Living…

tramonto sul mare

Tonite I had the opportunity to watch a movie with my GRACE Group. The theme of how to live life well was prevalent in the film, and it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

Lent is a journey from death to new life – we start on Ash Wednesday, acknowledging the fragility of our lives, the ease with which we sin, the sacrifice of Christ which was necessary for our salvation. And then for 40 days we walk toward Easter – that morning when life triumphed over death. The grave was empty and the world made new. My colleague/friend/teammate Geoff is fond of saying you can’t really GET Easter unless you’ve done the full journey. You have to have Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, a long silent Saturday before you get to celebrate the Resurrection.

Slowly, I’m coming to the belief that you have to have journeyed properly through Lent. Not just giving up chocolate or swearing. Not just singing some of the hymns that are written in minor keys (goodness, the Lent section of our hymn book is a tad on the dreary side, isn’t it?). Not just acknowledged Lent with your lips.

But actually walked that whole journey. You have to have stood, slightly awkward with a smudgy cross on your forehead, aware of your sin, on Ash Wednesday. Thought, acted, prayed and read your way through the weeks of Lent. Each day with the cross looming on the horizon. Each day with the thought and question of what it all means. Taken Communion on Maundy Thursday. Wept on Good Friday. Tried – knowing it was impossible – to get back to what the disciples must have felt on that long, quiet Saturday.

Only then, can Easter Sunday really be celebrated. Because Easter is something like life. You cannot fast-forward through it to get to the parts you like. You cannot simply have a montage and a cool song to deal with all that will happen on the journey (don’t you sometimes wish life was a movie?). You cannot understand the ending unless you’ve experienced the beginning and all the (sometimes boring) bits in the middle.

Living well doesn’t happen suddenly because you wanted it to. It happens slowly, over time. It is the result of a thousand little decisions. It is the choices you make in front of others and in private. It is the meal you shared with others and all the ones you ate alone. It is the failures that lead to an eventual success. Living well is more than the sum of its parts – it is all the parts themselves put together that somehow make a good life. And if you take your eyes off the goal, it is so very easy to get lost.

Jesus said,

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
John 10:10 NRSV

Jesus came that we might live well. That was his purpose – to give life. And he contrasts it with the thief’s (read: enemy, Satan, evil) purpose.

During this season of Lent, may we take the time to think about how we are living. May we journey through each day with the cross looming on the horizon. May we draw closer to the One who came to give abundant life.

Blue…

blue

Tonight was the first ever Blue Christmas Service at St. Andrew’s. I’ve always struggled with the concept of a Blue Christmas Service – I always enjoy the sparkle and joy of the Season. So to take time to focus on the struggle with grief or loss didn’t seem to make a lot of sense to me. It seemed like something that would jar me out of my joyful celebration.

However as we sang, prayed and lit candles this evening, I found something precious. A space of silence and breathing in the midst of a hectic and stressful season. This year, I have struggled to find my footing in the celebration of Christmas. I have loved every moment of worship that I’ve had since returning from Israel, but in between moments of singing and praying and listening to the word, I have found myself cranky and out-of-sorts. I think this has to do with wanting time to process all that we experienced in the Holy Land, and not having the time to do it. It also has to do with all the things on the “to-do” list which normally would have been done by now.

I have felt harried and frustrated and lacking in rest. So though I am not struggling with any particular grief or loss, I am struggling nonetheless. And this service ministered to me. My hope and my prayer is that it also ministered to all who attended, all who came broken and weary and weighed-down.

My hope is that if you are feeling that way, you too may be ministered-to during this season. That you may find a space to breathe, to reflect, to heal. And that the One who was wounded for us all, the One by whose wounds we are healed, would bring you comfort.

He was despised and rejected—
a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
He was despised, and we did not care.
Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
it was our sorrows that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles
were a punishment from God,
a punishment for his own sins!
But he was pierced for our rebellion,
crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed.
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him
the sins of us all.
Isaiah 53:4-6 NLT

Born to bleed…

Having just finished up a sermon, and being a little exhausted, I’m not going to write a lot for this evening’s blog entry.

But I’ve been noticing this Christmas how often Easter makes an appearance in the carols and songs of the season. I love it. You can’t have Christmas without Easter and you can’t have Easter without Christmas. Sometimes people want to just enjoy the sweet baby Jesus, without thinking what would happen 33 years later. Well, maybe it is because I had the experience of being at the birthplace of Christ, and then the deathplace of Christ a few days later this year…but I just can’t look/talk/think/sing about the baby without also being deeply aware of the cross. They go hand in hand for me.

And they should. The baby has to grow up, and do his work and lay down his life, or we’re all lost.

So on that note, I’ve been listening to this song a lot this season. I hope you’ll enjoy it, too:

Monday…

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Holy Week has begun. Yesterday in churches everywhere palms were waved and people remembered how Jesus entered Jerusalem, riding on a donkey. I had the privilege of preaching yesterday and as I prepared, one of the things I was aware of was how that celebration was tinged with darker themes. The people shouted and cheered, palm branches and cloaks were laid down as a pathway for Jesus, it looked quite wonderful.

But less than 7 days later, those same people would call for the execution of the one they celebrated, the one for whom they cheered. And now, on the Monday of Holy week, I find I can’t quite shake the echos of that scene. I keep turning the world “Hosanna” over in my head. It is an exclamation of excitement, but it also can mean “Save us now” or “Save us completely.” Did the people know how prophetic their cheers were? Did they understand how desperately they needed a savior?

I don’t think so. I suspect, if they knew…if they recognized their own ugliness they wouldn’t have turned on him at the end of the week. I suspect they would have kept crying “Hosanna!” instead of exchanging it for “Crucify!”

This Holy Week I want to be one who continually shouts “Hosanna!” Both because I know I need a savior and because I am so excited about what Jesus has accomplished on the cross. I need to remember my own need for him, and celebrate the reality of having that need fulfilled.

The next day, the news that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem swept through the city. A large crowd of Passover visitors took palm branches and went down the road to meet him. They shouted,

“Praise God!
Blessings on the one
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hail to the King of Israel!”

Jesus found a young donkey and rode on it, fulfilling the prophecy that said:

Don’t be afraid, people of Jerusalem.
Look, your King is coming,
riding on a donkey’s colt.”

His disciples didn’t understand at the time that this was a fulfillment of prophecy. But after Jesus entered into his glory, they remembered what had happened and realized that these things had been written about him.
John 12:12-19 NLT

Trusting, even in the mess…

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The world is feeling kind of dark and messy right now. The shootings in Connecticut continue to be on most people’s minds. Our hearts are filled with sorrow for the loss of life, for the hurt that has been perpetrated against people who did not deserve it. There are no easy answers about this situation. There is no way to heal quickly.

But I keep thinking about what Matt Chandler said at the Catalyst conference this year: “God works in the mess.” Please hear me: I am not say that God caused this mess, or wanted it to happen. I do not believe that God has any part in the violent and horrible death of children.

But I also do not believe that God is simply absent when things get ugly in our world. I believe God is present. I believe that God works in the mess.

I believe this because of the way that Jesus was born. It was…kind of a mess! Mary is unexpectedly pregnant and Joseph wants to break the engagement (because even those days, when your fiance becomes pregnant before you’ve slept with her, “Hey, it must have been the Holy Spirit!” is never your first thought).

This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.

As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Matthew 1:18-21 NLT

Joseph could have taken the easy way out. And I bet, even after the Angel came to him in a dream, there were times he wished he had. But instead, he chose to trust God. Even in the midst of this messy, socially awkward situation, he chose to trust God.

And he got to help raise up the savior of the world.

It’s not always easy to put our trust in God. Especially when everything seems like a total mess. But I think when we fail to do that – we miss out. We miss out on what God has planned, and His plans are always better than we could dream.

Autumn and inconsistent…

I often think of Fall as my favorite season. Unless you count Christmas, which I totally do – but that is my favorite because of twinkling lights and sparkly bows and beautiful carols and the birth of the Savior…not because of weather and what is happening out in the natural world.

Today I was running an errand and I saw the first kiss of fall color in a stand of trees. It just made me grin. I do love fall, but I think what I love even more than fall itself is the change of seasons. That shift as Summer morphs into Fall or Winter melts into Spring. That in-between-time when the previous season still makes an occasional appearance even as we are surrounded by signs of the new season.

It’s strange, because often I have such trouble with change. But when it comes to the seasons there seems to be such possibility and mystery in the changes. Sure, sometimes at this time of year you find yourself caught without a jacket on a day when it turns out that you really need one, or wearing too many layers on a day that Summer decided to pop back up. Sometimes the change surprises you. But there is beauty in the unexpected.
And in the midst of a change of season I find myself delighted by the unforeseen changes in the weather.

Now, if only I could translate that attitude to the unexpected things that happen in all avenues of life. Unfortunately, I am more annoyed than overjoyed when life throws me a curve ball. I find in-between-times full of frustration rather than expectation and mystery. I think – and this will come to no surprise to those of you who know me well – I want to be in control when it comes to change in the broad strokes of life.

When it comes to the weather, to the change of seasons, I’m well aware that I have no say in what will happen, so I don’t worry too much about it.

It’s a healthier attitude, especially for a Christian. I know that God is at work in this world. I know that He has a plan and I believe that His plan is for the good of us all. I believe His plan has to do with redemption and deliverance and new life. I can say all of that with confidence and with a still small voice in the center of my being whispering “it’s true, it’s true, it’s true…” So why can’t I have the attitude towards the changes in life that I have towards the change of season?

The answer is quite simple. I’m human. I’m fallen. I’m inconsistent. I’m in need of a savior. Thank God I have one.

The waiting…

I haven’t felt much like writing this past week. As a church, St. A’s is about to enter an exciting new phase. But the problem with that is that we are ABOUT to enter that new phase. Right now, it’s kind of a lot of ‘hurry up and wait.’

I have a friend going through that on a much more personal level as she waits for test results which will determine the course of her life over the next several months.

It occurs to me that waiting is the worst. Really. I say all the time: I can deal with anything once it’s on the table. But I will just about lose my mind waiting for it to be PUT ON the table.

A friend reminded me today of the promise found in 1 Peter 5:7:

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.

It’s wonderful advice, and I’d stake my life on the truth of this Scripture. But man, it is hard for me to actually DO. I know better. I KNOW better than to spend my time in worry. I know God’s got my back. He’s proved it to me over and over. And yet…

And yet, I find myself worrying and trying to solve problems that haven’t even fully arisen yet. In a strange way – I am thankful for that. Because it reminds me how desperately I need a Savior. And the wonderful, overwhelming, beautiful, transformational truth is that God has already provided one.