Posts Tagged ‘lent 2008’
It’s Easter Monday.
Lent 2008 is over, and there are 8 people who are sorry that it is done.
That’s ironic, as Lent is about giving something up, so we always think, and we ought to be happy when we can take up what we gave up. These 8 people, however, discovered that by giving up time, by giving up privacy, by giving up control of their lives, they changed.
In a real sense, they gave up who they had been and became who they are. They built new relationships offline as well as online. They thought about what their lives meant, and have deepened. They discovered that people you have never seen, that you never heard of two months ago, can be part of how God changes you.
In our conversations about the end of this project, which has to end because it was about a season, these writers are wanting to keep writing, these seekers after God are wanting to keep seeking, together. We don’t know exactly what the next project will look like. (We’re pretty sure that there will be an ebook coming out of this project). When we find out what’s next, we’ll let you know here and on our individual blogs.
I’ve (Jon) been pretty invisible during this project. I posed the questions and themes at the outset and set up the schedule. I’ve been touching up spelling at times and reminding people about schedules. What I haven’t done, much, is comment.
I have a tendency to explain too much, to think too much, to interpret what people are saying too much. As this project developed, it was clear to me that I was not in charge. As you read through the posts each week, written by people who usually hadn’t read what others were saying about the same theme, you can see that there was an Editor-in-chief for this project. And so I got out of the way.
Rob and Anna and Connie and Laurie and Thomas and Amy and Tom: Thank you for the number of evenings during the past 6 weeks that I and many others sat in silence, awed and humbled by your willingness to share your struggles in this journey of obedience. I frequently touched the keys on my keyboard gently as I posted, so as to not disturb the fragile balancing of your life and words and feelings.
Those who have read and commented and allowed words here to help you think and feel and converse with God and others, thanks for coming along.
And God, who guided and inspired and redeemed and strengthened these seven friends of mine through illness and chaos and struggles inside and out, who is three and one and three and one and three and one and…thank You. You whispered “share” and then You whispered names.
As usual, You knew.
The risen Christ is different. Somehow, after the last 40 days so am I.I have been blessed by this community. I have written and watched, wrestled and read and commented. I am different.
Accepting new life requires us to change our perspective. Just as when we welcome a child and shift our roles from wife to mother, husband to father, so must we shift to accept the risen Christ in our lives. He is different than the one who walked among us. Something has been fulfilled. So, what will it be? How will you accept this new life? How will you receive it? Do you need to pinch yourself….or put your hands in His side? Will you accept that you have been called to be different?
After He rose, Mary Magdalene wraps her arms around Him and He replies: ‘Stop clinging to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.’ When they encountered Him on the road to Emmaus, they did not recognize Him because He appears in a different form. In each of these, there is a holding to what was, what He was. But now, He is calling us to new life. Will you let go? Is there space for Him?
After He rose, He appears in the small room, the small space where the Disciples were huddled in fear behind a locked door. Did He enter through locked door, as if by magic, or was He already there, among them?
What will it take to recognize the risen Christ in your life? Where will you encounter Him? Will it be in some small space in which you are hiding in fear, behind lock and key? Wherever it may be, I can promise you that He is already there and you can pinch yourself if you’d like.
Happy Easter. He is risen.
It is bound to happen. A tear trickles.
It’s a Wednesday. I’m teaching weekday religious education classes to third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders. It is one of the two weeks of Easter lessons. We may have just read Bright Easter Morning, which depicts the events of Holy Week, Palm Sunday through Resurrection Morning, in beautifully done watercolors. We may have just finished watching The Story Behind the Cross, taken from the Visual Bible version of Matthew’s gospel. But inevitably, I’ll hear a sniffle or see a surprised hand reach up to brush a tear away.
These children are responding to Jesus’ suffering, to seeing even so little as an artist’s simple book illustration of a crown of thorns pressed down on His head. As they view the video, they flinch at Jesus’ beating and at the sight of Him being nailed to the cross. Some cover their eyes and peek out from between their fingers. Some verbally exclaim, “That’s not right!” (In every class, some will reference Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ—I cannot believe so many this young have seen it– and what they recall is Jesus being flogged and beaten. What we show in class is only a suggestion of Jesus’ suffering, in comparison. These are, after all, children. Some, by the way, are hearing this story for the first time.)
It’s not that some of them haven’t suffered; many have seen more in their tender years than one should see in a lifetime. It seems that in every school year, some child will tell me it was his cousin or his neighbor or his someone else that was the person whose murder I heard about on the morning news. Many of the children are pawns in adult relational dysfunctions and wranglings. The result is deep wounding that will leave deep scars…or raw wounds that will fester to infect with more wounding somewhere else. Some struggle to learn, since they don’t have anyone at home who understands that a child needs more than school. (In spite of life’s hard knocks, many are “tough cookies” with resilience you would not expect to find.)
But somehow, in spite of their own situations, they recognize that what was done to Jesus goes way beyond anything that’s ever happened to them. I think it may be, in part, because they recognize the fact that brings me, also, to tears:
He didn’t deserve it.
Let Isaiah speak. This is the emphasis that has come to my heart as my son and I have been memorizing chapter 53 during this Lenten season:
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering… Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him; and by His wounds we are healed.
On this Friday that we call “Good” let us consider anew the suffering of One who didn’t deserve it but who went through it anyway. It was His holy, lovely life for our sinful, unworthy ones. Let our tears as we look on that suffering be paused by joy as the realization sinks in…
He did it for me.
These are the two things that I know about suffering.
Recently my husband and I suffered a painful, shattering rejection. And I won’t try to speak for him, but for myself it was one of the most painful things I’ve ever suffered emotionally.
I suffered having things said of me by people I greatly respect that were painfully untrue and unjust. But worse than that, I suffered the pain of doubt and despair because I felt like God had abandoned me. I was following, to the best of my knowledge and ability what God had told me to do and he allowed this misjudging, this rejection. I felt like I had been deluding myself thinking that I was hearing the voice of God in the first place.
And I don’t understand.
But, in the middle of the pain, I had a thought. If I’m suffering injustice, I’m in good company. My Lord Jesus also had painful things said of him that were unjust and untrue. And, while I felt like God had abandoned me, I knew in my heart of hearts that was untrue, that God was still with me, will always be with me. But Jesus, who had known complete and perfect fellowship with his Father suffered the withdrawal of that communion on the cross.
And in my suffering, I get to be a little more like Jesus. And if I suffer quietly, I get to be more like Jesus. And if I don’t try to justify myself or defend myself, but rest in what I know God feels about me, I get to be more like Jesus.
But anything that I have suffered is paltry compared to the suffering of my boy everyday of his life. Everyday he suffers a body that is broken. Everyday he suffers a mind that is confused. Everyday he suffers pain and indignity and frustration and chaos.
And I think of what Jesus said of the man who was born blind, . . . this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.
And I don’t understand.
But I believe. I believe that somehow God is glorified in Isaac’s life, that somehow he is glorifying himself by not healing. And I believe that God has plans for Isaac, plans to prosper him and not to harm him, plans to give him hope and a future.
And I know that anything my son suffers is paltry compared to what the Son suffered.
And I think that one of the ways that God is glorifying himself is in us believing when we don’t understand. And I think in the getting to be like Jesus part of suffering God is glorifying himself in us. The more quietly I suffer, the louder is Christ in me.
I don’t understand.
But I believe.
When I was in elementary school, my parents dressed me in a gray, three-piece suit every Sunday. I was frequently referred to as preacher-boy. I hated that moniker. Besides, it was a very itchy wool suit.
When I was in high school (in the ‘60′s), I carried my Bible to school – right there on top of the stack of books I carried everyday. It was a part of my “witness” – a way of stating that I was a Christ-follower. My “witness” did more to separate me from the crowd than it did to attract others to Christ. While I believe I genuinely had the respect of many in my class, I was not invited to most parties or other gatherings of my peers.
As a college student I worked part-time in a supermarket. My “witness” was more effective. I was able to have numerous spiritually meaningful conversations with co-workers but I also knew I was not a part of the crowd and often felt marginalized.
I sat alone at the bedside of my dad as he died. Eighteen months later I stood with my sister over my mother’s bed as she breathed her last.
I have experienced the uncertainty that comes when losing a job. I also know something of doing with little. I began working away from home at the age of 13 in order to by my own clothes.
I have experienced loss, disappointment, sadness, and grief. Those are the common experiences of life – the experiences that all people face – painful but they can hardly be associated with suffering. A friend of ours lost a son (age 11) to leukemia; her husband died at 55; her daughter is going through a bitter divorce from an abusive husband. She would certainly tell you that she has experience pain but not suffering.
Perhaps suffering is somewhat relative. When I think of suffering, I think of stories of believers in China who have been imprisoned and in some cases executed for their faith. Or I think of those who have endured enslavement or those in parts of Africa who have been driven from their homes, separated from loved ones, women raped and millions wounded and killed.
Then there are the images from the Passion of the Christ that are still quite vivid in my mind. I only know of suffering through stories and news accounts.
Today, my wife and I were talking about some things we wish we could do. Then we both said, “But, we are incredibly blessed.”
I remember listening to a Chinese pastor who had spent more of his ministry in prison than behind a pulpit. He looked in the camera that was filming his story and told of the growing number of believers. With a big smile he said, “Persecution, good!”
I rejoice that I have only experienced sadness, disappointment, loss and grief. Here was a pastor rejoicing in persecution. I think I am blessed in the absence of persecution. He feels blessed in spite of the persecution because he sees the faith of others sprouting a growing.
My father prepared me for his death from the time I was 7 years old. When, at 15, it happened, I still could not contain my screams which echoed off the walls of a hospital waiting room filled with aunts and uncles and my mother. I know nothing of suffering.
I demanded to see him, to feel his body one last time. I needed to touch him to believe it. I helped to choose his coffin and he was buried three days later, mourned by daughter, wife, friends he touched, and a son. I know nothing of suffering.
I am a father now and imagine the terror of my father sensing death’s immanence, about to leave a wife, a daughter, a son. I imagine the shear sadness of knowing you are dying and it is not the idea of your own death, but the idea of not being with those whom you love. I know nothing of suffering.
I have stood in the room with my wife’s dying father. I have watched death transform the glittering gaze of my spouse into a dull, drawn, darkness directly descended from the deceased. I know nothing of suffering.
I have laid beside my wife’s sadness watching her soul ebb and flow with memory and longing for her father, as I churned with memories of my own. I know nothing of suffering.
I have watched my family’s sudden and subtle shifts as a grandmother, a friend, an uncle, a grandmother, a grandfather, pass away with each year. Death’s disorganization requires re-alignment of rote roles. I know nothing of suffering.
I know of sadness, of deep, abiding sadness and whether 40 days or 40 months, I know I should let go and allow each to ascend so the Spirit can arrive and anoint me.
“then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.” Acts 4:10
My friends, please don’t have a medical crisis that calls for CPR if it’s ever just the two of us, with no one else around; if the EMT’s don’t arrive quickly, you might die.
I have taken several CPR classes, but I always wonder if I could successfully perform the procedure on a needy person if the situation called for it. The single thing that gives me the slightest glimmer of hope for you in our little scenario is the mnemonic ABC—airway, breathing, circulation. I do remember these “handles” from my training, and they are enough—I think—to jog my brain and the rest of my body into taking the corresponding appropriate action.
That, of course, is the whole point of memorizing “ABC”, repeating it over and over during the training, getting it into my head through every avenue available, until I know it forward, backward, inside out. It’s knowledge meant to sustain in the needy moment.
I see a connection here to the case that can be made for Bible memorization. In our American educational system, memorizing has been somewhat set aside in recent years as “old school”. We used to call it “learning by rote.” Rote is defined as “a memorizing process using routine or repetition, often without full attention or comprehension”. Those who would eliminate this memorization method often do so based on that last part of the definition—just learning the words, facts, or figures without fully comprehending can’t be that valuable, they say.
I would be the first to recognize that it won’t do you much good, lying there unresponsive before me in need of CPR , if all I can remember is “ABC” and I don’t know the corresponding actions to take. But, hopefully, the ABC memory trigger creates the hook where action hangs its hat. In the same way merely knowing the words to hundreds of Bible verses may help me win the Bible Bee in Sunday school without being of much additional use in my life if it never translates from head knowledge into practice.
In my own experience, getting God’s Word into my head has often been the first step in getting it into my heart. Many times, when I need the wisdom and light of God’s truth, I don’t have a Bible at hand (just as I probably won’t have my first aid book at hand when you need that CPR). But it is an amazing moment, if I stop later to analyze, when a verse I memorized during a summer Bible club more than forty years ago flits and lands right in the bull’s-eye of my heart need at just the right time. That is the fire of God’s Spirit using the fuel of His Word to ignite the flame by which I’m able to see my next step along the path or the need of my neighbor who lies along that path wounded and beaten up by life. Through memorization, that Word is constantly accessible to me in places and during activities where I cannot or do not take my Bible, like in the shower or behind the wheel of the car, or when I’m talking with my neighbor or standing in the checkout lane at Wal-Mart. These are places where God speaks His sustaining Word to me or where His Spirit may prompt me to speak it to another.
My fifteen-year-old son and I have been memorizing Isaiah 53 in our homeschool during this Lenten season. I learned the chapter long ago from the King James Bible, so this is a tune-up for me, tweaking my recall now from a different translation. But I have to tell you, something is happening this time through that did not happen when I memorized that passage in a memory challenge years ago. There have been mornings in the past couple of weeks that I’ve repeated those words and have nearly wept at pondering the fact that all the piercing, crushing, and wounding that Jesus withstood was for me. It’s the familiar cadence of the ancient words, learned first through plain old drill, that has left room for the Holy Spirit to put the spotlight on the revisited truth.
More than once the Psalmist mentions the activity of meditating on God’s Word. Again, not always having a Bible in hand, I can meditate on verses I have memorized—chew as a cow would chew its cud; crude illustration, but the purpose of the activity is thorough digestion. It is said we are what we eat—likewise, we become what we take in and digest of God’s Truth.
I am 52 years old. I still memorize, but not nearly as easily (or often) as I did when I was 6 or 12 or 21. I am thankful that I grew up in a faith tradition where Scripture memorization was encouraged. God’s Word sustains—the posts that have preceded this one this week give testimony to that. God’s Word memorized sustains—it’s like the high quality trail mix you carry in your backpack as you travel through life. Always there, ready when you need it…and if you keep hiking and keep renewing your supply, it’s always fresh.
seeking not to understand
but strength to do Your will
seeking not to be heard
but to hear the still small voice
seeking not the answers
but to trust the Solid Rock
seeking not feel Your touch
but to know that You are near
seeking not to work and do
but rest in who You are
Seeking not Your movement
but the movement of my heart
seeking not to suffer less
but to suffer more like You
seeking not escape
but to walk along the way
seeking not to see the end
but to see me as You do
seeking not to help myself
but help for what You’ve called me to
seeking not to grasp
but to be held
” . . . seek first his kingdom and his righteousness . . . “
Sustaining – How do you keep going? What sustains you in your relationship with Jesus? On cold days and weeks and months when you are cold and hungry and thirsty, what feeds you?These are the questions posed for this week’s discussion. At first the questions troubled me. If I only read the first question, the answer is easy – Jesus! He is the One who keeps me going. Then I read the second question and at first I drew a blank – mostly because He was the answer to the first question. My answer to the third question is the same as the first – Jesus! He feeds me, warms me and quenches my thirst.
But it wasn’t always so. The longer I have thought about the questions, the more I realized that there was a time when I wondered if I could hold on to faith. It was in those early days of faith – I had been raised in church all my life but those first days, months and even years of testing MY faith, I wondered…is this worth it?
I would try to live faithfully and fail – serving God as if he was a bit of a tyrant always looking for ways to “get me” and punish me for a wrong thought, a mean word or some other misstep.
Yet there was something about Him that continued to draw. Each time I failed, even though there was this fear of punishment, He still drew me. In time, I learned that He wasn’t out to “get me” but to have a relationship with me. I began to realize that any spiritual discomfort was not from punishment but from pulling away and keeping a distance from Him.
There came a time – and I’m not sure when or how – I found Him to be my refuge and strength. Instead of looking for ways to sustain my faith or to sustain my relationship with Him, I was seeking Him to sustain me in marriage, in ministry, in times of grief and in times of great challenge.
When there are places – relationships, ministries, etc – that are cold, lacking in some way, I find myself retreating to the only One who can bring sustenance to any of those. I retreat to the place of prayer – read Scriptures and wait on Him. He comes and I am renewed.
Tonight it was my mother’s prayer that sustained me. I had reached a breaking point a few hours earlier. You know, the point where you’re so sick and tired of being sick and tired that you just want to give up, but since you can’t do that (or at least I can’t), you break down instead.
Okay, maybe you have no idea what I’m talking about. Others, I’m sure, have been there more than once. I was there today. An event I had worked and planned for, anticipated and looked forward to, arrived; and as hard as I tried today, ultimately I didn’t have the strength to attend.
I had a good cry and got over feeling sorry for myself, but I was left feeling weak and worried about myself. Some of it may be anxiety over a medical test scheduled for tomorrow, and add to that the heavy stress of feeling homeless right now even though I have a roof over my head.
We were supposed to move to a beautiful new (to us) home tomorrow. Instead, we’re walking around stacks of boxes and a For Sale sign is staked in our front yard. Just hours before we were scheduled to close on our property sale last week, the buyer reneged on the contract. That caused us to lose the house we had bought.
My mom is worried about me too, so she came over to check on me tonight. We talked a while and as she got up to leave, she started to say, “I’m praying for you.” I could tell that’s what she was going to say, but her words trailed off.
Instead of finishing her sentence, she simply walked over to my chair, put her hand on my head and started to pray. Out loud.
Suddenly I was four years old again. Comforted by my mother’s touch, strengthened by the sound of her voice, confident in her faith. My heartbeat slowed and my breathing calmed as she verbally put God in remembrance of promises she had taught me from Scripture.
That’s ultimately what sustains me. Not my mother’s prayers, although I cherish them. I’m sustained by faith in bedrock promises. Promises made by One who flung the stars across the sky and sustains the planets in their orbits.
sustaining all things by his powerful word.