A Prayer of Collective Repentance

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Lord, have mercy upon us. We have shouted more than we have listened. We have looked through rage and defiance and have brutalized our brothers and sisters. We have forgotten your Word, which calls upon us to turn the other cheek, to defend those who are on the bottom rung, and to live at peace as long as it depends on us.

We have politicized the Bible and have taken scripture out of context to reframe it so that it fits our personal worldview.

Forgive us, Lord. We’ve forgotten that our kingdom is not of this world, that we are all aliens, and that we have a greater work to fulfill. This work is a labor of love, and if we are to be honest with You, we have not been laboring very well. As a nation we have sold our birthright for a crude pot of rage.

Lord of Compassion, we have forgotten what it means to listen to our brothers’ words. We have discounted their stories and we have lacked the empathy that leads to understanding. May we weep for America as You wept for Jerusalem.

Prince of Peace, we need You now more than ever. We don’t need editorials, rants, or bullhorns. We just need You. Lord, shatter our pride. Make quick word of our prejudice. Keep us from coded words, false pretences, and sarcasm. Hold a mirror to our souls and collectively, let us see our iniquity.

Lord Jesus, Son of God may we look at the cross and remember how You suffered under the greatest, deepest triangulation of injustice, betrayal and vitriolic anger while praying, “Forgive them.” Teach us how to love like that.

May the Church lead out in love and courage. May we bind the wounds of the brokenhearted and diffuse the anger of a dying culture. Transform us Lord. Teach us how to season our words with grace.

We pray this in the Name of the One who wept,

Amen…

 

When Jesus is in the House

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Just another time to worship… Then, suddenly, something happens. Flecks of the ceiling are falling on the teacher’s shoulder. The flecks turn into chunks and out of a gaping hole a paralyzed man is lowered down by four guys in the first elevator in church history. The man is healed and the people went away amazed saying, “We’ve never seen anything like that before!” If only church was like that more often. Drug addicts are welcomed and then healed. Homes are restored. The prodigal son walks in and the down the aisle smothered by a family weeping for joy. These things happen. I’ve witnessed them. It’s then that we can truly say, We’ve never seen anything like this before. Why don’t we see it more often? I think it has a lot to do with two things: Very few people think creatively about how to get their friends to Jesus, like those four guys did in the story. And, sadly, I think we lose sight of the fact that Jesus, the wonder-maker and the game-changer is in the house.

Grace is on a Family Tree

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My friend loves Jesus.

That sounds commonplace, doesn’t it?

It becomes less pedestrian when I tell you that his Mom died a drug addict and his father was a devout atheist. My friend was gloriously saved at the age of 10 at a Vacation Bible School event and never looked back. This. Makes. No. Sense. They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree but this apple fell off the tree rolled down the hill, was picked up by a pilot and flew across the ocean! (Figuratively speaking, of course.) And believe me, I don’t have enough white space here to chronicle the entire sordid tale. His story is a monument to the fact that God can save anybody He wants to save, no matter how messed up the family tree.

The New Testament begins with a family tree that had a number of ugly branches. Matthew 1 tells us that in Jesus’ lineage are a number shady characters including a prostitute, daughter of incest, an adulterer, a lying brother, lots of cautionary tales and ultimately an scandalous unwed pregnancy. It’s almost like God wanted to say from the start that this Gospel is all about grace and not about our upbringing. God isn’t as interested in your family history. He’s interested in what happens next. And when it comes to transformation, what happens next is glorious. He flips the script with grace. It’s His specialty. Never count yourself or your family out because of what happened yesterday. It’s an insult to the power of God when you do.


 

When You Say Farewell

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We all learn that people come and people go. You could lose the one you love in the turn of a road, in a sudden bend in the stream and life in its infinite mystery vanishes like the morning dew in the warm break of dawn.

The universality of loss is indellable. I remember dropping my best friend off at the airport in Nashville. I can still see him smile and casually wave goodbye as I pulled away merging back into traffic. I had no idea that would be the last time I’d ever see him. That’s life. And that’s death.

Accidentally or intentionally…

Sweetly or somberly…

Long farewells or brief goodbyes…

People go away…

Something inside says this is not the way it should be.

Others turn their backs. This is the lesson we all learn. Some graves are not found in cemeteries. They are cloistered inside our souls. Through emotional illness, anger, misunderstanding or fate we lose and say farewell to those we love. There are no ceremonies to mark their departures.  But there is One that hears the sound of our weeping and whispers, “Me too.”

The creator of reunions… He is the One in the gap of our disconnection.

His name is Jesus.
The Matchless King who wrapped himself
in a garment of earthly flesh
Jesus
The Christ
And Peter said, “You are Christ the Son of the Living God.”
Jesus
The Anointed One sent from the throne of the Father
Jesus
The Lord,
Whose arrival was announced by a host of angels.
The Lord – the Master of our lives.
Jesus
Our peace… not a state of mind but a Person. For He is Peace.
Oh war-torn world, prepare yourself for the coming of the Prince of Peace.
Jesus
Wonderful Savior- If you have ever come to the realization of who we are and who He is, and what He does, how can you doubt that
Jesus’ Name is Wonderful… Counselor The God who listens and directs.
He is light in darkness,
Voice in silence, and wisdom in a land of lostness.
Jesus
The Mighty God
Jesus
The Everlasting Father
Have you ever mourned the loss of a father or mother? See the joy of a Father who never dies. He lives forever.
Jesus
The Word of God
In the beginning was the Word
and the Word was with God
and the Word was
Jesus
The fourth man in the furnace
Jesus
The Friend
The One who never leaves.

The Two Questions that He Keeps Asking

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After the resurrection, Jesus returns to the disciples and sets his attention on Peter. You remember Peter. He’s the cussing disciple. The sword wheeling, water stumbling, denier whose tongue sprinted a few miles ahead of his brain on any given Sunday.

Jesus gives the disciples a little fishing advice that produces a record catch and then Peter jumps out of the boat leaving the haul to his buddies. That is SO Peter, isn’t it?

In the middle of this breakfast He asks Peter three times: “Peter, son of Jonah? Do you love me?”

The first time he asks, “Do you love me more than these?”

This is where I could have used a little more narrative information from the writer John. He obviously must have been gesturing to the fish, or the boats, his favorite lures, the disciples, or the water.  We don’t know. But I like that we don’t know. It leaves a mystery and every time I think about it, I think about my own “more than these” things.

I open up my retirement balance sheet. And I hear Him whisper, “Do you love me more than these?”

I open the refrigerator. He whispers again, “Do you love me more than these?”

I think about my family and friends. It gets deadly serious as He whispers, “Do you love me more than these?”

Just the question, “Do you love me?” What a soul searching question it is! Do I really love Him. I mean, hail or high water, do I love Him? Do I love Him when I am broke, mistreated, demoted, deleted, disparaged, rejected… Do I love Him?

The second question comes after Jesus infers that he (Peter) is going to die. (Note to reader: You, too, will die)  Peter looks over at John, perhaps hoping to change the subject. No one wants to talk about their own death. He turns to John and asks, “Hey Jesus, what about John?”

Jesus then says, “What is that to you?” In other words, “Peter, stop looking around. I’m talking about you and you only right now.”  I think the question inside the question is this: “Do you trust me?”

Jesus is asking me that same question. “Do you trust me?”

Those two questions:
Do you love me?
Do you trust me?

Those are the questions he whispers to me and you every day.

When He sees us fretting, anxious, conflicted, and disappointed by our careers, our lives, our future, our kids, our marriage, our finances, EVERYTHING.

He’s asking those two questions.

Stop reading this for a moment and hear Him whisper to you:

Do you love me?
Do you trust me?
Do you love me?
Do you trust me?
Do you love me?
Do you trust me?
Do you love me?
Do you trust me?
Do you love me?
Do you trust me?
Do you love me?
Do you trust me?
Do you love me?
Do you trust me?

I don’t know where you are, but your love and trust fascinates Him. It’s why He created you. He created you so that He could love You and take care of You. I want to see you and me grow up so that we can enter into a relationship of love and trust. He wants both of those from you, more than He wants you to sing beautifully, speak in tongues, heal the sick, or achieve greatness in His Name. Getting your theology right about free-will, Calvinism, or how many angels can dance on the head of a pin– none of that is in the same area code of these two important questions.

He wants our love and He wants our trust.

So do you love Him?

Do you trust Him?

A Sacred Connection

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The child arrives on the planet and a new daddy shouts, and the grandparents weep with joy, but the mother is the first to see her child deeply. Children are born and you don’t have to teach a mother or child how to feel love. They bring their love with them.

She sees her baby and realizes that the old saying is true- babies come through us but not from us. And God whispers the words He always whispers following another stoke of wonder: “It is good.” He created the child and He created the relationship. There is a sacred connection between mother and child.

And the journey begins on that first day of life and the journey is filled with a vast collection of memories:

The first birthday cake

Mud pies

First steps

Bike rides on Christmas mornings

Lines on the door frame celebrating growth

Time out in the corner of a kitchen

A sudden illness followed by floods of concern

Healing and overwhelming relief

T-ball games

Goldfish funerals

Messy rooms

Adolescent brooding

Consoling heartbreaks

Failures and successes

ACTs And SATs and waiting nervously for results

Unexpected tears upon the realization that the journey into adulthood would soon be over.

The mother and the child

Their connection constantly changing and shifting over 17 years.

And as they back out of the driveway, boxes and memories stuffed away in the trunk, one last time they are off. This time not to camp, or a game, or a weekend but rather to a world of adventure that mothers and father release them to experience. They’ll be back again and again- but the journey has begun. Their daily presence is gone.

But not the love. 

A mother’s love lasts, from birth, to childhood, through the teen years and beyond…

Endlessly unfolding…

The love never changes.

It is held in the mighty hands of Jesus.


 

Sometimes It’s Hard to Sing

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Every now and then, pain steals something so important to us. External forces or internal conflicts arise and over time, we discover that we have lost our song. How is it possible to sing when our hearts are heavy and our hope wanes?

You lose a friend to cancer. You are unjustly attacked. A child turns his back on you. Your heart is broken by the one person who promised to be with you until death. You lose a job, a dream or a destiny.

If that’s where you’ve been or where you are, allow me to share a little blues from an old songbook called Psalms:

“By the rivers of Babylon— there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion. There we hung up our lyres on the poplar trees… how can we sing in a faraway land.”
Psalm 137:1-2 & 4

It happens.

Our song is gone.

Psalm 137 is a snapshot in the story of God’s people. We see life knocking the wind out of their lungs and now they enter into bondage on the wrong side of Babylon’s rivers. The songwriter asks a question we ask ourselves: “How can you sing in the middle of defeat and loss?”

In the seams of this songbook called Psalms, we hear deep guttural cries of the brokenhearted. We’ve all been there. Maybe it’s a friend, maybe it’s a family member, an accountability partner or a maybe it’s you. We have all experienced a time when we turn off the music because darkness flooded into the cracks of our souls. The Bible is filled with these dark moments. They are not censored out and hidden obscurely. They are front and center. Why? Maybe it’s because God wants us to know that in our darkest times, we enter into the fellowship of strugglers. We are not alone. We’ve never been alone. There’s one thing for sure in this life: none of us gets a pass on adversity.

There is nothing more healing during a time of pain and sorrow than to connect with someone you love and hear the words “Me too.” It’s so simple! To find someone who’s willing to admit that they struggle just as you struggle becomes an amazing healing agent. It takes the sting from the pain we face. We often find that our dirges become anthems of grace.

If you’ve lost your song I want to invite you:

  • Sing your way out of it, even if it means singing the blues. (Psalm 30:11)
  • Thank God for what you do have and don’t focus on scarcity. (Philippians 4:6)
  • As much as you’d prefer to climb under a rock, connect with someone who can support you. (Ecclesiastes 4:10-12)
  • Don’t look for the blame. It’s a fool’s errand. (Genesis 3:12)
  • Rejoice in knowing that this event or circumstance will strengthen your character.
  • Trust God’s work in you. (Philippians 1:6)
  • Do not internalize. Let yourself off the hook. (Romans 1:8)
  • Be mindful of your body. Rest, nourish, and breathe deep. (Psalm 46:10)
  • Don’t just pray for escape, pray for God’s glory to be revealed in the midst of it all.  (2 Corinthians 12:9)
  • Don’t get paranoid. There isn’t a target on your back. Really.  (Romans 8:31)

Finally, I want to challenge all of us on the struggle bus to pray honestly. God hates a fake smile as much as anyone. Speak the truth. Make it plain. Don’t hold back. God is not shaken by your anger or emotions. He’s a God who wrestles.

“One bold message in the Book of Job is that you can say anything to God. Throw at him your grief, your anger, your doubt, your disappointment—he can absorb them all.” Phillip Yancey

In despair, look for a friend and be a friend. A friend who can enter into the sacred space without breathing a word of advice or analysis. Ahh… That is a friend to keep and to be. Chances are you know what to do. You just need someone to walk alongside you as you search for your song.

Sooner or later you’ll find your jam.

 

The First Words of The Resurrected Jesus

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The seven last words of Jesus have been lauded in songs and art. But when we consider the first words of Jesus after the resurrection, we discover what this new reality and commission looks like for believers.

Let’s take a look at seven of the first sayings of Jesus.  All of them are found in John 20.

  1. “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” (John 20:15)
    These two questions are ones we should ask ourselves every day. What are the source of our tears? What exactly are we seeking?

    Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next.” Frederick Buechner

    Obviously I’m commandeering these questions as metaphors. There’s truth there, though. We have many definitions for insanity but I would propose another: Insanity is not knowing what you are feeling and not knowing where you are going. That would be a start.

    As believers, we call this mindfulness.

  2. “Mary” (John 20:16)
    May we be reminded that Jesus knows us, not only as the church, his bride, the mass of followers that began thousands of years ago. He knows our names. Each one of us. Jesus didn’t lose his personal connection with Mary. He knows us by name as well. “Don’t be afraid, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by your name. You are mine.” Isaiah 43:1

    As believers, we call this identity.

  3. “Go to my brothers and tell them.” (John 20:17)
    He challenges us to do the same. As believers we should be constantly reminding each other that this resurrection life isn’t some kind of brief, cryptic illusion. We must remind each other that this life is real and transforming. Throughout the walking of our days may we remind each other of the news we celebrated on Easter Sunday: “He’s not there. He is alive!”

    “The message of Easter is that God’s new world has been unveiled in Jesus Christ and that you’re now invited to belong to it.” ― N.T. Wright

    As believers, we call this mission.

  4. “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19&21)

    Isn’t it awesome to know that Jesus greetings to us all after the resurrection is “Peace be with you”? When all was said and done, the denying betraying and doubting… Peace was still in the cards of the disciples and peace is pronounced over us, as well. When it comes to peace, He’s the prince of it. Don’t miss the blessing of Shalom.

    As believers, we call this blessing.

  5. “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:21)
    If we want to be faithful to Jesus, we have to do what He says. We must receive the Holy Spirit. This means that we must move from confession to possession. We must be possessed by the Holy Spirit who will give us the power to do what we could not do before.

    As believers, we call this annointing.

  6. “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they are not forgiven.” John 20:23
    The first sermon of the Resurrected Christ is forgiveness. It’s always first on the agenda. Forgiveness is the opus, motif, rising action, grand finale and denouement of grace. It should be our foremost quest in all our relationships. We must forgive.

    As believers, we call this grace.

  7. “Stop doubting and believe.” John 20:29
    Just as He challenges Thomas, Jesus dares us to believed to trust him a little more, to love him a little more, to take one more step out of the boat and into the blue oceans.

     “Every mental act is composed of doubt and belief, but it is belief that is the positive, it is belief that sustains thought and holds the world together.” ― Søren Kierkegaard

    As believers we call this faith.

    These sayings should get us on our way in the post-resurrection maze of discipleship: identity, mindfullness, mission, blessing, annointing, grace, faith…

It’s Sunday!

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It’s Sunday.

And Jesus is with us!
His obituary is in the paper and, for goodness sakes alive, He is sitting at our breakfast table!
He is supposed to be behind a stone, flanked by Rome’s finest. Dead, dead, dead…
But instead He’s hungry and wants fish this morning!
And where has He been since the crack of dawn?
Did He go looking for better followers?
Did He go looking for a new set of men who would actually stick around in tough times?
No!
He went back to that ragtag bunch of deniers, doubters and deserters.
Think about that! The King of kings and Lord of lords is chasing after an unfaithful, deeply flawed family.

Jesus is with them. And He’s with us too.

I don’t know about tomorrow but I do know He’ll be there.
Today, He made short work of the whole “death is the end” theory.
The sting is gone.
Wonder is forever upon us.
May we live with an eye toward that wonder.
May we refuse to be cynical about life or people.
Instead, today, may we experience the newness of everything as if it were our first day.
From today forward may we walk, sing, eat, work, play and write as if it were our first chance to get to do any of them.
And may we do everything with deep gratitude, expectation and dumbfounded surprise.

Today we get to begin again… because Jesus is with us.


 

It’s Saturday

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It’s Saturday.

The tomb is sealed.
The guards are in position.
The sheep are scattered.
The light is gone.

There is nothing more than silence on the other end. These are the times when we look back and replay all our errors and missed opportunities. The words we should have said… The swords we should or should not have drawn. The flood of memories that we created. The feasts we should have savored at the time but were consumed by petty thoughts and motives that, on Saturday, seem so obtuse.

On Saturday we don’t have answers. On Saturday we feel lost and duped. On Saturday we wonder if the loaves and fish were some sort of slight of hand and that lepers were not lepers after all.

But most of all, on Saturday, we just miss him. We wish we could see him laughing, telling stories, loving us unconditionally. On Saturday we pull out his clothes just for a last scent of the Divine.

On Saturday, we don’t want to be around people that remind us of Him. On Saturday we long for one more embrace, one more story, even one more rebuke. Saturday– the day of emptiness, anger, and questions.

It’s Saturday.