Don’t Rush to Easter

For many people, March is a really important month. For teachers and students, it’s the promise of Spring Break — and the opportunity to take a breather before the final push to finish the school year. For sports fans, it’s the “on-the-edge-of-your=seat” frenzy of March Madness. And every four years March is full of presidential politics. (Lucky us; this year is the year!)
And once every 3 or 4 years, Easter comes in the middle of the Madness that March can be. Maybe that’s fitting, for Easter is God’s response to the madness — the madness of humanity trying to find meaning in vacations, sports, politics, or wherever else we try to find joy. And in the midst of our lives, Easter is the story of One Life that changes ALL of life — and all lives.
It begins on Palm Sunday, when Jesus enters Jerusalem to cries of acclamation. It reaches its lowest point just five days later when Jesus heads to the cross to cries of “Crucify him!” There is simply no doubt that this is the most pivotal week in all of history. Even skeptical historians acknowledge that Jesus died this week — and go on to recognize that something happened at the tomb to change the hearts and actions of Jesus’ uncertain followers.
But before we get to the victory of Easter Sunday, we should take a few moments and reflect on the pain and the suffering and the harsh reality of Easter week, leading up to Easter. For it is during this week that the wheels of politics and religion and sin combine in an unholy trinity that will take Jesus to the cross. And before we get to the victory of Easter, we come to the harsh, cold, deathly reality of the cross.
Like the next person, I love Easter Sunday. I absolutely revel in its victory. But before we get to Resurrection Day, we should walk — slowly, thoughtfully, deliberately — each step of the way to Sunday. It takes us through the graveyard. It takes us through the harsh reality of death. And it forces us to face the raw nakedness of our sin.
It’s difficult, but don’t let it pass you by. Don’t rush to Easter. Dwell in the reality of this most painful week. For only when we truly understand the week leading up to Easter, can we truly understand — and live — the victory of Easter Sunday.

The Luxury of Hurry

I occasionally use a prayer book to help guide my morning thoughts and prayers. This morning, I read these words: “To attend to each moment is to hear the faint melody of eternity.”

I then got ready for the day, headed out, and was on a road I usually don’t take in the morning. In fact, I almost didn’t take that way, and could have gone a couple of other ways to get to the same place. I quickly wished I had, for as soon as I pulled onto that road, a school bus stopped in front of me. And I could tell that this would be no quick bus stop. Not much was happening, and then the driver got out and began to lower a ramp. It slowly came down, even though there was no child in site. Soon, though, a mom brought out a little boy in his wheelchair.

I was focused on my plans, my schedule, my sense of hurry — and right in front of me was a guy who doesn’t have the luxury of hurry.

Later today, I was on my way to visit a friend in a retirement community. I turned into the entrance where he lives, and as I pulled through, several folks were coming out the front door. They were headed for an outing, and so, once again, I waited as people got on a bus right in front of me. And just like the little guy boarding the morning’s bus, these folks did not have the luxury of hurry, for they were older — and needed walkers, wheelchairs, and a helping hand to get where they were going.

And I noticed that one of the helpers was from our church; she was assisting her mom. She came over and we chatted through the car window. As we were talking, the bus captain came over and said, “Do you wanna go through? I’m getting ready to lower the lift.”

“No, go ahead,” I said. I’ve sat through one bus lift; why not another?

Why not another? Why not? Because I’m in a hurry.

But why? Why am I in a hurry? Because I’ve got stuff to do.

What kind of stuff? Church stuff. People stuff. I’m a minister. I’ve got places to go, people to see, important things to do. And so I rush from one place to another, from one thing to another, all in the name of, well … in the name of what?

Ministry? People? Well, what about the people right in front of me?

I don’t need a wheelchair to get around. I don’t have to lean on anyone’s arm. And so, I have the luxury of hurry. I rush around because I can. But in my rushing, is it possible that I’m missing the very reason I’m hurrying? Could it be that, in my rushing to do ministry, I actually miss ministry?

Could it be that I miss the eternity contained in the moment, in this moment, when I rush from one thing to another, not slowing down enough to notice the power of this present moment? When I hurry right past the people in front of me? Is it possible, that, because I have the luxury of hurry, I miss the grandeur of grace — the gift of God in the moment, and the person, right in front of me?

The Perfect Age

If, when Jesus returns, he asks all of us, his children, what age we want to be for all eternity, what age would you pick?

On one level, that’s a fairly easy question: I think I’d go for 29. Old enough to know a few things, but not old enough to feel too much pain. (Plus, I’d still be in my 20s, and my wife would already be 30. I love those times that happen once every ten years that allow me to remind her that for eight months, we are in different decades. For example, in a couple of years, she’ll be in her 50s; I’ll still be 40…something. But I digress.)

If 29 is my perfect age, that leads to another question: how different am I now, as a 47-year-old, than I was at 29? Gee, let me count the ways…. But even though I am different in many ways, it’s still me. And when Jesus returns and makes everything new, I’m confident he’ll have just the right age for me.

But imagine your dog shows up for Eternity and wants to be a 29-year-old human That’s completely different. For the 29-year-old me and the 47-year-old me are different, but still me. And no matter how much I change, it’s still me. But the dog becoming human is a complete change.

When Jesus returns, who you are now will be directly connected to who you will become. The you that you are now will be consistent with the you that you will become. So, if you’re a person who trusts the Lord and lives a life a love, that is who you will become. Complete, whole, brand new — but still in line with who you are. Not unlike the 47-year-old you and the 29-year-old you.

But how many are expecting to waltz into God’s presence with hardly a thought, assuming God will make something new of them — something they haven’t had any desire to become in this life? Just as a dog can’t show up at the gates of heaven expecting to become a human, so a person with no desire for faith and love in this life should show up expecting to become a person of perfect love in the next one.

In 1 John 3.23, we are told that God calls us to do 2 things: believe in Jesus, and love one another. In other words, trust that the real me is found in Jesus, and then live like it. And when Jesus returns, I will be like him. Me, completed, whole. Different from what I am now, and yet, what I will be will be consistent with what I am now, for what I will be then will be the completion of what I am now.

In other words: the perfect version of a very imperfect me; forever! If I may say it: that’s some dog-gone good news!

Do we over-emphasize marriage?

With the conclusion of a series I shared on love, there is one more thing I wanted to say. (That’s the beauty of a blog — what doesn’t fit in a sermon, fits here.) And the thing I want to say is this: As a culture, we over-emphasize marriage.

What? Are you serious, Jeff? How can you say that? The opposite is the case, isn’t it? I mean, isn’t that what you wrote about last week? Isn’t marriage actually de-valued in society today, not over-emphasized? With divorce so common and so many choosing to live together outside of marriage, how can you say, Jeff, that we emphasize marriage too much?

Well, here’s what I mean: we have not overemphasized the importance of commitment and faithfulness in marriage; instead, we have bought into a worldly perspective on what marriage is intended to be.

Here’s what so many folks today expect marriage to be:

  1. finding a soulmate;
  2. finding someone to complete me;
  3. finding happiness and contentment with a best friend who meets all my needs;
  4. finding me.

And yet, what marriage can provide all that?

Esther Perel, writing from a secular perspective, points out: It is a distinctive American trait for married people to look for their best friend, their soulmate, their everything in their spouse. We pour all these expectations into this one person, believing: “I’ll never feel alone again, I’ll never feel disconnected, I’ll never feel unnoticed.” We come to marriage with these desires: give me belonging, give me identity, give me continuity; give me transcendence, and mystery, and awe, all in onegive me comfort, give me edge; give me novelty, give me familiarity; give me predictability, give me surprise.

She writes that all of this comes at a time when we’re living longer, which means that “we’ve never invested more in love, and we never divorced more in the name of love.”

I think the Church has a very important message in this setting. In a world that either treats marriage as something to be tossed aside, or as something that should be the key to lifetime happiness and adventure, the truth is: Marriage isn’t the savior. No relationship will solve you; no relationship will help you find you. If you aren’t something before marriage, or without marriage, then you certainly won’t find that something within marriage.

Yes, marriage matters. God has given it to us, but not so we can find ourselves, or find true joy. That only comes from God Himself. God is the one who provides the meaning in our lives; we then live out that meaning in our marriage, our singleness, our relationships.

The writer Preston Sprinkle points out that until the mid-19th century, the word ‘love’ was used more for neighbors, relatives, and church members, than for spouses. When couples first started going on honeymoons in the 19th century, they often took family and friends along for company. Imagine going on your honeymoon with your mother-in-law! Anyone interested in signing up for that?

Me either. Even so, it’s a helpful reminder that my marriage is not the source of my identity. My identity comes from Christ, who then teaches me to walk in his steps, to walk in love, in my marriage and in my family and in my relationships — when they fulfill me, and when they don’t. When they excite me, when they bore me, and when they just are. Because at the end of the day, it’s not what I get out of marriage (or singleness) that determines who I am; it’s what I give. In a world that approaches relationships as a way to find meaning, it’s time for Christians to demonstrate where true meaning comes from — and live it out in the challenging reality of our everyday human relationships.