Posts Tagged ‘religion’

As much as I love winter, passing years remind me that winter does not love me. Aches, pains and creaking joints intensify in direct relation to falling temperatures. I live on the edge of prairie, a mere two hour drive from the Canadian border. Winter, cold and snow are unavoidable throughout this corner of God’s Creation. It still remains true that the colder and tougher the winter, the sweeter the spring. Tastes and smells of a new season are with us now for a few weeks and newness floats along the wind.

April is that mystical time of our year when tides turn. In the motion of the Church year this is also true. Now, the drama of Holy Week unfolds and Easter brings its new-life surprise. Newness is here, beginnings abound from many endings.

The power of Easter is the force which brings death from life. Rather than a fantasy story book or fantastical movie Easter 009which only portrays death and life, what we have now is the real thing. We know death and darkness all around us. Jesus, in his innocent death, confronts all the forces contrary to God’s love. While for a moment it appears darkness has won, Jesus is vindicated with resurrected life. We too, are invited into this newness. Loss, sin, loneliness, sickness of mind or body indicate some sort of death in our existence. Through Christ we confront these deaths and look for new life. Newness is here, beginnings abound from many endings.

May this season of spring and the coming of Eastertide be for you a moment to come into God’s new life. Confront the darkness of sin and death and seek to follow the new way of light. Take time to rest, to renew in quiet stillness, reflecting on the still small voice of God. Carve out moments for devotion and prayer; maybe start by lifting up friends, family or troubled areas across the globe. Start a fresh study of Scripture—check out online resources. Mend a relationship. Help someone needy. Work for justice. Go about your day with a sense of calling to God’s good world. Go skydiving! Whatever it takes to celebrate God’s newness for you.

Winter slides now into memory and spring ushers in the sweet smell of new life. Newness is here, beginnings abound from many endings. The world so loved by the Crucified and Risen Jesus waits for you.

10519497_10152475346936245_6357215499360071137_nIt’s all about forgiveness. Several years ago a good friend who lived with a terminal illness told me with both seriousness and joy, “This is the week for which we live.” He died two year later on Easter Sunday. Yes, this week is about forgiveness not simply some palm branches and Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs, although I enjoy both immensely. Between the Palm Sunday Parade and Easter brass the heart of our faith plays out a drama like no other. Think of it; Christmas displays part of the simply strange way God seeks to meet us, and now the Holy Week drama draws us into the oddity of Jesus’ mission. He will die a cruel, criminal’s death all for us. Yes, this Holy Week is about forgiveness, about God restoring the connection with us, about doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

A Story of Forgiveness

My son loves Legos. I do too. Although he is now 22 and nearly done with a college degree we still fulfill birthday and Christmas gifts with some sort of Lego. It is tradition and more. You see, he taught me a deep and valuable lesson of lego-1forgiveness through a Lego mishap. He was about three years old, and of course the rule was to put away toys when done with them. Easy enough. This was also the era of close to two years when his regular routine was to awaken me every day between 5 and 5:30 am. A few mornings the rising was tough but I take those days back in the twinkling of an eye. One early summer morning we made our way downstairs and sure enough, my bare heel found the sharp corner of a stray Lego piece.

I howled in pain, yet that was not the howl I regret. Restraint was lost as temper flew toward my three year old son. Voice at a fevered pitch I said things not to be repeated as the berating carried on due to the lack of clean up. Until I saw the quivering lower lip of a tender child. Silence. My parent-of-the-year nomination? Automatically revoked. What had I done? This was one of those moments the full brokenness of the human condition comes streaming down, a deluge of guilt and shame.

What happened next was the only thing I could think to do. Dropping to my knees we were soon face to face. “I’m sorry, Mat. I should not have yelled or said those things I said. I am really, really sorry.” This three year old then taught me a life-long lesson in forgiveness. Reaching out his bear-sized toddler hand, my son patted my shoulder, “It’s ok, Dad. I forgive you.”

No doubt a wall of separation came down with those simple yet life changing words. There may still be a loss of connection 19 years later if forgiveness did not happen.

This week is all about forgiveness. Dramatic portrayals of courage, betrayal, denial and abandonment arise from the players around Jesus. He goes to death for us anyway, because of us and in spite of us. This is love like no other.

May your Holy Week be whole and filled with mercy.

“I have labored in vain,

 I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;

yet surely my cause is with the Lord,

and  my reward  with my God.”—Isaiah 49:4

With something akin to total recall I remember the time, place, and the event quite vividly. It was November 1997 and I was at a junior high youth gathering in Bemidji, MN. Now, if you have ever attended such an event you know that sleep is only optional. Being a part of the youth organization board which hosted the event, after a few days I was beyond simple fatigue. Hence, the defenses were already down a bit, and the unsettled portions of my life bubbled to the surface.

About 1:30am I retired to my hotel room and had a few quiet moments to myself. Back home life in the parish I served wasn’t bad, it simply appeared that my calling there neared its end. The direction I thought we were headed together turned out to be vastly different from my expectations. The feeling was of complete failure. How could I misread things so badly? Why didn’t I do this or that differently? What about my leadership was so terrible?

At this period in my journey I knew God was stirring something new for me, and really, I didn’t like the sensation. The unknown, all that was uncertain, every bit of new possibility was filled with fear, not excitement. So, back in that hotel room I plopped down in a chair, grabbed my bible and prepared for a bit of devotion and prayer. In an oddly providential manner, the pages of the Holy Writ opened right here, Isaiah 49, and my eyes landed on verse 4. “I have labored in vain…”

Like the rush of a violent wind these words swept over me. You try so hard and yet there appear to be no fruit to your labor. So it often goes when working in the kingdom of God. As the sower in Jesus’ parable one can only cast the seeds of love, compassion and the Gospel’s power and then pray for the Holy Spirit’s work.

I re-learned this valuable lesson once again on a recent journey to Ethiopia. For the past five years our church connects with ministries in Addis Ababa. The first few years involved a difficult project in a government-owned orphanage. Challenges prove to be nearly insurmountable and may be unsolvable. However, our recent connection is with a child development group called Onesimus, working with street kids. Estimates are 100,000 children living in the streets. These talented and faithful workers get the kids off the streets, hook them up with family if possible or find other housing means, get them into school, and basically give them a better shot at life.

We first visited in May 2012 and saw some wonderful pieces of this ministry. Our congregation and its members now provide sponsorship dollars for the program and make personal connections with the children. What we witnessed this last month was miraculous—we are privileged to participate in a ministry that is truly fruitful and really works. What Christ does through this program is transformational and genuinely changes lives. It is humbling and rewarding to partner with Onesimus.

Once again God smacks me in the back of the head as if to say, “See, I told you so.” Surely, when our cause is with the Lord the rewards are manifold. One must trust the Spirit is at work, even when our human eyes see something different.

God is faithful, and that is enough. Maybe it’s just enough encouragement to keep this poor soul faithful, too.

Today I stand with bothfeet in some different worlds. Last Wednesday, December 25, I left with 19 other adventurers for a two week trek to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. We connect with a ministry called Onesimus Child Development Association, which provides a structured environment for children living in the streets to restored family situations, housing, education, and most of all, hope.
Today we Americans are ready for a new year, yet in Ethiopia, anticipation is of another sort: Christmas here is not December 25, but January 7. Today we are between Christmas for part of the Christian world, while others under our Tent-of-Faith are yet a week away from their celebration. We travelers place bothfeet in both worlds, as our relationships are what really count, not arbitrary numbers or dates.
A few of us tossed around this type of wonderment yesterday. It is hard to explain to many people why we make this journey. A great number ask us, “What will you do there?” The reactions are priceless when you respond, “Nothing.” In general, we don’t build anything, remodel, paint, fix or construct. We play with children. We learn from this ministry’s staff. We hear of hopes and dreams. We forge and foster relationships. That is what we are going to do on this journey; we are going to be.
This is so difficult for the majority of folks in the Western world. In the past I’ve told potential explorers that if they wish to go on an adventure such as this so that they will get something out of it, stay home. If you would like such a journey so you can go and save someone, stay home. So why go? If not for me, and not to save them, why? This stuff befuddles so many back home. Part of the confusion arises from the West’s colonial and missionary past, as we’ve not viewed the relationships as equal but rather lopsided. Something like, “We have so much great stuff, and aren’t we wonderful bringing it to the ‘Dark’ Continent.” Yes, there is much to learn, much to share for both parties in the relationship. Yet, if those pieces are goals of the relationship, we now successfully objectify the other. And that is not cool.
You go for the journey’s sake, not an outcome. You go for the love and joy shared. You go because to not go is not an option. In this instance you go for the flesh and blood incarnational encounter. The encounter and the relationship are the focus, not the outcome or what anyone ‘gets’ out of the deal. This is the place where true joy finds us. Truly, this is where God finds us as well. Not for either of us to come out ahead on a transaction but to fully enjoy an abundant life in relationship.
Sure, we live to praise, love and serve God through love and service to our neighbor. But this all flows from the fullness of encounter. Perhaps living with bothfeet in such places may enrich our sojourn on planet Earth.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAIf given the options of either a time of celebration or contemplation of deep, dark places, which would you choose? I would certainly look for the party. There is far too much darkness in this world, why give it any more of our time? Still, there is a fine line between looking away from the dark and plain, simple denial. Moments arise in our days when we must take a good and honest look at what is wrong with the world and our lives, even come to terms with our own mortality.

People who identify themselves as Christian are inching toward the week to end all weeks. By most identifications we call the week “Holy”. The drama begins Palm Sunday, as we remember Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem carried by a donkey. Events then unfold in the happenings of Maundy Thursday, (Last Supper and Jesus’ arrest), Good Friday, (trial and crucifixion), and of course Easter Sunday, (resurrection). We mark our remembrance of these events as they are central to our faith.

Each year I’m a bit surprised, however, with the ratio of worshipers on Palm Sunday and Easter, and those who arrive on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Certainly I understand that mid-week services are not our norm, and people are certainly busy. Given that this is our big week, however, I can’t help but wonder if a big part of the vastly greater numbers on the two Sundays has something to do with our aversion to the real difficult parts of faith. Death? Betrayal? Arrests and beatings? Give me a good celebration any day.

A number of years ago a friend made the powerful Holy Week observation in his comment, “Well, this is the week we live for.” How very true. He died much too young on an Easter Sunday not long after this statement. He lived fully and knew how important it is to observe this Week and contemplate the deeper issues of faith and life, perhaps even that which makes us uncomfortable.

Check out the full events of this week to come. As one of my favorite restaurant proprietors often says, “You give it a try; we’ll see what happens.”

Storytellers always have a perspective, a slant, a certain viewpoint from which to tell their tale. It’s with this in mind that my viewing of the History Channel’s “The Bible” is rife with disappointment. Although I absolutely love viewing the images and stories come to life, I’m afraid these storytellers missed the point. The production value is top quality, but they’re telling the wrong story.

The storytellers in this series tip their hand in what they choose to tell as well as with the tales they omit. Last weeks installment spent an inordinate amount of screen time on Samson, and the most recent episode gave us way too much time on the Babylonian Exile. Specifically disturbing was the telling of the tale through the perspective of Daniel. “The Bible” provided far more material about Daniel than could ever be squeezed from the Holy Writ. (Seriously, the Book of Daniel was not written until 400 years after the Exile. It was also offered as an apocalyptic vision of hope for 2nd Century B.C. Judeans persecuted by the Greek-Seleucid ruler Antiochus Epiphanes). We are shown nothing of King Solomon, the Northern Kingdom of Israel, nor the tremendous importance placed upon the Jerusalem Temple. Wow, astonishing.

We’ve also not gained the true perspective of why the people endured the Exile in the first place. All the biblical prophets agree it is for one reason and one reason only; unfaithfulness. Repeatedly we’re told of empty and meaningless worship, going through the motions, ignoring the poor, the widow and the orphan, and worshiping the pagan gods of their neighbors. Indeed archaeology supports the fact–90% of Israel worshiped pagan deities 90% of the time when the Exile occurred. How did this shows producers miss this? We’re only given the perspective that the enemy is always from the outside, not from within the hearts and minds of the people. Good God, even the angels are decked out in military regalia.

Greatest of all the faux pas of this production is the portrayal of humanity’s standing before God. Both individual and nation, we are led to believe, we receive blessings if only their faith is strong enough. This could not be further from the biblical witness. Time and again, both individual and nation are shown to lack, to be full of flaws, shortcomings and foibles. Yet through it all, God is one who remains faithful, even when the people come up short.

Folks, it’s always best to read this for yourself. I mean the whole thing, not just bits and pieces, but take the biblical narrative as a whole. Without this, you’ll probably get the wrong story.