Oh Death Where is Your Sting?

Today is Good Friday. I am struck to tears and unspeakable heartache, now more than ever before.  Why? Every Good Friday we are called to remember the brutal beating and crucifixion of Jesus. He walked in the midst of those deemed lesser and unimportant. They experienced his love and compassion for them. But, he walked a lonely road to his death. Sure, there were a few who had the courage to walk with him (ahem…the women!). But many, his disciples in particular, scattered for their own safety feeling powerless to stop it from happening.

Also, today we are reliving the horrific facts of the death of George Floyd during the trial of Derek Chauvin. To hear the testimony of the witnesses as they broke down and grieved over watching Floyd die has been excruciating for many. Most of the witnesses were strangers to him, yet they all spoke of feeling helpless and guilty that they didn’t try to help him. Even though they also knew they were powerless to do so.

Jesus was innocent of any crime, George Floyd was not. But, the fact remains that neither deserved to die in such a violent way at the hands of another.

So I sit quietly and contemplate both these men and how their deaths have impacted me. As a professed Christian I am called to emulate Jesus’ radical love in every aspect of my life. I mostly fail, but keep trying and longing to be more like him in the ways I live my life.

And, George Floyd? I didn’t know him and likely never would have, nor would most of us, if not for witnessing his horrific death on the daily news.

Both men have touched my life. In those beautiful and poignant words of John Donne, “No man is an island; entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.”

“Any man/woman’s death diminishes me.” That is a fact of God’s making, we are all interconnected – like it or not. It cannot end there. The death of another, be it a loved one or a stranger, should call us to stop and take inventory of our own lives. Every funeral I attend does that for me and often shines a light on my failings to be Christ-like to others. Thankfully, every day is a new day – a day to begin again.

So, here’s what I will be contemplating and praying about today, on this holy Good Friday, and hopefully be acting on daily. It doesn’t have to be Jesus who calls us to be better, kinder, softer; to live and love more fully. It can also be the death of a stranger we have never met that wakes us from sleep-walking through life. Facing the realization that we will also die (sorry if that is news to you) – maybe sooner than later (sorry again) – should cause us to ask ourselves if our houses are in order and, more importantly, what we are leaving behind because…

Death does not care if we have left business unfinished, relationships broken, or children to be raised. It doesn’t matter if we are not ready or sit on promises to change. It will take the weak with the strong, the humble with the proud, the saint with the jerk. Death doesn’t respect wedding plans, vacation plans, or unmet deadlines. It does not operate by a timetable we set, and is no respecter of age. It does not discriminate between the most loved or most hated. It may not wait for the most brilliant to cure cancer, bring peace to a troubled nation, or receive a Nobel Prize.

Denying that death is a part of life is like believing we still look like our high school picture. We can’t rely on death to come when we are ready. But we can rely on it to teach those of us who are willing, how to truly live. It can and should be a time of reflection: Have I lived well, loved well, forgiven — honestly – and sought forgiveness humbly?

For good or bad, I have touched the lives of family and friends, the mailman, and the grumpy receptionist at the doctor’s office.  I may have amassed wealth and recognition, and may leave a fortune to my loved ones. All things they can pack away, gamble away, or throw away. But, at the end of the day...what have I left in their hearts?

What if Good Friday was Cancelled?

good friday cancelled

What if Good Friday was cancelled like all other “big events”? The need to manage crowd control during this time would take priority.

Well then, Holy Saturday would be cancelled too. Even if you spent that day alone in your Upper Room, there would be nothing to wait for.

And then, of course, no need for Easter.

BUT WAIT…

This could be our most profound Holy Week ever! Okay, maybe not “ever” – the original one would trump it.

But, we have an opportunity to make this EPIC for our lifetime if we’re paying attention!

Good Friday:

Throughout Jesus’ Passion God remained eerily silent. Jesus was mocked by those who were certain He was an impostor. “If you are the Son of God, why doesn’t He save you? Why don’t you just come down from that cross?” (Matt. 27:40)

Yet, when “it was finished,” God’s heart exploded with the reality of His beloved Son’s death. The torn curtain, the earthquake, the rocks splitting! The eruption of Love’s broken heart. Slumped over on the cross was humankind’s ultimate rejection of God’s ultimate Love. What Jesus’ death revealed most profoundly was that God and Jesus’ mutual self-giving was completely gratuitous. “Surely He was the Son of God.” (Matt. 27-54)

And for us today? Good Friday seems to be happening every day since the pandemic began. I don’t know about you but I wake up every morning, open the shades, and look out the window expecting the world to be different. But, the news tells us it’s not. (Call it our very own Groundhog Day).

I think the significance of this Good Friday for us is that, as bad as it is, we know this too will pass and God will use this tragedy for His good if we will just trust Him and cooperate with His plan. We have been blessed with the opportunity of a do-over if we are so inclined to take it on.

Holy Saturday…and we wait. Truth be told we spend most of our lives waiting for something. Our lives seem to be suspended between the really bad days and a sprinkling of a few really good days, that life presents to us like an endless loop of obsessive rumination, good or bad.

Fear and despair abound in today’s world. How is it possible to find hope or trust in anything, let alone a God who seems distant from human suffering?

Maybe we don’t know how many lives will be lost, what the economic outcome will be, how long it will be before our lives return to “normal”, and even how differently we might view our “normal”. But, we do know Easter is coming! HALLEAUJAH AND AMEN!

holy saturday

Easter Sunday – Our celebration of the Risen Christ will surely be much different than we have ever experienced before. What I am hoping and praying for is that we honestly access our new reality in light of how we live our precious lives going forward. God’s will is made clear through His Son, “Love as I have loved and forgive as I have forgiven, no matter the cost.”  And we dare not cling to false innocence when the Truth stands before us.

How will we celebrate the Risen Christ in the midst of the fear and despair in today’s world? Holy week is always a reminder that we are called to live differently. But, when people in need see our backs turned from them, they see God’s back as well. It may seem too scary to accept that we are to be God’s compassion, His touch, His mercy. So, we cry out to Him to, “do something” forgetting that we are to be His hands and feet. We stand on Holy Ground when our compassionate care embraces another’s suffering.

This is the point where we must ask ourselves, “Does faith in Jesus orient my life?” If no less than God is present and active in Jesus, is the same true about me? And if so, does that not call for an immediate response? God’s Love can release our human potential beyond our imagining, but not without our “YES”.

Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?” will be answered by our falling on our knees in awe and adoration, yes. But it cannot stop there. Jesus never said, “Worship me.” He said, “Follow me.” As a Christian I answer that question every time I give of myself for the sake of another, or conversely, care more for myself than my neighbor. How can I believe God loved me so much, so passionately, that He sent His only Son to suffer and die for me, and for every person I encounter, if I refuse to love them? If I say to Christ, “You are the living God,” that truth must be manifest in and through the way I live my life, or it is a lie.

I am sure the next question Jesus will confront me with is, “Do you love me?” How will my life answer that question?

he-has-risen  

INDEED!

A Holy Mess in Holy Week

Jesus came to earth as a human being just like you and me (we seem to have a hard time believing that). He had a special purpose to fulfill, just like you and me (we can’t seem to believe that either).

God wanted him to show us by his life, death, and resurrection, how deeply and passionately we are loved; how much he longs to bless us; how we should care for and be blessings to others (those truths also seem to have been lost to us on our often broken journey).

Jesus fulfilled his purpose even though he knew he was making a lot of “important” people angry. So angry they would kill him. I’m pretty sure no one wants to kill us for striving to be all God created us to be (though that is not the case for many Christians in other countries). So, we have to come up with a different excuse – and we do: I’m not smart enough, I’m busy, I don’t think that applies to me. I need to straighten up my messy life and my underwear drawer first…wha-wha-wha…

Daily, Jesus had to decide if he would keep doing what he came here to do. And just before they came to take him away, scripture tells us that he was in agony praying that God would just make it go away (Luke 22:39-46). After all, the human side of him did not want to suffer. But, in the end, he accepted whatever God’s will was. Just think about how that turned out!

We are now in Holy Week – when we remember Jesus’ suffering, death and his glorious resurrection on Easter Sunday – which we celebrate because we are reminded of how much God loves us! This is the moment in time when the disciples came out of hiding; when their fears and doubts fell away, and they tripped all over each other to get busy preaching and teaching and glorifying God. Skipping happily to their own deaths (except for John).

Jesus could have made a different choice. He could have said “no” to God. The disciples could have stayed in hiding. What about you?

hiding

God tells you in scripture that he made you and had special plans for you before you were even born. He gave everyone gifts and talents and at the same time made each person unique and special. (Jeremiah 29:11)

charlie brown1

Sure, you may doubt yourself. You may not want to risk using gifts that you think others will make fun of or criticize. But, if you trust that God gave you those gifts, then you must believe that he has already given you everything you need to use them. Not doing that would be sort of like gifting you with a new car and not giving you the keys wouldn’t it?

So…what do you say? There is no better time than this moment to reflect prayerfully on what your life’s purpose is, if you haven’t already. Sit quietly with God and just ask him to help you consider:

  • How are you unique?
  • Do you know what your gifts are? Let’s think about that…
    • Who do you admire and why? (Often what we admire in others is what we would like to develop in ourselves).
    • Do you like helping others?
    • Do you consider yourself a leader?
    • What makes you happy – sad? What are you passionate about? (These can be thoughts that can lead to discovery of gifts)
    • Has someone else told you that you are good at something?

God is waiting for each of us to step out of our comfort zone; to come out of hiding, and serve this broken world.

During this Holy Week, perhaps for the first time, deeply contemplate Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection in light of your own life; your own purpose. Is this your resurrection moment? Is it time for your “yes”?

2 Corinthians 5:17 proclaims that you are a new creation in Christ each new day, “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”

Also, and very importantly, when you’re considering your gifts and how you are called to use them try not to get all full of yourself in the process – okay? It would be easy to do, but, dear heart, this isn’t about you!

Always keep Jesus’ example in the forefront of all you do:

Why did God send Jesus here?

It wasn’t to flex His muscles – although he could have. He could have taken his anger out on our sinfulness and rejection and wiped us all out. He did it before you know…

No, it was to show us in the most powerful way he could how deep his love is for us, and in particular, those who suffer.

It wasn’t to gather groupies who would idolize him, serve him, and cater to his every whim – although, that would have been easier. All he had to do was eliminate free-will. But our free-will to love him – or not – was too important to him. Even though that very will nailed his Son to the cross.

No, it was to model meekness, humility, and service to those most in need. 

It wasn’t to puff out his chest and boast of his great might – although he had plenty to boast about. No one, no matter what pedestal we set them on, or place of honor we bestow on them – ourselves included – no one should brag or exult themselves (though we often try).

No, his extravagant love was manifested through his beloved Son, not puffed up and boastful, but rejected and slumped over on a cross.

Now, go on – what are you waiting for? Sure, God knows, you’re a hot mess – so what?

set the world on fire

 

Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are!

(Originally posted on April 2, 2012)

The prelude to Easter is a most blessed time for Christians. We are now experiencing what is to come. These are important things to reflect on as we consider the Pascal Mystery: Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. The sad reality is that we often get stuck with the Good Friday Jesus. If we allow that to happen then Jesus becomes just another prophet, albeit a pretty good one. Love those parables! But, then, God remains remote and irrelevant to our lives.

Do you suppose God just dropped Jesus off here and left him to fend for himself? If so, then why would I depend on him? I’ll get my card punched on Sunday, but the rest of my life I’ll just take care of myself, thank you very much. I’ll come back to why that doesn’t work in a moment, but for now, let us consider these passages:

  • “All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. ‘He trusts in the LORD,’ they say, ‘let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.’” Psalm 22:7-8 
  • “My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46

Those who hated Jesus so bitterly stood at the foot of the cross and scoffed at him, “Where’s this God of yours now? He doesn’t seem to be bothered about you”! Keep in mind that the belief of the Jewish people was based on punishment and reward. Now they were saying in essence, “See, we are justified in crucifying you, Jesus, and God’s silence is proof of it. It was your own blasphemous sins that brought you to this end.”

There were lots of people standing near the cross that day: those who hated Jesus, those who loved him, and many others not knowing what to think about him. Everyone was waiting to see if God would show-up. But he was silent then and silent even when Jesus cried out to him. It was a justifying silence for Jesus’ accusers and murderers; a deafening silence for his followers, and a confusing silence for those who just weren’t sure.

Those who believed in Jesus, who put all their faith in him, were desperate for God to rescue them. They were hoping for retribution. So imagine how devastated they must have been when God was silent and Jesus indeed died. As they walked away their weariness was more than they could bear – hopes morphing into despair – mumbling under their breath, “Why didn’t you come, Lord? Why didn’t you save him? What are we to do now? If this Jesus was not the One, who then? How much more can we take”?

Sadly, for so many of us today, faith is based on the same idea of reward and punishment. Think you’re going to heaven? Think again if you’re bad! (However you define bad.) Think you’re going to hell? Who knows? It’s a life-long nail biter isn’t it? God is the proverbial Record Keeper. Add to that the concept of a God who is out in the stratosphere somewhere, distant and aloof, and it’s no wonder we feel lost in this crazy, God-forsaken world.

Ponder for a moment, if you will, how the above passages speak to your own life. That’s all I’ve been thinking about lately. Growing up, my family was of no faith. I only recall going to Church one time with my family, though a neighbor regularly took me to Sunday school. One Easter Sunday we all had new outfits and paraded into my grandmother’s church.

I had no sense that God was there when my mother was physically abusive. He wasn’t there when I was being sexually abused. He wasn’t there when I was twenty-three and tried to commit suicide. He wasn’t there when I regularly drank myself into oblivion, or for too many other “got the T-shirt for that one” events in my life.

All of this pondering begs the question: Is God present to us or not? Does he care one lick about our day-to-day lives? Did he just dump us off here too? “There you go, Linda. Have a nice life. See you at the end – maybe – or not.” I am telling you that you will never have the answer to that question as long as you remain stuck with the Good Friday Jesus.

We must live our faith from the other side of the resurrection! That is the only place from which it is possible to view the entirety of God’s immense love for us. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection point the way. In the moments that it feels like God is silent in our suffering, there is a reason far beyond what we can humanly understand. It is not God who is not present to us, it is us not present to him. Have you ever considered that? God is totally invested in you!

If you feel distant from him it may be a good time to look at where you are in your faith. For me, those moments have always pointed to my being too caught up in things of this world to give God much thought. And, truth be told, often it is intentional because I know I am not where he wants me to be and I don’t want to change. So there – I said it.

I can often be selfish and self-serving and there is no room for God there. And then I get wacked with this passage, “For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” (Deuteronomy 4:24)  How can I possibly enjoy my worldly pursuits when he’s watching – fuming possibly? La la la la la – I can’t hear you! (I don’t recommend that – it has never really worked well for me.)

cant-hear-you

My beloved friends in Christ, this is the time, if no other, when we are compelled to open the eye’s of our hearts! There are two passages in Scripture I would offer you for your reflection as we near this blessed time of Jesus’ Passion:

Luke 19:41, “Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it…” When the crowds saw Jesus entering Jerusalem, they began singing praises.”

Why did he weep? Because he knew they still did not understand. They were following and praising and putting all their hopes in an earthly King. Jesus’ heart ached because God loved them so deeply he was preparing to die for them, and yet they could not comprehend the magnitude of that Love.

Matthew 27:50-54, “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened….So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, “Truly this was the Son of God.”

Do you see? God’s heart was torn apart for the love of his Son. Do you know why he was willing to suffer such pain? Because his heart ached for the love of you and me! How could you possibly think he doesn’t care? Perhaps you have never asked.

 

Underwhelmed by God

(originally posted 3/13/16)

I am a nominal Christian. There I said it. Perhaps that is the beginning of change, like someone who goes to AA. They have to admit they’re an alcoholic first. I have wanted God on my terms because I never really trusted Him. How could I? I have not been able to trust the most important people in my life. Why would He be any different? So, in the name of self-preservation, I created my own box. One that was safe, or at least, one that I imagined to be safe – and I put Him in it.

God wanted to be the most important thing in my life, but I kept Him at a comfortable distance. He wanted to show me how much He loved me, but I refused to accept His love, reasoning that He was trying to trick me. He had to be. He wanted me to trust Him, to surrender my life to Him, but I wouldn’t be fooled by His cunning. I was smarter than that! Sure, I played the game when it served me. But, I’m not sure my “playing” was believable to others and God certainly knew!

do have moments of sincerity; moments of longing, that God latches onto. He doesn’t miss an opportunity. When the door is opened, even just a crack, he zooms in with lightening speed! One example recently, was when I was struggling in relationship with someone very important to me. I felt a “loving confrontation” was necessary to resolve the issue once and for all.

Now, I don’t handle confrontation very well. So, in a rare moment of submission, I turned to God first and prayed for His guidance. I wonder if He’s gotten over the shock yet, especially considering that I actually waited for His response! That’s nothing short of a miracle.

A few days later, I went for a run about 10:30 in the morning – not my usual time to run. I turned on my MP3 (that’s right, shocking, huh? I don’t have an iPhone, an iPad, or any I-want-what-you-have gadget. But, somehow I manage to hobble through life). I turned on the radio instead of my playlist – also not usual. (As an aside, we have an amazing Christian radio station – 99.1 Joy FM that is completely paid for by its listeners! You can stream it from anywhere if you want to. It’s awesome!) Anyway, as soon as I turned it on the woman announcer was talking about a book she was reading, “Unoffendable” by Brant Hansen. As soon as I got home I downloaded it on my Kindle. I couldn’t put it down. Honestly. It was amazing and just what I needed. Not just for this situation, but for all time. He is so spot on and so incredibly funny. (He says he’s not, but he is.)

When Hansen says we Christians are the worst examples of always being offended and reacting with “righteous anger”, sadly, he’s right, and I am the worst offender of all. And, folks, that is why I have to admit that I am a nominal Christian, no matter what else I do to try and convince myself otherwise. Hey, I tithe generously, I fast, I pray and go to Mass. Wait! Who do I sound like? This guy in Luke 18:13 who stood humbly before God and prayed?  “He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’” Not hardly. More like this guy in verses 11-12: Looking around to make sure everyone was listening he says, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’”

When I consider my “righteous” anger in the context of my relationships, I have to understand that I am making a statement about my faith and about God. Every time I try to one-up someone I am showing them a false image of God; of Christ. I imagine them saying, “Oh sure, Linda, you have planted within me a burning desire to run to God with arms stretched out. Longing for His tender embrace –“

NOT!

What I am actually doing is turning others away. There’s a scripture verse for that and it starts with WOE TO YOU knuckleheads! Check it out all through Matthew 23. It’s not an affirmation! And, no, he doesn’t use the word “knucklehead”, what He does use is worse!

So, back to Hansen’s book. I was looking through it for my favorite quotes, but there are too many. And the scripture verses he quotes are too numerous to mention. Just get the book and fasten your seat-belt!

After reading the entire book without taking a breath (I’m not kidding!), I prayed, asked God’s forgiveness for my pride and self-righteousness, for seeing myself as the savior of the world, and then I finally let it go. God’s timing is impeccable considering Good Friday and Easter Sunday are right around the corner!

The Pascal Mystery is relived for us every year because we too quickly forget! Our tears of sorrow on Good Friday turn to tears of joy on Easter Sunday and dry up on Monday. If God is lucky we might make it to Tuesday. If our promised surrender to God was something tangible it would end up on Craig’s List like the treadmill from a New Year’s Resolution with the heading, “Like New – Rarely Used”.

Being a nominal Christian does not have to be my fate. I no longer believe surrender to God is an instantaneous, magic wand moment or nothing at all. In Matthew 4:5, it was the devil who tempted Jesus to jump off the cliff with a promise of great reward, not God. God doesn’t give us an all or nothing ultimatum.

If we will just start somewhere in our messiness to trust Him; to give up something we are clinging to, he will show us what he can do with it. He will reveal to us the peace and joy in our hearts that can only come from turning loose of our need to control.

This can be the time for us to sit at the foot of the cross and “see” with our very hearts what is right before us.

What do you see there?

Do you see a God to be feared?

jesus-on-cross

Do you see a God trying to trick you into submission?

jesus-on-cross

Do you see a God who will betray your trust?

jesus-on-cross

Or do you see a God who loves you THIS MUCH:

jesus-on-cross

God is not a nominal God and we are not called to be nominal Christians. We are called to take His love into a hurting and broken world without fear; knowing He goes before us.

Are we in or out? (By the way, that confrontation I told you about never took place because I felt God’s gentle nudge to let go of the need to “fix” other people).