JESUS WON'T BE KEPT IN (AND NEITHER WILL WE)

 IMAGE CREDIT:  JENESSA WAIT

IMAGE CREDIT: JENESSA WAIT

A few days ago, I found myself thinking about this piece of scripture - and just how matter of fact it stood between Jesus' death and His resurrection. I couldn't help but think that regardless of the time in which a person lived, removing a body from any grave takes both purpose and intention. But like all the scriptures, and the story of Jesus' life, death, and ressurection - God was overflowing with that purpose, abounding with that intention, and took every detail to Himself so that He could be glorified.

It started long before the Cross, but let's start at Jesus' death. In fact, let's start at His burial in Joseph of Arimathea's tomb. A man who was in search for the Kingdom of God; a secret disciple.

It's said that he was dying. That the tomb he laid Jesus in was freshly carved out of rock for him. And yet, out of love and honor - Joseph wrapped Jesus in clean linen shroud and buried him there. I can't help but admire Joseph for giving away what in life was seemingly supposed to be his, in death. 

It was at this tomb that the most incredible thing happened. 

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First, there was the stone. Generally, the cork-shaped stones that obstructed tombs from being accessed were four to six feet in diameter and about one foot thick. Thus, these stones were about 2000 to 4000 pounds in weight - making them nearly impossible to budge once closed. In order to simplify the process of sealing a grave, these stones sat at the peak of an incline so that they could be rolled into place. That meant that once in place, one would have to have incredible resources at hand to push the stone back up the incline into it's initial position. 

Then, there was the Roman guard. Matthew 27: 62-66 shows us that Pilate gave the chief priests and the Pharisees guarantee of a guard of soldiers to make Jesus' tomb secure, and to put their fears of Jesus being stolen at ease. What this actually means is that a 16 man unit was deployed to the tomb to stand guard over Jesus' body. These men were each responsible for a six foot square space in which they were not able to sit, lean, or fall asleep. If one man in this unit erred, he was beaten and burned leaving his whole unit to also suffer the consequences. 

Finally, there was the Roman seal. While I'm not entirely sure what this actually looked like, I know for sure what it symbolized. It represented the full and unmeasured power and authority of the Roman Empire. Anyone who thought to act against the seal could suffer the punishment of death. 

And yet, regardless of all the obstacles that stood in His way - the stone that buried Jesus was simply rolled away. In it's place was a gaping hole that revealed not just the absence of Christ, but the presence of possibility, and the beginnings of centuries of living hope. 

I don't know about you, but I just can't get over how God ordains even the smallest of details to overtly imply His work in our lives. Even now, the physical facts of what held Jesus' body in that tomb apply to our ordinary everyday. In fact, there's no denying that the enemy is fighting to hold us each captive. He's trying to bury us by the power of our nations and our leaders, the fear of both man and society, the timidity that often comes with being marginalized, the structures of both legalism and/or tolerance, and through all the other physical, mental, and spiritual obstacles that come from a fallen world. 

Disease. Doubt. Betrayal. Poverty. Racism. Depression. Miscarriage. Divorce. Adultery. Pornography. Addiction. 

Entitlement. Self-Righteousness. Selfishness. Gossip. Apathy. 

But God had Jesus take our place not just to give us life eternally (most importantly), but to give us instruction daily. He had Jesus take our place to show us that the real power isn't in what imprisons us (or what tries to kill us), it's in what set us free. To this day, we don't know who actually moved the stone, but we know that regardless - it happened by the power of God. 

So, what does this mean for us? 

We learn to live through that same power. 

It's Saturday afternoon and we are on the cusp of Sunday morning; the joyous celebration of our Risen Christ. After visiting the store to grab some last minute Easter eggs and fight my way through the crowds, I've started to wonder if we've taken the resurrection and made it just for a single weekend. We certainly know how to celebrate don't we? But, I wonder if we've forgotten what it looks like to apply the celebration of a risen Christ to our lives. I believe that every detail of Jesus' death, His burial, and His resurrection wasn't just written into history to just be recorded and celebrated, but to be walked out. In fact, the story of Jesus was written into our histories so that we might eventually come to believe that if God could remove the stone that buried Jesus, then He can and will remove the stones that attempt to bury us. Nothing can stop Him from getting to us. Nothing can stop Him from taking what's dead and breathing life back into it again. When Jesus died. And even now, as we live. 

Yes, this means your very life. 

But, this also means your marriage. Your family. Your career. Your finances. Your health. Your relationships. Your community. Your dreams. Your purpose. Your hope. And, even your faith. 

And this goes for not just you. But, your enemies too. Your loved ones. The strangers you pass by at your local grocery store. Your coworkers. The neighbors down the street.

With God, we can believe that no obstacle stands in the way of us, because none ever really stood in the way of Jesus. With God, we can believe (and live out of) that the same power that rose Jesus from the grave is the one that lives in us, too. With God, we can believe that where others go to die, we can come back from the brink alive

Look, that doesn't mean it isn't messy. There's blood, sweat, and tears. There are people who cheer at our failures and even, our sin. There are those who rejoice when others suffer or who perhaps worse, act blind in the face of the world's atrocities. There are elements against us that are working to keep us buried. 

The tension between life and death is murky and, it's unmeasurable. 

But just as Jesus kept His eyes on the Father, so we are to do as well.

Easter won't ever just be a weekend event. It's more than that. It's a movement that takes root in our hearts and overflows into our lives. It compels us to treat others as if God is just holding His breath; waiting to roll away the stone and reveal an empty tomb. It encourages us to not work at keeping people buried, but be a part of digging them out and praying them out. It convicts us to allow God to unbury us, too. That we would give Him access to every part of our life that seems dead, and especially the ones that feel too far gone or forgotten. 

God is in the details. He knows what we've buried, and even who. He even knows where we've buried them. Regardless of what's fighting to overcome Him; what's fighting to overwhelm us - God can't be kept out. 

Jesus won't be kept in. And, neither will we. 

FOR THE LOVE

It was almost three years ago. I think that's when it started to happen. I could feel my pursuit for the written word shift and morph into something different, something not necessarily of holy intention. I had been fifteen weeks pregnant with my second baby and with all the encouragement from my husband, I took off to a women's conference in Indianapolis. Not only was I going to be meeting my future best friend, but I was also getting three straight days to rub elbows with some of the most creative women in the blogging/writing/entrepreneur world. I walked into our first initial meeting together nervous and energetic. I loved writing. I loved sitting down with God and combining my experiences with His truth. I loved seeing my testimony woven into words and sentences - permanently residing on a brightly lit screen. Every time I wrote, I felt as if I was erecting an Ebenezer. I felt as if I was declaring His goodness from the mountaintops. If not for anyone else; at least for me. It didn't matter if anyone saw, or even if anyone cared. I wrote for the love of it. I wrote for the love of Him. 

I was thrilled that I would be meeting other women who did what they did for the love of it, too. For the love of Him, too. 

The shift in my heart and my words didn't begin immediately after that conference, but it was there that something definitely came undone in me. 

I started to care about how people perceived me. I crumbled at rejection. I fumed at what I thought was unfair promotion. When I saw the numbers increase on my Instagram, or on a blog post, or wherever - I celebrated. On the other hand, when algorithms and feeds began to change and when engagement began to decrease - I grieved. Sometimes, I deleted posts and videos because they weren't perfect; at least in my eyes. I started (not even realizing it) writing for promotion, popularity, validation, and the occasional ego boost. Sure, my intentions were good. I had dreams of writing a book, starting an online ministry, and connecting with women across the world. I saw platform as a necessity to make those things happen. As any author would tell you, the idea of influence is one that has permeated the publishing world. Nobodies don't write books. But, somebodies do. Somebodies that have more than 10k followers on Instagram and churn out content like it's going out of style. Reality is, that somebody is not me. No matter how hard I tried. 

To use a phrase my husband says often, "Even the road to hell is paved with good intentions." 

I think I've been on the wrong road. To honestly say that I haven't been swept away in the craziness of the online world would be a lie. The truth is, I've turned the good gift God has given me into cheap fodder. And I think we do that a lot don’t we? We take our gifts and turn them into commodities; something to be regularly consumed by others. If we're not careful, it doesn't take us long to get here - to a point of forgetting why we started and even what we're in it for. Any joy that we had in doing what God put within us is robbed by a variety of ulterior motives that creep in and fill the nooks and crannies of our souls. 

If you’re like me, perhaps your initial reaction is to run to the alter and lay down the passion or the gift and leave it there. Lord knows, I’m willing and probably you are too. In fact, in proverbially bringing this lamb to the slaughter — I’ve been ready to delete my blog, my Instagram account and my dreams. All for the sake of clearing out the clutter. But actually, I don't think that's the solution. God’s shown me that there’s something else here for me to do; a battle that needs winning. 

I don’t think it’s possible that I’m alone in this. I’ve seen too many articles, blog posts, comments and have been a part of too many conversations and discussions that indicate otherwise. God certainly had a purpose when He designed us with our gifts and callings. I just think we have the unfortunate tendency to take His design and automatically make a move towards monetizing it. We unintentially begin to use it as a means to make much of ourselves instead of making much of Him. 

Look, sometimes the easier thing to do is to give up and give in. Or maybe, it’s going on a break. We think separation will resolve the issue, but it only lengthens the time it takes us to deal with it. Life just doesn’t work like an old episode of Friends. As believers, it doesn’t make sense to operate from an on again/off again mentality. We are not thin and unstable trees shaken and stirred by the wind. We commit. 

If God’s original plan was that we’d make much of Him in all that we do, that we’d use our gifts and passions to glorify Him — then, it’s time to get back to basics. 

I don’t think any of us want to pursue our dreams if God isn’t in them. But that actually requires giving Him some room. Not just in our hearts, but in our pursuits and in how we actually pursue and think about them, too. 

Honestly, I think it starts there. Practically speaking, I have to say (sometimes out loud) that this is all for Him. I have to implement a laundry room routine of prayer, worship, and thanksgiving to wash and dry out the intentions that want to corrode the purity of my gifts. I have to ask myself daily if I’m doing something to serve Him, or to serve others. Mainly, I have to get back to doing the things I love for the love of it, and for the love of God. This is the MOST important thing. Plain and simple. It doesn't matter what else comes out of it, if nothing but a sacred give and take between me and the Lord. 

I have to also literally fix my eyes on Jesus. When I'm tempted to compare myself to others; to filter my gifts through what's trending and what's expected - I have to watch what the Lord says to do. If He says move, then that's what I do. If He says stay, be faithful, or even do nothing - then that's what I do. I have to regularly check my heart and ask whether I'm filtering my gifts through a desired to be used, or a desire to be known. I have to regularly ask who's sitting at the throne -  my gifts or my God. 

Even more practically, I'm unsubscribing to all the content driven emails out there asking me to produce and compete. I'm spending less time scrolling through Instagram and more time living my life. I'm checking with God before I check with others. And, I'm creating margin to create only for Him - in the secret place. Words that no one else will ever read; love letters to a God who delights in the word just like I do. 

We get so caught up in what we produce, that we forget to question the reason we're producing it. And that's what we have to come back round to, every single time. We can't get weary of this routine, because this is what holds us together. It's easy to try to encapsulate our purpose into a why, or a mission statement. But these things aren't actually what creates the basis of our gift's foundation. Rather, we have to regularly come back to the One who put what's in us in the first place. He is what matters. He is the cornerstone. And, He is what holds us and our gifts all together. When we do what we love because we love Him, we start to see ourselves doing what we love for the love of it. Let's get back to that. Let's get back to Him. 

WE'RE ALL JUST LOOKING FOR THE REAL THING

I don't talk about it often in the public arena, but a few years ago I had a major breakup with the church and the Christian machine. It wasn't as if there was one incident that led me to feel betrayed by the Body of Christ- but rather a litany of tiny beliefs, circumstances, and actions that began to push me away. I was rather confused at incongruences with what I saw JESUS DO versus what I saw the Church do. Eventually, the confusion led to bitterness, and the bitterness turned to both resentment and anger. 

I don't think that I'm alone in this. It seems that every person I speak to is going through a transformation of the faith and, in some instances, leaving it. They're not just leaving their churches. They're also leaving God. They're not just putting off the label of being a Christian; they're also denying Christ. Of course, it's not always that extreme. Rather, the people who find themselves frustrated, confused, and angry often demonstrate their feelings in other ways. Most often with passivity, avoidance, and apathy. Churches have begun to wonder why they feel dead, and I think that at times -- this has something to do with it. 

When congregants are wounded, the Body is wounded. And when we deny healing to those parts, we limit the capacity of the Kingdom

For those that have been hurt by the Church, the wound goes deep. For me, at least -- because I had taken great pride in the community I had chosen and the pastor I followed and the people I bound myself too, I didn't realize that my identity had become them. I had wrapped my belief and my motivation tightly around the organization and the system. And so, when the evidence compounded against them with no explanation or change, both my purpose and my identity fell apart at the seams. I don't think we realize we're doing it. It's unintentional. But eventually, if we aren't careful - we began to idealize the house and the people who lead it. Tragically, we allow our idealization to become that which directs our thoughts of God and His character. 

Now, on the other side -- I think what really breaks my heart is seeing how we, both Believers and the rest of the world included, allow the imperfect Body to be the final word on how we see the perfect God and Christ. We seem to think that an untrue Christian has the power to make God's word less true. Crazy, isn't it? 

Maybe I'm just speaking for myself here, but I think what we all really want, is the real thing. We're tired of disparity and disunity, and we're tired of walking pharisees living out less than holy intentions. We're tired of fake people pretending to have it all together. And, we're tired for the call to be vulnerable when the supposed safe landing place is daggered with judgement and consequence, not understanding and grace. Let me clarify something here -- the real thing doesn't mean that we'll always agree. Or, that there isn't sin that needs to be called out. However, it means that we give time and space and relationship to those things that are confusing, that don't make sense, and that seem to not line up. It means having hard conversations with each other and being comfortable with not having all the answers. 

I'll tell you this - while I'm not against movements and hashtags and unifying under specific and real problems,these are not the banners we should be living for. Not as believers, anyways. The real thing is believing that it's not the body of people that can fix what's broken - but the head that leads it. The church you are going to, the pastor who heads it, the small group you attend, the protest you march in, or the denomination that you're certain has it right - these aren't the real thing. The real thing is Jesus. I know that we want to believe that the world we're living in isn't that simple. And yes, there are times (so many times) where we have the mandate to speak up for the marginalized and the broken and the weary. After all, this is our call as believers (because if Christ did it, then so should we). However, the problem that comes from these well-intended organizations and movements is that again, they become us. We begin to lead people to us, to our cause, to our church, and to our beliefs - instead of leading them to Christ. 

We become so distracted by ourselves. We want our voices heard and our stories known. We want other people's voices heard and their stories known. We think that this is how people get saved. And, I guess I wonder if we're out to save others for themselves, or for God? And I wonder if we've realize we've turned people into their own personal saviors, instead of pointing them to the Savior? 

As long as we make it more about us, and less about God -- WE JUST AREN'T GOING TO GET ANYWHERE.  Instead of unity, we'll become more and more disintegrated. Instead of healing, we'll see ourselves become more broken and fractured. We cannot fix ourselves. Only God can.

I guess I'm just saying, maybe it is this simple: spending less time focusing on what we each have to say for ourselves and more time on what God actually demonstrated to us about Himself. This is where the healing is. And this is where the Kingdom doesn't just expand and flourish, but the Body of Christ becomes whole. 

In the meantime, here's what we can do. We can point to the cross and to Christ incessantly. We can look less at what makes us different, and declare over and over again what makes us the same. We can inspire revival under the banner of a God who saved us from ourselves. We can see the Body of Christ as an extension of God, but not make it responsible for what we ultimately believe about Him. We can advocate for those who don't have a voice not by lending them ours, but by lending them God's. We can find our identity in being God's, not being _______. Finally, we can show people what they are looking for. We can show them the real thing. We can show them a Savior who is working in us, through us, and for us. A Savior who supersedes all others in authenticity and vulnerability. A Savior who is perfect regardless of what others say or do. And, a Savior who doesn't need looking for because He's already come looking for us.