Reflection on Good Friday

29 03 2013

Today is “Good Friday” and I began the day pondering how one should spend a day with such a name. How do you appropriately commemorate the day the Son of God paid the ultimate price for all of humankind?

I know that in countries where Roman Catholicism prevails that the faithful re-enact the torturous experience of the Savior by carrying crosses through the streets. Some of the more devout even undergo literal crucifixion. I do not doubt the sincerity of such asceticism, but in my mind I am not at all sure Jesus would ask us to repeat his suffering as a way of showing devotion.

So how would Jesus want me to remember Him on Good Friday? If, nearly 2,000 years ago, as the Son of God spent those hours of abuse and execution,…if He projected into the future to today, how would He hope to be honored by all of His followers? How would He want me to spend the day? Here is what comes to mind.

Today I should be deeply grateful for what Jesus did for me, however feebly I understand the depth of it. Rather than moping around the house with a dire countenance, rather than denying myself of food as a way of identifying with His suffering, I think my best commemoration of His cross is a heart of genuine thanksgiving. I want to remove the clutter of personal concerns, those worries that often vie for my emotional energy, and dwell instead in the lush meadow of His salvation. I want to bask in the provision of eternal life which He won for me by paying with His lifeblood my eternal penalty of condemnation. Because He hung on the cross, I don’t have to. It is finished, the work is done. Glory be to God, in Christ His Son!

Today should also be a day of kindness to others. Jesus made it clear that love was the bottom-line priority of His kingdom. Love was His motive in coming to earth, and the reason He submitted to the cross. What better way to honor Him on Good Friday than to show His love to others. I want to focus today on being a loving husband and dad. I want my neighbors to be glad I moved onto their street. I want my pastor to be encouraged that we joined the church. And I want my teammates to reflect joyfully that we are serving the Lord together. I want my mother to be glad she got me as a son, and for my dad to nod over at his Father in heaven as if to say, “That’s my boy.”

One other thought emerges. I think Jesus would want me to reflect on the blessed life I enjoy. I am surrounded by so many people who also enjoy a favored lifestyle it would be easy for me to assume this is what I have coming to me. I am blessed to live in America, to have a nice home to live in and a good car to drive. Jesus didn’t live in such a time or place. He knew personal hardship and sought out people in villages and cities who found themselves on the outside of privilege wishing they could get in. Today I want to honor Jesus by reflecting on the goodness of God in my life, refusing to take it for granted. I want to live simply, to give away things I don’t need or even use. I want to accentuate my awareness of those around the world today who live in poverty, who hurt physically or emotionally, and who live in spiritual darkness, unaware that a righteous Man died so as to redeem them from slavery to sin.

This is the man I want to be for Jesus today.

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The cross, the car seat, and the homeless guy

18 11 2012

My friend, Al, told this story in church this morning. You see, the people in our congregation provide a meal for folks in our city who are lacking resources. I personally do not like the term “the homeless,” but that is basically the clientele. So Al said there is one guy who typically comes named O’Brien. I’ve seen him when I help serve the meals. O’Brien always has multiple layers of dirty clothes, topped by a winter coat, even when it is warm in the sanctuary. He stinks, and doesn’t talk hardly at all. On a few occasions O’Brien has gone over to a cross we have in the corner of the sanctuary and places objects at the base of it. I’ve seen him put part of his meal there and thought, Sheesh, doesn’t the guy even know we have trash cans in here?

So Al said that this habit used to annoy him since, as the one who would usually clean up the sanctuary and set up chairs, he used to get actually angry that this guy who was receiving church kindness would be so inconsiderate as to leave stuff on the floor by the cross. Well, Al noticed that last week O’Brien left more than food. He left a small infant carseat by the cross. This was too much I guess. So Al asked O’Brien what it was for. The homeless man said that last Monday he had been thinking about what he could bring to the church to give and he came across this infant car seat in a pile of free stuff. So he carried it around all week and brought it to the Friday night meal.

Al was rather transparent. He said that after walking with Jesus for over 25 years, serving as elder and worship leader, he had never once begun thinking on a Monday what he should give to the Lord on Sunday.

Then he said that the car seat was not the only thing O’Brien left. He also put the best part of the meal, the cinnamon roll, right at the base.

If you saw this young man you would cringe at the sight. Stained teeth where there were teeth. Matted hair hanging in his eyes.  In a world of his own–incommunicable and strange. Yet here he is, connecting with God in his own way. Sacrificing out of what he receives.

I don’t have a final punchline. But I am humbled, reminded that the cross is there for anyone.

Thanks O’Brien.





Hidden in Christ — practically

28 05 2012

A major theme in my spiritual journey of the last few years has been the way God continually brings us through cycles of death-burial-resurrection in order to conform us to the image of His Son. This post delves into that a bit.

For the person who has, through conversion to Jesus, died to his own life agenda — in effect being crucified with Christ — that person, when yielded to God will be compelled to live out the life of the resurrected Jesus. How will this gospel, in its death, burial and resurrection, display itself? Paul develops this, by inspiration of the Spirit, in his Colossian letter. Let’s consider the first four verses of chapter three.

Christ our life

As we live out the gospel, the focus of our life is on God and His life. Our reason for living is not earth-bound, not material, but heavenly and eternal. “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1, NKJV).

All the capacities of our mind increasingly align with this Godward focus. Our ambitions (those dreams of achievement) now lean into God. Our decisions (the evaluative processes and resultant judgments) now draw from God’s perspective. Our values (the core of what we hold true and lasting) now come from our life in Christ in whom we are permanently secured. As Paul puts it, “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” And again the reason is that the gospel is now the pattern of our growth spiritually: “For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:2-3).

In the big, end-time view (the eschatalogical view) the resurrection aspect of the gospel re-emerges on earth with the re-appearance of Christ in glory. That will be the time of reward for our death and burial with Christ — the sufferings and willing self-denials of our earthly life — for we will share in the unveiling of Christ’s glory. In fact we will be a part of amplifying His glory! “When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:4). [The “who is” is supplied by the translators. I prefer the bluntness of the Greek, “Christ our life.”]

But there are many foretastes of this glory in the meantime as our death-to-self leads to manifestation of the character of Jesus in us. Our ongoing conformity to Christ is a present glory that points to the coming breakout of glory when in His presence we will be fully conformed to Him, for we will see Him as He is!

So what do we take away from this?

First, this is what God is working on in our lives. This is His gospel agenda for growing us, perfecting us. Through our consumption of the Word, through our experiences (mostly difficult), through our community life, God causes the Jesus-life to take increasing prominence in us. That is reassuring, and a source of understanding. It helps us figure out why some things happen to us and those we care about.

Second, Jesus looms much larger in our everyday life. He is not up in heaven sipping lemonade. He is, by His Spirit, living His life through us. “Christ our life” means He is the sphere in which we find existence and vitality.

Third, the condition of our health cannot detract from this reality. In fact, the suffering we may endure in our physical body may enhance the reality of the gospel in us, because it forces us to cast ourselves on the life of Jesus rather than relying on what we can accomplish with our own know-how or energy. My wife’s ongoing weakness as a cancer-survivor is a daily reminder that God is more desirous of our dependency than our ability.

Lastly, every experience we encounter serves God’s gospel purpose in our lives. We must assign gospel meaning to our confounding experiences, for they fit into the pattern of maturation God uses. This must be an act of faith, for we usually cannot figure out why unwanted things occur. In this way, our walk with God continues to be one of faith, which always pleases God.





Am I Following a Faux Jesus?

31 03 2012

Awhile ago a friend of mine said something to me that, while not new, struck me in a freshly painful way–that if Jesus came and ministered among us today we would likely crucify Him again. Think about it. Would He seem so heretical–would we protect our doctrine, our “law”–would He join the “wrong side” of the political divide? Would He appear so worldly that we would see Him as compromising truth and therefore an impostor? Would His style be so plebeian, so poor and socially unacceptable? Would He be homeless and uncouth, such that we would ostracize Him as a weirdo? Would He stink up our nice sanctuaries, soiling the theater seats? We wouldn’t “crucify” Him literally, but we’d do so creatively by side-lining His impact.

Here’s what we would do–we’d divide like cells. Jesus would become Head of the unseemly part of the body, and we up here would appoint a co-head to lead us. This co-head would not be a human, for that would be heresy. No, he would be an imaginary Jesus, crafted according to our own liking. This compatible co-head would never speak disparagingly of the real Jesus. In fact, we would have selective quotes from Jesus Himself which we would put in the mouth of our preferred Jesus. Occasionally we would bring the two together over a sermon, but for the most part the two Lords wouldn’t get along too well.

Crucifixion would amount to stealing away part of Christ’s body and attaching those parts to a socially acceptable impostor. It would surprise the impostor-followers to realize that the real Jesus doesn’t know them, for in fact they don’t actually know Him. This is a grand deception, especially since these two messiah’s aren’t distinctly seen–they are look-alikes. But, no one can serve two masters, so someone needs to start paying attention to this huge misunderstanding. Someone needs to find out who the true messiah is and work every day to follow Him. Someone needs to recognize the slight of hand going on and face up to the real Jesus.

I’m afraid such a confrontation with reality might happen something like this. A knock would come at my door right at supper time. I answer and the real Jesus is standing there looking nothing at all like my rendition of Him. Suffice it to say He didn’t step out of a painting. Instead, He looks like He just walked 24 miles from inner city Seattle where He’s been in a homeless shelter for quite awhile. The worst happens. He asks if He can come in for supper. Every inch of me screams “No” inside. So I make up some partially true reason why it is really a bad night for visitors but another time would be okay.

But let’s say I didn’t do what I really did, and He is sitting at our dinner table. And let’s imagine I didn’t actually find a convincing reason that He couldn’t stay overnight. Suppose I got through to the next morning with the real Jesus Christ. How might He threaten me so severely that I would mentally check out on Him, that I would step back and decide that I needed to stick with my impostor Jesus? I think it could well happen if He told me to have some of my neighbors over for dinner this weekend–especially the ones who nobody really likes or talks to, or the ones who haven’t mowed their lawn all summer, or those who are black and play loud rap music. I could quietly switch Lords over something like that. Or if He started to get nosy about my finances. If He said I ought to sell my house and live by faith, I’m pretty sure I’d reason inside that He is out of touch with the need for equity as one moves into retirement age. After all He died at age 33 in a society without banks and insurance. What could He possibly understand about financial security these days?

If Jesus invited a bunch of seedy people over to my house–like street-walkers or meth users–that would force me to switch. If He tried to get me to visit homeless shelters, old people’s homes–or if He felt taxes should be raised in order to increase welfare, which is already inefficient and abused. If He came to church and told me I am hanging around in social isolation with people who knowingly seal themselves off from others who make them uncomfortable–even though they say they don’t–this would make it easy to change to a faux master.

No, I wouldn’t put Jesus back on a cross–that was the method of a barbaric time. I would put Him away more subtly; I’d create an alternate reality–sort of like  the evolutionists theory. I’d want so badly for it to be true, I’d piece together evidence to prove it. I’d ignore the gaps of logic I couldn’t explain and live by tenacious faith in the messiah I so longed to be real.

All of this brings things into really sharp focus: Someone needs to be crucified again and it isn’t the real Jesus. It’s me.