Jesus: I’m Back! Did you miss Me?

jesus suitcases
 

I’m Back!

 

I think it’s fair to say that this Easter will be like no other, and I would like to think of that as a good thing – eventually – hopefully.

God has stripped away all the non-essentials: new outfits, haircuts, review of proper behavioral expectations for the kids at church, and “how to stay awake at Mass” for adults.

Making up shallow sins suitable to hide the deeper embarrassing stuff for the annual confession – not needed.

Oh yeah, and the Easter dinner invitation list that your mother told you must include those annoying relatives you hate – not necessary either. You’ll be dining alone (and you might want to work on that hate issue of yours).

You take a deep breath and realize what’s left.

Ready?

Jesus and you…AWKWARD!

It’s okay. He doesn’t bite. No matter what your third grade teacher told you.

So, how about we take a new look with fresh eyes at the events of this Easter week. A week that revealed humanity at its best and its worst, and what that might mean for us today.

We begin with Palm Sunday. Those crowds were lovin’ on Jesus the Prophet on His way to becoming their anticipated King who would save them at last. Christ was celebrated as the One who would bring His people out of captivity. They were enthralled with Him. The cheering was almost deafening. Sorta like opening day at Busch Stadium. But, remember these were His people and it was all palms and rose petals.

(We’ll tackle Holy Thursday at the end of this discussion).

Then it all went sideways as He went off to Jerusalem to encounter a not-so-supportive crowd. What a different picture, huh? Here He’s among the political elite, the leaders of the temple, who know enough about Him by now to hate Him, but the average guy on the street doesn’t have a clue who He is. And now He is stirring up more anger than a crowd rush for toilet paper on the opening day of Coronavirusmania! So, the chief priests and elders meet to plot against him. They know they have to get Him away from His faithful followers first. “But not during the Feast,” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people.” (Matthew 26: 3-5). The rest would be easy.

And how about those disciples who vowed during the height of His ministry to never leave Him? We know James and John made it clear they wanted to have an honored place next to Him when He came into His glory (Mark 10:35-37). Perhaps the rest of them thought they already had that favored position all sewn up. But then they all scattered and ran for cover when He was taken away to be crucified. “This is not what we signed up for!”

Fun Factoid: The women were never afraid and never ran. They had no ulterior motives. They just wanted to be with the One who loved them and accepted them for who they were. Take note guys!

In very short order He was convicted and dragged before an angry crowd who screamed for His crucifixion and they probably didn’t even know why. How many do you suppose just got caught up in the moment and didn’t realize until afterwards what they had participated in – the torture and murder of an innocent man they would later discover was PRETTY SPECIAL.

Then at the Cross on Good Friday, we watch horrified as Jesus suffers an unspeakable death. And His mother suffers in silence.

On Holy Saturday the waiting begins as we are called to silently contemplate what has happened. But, we already know that His glorious resurrection is coming and peace on earth will prevail. At least, we used to believe that. But this year that truth seems to have been morphed by fear and the unknown.  So, maybe this day will be spent like all the rest these past few weeks trying to numb ourselves to what we imagine is coming: watch TV (which only fuels that fear), take a nap, eat, drink, wash hands – repeat.

Where’s the peace in all that? Normally we only have the capacity to think our hearts are at peace when everything is perfect: our relationships are perfect, our kids are perfect, and the mother-in-law moved away (oops, not nice).  But even, or especially, in these times when fear will try to overwhelm you, don’t let that happen! God is ready to prove to you that you are stronger, braver, and more resilient than you ever imagined! (Which will come in handy when your mother-in-law has to move back in with you).

As Alan Cohen tells us in his book, “A Course in Miracles Made Easy”:

“No person, group, situation, or condition has the power to take away your happiness. NO ONE. NO THING. NEVER. The experience of joy is your God-given right. People can try to remove your happiness, but they cannot remove your peace unless you give them that power. If anyone seems to have stolen your peace, it is because you have allowed them into your sacred sanctuary and let them plunder your treasure. For you was peace created, given to you by its Creator, and established as His Own eternal gift. How can you fail, when you but ask for what He wills for you?”

So, there you go. We don’t need to hide or be anxious about the future like the disciples.  Have you ever wondered if they sat with regret knowing they did the unthinkable by abandoning Jesus and running away? Aside from Peter and Judas, we don’t know what was going through their heads. Did they have regrets? Did they wish they could have a do-over? I would think they must have! But, that’s the beauty of second chances! After Jesus invited them to a fish fry they were all on fire to serve the God they now knew as unfailing love and mercy, especially Peter the hater, turned lover of Christ, turned coward, turned forgiven, turned martyr for his now unshakable love of Christ. Whew!

I think I read somewhere that at that fish fry Jesus recalled to them the Last Supper, “Hey guys remember the great time we had then?” – since they all seemed to have forgotten. “Remember how I washed your nasty feet?” Then He reiterated His call to them to love one another (John 13:34). “And just so we’re clear…that was not merely a suggestion.” I wonder if any of them choked on their food at that point.

Now, what about us? Here we are, kind of like the disciples, in the midst of what is surely one of the most uncertain times of our lives. And, funny thing, God is still here; still loving and merciful and compassionate. But, where are we? Good question.

How many of us have been running from Him all our lives? Oh sure, we have been going through the motions of being a “Christian” mostly to impress others. But, what have we really done as Christ’s followers? How have we been Christ to others? Today, maybe more than ever, we need to let the light of the Risen Christ shine in and through us for those who are lost and alone, not just in their homes, but in the very depth of their hearts. That is God’s hope and greatest longing. “Look” He says on Easter morning, “I never left you and I never will. So, stop trying to hide from Me. Let’s just sit together and get to know each other. What else do you have to do? You’ve cleaned your house and straightened your sock drawer so many times you’ve lost count. Just sayin’.”

Galway Kinnell said, “Sometimes it’s necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness.” I think that’s what God Is trying to do with us, so we can pass it on to others who may have forgotten too. Living into the truth of our own loveliness will allow others to do the same. Just imagine what beauty and joy and peace that would create for the future of this world?!

Archibald MacLeish, in his beautiful sermon on the Book of Job, says, “Only man can prove that man loves God. Man depends on God for all things: God depends on man for one….love is the one thing no one, not even God Himself can command. It is a free gift or it is nothing. And it is most itself, most free, when it is offered in spite of suffering, of injustice, and of death.”

THIS IS OUR TIME. THIS IS OUR CALL TO LOVE! AND WHO KNOWS BUT THAT WE WERE CREATED FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS (Esther 4:14).

AMEN AND HALLAULIAH!

THIS IS GONNA BE EPIC!!

HAVE A BLESSED AND JOYIOUS EASTER EVERYONE!

 

Jesus: I’m Back! Did you miss Me?

jesus suitcases

I’m Back!

 

I think it’s fair to say that this Easter will be like no other, and I would like to think of that as a good thing – eventually – hopefully.

God has stripped away all the non-essentials: new outfits, haircuts, review of proper behavioral expectations for the kids at church, and “how to stay awake at Mass” for adults.

Making up shallow sins suitable to hide the deeper embarrassing stuff for the annual confession – not needed.

Oh yeah, and the Easter dinner invitation list that your mother told you must include those annoying relatives you hate – not necessary either. You’ll be dining alone (and you might want to work on that hate issue of yours).

You take a deep breath and realize what’s left.

Ready?

Jesus and you…AWKWARD!

It’s okay. He doesn’t bite. No matter what your third grade teacher told you.

So, how about we take a new look with fresh eyes at the events of this Easter week. A week that revealed humanity at its best and its worst, and what that might mean for us today.

We begin with Palm Sunday. Those crowds were lovin’ on Jesus the Prophet on His way to becoming their anticipated King who would save them at last. Christ was celebrated as the One who would bring His people out of captivity. They were enthralled with Him. The cheering was almost deafening. Sorta like opening day at Busch Stadium. But, remember these were His people and it was all palms and rose petals.

(We’ll tackle Holy Thursday at the end of this discussion).

Then it all went sideways as He went off to Jerusalem to encounter a not-so-supportive crowd. What a different picture, huh? Here He’s among the political elite, the leaders of the temple, who know enough about Him by now to hate Him, but the average guy on the street doesn’t have a clue who He is. And now He is stirring up more anger than a crowd rush for toilet paper on the opening day of Coronavirusmania! So, the chief priests and elders meet to plot against him. They know they have to get Him away from His faithful followers first. “But not during the Feast,” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people.” (Matthew 26: 3-5). The rest would be easy.

And how about those disciples who vowed during the height of His ministry to never leave Him? We know James and John made it clear they wanted to have an honored place next to Him when He came into His glory (Mark 10:35-37). Perhaps the rest of them thought they already had that favored position all sewn up. But then they all scattered and ran for cover when He was taken away to be crucified. “This is not what we signed up for!”

Fun Factoid: The women were never afraid and never ran. They had no ulterior motives. They just wanted to be with the One who loved them and accepted them for who they were. Take note guys!

In very short order He was convicted and dragged before an angry crowd who screamed for His crucifixion and they probably didn’t even know why. How many do you suppose just got caught up in the moment and didn’t realize until afterwards what they had participated in – the torture and murder of an innocent man they would later discover was PRETTY SPECIAL.

Then at the Cross on Good Friday, we watch horrified as Jesus suffers an unspeakable death. And His mother suffers in silence.

On Holy Saturday the waiting begins as we are called to silently contemplate what has happened. But, we already know that His glorious resurrection is coming and peace on earth will prevail. At least, we used to believe that. But this year that truth seems to have been morphed by fear and the unknown.  So, maybe this day will be spent like all the rest these past few weeks trying to numb ourselves to what we imagine is coming: watch TV (which only fuels that fear), take a nap, eat, drink, wash hands – repeat.

Where’s the peace in all that? Normally we only have the capacity to think our hearts are at peace when everything is perfect: our relationships are perfect, our kids are perfect, and the mother-in-law moved away (oops, not nice).  But even, or especially, in these times when fear will try to overwhelm you, don’t let that happen! God is ready to prove to you that you are stronger, braver, and more resilient than you ever imagined! (Which will come in handy when your mother-in-law has to move back in with you).

As Alan Cohen tells us in his book, “A Course in Miracles Made Easy”:

“No person, group, situation, or condition has the power to take away your happiness. NO ONE. NO THING. NEVER. The experience of joy is your God-given right. People can try to remove your happiness, but they cannot remove your peace unless you give them that power. If anyone seems to have stolen your peace, it is because you have allowed them into your sacred sanctuary and let them plunder your treasure. For you was peace created, given to you by its Creator, and established as His Own eternal gift. How can you fail, when you but ask for what He wills for you?”

So, there you go. We don’t need to hide or be anxious about the future like the disciples.  Have you ever wondered if they sat with regret knowing they did the unthinkable by abandoning Jesus and running away? Aside from Peter and Judas, we don’t know what was going through their heads. Did they have regrets? Did they wish they could have a do-over? I would think they must have! But, that’s the beauty of second chances! After Jesus invited them to a fish fry they were all on fire to serve the God they now knew as unfailing love and mercy, especially Peter the hater, turned lover of Christ, turned coward, turned forgiven, turned martyr for his now unshakable love of Christ. Whew!

I think I read somewhere that at that fish fry Jesus recalled to them the Last Supper, “Hey guys remember the great time we had then?” – since they all seemed to have forgotten. “Remember how I washed your nasty feet?” Then He reiterated His call to them to love one another (John 13:34). “And just so we’re clear…that was not merely a suggestion.” I wonder if any of them choked on their food at that point.

Now, what about us? Here we are, kind of like the disciples, in the midst of what is surely one of the most uncertain times of our lives. And, funny thing, God is still here; still loving and merciful and compassionate. But, where are we? Good question.

How many of us have been running from Him all our lives? Oh sure, we have been going through the motions of being a “Christian” mostly to impress others. But, what have we really done as Christ’s followers? How have we been Christ to others? Today, maybe more than ever, we need to let the light of the Risen Christ shine in and through us for those who are lost and alone, not just in their homes, but in the very depth of their hearts. That is God’s hope and greatest longing. “Look” He says on Easter morning, “I never left you and I never will. So, stop trying to hide from Me. Let’s just sit together and get to know each other. What else do you have to do? You’ve cleaned your house and straightened your sock drawer so many times you’ve lost count. Just sayin’.”

Galway Kinnell said, “Sometimes it’s necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness.” I think that’s what God Is trying to do with us, so we can pass it on to others who may have forgotten too. Living into the truth of our own loveliness will allow others to do the same. Just imagine what beauty and joy and peace that would create for the future of this world?!

Archibald MacLeish, in his beautiful sermon on the Book of Job, says, “Only man can prove that man loves God. Man depends on God for all things: God depends on man for one….love is the one thing no one, not even God Himself can command. It is a free gift or it is nothing. And it is most itself, most free, when it is offered in spite of suffering, of injustice, and of death.”

THIS IS OUR TIME. THIS IS OUR CALL TO LOVE! AND WHO KNOWS BUT THAT WE WERE CREATED FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS (Esther 4:14).

AMEN AND HALLAULIAH!

THIS IS GONNA BE EPIC!!

HAVE A BLESSED AND JOYIOUS EASTER EVERYONE!

 

The World is Coming to an End!

APOCALYPSE

Just kidding. Not happening. Not today anyway. I don’t think. I could be wrong. Sorry if that disappoints you. Nothing I can do about it.

Anyway, let’s jump right into the muck shall we? Weren’t the 2016 elections fun?! And the aftermath? – there doesn’t seem to be an end to it.

wrestling

Many people on both sides are everything from angry to frustrated to fearful. It’s all over the internet and the news ad nauseum. You can’t get away from it if you talk to friends, family, or strangers in the checkout lines who need to vent. Hateful rhetoric, anger, and violence are now the norm.

(Spoiler Alert: This is NOT a political post. Honest!) Stay with me now…the Good News is coming!

If you’re scratching your head because you don’t understand how we got here, maybe because you still believe Christianity is the foundation of this country, I am sorry to inform you…in recent years, it seems, we have become a more and more secular country.

So, this post is not about Democrat vs. Republican. It’s about our changing culture and how we are to live as people of faith in America today because I think we may need a refresher course on Luke 10:27.

Let’s begin with this excerpt from First Things written after the 2012 elections. What Reno wrote is even truer today:

The New Secular Moral Majority, by R. R. Reno

The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life tells us that 20 percent of Americans (that number increased to 23% in 2014) now check “none” when asked about their religious affiliation. Many are fed up with religion’s longstanding influence on American society, making them likely to attack the public role of religious institutions and further polarize politics. (Source)

Never mind that “until recently, all the progressive movements in American politics were promoted and heavily influenced by the mainline Protestant churches.” (Source: Reno)

things that make you go hmmm

But, that’s not the whole story. It isn’t just their politics that’s concerning.

Consider this article in the NY Times from April, 2016:

Suicide in the United States has surged to the highest levels in nearly 30 years with increases in every age group except older adults….sending a signal of deep anguish from a group whose suicide rates had been stable or falling since the 1950s. The overall suicide rate rose by 24 percent from 1999 to 2014, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

In all, 42,773 people died from suicide in 2014, compared with 29,199 in 1999. The rate rose by 2 percent a year starting in 2006, double the annual rise in the earlier period of the study. 

I could throw in statistics on road rage too (I was a victim of that recently, it was frightening!). Are you aware of how many fatalities are a direct result of road rage? And the numbers are increasing.

Data gathered by SafeMotorist.com indicates that 66% of recent traffic fatalities can be linked to aggressive driving. More disturbingly, 37% of those fatalities were found to be caused by a firearm, rather than a typical accident.

Here are some more fun facts concerning the rise in mental health disorders, according to the latest statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health.

Then you have to wonder about the extent of usage of all those legal and readily available drugs. Well, one in six U.S. adults reported taking a psychiatric drug, such as an antidepressant or a sedative. The data comes from an analysis of the 2013 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS).

Okay. I’m done.

Now, let me ask you. Does it sound like we Americans, who supposedly have everything, are living full, joyful, blissful lives? Which, surprise, is what God intended. We may have lots of “things” and the sense that we can do what we damn well please, but do our lives have purpose? According to the above statistics, it doesn’t appear that way.

We seem to be trudging through life on autopilot.

olive oil sleep walking

I believe what underlies all of this is that the American people are dying for hope.

Nothing else.

We have everything else!

People in Third World countries have nothing and are literally dying of starvation. We recently spent two months in Rwanda and encountered the survivors of the genocide of 1994. They lost almost 1 million loved ones in one-hundred days! They experience hunger daily! Which would make their faith and hope in God incomprehensible to Americans. I wrote more extensively about it here.

So, I believe this is our challenge: We, as people of faith are called by God to be that hope for others. 1 Peter 3:14-15 tells us “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled. But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.”

The question that God puts before every person of faith is this, “Are you living a life of hope and joy; of compassion and mercy and generosity that speaks to the emptiness of those who have lost their way?”

Not according to Barna Research Group (sorry, this is the last one – promise):

It may come as no surprise that the influence of Christianity in the United States is waning. Rates of church attendance, religious affiliation, belief in God, prayer and Bible-reading have all been dropping for decades. By consequence, the role of religion in public life has been slowly diminishing, and the church no longer functions with the cultural authority it held in times past. These are unique days for the church in America as it learns what it means to flourish in a new “Post-Christian” era.

Geeezzzz, Linda, if I wasn’t depressed before you shared all this “stuff” I am now!

Oh, come on, stay with me guys cause we’ve got work to do!

spreadlove1

God’s call in this day and time may seem overwhelming. After all, I am just one person, right? So was Esther! If you have been following my blogs, you know I have a special place in my heart for Esther. God prepared her for “such a time as this” (4:14). And here’s the key: we rarely know the outcome of God’s calling before our “yes” response. So, it’s too risky for us. We want to say, “Yes, if…”

“Yes, if it won’t cost me anything.”

“Yes, if I’m going to be rewarded for my effort.”

That was not Esther’s response, and it shouldn’t be ours. She said “yes” to God knowing full well she would likely be killed, “When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” But, she didn’t perish; she saved her people. (Esther 4:15)

BAM DONE!

“Okay” you say with great trepidation. “But, where do we start?”

Well, perhaps we’re standing in the wrong line;

line

Putting our trust in the wrong people;

voting booth

Believing the rhetoric that there is no heaven or hell;

hell

Spending too much time shopping online, obsessing over Facebook, Twitter, and any other social media sites;

social media

We first have to come to the realization that we will never be fulfilled by our consumerist obsessions; our need to succeed at any cost; our inflated egos and narcissism. We never seem to be satisfied. We want more, but more of what? Richard Rohr calls it our “survival dance” which keeps us from “getting to our sacred dance.”

There is an incredible book I have read and reread, titled, Waking the Dead, by John Eldredge.  Powerful stuff.  He asks:

What is really going on here? Good grief – life is brutal. Day after day it hammers us, till we lose sight of what God intends toward us.” He quotes St. Irenaeus, “The Glory of God is Man Fully Alive” – and goes on the say, “You’re kidding me. Really? Is that what you’ve been told? That the purpose of God –the very thing he’s staked his reputation on – is your coming fully alive?

Eldredge believes that:

We are at war. I don’t like that fact any more than you do, but the sooner we come to terms with it, the better hope we have of possessing the life we want. I’m sorry if I’m the one to break this news to you: you were born into a world at war, and you will live all your days in the midst of a great battle, involving all the forces of heaven and hell and played out here on earth.

Yeah, thanks!  That insight surely makes you want to trade your Armani suit for an itchy camel hair coat; pack your lunchbox with locust, and find your prophetic voice doesn’t it?

Alternatively, I don’t know about you, but I’m not anxious to end up as the one referred to in Revelations 3:16, “So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

So many people have become fearful of what our future, in particular the future for our children and grandchildren, will look like. Focused entirely on the makeup of Washington, the seeming inability to correct the direction we are headed, and what all that will mean for this fragile country.

When I read the article I shared with you in the beginning of this post, God revealed to me something much graver.  No matter how any of us voted, there is something much more critical to address. I have a great sense that our work, the work of all people of faith, at this time in history, is more critical than ever.

Okay…there you go.

What are we, as God’s people, supposed to be thinking, and feeling, and doing in what seems to be a hopeless situation?

Well, not this – please – not this:

HatfieldClan

If you’re wringing your hands, hunkering down, barring your windows, loading your guns, and wishing for the apocalypse, perhaps this is a good time for a refresher course in what it means to be God’s beloved. That’s where it starts. Then, it should flow out to others. People all around you are desperate to hear they are worthy. That is our “great commission” today, just as it was for the first disciples so long ago. In case you’ve been so busy you haven’t noticed, they’re long gone and there is a void that we ALL are called to fill.

Perhaps, for starters, some sobering questions need to be answered by each of us:

  • Does my “yes” to God call me to a responsibility that compels me to a response?
  • Why, if we are 40% of the population, have we not influenced the “nones”?  We are the same 40% while they are growing in number. Why?
  • Are we culpable in the course this country has taken because of our limited desire to live the “Good News” in a way that makes others want what we have? When we “go to church” an hour on Sunday and the rest of our lives are enmeshed in worldly pursuits, how are we any different?
  • The secular may have pushed God out of our schools and Public Square, but are we, a people of faith, just as guilty of keeping Him hidden in our places of worship?

Still waiting for Jesus to come? Still waiting for the “Good News”?

waiting for Jesus

Well, guess what? YOU are the bearer of God’s “Good News”! All wrapped up in the bright, shiny LIGHT of Jesus! YOU are God’s gift to a hurting world.

Indeed, we need God, but, are you aware that God needs us too? Right. You thought God didn’t need anything. But, it’s true. Archibald MacLeish, in his sermon on Job tells us why:

Man depends on God for all things: God depends on man for one. Without man, God does not exist as God, only as creator, and love is the one thing, no one, not even God Himself, can command.

Do you believe that?  If so, what are you “doing” about it? Sure, you may not be the next Mother Theresa or Ghandi or Martin Luther King – or you could be. Either way, God has gifted you, and likely in some way you may not even have imagined. God prepared you before you were born and has called you into the fray and the messiness of this world to serve.

If the love of God is not manifest in and through us to others, how will the “nones” ever know there’s a better life waiting for them? If that beautiful nun, Sister Maureen, had not spoken God’s love into my heart fifteen years ago, I would likely still be drunk! If she had only seen the exterior of the obnoxious heathen I was, and not the very breath and heart of God buried deep within me, I would likely be one of those statistics.

Ask yourself how many Linda’s you have turned away from God because you were too busy or too afraid to be vulnerable and risk reaching out? Then, ask God to change your heart and move your feet.

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_RjndG0IX8)

 

matthew west
Do Something

Perhaps the motto of the French Foreign Legion would help us:

                If I fall – pick me up.

                  If I falter – push me on.

                   If I retreat – shoot me!