A Keeper

The internet is filled with all kinds of wisdom – some good, some not so good. At a recent Session meeting, one of our elders shared the following devotional.

I grew up in the 50s and 60s with practical parents. A mother – God love her – who washed aluminum foil after she cooked it and then reused it. She was the original recycle queen, before they had a name for it. My dad was a father who was happier getting old shoes fixed than buying new ones.

Their marriage was good, their dreams focused. Their best friends lived barely a wave away.

I can see them now. Dad in trousers, tee shirt, and a hat and Mom in a house dress – lawnmower in one hand and a dish-towel in the other. It was the time for fixing things. A curtain rod, the kitchen radio, screen door, the oven door, the hem in a dress. These were things we keep.

It was a way of life and sometimes it made me crazy. All the re-fixing, eating, renewing. I wanted just once to be wasteful. Waste meant affluence. Throwing things away meant you knew there would always be more.

But then my mother died, and on that clear summer’s night – in the warmth of the hospital room – I was struck with the pain of learning that sometimes there isn’t more.

Sometimes what we care about most gets all used up and goes away…never to return. So, while we have it, it’s best we love it, and care for it, and fix it when it’s broken, and heal it when it is sick.

This is true for marriage…and old cars…and children with bad report cards…and dogs with bad hips…and aging parents…and grandparents. We keep them because they are worth it, because we are worth it. Some things we keep, like a best friend that moved away or a classmate we grew up with.

There are just some things that make life important – like people we know who are special. And so we keep them close. Good friends are like stars…you don’t always see them, but you know they are always there.

The devotion goes on with some challenges for how we live our lives. Those will be fodder for future posts. But for now, Scott’s devotional reminded me of the need to give thanks, to express love, and cherish the important relationships in my life.

I am thankful for my wife, my children, my grandchildren, siblings, my extended family. I am thankful for friends who have stuck by me through thick and in thin. I am thankful for the members of Laguna Niguel Presbyterian Church who love me, forgive me, extend grace to me and are patient with me. You are people who gently mold, shape, and heal me when I am sick. I am thankful beyond words.

God’s Business

Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome enter the tomb, come into the grieving room and it is there that they encounter a young man, dressed in white, who tells them two important things. First, don’t be afraid. And second, the Jesus that you seek is no longer contained by this tomb, is no longer contained by death. He has risen. Look! See for yourself! Jesus is not here. The women have received from this messenger, the news of Christ’s resurrection! Life is suddenly anything but usual!

No longer is Jesus a memory. Now He is a presence – a presence that will meet them in Galilee. A presence that will meet us wherever Jesus can find us. Meet us, and embrace us!

No longer is Jesus an historical figure destined to fade into the annals of the history books – known only when we decide to read. Now Jesus has regained His eternal nature and can be encountered again and again by the faithful!

But perhaps most importantly, the messenger tells the women explicitly to tell the disciples AND PETER that Jesus is alive. The tomb could not hold him. Sin could not keep him. Death was defeated. Guilt has been conquered by grace and Peter – Peter, the one who had denied Jesus three times – Peter was not dead in his betrayal.

This is hardly business as usual. Jesus could have said anything. Jesus could have given any set of instructions. But Jesus undoubtedly knew of Peter’s agony over his betrayal of Jesus. Jesus wants to make sure that Peter knows that betrayal is not the final word – resurrection is!

It’s Sunday morning. It is really early. We might be tired from the events of Friday night and Saturday. We may be feeling numb from past disappointments and our own betrayals. But friends, it is Easter! The tomb is empty. We may deserve condemnation but instead we are met with grace and compassion. We may deserve harsh words and endless acts of contrition trying to earn our way back into God’s good graces. THAT would be business as usual. 

But thankfully, God’s business is love, not anger. God’s business is grace, not judgment. God’s business is restoration not a pound of flesh. Love, grace, restoration – THAT is business as usual for God!

“Circling The Drain”

A close friend in North Carolina used to talk about those who were coming to the close of their earthly lives as “circling the drain.” The comment was not meant to be pejorative, demeaning, or dismissive. In fact, I never heard him use the phrase in reference to anyone for whom he didn’t have deep love and respect. It was a phrase that was meant to capture the inevitability of one’s passing while still describing some level of life, passion, and engagement.

At the risk of sounding irreverent, Jesus is “circling the drain.” Events that had been known since the beginning of time would soon be coming to fruition. The end – Christ’s decisive victory over sin and death – will soon be set into motion. Cities will be entered. Final teachings will be given. Betrayal – arrests – brutal beatings – and an even more horrific death are imminent.

The pattern is known and set. Nothing about the story will change. It is not as though suddenly the crowd will choose Jesus instead of Barabbas. I wonder if the story – in all of its familiarity – has lost some of its ability to fill us with awe and wonder? I wonder – since we know that Friday is not the final word – if we will be able to go through the hours of Good Friday with little apprehension, with little dread, with an overly familiar and comfortable awareness of Christ’s time on the Cross? I wonder, if we will wonder at all.

There is an inevitability about circling the drain. But that doesn’t mean – in the midst of that inevitability – that life cannot be filled with wonder, majesty, glory, amazement, horror, and overwhelming thankfulness. How will your Holy Week be different this year? What new services or experiences will you enter into to make Holy Week different and wondrously new?

Rationalizations and Faithfulness

Friends, I am increasingly convinced that the opposite of love is not hate. No, the opposite of love is apathy. We just don’t care. Or at least we don’t care enough to actually do anything about it. We don’t actually care enough to sacrifice anything for it. We just don’t care enough to weep over the things that break God’s heart.

I know all of the rationalizations. I have used most of them myself. It’s their problem. They made their bed, now they have to sleep in it. They didn’t do this, they didn’t do that. They were lazy, they were drug addled, they were self-abusive, they were all of those things. I have used all of these rationalizations in the past. And to these rationalizations, to me, and to others who just don’t care – who are not going to generate any compassion over those who are struggling in the midst of problems, self-generated or not – Matthew writes a devastating set of texts.

First, in Matthew 9, when the heart of Jesus aches over the sinful and broken of His day, Jesus laments, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”  In their day, as in our own, the number of people who wept as Jesus wept were few and far between. In their day, as in our own, rationalizations carried the day. So the Laborers were, and continue to be, few.

Matthew 25 gives to us a painful consequence for those whose rationalizations for inaction are more persuasive than the example and command of Jesus. Notice in the long text that I read, Jesus didn’t ask about culpability. Jesus didn’t ask about bad choices. Jesus didn’t ask about laziness, a lack of ambition, or a willingness to take responsibility for one’s condition in life. Jesus didn’t even ask about the spiritual commitment of the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, or the imprisoned. Jesus asks only one thing. Did you give them what they needed?

Jesus doesn’t ask about any kind of screening, any kind of litmus test that we might employ before we would feed, house, hunger, or visit. Jesus simply – but shockingly says – “as you did this to the least of these, you have done this to me.”