A ‘Woe Transformed’

The woes echo in my mind and haunt my heart. I don’t want them to belong to me. I would avoid them completely except that Jesus spoke them and I have read them.

Today, the incongruity of what I express and who I really am slams into Jesus’ words. I interpret; Woe to you who look good on the outside while your insides are full of chaos and death.

I shudder, aware of the lingering darkness hidden within my heart.

Here is a truth; I want to hide from this word. I want to apply it to someone else, but it won’t let me. So I pray; Jesus, what do you want me to know? And I trust him to show me.

With Jesus, I consider the word again. I weigh it in my hands and realize both what it means and what it doesn’t mean.

Not woe to me because God is ready to destroy me for my incongruity, my falsehoods and my failures. Rather woe because, in my incongruity, I experience grief, sorrow and distress. I am not whole. Instead, I am a dank basement full of memories and spiders. I am a locked closet full of clothes that no longer fit and perhaps never did. I am pictures on the wall photographed through the warped lenses of others cameras.

I survey the filth and remember that Jesus longs to give me a rich, full, fruitful life. He is healer and I am fragmented. He is cleaner and I am full of filth. He brings wholeness; the restoration of the earth, the human community and the fractured children he loves.

His word no longer stings. Now, I hear his invitation; Invite me into your darkness; the chaos and fear you struggle to keep under lock and key. Trust me. If I can enter Earth’s dark tomb and bring life, surely, I can enter the hidden places of your soul and bring healing and wholeness. I can take away your woe.

And now, in the safety of his love I welcome his word. I embrace the truth he shows me. Yes. I have experienced woe; sorrow, grief and distress. And you, the Jesus who speaks these words to me, invite me to wholeness. Together, we explore the dark and hidden places of my heart, and day by day, my life is transformed.

Can you relate?

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Celebrating freedom

Lately I’ve been thinking about freedom. It’s such a sweet gift – I get to choose. Sometimes I choose well. Sometimes, less so. But it’s not the things I chose that I’m reflecting on but rather the freedom to do so.

I was free to choose to talk to the woman standing outside the grocery store waiting for her ride.

I was free to pause and watch the snowfall into the waiting trees.

I was free to respond to a friend’s Facebook post and to skip another’s.

In all the small things and more, I make choices. Some of those choices brought grace into my life; the woman outside the grocery store smiled when I talked to her. Her reaction reminded me that my small choice can touch another’s life. The snowfall reminded me of peace, beauty and grace. My heart felt warm and a smile gently spread across my face. My friend’s Facebook post invited me to pray and so I did, entering God’s heart for our losses.

But it’s not just the choices and the gifts I received through them that caught my attention. It’s the very freedom to choose. That’s the gift, isn’t it? Or maybe that’s the underlying gift.

All I know is that when I thought about how I’d experienced God through my day, I remembered the smile and the snow and my friend and I also remembered the gift that allowed me to choose to engage, to pause, and to pray.

I realized that I’d experienced God; his freedom to choose, a freedom he shares with each one of us.

How have you experienced God today?

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C & E’ers

On Easter Sunday, the large sanctuary of my church was packed. It’s never so crowded. I looked into the faces of well-dressed strangers and smiled. This is our extended family, come for a visit.

I’m an extrovert, so I wanted to know them all!

A few weeks ago I was reading about people leaving the church. Apparently, boomers are leaving in record numbers. Then, of course, there are the millennials. I don’t know if anyone’s counting the in betweener’s. They probably are, but I didn’t find that article.

I thought about the article as I looked around the sanctuary on Easter Sunday morning. I’m sure some of the people with us were guests, visiting relatives and enjoying a worship service someplace other than their home church.

I’m sure many others were in the C and E crowd.

I thought of a friend who goes to church because she has a vibrant ministry there. If she didn’t, she wouldn’t go at all. A middle-aged couple continues to attend because they want to be a good example to their adult children. Yet another attends with her daughter and grandchildren. For her, attendance is all about family.

Then there are those who love Jesus and yearn for something deeper. Some attend small groups, some gather with others to pray, many ache for authentic community but no longer find it in the local church.

I could criticize the church or I could defend the church and find fault with those who don’t bother to come, or with those who come but really don’t care if they’re there. I could judge. But why should I?

On Easter Sunday, our brothers and sisters from the far corners of our community and beyond gathered together to worship the risen Lord. With their presence, we celebrated our one faith, one baptism, one God and father of all.

So I looked around the church on Easter Sunday morning and smiled at the presence of so many brothers and sisters. If I have any regret, it’s that I want to know them all and I can’t, at least, not yet, but someday.

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Do you have such as these?

Who are the people who draw you closer to God? Perhaps some are public figures whose messages you listen to or whose actions you watch. Perhaps others are family or community members; young adults full of zeal or older adults who have seen it all and are so soaked in love and grace that you can’t help but feel their joy? Perhaps others are friends; individuals with whom you share the tender, holy places of your heart.

I wonder if we all have such people in our lives? I certainly do and today, I’m thinking about them.

Today I’m grateful for a theologian from the UK. I catch some of his teachings on YouTube and whenever I do, my faith deepens and my heart soars. I won’t tell you who he is, because I don’t think it matters. In this season of my life, his messages resonate. In a few years, I may find myself listening to someone else and drawing strength and wisdom from their voice.

Are there teachers, preachers or writers whose words stir your soul and lead you God-ward?

I’m also grateful for a number of individuals in whom I see Jesus. Some I know well and I can assure you they are not perfect. Nonetheless, I glimpse glory in their very human lives and I rejoice. I suppose it’s a little like seeing the flowers in the garden; splashes of lovely color that lighten my heart. I don’t want to pluck them from the garden and bring them to my dining room table. They are beautiful just where they are and I am graced to see them.

In whom do you see glimpses of glory, sparkles of Jesus?

I also have few very special friends with whom I share the tender, holy places of my heart. These are people with whom my stories are safe, who accept me and my brokenness, and honor the movements of God’s Spirit within me. I call these my spiritual friends and I am deeply grateful for each.

Do you have such people in your life? Who are they?

Finally, I wonder if I am such a person in the lives of others. Do I encourage some people in their faith and practice? Do you wonder such things, too?

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This is what makes us one

Tonight, we gathered around the table, shared the wine and the bread. I took my place, and received the gift Christ offers us all. When I returned to my seat, I knelt on the floor and watched others step forward to share in Christ’s gift.

I saw old women and men, young adults, strangers and familiar faces. Amongst them walked others; a missionary family from Germany, a young woman from the UK, her husband, a family from the US west coast, their babies in their arms. I wept and through my tears saw a Catholic Sister who speaks faith and courage into my life, a lawyer friend who left us when the cancer stole her health, a gay man who lost his life to AIDs, an Afghan sister, a Baptist preacher, a choir director.

Jesus words echoed in my heart. “I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one.”

I saw them all and loved each deeply.

Perhaps it’s the overseas worker in me, the one long accustomed to gathering together; Korean, American, Australian, Argentinean, Baptist, Methodist, Brethren and God only knows what else. We didn’t ask. We shared our meals, our voices in song and prayer, our hearts and bodies in work and life, the Scriptures and Holy Spirit who guided our steps.

We loved Jesus and that was enough.

But now, we are scattered across nations and divided into different church buildings.

I heard the words of Jesus cry. “My God. My God. Why have you forsaken me?”

I ache for the walls to come down. Not that we would give up our separate understandings, interpretations or practices, but that we would love one another. Genuinely love one another.

Here is where we come together; at the table of the Lord. We don’t have to unite on a shared understanding. Those with Jesus, the night he was betrayed certainly didn’t. Each so human; a lover, a deny-er, a doubter and a betrayer. Who knows how or what they understood.

Still, Jesus broke the bread and shared the cup. “This is body. This is my blood. Take and eat. Drink this, all of you.”

This is the covenant. This is forgiveness. This is adoption. This, the bread and wine is for us; all of us who would come and receive the gift of Christ.

This is what makes us one.

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A Crazy Scene

For sure it was a crazy scene – Jesus, the teacher, healer, deliverer, now declared king, striding through the small bazaar, dumping over tables, coins flying, sheep bleating, birds screeching, men shouting. And the children, still singing out, “Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

I loved it.

Nevermind that I know what’s going to happen next. Nevermind that the week is going to disintegrate into darkness. I’m here, now, reading this passage and imagining this scene. Jesus – reclaiming the temple court for all the foreigners with their odd clothes and thick accents, the blind and lame who need healing, the poor and hungry, the curious, the hateful, the frightened and the seeking.

My house, he said, is a house of prayer.

Of course I loved it. A crazy overthrow of all that would shut us outside, alone to figure out how we can get enough, be enough, or at least look like enough to get into God’s presence.

My house, he said, is house prayer and the people came. The half blind and half crazy, the fully sighted, well-dressed, the men and the women, the foreigners and the locals. The gays and straights. The democrats and republicans. The white and every other color under the sun. They all came.

They came seeking healing and Jesus healed them. They came seeking guidance and Jesus taught them. Every day. Everyday they came, unafraid to meet with Jesus.

That’s how the week unfolded. Every day, Jesus was in the temple court.

My house, he said, is a house prayer. Come, all who are thirsty. Come, all who are weak. Come. Come and meet with me. I will give you rest. I will heal you; your bodies and your relationships. I will free you from the darkness within and without. I will help you understand who you are, who I am, who the Father is. I will cleanse you and forgive you. I will accept you, adopt you. Welcome you home.

Come.

And every day. Every day that last week, Jesus went into the temple and met with the people who came to seek him.

Of course I love it. Yeah, I know what’s coming, and I’ll get there. But first, Jesus cleared the temple and made it his own meeting room and now he’s welcoming everyone.

Are you coming in?

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Palm Sunday

My heart hesitates. We are outside of Jerusalem and he says it’s time to go in. I know what will happen; he’ll be arrested, tortured and killed. I know these things because I’m a twenty-first century Christian and I’ve read the book.

I think about his companions; the apostles, the disciples and the women. They don’t know is much as I do, but they know he’ll be arrested and killed. He’s already told them that. So I imagine they, too, hesitate, just outside of Jerusalem.

I pray because it’s the only way I can talk to Jesus. I’m not sitting with him on the side of the road, outside the city. Instead, I’m sitting in my room with my journal and my Bible. So I pray. I tell him I don’t want to go to Jerusalem. I’m enjoying this season; watching him heal people, feed them and deliver them from demons.

He says; stay with me. Companion me. Step-by-step, stay with me.

One of the disciples has brought a donkey and we throw our cloaks onto the ground. Men, women and children see us do this and join in. They shout; “Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

At first, I just shake my head. “You have no idea what’s coming next.” Then I remember; stay with me. Step-by-step, stay with me.

I look at Jesus; he’s riding on a donkey surrounded by the joyous affirmation of the ever-growing crowd. He’s not telling anyone to be quiet. Quite the contrary. He’s smiling.

And I think; yes. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is he who will save us. Sure, I understand he’s going to get arrested and killed, but something about this joyful celebration is true, too. Maybe it’s hard to put it all together. Joy!

Jesus is riding into Jerusalem and that’s a good thing. That’s a great thing. He is the King who is coming to save us. He sees each one of us, knows each one of us and loves us more than we can ever imagine. And he knows exactly what he has to do to save us. It’s going to cost him, but he’s going to do it anyway because he loves us.

So today, surrounded by the shouts, the worship, the affirmation, the praise of people who can’t even begin to understand what he’s doing, he smiles. Because he knows, this, too, is true.

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