Mark 16:1-8 – On Big Rocks and Even Bigger Questions

Deposition, Burial and Resurrection of Christ by Guy Roddon (1919-2006)

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomband they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was exceptionally large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid. (NIV)

“Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” So asked the three women on Resurrection Sunday when they came to anoint the dead body of Jesus. Turns out they didn’t need to find the security officers, so to speak, to come and unlock the door. The tomb was already open. What is more, lo and behold, the women did not find a dead body. Jesus was not there – he is risen!

I sometimes find myself asking the same kind of question the women were asking each other: 

Who will move this huge object (or objection!) to what I want to do? 

How can I get to Jesus so that I can do something for him? 

Who will take care of the immovable obstacles that stand in my way? 

I must admit, these are questions born more of a small faith and a limited understanding than of knowing the power of God.

It also turns out the plan the women had for taking care of Christ’s lifeless body was completely irrelevant. Which causes me to ask even more questions of myself:

Are my questions completely off the mark?

Do I have my ladder up against the wrong wall?

Is my plan of caring for Jesus an adventure in missing the point?

Is it Jesus who plans on showing up and caring for me?

Perhaps it all comes down to our expectations. The women were most certainly not expecting a risen Lord! They had absolutely zero expectation of encountering an angel who would tell them Jesus is alive. They did not anticipate their question would end up being completely unnecessary. 

Maybe believers and lovers of Jesus are asking a set of misguided questions based in our puny creature perspective on life, church, and world. Perhaps we are not grasping what God’s power has already accomplished and/or what God already has up his sleeve. 

It could be that all we really need to realize is that God has gone before us, clearing all impediments so that people can see and experience the risen Christ. Methinks our expectations are far too low for a God who has the power and will to raise people from death…. 

Because the way has been opened to a new and vital relationship with the Lord Christ. That massive immovable boulder has already been moved. Whereas we thought it was some big issue to deal with, just by showing up at the tomb we clearly see that isn’t the issue, at all.

“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.”

C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

So, here I go again with another set of questions:

How many times have we gotten things all discombobulated in our heads and misinterpreted what’s going on just because we didn’t show up and find Jesus is not dead but alive?

When have we severely underestimated the power of God by believing we must operate in our own power and do things for God because Christ is as good as dead to us?

Are we still expecting Jesus to care about buildings, budgets, and butts in the pew because those things (we think) are within our power and control?

Do we even bother to ask Jesus what he cares about, or do we simply superimpose our wishes upon him as if they are his?

Are you yet sick and tired of me asking questions and offering no answers?

That’s because the answer is already there. Jesus is not where you are expecting him. There is power at work for which you are unaware.

The truth is that we can now encounter and explore a fresh reality with Jesus as the Author and Pioneer of our faith. We need only listen, follow, and leave the moving of big rocks to God.

When our faith stands at the grave, grieving for a stone that’s rolled away, forgive us, Lord. When our faith is short of understanding though the truth is there to see, forgive us, Lord. When our faith, beset by doubt, sees no further than an empty tomb today, forgive us, Lord. Bring to our minds the cry of Mary, “I have seen the Lord!” and grant us faith to believe! Amen.

Acts 7:30-40 – Full Acceptance, Not Partial

“After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush in the desert near Mount Sinai. When he saw this, he was amazed at the sight. As he went over to get a closer look, he heard the Lord say: ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’ Moses trembled with fear and did not dare to look.

“Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. I have indeed seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groaning and have come down to set them free. Now come, I will send you back to Egypt.’

“This is the same Moses they had rejected with the words, ‘Who made you ruler and judge?’ He was sent to be their ruler and deliverer by God himself, through the angel who appeared to him in the bush. He led them out of Egypt and performed wonders and signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea and for forty years in the wilderness.

“This is the Moses who told the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your own people. ’He was in the assembly in the wilderness, with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors; and he received living words to pass on to us.

“But our ancestors refused to obey him. Instead, they rejected him and, in their hearts, turned back to

Egypt. They told Aaron, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who led us out of Egypt—we don’t know what has happened to him!’ (NIV)

We humans are a confusing paradox of sinner and saint. We are majestic people, created in the image and likeness of a good God. We are also profoundly fallen, touched by sin in every area of our lives. Our hearts exist with both light and darkness, having the capacity for both incredible altruism as well as inexplicable evil.

So then, it will do no good to retreat into binary definitions of people as being either good or bad. No, we shine and shadow at the same time. What really gets us into a terrible mess is when we ignore or deny our shadow selves. We then demonize the other while claiming purity for ourselves.

This is precisely what occurred with Stephen and a group of his fellow Jews who refused to acknowledge their shadow side. And it resulted in Stephen’s stoning and death. Whereas Stephen lifted and brought to light the unseemly aspects of their collective heritage, the people wanted nothing to do with it. In our present day, the response might be something like, “Quit being so negative. We focus on the positive. Expel this recalcitrant troublemaker once and for all!”

Oy. Acceptance cuts two ways. We must accept both our blessings and our curses. And acceptance of reality will not occur apart from a solid self-acceptance of who we are and how we are feeling in any given situation. On the practical level, it works something like the following story…

Several years ago, I went on a leadership retreat in the Canadian wilderness. We were so far out in the sticks that we needed special first aid training before leaving because if someone got severely injured it would be hours before any medical attention could be received. There was no cell phone service, no towns, no anything except mile after square mile of wilderness. 

One day, it was very windy and several of us were on a lake canoeing to a destination. It was late May, which means the water was still ice cold in Canada. One of the canoes capsized and we had to act quickly and deliberately – which was no small feat in a stiff wind. More than fifteen minutes would result in hypothermia for the two people in the water.

I did not like being in that situation. In fact, I didn’t much like the Canadian wilderness. Too many black flies and giant mosquitoes for me. My shadow side was coming out. But here I was, and I had to accept the reality I was in. One of the lessons I learned in that moment was that acceptance can sit alongside other reactions and emotions.

For example, a person can be outraged by an injustice, as Stephen was, and accept that it is a reality. Acceptance does not mean complacency or giving up. We can accept something while at the same time trying to make it better.

I also needed to accept what was happening inside of me. I was cold and worried. Trying to push those feelings away would have only added to the stress of the situation. If I failed to accept what was true about myself, I would be less able to deal with the situation, and so, would compromise my ability to help two people at risk.

I needed to accept the whole circumstance, including myself. Accepting what is inside gave me more influence over the situation, not less. Self-acceptance became the key to acceptance of unwanted conditions, and more importantly, acceptance of one another as human beings.

In that moment of rescuing two people (which ultimately proved successful) I became aware of a part of myself – the part that gets afraid and irritated – and chose not to stuff it or deny its existence. I became the guy who talked to the panicked people in the water and kept them as calm as possible so that the others could get them out. I was able to do my part to help fearful people because I acknowledged and accepted my own fear.

Unlike my situation, however, Stephen’s experience ended in martyrdom. Just because we respond rightly is no guarantee that everything will work out for our benefit. Rather, we say and do the things we must say and do, while leaving the results to a sovereign Lord. It is our responsibility to work on ourselves, not others. And acceptance is the path to get there, all of it, not just part of it.

Jesus, let your mighty calmness lift me above my fears and frustrations. By your deep patience, give me tranquility and stillness of soul in you. Make me in this, and in all things, more and more like you. Amen.

The True Self and the False Self

“Be yourself, everyone else is taken.” – Oscar Wilde.

True Self False Self

People are complicated. They cannot be reduced to simple categories, as if an individual person can be neatly labeled as good or bad, nice or naughty, magnificent or mean, altruistic or selfish. No, people are wondrously intricate beings with a vast inner world of values and motivations. The reality of humanity is that we are a befuddling mix of virtue and vice with capabilities of much greater good than we realize along with an unfortunate capacity for heinous words and actions in the world. We are both blessed with the enduring mark of God’s image and cursed with not acknowledging our inherent worth through using cheap parlor tricks to prove we matter to others. As a result of these two often competing realities, we all tend to inhabit a sort of spiritual schizophrenia which vacillates between the true self and a false self.

What is the true self?

The true self is a person’s pursuit of realizing their own potential of gifts and abilities to be used for the common good of all. The true self embraces authenticity, vulnerability, and courage in their desire for growth and development of the inner person. The true self is open, being curious about self and others. Wanting to realize the full implications of God’s image within them, the true self is free to explore the vast potential of good which resides inside. The true self loves others from a place of invitation and patience. The true self is a master of one’s own inner wisdom and, so, has ability to rest and have peace.

What is the false self?

The false self is a person’s compulsion to achieve an idealized form of themselves. Such a self seeks the adulation of others since they lack awareness of their true self. The false self holds on to secrets, avoids emotions, and seeks perfection. The false self is closed, being afraid that others might reject them, if they knew the true self. Thus, the tragedy of the false self is that – in seeking self-protection – they do not find the self-realization and love they long for. Obsessively attempting to present an image to the world of having it all put together, the false self does not risk being brave. Instead, it fears others might see the bad within them, and so, judge and reject them. The false self uses love to manipulate others to love them back. The false self has no mastery of self because it attempts to become a master of a small world over others. The false self is never at rest and obsessively moves from one project to another.

Why does a person have a false self?

When someone has a great deal of inner stress, they might become estranged or alienated from their true self. For example, if someone has experienced trauma, they might direct their energy toward molding themselves into an idealized self. The hope of such a misadventure is to become impervious to any further trauma and pain. In short, the false self seeks power over others through doing everything the right way all the time so that they can feel a sense of security, superiority, and/or control in every situation.

How do I realize the true self?

The following is by no means an exhaustive list of connecting with our true selves. Indeed, you will likely come up with many more ways. After all, you have potentialities within you which I do not possess!

  1. Pay attention to your spiritual self. Just as our physical spine supports us and we need to take good care of it, so we have a spiritual spine which supports us when we need it – that is, if we pay attention to it and maintain good habits of self-care.
  2. Believe in the inherent good you possess – that it will eventually win and have the day. The image of God permanently resides within us; the curse of the fallen world does not. Have faith that goodness will prevail in your life.
  3. Focus primarily on exploring your true self through a positive plan; and, only secondarily focus on combating the false self. Compulsively trying to suppress the false self is, ironically, giving it power to call the shots in your life.
  4. Develop new habits and routines which are life-giving for you. Avoid implementing long lists of do’s and don’ts which are cumbersome and burden your soul with an unnecessary heavy load. A good rule of thumb here is that if your plan and routines are serving you well, then you are probably on a healthy path. If you find yourself constantly a slave to your routines, then you are serving the plan and are likely on an unhealthy road.
  5. Create a safe space for yourself in which your true self can arise. This means developing healthy rhythms of giving and receiving love; and, sharing your story and listening to others share their stories. And these occur when we have a safe space to inhabit. Safe spaces typically don’t fall into our laps. We need to take some initiative to find them.
  6. Take your emotions seriously. Many people have learned from their family of origin and/or their church or faith community that thoughts are more important than feelings; and, to not show emotions or even really acknowledge them. This, perhaps more than any other reason, pushes a person toward pursuing an idealized false self. In truth we are emotional creatures and our feelings are significant, valid, and vital. As we take those feelings seriously through talking about them and sharing them with trusted individuals, our true self begins to emerge.
  7. Seek support through finding groups who share your desire for self-realization and discovering persons who model what you are looking for. For example, for me, Jesus Christ is the ultimate model. When tempted with a devil’s pact for achieving salvation through self-idealization, Jesus did not take it. Instead, he chose the hard road of self-realization and was satisfied doing the will of God.

Some quotes on realizing the true self:

“If you don’t get lost, there’s a chance you may never be found.” – Anonymous

“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do.” — Brené Brown

“There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.” – Benjamin Franklin

“Always be a first-rate version of yourself and not a second-rate version of someone else.” – Judy Garland

“The path to great confidence is not in becoming invincible, flawless, and seemingly perfect. But rather, it is in embracing your humanity, in all its messy glory and tender vulnerability.” – Aziz Gazipura

“Embrace the glorious mess that you are.” – Elizabeth Gilbert

“Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darkness of other people.” – Carl Jung

“Live life as though nobody is watching and express yourself as though everyone is listening.” – Nelson Mandela

“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” – Dr. Seuss

“The freedom to be yourself is a gift only you can give yourself. But once you do, no one can take it away.” – Doe Zantamata

Colossians 3:12-17 – A New Set of Clothes

White Shirts

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.  Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (NIV)

Easter is to live forever in our hearts.  The great message of the Resurrection is: We now have opportunity to experience new life, free from sin, death, and hell.  Oh, it isn’t that we never need to deal with evil; we very much do.  The difference is that we now have a new awareness of our spirituality.  And with awareness comes choices.  If we aren’t aware of our feelings, our spirit, and/or old nature, well, then, it’s as if we operate on auto-pilot – losing altitude in an immanent descent into tragedy.  When we are aware of our inner selves, then we mindfully ascend through the clouds to join Christ.

We can make choices about what to wear.  With awareness, we look in the mirror and see that the grave clothes need to come off.  The old raggedy garments of pride and hubris, greed and immorality, selfish lust, jealous envy, spiritual gluttony, unholy anger, and complacency get taken off and tossed in the garbage.  We then go to God’s expansive walk-in closet and choose the bright raiment of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and grab the beautiful coat of love which covers it all with such dignity and honor.

It would be super weird to try and put the new clothes over the old raggedy grave clothes.  That’s not only gross, it’s downright wrongheaded.  Practical Christianity always involves two actions: taking-off and putting-on.  Human willpower and/or ingenuity tries to live a virtuous life while ignoring the vices.  This will not do for the Christian.  The endearing qualities we so desire to possess cannot be obtained without first dealing with the crud of sin which clings to us like so many stinky dirty clothes.  To put this in theological terms: the cross and resurrection go together.  Sin must be put to death before a victorious life is put on.

Once we have acknowledged sin, let Christ take it all off, and put on the new clothes.  Then we’re ready to hit the town in style.  We walk out the door with a tremendous sense of peace, knowing God in Christ has cleaned us up.  We stroll into the world with lips whistling and a song in our hearts – singing with gratitude for what the risen Christ has accomplished on our behalf.  After all, we just put on very expensive clothes and it didn’t cost us a dime.  In fact, we’re so darned thankful that we don’t just talk to others, we sing our words to them – even though we can’t carry a tune.  It doesn’t matter.  Our coat of love compels us.  Easter is bursting forth from the tomb.

Almighty and everlasting God, you willed that our Savior should take upon him our clothing of death upon the cross so that all humanity would have the privilege of wearing humility, gratitude, and love.  Mercifully grant that we may both follow the example of Christ’s life, and, also be made aware of our participation in his glorious resurrection, in the power of your Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Click Easter Song which was written by Annie Herring in 1974 and made famous by Keith Green a few years later.  The California Baptist University choir and orchestra perform this version.  May your Easter blessings multiply.