Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Season of Lent - Week 7 - Silence

As we close out Lent and enter Good Friday and Easter weekend, let us join our Lord in his silence as he carries our sins and our sorrows before his accusers. Take time to reflect on these two texts from Scripture and the below lyrics by Andrew Peterson as he journeys with Jesus through the Garden of Gethsemane (link to listen to the song is below).

Isaiah 53:7
He was oppressed and afflicted,
    yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
    and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth. (NIV)

Matthew 27:12-14
But when the leading priests and the elders made their accusations against him, Jesus remained silent. 13 “Don’t you hear all these charges they are bringing against you?” Pilate demanded. 14 But Jesus made no response to any of the charges, much to the governor’s surprise. (NLT)

It's enough to drive a man crazy; it'll break a man's faith
It's enough to make him wonder if he's ever been sane
When he's bleating for comfort from Thy staff and Thy rod
And the heaven's only answer is the silence of God

It'll shake a man's timbers when he loses his heart
When he has to remember what broke him apart
This yoke may be easy, but this burden is not
When the crying fields are frozen by the silence of God

And if a man has got to listen to the voices of the mob
Who are reeling in the throes of all the happiness they've got
When they tell you all their troubles have been nailed up to that cross
Then what about the times when even followers get lost?
'Cause we all get lost sometimes

There's a statue of Jesus on a monastery knoll
In the hills of Kentucky, all quiet and cold
And He's kneeling in the garden, as silent as a Stone
All His friends are sleeping and He's weeping all alone

And the man of all sorrows, he never forgot
What sorrow is carried by the hearts that he bought
So when the questions dissolve into the silence of God
The aching may remain, but the breaking does not
The aching may remain, but the breaking does not
In the holy, lonesome echo of the silence of God

Andrew Peterson, “The Silence of God” lyrics © NEW SPRING PUBLISHING INC, NEW SPRING PUBLISHING, INC.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Season of Lent - Week 6 - Submission

We are on journey with Jesus. As we near the Cross, we take time to reflect on what thoughts, feelings and ideas filled his beautiful soul. One of the ideas that filled the life and mind of Jesus was surrender or submission to God and his will.

Read slowly over the texts below and reflect on your own heart. Talk to the Lord about what you discover.

Where are you in relation to the submission of Christ?
Would you characterize yourself as “open and willing” or “closed and willful”?

Phil 2:5-11 ESV
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Hebrews 5:7-8 NIV
During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.

James 4:7 ESV
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Season of Lent - Week 5 - Brokenness

The word “brokenness” is thrown around a lot these days both inside and outside the church. Since we can’t be too careful about the words we use, I want to propose a definition and reflect on what it has to teach us as we journey through Lent. Brokenness is our experienced inability to make life work. It usually flows from either conviction of sin (see Psalm 32 and 51), or intense suffering of some kind (e.g., Psalm 88).

Brokenness stops us in our tracks. We experience running into something and this something breaks us, tears and pulls at us and disables us in some way. We come to the end of ourselves and are filled with a combination of helplessness, sorrow, anger, depression, fear and/or shame. Regardless of the cause, when we are broken we are simply unable to keep going the way we have been going. We become desperate for relief, comfort, clarity and some semblance of control. We long for a sense of safety and rest to return.

As the elders have discussed how to help Redemption Spokane become a “safe place,” the issue of brokenness has come up, particularly in how we share our brokenness and how we listen to others sharing their own experiences. There are healthy and unhealthy ways to express brokenness. For example, social media has proven to be a most unhelpful form of expressing brokenness because it doesn’t draw upon the resources of face to face relationships. It is too easy to hide behind our technology and avoid considering the preciousness of others as well as avoiding responsibility for our own actions and words. We often use social media to simply generate sympathy for our plight, but it rarely translates into actual relational support because there is very little accountability on either side. We need the presence of others, not just sympathy.

Those of us who are hurting often ask, “How do I know when it’s safe to share?” This is a difficult question involving many factors. Generally, it is safe to share your brokenness in the context of a relationship in which you have a measure of reasonable trust. Those of us who hear the story of someone’s pain have a responsibility to listen well and resist fixing; we need to hold our friends’ pain up to the healing presence of Christ and seek to be present to our friend, no matter how uncomfortable or awkward that might get. At times, we offer practical assistance. Those of us who share also have responsibility in this - we need to share our brokenness in relationship to the healing presence of Christ and not in a way that is asking another person to save us. Many of us can sense when our boundaries are being threatened by a friend who is broken and unknowingly looking to us to fix things.

What does all this have to do with Lent? Lent is a time when we pay attention to our brokenness, inability and need so that we might grow in experiencing the provision of Christ for us in deeper ways. I encourage you to begin to take stock of your broken places, the places where you feel stuck and hopeless. Begin to ask God to speak into them and shed his light there. Take courage from God’s love and light and begin to share your burdens with the Christian brothers and sisters around you. Lent tells us that none of us are alone and none of us suffer in vain. We will come to find that in the sufferings of Jesus, our sufferings find healing redemption.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Season of Lent Week 4 - Repentance: Turning and Becoming (2)

Last week we looked at the idea of repentance, the act of turning away from doing things our way and embracing God’s Kingdom through Jesus. This week I want to look at the larger context of that dynamic - who we become through the process.

Recently the elders and I walked through a passage in Matthew 18 and a phrase jumped out at me - highlighted below:

“At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:1-4 ESV)

Jesus is calling us here to enter the Kingdom of heaven and in order to do that we need to “turn and become like children.” Sin ages us; it makes us act independent in inappropriate ways - ways that don’t involve God or community. Think of children who are forced to “grow up too fast,” usually victims of some form of abuse that forces them to look after themselves (and/or siblings) from a young age. Perhaps this was your experience.

Sin forces us to age in inappropriate ways. In one way or another, we have all learned this and need to be made young again so that Jesus and the foolish offer of the gospel of the Kingdom of God can make sense to us.

Chesterton put it best:

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.”[1]

As we journey through Lent, take time to become young again. Cultivate vulnerability, wonder, slowness, repetition, creativity and play. Otherwise, the foolishness of Good Friday and Easter Sunday may have no practical relevance to your life.

[1] G. K. Chesterton, ‘The Ethics of Elfland,’ Orthodoxy (House of Stratus, 2001), p. 41.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Season of Lent - Week 3 - Repentance: Turning and Becoming (1)

If someone asked you, “What was the gospel that Jesus preached?” how would you respond? I was surprised at my ignorance when I first considered this question. I was used to seeing Jesus and his life primarily through the lens of how they impacted the Cross and the debt that was paid there. To my sorrow, I didn’t pay much attention to what Jesus actually taught. In the gospel of Mark we see one aspect of our answer:

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15 ESV)

For Jesus, the “gospel” was the announcement of the availability of the Kingdom of God through trust in Him. This kind of announcement requires repentance because of all the other kingdoms we have our hands into (mainly our own).

The meaning of “repentance” in the New Testament comes down to two senses: a change of mind and a sense of remorse.[1] Jesus is inviting us to “re-think our thinking” about our lives in light of the fact that in Him, the Kingdom of God is available to all persons. The extent to which we are committed to other kingdoms above his Kingdom means our turning will involve regret and what Paul called “godly sorrow” (2 Corinthians 7:10).

As one teacher paraphrased it, “"Reconsider your strategy for life in view of the fact that you can now live under the rule of the heavens, the invisible reality of God immediately accessible to you by trust."[2]

This week during Lent, take time to “reconsider your strategy for life” in light of who Jesus is, what he has done and what he is doing. God’s intimate holy presence is closer than the air we breathe! Let us turn away from “making things happen” and press into Jesus. Then we can let go of outcomes and agendas and be free to experience his voice and presence in new ways together.

[1] Walter M. Dunnett, “Repentance,” in Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Accessed online 3/14/19 at https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/repentance.html
[2] Dallas Willard, “Kingdom of God Teaching Series,” 1990.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Season of Lent - Week 2 - Desert Spaces

(I am writing a series of short articles for our church newsletter as we journey through the season of Lent.)

Last week we looked at what the Lord might be asking us to give up for Lent. This week I want to continue to reflect a bit on this process. Whenever we give something up or have something taken from us (i.e., suffering), I want to suggest that a desert space is created within us. These spaces are dry, arid spaces that make us uncomfortable and thirsty. We respond to these desert spaces in various ways - we might double-down in other areas, trying to reassert a feeling of control; we might throw ourselves into self-indulgence (food, lust, shopping, etc); we might throw ourselves into spiritual practices in a misguided attempt to get God to respond and restore things, or we might lose heart and give in to despair.

Part of the purpose of this season is to intentionally follow our Lord into the desert. I invite you to embrace this process and not run from it. Resist trying to numb the experience. There are only certain things you can learn from the Lord in the desert, where the silence is deafening and the landscape harsh and painful. The desert can become a place where we find out who we really are, and who our God is.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. (Luke 4:1-2 NIV)

It is possible that there are already places of lack and barrenness in your life and you don’t need to “add” any more. If this is the case for you, don’t feel pressure to start cutting out things (unless the Lord specifically puts his finger on something, then by all means!). Your invitation is to pay attention to the desert spaces you already have and not run from them or try to make them go away.

Take the time to explore your desert spaces -

What does it feel like?
How do you typically respond to it?
How is the Lord inviting you to respond to it in new ways?
What temptations do you face there?
What are you most afraid of?

Talk to the Lord and some safe friends about what you discover.

Desert Places (poem by Robert Frost).

Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast
In a field I looked into going past,
And the ground almost covered smooth in snow,
But a few weeds and stubble showing last.

The woods around it have it--it is theirs.
All animals are smothered in their lairs.
I am too absent-spirited to count;
The loneliness includes me unawares.

And lonely as it is that loneliness
Will be more lonely ere it will be less--
A blanker whiteness of benighted snow
With no expression, nothing to express.

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars--on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.

Season of Lent - Week 1 - Introduction

(I am writing a series of short articles for our church newsletter as we journey through the season of Lent.)

Historically, Christians have sought to intentionally align their lives with the large rhythms of God’s story revealed in the Scriptures. One of the ways this has been done is developing the “Christian Year,” which is an attempt to think through the yearly seasons with the story of the Bible in mind. Within this calendar are some things familiar and not so familiar to us: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, Ordinary Time etc. Our ancestors in the faith discovered that the Scriptures become more deeply ingrained in us as we align our lives with these larger categories.

The season of Lent refers to a 40 day (6 week) period leading up to the Easter celebration of Jesus’ resurrection (this year: March 6 – April 21, 2019). It is linked to the period of 40 days of fasting before Jesus began his public ministry.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. (Matthew 4:1-2 ESV)
During the first three centuries of the church, Lent developed gradually into a process of preparation for new Christians (called Catechumens) to receive baptism on Easter. This involved a focus on prayer, giving and fasting. As Lent gets us in touch with the spirit of fasting we ask, what might I need to give up in order to give more of myself to God? Obviously sin falls into this category and we need to be diligent in putting sin off with the Lord’s help. Here, however, we are talking about more “neutral” things like drinking coffee, checking Facebook and enjoying sweets.

Since it is far too easy to become legalistic we want to remember that if we give something up it is in order to give ourselves to something better. For example, if you cut out TV for Lent (yes, that’s possible), give yourself to creating or celebrating works of beauty; if you give up social media, give yourself to making more of an effort to spending “face time” with others or reading a good book; if you give up sweets, take time to exercise and get outside. Hurry will ruin all efforts to be reflective and intentional, so we need to be aware of how that is infecting us.

Lent has much to offer us as we prepare to celebrate and remember the redemption that has come to us through Christ. In the coming weeks, we will be thinking together and meditating on these things as a body.

I encourage you to ask these two questions in prayer:

Lord, what fills my life that keeps me distracted and unable to hear or see you?
How can I be more attentive to you during this season?

O God, help us to use this season of Lent
to examine our attachments,
and to sense where You invite us
to live more simply and deeply.

Shine the light of Your love
into the private corners of our lives
where we have acquired so much clutter
that it has begun to restrict our freedom.

Grant us the strength to free ourselves
from appetites and needs that drive us
into taking, having and wanting
more than we need or have time for.

Teach us that in letting go
we become free, rather than deprived,
generous rather than covetous,
and spacious rather than restricted.

We offer You our Lenten observance,
and today we place our feet
on the road to Easter, and walk
the Way that You have walked before us. Amen.

(written by Ann Siddall)

Saturday, January 05, 2019

On Aging and Letting Go

"Most older folks I know fret about unloading material goods they’ve collected over the years, stuff that was once useful to them but now prevents them from moving freely about their homes. There are precincts in our basement where a small child could get lost for hours.

But the junk I really need to jettison in my old age is psychological junk—such as longtime convictions about what gives my life meaning that no longer serve me well. For example, who will I be when I can no longer do the work that has been a primary source of identity for me for the past half century?

I won’t know the answer until I get there. But on my way to that day, I’ve found a question that’s already brought me a new sense of meaning. I no longer ask, “What do I want to let go of, and what do I want to hang on to?” Instead I ask, “What do I want to let go of, and what do I want to give myself to?”

The desire to “hang on” comes from a sense of scarcity and fear. The desire to “give myself” comes from a sense of abundance and generosity. That’s the kind of truth I want to wither into."

Parker Palmer, On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity and Getting Old (Berrett-Koehler Publishers: 2018), 26-27.