Happy 4th of July

It’s officially Independence Day (or as some jokingly refer to it on social media, Treason Day by us ungrateful former British subjects).

I didn’t go see any fireworks today because 1) I’m still in recovery mode from pneumonia, 2) I’m dog sitting in Bellevue and didn’t feel like driving cross-country, and 3) it rained on and off most of the day.

I am thankful for my freedoms. You can criticize this country and its history and policies (and there’s admittedly a lot we’ve gotten way wrong over the years) but remember that one of your freedoms is the right to criticize without fear of being labeled a traitor and/or arrested by said government.

We must be doing something right for there still to be so many who want to come here (whether legally or illegally).

Yet for all that, I have to confess something. For those who profess faith in Jesus, it’s not God AND country. It’s God THEN country. We may be citizens whose pledge allegiance to a flag and a president but our ultimate allegiance is to a King and a Kingdom.

It’s helpful to keep that in mind going into yet another Presidential election. We need to be reminded yet again that our hope isn’t in the man or woman who sits in the White House. Our hope isn’t in the nine people who sit on the U. S. Supreme Court. Our hope isn’t in passing laws and statutes.

The current problems we face aren’t nearly as much political as they are spiritual, so we don’t need a political platform as much as we need a Savior.

The way of the cross still isn’t drinking the Kool Aid of one political party or the other. It isn’t more Christians in political office. The way of the cross is still this– “Whoever wants to be first must be last, and whoever wants to be the greatest must be the servant of all (Mark 9:35).

I hope you’re enjoying your extended holiday weekend. Just remember that as great as America is, it doesn’t even begin to compare to the Kingdom of God that’s already here and yet at the same time is on its way.

 

 

Neighborliness

“Neighborliness is not a quality in other people; it is simply their claim on ourselves. Every moment and every situation challenges us to action and to obedience. We have literally no time to sit down and ask ourselves whether so-and-so is our neighbor or not” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship).

Who is my neighbor? That’s the question that the expert in Jewish law asked Jesus. In other words, who am I required to love?

Jesus turned the question around from “Who is my neighbor?” to “How am I being a good neighbor to those around me?”

So, a neighbor is anyone who is in need and who is within my power to help. I can’t help every single one in need, but I can meet the needs of those who are in front of me, and those by Jesus’ definition are my neighbors.

Ultimately, the Good Samaritan is a picture of Jesus Himself. I’m the one who foolishly took the dangerous road alone and ended up beaten up and robbed. I’m the one lying half-dead on the road whom the Neighbor spotted and had pity on.

That changes the parable quite a bit, doesn’t it? It means just as the Good Samaritan wasn’t the kind of hero the Jewish audience was expecting, Jesus wasn’t (and isn’t) the kind of Messiah we were expecting.

We prize physical strength and virility. We prize magazine-cover good looks. We love take-charge, grab-the-bull-by-the-horns people.

I wonder sometimes if we’d know Jesus as Messiah if He showed up today as He did almost two millennia ago. People were expecting someone to rally the people against Rome, but instead got a man who insisted that we turn the other cheek and go the extra mile.

Sure, Jesus overturned those tables in the Temple, but He also said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

I’m thankful most of all that in Jesus, I got not the kind of Savior I might have wanted, but the kind I so desperately needed. He loved ( and still loves) me just like I am but refuses to let me stay that way.

PS Credit for all of this goes to Mike Glenn, courtesy of tonight’s Kairos message. Check it out some Tuesday evening if you’re ever in the Brentwood/Greater Nashville area.

 

Easter Season Liturgy Part II

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Seeing as  how this is Holy Week, I thought I’d continue with the theme I started yesterday. This is a prayer of confession and forgiveness that was also a part of the liturgical Kairos service last night:

“We serve a risen Saviour yet live as if in chains. Forgive us, Lord that we are so hesitant to live the resurrection life. Forgive us that we fail to show through word and action the truth that you loved us into your kingdom through the glorious mystery of the Cross. Forgive us that there is still fear in our lives that prevents us from achieving our full potential. Draw us close. Open our eyes to the glory of the risen Christ, our hearts to the wonder of the Cross and our hands to the service of your kingdom where you have placed us. That your name might be glorified through our lives.

AMEN

God of resurrection
of life and death
rebirth
All: Renew our hearts and minds
God of promise
of all beginnings
and all endings
All: Renew our hearts and minds
God of hope
of new growth
and harvest
All: Renew our hearts and minds”

I hope that for me, Easter is a reminder of the penalty that I could NEVER have paid that was paid for me, the cost to redeem me from sin that I could NEVER have afforded but was paid for me. He who knew no sin BECAME sin that I might become the righteousness of God in Christ. He who never did wrong and never took ONE disobedient step ever in His ENTIRE life bore the punishment and shame for ALL my misdeeds and sins and disobedience and rebellion.

As much as I’m all for Easter eggs and bunny rabbits and candy (especially those Cadbury eggs), I hope I never lose sight of why I really and truly celebrate Easter this and every year. Jesus died FOR ME.

Easter Season Liturgy Part I

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Tonight at Kairos we had a liturgical Easter service but with a Kairos-style twist. It was a very cool blend of modern and ancient forms of worship. I was particularly moved by the responsive reading we did at the start:

“Blest are you, Lord Jesus who came to us a little child 
one of us,
flesh and blood to share in our humanity
For God so loved the world
ALL: That all might have eternal life.

Blest are you, Lord Jesus who came to us as carpenter
and yet in whose creative hands a world was fashioned
For God so loved the world
ALL: That all might have eternal life.

Blest are you, Lord Jesus who came to us as fisherman
and yet pointed to a harvest that was yet to come
For God so loved the world
ALL: That all might have eternal life.

Blest are you, Lord Jesus who came to us as teacher
and opened eyes to truths that only 
the poor could understand
For God so loved the world
ALL: That all might have eternal life.

Blest are you, Lord Jesus who came to us as healer
and opened hearts to the reality of wholeness
For God so loved the world
ALL: That all might have eternal life.

Blest are you, Lord Jesus who came to us as prophet, priest and king
and yet humbled himself 
to take our place upon the cross
For God so loved the world
ALL: That all might have eternal life.

Blest are you, Lord Jesus who came to us as servant
and revealed to us the extent of his Father’s love 
for human kind
For God so loved the world
ALL: That all might have eternal life.

Blest are you, Lord Jesus, who rose 
from the ignominy of a sinner’s death
to the triumph of a Saviour’s resurrection
For God so loved the world
ALL: That all might have eternal life.

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son
for the sake of me
and you
and other sinners too
God so loved the world
Blest are you Lord Jesus, our Saviour and Redeemer.
ALL: Thanks be to the God of Love. Amen”

I think it’s good to step out of your comfort zone when it comes to worship. For me, that meant going to a Roman Catholic Ash Wednesday service last year. Whatever it is for you, it’s good to get out of your own faith tradition and see things from different points of view sometimes. It helps you to know what you believe and– better still– why you believe what you believe.

More on that to come tomorrow.

 

Palm Sunday

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“Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen” (from The Book of Common Prayer).

We celebrate Palm Sunday today.

On this day, Jesus rode into Jerusalem a hero. The crowds greeted Him with palm branches and shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”

I doubt anyone could have guessed at that point that a week later those very same people would be shouting again, but this time for Him to be crucified as a common criminal.

Jesus knew. He alone knew what was really in their hearts. He wept over Jerusalem, the city who had the very Messiah they had so longed for in their very midst, but refused to recognize Him. The very ones who murdered the prophets sent by God Himself.

Jesus knew that not too long after that, Jerusalem would hardly be recognizable. In fact, it would be a ruin. The Romans, true to the prophecy, would not leave one stone standing on top of another.

I wonder when was the last time I wept for Nashville? Or my neighbors. Or the people around me who don’t know this Jesus, who don’t know that there’s a hope of a better life and a better future awaiting them?

Lord, break my heart for what breaks Yours. And then spur me to do something about it.

An Essay I Wrote

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I may or may not have mentioned that I’m currently involved in an intensive discipleship training class at my church. Part of the class involved writing an essay.

I chose to write on the unique contributions that each of the four Gospels make to our overall understanding of Jesus and Christianity. It almost felt like a part of my brain got turned on that hadn’t seen much action since my seminary days of yore. Here is the result (with the reminder that it is an essay and reads like one):

“Each gospel has made its own unique contributions to the overall biblical canon and to our understanding of who Jesus is and what His purpose and mission were while He was here on earth. Although each of these is technically anonymous, there are enough clues and evidence, both biblical and extra-biblical, to safely say that these were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Matthew writes primarily for a Hebrew audience, emphasizing how Jesus is truly the prophesied Messiah. He brings in the genealogy of Jesus and parallels him to Moses on several occasions. Matthew brings out Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of God and how it is both now and not yet. Many see Matthew as represented by a man, because he emphasized the humanity of Jesus.

Mark, the first of the Gospels to be written, focuses on Jesus as the Son of God, the true Messiah sent from God into the world. His Gospel is fast-paced, accentuated by his frequent use of the word “immediately.” He is represented by a lion, because he brought out the kingly nature of Jesus.

Luke writes to Theophilus, but likely his intended audience is both Jews and Gentiles. He gives a convincing defense of Jesus and the gospel for both evangelistic and discipling purposes. He is represented by an ox, the lowliest of animals, for his attention to the lowly and outcasts, such as the shepherds, and the Gentiles. His theme is the universality of salvation, how it’s not only for a specific race or region, but for all peoples everywhere.

All three of these Gospels are called the Synoptic Gospels because they share many similarities, such as miracles, parables, and teachings. Matthew and Luke probably borrow from Mark, who in turn uses a source of collected sayings and teachings, commonly referred to as “Q”, to build his own writings upon.

John writes to a primarily Gentile audience in Ephesus and is by far the most intentionally evangelical of the Gospels. He writes that His purpose is to show that Jesus is indeed the Christ that those who read may believe and have eternal life in His name. He is often represented by an eagle for his high Christology and his lyrical and poetic imagery, as well as his epic style of writing, as evidenced by the opening 18 verses of chapter one.

Each Gospel reflects the personality and background of the writers and brings out different aspects to the character, life, and teachings of Christ. Some emphasize his teachings, while others focus on His ministry. Yet all four together present a compelling portrait of Jesus as both God and man, Savior and Lord.”

I Wonder as I Wander

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I came home from a Christmas Eve service a little bummed. Not for any specific reason. Just that I was tired and thinking once again about all I didn’t have instead of what I do.

Then I saw it. I saw the setting sun reflected off the still waters of a shallow pond. It was almost as if God gave me that moment to remind me that what I DO have matters so much more than what I DON’T.

I started wondering a few things:

I wonder if Mary mourned the loss of all she gave up when God called her. I know it seems strange, almost sacreligious, to think such a thing.

But Mary was a teenager who must have had her own dreams and her own fantasies of how her life would turn out. None of them involved an unexplainable (in human terms) pregnancy or giving birth to a Son whom she would witness being unfairly tried, tortured, and publicly executed.

God’s dreams often require that we give up not just bad things, but even some good and even very good things if they’re not God’s best for us. Letting go of those things can feel like a death knell to our hearts even if we know something better is coming.

Mary could have had a normal marriage with normal children and been well-respected in her community and taken no flack. But no one would ever have remembered her name.

God has a dream for you in His heart that sometimes won’t make sense. At times, it will feel too much like a letting go and giving up of much that we hold dear. It will be painful at times, like losing a part of your heart.

The payoff is so much more than worth it. Mary got to see the Messiah, hold Him in her arms, see Him grow up, and watch Him prove that not even that horrific death could hold Him down.

She got to see with her own eyes the salvation of the world. Her own salvation.

I call that more than worth it.

Good Thoughts from a Good Friend

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I was talking tonight to a good friend I hadn’t seen in a while and she said something very profound that I haven’t gotten my brain wrapped around yet.

I remarked that I love encouraging people. Or maybe that I really love chocolate creme Oreos. I honestly don’t remember now. But what she said in response blew what little mind I have left to smithereens.

She said that we give to others those things we need the most from others.

In other words, I give encouragement because for me, being encouraged is like getting oxygen. It’s life to me. I love giving hugs because I love getting them.

It can get unhealthy when I start expecting you to return the good I do for you in the same measure and spirit in which it was given. Then it can become a kind of manipulation.

But often, it can spur great kindnesses. I know I need grace, so I try to give it often. I also know I’m not alone in my need of it, so I can meet an often unspoken need and bless someone by giving them what they so desperately need but don’t know how to ask for it.

As I reflect tonight, I realize again just how very blessed I am. I have so many family members and friends who speak life, healing, blessing, correction, and joy into my life. You show me Jesus every single day and spur me on to greater love and devotion for my Savior. You keep me sane and positive.

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I talk about how eucharisteo precedes the miracle. You, my friends and my family, ARE my miracle. I mean that literally.

Thank you. May God bless you as you have blessed me and lift you up as you have lifted me up. May you know the extravagant, prodigal, lavish, crazy love of Abba Father for you until it fills you up and splashes out onto every single person around you.

Amen.

Twelve Years Later on 9/11

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“In honor of all those who have come behind…. in honor of Christ who lived like that: Go into a hurting world and live your life as a First-Responder.”

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I still can’t believe it happened. Even 12 years later, it doesn’t seem real to me.

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I googled 9/11 images today and found hundreds of pictures ranging from patriotic and stirring to emotionally gripping and heartbreaking to chilling and disturbing.

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I still remember exactly where I was when my boss at the time called me into his office to witness replays of the first plane hitting the first of the World Trade Center twin towers.

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Almost 3,000 people lost their lives that day. And yet it could have been much more catastrophic. Thanks to the heroism of first-responders, many who sacrificed their own lives, there were far less fatalities than there could have been.

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The best in us rose to the occasion for when the worst in us showed its ugly colors.

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Yet around the world, many people still face on a daily basis what we faced on one day twelve years ago. Many will lose their lives today simply because of their beliefs, their ethnic origins, their gender, or out of pure evil. Many will see loved ones massacred in many horrific ways.

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I’m praying for us as a human race today. I’m praying for our nation.

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But I’m not praying for God to save us from extremist Islamic terrorists.

I’m not praying for God to deliver us from President Obama and the liberal agenda or the Tea Party and its right-wing policies.

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I’m praying this prayer today: “Lord, save us from ourselves. Lord, save me from myself.”

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imageI’ve seen in my worst moments what I could have been apart from grace, and it is not pretty. I can be petty and vindictive and selfish and lazy and hateful and rude. Left to myself, there’s no telling what I’m capable of.

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We as a human race are our own worst enemy. We have a worldwide pandemic raging through our population, affecting every single person who has ever lived called sin. Because of the Fall, we are fallen and broken people living in a fallen and broken world. Thousands of years of history has proven that we can’t save ourselves from ourselves. We are in desperate need of a Savior.

We have one. That pandemic called sin didn’t actually affect every single one of us. Jesus, the God-man born of a virgin, lived and died a sinless life and an atoning and sacrificial death on our behalf. He did for us what we could never do for ourselves– He came to save us.

So I remember 9/11 again on this day, but I also remember that one day Jesus is coming back to set all things right again, to restore what the locusts and the terrorists and the politicians and the narrow-minded pharisees have stolen. He’s coming to bring true peace and true joy and true life.

So I pray on the 12th anniversary of 9/11, but not just on this day: “Jesus, come quickly.”

The Fat Lady Ain’t Sung Yet Part II

Yeah, I went all Hollywood and did a blog sequel. But I had some additional thoughts about what I wrote last night.

I’m still hearing a lot of gloom and doom talk, a lot of talk about how this nation is headed inevitably down a path that will end with us all being controlled by the man. I’m not sure who the man is, but watch out for him.

It’s not for me to say if we as a nation are done for. That’s really not my place to speculate. I don’t know if we will still be around 500 years from now or will be a footnote in history by then. I do know this.

I am called as a believer to pray for my president. And yes, President Obama is my president, whether or not I voted for him. I owe him the respect of his position, as commanded by Scripture. I don’t have to agree with everything he does, but I do have to respect the office he holds.

I am also called to believe that real change doesn’t come from passing laws or bills. Real change comes from God changing lives, one heart at a time. It comes from when stone hearts get replaced by hearts of flesh and what was dead comes alive and what was lost is now found.  It comes from Jesus.

It’s not out of the realm of possibility that God can change a politician’s heart. Stranger things have happened. Anybody remember that guy who wrote most of the New Testament? That guy who was firmly committed to getting rid of Christians before he himself became one? Hint: his name starts with a P and ends with -aul.

As much as it’s ingrained in us to want our side to win, the saner course of action is to not have sides. If the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same things and expecting different results, then we have an insane political system.

The sane answer is to reach across the dividing line and listen to each other. To discuss issues and find common ground.

Most of all, the sane answer is to realize once and for all that the real issues aren’t political, but spiritual. That we are all broken people in need of a Savior.

I love what Billy Graham said. “I’ve read the last page of the Bible, it’s all going to turn out all right.”