Reflections From Good Friday

I know I’m a sinner and Christ is my need;
His death is my random, no merit I plead.
His work is sufficient, on Him I believe;
I have life eternal when Him I receive.

-Anon

April 18, 2014 - It’s Good Friday.

Today was the day Jesus was accused. Betrayed. Sentenced as a prisoner. Whipped. Scourged. Splintered in already existing wounds by a large hunk of wood that he carried up a hill. Today His head bled from a thorny crown. He felt the crown press into His forehead. His wrists were pierced by archaic nails. He was propped up. On display. A reminder to the world what happens to men who defend the defenseless.

Today was the day Jesus died.

The day I became a mom destroyed me.

The moment our daughter was born, something catastrophic happened to my insides. It carved everything out that was in there before and replaced it with an intense, relentless and selfless love. I held her in my arms for the first time, and was enthralled. I stared at her eyes. Her skin. Her tiny strands of brown hair. Her little hands. Her smallness, overwhelming me as if she was a giant. When I held her I understood, the way I have understood few other things in my life: that I would lay down everything I had for her.

I would use my life to cover hers.

When she cries, I hurt and will do anything to console her. When she’s uncomfortable, I’m uncomfortable. When I can tell it’s been a hard day for her, when sleep hasn’t come, I’m not sad I’m not sleeping. I’m sad she’s not sleeping.

I would die for her, this little daughter of mine.

When it comes to Good Friday, and to Jesus’ choice to die on a cross, we approach it rather religiously.

“Thank you God, for bearing my sins.”
“By His stripes we are healed!”
(Status update) “Thankful for the cross, man.”
(Tweet) “For God so loved the world!”
(Instagram) “The veil has been torn!”

We say these things, but I wonder if they hit our hearts, or hit to the heart of the matter at all. We know Jesus died for us. But we hardly think to wonder why.

We approach the cross religiously. Instead of approaching it like babes.

The day my daughter was born I realized one thing: Having children is echoes of eternal things. I understood that the way I feel about my daughter, it’s human, and incomplete. And it’s incredible. It stands to reason, then, that the way my Father feels about me: my little hands, my smallness overwhelming Him would be that much more.

God loves His daughter. In a way that makes Him ache. When I cry, it’s devastating to Him. When I’m uncomfortable, He’s uncomfortable. This is why He makes a heaven for us with no more tears. When it came to Him laying down His life for us, it was a choice, but like the moment I held my littler girl for the first time, I knew – the choice had already been made. He would die for us and not even blink. He’s in love with us, I tell you.

As Easter weekend settles out of your mind, may this thought settle back in: it’s completely irreligious, how He feels about you. It’s devastating, His instant love for His babies. It’s eternal and earth-shattering, the lengths He’d go to keep you safe, to make you ok, to cover your life. Today may you get an image of a Father who could stare at His children all day. Who knew the moment of your creation exactly what lengths He would go to save you.

Today may you allow yourself to be loved as a babe.

 

 

 

Our Avoidance of Heaven

God2-Sistine_ChapelPeople in worship fascinate me.

Come, on. Don’t act like you don’t peek around at all of us. There are the hand raisers. The fist pumpers. The ceiling pointers. The bouncers (I am a HUGE bouncer. It’s a problem, kind of. I kick over my coffee nearly every Sunday.) There are folks who sing loud. Folks who close their eyes. Or dance a bit. Get a little cray if you will.

I’m less fascinated with the people who are demonstrative, though, and more enthralled by “folded hands” crowd.  The folks who stare at the worship leaders, mouth words and seem altogether uncomfortable with whole charade.

Our discomfort, to me, with worshiping God is evidence of wanting to, if possible, avoid the thought of heaven.

Or for that matter, hell.

Let me explain.

500 years ago, pre-industrialization, life for the majority of people in the world sucked a bit. Life was ok. But it was hard, ergo people thought about heaven all the time. Churches painted ornate ceilings that represented the heaven-lies. I remembered touring Europe and seeing that often times Cathedrals would use actual gold to adorn their ceilings. Only the best products and the best artists would get to touch a church to recreate something so glorious. Paintings by Carravagio represented spiritual encounters where the heavens were opened. The Sistine Chapel, now a tourist attraction, was once the muse and life-piece of Michelangelo. The goal? Draw hearts into the next life.

After the death of Christ, followers of “The Way” would obsessively talk about the next life. Their phrase, uttered to other believers was “Maranatha”. Translated, the phrase means “the coming” or an emotional “Come, Lord”. They longed for God to return. For this life to end. For their next life to begin.

They thought about heaven because they knew for certain it was better than this place. And they longed for the day they got to go home. It was their paradise.

Fast forward to 2014.

Westernization, modern and industrialized, we would admit we hardly think of heaven. After all, we live here where we have it all. America the beautiful. America – where everyone’s dreams can come true - here – in this life. Where we avoid often and well looking at the heaven-lies by looking at our computer screens.  Where we don’t talk about the afterlife. Because we’re obsessed with trying to make the most out of this life. Where we say YOLO. Because, hey, this life is the only thing that counts anyway right? Where we can have plastic surgery, nose jobs, rhinoplasty and the like to look young. Because Lord knows we to avoid the twinge of our looming death.

I think maybe, we’ve gotten so good at making this life pretty awesome… we’ve forgotten how incomparably awesome the next life will be. We’ve avoided heaven so long… it’s now difficult to long for heaven.

Hence the awkward worshipers. Getting drawn up into the heaven-lies just isn’t our forte.

Today, may you look up with new wonder. May you day-dream about being reunited with your Savior. May you long for better things than this life. May you dance, if even in your heart about the promise of a room made just for you in a world without strife or tears. And, may your lips every now and then whisper in utter adoration and euphoria: “Come, Lord.”

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never really meant to satisfy, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing… I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death… I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same. – Clive Staples Lewis

Parenting and Unhappiness – A Response.

stressed out parentsFirst off, before I start this post I want to make myself clear:  This post has nothing to do with the decision to have kids or not have kids. It has zero to do with your choice to have children or to not have children. Or, your ability to have children or not have children. Some people choose to have kids, and some don’t. And both of those decisions I validate and celebrate. I have wonderful friends who decided to not have children, and their reasons to me seemed immensely beautiful. I have other friends who decided invite children into their homes – their reasons too were valid.

The thing I want to talk about is this vibe lately that parenting leads to unhappiness.

Jon and I are due with a baby girl in 6 short weeks. (I panicked a bit and then practiced my birthing breathing technique to calm down as a I typed that.) We are excited and nervous, anticipatory and rapidly trying to make a nest for her that doesn’t have too much dog slobber.

Since I have gotten pregnant though, (getting pregnant was a whole other journey I will write about sometime. For now we’ll stick with the topic of becoming parents), I have heard people say some really atrocious things. I laugh nervously when people say them, because I’m not a parent yet, and so I suppose I can’t really chime in with my two cents. But all the same. The comments seem bizarre, sad, and just… off to me.

Let me tell you what I mean. Since we went public about baby D – folks say brilliant things like this:

“Enjoy your free time now! You’ll never get it again!”
“You better get some sleep – you won’t do that for another 18 years!”
“They suck all the life out of you – but don’t worry! (her-yuck)”
“Hardest thing you’ll ever do… (stares sadly off into the distance… then unconvincingly:) but it’s worth it! (wink)”
“Get used to never peeing alone!”
“You cool with being thrown up on? Because – it’s happening!”
“Hope you guys see a movie before the baby. You never will again after!”
“Say goodbye to just the two of you!”

The thing about these comment isn’t that there isn’t an air of truth to them. I know there is. Vomit’s a-comin. I get it. The thing for me is that they carry an unspoken stance of pessimism. (Random side note: these comments remind me of the ball-and-chain idiocy people talked about when Jon and I got married. But I digress.)

And then the media chimes in too. Time magazine last year had a cover and spread that talked plainly about how “child-less people are just happier”, and then brought forward a case study and then a bunch of stats about peeps without kids versus peeps with kids. Then I saw this the other day from the Huffington Post – it’s a video titled “Try Not Having Kids Shows How Many Perks There Are To Being Childfree.” It’s honestly funny. And again, probably rings true… to a degree.

But here’s the video’s opening line: “Do you find you are not yet ready to obliterate any chance you have left to enjoy life to its fullest? Then try Not Having Kids!”

The message: having children leads to some kind of unhappiness.

When I look through the “whys” of this statement and attitude, though, I find two common denominators:

  1. That we, as people at large think that selfishness & independence = happiness.
  2. That we, as people at large think that responsibility & sacrifice = unhappiness.

If we get to do what we want, when we want with nothing and no one impeding – that leads to happiness (Another random side note: the “you can have it your way” talk reminds me of the Garden of Eden… but again… I digress). But when we surrender ourselves for something else - that leads to unhappiness.

And I’m sorry to say – that’s just not true.

I know it’s not true. For two reasons:

One: I have a killer marriage. And it comes soley out of sacrifice. I think Jon and I are happiest because we don’t cling to our “rights” but we happily and gladly give them over for the sake of the other. We are crazy about each other. We aren’t perfect, but we learned a long time ago that laying yourself down means gaining something greater. Every. Single. Time.

Oppositely, the times in my marriage that have been most difficult have been when either one or both of us tries to protect ourselves, our self interest, or our agenda. Those are times where we are fearful, have strife, and get this - aren’t happy.

Two: Jesus’ most amazing moments came after sacrifice – not before. When I read about Jesus, and then read about how my life should look like his life I take note of his rhythms. For Jesus, sacrificing himself (his time, feelings, body and life) and giving Himself up for something better actually did… lead… to… something… better. Jesus’ glory is incomparable now. He is seated at the right hand. He is ruling and reigning – all because he laid it all down.

So no. Selfishness and independence is not the key to the kingdom.
And yes. Losing my life does mean I will find it.

Like I said – this post is NOT about the decision to have children. It’s about the idea that somehow giving yourself up is a bad thing. That laying your life down won’t be worth it. Well guess what? You weren’t that awesome to begin with – so what’s so scary about laying a half-asked, still-in-formation, some-what-messy-but-somehow-wanting-to-cling-to-that-mess of a life down for the sake of something else?

As for me and my kiddo: I’ve already laid it all down. And you know what? I actually think my life will ROCK because of it.

As for you, friends: I hope you embrace the loss of life that Jesus said is already happening. I hope you love more and more everyday losing yourself and taking up Christ’s life. And I hope – that your glory and happiness comes not out of you trying to protect what’s yours but out of laying down what was never yours to begin with.

Here’s to many stupid-happy days ahead.

Jess

Christmas Choices

It’s interesting how often we can forget that we all have choices.

Maybe it’s because we have too many choices. You can have your latte hot, extra hot, iced or with flavor. You can have your Christmas gifts shipped, personalized, gift wrapped or shamefully bought on the 24th. You can store your pictures in a photo album, or in an iCloud, or dropbox, or shamefully on your computer without a hard drive back up (I can hear my husband reminding me of losing 2,000+ pictures now). 

Maybe it’s because we get to choose so often, that we forget the privilege in it. Or, the fact that free will is the one guarantee from our Father. The angels missed out on free will – but us – it’s a daily beauty.

Still… it’s interesting how often we can forget that we all have choices.

God never promises you perfect days. If anything, he promises you that you will experience torrential-downpour-bawl-your-eyes-out days (Jn 16:33). To quote Judith Viorst – you will have terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days. God loves to lavish gifts and give grace to his children. But, the fall, sin, and brokeness ensure that our days will be met with some intense and harsh realities. Stresses. Frustrations. Relationship break-downs. Sadness. Loss. Disappointment.

These things, God says – we will surely have in our days. 

What we do with these things, is where all of our spiritual formation takes place.

You can let disaster steam roll you flat like a pancake.

Or, you can choose to let God work through you and give you joy in all things.

The choice is truly yours. 

This is the power of choice.

During this season of incredible schedules, grumpy shoppers, mixed family, and even more mixed emotions: engage your free will. Remind yourself that all things are the Lord’s. And that He can be your peace and joy in all things and in all ways.

 

Remain. Focus. Push.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. – The Apostle Paul

December is a GREAT time of year to evaluate, give thanks for the year, and to rejoice over your victories. In 12 months, you can look back, see the hurdles you have overcome, the ways that God has answered prayers, the ways you have grown in leadership and character.

It’s also a good time to push into prayer.

Here are three great things to do this December:

  • Remain.

In one of his letters Paul urges believers to remain in the scenario God has called them. To remain in the call. No doubt God has given you a call. Perhaps this year the call didn’t go quite as planned, things fell through, time passed. There is a temptation to leave and try another option. But don’t. Remain. Remain nestled in the call God has given you. Return to it with vigor. It has been my experience that it is not the brightest or the best that cross the finish lines of dreams, but those who just determine to stay on track.

  • Focus.

December is a great time of year to refocus your energy. Lots of folks wait until the new year. I think this is folly. It’s better to refocus and reset your vision before you take a small break. That vision will have time to ruminate over your Christmas. Your prayers will become laser focused. Your time will be better spent. Spend your December focusing on your call, your goal, and allow the Holy Spirit to prioritize thereafter.

  • Push.

Now is a great time to look back. Reflect. Rejoice. After you have spent time in thanksgiving, though, it’s time to push in. Push into God for what He has for you this next year. Why? Because we haven’t laid hold of it yet. God has so much more in store.

Have a wonderful season of vision and gratefulness. God may just surprise you with your seasons following.

Why All Churches Are Cool.

A church was planted in downtown Chicago last week, and it has become what is now known as “the perfect church”. Based loosely around a liturgical, relevant, seeker sensitive model, it has been dubbed “the ultimate church” and has press corps running and church leaders begging to figure out it’s secrets.

The teaching is impeccable, and all at once embraces both topical and expository principles and practice. It’s outreach is authentic and well organized and manages to reach out to the lost, the hurt, the forgotten – as well as the old, the young, the Christian-offiacianado and the non-believer. It has the right blend of relevant pieces and movements, as well as a perfect blend of liturgy, modern day apologetics and theory. It is planted in just the right location, has a Spirit-led worship pastor, a perfectly aligned Elder staff and seems to fit all people of all types. It is truly, the “Acts 2 church”.

I’m totally lying to you.

And I laughed a bit as I typed out that paragraph above.

Because no such church exists.

Lately, I have been privy to a large amount of conversations, debates, articles, books etc. – critiquing, masterminding, giving guidance about the best way to do church.

Some of these have been constructive and thoughtful, but most of them – most of them - are aimed in a way that is destructive, divisive among the brethren and somewhat speckled with a arrogant and false “my type of Christianity is better than your type of Christianity.”

And it bums me out. A lot.

To be sure, there is nothing new to using the slandered back of some other preacher, or the broken back of a church as a platform for the “I have it all figured out” Christian spake. I have seen it from well known preachers to church leaders, to evangelists, to authors trying to make a name for themselves, to the know-it-all guy or gal two seats over on Sunday. I would reference said preachers, authors, journalists etc. but that would be me committing the same crime. I’ll refrain.

They use the backs of imperfect Christians for their message of a perfected Christianity. How bizarre. How absolutely sad. How absolutely devoid of the gospel.

The Church (I mean this as a body of believers called to one purpose), should avoid at all costs division, and slander towards each other.  1 Corinthians 1:10 makes it clear that we should be one sweet voice – simply declaring the salvation through our Jesus. The Church receives incredible amounts of slander from outside it’s camps. Why would we ever rip each other apart from the inside?

What’s more, I grow tired of the prideful debates and talks I hear about the “right way” to do church.

Do you know how arrogant you sound when you defame a church and then claim you know a better or best way? I’ll tell you: very arrogant. 

Even Paul, a man I consider a role model, and a hero of faith and love said he came preaching nothing but “Christ, and Christ crucified.” Period. That kind of puts a damper on your party of “let’s debate (as if we know the ultimate answer before we get to heaven) whether hymnals or contemporary bands with lights bring God more glory.”

Here’s the long and short of it.

All churches are cool. Little ones, big ones. Mega-churches, house churches. Churches with big-name-book-selling-preachers and churches with no-name small town preachers. Churches with pews, hymnals, liturgical holidays and dirge marches at Easter, and churches with screens, lights and fog. Churches that go two hours and “leave room for the holy spirit” and churches that work on sophisticated timelines for satellites. Post modern, post-Christian, post-post-relevant and churches who have never heard of such jargon. All of them are awesome.

All churches are cool, because God loves all churches. And, He’s super aware that they are fallen and imperfect, and that they are being sanctified. Even if those critiquing said churches are not. God thinks all churches are cool. Because all churches are His beloved. All churches attempt to glorify His name, all churches fall short, and all churches are found in the glory of His grace. All churches are cool because of their Redeemer. Not because of their practice.

Today, avoid the debates. Instead of ripping a fellow believer apart, lift them up. When a negative word is spoken, speak grace. When someone acts as if they know it all, admit that you know very very little. Except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. Today, instead of defaming a church, be the Church.

Your Life Matters

Luke 12:7
Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

The worst thing, and truly the craftiest thing that Satan can tell us is that we don’t matter. It’s a genius plot, if I must be honest. If you can’t actually steal a person’s worth, make them believe it never really existed in the first place.

You think you’re important? He whispers. How silly.

The gospel, at it’s core, is good news about not only how God feels about us, but how in His Son he recreated us. Our worth is invaluable, as wide and incredible as His Son’s. The gospel, in every sense, shouts from the rooftops: “you matter! Your life means everything to the King of the universe.”

What the gospel came to tell our hearts – that we matter to God – that He slew His Son for us, (and would do it again just to be close to us) – this is the heart that Satan hopes to rob.

God whispers, My goodness look at this brilliant thing I created and redeemed.

But then the follow up is always, Really? But look at my life and my missteps. Surely God just puts up with me.

I can think of no more powerful force on the planet than a believer that truly harnesses their worth to God and lives through it. A man who walks so confidently in the Lord. A woman fully aware that she was redeemed and that she matters greatly to God and to His work in the kingdom. These are the types of people that will mark their neighbors, save their friends, and flip the world on it’s head as it tries to identify such power and grace.

Today, may you fully understand your worth. May you walk out in confidence towards your circumstances, harnessing that raw and incredible identity Christ has given you. May you never shrink back or hide your graces, but instead let God’s glory powerfully work through you and fall on those around you.  May your life reflect the value that God has placed on it by exchanging His Son, and all that He has – for you.