Lent Day 38… To See Them Like Children

Normally I have been posting each morning for this Lent series – but it is Spring Break and we are in Portland. Anyway, the internet was down at the Airbnb place we rented, so it’s only now that I’ve been able to get online.

Today is Maundy Thursday. If you look that up on Wikipedia, it’ll say something like:

Scholars agree that the English word maundy (referring to Maundy Thursday) is derived from the Latin mandatum (also the origin of the English word mandate).

It is the first word of the phrase “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos” (A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you, so you also must love one another.) This statement by Jesus (John 13:34) comes as he explained to the Apostles the significance of his washing their feet.

So today is about this mandate. This new command to love one another—as Jesus has loved us.

About two months ago, just before Valentine’s Day, I was giving a short leadership lesson on the theme of love. I acknowledged that Valentine’s Day was coming up… which meant that many of us would be thinking about romance and chocolate and flowers and stuff. This was my segue into sharing this next segment from an interview on NPR with author Alain de Botton…

I think that one of the most—one of the kindest things that we can do with our lover is to see them as children. Not to treat them like infants, but… Read More

Lent Day 37… There Is No Beauty Without Some Strangeness

There is no beauty without some strangeness. —Edgar Allen Poe

We’ve been in Portland for Spring break… It’s quirky, strange, beautiful, and 100% Northwest. There are bridges everywhere because, of course, there is water everywhere. We’re surrounded by green growing things and concrete and bricks and graffiti. It’s like a study in contrasts.

Today we visited Multnomah Falls. It’s 30 minutes or so outside the city, and it has that nature-is-in-charge-here kind of feel. Mist and moss, cliffs with water spilling over…

It’s just beautiful.

I took plenty of pictures. And I looked for new angles, perspectives—hoping to capture something less typical.

Later in the afternoon, we went back into the city. Somehow we ended up wandering around at the Hippo Hardware & Trading Company. It’s mostly a salvage warehouse of lights and knobs and bathroom fixtures. Some wild-haired older guy with a loud voice and stories to tell was working there.

Anyway, as I was wandering through the store, I saw… Read More

Lent Day 36… The Little Tyrant Inside

You need power only when you want to do something harmful. Otherwise, love is enough to get everything done. —Charlie Chaplin

Jean Vanier, in his book Community and Growth, wrote…

We are so inclined to want authority for the honor, prestige and admiration that comes with it. Inside each of us is a little tyrant who wants power and the associated prestige, who wants to dominate, to be superior and to control. We feel we are the only ones to see the truth… Christians can sometimes hide these tendencies behind a mask of virtue, doing what they do for “good” reasons. There is nothing more terrible than a tyrant using religion as his or her cover.

The little tyrant inside. Sheesh. How I wish this wasn’t true, but… Read More

Lent Day 35… Listening To God Is Far More Important Than Giving Him Our Ideas

Why is it that when we speak to God we are said to be praying but when God speaks to us we are said to be schizophrenic? —Lily Tomlin

I’ll admit it: whenever someone begins a sentence with, “God told me…” alarm bells go off in my head. It’s not that I don’t believe God speaks to people. I do believe. It’s just that I also know how easily we twist, manipulate, and hear only what we want to hear.

And yet, I wonder why we think of prayer as this one-way exchange where we give God our lists and then say “Amen,” as if to finalize the whole thing. Maybe we should be listening. Maybe we should be waiting.

The trouble with nearly everybody who prays is that he says “Amen” and runs away before God has a chance to reply. Listening to God is far more important than giving Him our ideas. —Frank Laubach

 

Lent Day 34… Maybe You Weren’t Made For Greatness

Question: does a palm tree have to be “great” in order for it to be valuable, useful, beautiful, or special? Does it matter if it is the tallest or fastest or largest? Do we need palm tree competitions and palm tree awards to validate their existence?

God does not demand that I be successful. God demands that I be faithful. When facing God, results are not important. Faithfulness is what is important. —Mother Teresa

I’ve joked before about how I think we shouldn’t tell our kids they are going to be world-changers and champions or princesses and kings. The gist of what I’m saying is that these kinds of well-intentioned statements heap on loads of unrealistic expectations. Maybe we should lower the bar. Why not be content with our kids even if they are *shudder* average?

There’s something unhealthy about the world-changer champion princess narrative in my opinion. It stirs up a… Read More

Lent Day 33… If I Cannot Find The Face Of Jesus

Far from being the pious injunction of a utopian dreamer, this command to love our enemies is an absolute necessity for the survival of our civilization. Yes, it is love that will save our world and civilization, love even for enemies. —Martin Luther King Jr. (sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, November 17, 1957)

Jim Forest, in his book Loving Our Enemies: Reflections on the Hardest Commandment says…

If I cannot find the face of Jesus in… Read More

Lent Day 31… Love Is Little, Love Is Low

In a world so torn apart by rivalry, anger, and hatred, we have the privileged vocation to be living signs of a love that can bridge all divisions and heal all wounds. —Henri Nouwen

Last night I attended my daughter’s school choir concert. The opening song was a Shaker Hymn called “Love Is Little.” The lyrics stuck with me…

 

Love is little, love is low

Love will make our spirits grow

Grow in peace, grow in light

Love will do the thing that’s right

 

Love is tender, love is… Read More

Lent Day 30… The Space Between The Notes

Religion has accepted the monstrous heresy that noise, size, activity and bluster make a man dear to God. —A.W. Tozer

Sting (yup, Sting—as in the lead singer of the Police) once said…

Silence is disturbing.

It is disturbing because it is the wavelength of the soul.

If we leave no space in our music—and I’m as guilty as anyone else in this regard—then we rob the sound we make of a defining context. It is often music born from anxiety to create more anxiety. It’s as if we’re afraid of leaving space.

Great music is as much about the space between the notes as it is about the notes themselves.

Tina Francis spoke of this at… Read More

Lent Day 29… Like A Toddler Driving A Tractor

“Sensible people, of course, should need only about thirty seconds of careful thought to realize that getting off scot-free is the only way any of us is going to get off at all. But if all we can think of is God as the Eternal Bookkeeper putting down black marks against sinners—or God as the Celestial Mother-in-Law giving a crystal vase as a present and then inspecting it for chips every time she comes for a visit… well, any serious doctrine of grace is going to scare the rockers right off our little theological hobbyhorses.” —Robert Farrar Capon

*     *     *     *

One of the strangest things I’ve experienced as a pastor is when good Christian people want to meet with me in order to let me know they are concerned…

We believe in grace and all that, but we think people need to hear about judgment too.

We feel like we’re not hearing enough about sin.

These meetings leave me feeling like I’m in some kind of Christian Twilight Zone where things are bent, strange, confused, and freaky.

I don’t even know where to begin.

You believe in grace and all that, but…? Are you sure you want to put a “but” after grace?

You feel like you’re not hearing enough about sin…?  For the sake of clarification, are you most concerned for yourself—that you need to be called out for the sins you’re currently struggling with, or are you concerned for others in the church—who, in your opinion, need to be called out for the sins they’re struggling with?

The freaky-Twilight-Zone part of these meetings is that they’re always concerned with the sins of other people.

They’re never asking for sermons on spiritual pride. Or on being judgmental. Or on greed or gluttony or laziness…

Oh, the irony.

I have come to recognize that my reactions to the evil I see in the world are rarely in the proper proportion, are rarely aimed in the right direction. Too often, I wield my righteous indignation like a toddler driving a tractor that’s pulling a plow through a field ready for harvest, destroying the fruit and the weeds alike. I want to be less ruinous. I want to cultivate more. —Shawn Smucker

Pope Francis, in his book The Name of God is Mercy, says:

The church does not wait for the wounded to knock on her doors, she looks for them on the streets, she gathers them in, she embraces them, she takes care of them, she makes them feel loved.

Pope Benedict XVI spoke of this… “Mercy is in reality the Gospel message; it is the name of God himself, the face with which he revealed himself in the Old Testament and fully in Jesus Christ.”

Mercy is the divine attitude which embraces, it is God’s giving himself to us, accepting us, and bowing to forgive. Jesus said he came not for the healthy, who do not need the doctor, but for the sick. For this reason, we can say that mercy is God’s identity card. God of Mercy, merciful God.

The love of God exists even for those who are not disposed to receive it: that man, that woman, that boy, or that girl—they are all loved by God, they are all sought out by God, they are in need of blessing.

Be tender with these people. Do not push them away.

 God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger…

He came to put the world right again. —John 3.17