Thursday, March 10, 2011


As an evangelical Lent is one of the only seasons of the liturgical year that holds particular meaning for me.  Lent is a gift to a frenzied world: an opportunity to stop and look within, a chance for every believer to ask, “What does this Christian faith really mean to me?  What am I willing to give for it?  Many progressive Christians seem to think that sin no longer exists, that we can live our lives in whatever fashion we choose and a warm and fuzzy Jesus will never require more of us than we are willing to give.  Yet Lent is a season that reminds us that indeed sin is real and costly.  It is costly to God, costly to others and costly to ourselves.  Jesus’ agonizing death on the cross is proof of this.  And we are not following a Jesus who has no requirements of us.  What is this crucified Savior asking of me?  What do I owe the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world?  These are the questions I intentionally choose to wrestle with during the season of Lent.

So many of us have come from traditions that have beat us over the head with sin over and over again.  You couldn’t walk into church without feeling guilty and ashamed.  I grew up in an evangelical church and let me tell you the Catholics aren’t the only ones who know how to use shame!  Didn’t make it to Wednesday Night Bible Study?  Sin!  Forgot to say grace before lunch?  Sin!  Didn’t pay your tithes this week?  When Jesus comes back during the Rapture you’re going to be left behind!  And though the concept of sin has been terribly abused, the reality of sin does not disappear.  The acknowledgement of sin is not meant to be used as a tool to control, manipulate and shame others, but to provide an entrance for grace.  The acknowledgement of sin, the tendency in all of us to do harm to each other and ourselves creates a humility, a brokenness that leads us to discover the God who walks with us in broken places.  This is what comes to mind when I think of Lent: a Savior who came to earth to walk with us in our broken places, to save us from all the ways sin tries to rob us from truly living.

During the season of Lent what I find more important than giving something up although I will do that as well, is spending extra time in daily prayer examining myself in the sight of God.  It’s so easy to see the sin in others but can I see the sin lurking within my own heart?  What are the thoughts, attitudes and dispositions in me that separate me from God, from others and even my own soul?  “Search me O God and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).  This is the cry of my heart and the prayer I will pray over and over again during Lent.  Jesus live out your resurrected life in me.  Cleanse me, wash me, purge me.  Make me aware of the things in me that are preventing You from dwelling in me more fully.

Whenever I approach God with this kind of humility God shows up with his presence and answers my prayers.  My eyes are opened and I begin to be aware of ways in which I fail God and others and myself, and the result is not shame or condemnation.  The brokenness revealed by the awareness of sin creates an entrance for grace.  “But where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,” (Romans 5:20). The brokenness creates more space in our hearts for God to dwell.  In the time I spend singing, praying and sitting quietly before God I feel washed over by waves of grace.  I feel that I am being carried by the Savior, the Lamb of God who has taken away my sin, is taking away my sin now and will continue to take away my sin in the future.  My response is love.  I fall in love all over again with this God, this Savior as gentle as a lamb, who walks with me in broken places and I commit myself again to following Jesus for the rest of my life.  Whatever it takes, whatever it may cost me my soul sings, “Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to Thee”.  I will die to my own will and agenda in order to allow Jesus to live out his resurrected life in me.  Lent’s greatest gift is the reminder that I am completely dependent upon this God and it is this dependence paradoxically that liberates my soul and makes a full authentic life possible.  And this whole process begins with the acknowledgement of my own sin.

“It is in descending again into the darkness and silence of the womb of God do we reemerge into a world of light ready to begin our journey afresh.”


Thursday, January 13, 2011

First Sunday After the Epiphany

Matthew 3:13-17
Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased."

The Words We All Long To Hear
A reflection on Matthew 3:13-17

I must admit I am having trouble with this whole lectionary thing!  I did a few reflections and got away from it for a while then I said ok in January I’ll stick to reflecting on the weekly Gospel passages.  Then I read this week’s passage and again I thought I don’t know what to say about this.  And yet again the moment I trusted that indeed God has something to say to me and my faith community in this passage something came to me so here I go.

“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased."  Wow, these are the words we all long to hear.  “You’re my son and I love you and I am pleased with you.”  “You’re my daughter and I love you and you make me happy.”  How many people go through their entire lives longing to hear these words said to them but never do?  This world has gone awry and it is filled with so many people who have never had an encounter with simple but life-changing love and this lack forever alters the trajectory of their lives.  Jesus’ baptism marked the beginning of his public life and it began with a wonderful affirmation of love from God the Father.  Life begins when we are loved.   That is when we begin to live, to grow, to come into our purpose.  Without it, life has yet to begin.  And all one has to do is look at the condition of our world today to see the result of so many people never hearing anyone say, “Hey, I love you.  You make me smile.  You’re alright with me.”

A friend of mine works at a lock down facility for men with issues of substance abuse.  My goodness the stories she can tell!  I’m not talking about men involved in white collar crime.  Oh no, these are street hardened men who you wouldn’t even want to walk past on the sidewalk.  Some of these men have done horrible, horrible things.  They’ve broken the law numerous times; they’ve stolen, they’ve betrayed family even their own children.  If you were to read their criminal records it would be quite easy to say, “Oh this is just too much, lock them up and throw away the key!”  And yet when my friend sits down and talks to them she sees the same thing over and over again: hardcore, street-hardened, F-bomb dropping criminals who turn out to be regular, ordinary men who were never loved and did horrible things to others and to themselves because of it.  Every single man she sat down with was a person dying to hear someone say the words, “I love you and you’re going to be ok.”

Now I have never mugged anyone or attempted to rob a bank.  I don’t have a criminal record like the men my friend works with, but I too like so many others have longed to hear the words “I love you”.  It took many years before my father ever said those words to me and by that time it was too late; it didn’t matter to me anymore.  I spent so many years without any affirmation from him I learned to do without it.  I struggled with self-doubting and low self-esteem for years, constantly comparing myself to others and constantly wondering am I good enough.  But I am so grateful that there was an intervening force in my life and that was the love of God.  I am absolutely amazed that God the Father would say to me exactly what he said to Jesus, “You are my son.  I love and you I am pleased with you.” 

I’ll never forget the day I felt like God was saying to me “You are enough for me”.  I was feeling a bit insecure.  I was in church surrounded by people who were rejoicing during worship but I couldn’t fully join them.  Then it was as if God whispered into my ear “You are enough for me”, and it made my heart stand still.  At that moment I stopped judging myself and comparing myself to others because if I was enough for God than certainly I could be enough for myself!  And God is saying the same thing to you.  “You are my son.  You are my daughter.  I love you and you are enough for me.”  I want to tell you right now that you are deeply and infinitely loved by God.  It is impossible for God to love you more than He does right now. God loves you immensely.  Know this deep within you.

Life begins when we are loved and there’s no substitute for the love of God.  We cannot be God to people but we can allow God’s love for others to flow through us.  We can be a part of the process of people coming alive and growing into their purpose by loving them as God loves them.  God’s public affirmation of love for the Son is what started Jesus’ ministry.  If you have any desire to see someone become what God wants them to be do not judge them.  Do not condemn them.  Do not shame them.  Love them.  Love is the only condition in which transformation is a possibility.  We are not qualified to judge anyone.  We are ill equipped to save anyone, but we can love and that may be all that is required.  And our demonstration of love may just be the beginning of someone coming to life, like a flower opening up to the sun, like Jesus rising out of the water after his baptism.  What an amazing opportunity to join God the Father.  Love.