Good Friday…

This is a day for tears, for mourning. But also for hope and for deep gratitude. 

Though everything Jesus went through was incredibly painful and horrible, he did so to heal the human soul. 

The prophet Isaiah tells us:

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭53:5‬ ‭NIV‬‬

By His wounds we are healed. We are healed – brought from our brokenness to wholeness. Made right with God. The red in our ledger wiped out by the sacrifice of Jesus. The death we had earned made over into new life. 

It is a day for tears, but some of them ought to be shed in gratitude, in awe, in reverence. Because he did that for you. He did that for me. 

This Good Friday, may you know how very good it is to be forgiven. 

A new commandment…

On Maundy Thursday, Jesus gathered in an upper room with the disciples. They shared the Passover meal, but Jesus changed it. He told them he was the bread broken for them, that in his blood a new covenant was made between humanity and God. 

And then he said,

“A new command I give you: 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.”

‭‭John‬ ‭13:34-35‬ ‭NIV‬

This is the beginning of the church. This is what the church is meant to be: a community that loves so powerfully the rest of the world recognizes that we are different. 

And then, Judas betrays him with a kiss. And then, Peter denies him entirely. 

Sometimes, we just get it wrong. And it’s always been that way. And Jesus still tells us we are called, we are capable, that he will build us and that the gates of Hell will not prevail against us. 

Jesus still goes the road with us, to the very end. 

So this Maundy Thursday, may you love one another, for God loves you dearly enough that he gave his only Son for you. 

Lukewarm…

On Tuesday during the last week of his life, Jesus was at the Temple. This happened:

One day as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple courts and proclaiming the good news, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, together with the elders, came up to him. 2 “Tell us by what authority you are doing these things,” they said. “Who gave you this authority?”

3 He replied, “I will also ask you a question. Tell me: 4 John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin?”

5 They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Why didn’t you believe him?’ 6 But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ all the people will stone us, because they are persuaded that John was a prophet.”

7 So they answered, “We don’t know where it was from.”

8 Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

Luke 20:1-8 NIV

 

The thing is, the chief priests and teachers of the law wanted to take the safe route. They didn’t want to admit what I suspect they knew – that Heavenly forces were aligned with Jesus. John had proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah. If the chief priests and teachers of the law said John’s baptism was from God, they would be admitting that there was a case for the Christ – that, indeed, Jesus was the Messiah.

On the other hand, if they said John’s baptism was of human origin, the people would turn against them. For the people believed John was a prophet. Their power over the people was already precarious, threatened by the Roman occupation and by this young upstart Rabbi.

Jesus is asking them to be hot or cold. To affirm him or deny him. To own what they believe.

They chose to be lukewarm. They chose to neither affirm nor deny. They refused to own their opinions. And therefore, Jesus tells them that he has nothing further to say to them. He will not tell them about the authority he has been given by his Father in Heaven, because they are more concerned with saving face than having a serious theological conversation with him.

When I was in seminary, my Old Testament prof used to remind us that God cares where our hearts are at. Clearly, Jesus does, too – he has all the time in the world for someone who is seeking God, but no time at all for someone who is seeking to save face.

This Holy Week, may we all be a lot more than lukewarm. May our hearts seek God with passion. May we long to meet Jesus on the road, and hear all that he has to say to us.

 

I wonder…

There is so much about Jesus’ life that we simply don’t know. Most of his childhood (except for that one incident in the Temple when he was 12) is a mystery to us. Most of his adulthood is similarly blank – we have no record of what he was doing or saying or thinking before he turned 30. 

And even when we get to the well-documented ministry years, there is much left to our imaginations. We know what he did, to a certain extent, but we don’t know his innermost thoughts. There is much that falls into the category of “I wonder…” 

And that’s not a bad thing. It is good that we, as seekers of the Way, get to imagine. We get to wonder. And as Holy Week continues I find myself wondering. 

We know that Jesus knew the scriptures. He knew precisely where to turn to in the Scroll of Isaiah (because it wouldn’t have been a chapterized and versed book which was easy to navigate, but an endless – 24 ft long! –  scroll of cramped Hebrew letters in his day) in the synagogue in that incident we know as Luke, Chapter 4, when he declared the year of the Lord’s favour and proclaimed that he had come to give sight to the blind, and to set the captor free. 

So I wonder, as the cross loomed close, as his mission drew to its painful and inevitable end…did he take comfort from these words in Isaiah: 

“I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. “All who rage against you will surely be ashamed and disgraced; those who oppose you will be as nothing and perish. Though you search for your enemies, you will not find them. Those who wage war against you will be as nothing at all. For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”

‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭41:9-13‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Did he repeat these words to himself as he walked the way of sorrow with the cross on his back? Did he whisper them in prayer in Gethsemane? Did he cling to them when he was a prisoner in the pit in Caiaphas’ house?

I don’t know. But I wonder. In fact, I more than wonder. I like to think that it was precisely words like this that gave Jesus strength forming his final days. Because I know that they have given me strength throughout my years. And I like to imagine that Jesus and I share that. 

This Holy Week, may you know the power of the Word. May you be strengthened by the promises of God. And may you follow in the footsteps of Jesus. 

 

The week begins…

“When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, “Hosanna! ” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.”

‭‭Mark‬ ‭11:7-11‬ ‭NIV

Today it begins. With Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey and the crowds laying down their cloaks so that not even his steed’s feet would touch the dirt. Today, they pay him honour. 

But in a few short days they will turn on him and shout for his crucifixion. 
This week is a difficult one. The steps that will be taken by Jesus are painful and dark. Th re will be beauty – when he breaks bread and passes the cup – but there will also be so much suffering. He will be hurt in body, mind and spirit before it is finished. Before he is able to win our salvation. 
Therapy is dark, but it ends in light. The way is painful, but it ends in new life. The way has been long, but we have almost arrived at our destination. 
This Holy Week, may you hear the story anew. May you know that Jesus went through it for you. And may you be forever changed by his life, death and resurrection. 

Gotta get better…

Netflix released a program called “13 Reasons Why” this week. It’s the story of a teenage girl who took her own life and left a series of recordings telling the reasons she couldn’t go on, and the part that the people in her life played in her decision. 

As you might guess, it’s a pretty heavy show. There’s a lot of pain in the angsty teenage years, and this show doesn’t flinch away from laying that pain bare. I’m still thinking about the show in general. 

But there’s one scene near the end of the series that really got me. One of the characters says to another, “It’s got to get better – the way we treat each other.” I think that’s a prescription for the world right now. 

We seem to be living in a time when fear and division have the upper hand. There seems to be a general distrust and anger in the air. It’s in big things – like the chemical attack that took the lives of twin boys (along with most of their extended family) in Syria – and in small things…casual comments made by public figures that show disrespect or lack of caring. 

And I just feel like, it’s got to get better: the way we treat each other. 

And as followers of Jesus, we are meant to be leaders in this movement. It should make us seem weird to others. We should be THAT kind. 

The Scripture says:

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

‭‭Colossians‬ ‭3:12-13‬ ‭NIV‬‬

This is what we are meant to be. This is what we are meant to do. 

So as we approach Holy Week, may you be kind to others as well as yourself. May you know that God has been infinitely kind to you. May we all do better.  

Kind to yourself…

I think it’s safe to say that no one would argue with me if I were to say that the Scriptures teach kindness to others over and over again. Jesus commanded us to love one another, Paul writes about bearing with one another in love, the Psalms tell us how good it is when brothers dwell together in unity. Even the books of law list commandments regarding the care of the widow, the orphan and the outcast. 

Caring for others is a big part of what it is to live in relationship with God, to follow Jesus, to be a person of faith. 

But what about oneself? A little over a year ago, Andrew Peterson recorded a song he wrote for his 13 year old daughter (there is a link to a video of him performing it live, at the end of the quote below – click on the blue text). My favourite part says this: 

Well, how does it end when the war that you’re in is just you against you against you?

You gotta learn to love, learn to love, learn to love your enemies, too. 

–Andrew Peterson, Be kind to yourself 

This idea – being kind to yourself – has become a part of my vocabulary. It’s what I say to friends and colleagues when they are beating themselves up over something. Or when they are feeling overwhelmed by the troubles of life. 

I’d argue that being kind to yourself is also part of a life of faith. God made you. 

The Psalmist writes:

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

‭‭Psalm‬ ‭139:13-16‬ ‭NIV‬‬

You are fearfully and wonderfully made. God took time and care to create you just the way you are. Jesus stepped out of heaven; he was born helpless and naked, he grew,  taught and healed; he was betrayed, beaten and died in the most horrible way to save you. 

You are precious in his sight. 

So this Lent, be kind to yourself. Know that in doing so, you are honoring the God who made you and who saved you. And I will try to do the same. 

Treasures…

I’ve been thinking today of one of the treasures I brought home with me from the recent tour of the Holy Land that I lead. It’s a little ceramic tile from this Armenian pottery shop that I visit every time I’m in the Old City in Jerusalem. 

This is what it looks like: 

It’s simple and not very expensive, but incredibly dear to me. You see, this is a verse that I came across when I really needed to know God was with me. I wasn’t looking specifically for this verse and I must have read it before, but I didn’t remember reading it. 

I remember praying for God to show me that He was with me and that He cared (not because I thought that He’d disappeared or stopped caring, but because I NEEDED to feel his presence just then). The next day, this verse came to me. 

And any time I need a reminder of his presence and his love, this is a verse I turn to. 
The thing about God’s word is that it is full of treasures like this verse. And I think God longs for us to discover them. 

So this Lent, may you open up the Bible. May you find the treasures within. May you know that God has called you by name, and you are His.