Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Reflections On Marriage (13 Years Later)

Today marks 13 years of the marriage journey with Sarah. Along the way we have made our way through a lot. Some challenging times like the death of my dad, and many joy filled times like the birth of our children. As I look back over the years there are a few things I have found to be key to our marriage. On this anniversary day I thought I would share them with you all.

The Most Important Earthly Relationship
Our lives are filled with relationships of various forms and intensity. The family relationships we have we are born into. The work relationships we share we do not always choose. Many other relationships are outside of our control. The relationship with our spouse is a relationship we choose, unless you are in a culture of arranged marriage. This choice is not simply about who we will share life with, This is not a choice about our sex life. This is a choice which shows who is our most important earthly relationship. There should be no other relationship of earth more important than the relationship to our spouse. This includes, our parents, our children, our friends, etc.. A  key to marriage is not only remembering this to be true but having all your practice of life reflect this truth.

Forgiveness Required
I cannot tell you the number of boneheaded things I have done during the course of our marriage. The joy is, neither can Sarah. There is not a scorecard being kept of boneheaded actions. However when I mess up I know there needs to be a seeking of forgiveness, and when our spouses mess up we must be ready to offer forgiveness. Some actions are more difficult to forgive than others, still the must be forgiveness for a marriage to flourish. Part of forgiveness is not keeping a record of the times each other has messed up.

Marrying Up
People far smarter than I am have studied marriages over the long haul. One of the most common thoughts among long-term marriages is the idea that people had married up. Not only the thought of marrying up, but conducted their lives and treated their spouses accordingly. I am so blessed that God placed Sarah and I together, and I have to acknowledge that I do not deserve such a blessing as being married to her. The times when I forget this are the times we have rough patches in our marriage. When we view and treat our spouse as an undeserved gift from God it changes our relationship for the better.

God Fusion
Marriage is not always easy. I do not know how people who do have God at the center of their lives and marriage pull it off. I am not talking about merely having God as companion in a life and marriage, I am talking about having a life and marriage that is fused with God. Fusion is the process of two things coming together to make one. Our lives must be fused with God to experience all that God has for us. To find comfort, joy, and love we must have our lives become one with God. The same is true of our marriages. We must take our fused lives and and fuse them with God. Once fusion takes place something new is created that is greater than the sum of the parts. Marriages often struggle because we refuse to lose ourselves in God and the other person for fear of losing who we are. A key to a deep and fulfilling marriage is allowing ourselves to be fused to our spouse and with God.

Having Fun
Not much explanation needed. For any relationship to thrive we need to have fun with those we are in relationship with.

Great marriages do not just happen, they take effort. The effort is not always difficult, still there needs to be effort put in to develop a marriage of great value. This is more than the occasional trip away, or attending a conference here and there. Those things are important and should be done. It is the daily work which is most important and bears the most fruit. We must be willing to put in the effort.

Enjoy Time Together
Last, enjoy time together on a regular basis. Call it date night or what every you want. Relationships take regular time invested.

There is so much more that goes into a great marriage but these are some keys I have learned over the 13 years I have journeyed with Sarah and have been blessed. May they be a blessing to you.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Hope Becomes Reality

The journey is complete, from the entry to the city, to the cross and now the resurrection. No longer is death the final answer. For centuries people waited for the Messiah to come and bring about redemption. In that time people had many designs and hopes of what the Messiah would be and how the redemption would come. Jesus was clear how it would work, the would arrest him, beat him, crucify him. He would be dead and buried and on the third day he would be raised from the dead. Great News friends it is the third day, Jesus is alive!!!

God has done the work of bringing the promise to reality. Now we must do our part and realize that which we have hoped for is at our finger tips. We hope for many things, yet all that is hoped for can be found in the same place, the empty tomb. Whatever we think is lacking in our lives can be found in the resurrected Jesus. The hope we have becomes reality in Jesus. It is important to remember a relationship with Jesus will change what we hope for in life. Because of the resurrection things once thought important will not seem so important now. Grudges long held can be washed away. The past which binds us is broken and freedom is found.

A simple prayer for you the reader today, May you know the love God has for you. May you know God has set us free through Jesus. May you know God is for real because the tomb is empty. My your hope become reality as you hand your life over to Jesus Christ.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Silent Day

The journey from Palm Sunday to Easter morning is filled with all kinds of scenes. Across the Gospel accounts we find several events that occupy the final week of Jesus earthly ministry. Interestingly there is a one day that we have absolutely nothing from, Saturday. The scriptures go right from Friday night and the burial of Jesus to the accounts of the resurrection. Why the silence?

I am sure part of the silence is the fact there is nothing to say. Jesus is dead, he is in the tomb and the followers are not sure what they are going to do. There is not much that can be said at that point. I often try to imagine what would have been going through the minds of the followers. They all gave up everything to follow Jesus with the hope that he was in fact the Messiah. He promised that after his death he would rise on the third day but it was only day two. Was Peter rehearsing his denial in the courtyard with great regret? Were the rest of them figuring out how to return to their previous lives? Simply, we do not know because there is only silence about the day in between.

The silence between the start of the promise and the completion of the promise can be the most deafening time we face. Jesus made it real clear how things were going to work. He would be arrested, beaten, crucified and would die. On the third day he would rise. The first part had happened and now the anxious waiting was well underway. In our journeys this happens all the time. God begins to make things different in our lives only to have times when it feels like nothing is happening. Almost as if there are times when God is silent. It is easy to lose heart in these times. During the silence it is easy to think God abandoned the plan and us. Many times we take matters into our own hands instead of waiting one more day. In our human effort we try to complete what only the power of God can accomplish. The results of this effort often lead us to discouragement and anger toward God. If only we could be more comfortable with silence.

Silence is not the absence of God. What we hear as silence is often God speaking in another way. I have a hearing deficiency in my left ear. There are some frequencies that I simply cannot hear that others can no matter how loud the sound is. At the same time there are other frequencies I hear before others because my ear has become more tuned to those sounds. Depending on the frequency I might think there is silence when others hear screaming, or I might hear a murmur when others hear only silence.

It is not that God was silent between the cross and the resurrection, God is simply specking in a different way. Our task is to not be afraid of the silence and seek to hear what God is speaking. Not all, but many people have today as a day off. It will be filled with all kinds of activities to keep us busy through the day. Even if you have to work, I want to encourage us to take some time and listen to the silence. Seek and listen for what God is speaking to you in this in between time. The promise of life is well underway and tomorrow will bring the celebration of life. As for today, struggle in the silence and find God in a new way.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Curtain Is Torn

Good Friday, the most somber and dark day of the passion. Gone are the parties of the triumphal enter to the city. Done are the celebrations of the Passover. Now we come face to face with the beautiful brutality of the journey of Jesus through the cross. For the account according to Mark go to, Mark 15:16-41.

There is so much to look at in this passage, and none of it to be overlooked. This morning as I prayed my way through the passage what kept calling my attention was the curtain in the Temple. Jesus spent so much of his ministry with people engaging those who were considered separated from God. The Biblical writers use creative terms, notorious sinners, people of ill repute. Also there is a more direct term, sinners. It seems to me religions works to separate the good people from the bad people, the saints from the sinners. Further there appears to be an intentional system of saying only certain people may enter into the presence of God. This is much like the world Jesus was crucified in.

The writer of Mark is sure to highlight the tearing of the curtain. There is no longer a separation of the Holy and the people. No longer will access be denied excepting only a certain few. God is the God of all people and Jesus death opened the door, or curtain as it were, so that all might once again draw near to God. There was no need for the High Priest to enter the Holy Place for you, we may enter in through Christ alone.

While there are plenty of people who think the have it all together, and that others should be more like them in this thing called the church, I find there are more people who live as though there is still a curtain between us and God. Constantly I am finding people that think their access to God is limited because of their sin, or their life or whatever other reason given. Usually the conversation is one of worthiness, people do not feel worthy of the Holiness of God. In one regard that is correct, we are not worthy on our own. In another regard, the curtain being torn as Jesus dies means that through Jesus we are worthy.

I will go as far to say when we live anything less that the full access to God we are dishonoring the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For us to go around living as though there is a separation is like telling Jesus thanks for dying for me and all but it really didn't matter.

Currently I am coming across more and more people who are discouraged by the circumstances of life. Things are not the way they thought they would be so they begin to mope their way through life. As I read once again about the curtain being torn top to bottom I find there is no reason to mope. We have every reason to give thanks because we have direct access to God. The grace of God is fully available no matter what our life circumstance is. Somewhere along the line we in America began to think everything should be easy and work out just as we want it to. There is no Scriptural evidence to support that claim. What we do have evidence of is a God who meets us right where we are at and loves us in that place. The only barrier between us and God are the ones that we build.

So, I don't know if you need to get your scissors out, or if you have the strength in your hands, but it is time to tear the curtains we have made between us and God. Through the death of Jesus God removed the curtain from that side of things, now it is our turn. This will mean the confession of sin, repentance, and setting our lives on a new course. The death of Jesus while gruesome and painful to think about, is not the end of the story. The curtain was not torn so that we could focus on the death in our midst. All of it is to put to death that which keeps us from God. Then we are given the resurrection so that we may live, not mope.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Struggle of How Versus What

Today in the journey to the cross things begin to take on a whole new dimension. Jesus gathers with the disciples in the upper room, probably more than just the twelve. During their time in the upper room they are celebrating the Passover. This is the celebration of God leading the people out of Egypt and slavery and moving them toward the promise of God and freedom. For a read of the passage go to Mark 14:12-26.

Let me start by saying we often take the celebration of Holy Communion too lightly. More accurately, I have often found myself not fully connecting with what is going on in the act of Communion. Growing up it was something we did in church monthly, and once I traveled in another tradition it was only occasionally that we celebrated the Lord's Supper. Still whenever I celebrated the meal, it seemed to be lacking something for me. By the time I started seminary and my vocation in the church, I really did not place much value in the time of Holy Communion. I defiantly did not understand why people got so worked up about the whole thing.

Sad to say I have participated in what has been not so affectionately called the worship wars. This has been the ongoing struggle between the classic forms of worship in the church and emerging forms. There has been a lot of press about the music in the conflict however there is another casualty, Holy Communion. Debates about the appropriate ways to celebrate communion surfaced. There were all kinds of arguments for and against certain styles, from sanitary issues, to wastefulness, and I even heard claim that taking communion in the wrong style will offend God. Should communion be taken at an altar rail, in the pews, or as an individual interaction. Should there be bread cubes, wafers, or a whole loaf of bread. Is it appropriate to have little cups for wine or juice. Should it be wine or juice. Should there be a common cup, should we drink from the cup or only dip the bread symbol.

As happens anytime there is more focus on the how than the what in the church we have tragically missed the point. I do not think God really cares how we go about celebrating Communion. Meaning, it is of little consequence to Jesus if we use wafers, or bread, little cups or a common cup. If we are at a rail together, in pews or processing in line. The style of the meal matters not. What matters is what is happening in our relationship with God. On that night when Jesus gathered with the disciples in the upper room the focus was not on the way he broke the bread it was focused on what it means for us that he broke the bread.

So what is happening when we celebrate Holy Communion? We are connecting with one of the anchor points in our journey. Through the sharing of communion we are connecting with Christ and remembering the sacrifice made on our behalf. We are also remembering that Christ is there with us in that very moment. Holy Communion is a time when we have opportunity to ask that most Wesleyan of questions, "How is it with my soul?" Through the act of Communion the grace of God is made tangible for us. This grace has the capacity to reconcile a wayward soul or strengthen the soul of one who is earnestly seeking to follow God.

How we understand all that to take place is secondary. I know some will not agree with that statement, there is not much I can do about that. The primary action of Holy Communion is the connection between humanity and God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. I hope you will have opportunity today to celebrate Holy Communion. I hope you will have an opportunity to ask the question, how is it with your soul. My prayer is that as you share in the bread and the fruit of the vine, you will find rest for your souls, strength for the journey and hope for the future of promise.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Distance Between Sunday and Friday

Day four of Holy Week has dawned and another day of our journey is upon us. As I have journeyed this week I find myself getting increasingly focused on the range of emotions this week represents. I have also become very aware of the different people we encounter in the journey through scriptures in this final week of Jesus earthly life. Today I am thinking about Judas, and in the Gospel of Mark we find this short account: "Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over." (Mark 14:10-11). 

This last week in church one of our worship leaders shared a prayer that stopped me dead in my tracks, She lifted to God, "we are so good a worshiping you and praising you on Sunday Lord, but by Friday it is our voice that mocks you." For me it was one of those moments when all the random thoughts in my mind, all the details of a worship service, heck the whole world seemed to come to a halt and there I was with God owning up to the fact that I am Judas.

I am not sure there is another person in the Scriptures who gets a worse wrap than Judas. There is no shortage of people in Scripture to not like or even to despise, yet when it comes to Judas there is usually a special place in our hearts for him. That place we reserve for Judas is often not a real good place. Here we have someone who journeyed with Jesus for the better part of three years. Judas participated in the most intense and perfect seminary experience ever offered. If there was a person who should know the very heart of God, it would be Judas and any of the other twelve. Still, given the opportunity Judas sells out on Jesus. As a result there are many through the centuries who have hated on Judas because he should have known.

It is important to be careful in how harsh we are with Judas. If we are bold enough to take a good look at our lives we might realize we could just as easily be Judas. I have been attempting to follow Jesus for the better part of 30 years, and I know there are times when I find my only company in following is that of Judas. Sure I spend Sunday worshiping God with all my heart, yet through the week I find ways to drift from Sunday's passion. Before long I find myself more readily complaining about Jesus than following him.

Now there is a big difference between complaining and turning Jesus into the religious leaders. However that distance is not as great as I would like it to be. Like Judas, I find there are ways I wish Jesus would act differently. When that does not happen I find ways to get what I want, even if it means betraying what I know to be good and true of Jesus. When my willingness to forsake Jesus is high I do not have to look real hard to find someone who is delighted to hear and see that I am so willing to turn my back on the One I have followed for so long.

This short passage in Mark may seem like a simple transition giving a historical detail. Obviously I think it is much more. These two little verses present for us an example of the distance that often exists between Sunday and Friday. When we follow Jesus there is a strong sense of I ought to know better. Still we often fail to do better than we know. All of this is true. What is also true is Jesus knows all this about us and continues to shower us with extravagant grace and love. While the distance between Sunday and Friday might be great, it is not greater than the love God has for us and the desire God has for us to place our lives in the hands of Jesus.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Determining Extravagance

As we continue on the journey through Holy Week we now find Jesus in the little village of Bethany. This village is located just outside of Jerusalem and is home to Lazarus and his sisters. Jesus has joined with Simon the Leper for dinner. To read the full account according to Mark go to Mark 14:1-9.

Jesus is eating dinner at the house of a person that he should not be at, or at least according to all the religious leaders and human created religious traditions. The fact that Simon's identity is that of the Leper gives a clue that he has a past that is less than acceptable to the religious establishment. To further complicate the issue a woman approaches Jesus. In the other Gospel accounts the woman is a woman of ill repute. So Jesus is in a house he shouldn't be in and a woman he should not have contact with him pour perfume all over him. This is too much for those gathered, who by the way were the disciples and some of the religious leaders.

The claim levied against the woman in Jesus direction is that she has wasted that which is very expensive. Interestingly the issue is not the company Jesus is keeping, rather it is the extravagant gift lavished upon Jesus. Right away the practical voices erupt to point out all the practical things that could have been done with the value of the perfume rather than dump it on Jesus' head. No attention is paid to the sacrifice this woman has made. There is no recognition of this woman more than likely putting her livelihood at risk, certainly her security in terms of earthly things was being poured out on Jesus. Nope, the focus is the waste and so they rebuke the woman, not just rebuke her but do so harshly.

At this point Jesus enters the conversation with what are some of the most misused and confusing words he shares. "The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them anytime you want. You will not always have me." Jesus is calling the bluff of the complainers. The concern for the poor was not new and has not seemed to go away, yet all of a sudden these people, who could do something about the poor, are concerned about this act of extravagance offered by this woman. The people who were suppose to best understand the extravagance of God seem to miss it. It is save to assume those complaining about the actions would not have sold the perfume for giving to the poor, rather they would have horded up the value as a sign of their own extravagance. While those gathered try to make this about finances and serving others, reality is the issue at hand is the state of our hearts and determining what is extravagant.

What is the most extravagant thing you have ever done for another person? Now the harder question, what was the motivation behind that offering? Offering extravagance is not often the issue, rather it is right motivation and right offering. The woman in the passage is not trying to gain anything, her motivation is to shower, literally, Jesus with the extravagance of her heart. In this simple act she is offering to Jesus her life, her security, and her future. Any of the material things of the world Jesus had at his disposal. If he needed to be anointed with perfume before burial, he could have cared for that. The issue was the extravagant love this woman had for Jesus, a level of love which put everything on the line.

It seems to me the most extravagant thing we can offer to another person is our very life. When we offer or being to another person, not so we might gain, simply because of love, we are showing the greatest form of extravagance. There are many gifts we can purchase and give to other people. Stores are filled with items for us to purchase and offer to someone as a sign of our care, affection and love, still a store cannot sell us the most extravagant thing.

Jesus helps us determine extravagance, that he would lay down his life for us. There was nothing for him to gain. There was not secret motivation. Simply a love beyond comprehension. Like the love the woman at Simon the Leper's house, the extravagance has nothing to do with the perfume, and every thing to do with offer of a life. Take time today to bask in the extravagance of Christ in our lives. Also take time to lavish that extravagance on other people.

To prepare your heart, I offer this song as a way to focus on who God is and what extravagance is:

Monday, April 2, 2012

Jesus Junk, The Easter Bunny and Reality

Today brings us to the next step toward the Cross. Yesterday was the celebration of Jesus' entry into the city as the King. Today brings us to the day traditionally thought of as the day Jesus cleansed the temple. For Mark's account of this event please see Mark 11:15-18. Here we find Jesus not real happy with what is happening in the temple courts. The merchandisers are all set up are ready to capitalize on all the people going to make their sacrifice and show their relationship with God. The actions of Jesus can be pretty disturbing until we take a closer look, and then the actions are down right convicting.

In my journey with God I have had all varieties of Christian message t-shirts, trinkets and assorted what I call Jesus junk. If you are a Jesus junk lover and user these thoughts are not offered as a criticism of you, only as an invitation to think and examine. Jesus junk are those things that have quite little slogans about our relationship with God. I shutter to think about the amount of money spent of these items in a given year. I shutter to think about the amount of money I have spent on such things along my journey. This morning as I was praying I got haunted by a thought, what if we didn't need Jesus junk to tell others and ourselves about our relationship with Jesus? What by watching our lives people would see the Love we have for God and experience the grace of Jesus? The Jesus junk t-shirts and sundry items are not bad, but are they the only way people know we have a relationship with Jesus?

Then there is the whole Easter Bunny thing. This weekend I was with my family at a few of our local shopping establishments. There were egg hunts, and all kinds of frenzy about the coming of Easter. I day say the stores were more excited about the coming of Easter than many in our churches. The frenzy was brought to the height when the announcement was made that the Easter Bunny had arrived and all the children should line up and get ready for pictures with the Easter Bunny. I am no fool, at least about this, the reason the stores have events for Easter is not because of their deep love for the amazing work of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus. I know it is because they have figured out the greatest act of God is a good opportunity to turn a buck. People come to the stores and visit the strategically placed Easter Bunny, and while getting their pictures taken, there is all kinds of other "essentials" available in eyesight.

The reality is Jesus came into such a situation in the Temple. We read Jesus chasing the merchants out with harsh words, you have made it a den of robbers. I wonder how much Jesus weeps over the fact that places looking to make money celebrate Easter with greater excitement than those who don their Jesus junk and proclaim their relationship with God through t-shirts, bumper stickers and other items. Have we created and merchandised Jesus who is good buddies with the Easter Bunny?

As we move through this most Holy Week, I invite you to explore a few things. First, if you are annoyed with me for ranting about Jesus junk, the Easter Bunny and our relationship to God, ask why. Second, ask God to show you where you have missed it. Seek the voice of God to point our the ways we have made Jesus and the Easter Bunny buddies. Third, determine if you were sitting at one of the tables selling in the temple, or if you were one of the ones amazed by the righteous and holy anger of Jesus.

Finally, all of us need to take time to remember the journey of Holy Week is the foundation of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Ask yourself what kind of cleansing is need in your life today that you might experience more of what God wants for you. Then do not get another article of Jesus junk, simply and with great devotion live the calling of Jesus in your life.