Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Crucify Him!

Dear Friends,
As the sun broke through the early morning clouds on that Spring day in Jerusalem, the spiritual ones discerned a mysterious sense of anticipation more intrinsically felt than clearly seen. On the Mount of Olives overlooking the Temple, the vast sea of olive trees were beginning to flower, and a gentle breeze carried forth their sweet scent like perfumed incense released to the heavens in anticipation of something holy to come. 

The city was packed with those who had come to celebrate Passover. Crowds filling the streets. Friends greeting each other. Talking. Laughing. Praying. A shout: “Jesus is coming!” The Messiah who healed the lame, restored the sight of blind men, cast out demons and brought the dead back to life. The King is coming! They take off their cloaks and spread them on the road as a sign of submission. Others cut palm branches and spread those on the ground. Some wave the palm fronds as a sign of Jewish nationalism and victory. Excitement grips the crowd. They rejoice and praise God for all the mighty works they have seen Jesus do. As He passes by, they shout out: “Hosanna (O save us..) to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” The crowd is praising God and worshiping Jesus – their Lord and Savior! 

Five days later. Skies dark and threatening. The same crowd. Whipped into a frenzy by religious leaders. The same hand that lovingly laid down a cloak is clenched into a shaking fist. The same hand that waved a palm branch to honor the Son of God now picks up a stone to throw as the Son carrying the cross walks slowly past. The lips that exalted the Messiah in praise now spit on Him as He struggles to stay on His feet. Some laugh when He stumbles and they call out derisively to mock Him. The ones who praised His name five days ago are now shouting, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”

We don’t like this story. We are left shaken by the scriptures that speak of this betrayal. How could they acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Savior one day and spit on Him the next? We are shocked by their unfaithfulness and their fickleness is repulsive to us. How can the same voice that sings praises to Jesus on Sunday, shout words to crucify and kill on Friday? Their treacherous behavior is deeply troubling. Yet there is an enigma about the change of behavior between Sunday and Friday that stirs up an uncomfortableness that grips our soul.

Is it perhaps because we have caught a glimpse of our own face in the crowd? Is it possible that the repulsiveness we’re feeling is rising out of a painful awareness of our own fickleness and unfaithfulness?

We go to church and raise hands and voices in worship to the Lord on Sunday. We speak words of praise, love and adoration. And on Monday we turn and coldly crucify a loved one with our angry, bitter words. We pray for our neighbor on Sunday and ignore her need on Tuesday. We give our anger over to the Lord on Sunday and give a disrespectful gesture to the driver who cuts us off on Wednesday. We thank God on Sunday for all that He has given us and turn away from the homeless person on Thursday. We praise Jesus on Sunday in church and deny Him on Friday at our our friends. 

We are convicted. We repent. Our remorse leaves us feeling unclean and unholy. But on the cross, we are cleansed by the blood of the Lamb. The veil between the unholy and the Holy is torn from top to bottom. (Matthew 27:51) The torn flesh of Jesus becomes a living opening (Hebrews 10:19-20) through which we can all come into the Holiest of Holies by His His love. 

On our knees, we thank Jesus. What He gave to us in love was truly a good Friday.  Amen?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A "Hard" Spring Pruning

Dear Friends,

It’s a beautiful Monday morning. A little chilly but the sun is out and it will be a warm Spring day. I put on leather gloves and gather my pruning tools. My outdoor cats gather to watch and meow quietly among themselves as they critique my work.

In order for my rosebushes to have a nice bloom of roses in the spring and summer months, it takes some work. Rosebushes require attentive care. If ignored they will become a tangled mass of dead branches intertwined with unhealthy live ones. Errant shoots will drain the life out of the stems and rob them of their strength and health.

I study each rosebush. Identifying the deadwood. Determining what I want it to look like so that I can shape it accordingly. I think of the parallels with my own life. Is it just a coincidence that the time to prune my rosebushes comes during the season of Lent? When I need to self-reflect and prune out of my life anything that precludes or hinders healthy spiritual growth? 

Some people mistakenly believe that severe pruning causes weak and insufficient growth so they timidly and lightly prune and leave most of the rosebush intact. But the secret to an abundant and healthy rosebush is a robust and ruthless cutting back of the plant that’s called “hard pruning.” 

I get to work and aggressively begin to prune out the deadwood. On a rosebush you can quickly identify deadwood because no new growth is sprouting from it. Nothing new, green and healthy comes from wood that is hard, brown and dried up. It’s difficult to cut out the old dead wood. I use the long-handled pruners and have to apply real effort. 

What are those old dead things that I still cling to? Dried up old bitterness in my heart? That dry, hard sin of unforgiveness that I’ve held onto for all these years? The gnarled old sin of pride with its roots embedded so deeply in my soul? “..put off..the old man which grows corrupt.. and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24) The “old man” is deadwood. Nothing good can grow out of that. It’s time for some hard pruning.

I next cut out any damaged branches. Bent. Broken. Something or somebody did something that has damaged it. Maybe kicked or hit the branch and left irreparable harm. They need to be pruned out. Has some part of me been damaged by something or somebody in my own past? Something that left a part of me bent or broken? Maybe left me with flawed thoughts about my gifts and abilities. Pervasive thoughts of worthlessness. Damaged thoughts must be cut back to their roots. It’s time for some hard pruning.

A neglected rosebush can become congested and unattractive. I cut out misplaced stems. The ones rubbing together or just growing in the wrong direction. They are healthy and growing. But these branches are taking the plant in a direction I don’t want it to go and they detract from the overall attractiveness of the rose bush. They are jostling for limited space and I need to choose which ones I want to thin out. I take a close look at my own lifestyle and habits. "All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any." (1 Corinthians 6:12) What are those things that may be okay for me to do but are just not helpful for me to do? What are those things that clutter my life and keep me from growing in spiritual maturity and living in the presence of God? It’s time for some hard pruning.

When we are the one being pruned we quickly find that the process is neither painless nor easy. We always need to keep God’s purpose for pruning in mind: “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. (John 15:2) 

My rosebushes are now pruned in a manner that will grow them into a pleasing shape. And, during this season of Lent, my life also needs to be pruned into the shape that is most pleasing to God. It’s time for some hard pruning.   Amen?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Mapping Your Red Dots

Dear Friends,

We are hunters and gatherers. Ever since Adam and Eve foraged in the Garden, we have been on the hunt. It’s in our DNA – what we’re wired to do. Friday is the day my favorite girl and I go hunting.

We pause outside the Ventura store and look at each other one last time. She will go her way and I mine – we are after different prey. We anticipate the next moments and adrenaline courses through our bloodstream. There is a surge of synaptic brain activity. Senses are sharpened. As we enter, a tinkling bell over the door signals our arrival and the hunt is on. She moves quickly to the left. She is incredible. A glance at an article and within a second she can determine and evaluate the brand name, size, color, style, cost and how it will look on her. I move to the right. I’m hunting for hardcover books and within minutes I’ve captured two for me and three for her. Nearly new. Read maybe once. Original cost is $26.95 apiece but now they’re only a dollar. 

She catches my eye and holds up a red jacket. It’s a Scully – a high-end brand of western clothing. Not a brand you wear when you grab the reins and step into the saddle. Scully outfits are worn when you grab your guitar and step up on stage. Original cost: probably $125 to $175. It looks brand new. Price tag says $15 and she tries it on. Perfect fit. Too good a deal to pass up. We take our plunder to the cash register. The lady looks at the tag on the Scully and tells us that green tagged items are the daily special. The jacket is only 99 cents. YES!!

She and I are far too cool to be doing a happy dance on the way to the car but we are both very excited. This has been one awesome hunting trip. We’ve just bought approximately $285 of almost brand-new merchandise for six bucks. I guess that’s why they call them “thrift” stores.

The thrift stores we like to go to are the ones run by churches or parachurch organizations where all the profits go to ministries and missions. Those are also the places where we will donate things. Every year we take boxes of clothing, books, household items, DVDs etc. to those thrift stores. This year I’ll be donating far more than I’ll buy and both my unwanted things and my money are helping others. You’ve probably seen the Society of St Vincent de Paul Thrift Stores. The Society is a world-wide Christian organization dedicated to providing assistance for the needy. Food programs, disaster relief, shelter for the abused, job training, youth programs, prison ministries and indigent burials are just a few of the many services they offer. Income from the thrift stores provides the funding.

Vincent de Paul was born in 1581 into a peasant family in a small village in France. As a young priest, he was sent to Paris to minister to the wealthy and instead came face to face with French peasants living in squalor and misery. From this point, God changed the direction of his life. He enlisted others in helping orphans, the sick, and the hungry and a religious order was formed that became the lay Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

On a wall in a mission chapel founded by Vincent is a map of the city of Paris. Small red dots cover the entire map. Each dot marks a place that was touched by the humble priest during his life. An orphanage founded. Starving people fed. The sick healed. People helped. Furniture donated. A sermon preached to those hungry for the Word of God. Each dot representing the fruit of his ministry. Vincent believed in the priority of action – in spreading the Kingdom of God into where God had placed him. Not just preaching about God’s love. Showing people what God’s love looks like.

The gospel calls us to a life of love. Love for God. Love for others. The season of Lent is a time of self-reflection as we await in semi-darkness for the glory of His Resurrection on Easter Sunday. Take a moment and reflect upon your life. What does your map look like? Do you have a bunch of red dots scattered all over and filling the map of your own life? Do you have dots showing where you have made a difference in the lives of others? Where God’s love has been manifested through you? Where you have helped others? Where you have reached out and touched someone with the Kingdom of God? Do you have red dots spread all over your map showing your kind deeds, gentle words and loving actions?

What does the map of your life look like...?