The End…?

The celebrations of only a few days past feel like they may as well have been a hundred years ago. No palm branches waving in joyous greeting, and now the crowds aren’t adoring, they’re hostile, or at best, utterly apathetic. The procession winds its way to Golgotha and the Roman soldiers do what they do best: keep the process moving, don’t let anyone interfere, and get on with the execution efficiently and quickly.

How did we wind up here, when only last night we were preparing to celebrate the Passover meal? How did we wind up here, when only days ago he was cleansing the temple and restoring God’s righteousness? How did we wind up here, on a windswept hill, at the foot of a cross, watching his blood run like rivulets down the rough wooden cross?

When he told us last night that the bread and the cup were his body and blood given for us, I had no idea that he really meant his body and his blood would be sacrificed. I thought it was another of his parables, just another saying that we didn’t really understand, and now he’s not going to be able to explain them ever again, is he.

The crowd and the soldiers are taunting him: “If you’re so mighty, come down off that cross yourself!” I’ve seen him heal the sick, cleanse lepers, even raise Lazarus from the dead. I know he’s powerful. So yeah, why does he just…stay there? Why doesn’t he summon the power of God and break free? What on earth holds him there?

I can’t imagine what he’s going through. The pain of the nails, the slow suffocation of hanging on the cross, every breath shallower and shallower, as he grows weaker. And he’s probably not the last of our circle to be up there: so many of the brothers have faded away already. They’re scared, and they have every reason to be–I wonder how long before the authorities are knocking on my door.

All that he taught us…all about God’s kingdom, all about love and mercy and repentance, everything he stood for, is now ebbing away with his fading heartbeat. It can’t be, but it’s ending, here on this hill, on a criminal’s cross.

It is ending…isn’t it?

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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:

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All About Heart

At the office, the big boss sponsors a twice-yearly book club in which we read current business/leadership books and then discuss lessons for us all. I’m in the middle of reading the current assignment, which appears to be a book aligned with the current fad of Silicon Valley–“fail fast”–and urges us to come to terms with our failures so we can move on to better things.

There’s a lot of pop-psych in it so far, but one thing struck me about the first set of advice. The author says that when we fail, we feel lots of difficult emotions–fear, shame, anger, resentment–but in our culture, it’s not widely acceptable to address those emotions. We’re taught as youngsters to downplay our feelings–shake it off, get back in the game–and her point in the book is that we can’t experience “wholeheartedness” until we at least acknowledge what’s going on in our emotional lives.

That phrase, “wholeheartedness,” captured me. In large measure that’s been the story of my own spiritual quest for the last couple decades. Intellectually I’ve always grasped Christianity; I can read all about the early church and the various schisms and heresies and I can grasp what it all means. But it’s been a slow lesson over the ages to learn that until I give my heart to Christ, I can understand what it means, but I’ll never understand What It All Means.

Proverbs 23:26 says, “O my son, give me your heart, may your eyes take delight in following my ways.” And in Matthew 22:37, Jesus answers the Pharisee who asked about the greatest commandment by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.” It’s taken me the better part of a lifetime to learn, God’s not after my logical assent to his philosophical argument. He’s after my heart, and as long as I guard that and downplay, deny, minimize what he’s trying to do in my heart, I’ll never experience wholeheartedness. Indeed, I’ll never really experience God.

And so one of the ways I’m trying to grow towards God this Lenten season is by understanding more of what it means to be wholehearted. Fill me afresh, Lord Jesus, fill my heart and let there be nothing but you there. Take all my fear, my shame, my anger, my resentment, and come, live in my heart and fill it with your grace instead. Not just at Lent, but in every day!

Giving Up “Lent” for Lent

Here we are in the midst of the 40 days of the Lenten season before Easter, and the most common question people ask is, “What did you give up for Lent this year?”

In years past I’ve done that practice: I’ve variously sworn off fried foods, alcohol, and even doughnuts in some years. Each year I also tell people that I’ve given up smoking; I’ve never smoked, which makes that particular abstinence an easy one to keep.

I’ve come to appreciate, though, that the point of Lent isn’t necessarily to give something up, it’s to draw closer to God. If there’s something in my life that’s more important to me than God, then yes, I’m supposed to replace that with God–hence the abstaining from any of a number of habits for 40 days.

However, since the point is to get closer to God over this time, perhaps we need instead to pick something up. Pick up a Bible and read each night. Pick up a prayer habit each morning over coffee. Pick up a friend, reach out and lift her spirits during a dark time. All of these are more meaningful in building a better, more lasting relationship with God than seeing if you can make it 40 days without chocolate.

So this year I’m giving up “Lent”  for Lent–giving up the mindless giving up, and instead being more mindful of my relationship with God. I’m taking an online class on belief and grace during Lent, and that’s helped keep me framed and focused during this time. I’m being more intentional in my prayer life as well. My hope is these allow me to draw closer to God in a more significant way than ever.

Oh, and I gave up doughnuts too. Because, well, my waistline suggests that’s probably needed also. But that’s another story.

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