Saturday, March 31, 2012

Saturday, March 31, 2012


Living in the D.C. area for five years now has made me more aware of power—the way it is used well and the way it is sometimes not used well or even abused. Pontius Pilate is a person who had a great deal of power. He is thrust into a difficult situation as the Jewish leaders ask him to sentence Jesus to death. They are convinced Jesus has blasphemed God by calling himself the Son of God.

Pilate goes into Jesus and asks Jesus, “Where are you from?” When Jesus does not answer, Pilate asserts his authority making clear he has the power to release Jesus or to crucify him. Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above.”

Though Jesus did suffer under a religious and political system that was seemingly spinning out of control, let us be clear: Jesus was not a victim. Jesus does not have his life taken from him by the power of another. He never stops being the Lord of the universe who is always in control. What we see is remarkable power and self-control in Jesus who chooses to willingly give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:46). I think of his words from John 10:14-15, 18.

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep…. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.

As we prepare to begin Holy Week and walk with Jesus all the way to the cross, let us be amazed by his love and his sacrifice. Let us be filled with gratitude for the way he took our sin on himself that we might be dead to sin and alive to God. Let us wonder at the God of the universe exercising his unlimited power and authority to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. And let us confess any ways that we are misusing power and ask God to make us the kind of people who use any power God has given us to love, to bless, to heal.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Unhappiness is…
This week in the iBelieve series on the Apostle’s Creed, we are moving into the passion of Christ—his suffering and his death. In John 18, we witness Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, and trial before Jewish and Roman leaders. What is in question are Jesus’ identity and mission. The contrast between Jesus and all the others in the narrative is remarkable. There are so many words flying and so many actions being taken against Christ.

We see the fear of Peter manifested in betrayal, the anger of Jewish religious leaders seeking to manipulate the Roman government to help them in getting rid of Jesus, and Pilate’s wrong use of power to end an innocent man’s life in order to quell an uprising and maintain the pax Romana and to save his political career. You could say there is a lot of unhappiness for many reasons in this passage. That’s why I included the quote from Basil Pennington in the questions for the devotions today: 

Unhappiness is always a result of not being able to do something I want to do, have something I want to have, or concern about what others will think of me. This brings us back to the core of the false self—placing my value in what I have, what I can do and what others think of me” (quoted from The Gift of Being Yourself by David Benner).

Everyone except Jesus in the passage narrative is unhappy about something for one or more of the above reasons. In contrast, Jesus is getting what he doesn’t deserve, but he remains at peace in the midst of unbelievable suffering on every level—emotional, physical, relational, and spiritual. Jesus knows who he is and what he is about, so though he is caught up in human religious and political systems that are out of control, he remains rooted and grounded in his relationship to the Father and the mission he has come to accomplish.

I read the quote above some months ago and was really convicted about my attitude. There are life circumstances that really make us unhappy, and I have lived some of those myself and know others who are living them now. But to be honest, at this juncture, most of my unhappiness is, in the grand scheme of things, for trivial reasons.

So for the last few months I have been trying to pay attention to when I feel unhappy and to examine what is at the core of it. I am discovering from my own experience that Pennington is right. And I am noticing the truth of his statement in others and many and varied circumstances as well.

So what do I do? The main thing I do is notice, and then ask God what he wants me to do. I often confess my sinful, self-referenced attitude or action. And then I can choose to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and in everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Joy and gratitude and a life of prayer are God’s will for me. If I’m unhappy, it may well be a sign I’m drifting and striving to take things into my hands. It’s time to stop, let go of my agenda, get reoriented, and ask the Holy Spirit to help me focus on God and his will for my life.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Monday, March 26, 2012

Staying Put

I’ve been thinking about all that it meant for Jesus to leave his rightful place at the Father’s side to become human. It really is a remarkable, wonderful, beautiful mystery to contemplate—God taking on flesh. As I come to grips with the real divinity and humanity of Jesus, I understand that his life on this planet was a real human life. I think Jesus experienced deep joy in his human family and his human friendships. But I also think that many of his experiences—even before his passion—were as challenging for him as they are for us. But he didn’t try to avoid those challenges, he moved toward them, lived in them, brought grace, and love, and truth to them.
This has caused me to reflect on my own responses under stress and how they differ from Christ’s. There are many, but I will address one today. I confess that I often succumb to imagining escape strategies to get out of stressful or difficult circumstances. I am tempted to change my environment, wondering if the grass would be greener somewhere else.  The words from Saint Anthony have come to my mind:

Someone asked Abba Anthony, “What must one do in order to please God?” The old man replied, “Pay attention to what I tell you: whoever you may be, always have God before your eyes; whatever you do, do it according to the testimony of the holy Scriptures; in whatever place you live, do not easily leave it. Keep these three precepts and you will be saved.”

These words encourage me to stay where I am. The dis-ease I feel in many situations usually is an indication that something needs to change, and that something is most often myself. I know this temptation is probably common in others as well. I have had opportunity to share this advice with a number of people over the last month. It’s always easier to try to change our environment than to allow that environment and/or circumstance to change us.

Jesus did not run away. He ran toward a broken and sinful world. He descended into the challenge, struggles, and chaos of human experience to bring light, and life, and hope. He didn’t run away from the cross either. To live like him means to be willing to listen and to attend to God in prayer and in the word. And often it means to stay put—to wait on God to do in and through and for us what only he can do.

Are there circumstances in your life that you long to escape? How does Jesus’ real human life speak to you? How do the words of Saint Anthony speak to you? Listen to what God wants to say to you right now.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Living What We Believe
During this Lenten season I invite you again to set apart one day a week to stop your work and make time for rest and worship.  Live what you believe by trusting God and his ability to care for you and the world without your help.

One of the worst problems for those who don’t observe the Sabbath day is that life can become so humdrum, every day the same—day after day! The pressure of work never lets up; there is always something more to do. This was my experience. Our culture’s great need to cease working is evidenced by the mass exit from the cities for the weekend—thousands of people are trying to “get away from it all.” Celebrating the Sabbath is different from running away. We do not merely leave the dimensions of work and responsibility that we have been talking about—we actually cease letting them have a hold on our lives.

Everything is turned around when we keep the Sabbath. If we don’t observe it, Sunday just leads us back into the humdrum of the regular workweek (which leaves a great number of people awfully depressed on Sunday evenings); keeping the Sabbath ushers us into the recognition that all days derive their meaning from the Sabbath. As Abraham Heschel points out in his book The Sabbath,
To the biblical mind, labor is the means toward an end, and the Sabbath as a day of rest, as a day of abstaining from toil, is not for the purpose of recovering one’s lost strength and becoming fit for the forthcoming labor. The Sabbath is a day for the sake of life. Man is not a beast of burden, and the Sabbath is not for the purpose of enhancing the efficiency of his work. “Last in creation, first in intention,” the Sabbath is “the end of the creation of heaven and earth.”

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Never in a Hurry

If you have been following this blog regularly, you probably noticed I missed a few days this week. After hearing the advice not to try to do too much, I am trying to change my rhythm as I get back into my work and family life.

Throughout this week the words of John Wesley have been ringing in my ears: “Though I am always in haste, I am never in a hurry, because I never undertake any more work that I can go through with perfect calmness of Spirit.”

I also have been remembering the words of a spiritual director to John Ortberg when he asked what he must do: “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”

Wow! This is so important! And unless I am at peace and have a deep sense of well-being, I will not be freed up from compulsion to do more. I intend to stop hurrying, breathe deeply, and learn to live more lightly and freely.

So, though I intended to blog every day in Lent, I am going to choose to undertake what I am able to do “with perfect calmness of Spirit.” I will seek to stop hurrying, which, to be sure, will be a process of change. But I will do as I can and not as I can’t.

Ahhh. I’m experiencing more peace already.