Archive for March, 2012

Introduction to Passion Week

When I was growing up, Easter appeared like a glorious burst of light in springtime. The small church my father pastored did all the traditional things and we children anticipated them with huge excitement: new Easter outfits, a Sunday School program, the Easter egg hunt, bags of curly candy and fruit.

We did not, however, give attention to Lent or Passion Week or gather for Good Friday service. Those events seemed to belong to the more orthodox traditions and were not part of our church culture.

As an adult, meditation on Jesus Christ’s final week before the Cross has now become a deeply moving experience for me each spring.  I’m sharing my thoughts on each day of Passion Week, which begins today, with you. I hope you will comment with your thoughts, as well. We will resume Tuesdays with Job after Easter.

Saturday. I read Mark 14:1-9 and John 12:1-8

Passover is approaching. Jesus travels with the massive crowds headed to Jerusalem. In Bethany, about 2 miles south of Jerusalem, He is welcomed into the home of his dear friends, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.

The chief priests and their surrogates, who have stalked him all over Judea and Galilee for 3 years, are now actually plotting his death. All four Gospel accounts note the escalation in their plans.

The evening of his arrival in Bethany, Jesus is invited to the house of a man who may have been healed by Jesus: Simon, “the leper.” It is the scene of an act of great love and enormous courage.  Mary slips into this room full of men, walks up to her Lord, breaks the neck of a bottle of aromatic ointment, and pours it over His head.  There is immediate anger in the room at the waste.  Judas especially.

I love Jesus’ response: “Leave her alone.”

Mary is the only follower of Christ who, at that time, heard, clearly understood, and acted upon what He said. I have such admiration for her. I look into my own heart and examine my devotion to the Lord I profess to love:

Am I willing to turn from “important” things to tend to necessary things? Mary braved her sister’s disapproval to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen.

Do I understand what Jesus says to me? Mary understood and anointed Him for His burial. I must discern.

Will I act on what He says? Mary’s devotion to her Lord superseded all other considerations. For me, also, that devotion may require boldness, the willingness to risk, and sacrifice (not just discomfort).

These are my meditations at the beginning of this tragic, heartbreaking, triumphant, victorious week.

Saturday draws to a close. Mary disappears from scripture. Her memorial will never be forgotten.

Job and Brussel Sprouts

“I am,” said Anne of Green Gables, in a moment of adolescent woe, “in the depths of despair.”

One of the interesting things about being human is this: the necessity of everyone being served something off of every dish on the table of life. It is true that some end up, for instance, with more brussel sprouts of difficulty. Others manage to get a big helping of chocolate delight. But everybody gets some portion of brussel sprouts – which is not actually a food – and at least a dollop of chocolate.

And no one’s arguing that there seems to an unequal distribution of deliciousness and nastiness. This comes up later. In spades.

So, in Chapter 3, Job sits in ashes in the depths of despair, with his friends sitting silently by. When he finally speaks, the first thing out of his mouth are curses.

I curse the day I was born! I curse the moment they said, “You have a baby boy!” (Note: at that time, as in many cultures of the world today, boys were preferred to girls. Don’t get me started.) I curse again the day I was born! I want to go wherever it is the dead go! God has completely surrounded me with terror!

You get the idea. On and on and on. (He does not, however, curse God, disappointing, perhaps, both Satan and his wife.)

Since we know how the story ends, we might be tempted to look at him and think, “Dude, trust God. Have faith.” But Job was, as one writer puts it, suffering from the “irrationality of despair.” He is consumed with it, and we dare not dismiss the bitterness of his condition.

And none of us will escape those days, sometimes many, many days, when it is brussel sprouts – morning, noon, and night. Michael Hyatt, chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers, suggests we ask one question in those tough times: What does this experience make possible? The depths of despair may be deliciousness in disguise. Time to make a career change. Time to help start that ministry in my church. Time to pray. More. Time to ________.  You fill it in.

Then hold your plate out and expect some chocolate.

What does what your experiencing make possible?

When the Itsy Bitsy Spider Isn’t

She wants to sing her new song. My soon-to-be-2 granddaughter stands in our living room and twists her toddler fingers into climby-spider shapes.

So I’m happy to find a colorful board book about the critter in our local KMart. I glance through it quickly, like the creative illustrations, and bring it home.  As it happens, Natalia is spending the night with us. I show her the book, anticipating a happy smile.

A slight frown. A wary look. “Do you want me to read it to you?” I ask before bedtime. “No.”

Later, she awakens out of a sound sleep sobbing,”No itsy bitsy spider!”

As you can imagine, the book quickly disappears from her library, consigned to a spot high on top of the bookshelf. I decide, in a fit of pique, to write a snarky post about spiders in general, and this one in particular. It does seem like an odd thing to tell a child. “This spider, sweetheart, is certifiably insane. He keeps doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result.” Plus, I was pathologically afraid of spiders as a child. I’m not exactly wild about them as an adult, but I don’t have the same reaction as a friend who called in hysterics one evening from atop her dining room table after a mouse ran across the room.

My research on arachnids begins with our trusty 1994 World Book Encyclopedia. Spiders. Oh my. The illustrations are detailed (“graphic” comes to mind), including closeups of spider faces! There are 30,000 known kinds, very few can actually harm people, and spiders are “helpful to people because they eat harmful insects.” Well, don’t I feel better.

Fact is, bug spray is way more effective and a lot less ugly.

I set World Book and its creepy pictures aside and pick up Natalia’s reject. The first 2 pages are the lines you and I know: the waterspout, the rain, the sun. But, turn the page, and surprise! We have a reason for Itsy’s efforts: he has spun his web high on the rooftop – for a better view – and is simply trying to get home. He dons goggles in a second attempt. He shields himself with an umbrella, bounces on a trampoline, detours across a clothesline. He’s blown into a tree with beady-eyed, and possibly angry, birds.

Is he discouraged? NO! He’s clever! He’s resourceful! He’s tenacious! He’s the Ginger of Spider World!

The author, Kate Toms, is a Christian writer living in England and has a wonderful line of children’s books. Here is the moral she chooses for this story: Don’t wear a frown – even when the rain comes down! I’m going to add Winston Churchill’s famous line, which appears on a plaque in my office: Never, ever, ever give up!  So, perhaps Natalia and I will have another go at Itsy in the future.

He has, as it turns out, a great deal of determination and a great attitude.

Nothing itsy-bitsy about that.

Getting home is the ultimate goal. Are you determined to live a life that gets you there?

Who’s in Your Front Row?

Several years ago, the speaker at our annual women’s retreat, spoke on the subject of friends and their influence in our lives. Debbie Williamson, who pastors Grace Presbyterian Church with her husband in Temecula, CA, began the session with this quote: “Life is a theater, so invite your audiences carefully. Not everyone should be given a seat in the front row of our lives.”

I think about this while reading the second chapter of Job. It begins as Satan is permitted to attack Job’s health. His affliction of choice appears to be elephantiasis. Mosquito borne, this hideous disease attacks the lymph system and is characterized first by fever and roughening of the skin. Severe swelling follows in various parts of the body, like the legs and genitals, for starters. And once the parts swell, they don’t recede. Sometimes there is a foul-smelling discharge.

Add to this a wife drowning in her own grief who finally bursts out,”Curse God and die!” and we pretty much have a portrait of utter misery.

Job will settle into a pit of ashes, as mourners did in those days. He will sit and scrape his grotesque body, and wait. The only possible calamity left would be death, and God will not permit that.

But Job is going to have visitors. They will travel from their distant homes and arrive weeks later: Eli, and Bil, and Zo. They are old men and old friends.

And they are in the front row of Job’s life.

When they arrive, they will sit silently on the ground and grieve with him for a week. However, what unfolds in the many chapters to follow are lessons in pride, judgment, false assumptions, and, oh yes, TOO MANY WORDS.

But Job has not realized how the men in his front row have changed. Had he been at our retreat he would have heard several important things about close friendships.

First: It is YOUR front row. Not everyone gets a seat.

Second: It changes over time in the ebb and flow of life’s seasons.

Third: It is as much about quality as quantity. More is not necessarily better.

Our calling as friends is a spiritual calling. Wielding any kind of influence in the life of another is a serious thing. Wisdom, caution, and prayer are vitally necessary. And our front row should be able to speak the truth to us in love, keeping in mind that: Love without truth is enabling. Truth without love is paralyzing.

So far, Job has said nothing “against God.” So far. He will, unfortunately, be cruelly provoked by the very men whose words and presence should have been a balm for his wretchedness. Among a lot of other things, he’s going to need to rethink his front row.

Who is currently in the front row of your life? In what ways are they positively influencing your life? Negatively?

Cry Chaos

I read an article recently about an elite special forces unit in Denmark called Sirius. Every 5 years, the 12 man team travels the entire eastern edge of Greenland, a Danish protectorate. Sirius is the world’s only military dogsled patrol. The brutal conditions test the men and their dogs to the limits of their endurance. This experience exists, the article says, at the “intersection of chaos and skill.”

I thought about this intersection while reading Job 1:13-22. What occurs in these few verses would be catastrophic for any human being. In one day, your livelihood is demolished and your employees are murdered. Your children – all 7 of them – are killed in a freak windstorm. Our minds swerve at this point: maybe this really is an allegory. Maybe the kids really didn’t die, but were badly injured. And Job didn’t know it. Or something.

Chaos, or something very like it, is what God allows at certain times in life. The ground shifts, the system threatens to crash.

Chaos results in confusion and disorder.

Havoc! was a military order given to English forces in the Middle Ages. It directed the soldiers, or as Shakespeare called them, “the dogs of war”, to pillage and destroy.

Havoc results in devastation and ruin.

God permits seasons of chaos. The enemy attempts havoc. Oswald Chambers, in “My Utmost for His Highest,” writes: “If we have been learning to trust Him, the crisis will reveal that we will go to the breaking point and not break in our confidence in Him.” To go to the breaking point and not break is a tall order. Our task is to keep our gaze, in absolute trust, on God.

There is danger, of course. We may in moments of extreme weakness and fatigue, wonder if God has gotten a little sloppy or haphazard. Or forgetful. Job wondered, as he unknowingly found himself at the intersection of chaos and the skilful hand of God.

Yet, even in those early moments of shock and horror, as his own terrible trial has just begun, he does a magnificent thing. He falls to the ground and worships:

Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
naked I’ll return to the womb of the earth.
God gives, God takes.
God’s name be ever blessed.

Ever.

Do you struggle with doubt about God’s hand on your life? If so, have you looked for the root of that doubt – and prayed for assurance?

One Thousand Gifts

One Thousand Gifts

Ann Voskamp

2010 Zondervan

Every once in awhile a book comes along that reminds you of things you know but were neglecting. Without question, living a life of continual thankfulness is something most believers aspire to. What we have in One Thousand Gifts is the marvelous story of one woman’s desperate longing to really live, and how God met that longing.

Ann Voskamp is the wife of a Canadian farmer and mother of 6 children. As a child, the tragedy of watching her 4 year old sister die in a tragic accident in their front yard marked her life. Years of spiritual darkness and depression followed. A revelation of eucharisteo, joyful thankfulness, changed her life.

She chronicles her journey with admirable honesty. Voskamp’s style reflects her own admission that she is more poet than writer.  She writes: “God calls me to do thanks. To give thanks away.”

I recommended this book last fall at our church’s annual women’s retreat. Subsequently we decided to practice eucharisteo together for a year via a Facebook group. The response has been remarkable. God’s love and care for us has so many faces, disguises, and reflections.  As our eyes practice seeing, the blessed revelations flow in a daily FB stream.

At the end of the book, the reader will be much more aware of daily, divine offerings of joy – and be inspired to both write them down and give them away. Recommended, indeed.

Why You Should Watch Chicken Run

Wisdom sometimes appears in unlikely places.

This little claymation film came out in 2000 to great reviews.  Set in the 1950s on Mr. and Mrs. Tweedy’s chicken farm in Yorkshire, England, it is the story of a chick (puns abound) named Ginger. She is determined to escape. The opening scenes are her wildly creative attempts – all of which land her smack in the coal chute.

Ginger is undaunted. And she is resolved to take all her friends, willing or not, with her. When timid Babs indicates she’s, well, chicken, Ginger responds: “So laying eggs all your life, and then getting plucked, stuffed, and roasted is good enough for you, is it?” It’s not good enough for Ginger. Each time Mr. Tweedy releases her from the coal chute, with a kick in the rear for good measure, she immediately calls a meeting of the clan to go over her next plan of escape.

When handsome rooster, Rocky, “flies” in over the fence, the light dawns and Ginger realizes that flying is the only sure way out. After a giant load of ominous machinery appears on the farm, and a future as chicken pies appears likely, things get urgent real quick.

But it is a conversation Ginger has with her fainthearted band of fellow-chickens that I love most about this film. She is earnest, insistent, desperately trying to rally them to try for freedom. “You know what the problem is? The fences aren’t just round the farm. They’re up here, in your heads. There’s a better place out there, somewhere beyond that hill, and it has wide open places, and lots of trees…and grass. Can you imagine that?

The fences are in our heads. And very often they are as strong and effective as steel and barbed wire.

Og Mandino, in his little book, The Choice, writes: “I know what I can do, and I know how little I have done. I have frittered away my opportunities like children at the seashore who fill their hands with sand and then let the grains fall through open fists. It is not too late for me. I was made in the image of God. I was not created to fail. Quit? Never again!”

This does not mean just thinking positive. It may mean we have to build a great big flying machine out of random parts around the barnyard, pedal like crazy, and barely make it over the barriers. But once we’re clear, there are hills and wide open spaces and lots of trees. And the future a God of liberty has planned.

Can you imagine that?

Can you identify the fences in your head? What would it take to overcome them?

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