that Satan used to seal the deal to get Jesus.  I think Satan told Judas that money was what he needed to make him happy.  To have it all.  When in reality, the God-man that he kissed on the cheek in an act of meanness none can compete with, was the only One who could give him what he needed.

The hardened heart always leads to death.  Judas is the epitome of death.  The thing that makes it sadder; he didn’t have to be.  He choose it.

Peter, on the other hand, could have gone the same route as Judas.  I mean he didn’t betray Jesus, but he denied knowing him, of being one of the twelve.  It’s almost as bad.  Beth Moore in her study, asks for us to consider some of the encounters Peter had with Jesus that would “ make his denial more startling”.  Think about it.  Think of all those bible stories you may know from Sunday School alone.

Peter, one of the chosen twelve, who witnessed countless miracles.  Who walked beside Jesus and had one-on-one conversations with Him.  He was one of the inner three, chosen to go with Jesus where the other nine were not.  He was one of Jesus’ peeps.  It was that bad.  I don’t imagine the guilt was any less.

The major difference between Peter and Judas is that unlike Judas’ hardened heart, Peter’s was fully owned by Jesus.  He was an authentic follower of the God-man.  His whole entire identity was wrapped up in Jesus.  I like how Beth Moore puts it: “The conflict of his soul surged in a tidal wave of grief, betraying his true identity. His belief had not been a sham. His denial had.”

Peter messed up.  He let fear take it’s hold and squeeze.  He gave in.  He sinned and then he wept.  He repented.  Because his heart was true.  It was beating true to the one who owned it.  The One whom it knew.  When all was said and done, Peter knew Jesus.  He knew repentance and he knew the gospel of forgiveness that he’d been listening to for three years was truth.  In the hour he most needed it, Peter believed it.

Peter’s denial could have ended in death.  But he knew Life itself.  Peter’s journey led to life.  Life more abundantly.  Because I don’t think, Peter would have been the disciple he became if he had not gone through this journey.  He let God do the work in his heart and he came out the other side, more like the One he followed.  It’s a great story of hope for us all.  Nothing is impossible for God.  We can never be too messed up.  He always chooses US.  We just need to choose HIM.

Two disciples.  Two very different endings.  One ending in death.  The other in Life.

(Jesus The One and Only, Beth Moore p. 211.214)