Do you ever find yourself doing something that you thought seemed totally coherent and well thought out and then milliseconds later it reveals itself to be completely stupid? Just me? Oh well; yesterday held one of those moments for me. For those of you who follow the Christian calendar, you know that yesterday was Ash Wednesday. And at Odessa First we hold a brief Ash Wednesday litany in the evening. That also means we need ashes prepared from last years palms. The last couple of years I have burned the palms in our backyard a few days prior. One year I even ruined one of our stock pots. So this year, I thought I could try something different and decided to burn the palms on some foil…on a cookie sheet…in the oven. Now everyone reading this, except for myself at 5:20 AM yesterday morning, knows what is about to take place. All of a sudden I am receiving texts from my wife in the back of the house in a panicked state because she thinks the house is on fire. I quickly realize how far south my experiment has turned and even this morning I find myself sitting in a house that has the vague aroma of burnt palm leaves…which, strangely enough, kind of smell like cheap cigars.
But this is kind of what the season of Lent is for; our stupidity. Lent is a season of repentance and preparation. It’s a season where we confess and reflect on the ways throughout the year we may not have fully lived up to all that God has called us to be. Sometimes the ways that we failed God are just dumb. Sometimes the ways we have failed our neighbor are more malicious and evil. But all the same, Lent is a time where we remember these things, we remember our mortality and dependence upon God and we recognize once again our need for Grace. Psalm 51 is a passage that is sometimes read near the beginning of Lent and one of my favorite verses reads like this, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.” – Psalm 51:10-11 This passage was thought to have been written by King David after he was confronted by the prophet Nathan. Now many of us don’t find ourselves in that same boat as David. But when we fail God or hurt our neighbor, the sentiment should be the same.
I can’t help but smile a little bit this morning as a I listen to the drone of an air filter doing its best to clean the smoke laden air in our house. I’m not sure it’s up to the task. But when it comes to us, God has no trouble creating a clean heart within us. He doesn’t long to take His Spirit from us, but rather seeks to abide with us. Lent is a season that reminds us that through repentance and humility that we are able to make space for God to work within us and create something new in our lives. May you find yourself being renewed this Lenten season. May you recapture the joy of your salvation. And may you be reminded that even for the incredibly stupid things we sometimes find ourselves caught up in with life, that there is grace.
For those of us in the Christian faith this next week holds special significance. We call it Holy Week and it is ushered in by Palm Sunday, celebrated with Maundy (or Holy) Thursday, memorialized through Good Friday and finds its finale on Easter (Resurrection Sunday). For those whose lives revolve around the church or for those employed by the church this is also one of the busiest seasons of the year. There are multiple services to plan or attend, there is less time for preparation and yet this is also meant to be the holiest of times in the life of the church. It can all become a bit overwhelming. And sometimes it is hard for practitioners to find the sacred space in Holy Week.
I think getting back to the definition of the word holy might help us a bit in trying to find that space. Holy, at least in the original Biblical context, referred to something set apart for God i.e. something that belonged to God. Over time because of the way we thought about God and the dualistic nature of the world (thank you Greeks), we came to see clear divisions of that which was holy and that which was profane. And this wasn’t just a discussion of good vs. evil, holiness vs. sin, but life itself took on divisions based on the type of tasks that was taking place. However, doesn’t the world/cosmos belong to God? In her book And the Trees Clap Their Hands, Virginia Stem Owens writes, “All the world is a sacramental loaf. We are not-nor will we ever be, God save us-solitary intelligences spinning in the dark void of space.” In other words, all our life is (should be) holy as all of it is infused/connected to God himself. The apostle Paul put it this way when he was attempting to speak to the Greeks about this very thin in Athens. “For in him we live and move and have our being. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.” – Acts 17:28
Holy Week is a special time in the life of the church. But so is the week after Holy Week. And the week after that. I love the significance of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter, but I also love that the same Spirit that speaks to and through us during these special times also wants to do the same on a Tuesday in July. So what am I saying? We need to be careful in categorizing our lives. With seasons like this it is easy to mark certain times as holy and others as not. Which in turn allows us to mark certain avenues/tasks in our lives as holy or not. When in fact all life is meant to point towards our Creator and His redemption story. Owens goes on to say, “Whenever we eat, drink, breathe, see, take anything in by any means, we are commanded to remember the sacrifice.” Our lives should be lived in a constant state of declaration that God is holy, we are his creations and we are seeking to reflect Him. So that not just one week is set apart for God, but life itself takes place in Him. May you find your life caught up in the Divine Romance not only this week, but for all eternity.
Yesterday was a special day in the Christian calendar. Ash Wednesday is marked as a day of repentance and the beginning of the season of Lent, a powerful tradition that crosses denominational lines and cultures. So for many of us in the pastorate it was a busy day. About mid-afternoon though, I was able to go home for about an hour or so and spend time with my family who have been sick for a bit now. Forgetting I had ashes on my forehead, I noticed my 9-yr-old staring at me and then he asked, “What’s on your head?” Well the conversation went on as I explained to Jonas the significance of what Ash Wednesday meant and how we commemorate this season and then I asked him, “Do you think you would get ashes?” His reply, “Yes.” “Well why would you want to?” “Because I love Jesus and I want other people to know it.”
That’s the kind of response that melts a father’s heart. And I had never really thought about the significance of Ash Wednesday as an outward expression of solidarity with other Christ followers until yesterday. But what a profound image. Here we are as Christians, for the most part blending in every day of the year and then all of a sudden we are walking around with smudged crosses on our forehead and saying to the world our allegiance lies elsewhere. It reminds me of the verse from 2 Corinthians 2:14, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere.” We are meant to leave a mark, to spread an aroma, to have an impact on the world around us.
This morning my wife and I were having a different conversation about our son. We were wondering for a moment what his life would have been like had he not become a part of our family. You see, Jonas is an incredibly sensitive young man and our home is a safe place to express emotions and feelings. Then I began to think about what my life would be like if Jonas were not my son. Its crazy to think about how we left marks on each others lives because of a decision long ago. I look at this sweet caring soon-to-be teen and am so thankful for the mark he is leaving on the world around him. I am so thankful for the mark he is leaving on my life. And I think Jesus is thankful for the mark he is leaving as well. Can the same be said of us? Are we leaving a mark that points back to Christ on the world around us? Or are we just content to continue to blend in? May this Lenten season become a time for you to examine your life, your mark and see if you truly leave the mark, the aroma of Christ wherever you go.
It’s Maundy Thursday. This is the day in the Christian Calendar that we set aside to commemorate and remember the Last Supper. This is a beautiful part of the Passion story and I love for our focus to be on the remembrance of Jesus’ last meal with his disciples. But my focus always seems to drift towards his final moments with them instead. The last moments that Jesus spent with those he shared life with in his pre-resurrection state were spent in a garden, Gethsemane to be precise. In that moment Jesus encourages his disciples to watch and pray with him. He specifically calls Peter, James and John to watch and pray more closely with Him only to find them sleeping three times. During the second of these interactions Jesus utters this phrase, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” – Mark 14:38. And I’ve always read this as Jesus chastising/correcting His disciples, but what if it was just as much a reflection of His own struggle?
This is one of those unique passages in scripture where we struggle with our Trinitarian theology. We, and when I say we, I am referring to those who claim Jesus as Lord, believe and affirm through our creeds that God is three in one. Yet when it comes to the passion and last moments of Jesus’ life we often struggle with reconciling God in flesh. In fact, in the garden we find Jesus praying for the cup to pass from Him while in conversation with the Divine life. What if this request, this struggle, this agony was born out of Jesus humanity versus His Divinity i.e. the Spirit is willing but the Flesh is weak? It at least could give us new eyes into Jesus struggles up until the very end. ‘Am I ready for this cup?’ ‘Have I done all I needed to do?’ ‘Will they understand what is about to take place?’
I think sometimes that those of us on our Christian journey need to gain perspective as to where we each are along the way (I don’t think it’s coincidental that our Faith is sometimes called The Way). Some of us are in the prime of our ministry. We find ourselves consumed with spreading the gospel and sharing the Kingdom in all that we do. Some of us have yet to be Baptized and our ministry has not yet begun. Some of us find ourselves in the Garden. We have given our life to the church and to God’s Kingdom and now we know what is ahead, but are we ready? I guess I say all this to say that although we may be in differing perspectives in our ministry we are all still on the same journey. And even though our perspectives may be different we are all still called to love and support each other regardless of that stage. And our perspective ultimately should never effect the way we act towards those on the journey as well as those yet to begin, because our perspective doesn’t change our calling.
So today, as you remember our Lord and Savior in His final stage, may you be cognizant of your own stage and know that God still calls us along The Way to be ambassadors of reconciliation to those around us.
For those of you who don’t know, I have in the last four years become a Disney Princess aficionado. This is a position that has been rendered upon me by the birth of our now 4-yr-old daughter. Not only can I recite to you every Disney Princess story in breathtaking detail, but I can also sing every song, dance some of the dances and may have even been moved to emotion while watching one or two of the movies. Let’s be honest; having a daughter changes a man. But sometimes the lyrics in said Disney movies stick with me for all the wrong reasons. For instance, this morning the song Human Again from the second release (oh yes, there was a second release) of Beauty and the Beast began coursing its way through my synapses. I’ve often wondered why the objects in the enchanted castle were so consumed with being human again. I for one think it would be pretty cool to be a talking grandfather clock or candellabra, but they seem to be overly tired of that existence. The song even concludes with the following stanza, “I’ll be all that I was, On that glorious morn, When we’re fin’lly reborn And we’re all of us human again”.
Now I for one don’t quite relate to their elation at being human again. For instance, two days ago I was reminded in the most violent fashion of how human I was again. While attempting to better my human self at our local gym I was briefly distracted while moving a weight from a rack to the bar. And said 45lb weight thought that a nice detour between the two locales would be a five foot drop onto the top of my foot. It didn’t take long for me to remember how non-superhuman I was and how actually run of the mill human I truly am. And for the last two days I have carried/dragged that reminder around with me. Needless to say I don’t really need a reminder of what it is like to be human again.
I find it aptly timed that I received this little reminder of my mortality and fragility during the season of Lent. A season where we reflect on our condition apart from Divine intervention. The apostle Paul reflects on this same condition in his second letter to the church in Corinth saying, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” – 2 Corinthians 4:7. I guess my issue with the talking house decor from the aforementioned Disney movie is that their idea of being reborn is to simply be human again. My idea of being reborn is to be more than human. And this isn’t accomplished by my own strength and power. That usually results in me dropping heavy things on my appendages. No, this is something more. What I long for and seek to live into is the Divine miracle of the Spirit of the Eternal God making It’s dwelling inside of this fragile, flawed, decaying clay jar that I call me. And it becomes for all of us a new way to be human again as we are made into the image of God.
Last night I was able to sub in for one of our regular teachers here at the church and I got to lead our adult Bible study. In the midst of our conversation we were looking at a text that alluded to believers in Jesus being tested/tried. And then the verse was brought up that is often brought up in this discussion from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13. And I am not faulting anyone for bringing up this verse. This is one of those verses that often gives us great comfort in the midst of trials, but I can’t help but wonder if the meaning at face value really applies to the temptations/trials that we as humans often want to apply it to.
For those of you who are not readily aware of it, we in the Christian tradition have just entered into the season of Lent (no this is not a reminder to clean out your dryer vent). But rather this is the season that begins on Ash Wednesday and marks the 40 days plus Sundays leading up to Easter. Lent is traditionally characterized by some sort of fast on the part of the believer and is ushered in by the marking of the believer with ashes on Ash Wednesday with the scriptural reminder from Genesis 3, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The beginning and overarching tone therefore of Lent is a remembrance of our mortality. In fact, the reason that Lent is celebrated for 40 days is a call back to Jesus’ mortal temptation in the wilderness.
Can I be real honest here for a minute? I don’t think any of us would have survived what Jesus did in terms of His temptation in the wilderness. Be you Bear Grylls or Survivor Man, I really don’t think it matters. The Bible tells us that Jesus fasted for forty days and after that He was tempted. You put me for four days, let alone forty, in the West Texas wilderness and then tempt me with anything and I would probably cave. Why? Because I am weak. I am human. And often times when I come under stress, trials, temptations, etc. it is so easy for me to buckle. But here is the beauty and the simplicity of my reflection on the verse from 1 Corinthians above, “they are weak but He is strong”. In my humanness I may consider often that the trials and temptations that I undergo are too much for me, but they are never too much for Him. And that really is what Lent is ultimately about. It’s a reminder that were we to be left to our own devices all that would await us is defeat, brokenness and death. But thanks be to God that the end of Lent is the ushering in of Resurrection on Easter Sunday.
So may you take to heart these 40 days. May it be a reflection upon your weakness and mortality, but also a remembrance of His power that is at work within you…Yes, Jesus loves me!
I was recently granted the opportunity of writing some curriculum for preteen students. I mention this only because my subject material was quite a challenge. I was commissioned to write about what it takes to trust God in difficult situations. The topics ranged from suffering and persecution to loneliness and doubts. Not exactly the easiest stuff to try to communicate to preadolescence students with burgeoning faith. The topic of loneliness is particularly difficult because more than anything it speaks to our human condition. Anyone reading this post has at one time or another experienced the feeling of being alone and it is particularly poignant during this season of the Christian calendar. This time of year we find ourselves embroiled in the Lenten fast and all that comes with it. Lent is a time to reflect on repentance, mortality, and ultimately our human experience. Lent is intended to bring us closer to the human experience of Christ as we practice life ‘without’ in order to understand what it fully means to experience life with Christ. It is no wonder that the culmination of the Lenten fast is the experience of Good Friday and the anguish Jesus must have experienced as the Triune God took death into itself in order to redeem our condition. Christ became the discarded on our behalf. He was rejected by the empire, by his own, by his followers and left to die…
I know this in no way compares, but without fail I always seem to get sick during Lent.* It is almost as if my body decides to remind me of my mortality in its’ own way. But being sick also leads to feelings of separateness and loneliness. Not to completely reflect selfishly, but sickness always makes one turn inwardly and be consumed with one’s own self. One of the most difficult things to do while being sick is to be a parent. In all honesty I wish I was wealthy enough to just hire my kids out to a nanny until I am back to my normal health. And that’s what amazes me about Christ. In the midst of the most miserable state one could possibly be in (beaten to the point of death, stripped naked, abandoned, and crucified as a common state terrorist outside the city gates) he proclaims, ““Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” – Luke 23:34. When he was at his most alone moment in his earthly life he was concerned for those of us who were perpetrating those acts.
So I return to Lent. A season where we practice some form of apartness (I realize this is a made up word, but if you have a degree in Theology you are allowed to do this) or separation for the sake of coming a little bit closer to understanding the sacrifice God made for us. So maybe it’s not too bad to feel sick…maybe being low is really the only way to come a little bit closer to knowing what it feels like for Christ to love us when we discarded Him.
* A quick disclaimer: If these random thoughts lack cohesion it is due to the fact that I am not at my best…