March 2009


eyewasframed

As a wearer of glasses, I like that moment when, after squinting across the room to try to see the time on my digital clock, I put on my glasses and everything comes into focus.  I like when the once fuzzy-edged world becomes clear with crisp and defined edges.

That intense focusing is the sense I get as I read Luke 9:51 – “As the time approached for Him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set His face toward Jerusalem.”

Now, I’m not suggesting that His mission was ever fuzzy or unclear but there seems to be a shift (at least in Luke’s story) where Jesus became very determined and set His line of sight upon Jerusalem.  Even though it would still be some time (some say as much as 9 months) before He got there, His vision was fixed and resolute.

I, for one, am glad it was.

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As we enter the last full week of Lent and perhaps begin making our Easter Sunday plans, I am struck by the huge dichotomy between Lent/Holy Week and Easter.  One reminds us of self-sacrifice, denial, humility and brokeness.  The latter tells us the story of victory, life, wholeness and exuberance.  But they do not oppose or negate one another; rather they drape one another in beauty and add dimension to each other.  They link arms and become companions on the journey.  While some may say the world is flat, the story we find ourselves in is not!

I find myself in these two opposing but complementary stories each Saturday night as we attend our local gathering.  We are a church family who tends to be far more comfortable on the Easter-side of things.  We talk about victory and redemption with shouts of praise and hands raised in the air.  On the other hand, we gather at a church building owned by a more formally-liturgical denomination.  In the midst of raised hands, the colors of Lent drape the altar area.  It reminds me of our need for rhythms in the church year – for season of humility and repentance to kiss seasons of exuberance.  I am convinced that we need to learn from those of different traditions those things that they know very well.  Then, we may begin to really swim in the depth of this story of our Savior.

But as we come to the end of the Lenten season with Easter in view, as we continue to stay faith in our repentance and allowing the Spirit to search our hearts, all while knowing a “victory celebration” is right around the corner, I don’t want to move too quickly out of Lent because there is always a part of the story I am to carry with me.  “It is important to look at the humiliated and victorious Christ…All through the year we have to stay close to the humiliation as well as the victory of Christ, because we are called to live both in our own daily lives.  We are small and big, specks in the universe and the glory of God, little fearful people and sons and daughters of the Lord of all creation.”  (Henri Nouwen)

Lord, help me to continue to say with the psalmist, “Search me, and know my heart”.   Continue to show me where I do not trust You.  I am weak, lack endurance and, if I were honest, would like to be done with Lent.  Bring back to remembrance the ashes placed on my forehead weeks ago.  And even in the season of Easter, would You help me to feel the weight of their invisible markings.

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Just a reminder (or an announcement for those of you who didn’t know) that today many people, governments, and nations will participate in Earth Hour.  It is a simple call to all people to turn out their lights for 1 hour at 8:30 pm local time.  You can check out the official website here.

The way I see it, there are those of you who may roll your eyes at this attempt to “save the earth”.  I am including two attempts to convince you to participate:

First, from one of my favorite theologians, NT Wright:

God’s Power Does Not Excuse Human Despoiling

It all depends what your ‘faith’ is. If you believe that the present world of space, time and matter is basically trash, from which we are supposed to be rescued, then who cares?

But if, with Jews and Christians, your ‘faith’ is in a good creator God who has promised to set the world right at last, dealing with its corruption and decay and setting it free from all that to become even more gloriously what it already really is, then of course you will cherish and celebrate the natural world and care for it in all kinds of ways.

Put it like this (what follows is based on Romans 8.18-26, one of the central passages in one of the central Christian texts of all time). If I said, well, I find it difficult to struggle against sin – but one day God will save me and make me totally his, so why bother in the present? – if I said something like that, every pastor worth their salt would tell me that what God intends to do with me in the future must be anticipated, as best I can in the power of the Spirit, by me in the present.

Now, Paul declares that God will set the whole creation free from its slavery to corruption, and will do so under the glorious rule of his redeemed people. If we say ‘Well, that’ll be fine when it comes, but for the moment there’s no point bothering to do anything about it ourselves’, we stand rebuked in just the same way. You wouldn’t say of the person you love best in all the world, ‘Well, one day we’ll be married and I can be kind to him/her then, I needn’t bother for the moment.’ In the same way, to say ‘Well, God will do whatever he wants with this world eventually, but for the moment I can continue to pump carbon emissions and other harmful gases into its atmosphere,’ is simply illogical.

Secondly, if that didn’t convince you, think about the possibilities that would come out of an hour spent in candle light with a loved one, your spouse or your children.  Removing the distraction of any “screens” (yes, computers and TV’s count as some sort of light), perhaps much needed conversations or snuggling could take place.

Think about it.  Turn out the lights.

dance

Do a brief search of the Gospels and see how many times Jesus says “Follow Me”.  The Scriptures record Him saying  it to fishermen, to a tax collector, to a rich young ruler, to His disciples, to would be disciples, talking about His sheep, to those who would serve Him, and to one who had his eyes on someone else asking “what about him?”.  It is the call of Jesus to all of us…”Follow Me”.

I wonder how you view this call.  What do you imagine as you hear His words?  Do you see a mighty general commanding his army?  Do you see a friend motioning for you to walk with him along a certain path?  Do you see the leader of a group on a quest?  Or do you see a boss directing the words at his employees?  Truly the pictures that may come to mind are as vast and numerous as humans upon the earth.  For my part, I imagine an invitation to dance.

Now on the dance floor, there needs to be one leader and one follower – or else the dancers look awkward or too stiff or almost fighting one another.  If the man is particularly a strong leader, he can really lead his partner through the dance without her needing to know the steps.  She, however, must give in to him and his leading of her; she cannot try to do her own thing nor try to anticipate his next move.  Her role is to simply listen to the music, follow his lead and trust him.

So it goes with me and Jesus as He invites me to follow Him onto the dance floor.  He knows what He is doing and holds me firmly but for my part, I must be aware of how He is leading me – a slight swoop to the right, a squeeze on my hand as a cue to move toward Him, or any slight nuance as He leads and guides.  I must trust Him fully and, in many ways, forget myself.  I am not trying to calculate the radius of the next twirl or the number of steps until the dance is done.  I simply give myself to the Leader of the dance and the One who has invited me to follow Him.

Dance, then, wherever you may be;

I am the Lord of the dance, said He.

And I’ll lead you all wherever you may be,

And I’ll lead you all in the dance, said He.

(song:  Lord of the Dance)

baggage

Seattle to Dallas/Fort Worth to Gulfport, Mississippi by plane….renting a car to drive to somewhere in Louisiana…hotel, rehearsal dinner, photographing a wedding….driving back to Gulfport, flight to Dallas, dinner with a friend, a few hours of sleep, flight to Phoenix….attend a memorial service, share tears, connect with a few old friends….sleep…back on a plane to Seattle.  THAT is what the last five days have held for me!

Moments of joy, moments of deep conversation, moments of creativity and moments of grief.  And the one constant in these tumultuous few days?  The baggage I carried.

Now, I try to travel light but my backpack – fully stocked with all my camera equipment and laptop – makes me look a little like a turtle with a massive shell on her back.  But it is easy enough to get around with.  I pull out what I need from it, use it and then put it back.  It stays behind me and allows me to have my hands free.

My little red bag however, is a bit of a different story.  Though not very big, I can pack a lot into it so it tends to get heavy.  I continuously need to switch arms as I carry it.  It rubs along my leg and creates a raw patch of skin or it stays in front of me, needing to be carried by both arms at the crux of my elbows.  It is cumbersome for me to carry (perhaps because I am vertically challenged) and almost impossible to run with (which I know firsthand from the airport in Mississippi!).  The worst part is when I am alone on a trip and don’t have anyone to “watch my bags for a moment”.  I have to take it with me wherever I go.  Even when I just want to grab a bite to eat, it turns into a master juggling act as I try to hold a cup of hot coffee in one hand while precariouly balancing a bowl of oatmeal on top of the cup (can you tell where I went for breakfast?) all while clinging tightly to the baggage in the other hand.

Yes, in the last five days I have lifted, shoved, opened, closed, heaved, crammed, balanced and lived with my little red bag.

Then, on Monday night, as I sat at a memorial service….God spoke.  His words were from Hebrews 12.

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin that so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…”

And I got the picture of me walking down the aisle of that church with my little red bag and leaving it on the front platform/alter area.

It was at that moment I realized I have been carrying around “stuff” that hindered me from running the race that God has set before me.  Even though my bag was small and I could still function in everyday life, it was taking up space and using up energy and God wanted me to be done with it.  In my mind’s eye, as I pictured turning and leaving my baggage there, I heard Him explicitly say, “That is done.  DO NOT pick it back up!”

As the memorial service ended, we were invited to stand and sing.  As I rose to my feet, I realized that because I had laid aside that encumbrance, my hands were free.  There was no weighty bag to shift and juggle and keep balanced.  My hands were free to raise in worship to the glory of the God who had taken my baggage!  My hands were free to say (along with my heart), “Yes, Lord.  I will lay it all aside and RUN the race with endurance.”  It was good to finally release that load!!

And…just as a side note:  as a symblolic act of obedience, on my way home from Phoenix to Seattle….I checked my little bag.  I handed it over to the airline and let them carry it home for me!

Lord, Thank You – for Your word, for the little red bag and for Your call to lay it aside and RUN the race.  Help me to leave it there.  But when I am tempted to pick it back up, help to remember its cumbersome heaviness and also the freedom of lifting empty hands in worship to You!

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The following is an excerpt from A Requiem for Love by Calvin Miller.  It speaks of self-denial, discipline and living open handed.  To me it speaks of how I am trying and learning to live during Lent. (Just a couple of notes:  the book is a poetic re-telling of the story of creation and the fall; Sanctuary is the garden of Eden; Regis and Regina are Adam and Eve.)

There’s frost in Sanctuary!”

The Father-Spirit turned his head away in grief.

Regis and Regina were dumbfounded,

To know Earthmaker cried.

You cry because of frost?”

Prince Regis asked.

I weep because you willed

The coming of my enemy.

Notice how his recent presence

Spoils Sanctuary.

Where he stood the grass is dead-

The air too cold for any possibility of life.

Were he to have the scepter he desires

The world itself would die.

Evil lives in Sanctuary at your summons.

See his arctic scar on this good place.

Have you satisfied your longing?

Laid your appetites to rest?

Or, will you seek My enemy again

Till all this garden lies in ruin?

Can you now see how his hate

Can canker entire galaxies,

And spread contagions that infect the very stars?

An awful silence came.

The man and woman, downcast

In their shame, at length

Raised both their heads and pledged,

Father,

Never shall we will

The death of love.”

The Father-Spirit loved them.

“There is only one real power

That you should long to own: Self-denial!

Spend all you have to purchase it.

Lust after chains of servanthood – never thrones of pride.

For servants, worn by willful drudgery,

At last wear diadems.

Bridle all desire: For having what you want,

Will leave you groveling in wantonness.

Feed yourselves with hunger,

Then savor all you slowly eat.

Thus, self-denial will give you richness but keep you from excess,

Use this world, do not consume it.

Never pursue pleasure, rather let it find you…

At the end of every day…

Where you made discipline your friend.

For pleasure never comes in what you hold,

But in what holds on to you – compelling you to care.

Should life call you to be a martyr,

Do not despair

For those who would die for great reasons,

Also find great reasons for their living.

Think not that gaudiness is beauty

But simple ornament

Which lives only to reflect the light around it.

Turn from all desire to have,

Lest what you seek to own,

At last owns you!

Make no hour heavy with doubled greed

Rather let a giving spirit make you rich with sleek humility

That runs through troubled times

Grow rich by giving up your purse.

Lay by your mace and rule.

Release your grasp and in your open hand

You’ll find the world.

Die and greet the life-force

Created by your willful death.

For self-denial does empower the soul,

And those who hold their need to rule at bay,

Are kings and queens with empires in their sway.”

fatigue

There is no such thing as simply personal, individual sin…. Just ask Adam.

With a small act of disobedience all the forces of hell were unleashed on the world.  The greedy, black fingers of sin were invited into the holiest of places in a moment of distrust.  All creation itself became locked in a prison and cried out with groanings as the gates clanged shut.

In a moment of choice the seemingly insignificant pebble of sin was dropped in the water and the ripples have caused tsunamis across the world and throughout the ages.

A Pharaoh made a decision and thousands of babies were killed, including (eventually) the first-born of his land.  A leader in a local church responds in anger and self-righteousness.  His reactions become a grenade thrown into the middle of a local congregation sending shrapnel into the bystanders.

There is no such thing as just personal, individual sin.  If there was we could contain it, but as it is each transgression becomes an interaction with the mythical Pandora’s box.  Some sinister creature always slips out before we can get the lid back on.

My anger or unbelief or ____________ (insert sin-of-the-day here) affects my children which in turn affects their relationships, their future, etc.  The decay unleashed on the earth through those first bites of disobedience means I hurt with a family whose father is trapped by the cloud of Alzheimers.  It means I grieve with my friends who now have a dead baby – 11 days before his due date.  Our country’s greedy choices mean we watch on the news as our cities fill up with “tent cities” – dwelling places for those who have lost theirs.

Sin brings death in so many forms and its ramifications are incalculable.  It there is anything the Lenten season reminds us is that sin is a big deal to God.

*it causes death and decay

*it severs relationships

*it destroys families and nations

*it causes all creation to groan for release

*it is never an isolated incident. it always gets away and leaves its mark elsewhere.

You see, there is no such thing as simply personal, individual sin….Just ask Jesus.

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