Category Archives: Meditation

This is a good Friday

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“I’ll do it when I’m good and ready.” “It’s just not the right time. I need more time.” But in matters of faith, we are never truly good or really ready. Filthy rag righteousness, we could never clean up the mess we’ve made on our own. The Apostle Paul tells the truth and shames us devils, writing to the Romans, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”[1] Sinners never clean up real nice, which is why we need Christ’s push broom- cross.

There is waning interest in the kingdom of God and less and less time to pursue it as we spend much of days building our own. Likewise, we behave as if we can put God on a waiting list, as if God is comfortable to remain on the back burner, as if our getting right with God can be rendered in installments, as if we are on a payment plan. A little here, a little there, we attend four Sundays in a row and then our affection grows cold.

We talk of our relationship with God as if we have all the time in the world. We speak about life with Christ as if there is time to spare. We rob him of years that could have been given in service to his ministry but instead, are wasted playing church or worse still, playing God. William Willimon offers this confession for us: “God forgive us for selling out our great intellectual treasure—the gospel of God with us—for a mess of psychobabble and pragmatic, utilitarian, self- help triviality.”[2]

Because we have been told by popular culture that we are good people. Michael Horton writes in Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church, “It is easy to become distracted from Christ as the only hope for sinners. Where everything is measured by our happiness rather than by God’s holiness, the sense of our being sinners becomes secondary, if not offensive. If we are good people who have lost our way but with the proper instructions and motivations can become a better person, we need only a life coach, not a redeemer.”[3]

But, the words of the penitent thief change the conversation on conversion. Like Judas, the decoy disciple who fakes it until he can make a deal with the Pharisees, he is a pickpocket, a bandit, a robber. We don’t know his name and he was not long a Christian. A new member of the body of Christ, he wasn’t baptized, didn’t join a church, didn’t attend a new member’s class or a single worship service.  But he did what really mattered in the end. He saw a future after death and life beyond the grave. He was a late bloomer, but he bloomed, nonetheless.

“No cross, no crown,” the thief is a follower, not an admirer, a distinction made by Soren Kierkegaard. He says, “Admirers are only too willing to serve Christ as long as proper caution is exercised, lest one personally come in contact with danger. They refuse to accept that Christ’s life is a demand. In actual fact, they are offended by him.”[4] Thomas a Kempis said, “The cross… is unavoidable. It waits for you everywhere. No matter where you may go, you cannot escape it, for wherever you go, you take yourself along. Turn where you will—above, below, without, or within—you’ll find the cross. … (But) if you willingly carry the cross, it will carry you.”[5] If we are to get to heaven, then this is the price of admission.

There is no way around the cross.

The thief only lived for Jesus for a few hours. Nor theological red tape, no right hand of fellowship, no business meeting, no Robert’s Rules of Order, no vote, still, Jesus extends the invitation, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23.43). The thief is Jesus’ personal guest. There is no waiting period.

If you don’t know Jesus in the pardoning of your sins, then this is a good Friday to be introduced.

End notes|

[1] Michael Horton, Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2008), 10-11.  It is part of his foreword for the book.

[2] Romans 5.8

[3 Michael Horton, Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2008), 15-16.

[4] The Editors, Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter, (Walden, NY: Plough Publishing House, 2003), 57.

[5] The Editors, Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter, (Walden, NY: Plough Publishing House, 2003), 40.

Maundy Thursday: Tough Love

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In John chapter 13, Jesus doesn’t just want us to talk about love.  Jesus wants to see it, hear it, feel it in our fellowship. It is a love that Christians should be famous for, that Christian should be synonymous with.  Jesus said and demonstrated it every day of his life and even in his death. Why can’t we?

I love you. Three words that we want to hear from parents, spouses and significant others, toddlers and willful teenagers. I love you. These three words seal the deal, make real our commitment to another and communicate the seriousness of our relationship. Whether romantic or familial love, its expression deepens the bond shared.

But, what of loving our neighbor next door and moving more closely, those we share our faith life with? Love as a practice of discipleship, unconditional love, is what we are to offer. Not this take it or leave it love, this if and when I feel like it love, this if the stars align and the mood is right kind of love, this if you do what I say temperamental love.

Instead, we are invited to love authentically where we are and as we are until we become who Christ calls us to be. We are called to love tenderly, specifically, unflinchingly, unapologetically. We are taught by Christ to love indiscriminately and until the very end. We are to love each other as siblings, and we don’t get to choose our family. C.S. Lewis said, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.” Still, Alfred Tennyson says, “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

Christ’s hands on the cross, extending and yet bringing us together, he becomes the supreme matchmaker. He says that we all belong to each other, that God made us for one another, that we are a perfect fit. His hands on the cross show the breadth of this acceptance and the depth of his commitment. He will go to the grave, proving this love. Paul Tillich said, “Love manifests its greatest power there where it overcomes the greatest separation.”[i] Bridging time and eternity, our sin and God’s righteousness, Jesus demonstrates the sovereignty of his love.

***

Maundy Thursday is the first day of remembrance services leading up to the resurrection. Maundy comes from the Latin word mandatum, from which we get the word mandate, and means commandment. As captured in John’s gospel, it is a reminder of the new commandment Jesus’ gave his disciples.

John says that Judas has left the building. In response, Jesus says, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.” Not matter what happens or how tough it gets, it is all for God’s glory. Nothing personal but deeply spiritual, Judas’ betrayal signals that Jesus’ time with the disciples is running out.

Jesus says to his disciples, “Gather ‘round, children; we don’t have much time together. I cannot take you with me. So, let me leave this with you.” Jesus wants to tell them something new: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should love one another.”

“Just as I have loved you”– through thick and thin, sink or swim, no matter what it takes, I am all in.

This is all that matters to Jesus. This is what he expects from his disciples. It is a kind of dying wish and all that he has to give. His legacy is love.

Jesus is the model of tough love. On the cross, his love will take a beating, be buried and still get up with arms extended.  As his disciples, we are called to do the same.

 

End notes|

[i] Paul Tillich, Love, Power and Justice, (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1954), 25.

Letting down our defenses

This morning, I led a conversation on the fights that form us as Christians– red versus blue carpet, choir versus praise team, contemporary music versus hymns, offering plate versus Apple pay, suits versus skinny jeans and a t- shirt, 8 a.m. versus 11 a.m. service.  You know, deeply transformative wars for righteousness.  And these fights seemingly go on forever, handed down to each generation because we will surrender NEVER!

But, I think these fights begin within, that they are not fighting words we hear but something more difficult to discern.  Consequently, I invited the group to pray and then to silently read a section of Walter Wangerin’s “In Mirrors,” where he focuses on what shows up of ourselves in the faces of others and especially in the face of Christ.  Afterwards, I invited them to journal about what they were fighting for, fighting about, who they were really fighting with and then to surrender.  I closed this part of our time together with words that I hope will help us discern the fight within and help us let down our defenses:

All that I am striving for, climbing up the ladder and back up the ladder again after getting kicked, shoved, tripped and tricked to go back down the ladder, all that I think I want to have and know I need, all that I should have done and could have done, all that I wanted to be and never was,

I release.

All that I am fighting for, all that I have and want to keep, all that I am afraid to lose, all that I fear is slipping through my fingers,

I surrender.

All that I think I am, all that I want to be, all that I am expected to become and do and say, all of me that gets in the way of God’s will,

I give up.

All that I have a grip on and need to get a grip on, that I hold tightly while it strangely squeezes the life out of me, all that I am afraid to give up, won’t give up on, won’t give an inch on, won’t budge, won’t move,

I let go.

Today, I let down my defenses.  I choose faith and to surrender, to give up, to let go of the fight.  And before I am tempted to reach for it again, take the fight out of me.  This is my prayer.  Amen.

We’re going to need a bigger heart

 

See the source imageDoes it feel tight in here or is it just me?  It feels like the walls are closing in, like fences are about to rain down on me, like bridges are being stolen in the middle of the night.  I’ve lost my place again.  Now where were we?

The distance between us and them is increasing and I don’t know how to make up the difference.  I don’t know how to make up for lost time spent chasing and pinning down lies.  Fear spreads quicker than truth.  On your mark, get set, here we go again.  I think that fear gets a head start.  So, we will need to do more than catch up and it is not enough to run alongside of it.  No, we must get ahead of fear or there is no point in moving at all.

But, I can’t just sit and do nothing.  I don’t know how to wait patiently.  I am trying to write down the directions to the progress we’ve made.  It’s a little cloudy because “we’ve come this far by faith.”  I don’t see why we would want to turn around.  I can’t go back now.  I have loved too many and for too long.

And when did the earth become a tight squeeze, a tight fit?  No room for you or me, him or her potentially?  God’s got the whole world in God’s hands but we can’t seem to find any room on the land.  Get out.  Stay out.  Keep out.

I can’t keep still.  I have to move closer.  They tell me, “Let’s just wait and see.  Let’s take things slowly.”  One step at a time, we are walking away from our shared humanity.  I can’t breathe.  I need to sit down.  Head between my legs, head in my hands, head between my legs, head in my hands…  I pray and cross my heart.  Lord, open my heart.  Amen.

Give me space and the time of day.  What year is this?  Because this feels old.  This division is old news.  I’ve read all about it before.  Ball up the paper and don’t recycle it.

This is a complete mess, a circle.  History is chasing me around.  I better not come around or come back or be here after sundown.  Darkness sets in our hearts.  It will all come to light but first it must break our hearts.  This is how the light gets in.  It must come from our hearts breaking.

Because this is more than I can bear.  I need more heart.  I need your heart to join with mine.  My sisters and brothers, we’re going to need a bigger heart.

Leave Room for God

See the source imageWe should not attempt to convince ourselves that we need to make room for God.  The psalmist ensures our perspective is clear on the matter.  Let’s not put the creature before the Creator.  No, “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (Psalm 24.1).  But, true to our capitalistic form, we think that we can own God’s abundance, God’s goodness, that there is a market value for mountains and seas, trees and land that we had no hand in creating.  Leaves are not price tags.  Caves offer no shelving for today’s special of the day.

Leave room.  Leave room for the possibility that when there was no time or space, God took time and made space for human beings.  Omnipresent, God left room for us.  No margin of error here.  We were made perfectly and in perfect conditions.  Before paradise was a package deal, God gave us Eden.

Still, with imperfect lives and under harsh conditions, we drift farther and farther away.  On Sundays, we come back to ourselves, inching closer to God and to the reality that God seeks and for which we were created.  “Come here.  Stand by me.”  Fellowship unending, why can’t we for the love of God leave room?  

But, not on the pew but in the persons that we pass each day.  Across cultures, why can’t we leave room for God and for the possibility that our image was not meant to take up so much space?