Finding Light: Cooking a Meal, Trying Something New and Eight More Ways to Experience Easter

One of my favorite posts of the year is creating a list of ideas that I hope will help people experience Lent as a season of grace.  (You can this year’s version here.)

It’s always one of the most popular posts as well, which reminds me that no matter where we worship or how long we’ve been doing this we’re all in this together, strugglers on the way trying our best to stay as close as we can to Jesus.

But Easter is a season, too, and I know how much I would love to experience and practice Resurrection not just on Easter Sunday but on every day of this season. I want to find a way to discover how to commit to practices that ground me in the truth of the Easter Gospel that love is stronger than death, that hope triumphs over fear and that life is more powerful than death. Just like Lent, I want my life to look differently after Easter than it did before. I want to be able to look back from the other side of Pentecost and be able to celebrate the ways I experienced love and hope and life in the power of the Risen Lord during these fifty days.

So, with that in mind, here are ten ways that might help you – and me – live in the light and hope and love of Easter right now.

 

Read the Story: Experience again the Resurrection on Easter morning and the many times and ways Jesus appears after the Resurrection to the disciples and to others. Passages to begin with include  Luke 24:13-35, Luke 24:36-53, John 29:19-31, John 21:1-23, Matthew 28:16-20, Acts 9:1-19.

Take A Breath, Pray a Prayer: A friend of mine recently invited me to a challenge of praying the same phrase 1,000 times a day. It was a great gift and reminded me of the power of breath prayer, not just to help us connect with God but also to change the way we think and how we approach our lives.  You might pray the same phrase for the whole season or you might try several out a week at a time. Phrases that might work well include – Christ is Risen, Love is Alive, Blessed Are Those Who Believe, God Makes All Things – Even Me – New. I’d love to hear phrases that you found helpful.

Celebrate God’s Presence: – The Resurrection declares once and for all that God does care and is involved in our lives and our world. Take time to reflect, maybe once a day if you can remember, about how you experienced God that day. The Examen, a spiritual practice I enjoyed during Lent, is a great way to become aware of  all the ways God is at work in your life. Committing to this made me so much more aware of the ways God was at work in the ordinary course of my days. Our days are full of opportunities to glimpse and celebrate the light of God’s love in our lives.

Begin A Different Way: My friend Tish has written a beautiful book called Liturgy of the Ordinary (You should buy it here). One of my favorite parts of the book is when she talks about the spiritual practice of making her bed. Instead of beginning her day by checking her phone or email or getting updated on the latest thing to be outraged by, for Lent one year she decided to begin the day by making her bed and then spending a few moments of silence and solitude with God. How many ways might we experience Resurrection if instead of sprinting out of bed to accomplish all of our to-dos, we found some way, if only or a moment, to begin our day in gratitude for all God has given us? You might pray the Lord’s Prayer. You might read the Beatitudes. You might just say thank you for the gift of another day. This is one of the ways I’m going to try to celebrate Resurrection this Easter season.

Bring People To the Table: A good number of the Resurrection appearances remind us that Jesus likes to show up just in time for a meal. There’s just something about the way that grace is especially present at the table. So cook a meal and invite some friends over. Between dinner and dessert you might find a time to share about the places you and your friends are seeing and experiencing new life.

Try Something New: One of the most significant claims the Resurrection makes is that in Christ God is doing something new. So take a bold step and try something new in response to the truth that God is not done with you. We are launching a couple of new initiatives in our church right now, but it isn’t just for churches. Maybe now is the time to try out a new class at the gym, take an art or photography class, or recommit to writing that book that you know is inside of you. Whatever it is, just know that God is making all things, even you, new again.

Make Room: We all have issues and topics and people who take up too much space in our hearts and our minds. We spend more time and emotional energy than we would like to admit worrying about things we can’t change and situations we can’t control. One way to more fully experience Christ’s Resurrection is to be intentional about limiting the time we give to these concerns. Clearing out space from worry and creating room to celebrate God’s gifts and to give thanks for people and places that help you experience Resurrection can be a great gift this season.  Bonus: Praying the Serenity Prayer can be a great daily practice to help you do this.

Stop Looking For The Living Among the Dead: It is easy for us, just like the women at the tomb, to search for life in places that only lead to death. That’s why Easter matters again and again – because we know too well the disappointment and heartbreak that comes from looking for life where it can’t be found. Take a good look at your life and try to give up something that is leading you away from the life God wants to give you. It might be that this Easter is the time to begin a program of recovery. Or it might be to step back from social media if that isn’t life giving for you. It might be time to take a break from a relationship or friendship that has grown toxic. I’ll bet it won’t take you long to figure out one thing in your life you could do without.

Proclaim Light  in the Dark Places: We all know people who are struggling and having a hard time. Find a way to offer the hope and light of the Easter Gospel. It might be writing a card or making a phone call to someone you’ve meant to call for a long time. Visiting and connecting with friends and family who are homebound or in nursing homes is a great opportunity to celebrate God’s new life. Sometimes a 10-minute visit will do more than you can imagine – and not just for the person you are visiting.

Bless Places That Give New Life: There are organizations and groups all around us that are shining light in the darkness and helping people discover new life and live in hope. Pick one of them and make a donation to help them shine more light for more people.  A few places in Knoxville and around us that my family and I believe in are Emerald Youth Foundation, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Volunteer Ministry Center, and Thistle Farms. But there are so many others. Find a cause near and dear to your heart and make a gift of light.

 

There are plenty more ways to watch for the light this Easter. These are just a few that came to my mind. I’d love to hear how you are celebrating and experiencing Resurrection this Easter.

 

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40 Days, 40 Ways: A Practical Guide For a Holy Lent

It’s more than weird to look forward to Lent. It is a theological contradiction.

But, as I like to say, people are complicated. I know I am.

The last few months have been a roller coaster, and not just in the ways we experience on television and online. My wife and I welcomed our first child in December and spent the first month of her life in the NICU. What I’ve discovered in returning back to the life I knew before – with work and access to opinions – is that I need this season of Lent.

Returning to relationships and trying to lead a community has reminded me that I need the gift of these forty days as much as I ever did. I need the intentionality that comes from giving something up or taking something on. I need the focus that comes when my own inadequacies and brokenness are revealed. I need the reminder that on my own I am powerless but in Jesus power doesn’t come from my strength but in my weakness.

Some people have a hard time appreciating Lent, with its brooding darkness, its emphasis on sinfulness and confession, its near constant reminder of our inability to stand on our own. But its essential. Not only is it impossible to appreciate the light of Christ’s Advent at Christmas or the glory of Resurrection at Easter without Lent, but these forty days teach us plenty about God and about ourselves, particularly the truths we would give anything to keep hidden.

We begin, a week from today, with a reminder and a charge. The priest leads us to recall how the wages of sin are death – “From dust we have come and to dust we shall return” – and invites us to the new life that comes by reorienting our lives – “Repent and Believe the Gospel”.

Law and Gospel. Truth and Grace. There’s plenty there, maybe all of it.

And so we embark on a journey to remember all the ways sin has carved out a wall between us and God. We go through these days coming to grips with the ways our idolatries, of various stripes and orientations, mar our relationship with one another. The disciplines remind us that the passions we allow to rule our hearts and minds might make us feel good for a minute but in the end do long term damage to our souls. We begin to come to grips, maybe for the first time, with the reality that we are powerless if we have to stand on our own. By the end of this journey into and out of the wilderness we hope we have learned, at least a little bit, how to find our hope in the help that comes in the surprising form of redeeming, renewing and restoring grace.

At its best, Lent isn’t a six week experience in self-loathing and confession. Instead, it’s an opportunity to pay attention to the cracks and to watch what happens when we let in the light of God’s grace. It’s not about making ourselves feel bad or thinking that somehow we can do something to make us more right with God. This season, instead, is about watching and paying attention, being reminded of the places we most desperately need God’s grace, and then taking on a practice or discipline that can help us reconnect with the God who still comes to us and for us.

Often Christians have either given something up for Lent or taken something on. Giving something up can produce gratitude and appreciation for our utter dependence on God. Taking something on can help us become intentional about reconnecting with the Source of our life and hope. However you fast or whatever practice you take on this year, my prayer is that this will for you a Holy Lent in which you come to know and appreciate how much and how deeply you are loved.

As for me, I’m going to commit to practicing the Examen more regularly and to explore the fullness of the Cross by reading Jürgen Moltmann’s The Crucified God.

But in the meantime, here a few ideas that might help you leave your idols and rend your hearts this season.

1. The Psalms: Commit to reading the Psalms – every single one of them. The Psalms are one of the best ways we learn how to pray. This was my Lenten practice for a few years and I highly recommend it. Save Psalm 22 for Good Friday.

2. Dive in:  Maybe there’s a particular book or section of the Bible you’ve wanted to spend more time in. Maybe you’ve always wanted to read and understand Exodus or some of Paul’s letters. Lent is a good time to do just that.  A good commentary to read with the Scripture can help.

3, Let Luke 9 Be Your Guide:  We read in Luke 9:53 that Jesus set his face for Jerusalem. You might simply finish the Gospel from there, letting Jesus’ mission and ministry on the way to Jerusalem and the redemptive suffering he experienced for us once he got there order your days and devotional life.

4. Explore Holy Week: – Spend time preparing for Holy Week by reading the narratives from the Gospel that describe Jesus’ final week. Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan’s The Last Week is a great companion.

5. Don’t Just Read About It: Commit to spending your Holy Week living through the story with a local church. If you are part of a local church participate in their services – maybe volunteer to read or serve as part of the worship services (Speaking from experience – pastors and worship teams are always looking to fill slots particularly on Thursday and Friday). If you don’t have a local church, commit to attending services to experience the depth of mercy of the Cross.

6. Begin Well: Mark out time next week to begin your journey through Lent by being marked with the ashes – from dust you have come and to dust you shall return.

7. Find Answers on the Atonement: Engage a good book to help you understand how Christians have historically made sense of the Cross. If you want to really nerd out, join me in reading The Crucified God. Other good resources include Christ the Center, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sign and Sacrifice, The Meaning of the Cross, by Rowan Williams, or God For Us. There are plenty others out there, these are just a few.

8. Walk With Others: Most churches offer a special class or small group during Lent. Check one out and see what happens.

9. Find Some New Companions: Sometimes we need to know that we aren’t the only ones who struggle with faith or discipleship and need to learn through the stories of others. There are a lot of good spiritual memoirs out there, stories of people who experienced grace in a new way. One of my favorites is Found, by Micha Boyett (It’s currently a little more than a dollar on Amazon.). Take This Bread by Sara Miles is a gift, as is Liturgy of the Ordinary, which just happens to be written by my friend, Tish.

10. Trade Talk Radio For a Podcast: Instead of spending your time listening to the latest sports controversy or diving into opinion on the latest political rant, download a podcast or two and spend your time in the car being nourished. A couple of my favorites are The Practice Podcast and On Being: With Krista Tippett.

Sometimes we need to know that we aren’t the only ones who struggle with faith or discipleship and need to learn through the stories of others.

11. Take a Spiritual Inventory: Lent is a great time to take stock of your life and faith, to see the ways your life reflects your faith and the ways it could reflect it a little more strongly. This is a great way for families to reorder their lives intentionally instead of living as our schedules dictate. Erin and I are reading Becoming and Belonging, but there are plenty of other books out there. Sacred Rhythms, by Ruth Haley Barton, is a great resource for learning and ordering your life through a rule of faith.

12. Read a Book With Your Spouse: My wife and I try to read a book together every year during Lent and Advent. We don’t always stick to it, but when we do we’ve found it a great way to reconnect, have conversations about things we care about and allow God to work in and through each of us to help us one another grow closer to God.

13. Fast, No Seriously, Fast: I’ve always fasted on Good Friday, a small way to attempt solidarity with Jesus. My friends, Katie, Andra and Mike taught me the power of fasting. I didn’t always love it, but it did always teach me something. Fasting has a weird ability to make you grateful and aware of all the ways God takes care of you.

14. But At Least Put Your Phone Down: One of the biggest obstacles to my relationships – with God and with other people – is my addiction to my phone. If you can’t give up your phone for a day, find time to put it away and focus on the gifts all around you. By actually enjoying life in front of you, instead of what other people are doing online, you might catch a glimpse of the beauty you have missed.

15. But When You Look At It Pray: When you get a text from someone, particularly someone you struggle with, pray for them. Invite God to bless them and for them to receive grace, wherever they are. If you want to get real brave, you might even text them back and ask them how you might pray for them.

16. Remember Your Baptism: Jesus’ march to the Cross began in the Jordan, when John baptized him and God blessed him. Our service flows from our baptism. You might begin each day in the shower simply remembering that you have been baptized and how that makes all the difference.

17. Write a Letter: People don’t write letters anymore but maybe we should. Write a letter to someone in your life who has made a difference. Share with them how God has used them to bless you.

18. Encourage Someone: This is a great thing to do for someone you don’t always see eye-to-eye with. We define ourselves so quickly based on what we think or particularly in 2017 how we voted. Find a way to encourage someone who sees the world differently than you do. Tell them how grateful you are for them, even if their bumper stickers or Facebook posts make you want to pull your hair out.

19. Tweet Love: I’ve never been one to give up Facebook for Lent – too much of the ministry I do happens there. And so if you must Facebook, Facebook with love. Commit to giving people the benefit of the doubt. Commit to encouraging someone else. Commit to remembering that you can count on one hand the number of people whose minds your political post changed, if that number even goes to one. But seriously, how might our witness be strengthened if we committed to loving one another well through how we interact online?

20. Give Something Up: I’m not talking about something trivial here. Give something up that makes you angry, that sends you off the deep end, that distracts you from becoming the person that God wants you to be. The Desert Mothers and Fathers taught that the passions were anything that pulled us away from God. So give up one of these passions in your life and celebrate how much better life becomes when you do.

21. Try Something New: Try a new spiritual practice, particularly if you are in a rut. There are plenty of practices out there – different ways to pray or read Scripture, new avenues to journal or use art, exciting approaches using the spoken word or silence. Pick something new and live into it for a season. You might be surprised how God can work through it.

22. End Your Day With the Examen: Part of the Spiritual Exercises, the Examen invites us to review our day, celebrate the good and the bad, and see all the places God was at work in our life even if we didn’t see it at the time.

23. Keep a Gratitude Journal: One of the best ways we can experience God’s grace in our lives is to commit to practicing gratitude. Take a moment at the end of the day to celebrate what you are grateful for and how you experienced God during these 24 hours. It will change your life.

24. Try Liturgical Prayer: Sometimes we feel like we will never have the right words when we pray. Fortunately the Church has prayers available to us. A great place to start is the Liturgy of the Hours. Many of my colleagues have been blessed by Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.

25. Words of Life: Lectio Divina is a way of praying Scripture. It literally means divine reading. You can do it in about 20 minutes. It’s a great way to begin your day.

26. Commit to Something: Whatever practice you choose, commit and schedule it. Try to commit to doing something everyday. Even if it doesn’t seem like much you will notice a difference.

27. Challenge Yourself: We live in an echo chamber in which we can get the news and experience the world with our own slants. One thing you might do during Lent is commit to reading something that might help you understand the point of view of people you disagree with. It might be one of the most radical practices you could choose for this season.

28. Liberals, Read This: If you find yourself furious at your uncle who voted for President Trump, you might read Strangers in Their Own Land in which an academic from Berkeley travels to Louisiana to listen and learn from members of the Tea Party.

29. Conservatives, Listen Up: If you are fed up with all the protests and the anger and the rage from your liberal friends on Facebook, you might read Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson. Or if fiction is more your style, try The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.

30. You’ve Got To Move It: It’s amazing the difference exercise can make in your overall outlook and your connection with God. Commit to exercising and then to praying once you are finished. For some of us prayer is the natural response that we actually survived the experience.

Try to commit to doing something everyday. Even if it doesn’t seem like much you will notice a difference.

31. Neighborhood Prayer: One way to get exercise is to walk around your neighborhood. Pay attention to what you see, who lives there, maybe the people you’ve never noticed before. Pray for your neighborhood, asking for God to move in it, and how you might play a role in making it a better place for everyone to live, to raise their kids and experience the wholeness we were created for.

32. Shelf The Booze: Fast from or consume less alcohol and donate the proceeds to charities or ministries that work with people struggling with addiction like Celebrate Recovery.

33. Spread Your Wealth: Fasting can also help you save money to donate to charities or ministries that work for good in areas you are passionate about. One of the great kingdom efforts in Tennessee is Thistle Farms, a ministry that encourages and empowers women who have been victims of abuse. For those of us concerned and upset about the new restrictions on refugees, finding a way to support organizations that advocate for immigrants and refugees is a great idea as well.

34.Be a Neighbor: Connect with your neighbors, next door and across the street.  Find out what’s going on with their families and in their lives.  Know specifically what you can pray for them about. Good neighborhoods make good communities, and good communities are one way God’s mission goes forward.

35. Pray For Leaders: Most of us don’t agree with everyone who is in charge about everything, but they need all the help they can get.  Add the mayor, school principal, county commissioners, governor, members of Congress and President to your prayer list.

36. Lift Up The Lonely: Our church makes a special effort to connect with our homebound members and others who struggle to find community during Lent. Take the time to send a card. If you work with youth or other church groups, this is a great time to visit nursing homes or other long-term care facilities.

37. In Short, Invest in Relationships: We are so busy and despite having more ways to be connected we have become less connected in actual relationships than ever before. Take some time to take someone to lunch or coffee and sit with them and learn what’s really going on.

38. Get Informed Where You Live: We all seem to know more than we would like about national and global politics. But there is plenty in our neighborhoods to become informed about. Get informed about issues with education or health care in your local community. Pray for the leaders and ask for God’s wisdom about how you can make a difference.

39.Mentor: Believe it or not you have skills that could help another person. Commit to finding relationships and ways you can improve someone’s life with the skills and knowledge you already have.

40. Be Intentional: Above all, be intentional and have a holy Lent as God does work in you and through you. May this be a season that you long remember for the ways God transformed your life, the life of your family, the life of your community and the life of the world.

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Finding Old Words to Heal Fresh Wounds

Our long national nightmare is almost over. Well, maybe. We can hope.

Election 2016 has been rough on us all. It has been hard and painful to watch the worst within us on full display, the decay we like to keep below the surface exploding out for all to see.

If there’s anything this year has taught is that we don’t agree on much, maybe the only the thing being that we haven’t enjoyed the view.

This year has been hard on a lot of people. It’s definitely been hard on the church, and no election in my lifetime has made me more seriously consider the wisdom of a holy separation – not so much for the nation’s benefit as for the church’s.

There are plenty of reasons, of course, and much of the damage we’ve received this year comes from being forced to deal with questions about the essentials on terms and in a context that are both unfamiliar and unhealthy.

We’ve been asked to define evangelical – one of our most important words – in the 24-hour news cycle and, even worse, on Twitter. We’ve watched so-called Christian leaders on both sides speak for us in ways and take positions that we would never defend. We know we are being judged for it even if there’s not a whole lot we can do about it.

Church and politics: it’s an age-old question that has always seemed to confound the faithful. What to render to Caesar and what to give to God, what does Athens have to do with Jerusalem, where and how do the two kingdoms meet, and just what is the right dance for fidelity and policy?

But now, with Election Day finally drawing near, we’re beginning to ask what feels like an even more important question. How do we come together when we’ve spent so much time ripping each other apart?

The bitterness and the destruction seemingly all around us has turned us into overwhelmed voyeurs instead of the engaged citizens a democratic republic requires.

And so, we’re searching for the right phrases to help us find unity after a year that has felt like we’ve never been more divided. We’re looking for words to bring healing for communities and a culture that has advertised its brokenness.  We need both a vocabulary and a path to chart a better way.

We are tempted to search for new words and flashy turns of phrases. But the words we need aren’t new at all.

The words that will help us, the words that will lead us, the words with the power to show us that better way, or return to it, we’ve been saying them in some form or another for as long as there has been a church, as long as there have been people willing to show up for a holy meal.

And so our work begins on Sunday as we celebrate the mystery of God’s incredible grace that comes in ordinary ways and especially in bread and wine (or Welch’s).

Before we can celebrate, we’ll begin with confession.  We’ll confess that we don’t have it all right, no matter what we’ve said on social media. We’ll admit that we haven’t lived up to our commitment to fully open the church to people of all ages, nations and races the way we promised we would in our baptisms.

We’re going to ask forgiveness for the ways we have not always represented God well in the world and how we haven’t always resisted the spiritual forces of wickedness around us.  After all, we’ll remember our belief that our battle isn’t so much against flesh and blood but evil powers and dark principalities.

We’re going to seek grace for the ways, regardless of how we vote, that we have allowed other people and parties to set our agenda instead of listening to God’s priorities and lived into a more holy agenda.

When we don’t what to do, repentance is always a good first step – turning from our own ways towards the ways of God. And so that’s where we’ll start.

As we tell this story, the story of God’s love and faithfulness that has become our story, most fully realized in an Upper Room and on a Cross, we’ll commit ourselves to that turning.

We’ll say things like we who are many – in zip code, in racial identity, in tax bracket, in ideology – are one body.

We’ll rededicate ourselves of being the body of Christ – hands and feet for a broken and weary world.

We’ll promise to be what the Church is supposed to be – agents of grace for a world desperate for it.

We’ll march out of one holy space into another with the charge to be people of hope in a culture overwhelmed by despair.

Those are big words and audacious promises. We know, both by our theology and our history, that we can’t keep them by ourselves. And so we’ll ask God for help, that some how and some way, in these ordinary grocery-store bought gifts we’ll experience the presence and power we need to find and share a better way.

Old words get a bad rap. We convince ourselves that if the words we need are to be found we’ll have to make them up or find them somewhere we’ve never looked before.

The good news, evangel, that word that we can’t get away from this year, is the words we need are the ones that were given to us a long time ago.

Those old words still have the power to heal fresh wounds. And that oft-told story still points us back to the right path.

 

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An Old Rule and A New Rhythm

The most important question Methodists have asked for years is a simple one – How is it with your soul?  The question caught on years ago and is still asked today because it addresses a truth that too many of us know deep in our hearts and our minds and our souls.

So many people want, almost more than anything else, for someone to ask us this kind of question, a question that makes it possible to unburden our souls, to admit that things are, in fact, not well and then to have the chance to to see if someone, anyone, has unlocked the secret to a different kind of life than the rushed and frantic one so many of us have been suckered into living.

We truly want a new way of life, but we aren’t sure how to find it in the midst of everything we have to do – sprinting to work, hurrying to appointments, scrounging for dinner and then figuring how we are going to do it all over again tomorrow.

A spiritual life might be nice, but we just can’t fit it in. 

This isn’t a new problem.

An Old Rule

Sometime in the Fifth Century, Benedict wrote the Rule of St. Benedict, the rule that has guided monks and monasteries for centuries in living and keeping their vows.

It wasn’t written to guide monks and Christians committed to a specialized way of living their faith. Instead, it’s initial purpose was to help ordinary people discover a way to work and pray so they could live more faithful and holy lives where they were. 

There is plenty to say and write about Saint Benedict and the power of the Rule, and plenty has been written and said – Joan Chissiter’s book is one of the best.  But the heart of the rule is something we already know – living out your faith apart from a holistic way of a life and a community of accountability is a recipe for spiritual disaster.

The despair that too many people know comes not from the fact that we aren’t trying, but instead from trying to live our faith apart from the full spectrum of discipleship that Jesus invites us to.

In short, to experience a true connection with God we need a coherent framework that has stood the test of time. The key to growing in faith isn’t a set of isolated spiritual practices but a unified rhythm and way of life that points our whole lives to the way, the truth and the life of Jesus. 

Learning a New Rhythm

What we believe matters.  But lived Christianity is less a series of truth statements than it is a rhythm of life that flows from what we believe. If we want to live an authentic and real spiritual life, we need a rule that points us to the right rhythm. 

The problem with the frantic and hurried rhythms that run our lives is they do so much more damage than simply leading us to the brink of exhaustion. They stunt our spiritual growth, prevent us from experiencing Resurrection faith and blind us to gifts that God is trying to give us.

This is the wisdom of Benedict’s Rule. If we want to receive the good life and experience the gifts and presence of God, we have to adjust our lives into the right rhythm. We call this repentance.

And the rhythm we need is one we find again and again in the Bible and that we see most clearly in the practices and patterns of God’s relationship with Israel in the Old Testament. Their experience provides the basic pattern for true life; the rhythm we long for revolves around five movements –  confession, forgiveness, repentance, celebration and rest.

Confession reveals our sin and calls us back to God after we realize there are serious consequences that come from going our own way. 

Forgiveness frees us from our need to be right and reminds us that true life doesn’t come from what we can produce but from the gifts we receive. 

Repentance calls us away from the habits that got us in trouble and sends us toward the God-filled life of holiness and faithfulness. 

Celebration invites us to worship God and praise the One who matters most – the source and provider of all that we have. 

Rest summons us to cease our doing if only for a moment to enjoy everything we have been given and leads us to embrace humility as we discover that God can manage the world just fine without us.

A Unified Life

We won’t experience the joy that comes from a connected and real relationship with God by trying one new thing or another.  The search for the spiritual life is the search for the unified life.  A spiritual life divided, like a house, cannot stand.

Instead, we need to commit ourselves to living according to a rule and experiencing a holy and holistic way of life.  We won’t get where we hope to go by trying to squeeze in a spiritual practice here or there. Instead, God longs for us to create the margin and the space to live by a new rule and find ourselves in a new and more faith-filled rhythm. 

It might seem old fashioned or out of style – but that old Methodist question won’t tolerate shortcuts.  Instead, it asks and invites us to receive gifts that might seem hard to accept but are the only way to experience and receive the life we truly want. 

In the end, the rules and the rhythm aren’t a burden, but instead are the ways that enable God to free us from the idols that fuel our despair and invite us to a new and better life that we desperately need.

 

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This Week is Our Week

When I first began in ministry, I felt the need to make sure that my congregations knew how important it was to enter into the full drama of Holy Week.  I made a big, and likely annoying point, every year – that we couldn’t go straight from Palm Sunday to Easter. Instead, if our Sundays were to be filled with light, we had to experience the darkness during the week – lowlighted by the betrayal of Holy Thursday and the death of Good Friday.

I almost rejoiced in encouraging, maybe guilting is a better word, all of us to take our liturgical medicine.  It was for good reason, because for far too long we Protestants have struggled to proclaim a faith that speaks to our whole lives.  To put a theological word on it – we’ve struggled with Incarnation.  We know how to sing the Hosannas and to triumphantly proclaim that the Lord is Risen, but we have a much harder time finding our words when life calls for confession and the world’s events demand lamentation.

Holy Week, when we experience it well, becomes a school of formation and a way to help us find the words to speak our faith in a more authentic and complete way.

During the last couple of years, however, I have come to think and speak about Holy Week in a different way.  It isn’t that we don’t need to dwell and contemplate darkness and death – because of course there’s no Easter light and Resurrection without them.  It is just that its more than that – I’ve come to believe that Holy Week is less about Christian education and a whole lot more about identification

That’s because beneath the dramatic and other worldly moments that fill Holy Week are emotions and experiences that are much more common.  The high profile failures of Jesus’ disciples aren’t foreign to us.  In fact, the reason they are so powerful is that they aren’t beyond our imagination at all, but instead mirror our own failures in faithfulness.

 

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The hard truth we don’t want to acknowledge is that the gap between our promises and hopes for faith and the lived reality of our actual commitment to Jesus is what he himself once called a great chasm. No matter how many times we protest, most of us are always one opened mouth away from sounding a lot like Peter and one temptation away from becoming a betrayer like Judas for a lot less than 30 silver pieces.

That’s why this week is actually for us.  We need this week to be reminded of Gospel’s fullness and to once again receive its grace. We don’t need to worship on Thursday and Friday to learn a little more or to have a more defensible faith.  We need to hear these stories again and to live into this drama one more time so that we might relearn and take in the story God is still writing – that sin is costly but isn’t permanent, that darkness may loom but it doesn’t reign, and that no matter how bad your betrayal there is always a road to redemption.

That’s the thing about Holy Week, it never changes – it isn’t an obligation to slog through but is a gift to be received again and again.

And so, if you can recount the dark details of failing in faith and falling short of the glory of God – this week is for you.

If you are one of those people who knows what it is like to fall asleep while you are praying, or if your prayer life is so far gone you don’t even think about it before giving in to sleep – this week is for you.

If you are one of those people who shout with the crowds but haven’t yet figured out how to show up in crunch time or when the popular kids aren’t around – this week is for you.

If you are one of those people who got trapped into putting your hope in the promise that a politician or a coach or a preacher could lead you to the promised land only to be disappointed once they got your vote or your adoration or your check – this week is for you.

If you are one of those people who look at the damage and carnage in the world and are overwhelmed and paralyzed by hopelessness and powerlessness – this week is for you. 

If you are one of those people who made that long walk up the aisle one Sunday morning only to return to the life you were hoping to move beyond – well this week is for you.

If you are one of those people who can’t see God’s creative genius in yourself and can’t escape the muck of depression and self-loathing – this week is for you. 

If you are one of those people who long for a more real connection with God only to despair that it will never happen for you – this week is for you.  

If you are one of those people who has experienced the disappointment and darkness that comes from sin and a crooked path – this week is for you.

This week is for all of us who have tried with everything we have to follow Jesus and have still failed. No matter the shape the darkness is trying to take in your life – know that this week isn’t a burden to bear or another obligation to be weighed down by. This week is what it has always been – a gift to help us, a gift to rescue us, and a gift to redeem us.

My hope is that you can experience it again this year and can receive it as it was always intended.

It is a gift – and it is for you.

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