Once upon a time it was a huge surprise. That first Easter morning the resurrection was a huge, shocking surprise to all the people who experienced it firsthand. However, since that day 2000 years ago, it’s no longer a surprise. Sure, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, has been debated, doubted, believed, and treasured by millions the world over – but it’s not an out-of-left-field story anymore. So everyone knows what I’m going to preach about this Sunday. As much as I want to be fresh, and compelling in ways no one’s ever heard it’s not gonna happen.
But here’s the thing about the message and the reality of the resurrection (and yes I believe the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is a historical reality) – familiar and unsurprising is not equal to non-momentous. Something can be very familiar and unsurprising and yet be very momentous. For instance, my wife tells me she loves me all of the time. Her message, and the reality behind it, isn’t a surprise anymore, the way it was the first time she let herself say it, but it’s still momentous to me. Sure I may get pretty familiar with my wife telling me she loves me, but to not have that familiar message, and the reality behind it, would tear a piece of my heart out. So I’m just going to admit that I probably won’t have anything new, surprising, or shocking to say this Easter, But I will be able to say something that is momentous because it has everything to do with hope that even death can’t destroy.
Here are two great insights for those of us searching our hearts before God during Lent. Often our Lenten explorations move in the direction of how we fall short of the glory of God. While these things are true, what is also true is that God values us, and has a calling and a vocation for every one of us that matters to Him. Here are a few quotes that help explain what I mean.
And now Lord, with your help I shall become myself – Soren Kierkegaard
Help me, O God, to listen to what it is that makes my heart glad, and to follow where it leads. May joy, not guilt, your voice, not others, your will, not my willfulness, be the guide that leads to my true vocation – Ken Gire Windows of the Soul
On Monday I had the sacred privilege of gathering with a few local Santa Cruz pastors. We’ve met together a few times over the course of this year, to seek spiritual nurture and care under the guidance of a spiritual guide. It’s been sweet, and wonderful to meet with other pastor’s who aren’t faking in any way, sharing their whole hearts and their whole lives with one another so that they might be whole people in their ministry. One of the beautiful moments we had together on Monday was when we shared worship prompts with each other. One led us in a time of listening to a classical piece of worship music, another in a guided time of breathing and listening to God’s word, another in a different kind of focused prompt. Each man prompted worship in a different, and quite lovely, way. I thought I’d share with you my prompt. It’s this song I’ve been singing a lot recently. I can get so busy hurrying forward in my “go mode” that when very good things happen I just blast by it, treating it like it’s what “should happen,” rather than stopping in gratitude to reverence the blessing of God. Just listen to the song and see if it reflects what’s on your heart this week.
They’re starting to pop in my front yard again. Our California poppies are starting to bloom in our yard, as the first sign that every other plant is about ready to burst out with vibrant color and beauty. Spring is another reminder, on the long list of so many reminders, of the very thing C. S. Lewis once observed, “We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito.”
It’s an interesting question to consider. If people were to look at your life and marvel at who you are, or what you’ve made of yourself – how do you think they would marvel? Would people marvel, and would you want them to marvel, by saying, “Look what she’s done with her life?” Or would people marvel, and would you want them to marvel, by saying, “Look what Jesus has done with her life?” So I ask you today, is your life looking like the best thing that a human being could pull off, or the best thing that God could pull off? Just curious.
Today I want to share something that I recently stumbled upon and found powerful. On April 17, 1970 Johnny Cash found himself invited to sing at the White House for then President Nixon. Of course it was an honor, but the fuller context was the fact that Johnny found himself caught between a president who was trying to leverage Cash’s credibility and fame in wider America to further his presidential agenda, and Cash’s personal desire to still be a patriot of his country in very troubled times at the height of doubts about the Vietnam war. What do you do in times like that? Johnny Cash wrote a song called “What is truth?” and he sang right in front of Nixon at the White House mere months before the lies and deceit of the Nixon administration brought it down. It’s an interesting song at an interesting point in history which I think serves to help us see how we too can stand up between strong political polarities and still represent truth. This video is Cash’s performance of that song on his once popular TV variety show. See what you think?
Mondays are funny days for pastors because it’s the day right after so much human interaction at a Sunday worship gathering. Therefore, Monday are usually filled with lots of feelings for pastors, and usually in the extreme. You’re either high based on what you feel went well the day before, or you’re low based on what you feel didn’t go so well. I still remember hearing one of my seminary professors say, “All pastor’s feel horrible on Mondays. So don’t take Monday’s off and take it out on your family. Work on Monday so that you can work through your dark feelings.” So I took his advice and I’ve worked on Mondays, and I’ve taken Friday’s off, ever since I started pastoral ministry.
There was one other sage bit of wisdom from another seminary prof. He said, “Feelings don’t authenticate truth, but they do authenticate our understanding of the truth.” Allow me to translate. What I feel at any given moment does not necessarily square with reality. For example, I may feel like airplane travel is unsafe but that doesn’t mean it actually is unsafe. Feelings instead authenticate (or reveal) what we’re actually believing, whether or not that belief is true. So when I face, or you face, a Monday loaded with uncomfortable feelings we have to use those bad feelings as an opportunity to explore what we’re truly believing, and then if we’re way off from what is true, take it as an opportunity to get back to what is true.