Pray without ceasing on behalf of everyone. For in them there is hope of repentance so that they may attain to God. Permit them, then, to be instructed by your works, if in no other way. Be meek in response to their wrath, humble in opposition to their boasting; to their blasphemies return your prayers; in contrast to their error be steadfast in the faith; and for their cruelty display your gentleness. While we take care not to imitate their conduct, let us be found their brothers in all true kindness.
~Ignatius of Antioch, A.D. 50 – 117 (Letter to the Ephesians 10)
I have continued to ponder this closing quote from my talk about redefining the goal of spiritual conversations. Ignatius of Antioch was a disciple of the Apostle John, and was the 2nd (or third) Bishop of Antioch when the church was centered there. Ignatius was martyred in the Colosseum in Rome and as you can see by the painting, it was a gruesome death. Under the tutelage of John, the heartbeat of Jesus was a thin veil away and is easily encountered as you read his words and meditate on his willingness to die for his faith.
The responses of Jesus towards His accusers and executioners is hovering close to the surface of this statement…
The commands and interactions of the rabbi, that we so easily dismiss as possible for Him because He was God, seem to become enfleshed in Ignatius’ words leaving us no room for escape but plenty of room to squirm.
Broken down, each thought is completely others-centered, a sort of self-amnesia that majors on compassion unattached to self-need or self-promotion.
1. Praying all the time for everyone.
2. Your prayers can help those who are far away from God move towards Him because there is hope for everyone to turn towards God.
3. Preach to people by serving them, doing good, demonstrating compassion and godly service.
4. Control yourself when others unleash their anger on you.
5. Seek the higher road of humility when others fill the air with self-promotion.
6. Pray for others when they accuse, belittle, condemn or slander you.
7. Stay committed to what is true when others fall for all the false and empty philosophies of the world.
8. Be gentle when others are merciless.
9. Don’t imitate their path, but love them on their journey regardless of where they are at… exhibiting kindness and brotherliness.
These are powerful thoughts…
In fact, these thoughts are alarming because they promise pain and suffering without recourse, justification or a necessary happy ending. Instead, they offer us invitation into the sufferings of Christ, where our soul will be forged in ways that we don’t want, can’t handle, and will probably try to escape from.
Trust is the only response that will work. But trust is not something that can be conjured up like a late-night snack or story to cover your tracks, no, trust is something birthed between the worlds of chaos and confusion in that thin space where the voice of God speaks to the follower of Jesus who is forever doubting, struggling, running, ducking and hiding from the Voice of Love.
Trust says, “not my will but yours be done.” Trust cries “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Trust sighs, “I believe, help my unbelief.”
This desolate place is where Jesus rescues the bedraggled among us. The ones who have no option other than God. The ones who know their default system-setting is to try to create their own trust, build their own reality, convince themselves and others that they are someone they are not, and then wake up sweating in the night knowing the false world they have created is a silly sham that the Big-Bad-Wolf could easily huff, puff and blow down.
These are the ones Jesus came for. Brute honesty has a way of surfacing when we sit among the displaced straw, and God always responds to our honesty by increasing our faith which intensifies our hope that welds handles onto trust so that we can grasp it firmly. This is the great trial of the soul. Will I believe and hold onto the truth that God loves me even at my worst? Will I define myself, not by my mistakes and blunders, but rather as one unconditionally loved by the God who created black holes, raging seas, distant galaxies and human DNA?
The presence of Trinity dwelling within us by faith is not myth, idiocy, theological gymnastics, a last-ditch hail-mary nor the conjecture of weak-willed people. Jesus brings about God’s presence within us which is the most real part of me, the only solid ground in a world full of shadows.
So while I might want to run away, hide, pretend or shrink into the shadows, the gift of trust, born from the love between the Father and the Son revealed on the cross of Calvary, will rise laying ahold of me even as I lay ahold of it.
And all of it is a gift…
All of it is grace…
All of it is divine love…
Trust removes our fear of God and our fear of ourselves. He smiles as we approach Him with all our broken pieces because He knows we have finally allowed ourselves to be loved just as we are not the way we think we should be…
Here, in this sacred space, we choose to go beyond the extra mile extending to others the very same grace and acceptance we have received from God. We offer it willingly, sacrificially, and fearlessly because we finally know that God is good, even when the path is dark.
Father, help me trust.
Palm Sunday in the Christian tradition is spectacular theater in so many ways. Defiance against an empirical regime who would allow no other king than Caesar. Rebellion against a religious regime that would have no other authority than themselves. Challenge towards a people whose worship was given to many things from self to society.
Palms waved, branches laid
Hearts lifted, hopes persisted
Responses singing, hillsides ringing
A road made of clothing
Hosanna in the highest
Jesus rides upon a donkey, the donkey rides upon the cloaks of the people, the people shout with words of hope that will soon reveal they were mixed with doubt. The Sadu Sundar Singh would remind us that all honor goes to Christ, and when we begin to believe our own press we would be wise to remember our role is to hold up, lift up and point people to Jesus:
“When Jesus entered Jerusalem the people spread their clothes in the way and strewed branches before Him in order to do Him honour. Jesus rode upon an ass, according to the word of the prophet. His feet did not touch the road which was decorated in His honour. It was the ass which trod upon the garments and the branches. But the ass would have been very foolish to have been uplifted on that account; for the road really was not decked in its honour! It would be just as foolish if those who bear Christ to men were to think anything of themselves because of what men do to them for the sake of Jesus.
~Sadhu Sundar Singh
Palm Sunday reminds me that it is always about Jesus…
My best is still beneath the branches, beneath the clothing, beneath the donkey…
Beneath the branches, beneath the clothing is a powerful space to dwell in. Free from the need to perform. Free from the pressure of being more than I know I am. Free to be a pilgrim on a journey that simply acknowledges the incarnation of God in our midst.
I am not even the donkey. I am not even the branches. I am not even the clothing…
YET, He calls me His own, His treasured possession He calls me His son, His daughter. He lavishes me with love and gifts. He knows I might cry crucify, yet He loves me anyway.
May our shouts of Hosanna be free from agenda. the agenda to use Jesus to our own ends. Jesus belongs to no one and everyone. He is no ones poster-boy but He is everyone’s savior. Some shouted Hosanna because they wanted Jesus to be their political poster boy and reestablish the dominance of Israel. Some wanted Him to be their healing poster-boy so they waved branches hoping for a touch from the miracle worker. Some wanted Him to establish His religious influence so that they could be in charge.
Jesus alone new His mission…
Jesus alone didn’t allow all the shouts of Hosanna to sidetrack Him from His calling…
Jesus alone would stay faithful to His purpose while everyone else was committed to their agenda.
May our shouts of Hosanna be free from agenda
May we receive with joy the humility to be beneath the branches, beneath the clothing, beneath the donkey.
My friend Matt Archer posted this video the other day and it brought a huge level of pastor/theology humor. If you have ever tried to explain the concept of the Trinity to someone, you realize how quickly all of our examples done in simile fashion breakdown. The Trinity is mysterious, and this video pokes some fun at our attempts to boil the infinite down into earthly terms.
Here’s a rough edit of the video that I used in the conversation on Sunday about the “Incarnation” There are a number of good videos that have been created that try to show how small we are as a planet in comparison to all the stars we have found.
So often we do think that we are the center of the universe rather than a part of the over-all macro story of God in the universe(s). For example, take our own star the Sun. It is so big that you could place 960,000 earths inside of it! That is huge, but even our sun is a blip compared to Canis Majoris.
You could fit 7 quadrillion earths inside of the star Canis Majoris, that is so unfathomable. Louie Giglio noted that if earth was the size of a golf ball, 7 quadrillion golf balls will completely cover the entire state of Texas not just once, but up to 22 inches deep! That’s a lot of golf balls, and that puts our infinitesimally small size into focus when compared to Canis Majoris.
This also reminds me of how great, grand, awesome and infinite God is. That there are galaxies and universes that we have not even created the technology to discover yet. But they exist solely because of God’s pleasure. The stars are His, the worlds are His. Everything we see belongs to Him and was created by Christ.
That is why the Incarnation amazes me. The Incarnation means that God came to our world. But not only that He came as a god on a visit, but incarnation tells us that He “enfleshed” Himself with humanity. Yes He came, but He also be-came one with us. The immortal became mortal so that the mortal could taste immortality God became human so that humanity could experience God’s indwelling grace.
I’m still amazed that bedraggled and befuddled humans have received so great a love from our God who is untamable unfathomable, all-powerful, and all-knowing. Even though He knows us so well, He still chooses to love us, forgive us and empower us to be His hands and feet on this little ol’ planet. Because of that great love, I want to be a planet changer that brings about a God-reality everywhere I go.
The season of Lent is almost here, it begins next week and flows from Ash Wednesday.
Interestingly enough, the huge celebrations of Fat Tuesday sprang up as a reaction to the imposition of religious ritual concerning the observance of Lent…a season in the church year whose focus is on repentance and realignment with God.
In and of itself, having a time of spiritual realignment is good for everyone…however, when the grip of religion laces its fingers around anything, it tends to strangle out the beauty and grace, and in their place are born rules, regulations and legalism.
Fat Tuesday, then, became the last opportunity before the 40 days of Lent to go and sin wildly. As I ruminate on this, isn’t that always what happens in our lives when rules replace relationship? When we live by a check-list of dos and don’ts, we begin to think and respond in contractual terms instead of relational exchanges. When this happens, we experience Fat Tuesday’s surrounding every area of our life.
For instance, when a marriage becomes contractual exchange, then love is something that is earned in light of certain actions having been done well. And, contractually, if certain actions are not done, or are not done to the expectation of the other person, then love is contractually withheld until those things are accomplished.
This is not a marriage though, it is a contract based on rules. A relationship that is based on an unconditional covenant understands that sometimes things don’t always happen or get done the way we want, desire, or expect, but since the marriage is based upon covenant love, love is always infused regardless of contractual performance.
You might also see the Fat Tuesday effect in marriage happen when a spouse is bound by duty to “do something” “be something” or “go somewhere he/she doesn’t want to go.” Since he/she did their contractual duty they feel justified to over indulge some area as a “reward” for their work. Maybe a husband finds justification in going on an extended hunting trip because he just got word that his In-laws are coming to stay for an extended period, so he needs to get out-of-town for a while before that happens and his In-laws rules cramp his style…or perhaps a wife limits out the credit card on a spa day because her husband’s college buddies are due the next day, and since she is being the “good wife” and allowing it, she’s gonna splurge!
Do you see how contractually we live? Do you realize contractual living, or religious living results in the creation of Fat Tuesday’s? When genuine love and relationship fills our world, we can enjoy life, have fun and not feel guilty about it! Isn’t that a novel concept. Religion creates Fat Tuesday’s…Fat Tuesday’s create guilt and shame…Guilt and shame turn a powerful season of grace and alignment like Lent into a ritualistic experience of dos and don’t devoid of their real meaning.
When we approach God contractually, we turn something that is holy, cool, and cosmically awesome like Ash Wednesday or Lent, into a check list of contractual duties to appease God into liking us again…This is so far away from the God revealed through Christ.
If we would live in a sense of daily alignment, in other words, simply realizing that God is for us, not against us, and that as we make mistakes, or perhaps over-indulge in something that isn’t good for us, we stop, and have a relational conversation of confession, repentance and forgiveness. God isn’t standing by with the lightning bolt of contractual misuse ready to smite us, but rather is simply waiting for us to say…“man, I blew that one, I’m sorry, please forgive me..”
In that moment, the spirit of religion is thrown out the window, and a relationship is born. Religion focuses on rules to keep you in line. God invites you into a relationship, where the interactions are based upon a mutuality of love.
Because I am so grateful that God loves me on my best days as well as my most abysmal days, I look forward to a season like Lent not in such a way that compels me to go out and get bombed out of my skull because I won’t be able to drink for the next 40 days, but instead, I long to have a season offered to me where I can realign my thinking process with God’s…Where I can experience grace in the midst of economic trials…Where I can be reminded that God doesn’t care about how well I perform for Him, only that I love Him, and He is thrilled that I simply showed up!
Maybe what I am saying is that an excessive emphasis on rules naturally finds its outlet in sin or doing things that we normally wouldn’t do if we lived relationally. Perhaps Fat Tuesday’s exist because the religious rules push people where they don’t need to be pushed. Maybe, just maybe, some of the dumb choices that are made in the Fat Tuesday’s of life wouldn’t happen if we understood God relationally and religiously…hmmm, I think I’m right.
What would be even more powerful is if we all realized that God intends our lives to fully experience fun..joy..laughter…and good times. Sure there are some incredibly hard valley’s we will go through, but the religionists among us seem to think that that is all that God wants us to experience…”Stay in the lines, only use these colors, don’t have fun if at all possible, chin up, gut in…etc.”
As I think of Jesus, and all his human interactions, I think of how often He was at parties, amongst friends, enjoying the things of life…not just sitting in Temple or Synagogue assailing Himself religiously. Jesus had an incredible sense of humor that is lost in translation from the Aramaic and Greek into English. He enjoyed living, had fun, and avoided the mistakes of the Fat Tuesday’s of life while enjoying all the celebrations of this life.
So on Wednesday this week (Ash Wednesday) take some time to remember that you are human, a creation of God’s, made of earth, and that one day you will return to the elements of this planetary creation. In light of that truth, ask God to help you realign your heart and soul to His, not because you are doing all the right things, but because He is such a great God who loves you and will never leave you in the hard moments of life.
If you’re in the Seattle area, come and hang with me for an Ash Wednesday service at Snoqualmie Valley Alliance…it starts at 6:00 and will be interactive, reflective and powerful, you won’t want to miss it!
And guess what, you won’t walk away feeling guilty (that’s religion) but you will leave feeling the freedom that comes from our God of Grace and Truth.
September 16th (next weekend) is national Back to Church Sunday…For me the fact that there actually is a “National Back To Church Sunday” is a mixed love-hate relationship. The campaign exists because summertime is full of trips, excursions, vacations and a million other adventures that can easily draw you away, knowingly or unknowingly, from engaging with your community of faith.
On The Plus Side…
I love it (NBTCS) in the way that we have a re-gathering of people back towards the life of faith and community. The National Back To Church Sunday campaign works kind of like a get out of jail free card for truant church-goers who might be feeling some guilt or shame for being AWOL from the church for a while. I think we all need the occasional get-out-of-jail-free card. Theologically most people know that the church would easily welcome them back and that God is gracious, but often we are hard on ourselves and we create justifiable excuses to disengage.
Another group of people who disconnect from church are those who feel they don’t have anything to offer, or perhaps they are experiencing hard times financially and their inability to participate financially becomes for them a reason to stay away until they are in a better position to give. This absolutely breaks my heart and misses the point of why God established the church in the first place. I just want to see you, not your cash.
A community of faith is supposed to be the place where guilt is forgiven and the person is freed from the weight of Shame. The church is supposed to be a place where you are loved and supported particularly if you have hit some hard times financially or other. Shame on the church if it continue to places loads of guilt on people, and erecting barriers to the life of God’s community.
So maybe you have elicited some of those reasons, or reasons noted in the video, for staying away from church. If you have, it’s time to get some good theology, and immerse yourself back in the atmosphere where God can more powerfully work in and through you. This will begin to address the areas of struggle or doubt and realign you with the grace and abundance of God. You’ll be amazed at how God has designed the church to be a safe place, a forgiving place, a guilt-free place so that you can grow some serious spiritual muscle.
It has been about a 100% truism in my 26 years of ministry that those who for whatever have disconnected from the life of God’s community of people are the ones who are in the most desperate need of what it can truly offer.
So the love side of this equation for me is that I would say to you”Come home…the door is open and the light is on and you’ll find whatever you need in the fridge…no cost, no story, no guilt, no shame, we just simply miss you and long to journey together with you! So come this Sunday and reestablish some powerful God-patterns in your life!
On the minus side…
The hate side of the equation for me is that we even have to have a day called “National Back To Church Sunday.” God is at work in and through His people all the time, yet we forget Him and the spiritual life so easily. I love being with God’s people. I love my community of faith…I love the energy that transpires between a full congregation and the pastors…this makes for a greater dynamic in the worship, preaching, energy and total experience.
I know that church happens every day, but there is something powerful about the gathering of God’s people as one family each week whether that is on Saturday or Sunday. The overwhelming sense of God’s presence revealed as peace, power and empowerment is something that I truly long for everyone to experince…not just once in a while…but whenever we gather together.
While God is with me everywhere I go, there is something mysterious about a community of grace gathering together…so I wish we didn’t have to have a day to try to market going back to church as if it was another American commodity…it makes me sad.
So my mind wanders and prays…
O’ God, that we would become a people who desire you and long for you above all things…
O’ God, may you remove our bad theology of toxic faith that make the church a bunch of dead rules and regulations that so easily create justifications for disengagement…
O’ God would you show up in such a way as we gather that the greatest human experience fades in comparison…
O’ God may we not turn church into something other than your people gathered to center on your centrality
…..love each other unconditionally
………..serve each other and our communities passionately
……………….and hear your voice through Word and Heart
…………………….and make Jesus famous by our actions.
So I wish there didn’t have to be a National Back To Church Sunday, but I’m glad there is one so that grace can again be the ingrediate that lathers us all in God’s love as the prodigals return.
So would you go out there this week, and with grace and authenticity, invite that friend, family member, or co-worker to get back to church with you…It just might be the most spiritual thing you do all week as you choose to reengage…no need to say where you’ve been…just show up, the Body of Christ needs you, and God is waiting for you to move in faith…I promise you, He’ll reach you before you reach Him