Saturday, September 8, 2012

Breakfast with Nana

On Saturday morning, three weeks ago, Duane, Jason, and I drove up to Oceanside to have breakfast with Duane's mother, Kay.  We did that once or twice a month.  With busy work schedules, we couldn't get up there too often, and we usually couldn't stay long, so we went out to breakfast.

This particular Saturday was unusual.  We hadn't planned on going up to Oceanside.  We were supposed to be in Palm Springs, a sort of last hurrah before school started.  In fact, I ended up creating lesson plans and syllabus most of the time, but I set my books aside to go with Caitlin and Duane to the art museum on Thursday afternoon.  It was free, and I wanted a break.

After spending an hour looking at uber-modern art exhibits, we walked down the main drag, going in and out of shops.  We weren't looking for anything, but the stores were air conditioned and some of them had interesting, of not useless, merchandise.  Caitlin and I walked into a very cute women's apparel store where even T-shirts cost more than $60.  We oohed and aahed at little girls clothes on the rack and then perused the shoes.  Caitlin thought I should buy a pair of very cute on-sale flip flops.  I told her I needed to invest in real shoes since school was starting and I'm not really supposed to wear flip flops.

Duane stayed outside.  He gets bored in stores, and I knew he wanted to check in with his mom.  A few days before she told him she didn't feel good, wasn't eating much, and she was ready to die.  She said she was tired and had lived a good life.  Duane told her to go to the doctor, and so she did.

The doctor told her he saw liver cancer, but it was small, only grape-sized.  In typical Kay fashion, she said she had seen some pretty big grapes in her life.  Duane reassured her that it was good that they caught it early.

After Duane got done talking, he came inside and very flatly says, "Mom has liver cancer."  Without another word, he walked out the door.

It didn't really hit me what he said, and so after a few minutes, Caitlin and I went out to talk to him.  He didn't seem worried, but we decided to head home to San Diego early to have breakfast with Nana.  On the way home, she called to say that a cancer blood test was negative.  Whew.  It was probably a close call, but we wanted to see her on Saturday anyway.

We called her on Saturday morning when we got close to where she lives, and she said she had never been to the Broken Yolk.  I asked, "Do you want to meet us there?"  She asked if we could pick her up.

Kay ordered a gigantic fruit plate and ate a few pieces of watermelon, a few bites of cantaloupe.  She sent the rest of it home with us, and we had it with lunch the next day.  She moved slowly, and she seemed frail.  How did that happen so quickly?  We hoped she would get well soon.  We believed--or maybe we hoped--that the cancer diagnosis was a mistake.  After all, she hadn't had a biopsy.

Six days later after the initial diagnosis, she was admitted to the hospital.
Six days after that, they told Duane and his sisters that she was terminal.
Two days later, two weeks after the initial diagnosis, she died.
Her final words were, "Jesus, I'm here."

We held the funeral three weeks from the day she learned she had liver cancer.

We're all a little dizzy.
We're wondering what happened.

Life and death are mysteries we cannot explain.

I watch the tribute video that tells the story of her life over and over, and I see the lonely little girl with the knobby knees, the one who pretends she has a twin sister, the one who clings to puppies and kittens because they are the only friends she has, and I wonder, "Where did all the time go?"  "How do we change so quickly?" "Why do we take life for granted?"  "Why are we so busy?"

The images tell the story of falling in love, of children, of grandchildren, or laughter and silliness.  I know the story is more complicated than the images before me, that some of the smiles are forced and nobody's perfect, but none of the complications seem to matter anymore.

The only thing that matters is love.
It's hard to believe there are no more breakfasts with Nana.  

Thursday, July 12, 2012

My Writing Muscles Are Out of Shape!

Last March I set a goal of blogging five times per week, a goal which I started right before Easter, and then which I quickly forgot about when school started again.

It took me two days to write that last post.  I started it yesterday morning, and I worked on it most of the afternoon.  My writing muscles are definitely out of shape.

The thing is, if I want to write, then I have to write.  I have to make it a priority, even when I have other things that seem like they might be more urgent.  

I have four classes starting on Monday.  Yes, four classes.  Two last for three weeks, and the other two last for ten weeks.  I had a lot of fear last spring when I started teaching at two new schools, but I'm not scared this time.  That's kind of awesome.

I need to finish up a few things, and I need to continue some of the things I've started this summer.  Eating at home.  Eating healthy.  And writing.

I need to write these goals--and some other ones down--so I can keep them in mind, so that I can continue moving forward.

Sometimes the steps are small, and sometimes I panic, but I am compelled to keep moving.

It does seem like I am always learning to move.  

Hearing God's Voice

Some twenty years ago I discovered the Bible.

Oh, I knew about it before that.  I think I got my first white leatherette King James Version with red letters and gold edge pages when I was in first grade, and I diligently sounded out the words in an attempt to learn the stories.  Before that I had gargantuan picture Bibles that illustrated the stories.  By the time I discovered the Bible, I owned at least two King James Bibles, a couple of New International Versions, a Good News for the Modern Man, a Living Bible, a Message, and a tattered French New Testament held together with a rubber band.  It just seems wrong to throw away a Bible.

By the time I discovered the Bible, I had memorized more than one hundred verses.  I could explain doctrines and  identify major characters.  I had read most of the New Testament and key parts of the Old Testament.

Owning a Bible, quoting Bible verses, and summarizing key events and characters is not the same thing as knowing the Bible. At least not the way it should be known.

Cognitive recognition of Scripture may have some value, but not eternally.

Until we read closely, engage the words, wrestle with them, ask questions, and respond, we haven't really heard God's voice in Scripture, and that is the point, I think.  If it doesn't speak to us, at least sometimes, we haven't really discovered the Bible as it was meant to be discovered.

It's filled with crazy and scary and sad and exciting stories that talk to us about people who loved God and people who didn't love God and how God interacted with them and how they responded, and by telling these stories we learn who God is and how he wants to interact with us.

And he does want to interact with us.  He wants to know us, and He wants us to know Him.  That's why he sent Jesus.  Through Jesus, we have "access to the Father" so that we are no longer "outcasts and wanderers but citizens with God's people, members of God's holy family" (Ephesians 2:18-19).

When I discovered the Bible, when I actively sought God's voice in the printed word and began asking questions, applying it to my life, it came alive.  After all those years of memorization, how could I have missed the excitement? the passion? the wisdom?

The thing is that sometimes the Bible can be overwhelming and confusing.  The stories, the lessons, the names, the places, the lessons, the genealogies, the laws.  The language.

Sometimes we get bored.  Sometimes we don't understand.  And sometimes God's voice through Scripture is just inaccessible.  

It helps to read with the Bible with somebody, somebody who talks with us about it and helps us figure out how it applies to us.  

It also helps to read a good translation that makes sense to us.  

A long time ago when I studied French, I took a class in translation.  The thing about translation is that there's more than one right answer.  You have to consider what the author meant to say and how the audience would understand it.  For example, Psalm 23.  Most of us don't really know a lot about shepherds--or sheep.  Or when Jesus talks about sowing and harvests.  We've planted flowers, but we've never lived on farms.  These passages speak to the people of that time in a way that they don't speak to us.

How does the Bible, written at various times by multiple authors to different cultures, speak to us today?

The translators of the King James Version used the language of the seventeenth century--translating Hebrew and Greek words with language specific to that time period.  That's the reason why it uses words like "thee" and "thou" and why it adds "-est" the end of some verbs.  People talked that way in the seventeenth century. We don't know use those kinds of words today, and so the King James can be a little confusing.

And sometimes it's good to read more than one translation because every translation has a different purpose.  

Language has rhythm.  Language has sound.  All of these matter, but these can be lost in a word for word translation.  For that reason, translators often want to add something that other translations miss.

Duane likes to read The Message in his devotions. The stories and the ideas come alive for him in this modern translation that takes some .  A lot of people like this translation because the language "pops."  It sounds current.  I'm not a huge fan for a variety of reasons that are mostly irrelevant to this discussion, but I know a lot of people really love The Message.   

For years I've preferred the New International Version, academically strong, but more formal than The Message.  I don't mind formal.  

Lately, however, I'm reading The Voice, a new translation.  In this version, the translators wanted to make sure that the text read like a story.  They added transitions to lead the reader from one idea to the next.  They inserted contextual details that might be lost to contemporary readers.  Anything added is printed in italics so that readers know that wasn't in the original text.  The original readers (or listeners) would have understood these things, and now contemporary readers can understand them too--even if they don't already have a background in Bible history.  

The translators changed some words, like "Christ," to "the Anointed," which explains what "Christ" or Messiah means.  Since "Christ" isn't a common word in our culture--it's actually a Greek word--it makes sense to use an English translation.  

The goal is to tell the story of the Bible in a cohesive way.  Each story leads to the next.  They aren't isolated events.  God had a purpose, and he included those stories for a purpose.  

I find myself caught up in the stories.  Reading a new translation catches me off guard, and I read the words in new ways.  They are fresh and new as they share ancient truths.  

I love the Bible.  When I discovered it, when I began hearing God's voice, I began to change.  That's the goal really.  

Whenever I lead small groups or Bible studies, my goal is that the people in my group discover the Bible, that they hear God's voice and that it changes them.  I don't actually care which version they read, but I do love this one.  That's one of the reasons I keep telling people about it.  

I want everybody to wrestle with Scripture, to discover the Bible, to hear God's voice.  

A free download of The New Testament in The Voice translation is available online, and you purchase a complete version from Amazon or from other retailers.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Summer Time Musing

Ah summer.  My favorite season.

I love leisurely summer evenings, dining al fresco. Concerts in the park.  Feeling sunshine on my shoulders.  (And yes, I know that's a song, but I don't think the song influenced my emotions.)  I don't mind the heat.  Usually.  In fact, we go to Palm Springs every summer for vacation.  Because we like it.  

Between finishing my thesis, working five days a week as a tutor, and worrying about income in the fall, I completely missed summer 2011.

This summer is different.  May 17 was my last day of work, and I finished grading a few days later.  I went from feeling like my life was a runaway train to having no deadlines.  None.

Well, I had created a rather substantial reading list, and I had three classes to plan for.  That turned into five with summer school classes.  It's fine though because I like reading and I like developing lesson plans.

As I settled into a life of leisure, reading and planning, meeting with friends, making dinner nearly every evening, I began to appreciate little things.  Like the smell of jasmine.  Lingering over coffee in the morning, sitting at the table in front of my house, looking out into the San Diego River reserve and listening to birds.  Gazing at butterflies when the swirl around the flowers in the green space.  Listening to Mozart.  Laughing with friends.

Most of the time I live life on the edge, and not in a good way.  I'm frantically trying to do everything, and not doing anything well.  I've lose touch with important friends.  I never get caught up with lesson plans or grading papers.  And then when I have some time, I'm too tired to enjoy life so I watch something mindless on T.V.

And so I began to ask God to help me live wisely this summer, to prepare for the busy time ahead, because classes are approaching rapidly.  I want to be prepared so that I can have margins when life hits full force.  And I want to recognize the importance of allowing time for friends as well as the value of looking beyond today, of allowing myself to dream about the future and then setting long-term goals and moving toward my dreams.              

Oddly enough, I read about the importance of setting goals in The Circlemaker, by Mark Batterson, a book  I read with my life group last winter.  At the end of the session, we started setting some goals.  I wrote mine in the back of my journal, which I filled up yesterday.

And so yesterday, I sat in Balboa Park, surrounded by majestic architecture, feeling summer breezes and sunlight, and I turned the page.  My first thought was, what are these random ideas and why did I write them down?  And then I remembered.  These were things I wanted to make important.

  • Go on a mission trip with Duane. 
  • Travel to Europe.
  • Resume blogging five times per week.
  • Submit articles for publication.  
  • Get published. 
  • Write a book.
  • Exercise.
  • Lose 20 pounds this year.
  • Eat at home a minimum of four nights per week.
Of course some of these are long-term goals, but some of them are immediate, short-term goals.  I'm eating at home at least four nights per week--that's what unemployment will do for you--but I can honestly say I am no closer to meeting any of the other goals than I was when I wrote them down last March.  In fact, I've gained weight.

I suppose that's the thing with goals--if you don't think about them, and if you don't create a plan, then nothing will happen.  Or you move away from those goals.  

I've always been a "life happens" type of person.  Things come my way most of the time.  That's lovely, but it's also rather limiting.  And I think that's one of the reasons I end up living frenetically.  I want to live purposefully, making space for the important things instead of allowing urgent things to rule my days.  

Today I'm grateful for leisurely mornings with my books spread out in front of me.  I'm grateful for the last page of my journal that reminded me of something I learned months ago.  I'm grateful that God reminds me of things I forget.  

I'm also grateful for the women I learned this with, the women in my life group.  I wonder how they're doing on their goals.  

Okay.  I'm off.  Off to enjoy lunch with one of my beautiful daughters.  Off to live life.  

Friday, May 25, 2012

Broken and Disabled Computers: The Story of "H"

I depend on my computer.  It stores my ideas and projects.  It allows me to access an infinite storehouse of information, so much information that I can never process it all.   But it is there, and that gives me comfort.

I use my computer every day.  For all kinds of reasons.

I thought that when the semester ended, I would start blogging again, but alas, my computer is broken.  The keyboard doesn't respond in a way that allows me to take joy in the rhythm of clacking keys.  That rhythm generates ideas and inspires me to keep typing.

It all started at the beginning of April with a sticky "h."  After a few days, "y" and "m" also stopped responding appropriately.  Sometimes typing these keys resulted in no response, and sometimes I ended up with multiple characters. I posted this on FB, and my post contained several "y's" and missing "h's."  This made friends laugh, and they also gave suggestions.  As a result, I popped the offending keys off and put them back on.  It didn't help.  Then a friend give me a can of "air" to spray underneath the keys.  That worked for a few weeks, and then my "h" key started falling off.  I put it back on, several times an hour, and then I couldn't get it on at all.  Now I push on the un-key. Sometimes.  But mostly I copy an "h" somewhere and then press "Control-V" to copy it onto the page.

It's not just the "h."  My down arrow became inconsistently unresponsive well over two months ago.  I just thought perhaps I had forgotten how to navigate a web page.  I realized it was more than that when my "a" key tried the same tricks.

I am a speed typist.  This is frustrating.  Unresponsive keyboards take the joy out of typing and writing and putting my ideas down on paper.  Okay, it's not paper, but it feels like it.

I knew it needed to get the computer fixed, but I couldn't send it away during the semester.  I needed it too much.

I hate it when things don't work the way they should.  It just slows down everything.

Did I mention that my computer itself is significantly slower than it should be? I have to wait for web pages to load, and Word keeps shutting down for no good reason.

Yes.  I feel like I am going crazy.

At the same time, I am essentially unemployed right now, earning no money.  I have one tentative contract signed for the fall and two possible jobs for summer.  I am living in limbo-land, and  I really hate that.  I'm fairly certain everything will line up eventually, and my computer will get a new keyboard next week, but in the meantime I'm copy-pasting "h's."

I told Duane on Tuesday that I was kind of in a funk.  The computer, the uncertainty, unemployment . . .   Trusting God is just hard.  I like to see things lined up on a computer.  It makes me feel better.

Life as an adjunct is all about living on the edge, trusting God to provide jobs.  And I'm just not good at that.    Maybe someday I will be.  I don't know.

Duane said he would pray.

On Wednesday morning, I emailed the department chair at San Diego Christian College. I interviewed with him about a month ago and thought it went well, but I still didn't have a formal offer.  I let him know that community colleges were asking about my availability.  Ten minutes later he emailed me to let me know that a job offer was definitely coming.  Thirty minutes after that, I got a call from HR.

Thirty minutes after that, I got an email from Mesa College with a job offer.  I need five classes, but it's May and I have three.  The others will fill in.

An hour later, I heard from my possible summer job at College of Extended Studies.  I'm still waiting for specifics on that one, but it's a little easier to trust when I can see something.

And there's the irony.  Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Perhaps someday I can rest in God's faithfulness.  Perhaps someday I will trust Him more completely.  Perhaps someday broken keyboards won't sap my joy, and uncertain schedules and incomes won't put me into a funk.

Embracing Mystery

My greatest sin is the same sin as Eve's sin.

I want to know everything.  I want to understand everything.  I want to life to make sense.  I want to know how stories end.  I want to know what will happen next.  And I want to know why.

Uncertainty makes me crazy.  I get anxious.  I hear, "Trust God" in the recesses of my mind, and I try, but I don't.

And I hear God asking me to embrace His mysteries, to embrace the unknown.  It's hard for me.  I want to predict what He will do next.  I want to figure Him out.  I want to understand Him and explain Him.  And the more I try, the more frustrated I am.  His paths are beyond tracing out. 

I've been reading Leonard Sweet's What Matters Most: How We Got the Point but Missed the Person.  In this book, Sweet focuses on our faith as a living relationship with a God who loves us, a relationship we will never fully have a handle on, a relationship that demands we enter into other relationships as well, the relationships that matter to God.

We must enter into relationships with the people God has relationship with.  And people he loves but does not have relationship with.

We must enter into relationship with created things.

It all matters.

It is a mystery.  We do not understand; we cannot understand.  And that is okay.  It's better than okay.  It's good.

Sweet writes:
Being a Christian is more about relationship with God than believes about God; more about the presence of God than the proofs of God; more about intimacy with truth than the tenets of truth; more about knowing God's activities than knowing God's attributes.  It is time to move from a religion that seeks to comprehend God to a relationship that seeks to encounter and be a home for God--to move from points to propositions and moralisms to mystery and paradox and participation in the divine life.
Relationships only stay alive by retaining the mystery.  Once something is fully known, it dies.  Relationships need strangeness and unpredictability.  It's the same with our relationship with God.  All relationships are dances of communication and concealment.  
Anyone who talks about God doesn't know what he or she is talking about.  God is another name for mystery.  
Moses to God: What is your name?
God to Moses: I will be what I will be. 
Moses spoke to God face-to-face, "as one speaks to a friend."  But Moses wanted something more than God's face.  Moses wanted God's mind.  Moses wanted more than just seeing and experiencing God.  Moses wanted to go into the mind of God.
And God said no because ultimately God is unknowable.  If we knew everything, we would no longer be strugglers with God.  Until the day we will see God face to face, we will only know "in part" and at best through a glass dimly.  Until then, we will never know all that we want to know.  We will never understand all that we want to understand.  
The paradoxical nature of biblical truth, where the relationships between opposite extremes is the essence of truth, should make Christians quite at home with contradictions and contritions.  
I must embrace mysteries.  I must be okay with a God who is bigger than my intellect, who does not answer all my questions. I must be okay with struggling with God, with blurry vision, so to speak.  This is the essence of faith.  

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The One-Anothers

I don't know why, but when I hear "The One-Anothers," I think it sounds like the title of a T.V. show or a movie.

You know, sort of like The Untouchables, starring Sean Connery and Kevin Costner.

Except that it's The One-Anothers, starring you and me.  And all those other people that we don't know yet or we know and avoid because we don't like them very much.

I first heard the phrase "The One-Anothers" when Pastor Mike at Newbreak referenced those passages of Scripture that speak to the way we treat each other.

You know, like Jesus said, "A new command I give to you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another."

Or, "By this will all men know you are my disciples, if you have love one for another."

Stop passing judgment on one another.
Be humble and gentle; bear with one another.
Regard one another with humility of mind.
Forgive one another.

There are more.  I just pulled some of the more poignant.

Dealing with the One-Anothers is just messy sometimes.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

By This Will All Men Know You Are My Disciples

I bumped into my dear friend B. a few weeks ago at church.  She thought I might be mad at her.  She was going to join a life group I was leading, but then changed her mind.  She texted me, and I got busy and never returned her text.  I should have, but I didn't.  And I understand how she might have thought I was angry.

Misunderstandings can build chasms between friends, but happily, B. and I bumped into each other at church, and the perceived offense evaporated.

We hugged, and we made a lunch date on a day we would both be off work.

B and I met in church more than a decade ago, and we hit it off immediately.  Our kids were pretty much the same age, but the only other thing we had in common was our love for God.  We've built our friendship on these important commonalities.

We've lost touch several times in our friendship.  We get busy with our kids, our jobs, our ministries.  We've attended different campuses at our church.

Sometimes I wish we could go back to summer days when we met a few times a week to go walking in the canyons, when we would hang out after life groups on Saturday mornings, when we would get our families together for dinner.  Life seemed simpler in those days.

But life moves on. I'm just grateful for today.

We had lunch together yesterday, and as we sat together, she asked me about the many people we have known over the years.  This one isn't at our church anymore.  That one isn't either.

I kept my explanations brief.  At least I hope I did.  I don't want to gossip.  The stories aren't as brief as my explanations, though.  This one left mad.  Those friends no longer talk to each other.  That couple got divorce, and the husband got custody of some friends, and the wife got custody of the other friends.

It got me thinking about the way we treat each other.  The way we hurt each other.  The way we misunderstand motivations.  The way we walk away from each other without even talking.

This isn't a new problem in the church, and I think that's why Jesus and Paul both addressed the issue directly.

Jesus simplified the complicated code of laws given to his people.  He said if we did two things, we would fulfill the entire law:  First, love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and strength, and second, love your neighbor as yourself.

In John 13, Jesus gives his disciples a new command. He says, "Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

In Philippians we see that it's not that simple.  Before he closes his letter, he mentions two women by name. He doesn't describe the disagreement between Euodia and Syntyche, but he does plead with them to be of the same mind in the Lord.  And then he encourages the other members of the church to help these women work through their conflict.  They're all my coworkers whose names are in the book of life, he says.

Earlier, he explains what it means to be "of the same mind."  He tells the Philippians, "If you have any encouragement from being united in Christ, if you have any comfort in his love, if you have any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others."

Again, if only it were that easy.

We have the same purposes.  We all want to see the name of Jesus glorified.  We all want to see the Church of Jesus Christ strengthened.

But how do we maintain humility?  How do we put the interests of each other before our own interests?

How do we resolve disagreements?
How do we help other people resolve disagreements so that they can maintain unity?
I wish I knew.  

In the old days, I walked away from conflict.  When I was hurt, I held it in, considered my own part, and then distanced myself from friends.

I wonder if I'm any better at this today.

I recently ran into a conflict situation in my life.  I didn't do anything wrong.  At least not directly.  Not even indirectly.  And some people would say what I did was good.  But I knew that it would make one person uncomfortable, and I did it anyway.

It kind of blew up because I didn't think about unity first.  I wish I could go backward.  I don't know how to move forward.  I don't think there's anything I can do to undo what I did.

The whole thing just makes me sad.  Sad because unity is broken, not just in this situation but in several other situations, many that don't involve me.

I'm sad because people I love are wounded.

I have seen this before, and I have seen the Holy Spirit heal wounds and restore unity.  This is my prayer--that we will remember that at our our core, we are brothers and sisters.  We all love Jesus.  We all want the same to see God glorified.  That we will let go of our wounds and talk to each other.  And that we will forgive one another.

I have seen God do this even when it seemed impossible.

By this all men will know you are my disciples if you have love for one another.   Let us love one another.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Eucharist: Giving Thanks

On Wednesday, Duane asked me to lead Communion at the weekend service.  At first I didn't know what he was asking, and then I kind of just said, "Really?"  I was stunned.

It's Sunday morning, and I still don't know if I'm going to say yes.  I don't know why I'm so cautious about these kinds of things.

I've taken Communion once a month every month since I was about eleven.  If you calculate my age and the number of months, that's a lot of times.  (I've probably missed it a few months, but there have also been months when I took communion more than once.)

I have directed communion in a life group, but I've never done this in a larger group.  In fact, I rarely speak in front of large groups.  It's not that I'm afraid or anything, but I just don't.

At any rate, and of course you know this is going someplace, I've been thinking about Communion and what it means and why we do this every month.

Communion is a celebration of what Jesus did for us.  It's a time to give thanks for his sacrifice on the Christ.  It's time to give thanks for gifts we receive because of that sacrifice.

I enjoy these gifts every day, the privilege of entering into God's presence through prayer and worship, the joy of having the Holy Spirit active in my life, the comfort of knowing that God loves me and sees me as his child.

Nevertheless, it's easy to forget that we only enjoy these gifts because of the cross.  None of this is possible unless Jesus is nailed to the cross.

Some groups of Christians call Communion, the Eucharist.  This word comes from the Greek word for "thanksgiving."  When we take communion, we are indeed giving thanks.  As Paul puts it, we give thanks because Christ's sacrifice "rescues us from the dominion of darkness and brings us into the kingdom of the Son."

We must never forget that we would still live in the dominion of darkness, separated from God's presence, if Christ had not willingly given us life for us.

And so this tradition has been passed on from Jesus' generation to the first generation of disciples and on and on through history to us.  Indeed, Jesus himself, instructs us to remember, to share in this tradition with Christians all over the world throughout history.

In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul says:
I passed on to you the tradition the Lord gave to me.  On the same night the Lord Jesus was betrayed, He took the bread in His hands; and after giving thanks to God, He broke it and said, "This is My body, broken for you.  Keep doing this so that you and all who come after will have a vivid reminder of Me."
After they had finished dinner, He took the cup and in the same way said, "This is the new covenant, executed in My blood.  Keep doing this; and whenever you drink it, you and all who come after will have a vivid reminder of Me."
 Every time you taste this bread and every time you place the cup to your mouths and drink, you are declaring the Lord's death, which is the ultimate expression of His faithfulness and love, until He comes again.  The Voice Bible
When we take Communion, when we celebrate the Eucharist, giving thanks for all that Christ has done, we must remember all that Christ death means for us.

In dying, he takes our place.
In dying, he gives us life.

In dying, he rescues us from the powers of darkness and delivers us into the Kingdom of Love.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Forgive as Christ Forgave You

I don't think about forgiveness very often.  I am an oldest child, and we tend to be a little self-absorbed.  We think we're so important that everything bad that happens must be our fault.  As a result of this tremendous responsibility, I tend to be a little melancholy.  After all, I live under the false belief that I am at least partially to blame for most of the world's problems.  It's a heavy burden.

When I experience conflict, I assume I did something wrong.  After a while though, after I have spent far too much time focusing on conflicts and feeling so guilty I cannot pray or laugh or engage in anything productive, I see the complexity of problems in interpersonal relationships and realize that while I share some of the responsibility, the other person does too.

At that point, I get mad.  How could that person insinuate that the situation is all my fault?

And then I assess what I have learned and move on emotionally.  Hence, forgiveness is largely a moot point.

The friendship is usually shot at that point anyway.  At least that's what I tell myself.  Conversations about conflict are awkward.  There's always a chance of misunderstanding, that the other person and I won't behave civilly.  There might be yelling or accusations.  It could get bloody.  Metaphorically speaking.

At any rate, what I don't think about doesn't bother me.

It should.  Deep inside, I collect wounds that that produce pain at the most inopportune times.  I don't see the wounds, but there are scars that influence the way I respond to new situations with new people.  Or people from the past.  That's when I realize that I haven't fully embraced forgiveness.

I remember the first time I read Colossians 3:13-14.  Okay, this wasn't actually the first time I had read this verse.  It's just the first time I actually saw the words:
Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  
At the time I was dealing with a situation, a long-term situation, a situation I couldn't just walk away from.  Hurts from the past came flooding back, and I couldn't turn off my anger and self-righteousness.  How could this person continue to treat me like this?  It was wrong!  And the person didn't even see a problem.

Paul's words--God's words--jumped off the page.

I can't, God.  It's not right.  This person is wrong.  This person has been wrong for years.  How can I forgive?  This person doesn't deserve forgiveness.  
"Forgive as I forgave you."
I did not--I do not--deserve forgiveness.  I do not deserve grace.  I do not deserve your love.  I do not deserve mercy.  
I know that, Father, but this person has wounded me deeply.  And it's not going to stop. 
I journaled this internal conversation, and even as I wrote the words on the page, I knew I would no doubt rebel against God again.  And again.  And he still forgives me.
It's hard, God.
How do we forgive unconditionally?  How do we forgive when the offending party doesn't even acknowledge his or her part in an offense?  Paul offers advice in the next verse:
In addition to compassion, kindness, gentleness, humility, and patience, put on love, which binds all these virtues together in perfect unity.  Love.
Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  These are not my words, by the way.  These are Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 13.

I have walked away from dear relationships because of misunderstandings and assumed offenses.  I have lost ministry partners because I feared messy confrontation.  In the emotion of the moment, I forget how dear that friend is, I forget what that friendship means to me.

I am not the only one who does this kind of thing.  I see it all the time.  Way too often.
We don't take the time to talk to each other.  Listen to each other.  See the situation from someone else's perspective.

We think we know.  We think we see all sides.
But we don't.

Why is it we don't know how to talk to each other about the things that make us mad?
Why don't we care enough to fight for each other?

Maybe we hold unforgiveness as a self-protective measure.
Maybe it's pride.
Maybe it's shame.
Maybe it's fear.

I don't know, but life is too short, and good friends are hard to come by.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Resurrection Beliefs versus Resurrection Realities

From, Artist Michael Heath
Breaking Free
Artist Michael Heath, from Shannon Associates

Images of the resurrection usually show a white bearded Jesus in a white robe standing serenely next to an empty cave.

But the resurrection is active.  It is violent. Forceful.  Powerful.

In the resurrection, Jesus breaks the chains of death.

I want to hold on to an active and powerful, chain-breaking resurrection, but most of the time the resurrection images in my head are more like the former than the latter.

The passive images in my imagination seep over into my faith.

I don't envision what it took to break those chains, and I want to.  I need to because I need that same power in my life everyday.

If we're Christians, we believe in the resurrection.  It's a centerpiece of our faith.

When Paul recaps the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15, he says, "Here's what's most important:  Christ was crucified.  He was buried.  He rose from the dead on the third day and appeared to all kinds of people."

He stresses the importance of this resurrection and its application in our lives by saying, "If there is no resurrection for us, then even if Christ was not raised from the dead.  And if Christ was not raised, then all our preaching is pretty much pointless.  Our faith is pointless.  We're doomed."

Incidentally, this is my paraphrase.

I believe in the resurrection.  Cognitively.  It's in my head, but I don't always live in the chain-breaking reality of the resurrection.  And that's a problem.

In What Matters Most:  How We Got the Point, but Missed the Person, Leonard Sweet differentiates between these two ways of looking at the resurrection (9).

Do we really believe in a "living Christ who is active and at work in our world today"?
Are we connected "not only to a memorialized Christ or a coming Christ, but also to a living Christ"?
Have we joined Jesus in the things he is "doing in the world right now"?

He says, "An Easter faith is not a Resurrection belief, it is a Resurrection reality: 'Christ is alive and among us.'"

A resurrection belief is in my head.  I acknowledge it, but I get focused and distracted on issues and problems in my own little world.

A resurrection faith, a resurrection reality, is a relationship with Christ himself, not just what we know about him, not just his words, not just the memory of him.

Sweet says, "Easter is about recognizing the risen Christ among us and walking the same way with him."

God is alive and powerful.
He changes things.
He brings dead things to life.
He restores hope.
He does the impossible.

In him we live and move and have our being.

Resurrection realities are not easily grasped, but without them, Jesus is a historic character in an ancient book and not a glorious Lord at work in the world today.

In Philippians, Paul stresses the importance of resurrection realities.  He writes, "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection, becoming like him in his death."

In Galatians, he again points to death and life in resurrection realities, saying, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me."

In Ephesians, he prays that our eyes will be opened so that we can know the hope to which we have been called and know and live in the power of the resurrection.

Living in a resurrection reality is more than acknowledging a set of beliefs.  It is a quest for discovery, a pursuit of God.  It is filled with following Jesus, forgiving, seeking, rejoicing and sharing.  It is moving forward; it is a "life of relating to God, to others, and to God's creation" (Sweet 10).

It is a process.  We cannot do it on our own.  But we have a resurrected Jesus.

He is risen.
He is risen indeed.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Saturday After Good Friday

This morning my friend Matt Botkin posed an important question on Facebook, a great platform for philosophical discussions of all kinds.  He said, "Can't help but wonder what the disciples were doing & thinking during the days before the resurrection."

His friend Tom wondered what the Romans were thinking and doing.  Or the Pharisees.

I'll add the people of Jerusalem.  The ones who had seen or experienced healing.  The ones who had demons cast out of them.  The ones who heard him speak.

The ones he forgave.

We can only imagine.  I mean, those of us who call ourselves Christians believe Jesus didn't stay dead.  We live in a resurrection world, at least cognitively.

I don't think the disciples, or the Romans, or the Pharisees shared this perspective.

The Romans were probably relieved, but living on edge for fear of an uprising.  They remembered Jesus said he would rise from the dead, and since that's impossible, they posted extra guards on Jesus' tomb.  Just in case the disciples or some fanatics might steal the body and claim that Jesus had come back to life.

The Pharisees, as Tom pointed out, should have been completely freaked out.  After all the earth shook violently.  The sky turned black in the middle of the day.  The veil on the Holy of Holies in the temple tore in two.  And the bodies of many holy people who had dead were raised to live, walked into town, and appeared to people.  Dead people walked out of their graves.  Crazy stuff.  

I'm sure they told themselves it was nothing.  Dead is dead, to quote Lost.  

But the disciples.  And the people who believed, who hoped that Jesus was the promised Messiah?  

Of course Jesus prophesied more than once that he would rise from the dead, but there's no evidence that they really believed this.  After all, some things seem bigger than anything God can handle.

So they ran away when the Romans arrested Jesus.  Peter denied him.  John stood nearby the cross, along with some of the women, but there is no mention of any of the other disciples.  

You know that empty feeling you have when someone you love dies? You gasp for breath, but the air has left the room.  The world keeps moving, and you want to yell, "Stop!"  You know even if you did, the earth would keep spinning.

Emptiness surrounds you.  You're with people, but you're alone.  You mourn.  You cry.  You get angry.  You can't believe it's true, but you know it is.  You hope you're wrong, but you know you're not.  

Yeah.  I think that's it.  

They can't see the hope of Easter.  They're afraid to believe in in the promised resurrection.  

Think of your greatest disappointments.  Broken friendships.  Unemployment.  Wounded marriages.  Lost children.  You fill in the blank.

Right now I'm pondering some difficult situations, and I wonder, is there anything God can do to change the situation?  Is there are a resurrection?  Is there hope?  What will happen next?

This post is rather depressing, and I'm trying to find some cheerful way out.  Some way to signal that there is hope.  That there is a resurrection.  That God can do anything.  I know there is, but it just doesn't feel like it today.

And that, I think, expresses Saturday for the disciples.

Matt thought this would make a great movie.  Honestly, I prefer lighthearted comedies, but if the director includes Easter Sunday, this could make an interesting psychological drama.

I'm looking forward to Easter.

P.S.  It is Easter Sunday morning.  As I suspected, the reality of Easter is sinking in slowly.  When Jesus walked out of the tomb, he conquered death.  Death is no longer final.  

I speak of physical life, of course.  But I speak of other things as well.  

The God who raised Jesus from the dead can do anything.  

Happy Easter.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Remembering the Cross ~ 5

Today is Good Friday. 

I've been trying to focus on the cross all week long, sometimes successfully.

Mostly, I find myself getting distracted.  This week has been a week of recognizing and acknowledging my own sin and my need Jesus' sacrifice.

Once upon a time, approximately 2,000 years ago, the majestic and glorious creator of the world sent his son to earth with a message of love and deliverance.  

Jesus left his home in heaven and took on the form of a man, an ordinary man.  He experienced the suffering of an ordinary man.  He experienced hunger, thirst, pain, and rejection.

Everywhere he went, he preached God's love.  He preached love for mankind.  He simplified God's commandments and instructed his followers to love God and love each other.

He modeled compassion for the weak, the broken, and the rejected members of society, lepers, Samaritans, tax collectors, Romans, and women.

He healed the sick.  He restored sight to eyes and strength to arms and legs.  He fed thousands.

He forgave sinners.  He ate with them and accepted them.

He brought light into the world, but humanity preferred darkness.  It does seem that we would rather stay in darkness, doing things our own way, treat people the way we want to treat them, than enter into light and love on God's terms.

And so, with the approval of the priests and the people, soldiers surrounded Jesus, the man who healed the sick, who showed compassion to the sinners, and who welcomed women and Samaritans and taxpayers, who said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 

These soldiers took him and marched him to a courtyard where they stripped him naked, pressed a crown of thorns on his head, and threw a scarlet robe over his shoulders, as if he were a king.  

They ridiculed him, bowing down before him and mocking him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” Others spat on him.  

After they tired of this game, they marched him to his execution.  He carried his own cross down the streets of Jerusalem and up a hill, Golgotha, the Hill of the Skull. 

Nails secured his wrists to the wooden beam of the cross.  The soldiers placed his legs so that his feet pointed downward with the soles pressed against a post.  They drove a long nail through the bones of his feet.  They lifted the cross high for all to see.  At the top of the cross, a sign:  Jesus:  King of the Jews.

From the third hour of the morning, Jesus hung there.  He gasped for breath, pushing himself up with his feet so he could breathe, but the nail in his feet caused so much pain that he dropped down.  Up and down.  The coarse wooden beam pressed into his back, the nails ripped through his skin, his shoulders dislocated. 

The priests and the people came to watch. 

“You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days,” they called out, “Save yourself!  Come down from the cross, if you are the son of God!”

The Pharisees mocked him, saying, “He saved others, but he can’t save himself.  If you come down from the cross now, we’ll believe you!”

Jesus whispered, “Father, forgive them.  They don’t know what they are doing.”

At the ninth hour, while the sun was still shining, sudden darkness came over the land. The earth shook violently.

In pain, with blood dripping down his face, Jesus cried out, “My God!  My God! Why have you forsaken me?”  “It is finished,” he gasped and he breathed his last breath. 

When the centurion and the soldiers guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God.”

Jesus, the Son of God, who took away the sin of the world.
Jesus, the Son of God who still takes away the sin of the world.  
  • In dying, Jesus represents us.  We have a God who has experienced everything we experience, even death. 
  • In dying, Jesus takes the punishment for sin.  We receive forgiveness. 
  • In dying, Jesus reconciles us with God. His death leads us from all that entraps us and frees us from all that holds us captive.  His death leads to his resurrection. Together these events leads us into the very presence of God.  Because of Jesus' sacrifice, we can have relationship with God and relationship with others
  • In dying, Jesus asks us again:  Who do you say that I am?
Our answer to this question forces us to make a choice.  
We can choose to receive this sacrifice and follow him, or we can choose to reject it.

This isn't a question we only answer once.
We must answer it everyday.
And our answer isn't expressed with words; we answer with our lives.  

Who is Jesus?  Are we willing to follow him no matter where he leads?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Remembering the Cross ~ Part 4

It's spring break, and I've made it a point to touch base with some friends I haven't seen in a very long time.  A few nights ago, Duane and I had dinner with a couple who used to be on staff with us at the church.

I often wonder how people with young kids navigate the demands of full-time ministry with its late nights and 24-7 on-call status.

Our friends decided that they just couldn't do it, that God was moving them in a different direction.

They still serve God through a local church, but they don't get paid for it anymore.

I mentioned Good Friday services, and my friend told me how much she loved walking into church on Good Friday and being just being able to worship.  She loves going to outreaches that she isn't responsible for putting together.  She attends any service she wants because there are no requirements.

Sometimes that sounds appealing, to be honest.  I'm only the pastor's wife, but sometimes getting ready for church events distracts me from actually entering into church activities and enjoying them.  Did this get done?  What about that?  Do we have candles?  Should I attend this?  What about that?

Sometimes the distractions of ministry get in the way of worship; they get in the way of remembering who God is and what he has done in our lives. They get in the way of relationships with God and with other people.

Duane and I talked about this as we drove away, and we came to the conclusion that there are plenty of distractions, no matter what jobs we have, that our distractions have nothing to do with his role as pastor.

Before we entered full-time ministry, we didn't always take time for our kids, for friends, or for God.  And after I left full-time ministry to return to school, I still didn't always take time for my kids, for friends, or for God.

We can be distracted by the dishes in the sink.  The spots on the carpet.  The need to grade papers.  Television.  Relationship issues.  Sickness.  Crying children.  Sunshine.  Rain.  Car problems.  Checking accounts.

There are more distractions than I can list.

These distractions can get in the way of remembering the cross, directly and indirectly.

Right now I have three stacks of papers upstairs.  I have a side project.  I'm concerned about some friends. I need to shop for dinner on Sunday and clean the house.  I need to blow dry my hair.  We're going to the ballgame this afternoon.  None of this has anything to do with Duane being on staff, and all of it distracts me from things that matter more.

Remember the cross?  What cross?

It's no wonder we have a tendency to forget Jesus and all that he has done.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Seasons of Life: Drought

The hills and canyons are green this time of year in San Diego.  Many colors of green.  And orange and purple and yellow flowers bloom along the side of the freeway.  I catch fragrances from the blooms near my front door, and bees buzz all around.  It's spring.

I wondered if we would see green this year.  It hardly rained all winter, and without water, the canyons lack color.  That's not entirely true.  They are brown.  Like dead straw.

We pray for rain in San Diego.  Without it, we're not very pretty, to be quite honest.

Even with rain, we always lack sufficient water.  Our economy, our lifestyle, our reputation as a vacation paradise is dependent on water from many sources: reservoirs, the Colorado River, spring run-off from faraway mountain snows.

We need water.  We need rain.  We need help.
We're always on the verge of drought.

But I digress.

With average high temperatures hovering around 70 degrees, it's easy to overlook seasons in Southern California.   And certainly, our seasons are not as extreme as other places, like Minnesota, for example. Nevertheless, we do have winter, spring, summer, and fall.  Even though flowers are always blooming somewhere, we do have green times and brown times.

With sufficient water, San Diego blooms in springtime.  The hills and canyons remind me that after the cold of winter, after the brownness, comes life.  Indeed, the brownness, the dryness, is part of the way God made Southern California.

As much as I would love to have year-round 80-degree days with the scent of jasmine everywhere, life is not like that in this part of the world.

I see beauty in all the seasons God has made for this region.  I see beauty in the rain, in the blooming, and in the sunny days that dry out the canyons.

Trusting in the seasons, knowing that the 80-degree days will return and I will again feel God's love with the touch of the sun, that I will not always wake up to icy mornings, actually makes me enjoy the rain and all the other seasons.  Let it rain because the rain brings the green.  If there's no rain, I won't actually get to enjoy the green days.  If' it's always dry and 80, the canyons begin to die.  And I know that when the canyons turn brown and pale yellow, I know it's temporary.  It's not beautiful, but it won't be this way forever.

We see the rhythm of seasons in our physical lives.
We see the rhythm of seasons in our spiritual lives.

This morning I read Frank Viola's blog titled "In Praise of Dry Spells."  

Viola discusses the significance of seasons in Jesus' teachings, and then he begins to describe the dry spells we experience as Christians, as followers of Jesus.

I would like to say that I live completely in love with Jesus every day of my life, that I wake up with a worship song on my lips, and that I never doubt God's love for me.  That I never doubt God at all.

That is not true.  It's just not.

Viola defines dry spells as spiritual drought when "the Christian's throat becomes parched, when his/her eyes are filled with sand.  One's spiritual life is dull and lifeless.  You feel as if you're going through the motions.  there's a dearth of joy, excitement, and fervor.  Songs that once moved you to tears no longer touch your heart.  When you open up the Bible, the pages are blank.  Prayer is a study in boredom."

"God is the author of dry spells," Viola writes.  "He plans them.  He creates them.  He brings them.  And He eventually removes them.  Our Lord authors dry spells as much as he authors wet spells.  He engineers both of them."

I agree.  Just as God created Southern California to move through rain to green and then sunshine and dryness, he leads me into dry spells.  And just as I must trust that the canyons will not always appear lifeless,  I must trust that my dry spells will not endure forever.

During these times I must walk in faith, remembering what God has done in the other seasons of my life.  That's one of the reasons we need spiritual communities.  Even when we forget what God has done, these communities, these men and women who love us, will remind us about what's true.

A few years ago, I sat in the canyons during a drought time.  I found that if I rested in one place long enough, I could see that the dry canyons were not devoid of life.  I just had to look a little harder to see the life.

Viola suggests that God is not really absent during the spiritual droughts of our lives.  He asks, "Do you know what God is doing during a dry spell?  He's searching us out.  He's asking the acute question 'Do you want Me only during the good times, or do you want Me in the dry times also?'"

He suggests that "dry spells are designed to purify our love" for God.

Just as none of us can make it rain on our own, none of us can make the grass turn green or cause the flowers to bloom, none of us can end a dry spell.  We must wait.  We must trust in the seasons.  We must trust in God.  

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Remembering the Cross ~ 3

When I was a little girl, I looked at pictures of Jesus dying, the crown of thorns pressed around his head and the blood trickling down his face.  I saw the gash in his side.  His kind eyes gazed on the people below. And the nails.  The enormous nails.  
I wondered why Jesus had to die.

And for the life of me, I couldn't figure out how the same people who welcomed as a king on Sunday called for his crucifixion on Friday.  It just didn't make sense.  It still doesn't.  

It’s hard to imagine why this story might end in crucifixion.  Jesus healed sick people.  He restored sight.  On at least two occasions, dead people woke up.  Everyone knew what Jesus did.  They all talked about it.  They hoped he was the promised Messiah, the King and Redeemer predicted by the prophets.

But Jesus wasn’t quite the Messiah the people hoped for.  He wasn’t the king they had in mind. 

Jesus defied the traditions.  He worked on the Sabbath, if you call healing a man's twisted hands work.  He didn't stop his disciples, who picked grain on the Sabbath because they were hungry.  When the Pharisees called him on it, he compared himself to King David.  

Worse, Jesus ate with sinners.  He talked to women and Romans and Samaritans, hated and despised members of society.  A good man didn't do such things.  

And Jesus said crazy things like, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you.”  What does that even mean?

He said he would tear down the temple and build it again in three days.   Everyone knows that's impossible.

He awarded forgiveness to people who had no right to be forgiven. Only God can do that.

He said he was God; the Pharisees said he was from the devil,

The people began to wonder, and they began to ask questions:

Are you really the one promised by God? 
Where do you get your wisdom? 
Why don’t you follow the traditions?
Why do you behave unlawfully? 
Why do you eat with tax collectors and other sinners? 

Who are you?
Are you the king of the Jews?
Are you the Messiah, the son of the Blessed God? 

Jesus answered their questions with parables and riddles that just didn't make sense, and then he asked his own questions.

Who do you say I am?
Do you believe in the Son of Man?
Can you drink the cup I’m going to drink? 

If any of you want to follow me, he said, you must first take up your cross. 

Jesus was not the king they wanted.   He challenged too many traditions.  He didn’t free them from the Romans, and he asked too much of the people.

Jesus asks a lot.  He asks for everything, and following Jesus isn’t always easy.  Sometimes he doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want, and sometimes life is hard.  Sometimes we ask, “Where is God?  Doesn’t he see me?  Doesn’t he care?

We all have these moments, moments when we feel abandoned by God.  He doesn't come through for us like we thought he should, like we thought he would.

I have had those moments, moments when my prayers looked more like arguments with God than prayers.  

My first miscarriage.  

Aren't I a good mother, God? What did I do to deserve this?  
Don't you care? Why did you allow this?

When my daughter questioned the existence of God.  

This isn't the way it's supposed to be, God.  
I raised my children to love you.  
You promised they would follow you if I raised them like that.

When my son moved to Alabama.  I knew he wasn't just changing geographical locations.  In his search for self, he rejected everything we stood for.  

Don't you hear me, God?  
What are you going to do?  Where are you?  
My heart is breaking.
You've used us in the lives of other people's kids.  
Why didn't you send someone for our kids?

Where are you God?  Why don’t you care?  Why should I care about you?

We all have these moments.  They're connected to marriage, to singleness, to money, to children, to relationship failures, to sickness, to death. 

They're related to wanting and expecting perfection in an imperfect world.

Just as Jesus didn’t come to deliver the Jews from the Romans, but from a deeper problem, he didn’t come to rescue us from all our difficulties.  Jesus didn’t come to give us an easy life.

Jesus came to restore what was lost when we turned our backs on God.  He came to connect us to the living God by taking the punishment for our sin.  He came to restore our relationship with the God who created us.  He came to free us. 

The priests in Jesus’ day accused him of treason against God and against Rome, and when the Roman governor sentenced him to death, the chief priests called out, “Crucify him!” and then the people called together, “Crucify him!  Crucify him!” 

And then they declared, “He is not our king.  We have no king but Caesar.”

The people God loves reject his Son.  The Messiah doesn’t meet their expectations, and so they turn their back on him.

We like to think we would be different, and yet we call out “crucify him” every time we turn on our backs on the Lord who loves us so deeply.  

If we pause, we can hear Jesus' voice, asking:

Who do you say I am?
Do you believe in the Son of Man?
Can you drink the cup I’m going to drink? 

If you want to follow me, you must take up your cross, just as I took up mine.

We must remember these moments because they remind us why Jesus came.  Why Jesus had to die.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Remembering the Cross ~ 2

From the beginning of time, God has been weaving a story of love for the people he created in his own image.  It’s hard to say why he loves us.  We’re not particularly loveable. We argue among ourselves.  We fight, we kill, we lie, we cheat, we steal.  In one way or another, we have rejected every law God has ever established, and yet he still loves us.  

The Hebrew Scriptures tell the story of God's creation, of his intimate relationship between with Adam and Eve.  They walk together.  They talk together.  This is not a relationship of equals.  God is God.  He is clearly the leader in this relationship.  However, it is a relationship of love.  

God asks one thing.  Do not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  

But they do.  

God sends the couple out of the garden, but he does not turn his back on humanity.  Over and over the Hebrew Scriptures depict God initiating relationship with men and women, and over and over men and women turn him away.  

God chooses one group of people to demonstrate his love for all humanity.  He pours out his blessings on these people, the Jews, and yet despite all the blessings given by God, they also reject him.  He wants to be their king, and instead they choose a human king.  He wants to lead them in his ways, but instead they choose their own ways.  And still he loves them. 

And so he sends them Jesus, his Son, to establish the Kingdom of God on earth.  For them and for us.  

In those days, the Jews were hoping God would send a Messiah, a promised deliverer, a supernatural king, who would set things right, free them from the rule of the Roman Empire, and establish Israel as a sovereign, prosperous nation. 

In Jesus, they saw God’s power everywhere.  This man from Galilee changed water into wine at a wedding.  He healed lepers.  He touched lame men and they walked.   He put mud on a blind man’s eyes, and he could see.  He called the demons out of men and women.  He even raised the dead. 

One time he fed five thousand people with a child’s lunch, five loaves of bread and two small fishes. 

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey on Palm Sunday, the people greeted him with cries of Hosanna, which means save us!  They laid palm branches on the ground in front of him, greeting him as a king and a savior. 

It’s like that for many of us when we first hear the good news about Jesus.  We feel hope.  We feel forgiven.  We feel loved.  We can’t wait to get to church every weekend.  We join a small group and begin to make friends.  We join a ministry, and we sense that God is working through us.  He releases us from sins that have plagued us for years.  We pray, and God answers our prayers.  We begin to believe that God has a purpose for our lives, and we’re filled with thanksgiving.  Like the people of Jerusalem, we cry out Hosanna!  Save us!  

We hope God will rescue us from the situations that plague us.  

As much as God loves his people, he did not send Jesus to deliver the Jews from the Romans, and so they crucified him.

And as much as God loves us, he does does not always rescue us from our difficult situations.  How will we respond?