Saturday Morning

He’s dead.

I just can’t believe it. None of us can. It was only a week ago that the crowds thronged to adore him, waving palm branches and praising the king who comes in the name of the Lord. And yesterday, those same crowds called for him to be crucified. And he was: suffocating, painfully, on that cross for hours. Mercifully he died somewhat quickly. Crucifixion can take much, much longer.

God bless Joseph of Arimathea. He alone had the courage to ask Pilate to allow Jesus to be buried properly. God only knows why Pilate consented, but Joseph used what would have been his own tomb someday. The women prepared the body and laid in in the tomb, with its shroud, and then several men rolled the heavy boulder over the entrance to seal it.

I honestly don’t know that I or anyone else around me would have had Joseph’s courage. With our teacher dead, executed as a traitor to the Roman state, so many of us are fearful and melting into the shadows already. I know of several who cheered him last Sunday and who are already trying to cozy up to the temple leaders, as if nothing had happened. I can understand it, I guess. What we had thought would be a world-changing, earth-shaking revolution to restore Israel has…failed. It makes sense, I suppose, to try to make amends with the powerful who still, really, are in charge.

I think what strikes me the most right now is the silence. Where his followers would have been in cheerful conversation, laughing and singing hymns with him, we’re all now dazed, confused, frightened, and sheltering in our own homes, no longer a community but a collection of scared people. And scared people don’t sing hosannas. It’s so very quiet. It’s like there’s another shoe out there waiting to drop, and right now, I don’t think any of us can take it when it does.

It’s the second day of Passover. But I don’t feel like celebrating anything right now. I’m just so lost. God, why did he have to die? Why didn’t you see through to the end your promise of redemption of your people Israel? What do you expect us to do now?

Progress? Oh Yes!

Last time I mentioned that the two of us have started a new diet, and that it felt like a playful nudge from the Lord after we’d made our plans for Lent. So how’s that coming?

Surprisingly, well! We had to fight through the first week or so, occasionally feeling hungry and deprived, but then something amazing happened. I’m needing less food, less often; I’m not hungry in between; and feel more alert, more energetic, than before! Oh, and I’ve lost about 5 pounds.

It’s really amusing to watch this process unfold from a couple of perspectives. One, I had never before imagined how many places to eat are just carbs: out goes just about everything at a mall food court, for instance. (Auntie Anne’s, Cinnabon, Popeyes, the candy shoppe…)  And two, the up-side of doing this is better than I had feared, if that makes sense: I had expected to languish in horrible hunger, and be cranky from undereating, and in fact the reverse is true. It’s amazing what happens when you get past what’s on easy offer and see what truly can be!

And how much like our faith life is that? How much easier is it to live in what the “easy” offer is–to go to church now and then, couple times a year, to live off the “carbs” of this world. And when someone tells us there’s something better, we recoil: we *like* our Cinnabon and fries and full-strength Coke. We can’t imagine that doing without those things opens up a wonderful new world for us. And yet it’s true–in this diet, and in a deeper, more honest relationship with Jesus.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Amen to that! If only we could not only hear it, but believe it!

 

Put Me To The Test

Last time, I mentioned that this year my bride and I would be giving up something each day of Lent–something to de-clutter our lives and let us focus on God. Proving once again that God does have a sense of humor–or at least, a willingness to say, “OK, you’re on!”–we now have something new to give up, and we’re doing it together.

Last week at a doctor’s appointment, her doctor told her that she needs to make a serious shift in her habits. He told her to start a ketogenic diet. This means we get to go wild on all the meat we want, including bacon (yay!), but have to live on a very low carbohydrate diet (boo). I’ve commented before on how my waistline could stand a trimming, and to give her support as well, I’ve joined in.

Here we are saying “Lord, let me have the strength to give something up in Lent,” and here’s God coming right back at us: “Okay, eliminate carbs.” Until this week I had no idea how carb-heavy our diets truly were. My usual breakfast of a grapefruit with a drizzle of maple syrup…gone. So would be any of a thousand typical American breakfast options: bagels, muffins, hash browns, pancakes, waffles…oh, sure, I can have all the eggs, bacon and sausage I want. Guess what my cafeteria at work doesn’t stock for breakfast?

Lunch: Out goes anything on bread, so my usual sandwich shops are gone. Salads, yes, and soups, sure, as long as I have some sense that they’re lower in carbs. And sure I can have meat from the cafeteria, if they offer something that isn’t breaded before it’s fried. Dinners have been OK–we skip the potato or rice now. But man, do I miss dessert. I *really* miss dessert.

It hasn’t been any easier for my wife, whose breakfast of choice for decades has been a can of full-strength Coke. We’re both struggling to find suitable replacements for all three meals, and for snacks that we can enjoy in the in-between times. This isn’t easy.

And yet, I feel, that’s the point. The lesson we may be being taught this Lent is more about discipline and commitment. You want to follow me? asks God. OK, here’s what it will cost you: your comfort zone, your usual habits, everything accustomed will go away.

“If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.” (Matthew 10:37-39)

Me and my big mouth, offering to give up something. Thank you, Jesus, for taking me up on it and forcing me to confront what you’re teaching. May we find the strength to turn from what’s comfortable and find instead the fullness of what we’re being called into.

Lent

Hard to believe but another year has come since last year’s effort at setting aside the noise and giving up the superficial “Lent” for Lent. As I tried to explain last year, the traditions around giving something up aren’t the point: the point is to focus on God, to draw nearer to him over these weeks, and so if it takes giving up chocolate or beer to do that, then fine, but the essential point is to get closer to God.

To that end, this year my bride and I are trying something a little different. This year, instead of giving something up for Lent, we’re giving something up every day. Let me explain.

Each day, we’re going to go through our home, our offices, our lives, and we’re going to jettison something that clutters our life–something that gets in the way of a simpler life, something that prevents us from having more time for reflection and devotion and growth in Christ. For instance, I’ve gone through the top two drawers in my dresser. If yours are anything like mine, they were f-i-l-l-e-d with clutter. I got rid of old membership cards, luggage tags (!), broken cufflinks, things that I simply do not need in my life. I’ve also put away some of the last bits of College Boy’s high school graduation paraphernalia that I’d held onto; I don’t need it out, it can go away. I’ve gone through my closet and soon I’ll go through the rest of my dresser, pulling out things I’ve not worn in years and where I know someone else can make far better use of them than I can.

In some regard, that’s the easy stuff. In a few days I imagine we’ll get past the low-hanging fruit and still be looking for things to give up. Then it might get harder. We may start giving up as much TV as we watch in the evenings, so we can spend more time in study. We may start giving up time on social media, or memberships in some clubs or organizations that, y’know, we just haven’t been active in but still keep paying dues. And by the end of this time of Lent, maybe we’ll have stripped down our lives to the point that we can be free of so many distractions, and can focus more on Christ: so we can more readily

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus / Look full in his wonderful face

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim/

In the light of his glory and grace.”

Wishing for a Lent that leads us back to Jesus, back to the full relationship we’re called to have.

And if all else fails, we can try this:

giveup

Discernment

How do we know when God is steering us, versus when it’s just what we think we want to hear?

My daughter’s been wrestling with a pretty major school decision, and in the next couple of weeks she’ll have to make a decision. She’s been in prayer about it, but asked for advice on how to tell if it’s God’s will that she’s hearing, or if it’s just her own preferences that she’s picking up. We talked it over, and talked with our pastor, and here’s some of what we came up with as ways to tell if it’s God we’re hearing.

  • Does what we’re hearing draw us closer to God, or push us further away? Jesus said there are false prophets, liars in our minds, and that we will know them by their fruit (Matthew 7:16-20). If what we’re feeling urged to do helps advance the Kingdom, that’s a good sign. If it tends to make us focus on our selfish desires, then it’s not.
  • Meditative, contemplative prayer. Emptying the mind is a fiendishly difficult thing to do (and I do mean fiendishly–the tempter is always there to draw us away from focusing on God), but if it’s possible to do so, pay attention to the words and images we may get in our minds. Then try to erase them, and see if they recur. Words, images, or feelings that keep being brought to mind could be God’s efforts to break through the noise of our lives, and for his “still small voice” to be heard (1 Kings 19:11-13). I find it very, very difficult to turn off all the noise in my head–my brain is always running. But this might work easier for some who are more blessed than I with the ability to turn that faucet off.
  • Trying it on for size: If we think we get a sense that God is nudging us in one direction or another, then in prayer we can “try it on”–“God, I seem to sense you saying yes, we should go on the trip…is that right?” And then being still, and seeing if you feel affirmed in the choice. And if not, if you still feel uneasy, then perhaps it isn’t.
  • Closely related: do you find peace in the decision you’ve made, or do you feel still in chaos? God brings peace with him, and so a sense of peace with the decision may be a strong indicator it’s God’s will coming through.

What other techniques do you know for being able to tell when it’s God’s voice you’re hearing?

Love is Patient and Kind

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. (1 Corinthians 13:4-5)

Happy Valentines’ Day!

Before leaving the office, I texted my bride and my daughter to see if I could treat my two valentines to takeout dinner tonight. I received word that S. wanted Panera, and Mary wanted Indian from the place we like in Kingstowne. So I dutifully navigated to Kingstowne to pick up the Indian–man, the traffic was atrocious! It was as if everyone else in Northern Virginia, for some reason, wanted to go out for dinner tonight. Imagine that!

So it took f-o-r-e-v-e-r to get there, and of course the restaurant was mobbed–I couldn’t even get in the front door for a minute. Scooped up the takeout, headed back to the car, and started off for Panera. Now, 99.9% of the time we go to the one in West Springfield, so I drove there, enduring every red light known to man, with our dinner cooling in the back.

Only to find…huh. There’s no order here for us. On texting to find out what was up, only then did I learn…she’d put in the order for the Panera in Kingstowne. Yep, the one about 50 feet away from the Indian place. The one I never think about because we almost never ever go there.

So, backtrack another 15 minutes, park, await food, drive again… It’s late, I’m getting thirsty and hungry, I’m tired after a long day, and I have to backtrack and drive all over because she didn’t tell me which Panera to go to?!?!? Like I’m supposed to read her mind?!?!?

Or…

I can feel Jesus shushing me. This isn’t about you and your inconveniences, you dope. This is about an evening sharing love. And yes, even though everything good gets opposed, the love of your marriage is worth far more than the inconvenience of driving an extra half hour. In these moments of frustration or annoyance, we have a choice: we can react, or we can choose to respond in love.

The Indian was a bit cool by the time we got to it, but it still tasted good. And being able to spend a positive, loving evening together, instead of getting angry or blameful, is worth far more than the ability to be “right,” or to put on an injured face. Because love is patient and kind, and refuses to keep score. And that’s more important in the end.