Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday - The Point

So they took Jesus and led him away. Carrying the cross by himself, Jesus went to the place called Skull Hill (in Hebrew Golgotha). There they crucified him. - John 19: 16b-17

Good Friday.

It was cold and overcast this morning. A good day to stay in bed, nice and warm. But no, it is Good Friday. So I arose to do what I have done for many years on this holy day - I participated in the Cross Walk.

For those who have not heard of this or have never been a part of, a Cross Walk is an intimate sharing in the walk that Jesus made from the time he was sentenced to death to the place of his crucifixion. Of the Cross Walks that I have organized and/or participated in, several people share in carrying a large and uncomfortably heavy cross down the streets of the local town, with a mass of other faithful followers falling in behind.

As we started down the street, I became intentional about concentrating on the the meaning of the day. I was already feeling a slight twinge of guilt because I complained to my wife earlier that it was cold and looked like it could rain at any moment. The days before today have been beautiful and warm as will the weekend. I didn't like doing this in this type of weather though. She stung me with, "I'm sure Jesus didn't like it either."

So, now here I am, convicted as to my own pettiness and becoming evermore penitent. But, I wasn't able to fully embrace the moment. There were too many other distractions.

I couldn't help but to notice the irritation on the faces of some of the motorists who were having to stop for the procession. Since we had a police escort, they really had no choice in the matter. There agitation was evident. We were interrupting their routine. "Sorry!" I thought. "Don't worry, in a few moments, we will have passed you and you can get back to your normal lives." Of course, my thoughts were sarcastic. It would not have taken much for me to be happy for this interruption in their lives. They need to be reminded - reminded of the point of this day.

Then, another disturbance caught my gaze. This time it was a lady on one of the standing along a side street. She did not indicate any displeasure at what we were doing; no, quite the opposite. She couldn't control her passion for Jesus as she cheered us on, "Yes! Praise Jesus!" she could be heard to exclaim as she pumped her fist in the air. "No, no, no!" I thought. "This isn't suppose to be a joyful event; she's missing the point!"

The distractions quieted down for a bit and I found myself becoming captivated by the steady cadence of our march. Finally, people are getting the point.

I was shaken out of my tranquil meditative state almost abruptly when I noticed that our slow and steady pace had quickened. Now it seemed that we were powerwalking, which for those who walk for their daily exercise, this could be seen as an added bonus: commemorate and stay fit, all at the same time.

Why was this happening? Then I felt it on my face. One lone drop of cold rain, which was quickly joined by many others. The other participants were quickening their steps so that they could end this event soon. "No, no, no!" I almost could not contain myself. "We of all people should know not to rush this, even for the inconvenience of rain. Do we really want to be so quick to get Jesus on the cross? They're missing the point!"

As we ended the walk on the side of the street in Mocksville, the rain was coming down too hard to hear what the pastor who organized the walk this year. It might have been for the best though. As I stood there, thinking how so many others were missing the point, I caught a glimpse of the cross we had just carried. At that moment, I became cognizant of what I had been doing. I was so intent of condemning others for not getting the point, I failed to get the point. It wasn't them that were the distractions; it was me.

Good Friday is not a day to blame others for what happened. That's not the point. It's the day to remember, Jesus walked this walk, and died on the Cross, willingly, out of extravagant love; grace upon grace.

Amazing love, how can it be, that you my King should die for me?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Nose Knows

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. - Galatians 6:7-8

Cindy would probably be laughing right now if she were to read this. She was a girl that I used to pal around with in high school. We were good enough friends that we we could pick on each other. Well, I did the most picking (I could have earned a Master's degree because I was so proficient). But oh, she made it so easy. Once she told me that when she was little, she put a button in her nose and it stayed there for years until one day in school, she sneezed and the button became a projectile, hitting the boy sitting in front of her on the back of the neck. For this, she became known as "Buttons," at least by me.

The passage from scripture posted above popped into my head just a moment ago. Reaping what you sow. I wasn't mocking God, but it reminded me that things that you did early in life comes back to haunt you later. Before your mind starts racing to figure out if I go a button stuck in my nose, I would have been better if I had.

It's getting close to Easter, so as we were in the store this evening, we bought a small box of traditional Easter candy - Peeps; you know, the yellow marshmallow chicks (or ducks, I don't know; they're made out of marshmallow so the best I can tell is it's some fowl thing). Anyway, I was trying to give my daughter a suggestion about doing something stupid in school. I told her to try to convince her friends that she is eccentric like Ozzy Osbourne, but instead of biting the head off a dove, bite the head off a Peep (she's in high school - it has to be tame but stupid). So, I demonstrated.

Okay, let me caution you here - don't laugh with a Peep in your mouth, especially if it is towards the back of your mouth. Needless to say, I didn't choke on it, but it did find its way into my nasal cavity. Don't underestimate the potency of a Peep my friends; they are volatile confections. Just one small bit of that sugary yellow head burns like Tobasco sauce ( and yes, I know what that's like too - but that is another story). I knew I would be getting a sinus infection from this. Imagine going to the doctor and trying to explain how a 45-year man has a candy chicken head stuck in his nose.

But it wasn't over. Well, without going into graphic detail, if you want to know the next sensation, the next time you have a marshmallow, stick it in a microwave to see what happens. It's not a pleasant feeling, let me attest to that.

Still, I am amazed how a inane and silly antic that I engage in can remind me of some biblical truth. It also scares me. I cringe at the thought of reaping what I sowed toward Bryant (many other stories about that). Have Mercy.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Worrywart No More

Maybe it's just the time of year with Tax day is less than a week away. Or maybe it's the uncertainty of what the economy will do, what the price of fuel will be, what jobs will remain secure, what will happen in the year 2012 (well, that may be a stretch). The point is the level of apprehension is steadily rising. Laugh lines are giving way to worry lines on the faces of so many faces. Is the world really that much more worse off than it has been over the last few centuries? Or, is it that we, people who are highly educated and evolved have been duped into believing that rants and raves of mongers of doom and gloom?

I find it interesting that we humans seem to have an illicit love affair with fretting over the future. It isn't something we want to admit to and would deny if we were ever accused of it. Just like that 10th grade high school photo, the ugly we try to disguise (not that I have ever done that), eventually is seen. Try as we might, the truth always comes out. We love to worry. Okay, maybe we don't love it, but we sure do like to court it.

Why is that? Why do we want to devote so much of our time and energy that does us no good? I believe it is because the human psyche has to be in relationship with something beyond itself. It seems that something outside of the self has to be the expert, telling us how to act and react. But shouldn't people of faith be different?

Ah, there's the rub. So many say we believe in and trust is God, but our actions tell a different story. Instead of believing the stories of how God's providence has seen people through tumultuous times, we would rather follow the dire predictions of people look to the worst rather than the best.

Now, let me confess, I have helped the owners of stock in Tums and Rolaids go on nice vacations from their dividends. But, I am trying to change my outlook on life. A verse from scripture has become a new principle for me - from the prophet Jeremiah (who spoke to a people who really knew misery). It proclaims this: For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

I think the world may have become a little brighter.


Monday, April 11, 2011

Never Grow Up

She still amazes me. My youngest daughter is about to turn seventeen and she still amazes me because she almost adamantly refuses to grow up. Last week, she was walking into one of the outlet malls at the beach with my wife and me and she begins to wave towards the parking lot. Thinking she had seen someone we know, we asked who she was waving to. She replied, "The flag," as she pointed up to Old Glory flapping in the stiff breeze. She continued to say, "It was waving, so I decided to wave back." My wife and I burst out in laughter because that's what we do, we marvel at her simplistic outlook of everything. Most of the time, she possesses this type of happy-go-lucky attitude and does not let the world bring her down. Why can't we all be more like that? Why can't I?

I wonder what kind of life I would live if I just took the time to enjoy life and see the world through a different set of lens rather that the practical ones that I usually sport. I venture to say that I probably would not have to take the same amount of medications that I do now to keep my blood pressure in check.

All to often, as we grow up, we begin to think we have to think like an adult, put away all the fanciful notions and the awe and mystery that is present in life itself. We have to be rational and serious minded. But, if memory serves me, I believe Jesus said that only those who approach with a child-like faith will ever be able to accept the wonders of God's Kingdom (paraphrased). Maybe Jesus knows that the sensation of the Kingdom of God is far too perplexing for any type of rational thinking. Think about that, can anyone really explain grace - why God loves us unconditionally? It doesn't make sense. Maybe we just need to accept it and stop analyzing it. Children rarely question love - they just accept it.

I think I need to go wave back at a flag. I will probably get stared at, but, what the heck - I may start rediscovering that child-like faith.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Holy Hypocrisy

20 And now, may the God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, all that is pleasing to him. Jesus is the great Shepherd of the sheep by an everlasting covenant, signed with his blood. To him be glory forever and ever. Amen. - Hebrews 13:20-21

I hate being called a hypocrite. But more often than I like, I hear that accusation being directed toward me. If only my accusers would just put themselves in my shoes, understood the full dynamics, had a better sense of the situation, I would almost wager a bet that they wouldn't be so critical of me saying one thing but doing another. After all, there is always more to the story than we know, right?

I was faced with a predicament the other day that was consuming my thoughts as I was driving home. It was enough that I wasn't even listening to one of my favorite talk-radio shows. As I agonized over the predicament, my eyes focused a scene that broke me from the mire of my quandary. In a yard along the highway, my gaze fell upon a man running behind a bicycle being pedaled by a youngster. As the little lass pedaled feverishly, she wobbled from side-to-side a bit, but never fell over because the man running behind had a firm grip on the seat of the bike. I believe it was safe to assume that what I was witnessing was a young father teaching his daughter how to ride a bike, without the training wheels. My assumption arose out of my own experience of both being the biker-in-training and the expectant father running behind. The scene vividly conjured up memories of learning to ride a bike and teaching both my daughters to do the same. In each scenario, I remember the words being uttered, "Don't let go Daddy!"

Of course, you know, daddy's do let go. It's part of growing up. The child learns to harness the power of centrifugal force and rides on to wheels, unaided by an exhaustive parent. It is often overlooked as a milestone of life, but maybe it needs to be elevated to one, because for many, this event marks the beginning of independence. Yet, it may also be the first testament of hypocrisy.

Okay, so what does learning to ride a bike have to do with being called a hypocrite, you may ask. Think of it this way, when we were on that bike seat for the first time and filled with fear and trepidation beckoned, "Don't let go!" did we really mean it? Are there children who really expect someone to always be running behind, with a firm grip? I could stop here, but this reality went far deeper.

Maybe my frustration over this ill-received admonishment came to a head immediately after I passed this milestone event. The words of a stanza of an old hymn began to nag me, haunt, me, convict me. "I Need Thee Every Hour..." Really? Do I really need God every hour? I wanted to scream, "Of course I do!" but does my life reflect my need for God? Do the things I do reflect my ingenuity or my dependence on my Creator?

I am beginning to think that I may be that child on the seat, wanting that safe and secure grip of a loving Father, until...I can do it on my own. Then, "Hands off, God. I can do it all by myself." Isn't that the way it is suppose to be? Isn't the role of a parent to train a child to do for themselves? Right?

That's the fallacy of my logic. I have allowed myself to come to believe that I am fully capable of handling my life perfectly well on my own. Not that I don't need God though. God can run right behind me and catch me if and when I fall. That's how I think it should be, or at least that is how I tend to live out much of my life.

God is not "hands off" though. When we profess Jesus as LORD of our life, it's our whole life, not just certain areas and not as a back-up to our failures and inadequacies. Though I have had years of theological training and moments of good ideas, I must remind myself daily that, yes, I Need God Every Hour. I need to pray about the little things as well as the big things. I must not rely on my cleverness and natural tendencies alone. When I think I can handle these situations alone, that I have enough experience and education that I don't need to "bother" God, then I am setting myself up for a fall.

No wonder I am so often faced with problems that seem too large to handle; they are, for me alone.

No wonder why I often feel at a lost and frustrated over the complexity of ministry and life.

No wonder that God calls me a hypocrite.