Good Friday 2017

“But thank God the crucifixion was not the last act in that great and powerful drama,” King preached. “There is another act. And it is something that we sing out and cry and ring out today. Thank God a day came when Good Friday had to pass” (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)

“A man who was completely innocent, offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act” (Mahatma Gandhi).

“Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone but in every leaf of springtime” (Martin Luther).

Why is today called Good Friday? What’s so great about Jesus being tortured to death for a crime He didn’t commit? Why does it still matter nearly 2,000 years later?

It seems weird to call the day of Jesus’ crucifixion Good Friday, but when you look at it with Easter Sunday in mind, it makes a lot more sense.

If all you had was Good Friday with no resurrection, then it’s a very Tragic Friday. We should all stay home on Sunday and live however we want. Get stoned, get drunk, get laid, do whatever because none of it matters if Jesus is still in that tomb.

But God raised Jesus from the dead. He walked out of the tomb two days later and everything changed. Absolutely everything. That’s what makes it good.

So much of what happens in our lives will only make sense in reverse. When God promises to work all things together for our good, we often can only see that good not looking ahead or in the midst of it, but looking back on it. We see then how God orchestrated every moment perfectly to lead us where we are now, the best possible outcome.

 

Maundy Thursday

I confess I don’t know a whole lot about Maundy Thursday. I understand that it is a remembrance of when Christ and the disciples gathered together in the upper room to take Eucharist on the night before Jesus was arrested, tried, and crucified.

I know that some denominations also incorporate foot washing into their services, as Jesus washed His disciples feet and commanded them to follow His example. I know my church didn’t do that part, but I do think they follow the servant attitude behind that command.

I think to fully appreciate Easter Sunday, it helps to experience Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. In order for there to be a resurrection, there also first had to be a death. There had to be a cross before there was an empty tomb.

I also confess that up until recently, I skipped right by these days and focused solely on Easter. For me, it was all about the candy (especially the chocolate kind) and maybe a little bit of gratitude thrown Jesus’ way.

The older I get, the more I appreciate all that Easter represents. I see more of what I could have been apart from grace and more of how much I need Jesus as much now as I did when I first believed. If anything, that need has grown.

I see that Easter, like Christmas, is more than one day of the year. It’s something that believers live out all 365 days of the year while they choose this particular Sunday to commemorate all that Jesus did (and continues to do) for us.

 

My Takeaways

Here’s what I’m taking away from the Supreme Court’s decision to essentially legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

1) I don’t agree with the decision, but I’m not going to bash those who disagree with me. It doesn’t accomplish anything and is counterproductive to how Jesus told me to love people regardless of whether they agree with me or even love me back.

2) Just because I disagree with someone’s beliefs or lifestyle doesn’t mean that I hate that person. The old adage stands true that you can love the sinner (a category which includes all of us) while hating the sin, or more accurately, what the sin does to the person.

3) If you’re my friend and you’re gay, know that I won’t love you any less or be any less of a friend to you. I may not agree with you on everything, but I’m sure you wouldn’t agree with me (or anyone) 100%. Jesus Himself chose to dine with sinners and said that He didn’t come for those who were righteous, but for those who know they need lots of help.

4) Jesus died for sinners. Period. There were no exclusions or exceptions to who Jesus went to the cross for. If you believe in Jesus with your heart and confess with your mouth, you will be saved. Period. PS You won’t just be saved from hell, but saved to an incredible, amazing, everlasting and full life.

5) If you believe in Jesus sincerely and solely for your salvation, you are saved, whether you are gay, straight, bipolar, alcoholic, prideful, arrogant, drug-addicted, lazy, or anything else. Jesus doesn’t ask for anybody to clean up his act and get his life together before salvation can take place. Jesus will meet you where you are,  but He won’t leave you there.

6) There will be a lot of people who will use this as an excuse to condemn other people and pronounce judgment on them. I won’t be one of those. I know that if anyone has a right to judge and condemn, it’s God. I also know that God could very easily judge and condemn me for what I’ve done and said and thought in the past. So I choose grace instead.

I think that about covers it.

 

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.

 

Easter Sunday 2015

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“It is good for us to remember that this stone was rolled away from the entrance, not to permit Christ to come out but to enable the disciples to go in!” (Peter Marshall)

“A man who was completely innocent, offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act” (Mahatma Gandhi).

“God proved His love on the Cross. When Christ hung, and bled, and died, it was God saying to the world, ‘I love you'” (Billy Graham).

“But with Christ, we have access in a one-to-one relationship, for, as in the Old Testament, it was more one of worship and awe, a vertical relationship. The New Testament, on the other hand, we look across at a Jesus who looks familiar, horizontal. The combination is what makes the Cross” (Bono).

For me, Easter is a bit harder to prepare for than Christmas. You don’t have nearly the commercialism of the season constantly reminding you that the day is coming. Also, Easter isn’t on a fixed day every year like Christmas.

Most of all, Easter isn’t quite the feel-good story that Christmas is. You don’t have the cute little infant being cradled by loving Mary as a doting Joseph watches on. You have the gory spectacle of the cross and the death of an innocent Man to deal with.

But you need both, I think. You can’t have the Greatest Story Ever Told without both the virgin birth and the death and resurrection. If Jesus wasn’t born of a virgin Mary, then He’s not qualified to die for anyone’s sins but His own. If He isn’t raised from the dead, then we are still stuck in our sins and just as hopeless as before.

So I love both seasons. More than that, I love how Advent comes before Christmas and Lent comes before Easter, giving us time to prepare our hearts and minds for what it all means.

This year, Easter means that no life is wasted. It means that every life matters and every single person ever born matters to God. It means that your and my identity doesn’t come from honor rolls or bank accounts or resumes, but from Calvary. At the core, who I am is the Beloved of God, who proved that He thought I was worth dying for on that cross.

Oh, in case you’re wondering, there are only 263 days left until Christmas.

 

 

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’!

 

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.

 

Blessed Are the Ignored

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“Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty” (Mother Teresa).

Have you ever felt like you were being ignored?

Have you ever worked in an office where a co-worker made the point of chatting with everyone else but never with you?

Have you ever sent out a friend request on Facebook and not even gotten the dignity of a response?

Have you ever texted or messaged someone and it seemed like that person didn’t even feel you were worth bothering to respond to?

Have you ever felt that no guy or girl ever even saw you as a romantic possibility or even thought about you as anything other than a friend?

I read this week that to feel ignored is the worst feeling of all. I agree. It hits at one of our most vulnerable spots– the need to feel valued and appreciated as a human being.
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When someone ignores you, that person is essentially saying to you, “You don’t matter. You have no value.” It’s demeaning not only to that individual, but also to the God who created them (see Psalm 139).

Jesus knows exactly what that feels like. He stood before Jerusalem, weeping because they refused to turn to Him so that they could have true and eternal life.

Do you know something? There is never a moment that goes by where you are not on God’s mind. There is never a second where you are not on God’s heart and His eye is not on you.

Jesus would rather go through the hell of crucifixion and death for you than go to heaven without you. If you had been the only one, He still would have gone through all of the torture and pain because He thought you were worth it. And He still does. He still thinks you’re to die for.

Jesus’ love for you proves once and for all that you have worth and value. You matter. Whatever anyone else ever says or does to you will never negate the fact that your Abba loves you and is very fond of you. He has forever set His affection on you and nothing and no one can ever take it away.

Maybe you’re reading this and realize you’ve been guilty of ignoring someone, either consciously or otherwise. Maybe you’re feeling a tug at your heart compelling you to go to that person and make it right. Don’t let another day go by until you repent before God and restore that relationship.

Remember, God’s heart is still for the widow and the orphan, the outcast and the forgotten, those that society ignores. He still blesses those who bless them. In the Kingdom of God, everyone has a place. In God’s call, everyone is to hear the Good News; no one is ever to be left out.

I now understand that sometimes people are too overwhelmed by circumstances to see me. Sometimes, it’s all they can do to hold themselves together and not fall apart completely. The best thing you can do for someone who doesn’t acknowledge you is to pray God’s peace and healing over them. To pray they know in that very moment that God sees them in their pain and knows where they are.

God, you see us when no one else does and You’re with us when we feel most alone. Be with the ones feeling alone and may they feel You near in the moment of their greatest need. Amen.

More for Those With Broken Hearts

I have something I’ve learned about having my heart broken a few times that I want to pass along to you. First of all, I want to say that okay to grieve when your love or interest in someone goes unrequited. It’s okay to hurt. I think it requires as much of a grieving process as losing a loved one, because you’re seeing the death of a dream that was very dear to your heart.

I think it’s okay to be brutally open and honest with God about the pain. He can take it. Besides, he already knows those feelings that you pretend aren’t there when you tell yourself that you’re fine.

That said, I think one good thing out of having your heart broken is that it is never again the same shape as it was, pre-break. It’s larger. And if you choose the path of healing versus the path of grudges and bitterness, good things can come out of the pain, such as these:

You have more room to love others and you have an increased sensitivity to those in pain around you who need your love.

You give more grace toward those who act out of their own hurt toward you because you remember when you did the same out of the great pain you were once in.

You have more compassion and tenderness in general because you know what it’s like to need it and find it so you want others to experience the same joy you did.

Finally, you become a little more like Jesus because you’ve shared in his sufferings. Jesus above all knows the pain of a broken heart, both physically and metaphorically. He’s the one who wept over Jerusalem because they wouldn’t come to him and find life and freedom. His heart was just as broken that day as when the spear pierced his side into his heart.

So remember that there is nothing broken that God can’t take and make beautiful. No, not just beautiful like it was before. It won’t ever be the same. It will be much, much better.