Four Gardens

I heard something new today, so I can’t take credit for any of what follows. It all involves four gardens.

The first garden was the Garden of Eden where it all went horribly wrong for all of us. Adam and Eve both ate of that dratted fruit. It doesn’t matter what kind of fruit it was or who ate first. The simple fact that out of every tree in that garden (and there must have been plenty), they chose the one tree God asked them not to eat from.

We’ve been like that ever since. Ever see a “Don’t step on the grass” sign? What’s the first impulse you have when you see that? I rest my case.

The second garden was the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus chose the cross. I know it was His destiny from the beginning and He knew all along that Calvary was His destination, but here is where the temptation to bail was strongest and here is where Jesus prevailed against such a temptation.

The third garden was the Garden of the Tomb. When Mary first saw Jesus, she thought He was the gardener. So it follows there was a garden. Here is where everything wrong was made right. Here is where Jesus’ victory was confirmed and forever validated.

The final garden is in Revelation 22. There you find a very familiar tree, the tree of life, planted by a river and located in the City of God. Here instead of a forbidding commandment is an invitation to come and partake.

Oh, and there’s the whole fruit of the Spirit thing, too.

I love how God doesn’t miss any details. Everything that was lost in the first garden gets found in the last one. Nothing that is good and pure and true is ever truly lost, but God finds a way to redeem it back.

Something That Spoke to Me

I read this yesterday and I’m still thinking about it. It’s what C. S. Lewis wrote after his wife died after battling cancer. What spoke to me so much wasn’t as much the grief (although I have known that all too well), but the part of not being able to hear God speak to you because you’re too frantic to listen. We’ve all at some point been stressed and overwhelmed to the point where we can’t hear what anybody else is saying to us, much less God.

Here’s what he said:

“Why has no one told me these things? How easily I might have misjudged another man in the same situation? I might have said, ‘He’s got over it. He’s forgotten his wife,’ when the truth was, ‘He remembers her better because he has partly got over it.’

Such was the fact. And I believe I can make sense out of it. You can’t see anything properly while your eyes are blurred with tears. You can’t, in most things, get what you want if you want it too desperately: anyway, you can’t get the best out of it. ‘Now! Let’s have a real good talk’ reduces everyone to silence. ‘I must get a good sleep tonight’ ushers in hours of wakefulness. Delicious drinks are wasted on a really ravenous thirst. Is it similarly the very intensity of the longing that draws the iron curtain, that makes us feel we are staring into a vacuum when we think about our dead? ‘Them as asks’ (at any rate ‘as asks too importunately’) don’t get. Perhaps can’t.

And so, perhaps, with God. I have gradually been coming to feel that the door is no longer shut and bolted. Was it my own frantic need that slammed it in my face? The time when there is nothing at all in your soul except a cry for help may be just the time when God can’t give it: you are like the drowning man who can’t be helped because he clutches and grabs. Perhaps your own reiterated cries deafen you to the voice you hoped to hear.”

Who Is This Jesus?

That’s the question of the night from speaker Tyler McKenzie.

Who else’s birthday do we still celebrate nearly 2,000 years later? Who else do we gather together– some risking their lives to do so–to honor, to celebrate, to sing songs about, to worship?

Who else has changed the way we look at history? Literally, there is a before and after centered around this Man.

Some want Jesus to be a nice guy, a great teacher, a grand example. But Jesus’ own words don’t allow that. The best explanation of Jesus comes from the pen of one Mr. C. S. Lewis, who said that Jesus was either crazy enough to be committed to an asylum, a pathological liar on a grand scale, or He was who He said He was. In other words, Jesus was either a lunatic, a liar, or He’s Lord.

I bet I got a chorus of “Amen”s on that, but how many of us actually live like Jesus is Lord? Like what He did and Who He was (and still is) matters more than anything or anyone else in history?

Jesus is not a board member in your life whose advice you take under consideration. He’s boss of your life. He’s in control. To use a very non-pc term, He’s your Master.

I heard it somewhere and thought it was worth sharing– if someone rejects Christianity, the question to ask is “What version of Jesus was presented to you?”

Was it meek-and-mild Jesus who seemed bored most of the time? Was it the Jesus who just wanted us to all get along and was completely passive? Was it the Jesus who was a white, middle-class Republican who lived in the suburbs and drove a minivan?

Or was it the Ultimate God-Man who beat death on its own terms and emerged from the grave victorious? Was it that Jesus who went through it all for love of you and me?

It’s not about sin management. It’s not about having your doctrines line up like ducks in a row. It’s not about being a good Christian who fastidiously keeps the list of things not to do. It’s about once being dead in sin and now being alive because Jesus died for me and gave me His life so that I could really and truly and finally live.

That’s it.

 

For Those Who Grieve

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.

At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.

There are moments, most unexpectedly, when something inside me tries to assure me that I don’t really mind so much, not so very much, after all. Love is not the whole of a man’s life. I was happy before I ever met H. I’ve plenty of what are called ‘resources.’ People get over these things. Come, I shan’t do so badly. One is ashamed to listen to this voice but it seems for a little to be making out a good case. Then comes a sudden jab of red-hot memory and all this ‘commonsense’ vanishes like an ant in the mouth of a furnace” (C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed).

C. S. Lewis wrote this after his wife passed away from cancer. It is the most brutally honest book on grief that I’ve ever read (not that I go around reading books on grief all the time).

“Then I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write: The dead who die in the Lord from now on are blessed.’

‘Yes,” says the Spirit, ‘let them rest from their labors, for their works follow them!'” (Rev. 14:13, HCSB).

“I heard a voice out of Heaven, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who die in the Master from now on; how blessed to die that way!’

‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘and blessed rest from their hard, hard work. None of what they’ve done is wasted; God blesses them for it all in the end’ (Rev. 14:13, The Message).

 

 

Easter Saturday

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I suppose it was a quiet day for the disciples. Not quiet in the sense of anticipation and hope but more in the sense of resignation and despair. They had seen their Messiah crucified and buried in a tomb.

It was over. All their hopes and dreams for the future went with Jesus into that tomb and the future that presented itself was as bleak as the black sky over Golgotha that afternoon.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a state of grief where there are no more tears to cry, where there’s a quiet calm after the storm. Where it feels like you’ll never feel happiness or laughter ever again. That’s where they were as they stared at the massive stone that a legion of Romans had rolled in front of the tomb where Jesus lay. Even if they wanted to, all twelve of them couldn’t have budged that stone from its place to steal the body of their leader and Lord.

Yes, they had seen Lazarus alive and joking around after being in the grave four days, but this was different. Lazarus had been ill and died in his own bed. Lazarus hadn’t been brutally beaten and whipped within an inch of his life before being forced up the hill to his own crucifixion.

They had seen the finality of the final moments where Jesus commended His Spirit to God in a loud cry. Truly, it was over. There would be no more parables, no more stories, no more miracles, no more crowds.

It’s easy for me, having read the rest of the story, to rush past this day. But for those who were there, there was no rest of the story yet. Just a grey sky and a dark room and a dead Messiah.

Yet early in the morning, just shy of daybreak, everything for these disciples and for the rest of the world was about to change forever.

 

On a Rainy Good Friday

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I drove home in a monsoon. Or it felt like a monsoon to this Middle Tennessean. The picture above is a fairly accurate depiction of what I saw through my own windshield– not much at all– as I motored down the interstate. Twice, a passing car splashed a lot of water on my car and I literally couldn’t see anything for a few seconds that felt a lot longer than a few seconds. I gripped the steering wheel, prayed hard, and kept going.

I think I even passed through a small amount of hail, which I can safely say with almost 98% certainty was a first for me. I’ve never seen so many cars pulled over to the side of the road under overpasses to wait out the deluge. But I trudged onward, slowly and cautiously.

I was nervous, but not panicky. I figured that God was more than able to get me through the rain and it had to let up sooner or later. No rain, literal or figurative, can last forever.

On another Good Friday, there wasn’t a whole lot of sunshine. It was both literally and metaphorically one of the darkest days in the history of humanity. Jesus had breathed His last on the cross and they had taken Him down to be buried in a borrowed tomb.

I can read about it knowing the rest of the story, but for those living it in real time, they had no idea that a resurrection was coming. Those disciples who had fled during Jesus’ arrest had witnessed the crucifixion from afar. Or maybe they hid out and received reports from those who were there, Either way, they had seen their world end.

I’ve been there. I’ve been in places that felt like dead ends and wondered how I would ever get back.

But Easter is about a God who knows the way out of the grave. And though it may be Friday, Sunday’s comin’!

 

More Bob Dylan on the Brain

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“Oh, the tree of life is growing
Where the spirit never dies
And the bright light of salvation shines
In dark and empty skies

When the cities are on fire
With the burning flesh of men
Just remember that death is not the end
And you search in vain to find
Just one law-abiding citizen
Just remember that death is not the end
Not the end, not the end
Just remember that death is not the end” (Bob Dylan)

I’m still on my Bob Dylan kick. By now, I’ve listened to all my Dylan CDs up to Oh Mercy, the Daniel Lanois-produced 1989 album that marked a sort of artistic comeback for him in the eyes of many.

I also know most people consider this a low point in Dylan’s career. If you go to amazon.com or any other music site, you’ll find that most people revile such albums of his as Empire Burlesque, Knocked Out Loaded, and Down in the Groove.

I don’t think they’re bad albums. I have to admit the songs aren’t quite up to the standards of his amazing output in the 60’s, but I think that if these albums had anybody else’s name on them, they might be looked at differently. I also think that part of the problem is that the CDs are poorly mixed (in this writer’s opinion) and Bob’s vocals get buried in the accompaniments sometimes. I definitely think remastering these albums would help immensely.

But I also think that many of these songs, although they are good, aren’t just that memorable. They don’t linger in my mind like “Blowin’ in the Wind” or “My Back Pages” do.

I’d say that there is still a fair amount of spirituality in these albums. It’s not so overtly stated as in his Christian albums, but it’s there for those who know what to listen for.

Oh Mercy is probably my favorite album he did in the 80’s, largely in part to one Mr. Lanois who knew what he was doing when he produced this album.

I still have eight albums to go. I also must confess that I don’t own every single album of his (gasp!) I’m actually missing albums entitled Self-Portrait, Dylan (not the one with the red cover), one or two live albums, and the newest release– Strangers in the Night, an album of standards made famous by Frank Sinatra and others.

More to come later. Stay tuned.

 

 

Still Yet Another Good Reminder

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“Sorrow cannot steal our faith or even cause it to be lost; betrayal and loss steal our faith only when we refuse to remember, tell our stories, listen even as we tell them, and explore the meaning that God has woven into every one. If we want to grow in faith we must be open to listening to our own stories, perhaps familiar or forgotten, where we have not mined the rich deposit of God’s presence. With better eyes and ears we will sense how God has worked to redeem even our most tragic experiences” (Dan Allender, The Healing Path).

I don’t know why I gravitated to this quote. I’m not dealing with any kind of loss or grief or even sadness, yet these words spoke deeply to me.

Maybe because I realize lately how fragile life is and how easily those we love can slip away from us, how quickly those little babies grow up and leave home, how fleeting are the days.

The most tragic remembrance in the end will be how we took so many people for granted and left words of love and gratitude unspoken. In the end we will not treasure our trophies or promotions or rewards, but the relationships that made us come alive and be better people.

So all that from a quote I stole from someone on Facebook.

Easter Sunday 2014

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“Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord’s resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen”

It’s Easter.

I celebrated with about 130 or so others at the future location of The Church at Avenue South. Though the building has been gutted and won’t be ready for official use for another two months, still the real church got together to proclaim to anyone and everyone that this is Resurrection Day.

The resurrection DOES change everything. It means no more fear of death because Jesus overcame that last enemy when he walked out of the tomb with the sunrise on that first Easter Sunday. It means that whatever I’m afraid of has already been defeated and overcome by this same resurrection power that brought Jesus from death to life.

It means that there is no such thing as TOO LATE, that there’s always time for a do-over and a second chance and a fresh start, that as long as we’re alive we have a purpose and a God willing to bring out that purpose in us.

So I revisit an old Easter toast that I blogged about three years ago today: “We lift our glasses and drink to a Love that never gave up.”

https://oneragamuffin.wordpress.com/2011/04/20/an-easter-toast-stolen-from-someone-on-facebook/

I’ve posted a link so you can read the original post if you want.

Regardless, I’m glad that Easter has come. I’m glad that it isn’t just one day a year, but something that I can celebrate all 365 days (and 366 on those leap years). I’m thankful that just because the holiday ends doesn’t mean the power of that resurrection or its effects do.

 

Easter Season Liturgy Part V

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“O God, Creator of heaven and earth:  Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

So I did the whole downtown Franklin thing again. It always does my heart good to be back there, revisiting my favorite haunts and breathing in the perfect spring night air.

I don’t really know what to do with the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter. It seems so low-key compared to the tragic drama of Friday and the joyful triumphant victory of Sunday.

But I know what’s coming. I wonder what those disciples were thinking and feeling. Or the Marys. It must have seemed like the lowest point of their lives. All of their hopes and dreams and been awakened and they had only just begun to hope, then it was dashed and broken to pieces beyond recognition.

The one they thought would save them was dead in a tomb. They had seem the bloodied body, seen the moment when the spear went into Jesus’ side and both blood and water poured out. There was no doubt.

I’m glad I’m on this side of history and I know what’s coming. I know with the next sunrise comes Sunday and the empty tomb and a risen Christ. That’s where my hope lies.

I can’t imagine people whose faith won’t allow for miracles or resurrections. Would that even be faith at all? What if Jesus’ death were only an example and the only way He lived was in the memories of His followers? What kind of hope would that be?

Only a literal resurrection can give true hope. Only a Jesus who’s really and truly alive, with the wounds in His hands, feet, and side, could inspire the joy of Easter. That’s why I can’t wait for tomorrow and the celebration that comes with it.