Vanity, Thou Art a License Plate

I snuck this picture of a vanity plate while I was pumping gas the other day. "Glorify" on a Mercedes. If I were more of an extrovert, I would have asked about it. The driver did tell me that it was his first $80 fill up (I thought the $50 fill up for our "SUV" was bad enough). But I would have asked what he's glorifying. It's an odd word to put on a vanity plate.

We all glorify something: a car, our job, our paycheck, our home, our lake house, our kids, ourselves, God. We know what we glorify by what we invest in--and how we invest in it. Some things are worth glorifying. Often, we glorify things that don't really deserve it. Some things will last; others won't.

Each one of us is allowed to glorify what we desire. Be it a car or a deity. I know I waste a lot of time on things that don't matter. And that's what's important to me--that I use my time wisely (I'm working on it).


Resurrection Living

After the obligatory hunting of the Easter baskets at home (which contained comic books), we headed off to church. We usually meet in the evenings, but this morning we had rented space at a chalet at a nearby golf course. So with a roaring fire in the fireplace, we gathered together to worship the risen Lord. We resurrected our alleluias (we had "buried" them in a chest on Ash Wednesday), reflected on the cycle of dying and rising in our lives and vigorously sang praise. We gathered around the table, remembering what Christ did and what He offers. It was a good morning.

We had invited anyone from church who didn't have plans elsewhere to come over for brunch after church. A couple families were able to join us, and we thoroughly enjoyed food, fellowship and beautiful weather. The kids spent some time hunting easter eggs in the yard. Then we gathered around the table once again for some dessert (like we needed more food!).

After they left a couple other friends stopped by after dealing with a tough situation. Once again we gathered around the table to talk, cry and listen.

Easter isn't just about new life and victory over death (though it is indeed very much about that). It is just as much about living life now as it is the afterlife. And as I read the Bible, living abundantly now means living in community (when the Bible says "you" it is almost always plural).

And that's what today was: life in community (and it was mainly around the table as you may have noticed). It's not always easy or pretty, but its good. And it frequently has good doses of fun. But mainly it has a lot of good folks who are on the same journey. We share our lives (and our food) and we help each other grow more into living life fully. All because He is risen.


Holy Week in Art

A series of artworks from the Minneapolis Institute of Art:

The Betrayal of Christ by Anthony van Dyck (c. 1620)

Man of Sorrows by Luis de Morales (c. 1560)

Corpus by the Master of Guadalcanal (c. 1700)

A sanctuary curtain from a Coptic church (5th-6th century)The Crucifixion by a follower of Lucas Cranach (c. 1575)

Lamentation with Saint John the Baptist and Saint Catherine of Alexandria
by Master of the Legend of Saint Lucy (c. 1500)

Good Friday

Another drawing that Anders made last night during church illustrates Good Friday. The Roman soldiers are in the lower left. I believe the lower right corner shows some of the women crying over what is happening. I'm not sure why, but the crucifixion appears to be taking place in the clouds with a rainbow--which maybe is fitting as the rainbow was a sign of God' promise not to destroy the earth by flood. But in this case it shows God saving the earth through blood. At the bottom are two speech balloons that show exactly why such a horrible event can be called "Good Friday." Jesus is saying "I love you." And the smaller balloon is from God saying, "Me too."

Yes, it is our sins--our evil, perverse, vile deeds against God, against each other and even against ourselves--that put Jesus on the cross. It was a horrible place for the son of God to be--one of the most terrible forms of death. But He went through it for our sake. Because He loves us and desires to spend eternity with us. Amen.


Maundy Thursday: Why Me?

Maundy: from the Latin mandatum; meaning commandment; as in "A new commandment I give to you: Love each other" (John 13:34)

Anders drew this picture tonight during our Maundy Thursday service at church. Jesus is saying, "I will wash your feet." Peter is off to the side replying, "Why me?"

It indeed is a "Why me?" moment. Why would the Creator of the universe stoop so low as to cleans my dirty, stinky feet? Answer: He loves me. He loves you. He loves us all.

Tonight, as we washed each others' feet at church, we first went to the table. Alone (though I went with the boys to help them). Jesus was our host as we took the bread and dipped it in the cup. It was another "Why me?" moment. Why do I get to come to the table, sinful as I am? Again: He loves me.

Sometimes when I come to the table I am Judas--willing to betray Jesus. Sometimes I am Peter--headstrong and thick-headed. Sometimes I am Thomas--needing a little more proof. Sometimes I am James and John--wanting my place beside Jesus. All twelve disciples were there at the table. None came perfect. Most didn't get Jesus until well after He had risen. But He loved them. And in their imperfect ways, they loved Him (I believe even mis-directed Judas had love for Jesus). The table was for them. To remember Him.

It was there at the table that they would learn to take up their cross. Indeed, the majority of them would be put to death for their faith. Taking up their cross wasn't just a figure of speech--it was a reality. And along the way, they learned to wash feet--to serve each other, even the lowliest among them.

And tonight, as we washed each other's feet--as my young sons washed my feet--I was caused to remember that I was the lowliest there. There is nothing special about me. Nothing that elevates me above anyone else. But God loves me. And that's more than enough. And it's reason to love others--and wash their feet.


Triumphal Entries and Exits (A Poem for Palm Sunday)

Jesus enters Jerusalem seated
On the back of a jackass--
Not the mode of transport
Other kings would have chosen.
"Triumphal Entry" feels like
A name given with sarcastic irony.
Yet, the donkey was a symbol of peace,
Not of war like the more "kingly" horse.
And still, the people line the streets,
Paving His way with their cloaks
And branches cut from nearby
Palm trees lining the desert paths.

The people shout words of worship
From the Psalms:
"Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes
In the name of the Lord!"
Do they forget that the same Psalm
Also says that "the stone the builders
Rejected has become the cornerstone"?
That Christ will be rejected?
He is full aware. Yet He savors this moment.
His eyes are not full of pride
Nor victory nor haughtiness,
But full of compassion and joy.

Within the week He will be
Led out of Jerusalem
Amidst cursing and hateful shouting.
He has never called Himself King,
Yet that is the charge against Him.
That is what He will be killed for.
This is His coronation:
A crown of thorns,
Being stripped and flogged,
Nails instead of a scepter.
Yet as He climbs the hill,
A look into His eyes reveals
Not anger or hatred or fear,
But once again compassion.

His entry and exit of Jerusalem
Are not so much about
These events or the actions
Of those who were there;
Instead, they reveal to us
The footsteps we must follow
If we are to call Him Lord.
His eyes show us that we, too,
Must strive to look upon those
Around us--whether they praise
Or condemn us--with compassion.


Peanuts and Crackerjack (Well, Just the Peanuts)

We received free tickets from our land trust for the Twins game yesterday. We haven't gotten to attend a professional sporting event for years (the last one was a "minor league" hockey team that played near our home in BC). It would have cost us $80 to attend as a family (and those were the nosebleed seats). That's a week's worth of groceries for us. So a sporting event is just not something we could do. But for free tickets, we were willing to pull Anders out of school.

It was my two childhood teams playing: the Minnesota Twins and the Kansas City Royals (those being the two closest teams, bordering Iowa). I didn't know most of the players names any more (mainly the few Twins players who are the fan favorites)--I really only knew them from the days I collected baseball cards when I was young. But it didn't matter. You go and you root. And you have fun doing so--no matter how much beer splatters on you from the guy behind who drops his cup.

I'm not much into watching professional sports, but attending a baseball game is kind of an American rite of passage. It's also a lesson in group conformity: cheer when everyone else is cheering (even if you missed the play), make noise when the scoreboard tells you to, stand up and sing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during the seventh inning stretch, do the wave, etc. Those "traditions" liven our mood.

Admittedly, by the middle of the third inning the boys had lost interest, but they regained it somewhat around the seventh inning stretch. It was a learning time. We've pitched and hit in the yard, but they really didn't know too much about the game. Not that they know that much more about it now. Still, it was a good afternoon. The rain held off, we enjoyed the game (even though the Twins lost) and we had some nice time together as a family.


Of Prophets and Their Awkward Lives

At church this last Sunday our text was from Ezekiel, when God takes him to a valley filled with dry bones and has Ezekiel tell the bones to come together, putting flesh on them and finally to come to life. It's a somewhat familiar text, but that's probably all most of us know about Ezekiel.

For the most part, we don't know much about most of the prophets outside of Jonah and Daniel. We're familiar with parts of Isaiah and Jeremiah, but if we're reading the Bible the prophets (minor and major) tend to get skipped over. Prophets are tough to read, that's granted. To understand them, we have to understand the historical situation they were speaking to (contrary to popular belief, prophets generally spoke to their contemporary situation, not to future events).

The prophets are also hard to read because we find that God sometimes asks people to do crazy things. Things like marrying an unfaithful prostitute as an object lesson for the nation. Or walking around naked for three years. Or lying on your side in the middle of the city for over a year. I mean, if this is what following God could lead to, don't sign me up!

Yet, if you want to hear the voice of God, listen to the prophets. Most of the time they are speaking the words God has told them to speak. And some of the time it is tough words--usually of impending doom. But only if the people (or nation) don't change their ways. Only if they continue ignoring God. Only if they keep living in sin.

But they also often end with hope. With a promise that God will forgive them. That even after exile, God will bring them back home. That God will work through their consequences to make His love known. That God will bring hope into hopelessness.

And for us, the words of the prophets remind us to not turn from God. Not because bad things will happen to us, but because life is so much fuller when we're living in obedience and in the center of His love. And the words are also reminders for us to speak hope into hopelessness, life into death.


Tough Questions

We had our small group (Chapter House) at our house tonight. We meet two Tuesdays each month. Because there were five Tuesdays in March, it's been three weeks since we met. The boys have been asking for weeks when the next Chapter House will be. We all like the time together (we evaluated it tonight and all came up with that same sentiment).

After eating, the kids went upstairs and watched a movie while the adults talked and shared. Tonight it was The Prince of Egypt. Near the end of our sharing time one of the kids came down to let me know Anders needed me. She said he was scared (he gets quite sensitive during movies).

I went up; he wasn't scared. He was sad that all the babies had to die during the tenth plague on Egypt. At the end of the movie he asked why God had to kill all those people. I didn't know. And I told him so. I mentioned how He gave Pharaoh many chances to listen to Him, but Pharaoh didn't. Anders said that killing everyone wasn't right. I agreed. I don't know why all the firstborn children had to die.

I don't know why God liked Abel's sacrifice better than Cain's.

I don't know why God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. It seems like a pretty heartless test of faith.

I don't know why Lot's wife got turned into a pillar of salt for looking over her shoulder.

I don't know why all the Canaanites had to be wiped out instead of relocated when the Israelites moved in.

I don't know why all the innocent children had to die because of Herod's fear when Jesus was born.

I don't know why Jesus bothered to invite Judas to follow Him.

There are plenty of things I don't know about the Bible. I can come up with my own guesses, but the Bible doesn't answer everything clearly.

There are also things that I don't like in the Bible.

I don't like that James 5:16 says, "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective" (NIV). I feel that if my prayers (the context of the rest of the verse deals with healing sick people) don't do anything, then I'm not a righteous man (which may be the case, but still...).

I don't like that Galatians 2:20 says, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (NIV). There are far too many times when it is me who is living--not Christ--so what does that mean for my faith?

I don't like that 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (NIV). I've got plenty of old me still around. I don't often feel like a new creation. So I question whether or not I'm in Christ.

I don't know how to talk about the Bible's stance on the sinfulness of homosexuality with friends who feel that they were born gay. I don't know how to answer their question of why God would make them that way if it is a sin.

I could go on and on about things in the Bible I don't understand or that I don't like. And that's not a bad thing. We should have unanswered questions. There should be things that make us feel uncomfortable. If we read blindly without questioning anything, then we're not really interacting with a living and active text like the Bible claims it to be.

And still, for all the hard stuff in there, there's a lot of stuff I love. Especially the good news parts. The parts where God says He loves me, forgives me (even if I don't fully understand why at times).

And I think God can live with my questions and with me not liking everything that's in there. Hopefully Anders will be able to live with my not knowing how to answer all those questions that arise as well. Maybe he'll be the one to come up with some good answers.