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?  

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Remembering the Cross ~ 1

People used to talk a lot about revisionist history.  I don't know.  Maybe they still talk about that, and I just don't hear them because I am locked away in the ivory towers of academia.  Incidentally, this is sarcasm because I only wish I could wander among those towers.

At any rate, the current thought is that we tell our histories the way we want to remember them.  This is not a matter of changing the story, but of stressing the parts of the story that we think are most important.  We can't tell everything, and by choosing those parts of the story, we leave out other parts, changing the way the story looks and sounds.   

Whenever we start stressing the parts that got left out and leaving out the parts that used to be told, historians get accused of revising history.  The truth is, it's all history.  We just see it from different perspectives.  

Another thing about telling histories, the parts that don't get told frequently get forgotten.  

I took a class in public memory a few semesters ago.  The idea is that entities in power, whether they are kings, elected public officials, or advertisers, use the way we remember things as a way of strengthening authority.  It sounds manipulative, and I suppose it is.  However, I'm not interested in getting bogged down in discussions of American or any other kind of history.  

At the same time I took the class, I read the first five books of the Bible.  I had never noticed it before, but the writers stress telling stories and the way we to tell stories and and the importance of remembering stories.

The rainbow is all about remembering, and God tells Noah that the rainbow is a sign of the everlasting covenant between Him and all living creatures that never again will he destroy the earth with a flood.

Keeping the Sabbath is an exercise in remembering that God is holy, the he is the creator and we are the created.  

The Hebrews wore tassels so that they would remember all the commands of the Lord and not chase after other Gods.

God tells Moses to remind the people to tell and retell the story of Egypt and slavery and how God rescued them so that they will remember.  That is the reason for the Passover Feast.  Remembering.  

I read this in amazement, thinking once again that there is nothing new under the sun and that God knew all about public memory before academics started discussing it.  

This idea of remembering intrigues me because I think we all have a little bit of amnesia.  We tend to forget things, especially things that aren't in front of us all the time.  That's one of the reasons I keep a journal.  I want to remember the things I've prayed for or I may not realize God has answered.  I want to remember the times I've heard God's voice because otherwise I'll doubt what I heard.  I want to remember the times I have felt God's love because sometimes I don't sense his presence at all.  

On the night of the Last Supper, which he and his disciples would have called the Passover Feast, Jesus breaks bread and gives a piece of each of the men gathered around the table.  He tells them, "This is my body, broken for you.  Do this in remembrance of me."  He passes around a cup of red wine and continues, "This is my blood.  As long as you drink, do this in remembrance of me."  

Why does he say this?  Because if they don't continue the practice, they will forget certain parts.  Christians around the world embraced this practice.  Why?  So they would remember.

That's why every year we celebrate Passion Week, with Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and then Easter.  Historically, these days were a way of telling the story of Jesus.  So we wouldn't forget.

We tell the parts of the story that we think are most important.  The writers of the Gospels spend more space writing about the last week of Jesus life than the other thirty-three years.  Paul tells the Corinthians, "I want to remind you of the gospel, which I preached to you. . . . For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve."   

This is the week leading up to the cross.  And so we remember. 

We remember because this is the part of the story the Gospel writers and Paul thought were most important, and we continue that tradition.  

We remember because this part of the story has transformative power in our lives.  

We remember because if we don't remember, we will forget.