Saturday, May 10, 2014


Ben Franklin once said something along the lines of "the only things that are constant in life are death and taxes." I would like to add another constant: Change.

While it is true that we all die will eventually, and that taxes are inevitable, those two constants can be planned for, in some ways. We all know that tax day is April 15th. We have all lost loved ones – whether it was a grandparent, a friend or a dog – so we know that death happens to everyone.

Change, however, often blindsides us, and occurs much more frequently. Actually when you think about it, change occurs daily, unless you are Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.

When David and I were called to open The Oasis Renewal Center we knew that our life would change. We were called to open a non-profit ministry, to open up our home and provide a peaceful, spiritual place where people could connect with God and connect with others. Sounds so simple!

And for the past year, it was...well, not simple; but at least manageable. We renovated the house in Sonoita; opened it up for retreats, hosted individuals and groups who needed the time and space to really connect and pray, all the while commuting from Scottsdale. Yes, it’s a 3-hour drive, but it’s a fairly easy drive. We expected to continue this pattern for the next few years at least.

Somehow, I thought that I wouldn’t have to change again. For some reason, I expected that the initial change brought on by opening The Oasis would be the last one! Or, if something had to change, it would occur much later, or be easier, or not completely disrupt my life. We humans are so na├»ve. We get comfortable, and expect everything to stay that way. Ha!

So, all that to say, David and I will be moving to Sonoita in the next month to live and work full-time at The Oasis. That's a huge change for us, but we know that's where God wants us to be. After all, both of us are called by God to this ministry. It’s a joint endeavor; and we are a team, which makes both of us feel much more settled about the whole thing.

However, it still is not an easy transition. We have lived in our house in Scottsdale for almost 11 years. We literally got married in this house! Our children grew up in this house.  And while it is just a house, it is also a container of memories, and has been a welcoming haven for our family, friends and others who crossed our path. It’s difficult to let go of that.

This move also means we have to down-size. Considerably. It’s amazing how much stuff you can amass in a mere 11 years.  For me at least, this down-sizing is very difficult emotionally. What do I take to the new house, and what do I give away or put in storage?

For instance, yesterday I sat in front of the kitchen cabinet looking at all of the china we have. No one needs three sets of china. But, I can’t bear to part with my grandmother’s china, or my great-aunt’s china, or even my own china!  On the other hand, I don’t see myself using any china in the near future! OK. So the china goes in storage.

One problem down, nine hundred and eighteen to go!

How do you deal with change? Do you go with the flow, accepting change as part of life? Or do you stubbornly dig in, hoping everything stays as it is, and complain when it doesn't? Do you let yourself grieve over changes that result in loss? Do you talk with God how you feel about changes in your life?

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Aha Moments on the Road to Emmaus

In this week’s lectionary passage, Luke 24: 13-15, we read the familiar story of two disciples encountering the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus. This event takes place on the same day that Jesus’ tomb was found to be empty – Easter Sunday.

We only know the name of one of these disciples – Cleopas - he is identified in v. 18. We don’t know much about Cleopas, as this is the only time he is mentioned in the Gospels. Perhaps he lived in Emmaus and was walking the seven miles back to his village from Jerusalem with another follower of Jesus, and most likely, a crowd of other Jewish pilgrims heading back home after celebrating the Passover. During their walk, Jesus comes alongside them and joins them, acting as if He hadn’t heard about his own crucifixion and resurrection.

Since they didn’t recognize Jesus (v. 16) Cleopas and the other disciple tell him their version of the events of the weekend, even admitting that the news of the empty tomb was simply unbelievable to them. They also mentioned “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel;” hinting at their disappointment that Jesus was crucified instead of overthrowing the Romans, as many people expected.

Even though these two guys were sincere and complete in their narrative, Jesus says, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (v.25) He is essentially saying, “After all this time, and after everything you’ve seen, you guys still don’t get it!?” and then goes on to point out every verse in the Hebrew scriptures that pointed to him, beginning with Genesis, and working his way through the Prophets, and undoubtedly, the Wisdom literature. That would have been a fascinating lecture to listen in on!

When you go back through the entire Old Testament and look for prophesies that point to Jesus, you’ll find that there are quite a lot of them that don’t point to a triumphant conquering Messiah. Nowhere does it say that the Messiah will kick the Romans out of Judea. Yes, some do mention a kingdom. But then there are all of those Servant passages in Isaiah. Or that cry of anguish in Psalm 22 that reads, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” Not to mention all those one-liners about riding a donkey and being betrayed (Zephaniah); being rejected by his people and betrayed by friends (Psalms); it would be a lot to take in.

And yet, these two still didn’t fully grasp the magnitude of what they were hearing, or who was explaining it to them, until Jesus “took bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to them.”  That was the moment that they recognized Jesus; that was their “Aha!” moment. I wonder – was it the nail holes in his hands, or the way he broke the bread that clued them in? Or did Jesus have a particular way of giving thanks that tipped them off?

Their recognition that Jesus was alive must have seemed too good to be true, and Cleopas and his friend needed to reassure one another that they really did just see Jesus. One of them commented that “their hearts were burning” while Jesus explained the scriptures. Now that could have been caused by too much lamb and matzoh washed down with a bit too much wine, but these guys were convinced that it was a spiritual sign.

Their Aha! moment was so powerful for Cleopas and his companion that they left their meal uneaten and ran right back to Jerusalem to tell everyone that Jesus had risen and appeared to them. They ran seven miles, back up the hill, excitedly shouting, “It’s true! The Lord has risen!”

There has been a whole lot written about the veracity of Jesus’ resurrection and appearances in the intervening 2000 or so years since this happened. We’ve heard numerous theories that discount the disciples’ claims; theories that range from they made it all up, to someone poisoned the Passover wine resulting in mass hallucinations. And yet...

Mary Magdalene was convinced that she’d seen Jesus. Peter was convinced. Cleopas and his friend were convinced. Eventually all of the disciples we know by name, and several hundred that we don’t, were ALL convinced that they saw Jesus walking around, after he’d been crucified, died and was buried. And most of them would eventually be killed in nasty ways, still claiming that they had seen Jesus and knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that He had risen from the grave.

The reality is that strange things do happen in this world.

Just recently a Malaysian Air jet with 239 people on board disappeared shortly after taking off from Kuala Lumpur, Indonesia. In the 21st century, jets don’t just vanish into thin air. And yet, almost two full months after that jet disappeared from radar, not one single piece of debris or any other trace of that jet has been found. Not one. It just...vanished.

I hate to break it to you, but we mere humans don’t know how everything works. We like to think that we do. We like to think of ourselves as very clever creatures who have all the answers. But when the answers don’t jive with our preconceived notion of how the world should work, we just don’t know what to do with that.

Just look at quantum physics. All of the laws of physics as we have known them for hundreds of years do not apply when we’re dealing with things at the quantum level. At the quantum level, a particle can be in two places at one time. That shouldn’t be the case. And yet, it is.

Can you imagine what the scientist who first observed this phenomenon must have thought at that moment? After years of the study, and experiments that yielded bizarre results, someone came up with the wild idea that maybe the laws are different at the quantum level. That person became the laughing stock of the lab I’m sure, but they persevered, and re-ran all of those experiments. To finally prove that the theory was right after all....

Have you ever had an Aha! moment? One of those moments when suddenly everything made perfect sense? A moment in which the answer became crystal clear; despite the fact that you weren’t even sure what the question was? A moment in which time slowed down, light appeared brighter and the edges of reality seemed crisper? Tell me about it!

It's not about the Bunny

When I set about writing a blog post on today’s Gospel lectionary passage, John 20:1-18, I thought “Oh yea! The resurrection passage on Easter – piece of cake!”

Yea, right. So, six days in, and I’m still staring at my computer with nothing. Nada. Zilch.

Part of my problem is that when I blog, I put a lot of pressure on myself to be brilliant and funny and say something highly original so that my readers will be utterly astounded and think, “Wow, I never looked at it this way before! Why has no one told me?! That’s amazing!”

Ahem. I promise I’ll get help for that.

It’s not easy to say something highly original when discussing the Gospel. The story is more than 2000 years old, and the details haven’t changed much in that time. There have been no scheduled updates, or recommended upgrades, and unfortunately, no found video footage to consult. What we have is pretty much what we’ve had since John wrote it, except that it’s been translated from koine Greek to whatever language we are reading it in today. Of course, if you’re reading it in koine Greek, then it hasn’t changed at all.

Most of us probably remember learning about Jesus’ resurrection in Sunday school. I remember making a little cave out of a Dixie cup, with a marshmallow “stone” next to the opening. I made a glittery paper angel and stuck her on top of the marshmallow with a toothpick. The “cave” was nestled in and under some plastic grass surrounded by jelly beans and M&Ms in an Easter basket. Then we made a little sign that said “He is not here. He is risen!” and glued it to the front of the basket.

I was utterly confused by this project. Was Jesus buried in a pastel basket? And where was the Easter bunny if “he is not here”? There seemed to be a mixed message there.

Anyway, maybe it isn’t my job to say anything original, or funny or brilliant. The story of Mary Magdalene, Peter and John seeing that Jesus’ tomb was empty can stand on its own, as it has for more than two millennia. Although to be fair, John’s version of the story of the empty tomb probably leaves us with more questions than answers. Why did he feel it necessary to mention that he ran faster than Peter? (Uh, competitive much?) Why did he tell us Mary Magdalene didn’t recognize Jesus, but assumed He was the gardener? Was He holding pruning shears?

Maybe it isn’t my job to convince you that it really happened, or to debate the subtle differences between John’s version of events and the versions found in Matthew, Mark and Luke.  It isn’t my job to argue about whether there was one angel or two, or whether the angel was inside the tomb or outside of it sitting on top of the stone. None of those things really matter in the grand scheme of things, do they?
We live in the 21st century, and “mystery” is no longer in fashion. We don’t like not knowing things. We demand to know everything about everyone all the time. How else do you explain People magazine? But despite the fact that we have virtually all of the world’s knowledge available to us at the click of a button, science and technology have not been able to explain everything. Like where those socks go when you lose them in the dryer, or the appeal of Peeps.

Yes, there is still mystery in the world; especially when it comes to the spiritual. We just have to accept that there are some things that are mysterious; some things we will never know.

I am content to live with the mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection. My faith tells me that it really happened. My faith tells me that the tomb really was empty. My faith tells me that God raised Jesus from the dead, and in doing so, conquered sin and death once and for all. My faith tells me that in Jesus’ death and resurrection, all our sin is forgiven. My faith also tells me that somehow God reconciled humanity to Godself in the process of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and that it was an act of unconditional love!

I do not know the details of how God did this, but I do know that it did not involve a bunny. I do not need to know the inner workings of this mystery. I don’t need to know everything and I’m OK with that. That’s why it’s called faith.

Jesus and The Walking Dead

Today’s lectionary Gospel reading is John 11: 1-44 – the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. For those of us who’ve spent any time in Christian circles, we’ve heard it all before; this is a familiar story, and sometimes when stories are familiar, we tend to tune them out.

You may be thinking, “So Jesus raised Lazarus, yeah, yeah, that’s great, but it doesn’t have anything to do with us, or our society today. Dead people don’t get back up and walk around, except on TV, and that usually doesn’t end well; for them or anyone else.”

Before you tune me out, consider this. The story isn’t even about Lazarus. I mean, Lazarus does precious little in this story. He gets sick, he dies, and then he stumbles out of a tomb. Lazarus is just a supporting actor in this story. In fact, if this were a movie, Lazarus would have a very short, walk-on part. He doesn’t even have any lines! People talk about him, but only Jesus speaks to him, and Lazarus isn’t on screen when He does.

No, this story is really about the tenuous, wavering, vacillating nature of faith.

The story takes place towards the end of Jesus’ three year ministry. All of the people involved had been with Jesus for the past few years; they knew who He was and had complete faith in Him. They had seen Him perform miracles, cast out demons, and heal people of diseases – sometimes from a considerable distance. So when Martha and Mary sent word to Jesus that their brother Lazarus was very sick, there was an implied expectation that Jesus would DO something.

But He didn’t. Jesus kept doing whatever He was doing, staying right where He happened to be. By the time Jesus finally decided to go to Bethany, Lazarus was already dead and Jesus was four days late for the funeral.

Clearly this irked Martha. Not only did Jesus insult the family by missing the funeral, but He let them down by not healing Lazarus when He had the chance. When Martha met Jesus just outside of town, the first thing she said was “If you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died!” I can hear the accusatory tone in her voice.  Mary followed suit a little later, with the exact same words!

Mary and Martha’s faith was shaken. They had faith that Jesus would come help them, and He didn’t show up.

Jesus told Martha that her brother would rise and live again. She was probably thinking, “Well yeah, of course Lazarus will be resurrected on the last day, just like everybody else. Duh.”

Should we be surprised by her reaction? The reality was that her brother was dead. And dead meant DEAD! Or, to paraphrase Monty Python, Lazarus was no more; he had ceased to be.  He had joined the Choir Invisible. He was pushing up daisies. He was a stiff; bereft of life, he had passed on. Lazarus had expired and gone to meet his maker!  Lazarus. Was. Dead.

Of course having faith means believing in things that are not seen.

When Jesus asked Martha if she believed that “everyone who believes in Me will never die,” she said she believed Jesus was the Messiah. Technically that isn’t the same thing as saying she believed Jesus would bring her dead brother back to life, especially since hospitals, ventilators and life-support systems hadn’t been invented yet. It probably never entered her mind.

Martha was having trouble reconciling what she clearly knew (her brother was dead) and what she had just experienced (his burial four days ago), with her faith in her close friend Jesus who was too late to even attend the funeral and spoke in riddles. What did that even mean, “I am the resurrection and the life?”

I think this is perfectly understandable. If I were in Martha’s shoes I would be confused and disillusioned too.

So how are we supposed to have faith that Jesus will be there for us, when everything we see and know and experience is telling us something to the contrary?

When we look at everyone who was following Jesus, we see that faith by its very nature is tenuous, wavering, and vacillating. Not one single person in Jesus’ crew had a rock-solid faith, 100% of the time; not even Peter, whose name means rock. Martha’s faith wavered. Mary’s faith was weak. Thomas was doubtful. The Jews mentioned in the story who believed in Him were baffled, and Jesus’ followers were confused.

We are in good company when our faith gets a little unsteady and wobbles a bit. Like the man who exclaimed, “I do believe! Help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) we may have faith and doubt in equal measure. The problem is we don’t see what God is up to. Jesus waited until Lazarus was good and dead before He even set out for Bethany. He knew when Lazarus died (v. 14-15) but He also knew the real reason He had to miss the funeral – so that everyone in Bethany would “see the glory of God.” (v. 40)

Even if we can’t see what God is doing behind the scenes, we have to trust that He always has our best interests in mind. Lazarus might argue that having to die and lie moldering in a grave for four days before Jesus called him out wasn’t in his best interests. Becoming one of the walking dead must have been terrifying and extremely unpleasant for Lazarus. The whole episode was certainly a miserable experience for his sisters, but Jesus made sure the end was worth it. They just had to have faith.

What about you? Has your faith every been wobbly?