about what my son thought was totally awesome

A couple of weeks ago we started the long process of cleaning out our garden to make way for a new planting of bushes and flowers. We bought a new house last year and we figured out quickly the builder put really crappy plants and soil in the garden, so we took it upon ourselves to start over, almost from scratch.

Part of the process was to pull the old, dead plants out and put them in a pile. For most our organic refuse, we typically walk it to a large field across the street for disposal. Last week when it came time to walk over a load of dead plants, I took my oldest son with me.

Now, my son is three and a half so he has quite the inquisitive mind. He wants to know what is going on with EVERYTHING. Questions like – “what is that?” or “why do you do that?” or “how come?” are sprinkled throughout our conversation.

Part of his questions revolve around death lately. I don’t think it is a morbid fascination but really a keen observation of his surroundings. He sees dead bugs, dead leaves, and dead plants after a long, cold winter. He wants to know why things are dead and what that means.

How do you explain this to a three year-old?

As we walked the dead plants across the road to the field, he asked me why we were throwing away all of these dead plants. My mind raced. I didn’t want to tell him that we just dumped all of our trash in the field and that I had a good reason for putting the dead plants in the field.

dead-potato-plant

It seemed like a good opportunity, so I told him about how God takes dead plants and puts them in the soil to grow new plants. Really, this seemed like as good of an answer that I could come up with.

After he heard this, he stopped and looked at me with a furrowed brow. Then, he said some words that I will hopefully never forget:

DAD, THAT IS SO COOL! THAT IS TOTALLY AWESOME!!!!!”

I might have added a few exclamation points.

Lately he has favored the term “totally awesome”. But, he could not be more right.

In our march towards the resurrection, our steps take us towards something that seems otherworldly, but is now the central tenant of the Christian faith. Our faith system, beliefs, and even churches are nothing without the risen Christ.

Plant in dried cracked mud

To consider, as my son did, that dead matter is simply food for new life and that God makes dead things come alive, is truly an awesome concept. Death, though something we can’t escape, will never win.

Unfortunatly, this has become another cold theology. But in a few words, my son brought back into focus the wonder and beauty of a God who would never let his kids meet an end. When you consider that God made a way for life, and for us to have a loving and fulfilling connection despite the darkness we carry……

THAT is totally awesome.

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Being People of Resurrection

I’m told that as I was learning how to stand and walk that I had to deal with an interesting little hindrance: my older brother. Of course I was too young to remember, but according to my parents he enjoyed giving me a little nudge as I toddled about, pushing me down on my backside.

brothers-fight-300x200This no doubt set the course for much of our interaction growing up. As the younger brother I would prod and annoy; as the older brother he would assert his position by knocking me down. This is the way of brothers.

But as we both matured, the dynamic changed. I became much less annoying; he pushed me down less and less. And he became someone who, instead of constantly putting me in my place, began to help me up. And he still does.

He became my supporter and not my nemesis. Now he gives me guidance instead of shoves. He helps me stand rather than pushing me down.

He’s my brother.

In so many ways Lent is a prolonged, hard look at the darkness in the world. As Trevor pointed out yesterday, this is a reality that must be faced. We live in a world that is marked with darkness and destruction and sin. Lent makes us take a look at this head-on — the sin in the world, in our neighborhoods and especially the sin inside ourselves. By facing reality, we are amazed at the cross. We marvel at a man filled with love who would give his life to change this situation.

It’s why we have latched on to the cross as a symbol of our beliefs.

But the story does not end there. Easter brings us to a greater reality — that resurrection is real. The cross in itself is an amazing story, but the empty tomb bring more love, more joy, more hope. It is not just the story of sins paid; it is the story of death defeated.

The cross is amazing, but at our core Christians are resurrection people.

But I don’t see us always being people of resurrection. In fact, lately I have not really wanted to go online or blog because everywhere I turn I see negativity. Whether it’s magazine articles detailing Christian outrage over the Noah movie or the WorldVision decision, or another Facebook post in my feed complaining about our President or the government, or another snarky blog post from one Christian calling out another  – I just get sick of the negativity.

Because sometimes we seem to think that our job is to point out all the darkness in the world; to call out the sin and expose the darkness. To stand up to the world and push it back down in its place. To simply point out what is dark and sinful and wrong. Which is true, but it’s not the whole story.

To simply yell at the darkness is to stop at the cross. And there’s so, so much more to our story.

The Greek word for resurrection is anastasis, which literally means “to stand again.” Imagine Lazarus in John 11, stumbling out of that tomb and literally standing again. What a shock that must have been, to move from darkness to being able to live and breathe and love again.

This world needs resurrection. It needs to stand again.

You can get a lot of attention through negativity, by pointing out what is wrong with the world. Just take a look at cable news for proof. And to be sure, there is value in pointing out what needs to be changed. But if all we do is call out the wrongs of the world, we’re like a big brother pushing the world down.

What the world needs from Christians is not a push down, but a hand to help them stand back up. The world needs reconcilers and bridge builders. It needs people who feed the poor and cloth the needy. It needs people who will call them out of the darkness of their tombs and show them how the live and breathe and love the way they were created to.

The world needs people of resurrection.

So today, as we face a world that is dark and sinful and dangerous, let us go beyond the negativity. Let us look to Easter and be people who make resurrection real. Let’s bring light and love and hope to a world that desperately needs to stand again.

Let’s be lovers of people. Let’s be good brothers and sisters to those around us. Let us be people of resurrection.

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The Post I Didn’t Want to Write

….so stick with me until the end here.

Holy Week can be a tough week. It makes us deal with all of the things we are uncomfortable dealing with.

In Holy Week, we are confronted with death. We are confronted with evil. And these are typically the kind of topics we want to avoid.

It is so easy in our technological and face paced world to skim over the atrocities in the world. I turn the channel or scroll quickly by and don’t have to be bothered by the realities of sin and evil.

We talk often about suffering on here, but suffering is easier to talk about than death and evil. Suffering is often temporary. Death is not.

And the death we see pictured here is the cruelest kind.

We see a man who is in anguish knowing what is about to come.

We see his friends reject him and walk away.

We see the crowds quickly turn from “Hosanna!” to “Crucify him!”

We see all of the cruelty of human kind played out in mockery, beatings, and in agonizing death.

These are not the things I like to think about. Even as I write them I question whether I should post them, because it is not the kind of thing I like to read on a blog.

But this week we come face to face with it. Holy Week doesn’t just mention these things in passing. Holy week makes you sit and stare.

And as we sit and stare, we may start to even see something behind the cruelty and death: evil. It is not just cruelty and death. There is something profoundly wrong with the world.

sinThis is what the Christian tradition calls sin.

We often think about sin in terms of rules which have been broken.

But this view of sin is much too small.

Sin is a force and a power which touches every single thing in the universe. Nothing has escaped the grasp of sin. Nothing is as it supposed to be.

There is real evil in the world and this evil goes much deeper than the sum total of all my little mistakes during the day.

There is horrific violence in the world and starving children and cancer and hate. All of the forces which fight against life and flourishing are captured in this often misused word: sin.

The world is not as it should be because there is sin.

Sin is why there is death. Sin is why there was a cross.

So as we read the story of Jesus, we are seeing what happens when sin runs its course. All of the awfulness of human evil is concentrated in one place and we have to sit back and watch it happen.

But I think this is a healthy practice.

If we limit the cross to Jesus looking at my mistakes and deciding to overlook them, we rob the cross of its power.

But if we discipline ourselves to really take a long look at the world and the evil and sin and awfulness in the world, we actually begin to open ourselves up to the amazing reality of the cross.

The gravity of contemplating the evil of the world helps us see the gravity of what is going on in these stories of Jesus going to the cross.

The stories we read this week are what happens when those atrocities come into a head on collision with the God who is love.

If sin and evil are not unbelievably awful, then the cross is just a nice sentiment.

If sin is horrific and devastating, then what happens at the cross is absolutely stunning. It is an earth shattering, beautiful, unimaginable, perfect act of love and hope and grace.

As bad as sin is…..it turns out love is greater.

Sin has real results and real effects, but these results and effects are no match for the power and love of God found in Christ.

There is an answer for sin.

The grotesque shadow plaguing the earth is not the last word.

The cross shows us love’s ability to obliterate all of the power sin has over the world.

It is a force which cannot and will not be stopped because the universe is hand-made by someone who would rather die than allow this destruction to go on.

For every horrific act committed in the history of the world, God is at work to rectify, reconcile, redeem, restore, and recreate reality to reflect the love and goodness and mercy of the one who hung on the cross but could not be contained by death and evil.

And that is unbelievably good news.

So this week, I encourage you to take on this difficult discipline. Notice the difficult parts of the story. Notice the difficult parts of our world.

We need a thicker and deeper view of sin so we can begin to appreciate the power of the resurrection. God has a better plan for creation and the ways of sin have had their day and are now passing away.

The discipline of Holy Week is taking a longer look at the devastation of sin so we can then be wrapped up in the unbelievable goodness and mercy of Sunday.

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Holy Week: The Road to the Cross

This week is Holy Week, the week we concentrate on the events leading to Jesus death.

Technically, Lent ends Wednesday. But we celebrate Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday as the events Lent has prepared us for.

The text in Matthew is long, so we encourage you to read parts of it every day this week to connect you with the story.

As we concentrate on the elements of the story this week, we find this to be the heaviest and darkest week of the Church calendar.

Evil is present and seems to come out on top. The powers Jesus called into question through his ministry have finally had enough and take out their wrath on this man, Jesus of Nazareth.

As we bear the weight of this week, we are reminded of the reality and presence of evil.

But as great as the power and gravitas are of evil, nothing can compare to what is coming Sunday.allthingsnew-background

Matthew 26:14-27:66

Meanwhile, Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Simon, a man who had previously had leprosy. While he was eating, a woman came in with a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume and poured it over his head.

The disciples were indignant when they saw this. “What a waste!” they said. “It could have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor.”

But Jesus, aware of this, replied, “Why criticize this woman for doing such a good thing to me? You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me. She has poured this perfume on me to prepare my body for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed.”

Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, went to the leading priests and asked, “How much will you pay me to betray Jesus to you?” And they gave him thirty pieces of silver. From that time on, Judas began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus.

On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to prepare the Passover meal for you?”

“As you go into the city,” he told them, “you will see a certain man. Tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My time has come, and I will eat the Passover meal with my disciples at your house.’” So the disciples did as Jesus told them and prepared the Passover meal there.

When it was evening, Jesus sat down at the table with the twelve disciples. While they were eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.”

Greatly distressed, each one asked in turn, “Am I the one, Lord?”

He replied, “One of you who has just eaten from this bowl with me will betray me. For the Son of Man must die, as the Scriptures declared long ago. But how terrible it will be for the one who betrays him. It would be far better for that man if he had never been born!”

Judas, the one who would betray him, also asked, “Rabbi, am I the one?”

And Jesus told him, “You have said it.”

As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take this and eat it, for this is my body.”

And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them and said, “Each of you drink from it, for this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many. Mark my words—I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom.”

Then they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives.

On the way, Jesus told them, “Tonight all of you will desert me. For the Scriptures say,

‘God will strike the Shepherd,
and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’
But after I have been raised from the dead, I will go ahead of you to Galilee and meet you there.”

Peter declared, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you.”

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, Peter—this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.”

“No!” Peter insisted. “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!” And all the other disciples vowed the same.

Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.” He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed. He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!”

Then Jesus left them a second time and prayed, “My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done.” When he returned to them again, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open.

So he went to pray a third time, saying the same things again. Then he came to the disciples and said, “Go ahead and sleep. Have your rest. But look—the time has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Up, let’s be going. Look, my betrayer is here!”

And even as Jesus said this, Judas, one of the twelve disciples, arrived with a crowd of men armed with swords and clubs. They had been sent by the leading priests and elders of the people. The traitor, Judas, had given them a prearranged signal: “You will know which one to arrest when I greet him with a kiss.” So Judas came straight to Jesus. “Greetings, Rabbi!” he exclaimed and gave him the kiss.

Jesus said, “My friend, go ahead and do what you have come for.”

Then the others grabbed Jesus and arrested him. But one of the men with Jesus pulled out his sword and struck the high priest’s slave, slashing off his ear.

“Put away your sword,” Jesus told him. “Those who use the sword will die by the sword. Don’t you realize that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly? But if I did, how would the Scriptures be fulfilled that describe what must happen now?”

Then Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I some dangerous revolutionary, that you come with swords and clubs to arrest me? Why didn’t you arrest me in the Temple? I was there teaching every day. But this is all happening to fulfill the words of the prophets as recorded in the Scriptures.” At that point, all the disciples deserted him and fled.

Then the people who had arrested Jesus led him to the home of Caiaphas, the high priest, where the teachers of religious law and the elders had gathered. Meanwhile, Peter followed him at a distance and came to the high priest’s courtyard. He went in and sat with the guards and waited to see how it would all end.

Inside, the leading priests and the entire high council were trying to find witnesses who would lie about Jesus, so they could put him to death. 60 But even though they found many who agreed to give false witness, they could not use anyone’s testimony. Finally, two men came forward 61 who declared, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the Temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’”

Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Well, aren’t you going to answer these charges? What do you have to say for yourself?” But Jesus remained silent. Then the high priest said to him, “I demand in the name of the living God—tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”

Jesus replied, “You have said it. And in the future you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Then the high priest tore his clothing to show his horror and said, “Blasphemy! Why do we need other witnesses? You have all heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict?”

“Guilty!” they shouted. “He deserves to die!”

Then they began to spit in Jesus’ face and beat him with their fists. And some slapped him, jeering, “Prophesy to us, you Messiah! Who hit you that time?”

Meanwhile, Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant girl came over and said to him, “You were one of those with Jesus the Galilean.”

But Peter denied it in front of everyone. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.

Later, out by the gate, another servant girl noticed him and said to those standing around, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.[l]”

Again Peter denied it, this time with an oath. “I don’t even know the man,” he said.

A little later some of the other bystanders came over to Peter and said, “You must be one of them; we can tell by your Galilean accent.”

Peter swore, “A curse on me if I’m lying—I don’t know the man!” And immediately the rooster crowed.

Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.” And he went away, weeping bitterly.

Very early in the morning the leading priests and the elders of the people met again to lay plans for putting Jesus to death. Then they bound him, led him away, and took him to Pilate, the Roman governor.

When Judas, who had betrayed him, realized that Jesus had been condemned to die, he was filled with remorse. So he took the thirty pieces of silver back to the leading priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he declared, “for I have betrayed an innocent man.”

“What do we care?” they retorted. “That’s your problem.”

Then Judas threw the silver coins down in the Temple and went out and hanged himself.

The leading priests picked up the coins. “It wouldn’t be right to put this money in the Temple treasury,” they said, “since it was payment for murder.” After some discussion they finally decided to buy the potter’s field, and they made it into a cemetery for foreigners. That is why the field is still called the Field of Blood. This fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah that says,

“They took the thirty pieces of silver—
the price at which he was valued by the people of Israel,
and purchased the potter’s field,
as the Lord directed.”

Now Jesus was standing before Pilate, the Roman governor. “Are you the king of the Jews?” the governor asked him.

Jesus replied, “You have said it.”

But when the leading priests and the elders made their accusations against him, Jesus remained silent. “Don’t you hear all these charges they are bringing against you?” Pilate demanded. But Jesus made no response to any of the charges, much to the governor’s surprise.

Now it was the governor’s custom each year during the Passover celebration to release one prisoner to the crowd—anyone they wanted. This year there was a notorious prisoner, a man named Barabbas. As the crowds gathered before Pilate’s house that morning, he asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you—Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” (He knew very well that the religious leaders had arrested Jesus out of envy.)

Just then, as Pilate was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him this message: “Leave that innocent man alone. I suffered through a terrible nightmare about him last night.”

Meanwhile, the leading priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas to be released and for Jesus to be put to death. So the governor asked again, “Which of these two do you want me to release to you?”

The crowd shouted back, “Barabbas!”

Pilate responded, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?”

They shouted back, “Crucify him!”

“Why?” Pilate demanded. “What crime has he committed?”

But the mob roared even louder, “Crucify him!”

Pilate saw that he wasn’t getting anywhere and that a riot was developing. So he sent for a bowl of water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. The responsibility is yours!”

And all the people yelled back, “We will take responsibility for his death—we and our children!”

So Pilate released Barabbas to them. He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified.

Some of the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into their headquarters and called out the entire regiment. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him. They wove thorn branches into a crown and put it on his head, and they placed a reed stick in his right hand as a scepter. Then they knelt before him in mockery and taunted, “Hail! King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and grabbed the stick and struck him on the head with it. When they were finally tired of mocking him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him again. Then they led him away to be crucified.

Along the way, they came across a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. And they went out to a place called Golgotha (which means “Place of the Skull”). The soldiers gave him wine mixed with bitter gall, but when he had tasted it, he refused to drink it.

After they had nailed him to the cross, the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice. Then they sat around and kept guard as he hung there. A sign was fastened above Jesus’ head, announcing the charge against him. It read: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” Two revolutionaries were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.

The people passing by shouted abuse, shaking their heads in mockery. “Look at you now!” they yelled at him. “You said you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Well then, if you are the Son of God, save yourself and come down from the cross!”

The leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders also mocked Jesus. “He saved others,” they scoffed, “but he can’t save himself! So he is the King of Israel, is he? Let him come down from the cross right now, and we will believe in him! He trusted God, so let God rescue him now if he wants him! For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” Even the revolutionaries who were crucified with him ridiculed him in the same way.

At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

Some of the bystanders misunderstood and thought he was calling for the prophet Elijah. One of them ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, holding it up to him on a reed stick so he could drink. But the rest said, “Wait! Let’s see whether Elijah comes to save him.”

Then Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit. At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, rocks split apart, and tombs opened. The bodies of many godly men and women who had died were raised from the dead. They left the cemetery after Jesus’ resurrection, went into the holy city of Jerusalem, and appeared to many people.

The Roman officer and the other soldiers at the crucifixion were terrified by the earthquake and all that had happened. They said, “This man truly was the Son of God!”

And many women who had come from Galilee with Jesus to care for him were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary (the mother of James and Joseph), and the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee.

As evening approached, Joseph, a rich man from Arimathea who had become a follower of Jesus, went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. And Pilate issued an order to release it to him. Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a long sheet of clean linen cloth. He placed it in his own new tomb, which had been carved out of the rock. Then he rolled a great stone across the entrance and left. Both Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting across from the tomb and watching.

The next day, on the Sabbath, the leading priests and Pharisees went to see Pilate. They told him, “Sir, we remember what that deceiver once said while he was still alive: ‘After three days I will rise from the dead.’ So we request that you seal the tomb until the third day. This will prevent his disciples from coming and stealing his body and then telling everyone he was raised from the dead! If that happens, we’ll be worse off than we were at first.”

Pilate replied, “Take guards and secure it the best you can.” 66 So they sealed the tomb and posted guards to protect it.

Isaiah 50:4-9a

The Sovereign Lord has given me his words of wisdom,
so that I know how to comfort the weary.
Morning by morning he wakens me
and opens my understanding to his will.
The Sovereign Lord has spoken to me,
and I have listened.
I have not rebelled or turned away.
I offered my back to those who beat me
and my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard.
I did not hide my face
from mockery and spitting.
Because the Sovereign Lord helps me,
I will not be disgraced.
Therefore, I have set my face like a stone,
determined to do his will.
And I know that I will not be put to shame.
He who gives me justice is near.
Who will dare to bring charges against me now?
Where are my accusers?
Let them appear!
See, the Sovereign Lord is on my side!
Who will declare me guilty?

Psalm 31:9-16

Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am in distress.
Tears blur my eyes.
My body and soul are withering away.
I am dying from grief;
my years are shortened by sadness.
Sin has drained my strength;
I am wasting away from within.
I am scorned by all my enemies
and despised by my neighbors—
even my friends are afraid to come near me.
When they see me on the street,
they run the other way.
I am ignored as if I were dead,
as if I were a broken pot.
I have heard the many rumors about me,
and I am surrounded by terror.
My enemies conspire against me,
plotting to take my life.
But I am trusting you, O Lord,
saying, “You are my God!”
My future is in your hands.
Rescue me from those who hunt me down relentlessly.
Let your favor shine on your servant.
In your unfailing love, rescue me.

Philippians 2:5-11

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
and gave him the name above all other names,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Prayer

Father, as we concentrate this week on the road to the cross,
Let us take nothing for granted.
Let us feel the weight of evil in the world and the ways we fall short.
Remind us of the amazing love and grace it took for you to endure this week.
And as we enter into this story, remind us always of where it is headed.

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about some photos that defeat darkness

Yesterday my friend and fellow blogger Trevor posted an article in the New York Times Magazine that caused me to totally scrap what I was writing and go another direction. This week we are talking about life arising from death. This what we celebrate about the resurrection of Jesus. Death never has the final word. While darkness and misery surround us, they are never strong enough to block out the light of life.

Even after a brutal winter here in Texas (well, brutal for us) flowers are blooming and trees are budding. It is amazing to see how life always seems to win.

Yet, there are points in history where we are not sure if we can ever recover. I think of times like the holocaust or 9-11 where it did not seem imaginable to go on. Yet, we did and hope emerged.

One such time is being remembered right now as the 20th anniversary of the genocide in the country of Rwanda is upon us. I was a young teenager at the time and didn’t really understand what happened, but as I read back through what happened during this genocide, I can’t believe I lived through something like that and didn’t know about it. During the genocide, 1 million people died at the hands of their friends and neighbors.

Can you imagine something happening like this here? What if your neighbor knocked on your door and murdered your family because they were fooled by their government that they needed to die? Would you ever forgive that neighbor?

06rwanda_ss-slide-CIF0-jumbo

This article presents revealing photos of perpetrators and their victims. Most of these pictures show men who murdered the families and husbands of these women.

Over the last few years small groups of Hutu and Tutsi have been brought together for counseling and an attempt at reconciliation. With incredible bravery and humility, many have asked forgiveness and some have offered it.

This is a level of humanity I never new could exist. Sometimes it is easy to doubt God exists sometimes and the bible can be hard to interpret leading to doubts. But, for me when life breaks through such incredible tragedy and deliberate hatred – it has to make you wonder if we have a creator who will never give up. That people’s hearts can change to where they can forgive someone who murdered their family right in front of them – then pose for a picture to prove it – says a lot about how life can be snatched from the jaws of death.

But, don’t take my word for it. Check it out. And, tell me what you think.

Love wins eventually. These pictures prove it.

For the full article, click here.

For some info on the Rwandan genocide, click here.

For a similar project from a few years ago, click here.

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Preparing Our Soil

As I read Trevor’s excellent post yesterday about garden weeds, I was struck by a couple of things. First is how many times agrarian metaphors are used in Scripture. There are stories and analogies all over the place — about vines and branches, farmers and seeds, fig trees and fruit, trees planted by riverbeds. It’s a recurring motif throughout the Bible and a powerful way to look at what God is up to in the world.

The second thing that hit me was this: I stink at making things grow. I’m lucky to keep my lawn a pale shade of yellow, much less a healthy, natural green. Plants or flowers left in my care often find a premature demise.

The work Trevor described of pulling the rooted grass from his garden sounds like torture instead of joy. It seems like a lot of work to do without seeing an immediate result. But I have enjoyed the vegetables from his garden. I know the end result of their hard work is worthwhile.

imagesI fail at gardening because it is a discipline where all you can do is create the right conditions. All you can do is the prep work. The actually work of growing is out of your hands.

So this morning I am reminded of verses like…

I planted the seed, Apollos watered the plants, but God made you grow.” 1 Cor 3:6

and

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” Gal 5:22-23

…and I am convinced that Lent is much like gardening. It is the preparation of the soil of our hearts. We try to create the right conditions so that the Holy Spirit may do her work in us. We deprive ourselves and pray and read so that the fruit may be produced by a God who can make things grow.

It is my job to prepare the soil; God can produce the results.

So today I will pray this prayer. I invite you to pray it with me. I invite you to prepare the soil of your heart for the life-giving power of a God who produces life all around us. A God who breathes life into death. May he do in our hearts what he does every single day in the world around us.

O God,
You are the giver of life.
You make the flowers and plants grow.
And you produce the fruit in my life.
Give me today more love
more joy
more peace
more patience
more kindness
more goodness
more faithfulness
more self-control.
Make new life rise from the soil of my heart.
I want to see new life spring up within me.
I want a new life
a new mind
a new spirit.
May others see you when they see me today.
Amen

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Garden Weeds, Weight Loss, and the Freedom Found in Lent

This weekend I got to spend some time in my garden.

I love our garden and so beginning to get it ready is a very exciting time for me. So Saturday I spent some time pulling up all the grass and the weeds which have accumulated over the last year.

Pulling-WeedsIt is kind of a laborious process. Grass runs really deep and spreads rapidly, much of which happens under the dirt. So you really have to dig down and root it all out.

You have to chase down roots and allow them to take you wherever you need to go to get rid of them. You get your hands dirty and your back sore.

It is the kind of tedious work I tend to avoid and despise. But I loved every second of it.

When you grow some of your own food, you have this relationship with it. You are connected to it and you care for it and then you even get to eat and enjoy it. So even the tedious work becomes exciting because you are preparing for something.

The difficult work of clearing out all the weeds and grass would be silly if it didn’t have a purpose behind it.

So we dig out the roots of all the junk and we begin to plant the seeds of the next round of crops.

As Allen mentioned in the readings this week, we often begin Lent with the sense of darkness and death and loss and sacrifice. But this week we begin to move into resurrection. We begin to see the signs of life bursting forth.

The dead people don’t stay dead.

Usually at this point in Lent, the fast is no longer trying and difficult. We are used to it. It may be irritating and we may want it to be over, but it is no longer the strain it was the first few weeks.

We have gone through the tedious part of it. We cleared out some weeds and hopefully saw some areas we need to work on.

Now it is time to plant.

The point of Lent is not simply to have a heavy discipline we put on ourselves for 40 days once a year. It’s not punishing the flesh or about arbitrary rules.

The point of Lent is to learn to live in new ways.

For Christians, death always leads to life.

Just like the garden. The weeds aren’t pulled simply because we want to be rid of weeds. The garden is cleared so there can be new life.

Discipline for the sake of discipline is not very meaningful. Discipline to help us learn new ways to live is transformative. It is about experiencing resurrection and life and freedom.

But sometimes we need to spend the extra difficulty rooting up the weeds.

Recently, I learned this process with how I eat.

I gained a bunch of weight when I moved to OKC so my wife and I did a weight loss system where you count points and read labels and over think everything you even smell.

After several months of doing this, we had re-patterned how we ate. We no longer needed to count points or read labels, it was just second nature. So we were eating in new ways in order to not gain weight.

After spending some time with some friends who eat extremely organically, we decided to better in this area as well. After all, we already considered what kinds of food we ate, so why not try to have a better relationship with what we eat?

And this has opened a whole new world. After changing the relationship we have with food, we are no longer eating simply to not gain weight. We are eating to enjoy. We buy certain kinds of food simply because we enjoy them better and feel better eating them.  We are embracing rather than avoiding. I have never had this kind of freedom with food before.

Because of our choices, we don’t often eat things which cause us to gain weight, but as we changed our relationship to food and how we shopped, we are enjoying freedom and joy in what we eat. It is not stress about calories and points and carbs or even about weight. It is a fundamental change in relationship which has led to freedom and enjoyment.

Now I don’t say all this in an effort to change how you eat. I’m not all that concerned with what you eat.

I tell you this because this is the pattern we are seeking in Lent.

Lent is not about a particular kind of discipline. It is not even about how well you are doing staying faithful to your discipline. The point is the result of your discipline. Is it bringing more joy and freedom? Is it opening you up to better love and care for those around you?

These are the questions we need to be asking at this point in Lent.

We discipline ourselves heavily at first. We weed out the crap. We over think it all. We suffer from a lack of whatever it once was we thought we so desperately needed.

But we do this in order to help certain ways of living become second nature. It becomes a habit.

Once this way of doing things becomes second nature, we then begin change our relationship with the world, others, or ourselves. This is done with community and with the understanding some things actually do not lead us down the road of freedom and joy. But instead of trying NOT to do something, we begin to move into freedom and love and enjoyment in what we are doing. We embrace rather than avoid.

The point of Lent is not drudgery and brutal self-discipline.

The point is freedom and joy and love.

Just as the point of the cross is not death. It is resurrection.

So as we begin to wind down this Lenten season, we need to begin to think about new patterns.

The weeds are removed. Now is the time to plant. It is a time to reflect on not only what we have experienced during Lent, but about the ways in which we live.

In what areas do we need to change our relationship to something or someone? Have we chased what you want to change all the way to the root? What new ways of being and living do we want to adapt based on what we have learned over the past few weeks? What people have journeyed with us? What people are ahead of us in this journey? What should we learn to embrace?

What fruit do we want this Lenten season to bear?

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