Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Hidden Tangerine Sky

Last week, I was sitting on the back porch. With the wind in my face and the smell of rain in the air, I looked up into the sky and watched the charcoal grey clouds roll in. Indian summer was allowing me to wear shorts in this Michigan October, but the turning of the leaves don't let me forget the ticking of time. In three short weeks, our family's ministry of nearly two decades will be ending at the congregation that welcomed us as new college grads.

We are now wrapping that season up; choosing to resign and step back from ministry for a while. We are tired. We have given much. We've invested some of the best parts of ourselves for the sake of a hurting city and a people we love. 

But do anything for 18 years and you see the best and worst of that career. We've cried tears of joy as we have helped others encounter Jesus and be changed. We've had the privilege of leading a team in developing a God-honoring vision. We equipped a core of individuals to work toward that vision. We've seen people bravely keep in step with the Holy Spirit, even when it didn't line up with popular opinion.

But that close-up look at the good, also bought us box seats to the darker edges of humanity too. The spaces where people of faith fight for control instead of trust. Where those you've forged relationship with begin to think the worst of you. Where lips are a concealed weapon to spread untruth.

In so many ways, pastoring has broken me down. It's not for the faint of heart and it has exposed my own weaknesses and flaws. While I have cherished the partnership in ministry that Paul and I have shared this last 2.5 years, I have also come to recognize my own limitations. And so we have made an unusual, renegade kind of decision - to enter into a season of rest from the pastorate.

Sometimes, you just know it's time. And for us, it's time. Time to circle the wagons around our family. Time to make one another an utmost priority. Time to be singularly focused for a bit. Time to remember that a congregation's success doesn't rise or fall on our shoulders. It is, therefore, both safe and preferred to place them in the hands of God, even when the questions about the future can't be answered.

And then I consider our family's own uncertain future. At the end of this month, the paychecks will cease, and as of yet there's no job to step into. Until there's a job to step into, we won't know where to move. Until we know where to move, we can't fully settle into this season. Until we fully settle into this season, we will feel a strain. And over and over, the opaque nature of our tomorrows weighs on me.

Those clouds that rolled in last week were like a haze of ash concealing all that lay beyond.  Just like my own personal horizon - obscured, dim, and dark. 

And God knew. He'd heard me cry out for clarity, for help, for peace. 

And that's when I came face to face with this scene.

From one corner of that sky to the other were gathered clouds of steel, but straight ahead, the clouds had parted. A window to the heavens. Front and center in my view was a reprieve from the pewter lining that sealed up everything else in the atmosphere. And the glimpse I was given was beautiful. The opening revealed a bright, gauzy eye of coral glowing through. 

Color is never so striking as when it shows up in the middle of monochromatic gray. And here I was, all alone outside, in awe of the God who imagines this kind of beauty. How could God waste a perfectly brilliant sunset made invisible behind the clouds? And why, when He offers a view, it seems only a single person is witness to it? Is this not a careless and extravagant sculpting of creation? Does He not need to spare expense in this beauty? I could almost see God throwing His head back in delight at my wonder and then answer, "This is for you, child. I will make more tomorrow."

Just when the sky seemed a never-ending canvas of nebulousness, God peeked through in piercing beauty. And I saw my future in that tangerine-shaded aperture. A gentle reminder that even when all seems dark and indistinguishable, I don't know what God is doing behind the curtain of gray. 

The God who would dare to indulge me with a breathtaking sunset, can certainly be trusted with my uncertain future. I live in the mighty and unshakeable Kingdom, so I do not have to be in control. I am one in whom Christ dwells, and can be assured that God can redeem anything and use all things for my good, so I will not be afraid. I have nothing to fear from the One who loves me most.

In three weeks, we make our final step into the unknown. From here, the sky may look ominous, but I can't see everything. From my vantage point, the cloud cover may seem unending, but that's only one perspective. My future may be unclear, but I have nothing about which to worry. When I least expect it, God will show up in radiant colors of faithfulness and provision to remind me of His exorbitant, lavish, and excessive goodness and mercy. I have everything I need and more. 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Dear Dad (One Month Later)

Dear Dad, 

Today is the one month mark since you’ve been gone. I have been attempting to prepare for this day for a whole week. Dreading it is the more appropriate word. When I woke up Thursday morning, having dreamt of you and feeling rested and relaxed, the world became a crushing weight as full consciousness reminded me you weren’t here. My grief over your death is still so fresh. It dwells at the surface. From here on out, to say that you’ve been gone for more than a month feels like I've lost some nearness to you.
I am still learning how to say goodbye to you. It’s a process; a lesson to learn. I figure you could have talked me through something like this with great wisdom had you still been here.

One month. 31 days that have lingered swiftly. Drudged on rapidly. Like they last forever, but are over too quickly. Not one of those days has gone by without thoughts of you. So many thoughts of you. 

One month ago I heard your voice for the last time. Weak as it was, I heard you, Dad. You love me. I carry that certain truth with me now and it brings me comfort. But oh, how I long to hear your voice again. To hear the jangle of the phone and answer it to find you on the other end. Most of the time 400 miles separated us, and the sound of your voice was the embodiment of your presence and influence in my life. Yes, I want to hear your voice.

I wish Minnie could have spent her 60th birthday in her classroom for a family party like you had planned, not in the funeral home making arrangements. She did really well though, Dad. She misses you something fierce, but she is taking one step at a time. 

I wish you could have experienced all the love being offered at your funeral visitation. Lines of students, parents, coworkers, life group members; all present to honor you. With tears in their eyes, they would recount stories of the difference you had made. Do you hear that, Dad? All the moments you spent questioning your investment and the trajectory of your life…it all mattered. I imagine you must have realized that fact in grand measure when you entered heaven, but it was a sight to see on earth too.

I wish you could have seen Paul. He fulfilled your request to officiate your funeral. You would have been so proud of him. I certainly was.

I wish you could see the way Justin is supporting his mom in her grief. He’s helping to make sure all the details of life are understood for Minnie.

I wish you could have heard my words at the funeral. It’s what you asked of me - to speak on the topic of reunion. Had it been up to me I would have stayed in the pew silent, but only you could have persuaded your ordained daughter to give the funeral sermon from the pulpit of a Southern Baptist church. Paul and I figure you would share an ironic laugh with us about that one.

I wish you could have been sitting at the funeral service when “Pancho and Lefty” began to play in Valley View’s sanctuary. I still don’t know why you wanted that song, but in a strange way it gave me strength in a hard moment. It was just so you and it was like a gift you gave us. Thanks for that.

I wish you could have hugged your grandkids in the moments when the grief has gotten to them over this last month. Alex was there, Dad. He helped Minnie pick out your tie, he sat in the background of the funeral not wanting to draw attention, but he was present. Eliana finished the book you gave her for Christmas and was able to whisper to you what she liked best, just like you wanted. Johanna buried her head in April’s side as she shed tears. Levi said he would sell all his Legos to have you back. Moriah sat with me at midnight and missed washing dishes with you. Sweet Brandyn stood at your casket saying he loved you. And “little” Mackenzie; she took it all in stride, keeping track of all that was happening. It would have made you smile.

I wish I could have kept you up to date on all that  has been happening with our family here in Flint. So many decisions, changes, transitions. You have always been one of my biggest fans - loving, supporting, and praying for me. I really need that right now.

I think to the future and all the coming moments that I will be missing you. Like next week when Eliana will turn 12 and there won’t be a call from you. Like next month when it will be one year since we explored Washington D.C. with you. I am forever grateful for those precious moments. Like the 17th of every month. Like the first Thanksgiving and Christmas without you. Like when I won’t need to buy you a 65th birthday present in January. Or maybe I will anyway. So many moments I will miss you, and I will cry, and I will learn a little more about to say goodbye.

Dad, I guess all of these words just boil down to one simple truth…I love you. It sounds so trite and so expected, but in all the world there are no better words to sum up everything else I feel. My life is better because of you. And I miss you terribly, and have been for a month. But nothing will ever change how much I love you. 

Always and forever, 
Your little girl

Friday, September 16, 2016

On Faith and Foolishness: Our Family's Next Steps

I suppose there is a fine line between faith and foolishness; between doing something risky and being plain stupid. Paul and I are walking that tightrope right now.

At the end of October, we will conclude over 18 years of ministry at West Court Street Church of God in Flint, MI. We have served in various roles over the years, but the most challenging and rewarding have been these last 2.5 years serving together as Co-Interim Pastors.

It is at West Court where we were loved into ministry. West Court is where we cut our pastoral teeth. Where “wet behind the ears” newlyweds became seasoned ministers. Among this congregation we have learned how to be married, we have both become ordained, we have become parents three times over, and we have shared some of the most important moments of our adult, married life.

But the time has come for us to step back and press the reset button on our lives. We have felt the leading to “circle the wagons”, as Shauna Niequist says, and put family on the front burner. The season has come for us to rest from such active and demanding ministry. 

We have poured our lives out, for the sake of the gospel, among this congregation. We love these people. We love this community. We love this city. Yet, we are looking to love ourselves and our family a little more than we have been able to do at a break-neck pace of life. We are desiring a time when our minds can be still to focus on a singular goal instead of spinning with the weight of many.

We have NO idea what’s next. Neither of us have a job yet. We will need to find a place to live. We are not seeking a new ministry position. We are waiting on God to show us the next step. Until that becomes clear, we are working on the assumption that we will stay in Flint, at least for the time being, using our connections and knowledge of the city we love in the hopes of landing somewhere we can continue to serve others and pay the bills. We are looking to find a house within the city limits so maybe our presence can be hope when so many are looking to leave.

But all of these are what-ifs. Uncertainties. Unknowns. Where this adventure ends up is yet to be seen. We are doing our best to trust God in this process. He’s always had our backs before and we don’t expect Him to stop now. If we are sure of anything in all this craziness it’s this…the God who led us to this place will be faithful to see us (and the congregation of West Court) through it.

If you are a praying sort, would you pray for our family and this body of people we love during this time of transition? If you are a networking sort, maybe you can point us to someone who might need a new hire. 

We are moving forward in faith, hoping we don’t trespass into foolishness. We are taking a risky step that might make us appear just plain stupid. Or maybe, God will show up in the middle of this mustard seed faith of ours and we will see mountains in our rear-view mirror (Matthew 17:20). 

Whatever the outcome, our family will walk it together. We’ll keep you posted. 

So much peace and hope to you today.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Four Words that Have Redeemed Our School Year

I had been trying to find a way to sum up this school year in my mind. And I was having trouble. Perhaps it’s because I still have one straggler who has three more math pages to finish before all my kids can say, “School’s out for the summer.” Three pages. Just three. So help me, God.

Life has been crazy and hectic. Our pace vacillates between fast and faster, it seems. I frantically finish spelling lists and copywork pages the night before school begins for the week. Then the proverbial bell rings and we are off on another week, all of us doing the best we can with what we have. Along the way, it has created many different emotions in me.

It’s the second year in a row I’ve been home educating while working a part-time (but feels like full-time) job. A toll that is showing itself to have a high cost. I have felt constantly divided in my focus and energies. Giving what I can to all things, but feeling it’s not enough for any of them.

It’s the second year in a row I have been teaching three different grade levels at the same time. 

I never got it right last year. So I began this year with a new game plan, and it has helped all of us thrive a little more and learn better time management. It’s required more work for me in the planning, but I think it’s paid dividends.

BIBLE consisted of the kids keeping a prayer journal. 

We did a series on the names of God. We learned about manners and etiquette. We read through my all-time favorite children’s bible (again). 

And we started reading a book filled with Bible facts that the kids love. One of my favorite times of the day is sitting at the breakfast table reading our bible material and waiting to see where their questions will take us. I never know. I am often surprised. And I am humbled by their hearts. This time of study and prayer together is tender and sweet, and has also spurred an idea for a writing project for me - to put to paper a prayer exercise I often do with my children.

This year for SCIENCE, the children chose a Chemistry and Physics curriculum. I’ve never loved science and because I am no fool, I tried to schedule science when I was in the office. Times when my husband or a good friend was with the kids. It’s a scary proposition when your children remember more about things like viscosity and atoms than you do as the teacher. We got with some friends and explored the periodic table through cookies. 

We made a homemade smoke bomb. We discovered the pros and cons of various energy sources. And while we only completed 10 of 14 chapters, I feel good about what the children were exposed to and had the opportunity to learn.

SOCIAL STUDIES meant using September to finish up a study on the 50 states that we began the year before. We celebrated the completion of this study with a trip to our nation’s capital. It was a wonderful and memorable trip that we will not forget.

 We then studied world history from nomads to Ancient Rome. And the kids loved it. Absolutely begged me to read more everyday. I love history, but to have my kids loving it too, well, that’s not shabby! We finished that volume early and while the kids wanted to move on the the next book, I told them they would have to wait until next school year. 
(Insert sad kids faces here).

All the other subjects were personalized to the child’s age and ability.

That meant my creative 5th GRADER loved any writing assignment given to her and made some up herself. It meant I sat through tears as she learned about all things fractions. To add, subtract, multiply, divide, find greatest common factors, and solve for unknown with a fractional coefficient. It meant wanting to beat my head against a wall that my daughter who loves writing still can’t spell “available” correctly even after 3 weeks on her spelling list. It meant watching as she began a typing program that now has her typing in better form than I have. That meant watching as my little girl grew into a young lady who gave a full voice recital, and is willing to step in and serve wherever help is needed.

That meant trying to manage my 3rd GRADER’s anxiety just because I mentioned that there would be a writing assignment later on. He didn’t inherit the same affection for stringing words together like his mother or older sister. It meant watching in wonder as he would effortlessly do mental math and easily mastered his times tables. It meant watching this reluctant reader blossom into a bibliophile. It meant hearing complaint after complaint as he began learning to type only to find he now will complete his assignment without any commentary. It meant spending lots of cold Michigan mornings watching soccer games, but it was worth the sacrifice because my shy homebody was playing his first team sport and liking it. It meant watching this boy begin to grow into a young man whose sensitive heart cares about what is right and just.

That meant sitting with my 1st GRADER, day and after day, until she understood the difference between 13 and 30. It meant spending lots of time with place values on decimal street so she could accurately read a three digit number. It meant redirecting my daydreamer time and again so she would finish her work. It meant questioning my abilities as my 6-year old struggled to grasp the idea of three letters forming a word she can decode.  Reading was such a struggle. Like "never saw it coming, what in the world I am doing" kind of struggle. It meant marveling at the details she observed that had passed everyone else by. It meant watching her grow more comfortable using a computer. It meant watching her eyes light up as she went to her first live musical. It meant watching her quietly and patiently support her brother and sister in their endeavors, never wanting to take the spotlight from their accomplishments.

ADD IN TO THE MIX an 11-day trip at Christmas to see family in Kentucky and Missouri. A trip that brought us home to the glass patio doors being shot at and shattered. 

A month later we were back in the Bluegrass State for 9 days while my dad hovered close to death's door.

And then I turned 40. That was surprisingly hard. Don't let the smile fool you.

Throughout all of this, our family like thousands of others, have been living with a water crisis the has no end in sight. I am sure many in our country are tired of hearing about Flint and it’s water issues. Frankly, I am too, but when you live here you can’t forget it. The filters need to be changed, pipes need to be flushed, bottled water needs to be picked up. 

And in the back of my mind, although I will never really know for sure, I wonder if the water has had any effect on my youngest. We’ve been told that children ages 6 and under are a high risk for lead absorption. And we didn’t take all the hype seriously until last September just before the city finally issued their health warning and told people to stop using the water. 17 months after the switch to the Flint River. 9 of those months having a 6 year old consuming unfiltered water. Maybe my 1st grader just has some processing issues. Or maybe, the nagging voice in my head whispers, the water situation impacted her too.

There’s no way to know really. All 3 children had a blood test in October and they tested at normal levels. 

That isn’t surprising since lead only stays in the bloodstream for 30 days and we had been using filters for nearly a month. Nevertheless, the test gave me some peace of mind moving forward.

ALL OF THE ABOVE doesn’t cover the tasks, responsibilities, and stressors of ministry. This doesn’t take into account the toll we all experience from waking up to headlines like Paris, San Bernadino, and Orlando. Lord have mercy.

Bottom line: It would be easy to give in to the temptation to see all the ways I have lacked to do all I expected, hoped, planned. I’m really, really good at beating myself up. Even after listing the ways I can celebrate my children, their character, their accomplishments, and the impact I've had. (But that’s a whole other psychotherapy session.)

I’ve said a lot of stuff here. (Most that probably seems irrelevant to you because it's really for my future benefit when I need to recall specific challenges of various school years.) But if you are still reading, I want you to know that today I found a way to sum up this school year.

Four words have made the difference. Four words that have made it all worth it. Every tear. Every night I lay in bed thinking I was not doing right by my kids. Every questioning doubt I’ve faced about whether I could do this home education thing anymore. Every anxiety I breathed out in a prayer. Every desperate word spoken to Paul at the end of a seemingly fruitless day. It all mattered. Every single bit - the good and the bad. Worth it. Today, four words redeemed our school year for me.

My 1st grader…the one with three pages of math left. The one who struggled to discern 13 and 30, who has fought to decode words like ham, red, bit, cup. The one who has generated more blood, sweat, and tears from this momma than is natural. This one, after reading a 12 sentence story today, looked straight up into my eyes and said, 

“I want to read.”

“I want to read like sissy and Levi do. Big books that are mysteries."

"I want to read.”

Four words. 
And I knew it had all been worth it. Every single second. Every single moment of research. Every single phonics worksheet. Every minute of practicing sounds and blends. Every doubt and tear and stifled scream. All of it. I would do it all over in a second if it still brought her to this place of desiring to learn.

This school year has been hard. And it’s not quite over. But, in a few days, when that math book closes complete, I have a few words I will use to sum it all up now. 
Worth it. 
And over!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

A Poem: Evolution of God

Life has been really busy for 2 straight years and I've about had it.
Recently, I have pulled back. I am trying to make some healthy adjustments.
One of the habits that has suffered during this frantic time is my writing.
Writing is a release for me.
A respite.
A place of peace.
And I haven't been visiting it much lately.
And so, here is my first piece of writing in a good bit.
It's raw. It's honest. 
But it's my journey (past and present).


Evolution of God 
(Portrait #1)

Waiting and working on me again.
Expecting You to show up.
I don’t know when; I don’t know how;
but I know You will.
You always do.

Thomas needed proof. 
To touch your wounds and know You were real.
To be certain You were true.

I need proof too.
Proof to know You aren’t the God I am leaving behind.
A god of only judgement and wrath;
limited in patience and mercy,
abounding in moodiness.

I need proof that this new look at You is real and true.
That it isn’t wrong to hope you aren’t a bastard
ready to smite me in my imperfection.

I keep replaying Pascal’s wager in my head.
What if I am wrong about who You are?
What if I am wrong about You?
What if I am wrong?
Hell seems too costly a bet, doesn’t it?

But I’m already here in hell 
if you are impossible to trust,
if You aren’t good.

I’ve known that hell.
Trying to please a cruel taskmaster.
Burying my talent for fear of failure.
Afraid to lift my eyes to Yours,
because I am sure I will only see disappointment.

I’ve listened to the marching orders;
all legalistic and concerned about the outside.
I’ve carried my whitewash and marched right into the tomb
and away from You.
Straight on into Hell anyway.
Because what if I am wrong?

So I ask the same old questions 
as I sit across from one with a degree and listening ear.
I explain the eroding of a god I believed existed but cannot follow now.

In the middle of my messy waiting and working,
as I work on how I see me and understand You;
You come into view.
Closer and closer.
Until I feel Your breath again.

You are more than I thought You were.
Bigger than previous glance.
Grander than first believed.
More mysterious than expected.

You show up, just like You always do.
And even while trying to hide away, 
I look up into Your face,
hoping to catch a glimpse without Your awareness.

And I see Your eyes awash with tears, 
and wonder for the first time if the tears are born from love, not disappointment?
And I see the fire in Your expression,
and wonder if I misinterpreted the fury? Was it really the thunder of laughter?
And I am blinded by the smile that bends Your mouth upward,
and dare to imagine what life would be like if You are more than I believed You were?

What if I was wrong?

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Anticipated King, Unexpected Kingdom

A Palm Sunday sermon I delivered on March 20, 2016 based on Matthew 21:1-9. 

It was almost Passover and Jews were gathering in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover - the festival that commemorated their ancestors’ deliverance from slavery in Egypt. God had freed His people from the bonds of oppression and injustice once before with the help of a leader named Moses and now they were anticipating deliverance again.

The people were anticipating a king. Someone who would rescue them from the rule of the Romans. Someone who would prove their might by overthrowing corruption. Someone who would make life better, easier, restore the way of life to Israel’s former glory. Like when David and Solomon sat on the throne. The Israelites had asked for a king once before, centuries ago, and they were asking for a king once again. 

And so, on a Sunday before Passover, the people lined the street ready to receive a deliverer. They were anticipating a king and so they welcomed Jesus that day. And Jesus was a king, but His kingdom was not of this world and it was not what the people expected.

According to numerous sources that it was customary for a high-ranking Roman leader to enter Jerusalem at Passover each year. It was recorded as Herod Antipas in some records. Herod Antipas was assigned by Rome to be a regional ruler to govern Galilee and surrounding areas, and he was the one who was responsible for the beheading of John the Baptist. Another source suggests on this particular Palm Sunday - somewhere around 30 A.D. - it might have been Pontius Pilate - who rode into town. Pilate, the Roman prefect who, in a matter of days, would defer to the crowd and sentence Jesus to death.

Try to imagine for a moment the spectacle of that Roman entry into Jerusalem. From the western side of the city, the opposite side from which Jesus enters, the honored Roman ruler would sit astride a tall, strong, muscular warhorse. And this leader would be surrounded by some of Rome’s finest soldiers - some of whom would have been on horseback and others on foot. Each soldier would be dressed in leather armor polished to a high gloss.  On each centurion’s head, helmets that would gleam in the bright sunlight.  At their sides, sheathed swords crafted from the hardest steel. In their hands, each centurion carried a spear; and archers would have a bow with a sling of arrows across his back.Drummers would beat out the cadence of the march for this was no ordinary entry into Jerusalem. 

The Romans would have known that this Passover festival celebrated the liberation of the Jews from another empire, the empire of Egypt. And the Romans would want to make sure the Jews didn’t get any fresh ideas of liberty, so this entry into the city needed to send a message. It was filled with pageantry that declared Rome’s glory and at center stage would be the weapons and symbols of power in order to demonstrate Rome’s might. I am sure it was a sight to behold, this entry of the Romans. It was meant to intimidate as to suppress any inclination to uprising or insurgence. The Romans had made it clear they held no tolerance for rebellion.  And so on this occasion, be it was Pilate or Herod Antipas or some high-ranking Roman leader, would enter the capital of the Jews in order to maintain order and control. At Passover, when the Jews would have remembered their deliverance from another oppressive government, Rome wanted to make sure that the Jews knew they were king. Pomp. Circumstance. Power. Might.

And around that same time, just before Passover would begin; on the first day the week that would become known as Palm Sunday, there was another procession that took place. This one from the east side of the city, from the Mount of Olives. This entry too would be one to proclaim kingship, but this king was Jesus.

If Rome’s entry was meant as a show of military might and strength, Jesus’ procession was meant to show the opposite.  Both the gospel of Matthew and the gospel of Mark record Jesus’s own words, as he instructs his disciples to go in to the city and find a donkey tied up and then Jesus quotes from Zechariah, the 9th chapter —

“Say to the Daughter of Zion,
‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’

The prophet Zechariah is speaking to the nation of Judah in chapter 9, and the prophet is reassuring the people  that God has not forgotten them. When Jesus quotes the prophet’s words, His hearers (fellow Jews who knew the prophets words by heart) would have been reminded on the entire passage surrounding what Jesus quoted:

8 But I will defend my house
against marauding forces.
Never again will an oppressor overrun my people,
for now I am keeping watch.
9 Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!
Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you, 
righteous and having salvation, 
gentle and riding on a donkey, 
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
10 I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the war-horses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth.

The message they surely heard when Jesus quoted Zechariah was, “God will deliver. God will deliver you from the oppressor.” And for those living in Roman-occupied Israel in the first century, the oppressor was Rome. The people were anticipating a king. God had promised it through His prophet. But this king would come to them humbly, not on a steed of war but on a plodding donkey, the symbol of a king who comes in peace.

The two processions could not be more different in the messages they convey.  A Roman leader surrounded Roman centurions asserting the power and might of an empire which crushes all who would oppose it. Jesus, riding on a young donkey, embodies the peace and tranquility that is the shalom of God which He gives to His people.

But how a king enters reflects the kind of kingdom they are building. And while the Jews anticipated a king, their expectation was their king would operate in the same ways as Rome. They expected a king whose kingdom would dominate, whose power and might would be known throughout the world. They were looking for a kingdom that would end their suffering by securing their liberty and I figure they imagined that would happen through the very same methods Rome used. Pomp. Circumstance. Might. Power.

The Jews wanted to be liberated and free. They wanted a better life and they thought it had to be secured through the ways of the world’s empires. The world says military might reigns. The world says power and authority are determined by the sword. The world says the strong win and winners take all and think of no one else. The Jews thought that their freedom would come only by those means and they would have enlisted in that army, but that wasn’t the kingdom Jesus was establishing. 

The kingdom of God is a very different kind of kingdom then the empires of this world. It always has been and always will be. The kingdom Jesus brought was rooted in God and God’s ways. This kingdom is a kingdom of peace. A kingdom that requires humility, that demands love for all. It’s a kingdom that refuses to use power to oppress others or position to persecute opposition. It was and is counter-cultural. It is different than any other known kingdom. It was and it still is unexpected.

On that Sunday, amid waving palms and scattered cloaks, the people anticipated a king and they were putting their hopes in Jesus. Naming Him as the hoped for messiah. But even though they anticipated the king, they didn’t expect His kind of kingdom.

On that Sunday, across the city from the pomp and circumstance of military might, oppressed Jews waved palm branches - symbols of victory - and laid them in the street for Jesus, but it would only take them 5 days for realize that their anticipated king was promoting a kingdom they didn’t expect. And ultimately, a kingdom they doubted could really save them.

And you know what? I can’t help but think we are a lot like the crowd that welcomed Jesus that day. As christians, we proclaim Jesus is our king. We say He is the leader of our lives. We want Him to rescue us, to give us freedom, to redeem and restore. We want a better life, fuller existence, so we wave our palm branches and lay down our cloaks, but we really want the kingdom on our terms. We have an idea of what that kingdom should be and look like. And all the while, Jesus is riding in on a donkey, not a war-horse. We want to determine how the kingdom works and runs - what’s acceptable and not. And yet, that defies the very nature of kingship, doesn’t it? The citizens telling the king what to do?

I’ve heard God’s kingdom defined this way: God’s kingdom is anywhere Jesus is king. And if Jesus is king that means you and I aren’t. God’s kingdom is where He gets to design the plays, makes the rules, call the shots. And the minute we get that mixed up we’re like the crowd waving the palms who were anticipating the king but not expecting the kingdom.

See, it’s one thing to say Jesus is king, but it is an entirely different scenario to allow His kingdom to reign. God’s kingdom defies culture, confounds the power-hungry, rejects the proud. God’s kingdom doesn’t bow to muscle and it doesn’t surrendered to military might. God’s kingdom doesn’t shout and scream it’s way to the top. God’s kingdom doesn’t use people as stepping stones or doormats. It doesn’t promote injustice and it isn’t for sale. God’s kingdom comes in on a colt, not a war horse.

And this Palm Sunday narrative demands we make a choice. It’s all well and good to ask Jesus to come and be ruler of my heart until I am asked to forgive the one who has wounded my pride. It’s all well and good to ask Jesus to come and be ruler of my heart until I must deny my preferences for the sake of another. It’s all well and good to ask Jesus to come and be ruler of my heart until I am required to humble myself and do the necessary thing that no one else wants to do. 

Jesus can be king, but what about when that kingdom comes by way of building relationship with a homeless man, making room for an unwanted guest, or granting grace to an overwhelmed mother whose child has disrupted my dinner, or my worship service. 

We anticipate the kingship of Jesus, but we don’t expect His kingdom to mean that we have to die to ourselves over and over and over again. Did we realize God’s kingdom would really demand everything? Did we expect His kingdom to mean that we really serve one another - period. That we extend love before judgment to one another - period.  That we consider others better than ourselves - period. When we wave the palm branches to proclaim Jesus as king do we do so truly expecting a kingdom that asks us to love God first and most - more than our comfort, than our family, than our safety and security, more than our own dreams?

And I think back over my life and I wonder at the times when I anticipated Jesus as king, but life in His kingdom wasn’t what I expected. I didn’t expect that the kingdom life would lead me into ministry and require that I wrestle with disappointing my Southern Baptist family who believed women weren’t to preach or lead. I never expected that this kingdom life would ask me to make good on Jesus' command to forgive...because when those words were said, they cut straight to my heart. When that lie was told, it robbed me of my reputation in some circles. When that rejection was doled out, it killed a piece of my self-confidence. 

I knew Jesus was king, but I wasn’t expecting His kingdom to demand loving my neighbor always; even when it might be a neighbor who shots a BB gun into the glass of our back patio door. Too many times,  in my heart my attitude has been this: “Jesus you can be king, but surely your kingdom doesn’t mean living in a city that overcharges for water that is unusable. Surely your kingdom doesn't mean living in a city whose police department is so depleted that there’s nothing they can do but take a report when my wedding ring is stolen after a break-in."

Jesus is the anticipated king, but His kingdom?  Well, it’s unexpected. The ways of His kingdom? Well it’s not like the world. It’s not what we’re used to. It’s not how we are conditioned to operate. But Jesus shows up on a colt - declaring a peace that comes neither from physical might nor from prestige or power, but a peace that reigns from the inside out.

You see, on that Palm Sunday so long ago Jesus was praised as the anticipated king but He came with an unexpected kingdom. And that’s still true today isn’t it? 

Who would have ever guessed that the greatest victory is achieved without force or weapons? Who knew that our truest liberation would come when we gave up the right to call the shots? Who would have imagined that our greatest freedom would be found in laying down our lives for the sake of the One who knows us best and loves us most?

It’s the kingdom of God ruled by Jesus the king. It’s different than this world. It flies in the face of what seems logical. But it’s the only kingdom whose King can really save us. It’s the only kingdom whose ways truly bring peace. Not because it conquers the outer conflict or subdues the enemy by force, but because it heals the heart.

When we wave our palms in worship, we are like the crowd so long ago who said, “Hosanna.” Hosanna is a word that means save now and it’s a word that is both a prayer and proclamation. "Hosanna. Jesus. save us, because we know you can. You are the king who is strong to save and we need to be rescued."

And when we wave the palms in worship we are also saying “Hosanna. Jesus, you have saved us, you are our king and we will live in Your kingdom. We will live as citizens of Your kingdom  - even when it demands more than expected. Even if it requires more than we thought possible. Hosanna. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord."

Jesus, King of Heaven, You have saved us. Now reign in us so your kingdom can come here in us.

Special thanks to, which provided important information
and some helpful wording for this sermon.