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It’s Friday

It’s Friday and He’s there… Suffering unimaginable traumas. He is deserted by fearful disciples, surrounded by tormentors, thieves, murderers, and religious provocateurs. Soldiers gaming over the final scant possessions of the Master of creation, ignore the darkening sky.

Jesus cries out: “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?”

On this holy day, God’s beloved Son embodies the weight of every sin from the slightest tresspass to our greatest of atrocities.

And during this bloody sacrifice, a Holy God turns His back.

“He who knew no sin has become sin.”

Jesus receives enough sour wine to moisten his tongue so that He could make one grand and final announcement. In the darkness of a cruel hill, Jesus shouts:

IT IS FINISHED!

This declaration is not a cry of defeat, despair and death. It is a glorious shout of victory! The masterpiece of redemption receives its final brushstroke. This is the pinnacle moment of grace that crushed the head of a conniving has-been and opened wide the passageway to salvation. The cross- once a vulgar, despicable symbol of shame, will soon top the roofs of churches and cathedrals. It will be displayed in homes and hospitals, bejeweled on necklaces and depicted in the greatest works of art and literature. And the three words Jesus shouted would now be the pronouncement of God’s greatest transaction.

IT IS FINISHED.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace.”
There is peace once again in midst of the exchange.
It is dark.
It is unspeakable.
It is mysterious.
It is ENOUGH.
It is Friday.


 

What Kind of Church is It?

We often categorize our churches with fancy titles: Relevant, emergent, classic, reformed, fundamentalist, traditional, contemporary, liturgical, purpose-driven etc…  The list is really endless and the subtleties of each model vary. But what kind of church are we? Really…
  • Some churches are more like a country club, complete with secret handshakes, special membership privileges, and perks for members based upon you seniority and attitude. But we are not called to be a Country Club.
  • Some churches are more like a fashion show where once a week we are concerned more about what the members look like on the outside than who we are on the inside. But we are not called to be a fashion show.
  • Some churches are like a spa where healthy people come to be pampered with a painless personality makeover and self-help rallies devoid of the power of God. They’d never think about service or sacrifice because the church is meant only for enrichment—not spiritual warfare. But we are not called to be a spa.
  • Other churches are like courtrooms full of authority and judgment. Stern faces and hushed whispers are prevalent.  Some believe that these churches are holy because of the formal atmosphere and the lack of tolerance for things like laughter, celebration and dancing.  These churches are dead they just haven’t gotten the good grace to lie down. But we are not called to be a court.
  • And on the opposite side, we find the church of cool, where musicians display their gifts not to the glory of God but rather to the glory of themselves.   The tendency toward outlandishness knows no bounds. They are different just for the sake of being different. Messages aren’t centered on the God or the Bible. In fact, some sermons might cause you to wonder if there is really is a point beyond the emotions and the glitz of atmosphere. What is the vibe? This is the main question in the church of the cool.  But we are not called to be cool.
  • Each model apart from the work of Christ is like a cemetery. You can put flowers on the graves, you can have tea parties next to the tombs, you can pipe in the best music and serve the best meals but without Christ, the cemetery is still full of rot.  But we are not called into death.
So what about us?  Are we any of these churches?  For most churches, we’ve been all of these from time to time.  That’s why it is so important for us to be desperate and dependent upon God.  Do we want to see people who are hurting and in need come to us for help or are we satisfied with self-serving religious organizations that offer risk-free comfort and predictability. We were made for much great things; things that accompany wonder, miracles, new life and transformation.
How far are we willing to go? Who do we chose to exclude?  Jesus is still knocking at the doors of churches promising that if anyone hears His voice and opens the door, He will come in and eat with him, and he with me. Let’s invite people to the table through worship and become the kind of Church He desires to enter.
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A Word of Advice from Jesus’ Mother

There are many universal sayings that all mothers end up reciting at least once if not a thousand times.

Wash your hands before eating.
Play fair.
Don’t follow the crowd.
Be yourself.
Trust me.
Get some rest.
Pull those weeds in the back or they’ll kill the tulips!
Listen to your father.
Don’t go out with a guy just because he asks.
Stop whining.
Don’t cross your eyes. They may stick.
No throwing frisbee in the house.
No snacking before supper.
Don’t wear that much make-up.
Show respect.
Don’t do that!  You might poke your eye out.
You might get worms. You don’t know where that’s been!
Give it your best.

But perhaps the greatest advice from a mother is recorded as a side-note tucked away in the Gospel of John. It came from the mouth of the mother of our Lord. It was at a party.

It wasn’t a life or death situation. The words had very little to do, at first glance, with eternal destinies or climactic discoveries. Just a simple statement in the midst of uncertain, perplexing, awkward circumstances.

When the celebration of a marriage hit a stump, and the pitchers of refreshment were depleted. Mary, the mother of Jesus, turned to the servants and simply said, “Do whatever He tells you to do.” She knew exactly who her Son was. She could have expounded upon the majesty of her Son, the royal blood that ran through His veins, His very nature as Creator and Master of the universe.

She was well aware of the glory of Jesus. But instead, she simply pointed to Jesus and with determination and authority in her voice, she said, “Do whatever He tells you to do!”

Jesus turned, furrowed His brow, and then, He honored her despite the whole timing issue of when the Messianic works was to begin.

“Fill the pots,” He told them.

“But you don’t understand, Jesus. Those clay pots are for the ceremonial washing of hands and feet!”

Mary looked on, perhaps assertively, with her arms crossed. Her attitude was unchanged by Jesus words. She said it again. “I said – do whatever He tells you to do.”

“It is glorified bath-water,” one servant said, as he gritted his teeth.

“Do whatever He tells you to do.” Mary replied, this time politely with more grace. Mothers have a way of overseeing the details.

They filled the pots.

Then Jesus said, “Now, draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

“You’re joking, right?” a cynical servant asked with a coy smile.

“Do whatever He tells you to do.” Mary repeated.

And at that moment bath water became the toast of the town. And if you listen closely, perhaps you can hear the words of that proud and courageous mother. Her words still apply.

Do whatever He tells you to do.

Minister to the homeless. Do whatever He tells you to do! Follow Him to a foreign land. Do whatever He tells you to do! As you budget your time and resources. Do whatever He tells you to do! As you proclaim the Good News in your school. Do whatever He tells you to do!

The mother’s advice through years of weddings, funerals, challenges, and crises, in the big things, in the little things, in the plans for today and the dreams of tomorrow – it’s really some very good advice.

Do whatever He tells you to do!

It may seem like something strange. It might go against your natural instincts. It won’t be the first time. He’d startled his people before with his plan:

Reach in the mouth of that fish and pull out a coin.

Here’s some mud for your eyes.

Sell everything and follow me.

Drop those nets.

Lay off 80% of the army and give the rest lamps and horns. That ought to do it!

Avoid becoming a salt lick. Don’t look behind you.

Five loaves and two fish will do. Let’s pray and start passing it out to them.

Hit it with your stick. There’s water in the rock.

Five smooth stones. That’ll teach him.

March around the wall.

Roll that stone away. He’s not dead. He’s just a sound sleeping miracle waiting to happen. Let’s wake him up.

Rise and walk.

Don’t bring anything with you.

Go and teach all nations!

Do whatever He asks you to do!

So what crazy thing is He telling you to do?

Has he called you to start a homeless shelter? Has He called you to memorize the Gospel of John? Has He called you to minister in the nursing homes, bars, the halfway house, the merchant marines, in India, China, Alaska, Greenwich Village or Congress? Has He called you to give up your stereo, your car, your cable? Has He called you to paint your neighbor’s house or scrub toilets? Has He called you to start a church? Has He called you to try to reconnect with that kid who beat you up and stole your milk money in the third grade?

Do whatever He asks you to do!

Why? It’s a no-brainer. Whenever Jesus tells you to do something, glory happens. He is worthy and when you close the book on your life, you will not have a hint of regret. When you dive into God’s plan, you will discover that He is more powerful, more trustworthy, more intelligent, and more intuitive than you could ever think of being.

So take a deep breath and dive in. You’ll be glad you listened to Mary’s advice.

It is Friday

Jesus remains on the cross, suffering unimaginable traumas. He is deserted by fearful disciples, surrounded by tormentors, thieves, murderers, and religious provocateurs. Soldiers gaming over the final scant possessions of the Master of creation, ignore the darkening sky.

Jesus cries out: “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?”

On this holy day, God’s beloved Son embodies rage, infidelity, holocaust, slander, incest, pride, lust, greed, murder, abortion, hypocrisy, deceit, pornography, blasphemy, treachery, apathy, gossip, bribery, falsehood, child molestation, betrayal, false accusations, assault, vanity, witchcraft, bitterness, manipulation, drug abuse, seduction, false testimony, violence, threats, broken relationships, and a million other curses of man’s folly.

And during this bloody sacrifice, a Holy God turns His back.

“He who knew no sin has become sin.”

Jesus receives enough sour wine to moisten his tongue so that He could make one grand and final announcement. In the darkness of a cruel hill, Jesus shouts:

IT IS FINISHED!

This declaration is not a cry of defeat, despair and death. It is a glorious shout of victory! The masterpiece of redemption receives its final brushstroke. This is the pinnacle moment of grace that crushed the head of a conniving has-been and opened wide the passageway to salvation. The cross- once a vulgar, despicable symbol of shame, will soon top the roofs of churches and cathedrals. It will be displayed in homes and hospitals, bejeweled on necklaces and depicted in the greatest works of art and literature. And the three words Jesus shouted would now be the pronouncement of God’s greatest transaction.

IT IS FINISHED.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace.”
There is peace once again in midst of the exchange.
It is dark.
It is unspeakable.
It is mysterious.
It is ENOUGH.
It is Friday.

 

~

He Forgives Them All

The tone of religion, more often than not, rings as a dirge of condemnation. We see the old crooked finger of legalism and malicious apologetics steadily pointing into the mass of stumbling sinners, almost relishing the chance to find a scapegoat for the brokenness of the world. But as we look at the cross and our Savior affixed to it, we hear these words: “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” His words were spoken in earshot of humanity.

Father forgive the traitor, the Pharisees, the Romans, the soldiers, the harlots, the fearful, the conspirators, the tax collectors, and, yes, even My mother.

And when we read this noble cannon of divine literature, it compels us to understand that these words would include the whole of humanity. He forgives them all: the extortion expert, the mob hit man, the pornographer, the mass murdered, the abortion doctor and the pastor. We all have an open invitation to be forgiven.  Something in the human heart wants to earn or achieve his forgiveness. Perhaps we could make amends for our humanity. But this is not the Gospel. This is not the Good News. The Good News is that Jesus accomplished everything on the cross and, frankly, He doesn’t need our help to finish the deal.

In the story of Gospel we read the revolutionary truth from the lips of God, “For God didn’t send his only Son into this world to condemn it, but that the world through Him might be saved.”

(John 3:17)

Grace and Recompense

This Fire of Love
unquenched by Eden’s wreck
and flowing seemingly in perpetuity
toward all that soon will be
in all its violent beauty
He shall hold all hell’s poison and heaven’s glory.
Small beginning, love’s grandest story
from the heartbeat in a virgin’s womb
til one Sunday rising from the tomb
One
for all…
Once
for all…
This is the salvation from garrulous platitudes and languorous days
Advent… in slightest breath, in manger lay.
Ten-thousand kingdoms would bow through ages.
The cause of grace and recompense
From distant past to future tense:
Jesus

You Can Have It All

 

He Knows It All

There is a comfort of grace, in discovering that He knows it all and remains.

He sees through our well-scripted liturgies, our intricate facades and discovers the child hiding inside us. When we realize that He sees all the details– the real us and loves us still, life, perhaps for the first time, becomes real. Only God could see it all and remain faithful to us. I’ve spent most of my life trying to hide the ugliness of shame and promote the achievements, acknowledgments, and the awards of my life. Really, it is madness and idolatry. He is most glorified in our weakness. When we cast light on our weakness, God says, “This is the work I did. My body and blood redeemed this also.” It would be easy for God to redeem that which is already good. BUT He is glorified greatly when He transforms the wretched. Today, may we share our struggles with each other and discover Christ’s stubborn, unfailing love for vagabonds and misfits.

Mysterious Peace

There is a mysterious peace when you have been left with only Jesus.
when there is desolation and pain—
when the burden is greater than you thought you could bear—
when the darkness gathers around you—
even after goodbyes are said—
He is the faithful friend who is ever beside you when all others forsake you. He is above every present sorrow and every personal struggle. He, too, has walked the paths of brokenness. He, too, has stood beside graves. He, too, was betrayed and conspired against. You share commonality and kinship with the author of the universe.

He placed His mark on you. He claimed you as His own. He looked through the crowd. He found you and said, “This struggling child is mine.” He is enough to fill your empty cup and to calm the storm within. He can be heard if you allow Him into your silence. He can be seen in the sunset of each dying day. Closer, He will be to you—Pulling you closer into His grace… With every struggling moment, when you desire Him more than the fallen world’s rotting junkyard of futile aspirations and empty pleasure– He will be more than what you imagined He could be. And you would have never known the depth of His love so deeply if you had never suffered so greatly.

What Happened Here?

if you asked what happened here
my reply brief and sure would be:
i tasted loneliness and found it pleasing.
i dreamed of God and washed the floors.
i listened to nothing and everything that surrounded it.
i swam at midnight and watched the moon gazing over the louisiana clouds.
i wailed and no one heard but the perplexities of the owl and possum.
i was never more alive and never more dead.
it was transcendent.
it was holy.
it was the best time of my life. 
(reflections from 1982)