Prayers For the Path: The Prayer of the Cross

There are some stories we want to change, that we need to change. There are endings we would love to switch and details we would love to erase.

This is one of those stories.

Because it would be so much easier if we could tear this one up and write a different one.

We would do anything to break out our pens and mark this one up. We would love to find a way to detour around the Upper Room and discover a way to turn the page on everything that happens between now and Sunday morning. We would enjoy it so much more without the cheap betrayals and costly silence. We want to believe we aren’t the ones who deny and then run away.

We’d like to rewrite this story because we would like to avoid the truth we know about ourselves. We want to tell a different story this Holy Week, one that doesn’t require blood and sacrifice. Sure, we wish there was a better ending in it for Jesus, but what we really crave is a way to avoid facing ourselves in all our sin-stained glory. What we really want is a story that will allow us to justify ourselves.

That’s the thing about the truth, though – you can’t erase it no matter how big your eraser or how short your memory. And while we are pretty good at avoiding it the rest of the year, tonight and tomorrow we can’t.

As we make our way to the Upper Room we realize that all the things we have counted on to save us have fallen away. As we listen to the questions and answers of a trial we realize our need to have all the answers doesn’t satisfy the questions that really matter today. As we walk the final road with Jesus to the darkness of Good Friday, we realize the things we thought were significant – our bank accounts, our waist size, our last name – have disappeared in the shadow of the Cross.

We realize this week what we try to avoid every other one – that our rush to status and our desire for acclaim won’t give us what we need. We come to grips with the truth that there are problems beyond our capacity to solve them. We have to admit that we can’t provide what we truly need; absolution and redemption and the only status that matters come from somewhere else.

We all receive hope in the same way – by allowing the One with the towel and the water to cleanse us. No matter what we have searched for we find what we need in the One who was declared guilty. In the dark reality of the Cross all any of us can do is go to Dark Gethsemane and beg for mercy from the One who received none from us.

We can’t rewrite this story because its truth won’t be denied. We try to cover it up but the harsh reality won’t be silenced. We try to keep it hidden but it always finds us.

Truth and grace are persistent that way.

And so tonight and tomorrow we’ll tell this story again, to remind ourselves how they fit together. We’ll tell it to anyone who will listen and we’ll tell it to ourselves. That when everything falls apart, all isn’t lost. That when everyone else has left, we aren’t alone. That when all we’ve counted on has vanished, hope can still find us.

Hope is still here because he is still here. He is up there and what he has to offer is enough. It’s the only thing that is.

 

Note: This is the fourth post in a series, Prayers for the Path, prayers that keep us rooted and close to Jesus as we follow him this season to Jerusalem.

Prayers For the Path: 

The Prayer of Silence 

The Prayer of Gratitude

The Prayer of Lament

 

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Six For Your Long Weekend

If you really want people to be tough, make them idealistic for some cause, make them tender for some other person, make them committed to some worldview that puts today’s temporary pain in the context of a larger hope. – David Brooks

I hope these reads help you think, help you connect but mostly help you enjoy a restful long weekend.  It’s been a long, hot summer.  Enjoy the space an extra day can bring you.  If you catch a moment or two, click on one of these.

Making Modern Toughness, David Brooks 

Dear Burning Man, It’s Not You, It’s Me, April Dembosky

“How do you maintain a freshness and a sense of innocence and discovery for something when you’re doing it over and over and over again?”

Nine Labyrinths for Restless Souls to Wander in Their Lifetime, Carol Kuruvilla

“The narrowness of the path helps focus the mind.”

Ann Patchett on Stealing Stories, Book Tours and Staying Off Twitter

“The best of me is always going to be in the book. I gave the book everything. I’m proud of it. I can sign it or read from it or tweet about it or gift wrap it but the book itself is still the same. If you’ve got that, you’ve got me.”

The Resurrection Isn’t An Argument, It’s the Christian Word for Defiance, Giles Frazier

“I know the Church of England is supposed to be dying. And there are those who want to save it with cod management theory and evangelical up-speak. But if we as a church really believe in death and resurrection, then we don’t really need any of that secular sorcery. There has been a priest in my parish continuously since the reign of King John in the early 13th century. Politicians call it resilience. I call it resurrection.”

The Bread of Blessing or the Stone of Original Sin, Danielle Shroyer

“What if we recognized that the story scripture has been trying to tell us, page after page after page, is that the basis of our nature is not sin but God’s unwavering love for us? What if our children were told this so often and so persistently and so passionately that they were able to move through both feats and failures with an anchoring in the One who made them?”

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Ways Off the Path: When The Box Isn’t Big Enough

(Note: This is the third in my Lent series, Ways Off the Path, on some of the ways we can fall of the path and get separated with God.  You can find a link to earlier posts in this series at the bottom of the page.)

One of the easiest ways we veer off the path of faithfulness and experience a much more shallow life with God than the one we have been created for is by creating God in our own image.

We’ve seen it on full display in this election cycle, with candidates of all stripes justifying their behavior through divine sanction. Unfortunately, making the God of the Bible into a safe and predictable God who endorses the things we endorse and hates the people we hate isn’t reserved for those running for office.

I find it really easy to convince myself that God dreams for the same kind of world that I do and don’t have a lot of trouble believing that God enjoys the kind of worship that I most prefer. It is not hard for me to overlook and justify the sins that I am most prone to committing while getting uncomfortably self-righteous at those that don’t tempt me or the ones that oppose my preferences, political convictions and the world views with which I am most comfortable.

The hard truth is that finding people who haven’t suffered from shoehorning God to fit their preferred beliefs and ways of life  – well, a camel and an eye and a needle come to mind.

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It doesn’t matter whether the gods we fashion are conservative or liberal, black or white, traditional and old-fashioned or contemporary and cutting edge. When we fall into this trap not only do we commit idolatry, the most significant of the Thou Shall Nots that Moses brings down from the Mountain, we also fool ourselves.

When we decide we have the power to become the great creators of everything we need, we strip the Gospel of its very power by trading the power of God to make a new creation in us for another shallow justification for what we already think, believe and live for.

Regardless of how or why we do make them, the gods of our imagination can’t bear the weight of the God we worship and have been given in Jesus.  These wannabe gods just aren’t big enough, don’t have the power to change us and simply cannot bring the redemption we need.

The confronting and convicting texts of Lent forcefully remind us of this – and they don’t politely ask us whether we like it or not. On Sunday, we heard that truth from Isaiah, who reminded us that our ways of thinking and patterns of living don’t necessarily come from God.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9

What we need more than anything else isn’t another place to listen to the news we want to hear but instead a way to encounter a power greater than we can imagine who can show us a new way of life with more meaning and hope than we have ever experienced.

The growth and change we all desperately need, even if we can’t bring ourselves to say it out loud, comes from admitting that God’s wisdom is greater than our own and finding our place in the enormous mission and kingdom of God.

That’s the conviction we draw from the stories of Scripture that shape our faith. How many times do we encounter stories of people who were convinced that they know exactly who God is and precisely how God goes about accomplishing God’s will for the world only to be shocked and surprised when their world is tossed upside down?

No one experienced that more than Paul, who had his whole religious upbringing and education turned on its head when he encountered Jesus on the Damascus Road – but he’s not the only one.  Abraham believed and trusted in a future he couldn’t see, Ruth learned the blessing of radical commitment and Job discovered that the wisdom of convention isn’t always the wisdom of God. The Bible is full of stories like these – people who God shocked with wisdom and purpose they could never have come up with on their own.

When we read and pray and allow ourselves to be changed by these stories, we realize that God is much less predictable than we prefer and that the God of the Bible seems to love upending our assumptions and is always in the process of doing a new thing.

This isn’t an easy thing to experience. This holy season reminds us that those who are most sure they know who God is and what God is for are often the ones who most profoundly and spectacularly miss God’s revelation and misunderstand God’s mission.

What the Bible tells us is that the key to experiencing Resurrection and New Creation is to learn how to humble yourself, how to become open to God, and how to watch for the signs of God’s activity in the world – even and especially when they hurl your heart and mind into the whirlwind.

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God spoke to Job out of the whirlwind and tends to do the same with us.

And so, these are the stories we need to keep close – the thief who receives the promise of paradise, the disciples who experience real presence in the breaking of the bread and the many who become one through a Spirit who blows where it will and authors stories of redemption again and again.

It’s easy to find your way off the path.  But we can always find our way back, by doing what doesn’t usually come naturally – admitting we might be wrong, listening for God’s presence, and allowing ourselves to be changed by the grace of a God who is greater and more creative than we can imagine.

Ways Off the Path

Week 1: Paying Attention to the Wrong Things

Week 2: Paralysis by Overanalysis

 

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Ways Off the Path: The Spiritual Discipline of Becoming Less of a Jerk

(Note: This is the second in my Lent series, Ways Off the Path, on some of the ways we can fall of the path and get separated with God.  You can find a link to last week’s post at the bottom of the page.)

Once, in an online employee profile a co-worker shared that she believed one of my primary spiritual gifts is sarcasm.  I’m fairly certain it wasn’t a compliment.

In my defense, I come by it honestly.  I spent a good part of my 20’s being trained as a newspaper reporter, where cynicism and sarcasm aren’t personality types but job requirements.

So, it isn’t much of a surprise that some of my colleagues have been known to ask how I chose House M.D., as  a spiritual mentor or that I’ve long been drawn to the characters of the Coen Brothers and shows like The Wire.  For years my mom has suggested I spend less time on these stories and more time on lighter fare like The Hallmark Channel – but I’m proud to say that up to this point I’ve been able to hold her off.

Everybody has their own ways of pursuing spiritual growth, but one of the ways I am choosing to try to follow closer to Jesus these days is what I call, in a phrase you can only learn in Divinity School, becoming less of a jerk.

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Well, that’s not exactly true. But during this holy season of Lent – this time in which we are encouraged to take an honest and searing look at our lives and the habits that keep us away from God – I am working to become less critical of myself and of other people.

One of the byproducts of being trained as an analyst and to be skeptical is that you become an expert in identifying the ways that people fall short of the glory of God and the inherent failures of groups and systems.

There is a place for clear-minded and honest analysis, because we can only grow more faithful if we are willing to tell the truth about ourselves and our communities and organizations.  But when these efforts command so much of our time and attention, the costs can be too high.

We pay the price that comes from perfectionism when we fail to meet the impossible standards we set for ourselves.  It doesn’t matter that no one can meet them – that’s beside the point we tell ourselves.  And the standards not only lead to self-doubt and self-criticism but also being unable to live the life God wants for us. Instead of honestly trying to be obedient to God’s call on our lives, we find ourselves stuck and unable to move because we become paralyzed by the fear of not being able to live without failure.

Another steep price we pay is that we miss out and fail to appreciate the incredible gifts of the people around us.  When all we can see is the ways it can be better, we become blinded to the ways that God has been and still is at work in and through our community.

The truth is the more devoted we become to critical analysis the harder it is to appreciate the good things in our lives.

And when we miss the good things in our lives, we miss the blessing and the presence of God – in our friends, in our families, and in the countless people who reveal God’s love to us each and every day.

I was reminded of this last week when my wife and I were discussing a chapter in the book we are reading together for Lent.  As we were reflecting on the chapter, she reminded both of us that we are so much better off focusing on the blessings God has given us than stressing out on the things we don’t have. (Writer’s Note: I clearly married up.)

So, during these forty holy days of Lent I am trying to build a habit that will stick – to spend less time in analysis and snark and more time in celebration and appreciation.  We all can be good at a lot of things, but I am hoping to become better at learning how to see and celebrate the way God is at work in my life, in my family’s life, and in the life of the church and the people and the community we love.

It generally takes about six weeks for habits to take hold – so I have high hopes for this season of life.  I don’t know what you are up for Lent – probably something much holier than trying to become less cynical and critical- but whatever it is I hope and pray that you experience God’s grace and power to see the change you long for.

Ways Off the Path

Week 1: Paying Attention to the Wrong Things

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Ways Off the Path: The Spiritual Discipline of Becoming Less of a Jerk

(Note: This is the second in my Lent series, Ways Off the Path, on some of the ways we can fall of the path and get separated with God.  You can find a link to last week’s post at the bottom of the page.)

Once, in an online employee profile a co-worker shared that she believed one of my primary spiritual gifts is sarcasm.  I’m fairly certain it wasn’t a compliment.

In my defense, I come by it honestly.  I spent a good part of my 20’s being trained as a newspaper reporter, where cynicism and sarcasm aren’t personality types but job requirements.

So, it isn’t much of a surprise that some of my colleagues have been known to ask how I chose House M.D., as  a spiritual mentor or that I’ve long been drawn to the characters of the Coen Brothers and shows like The Wire.  For years my mom has suggested I spend less time on these stories and more time on lighter fare like The Hallmark Channel – but I’m proud to say that up to this point I’ve been able to hold her off.

Everybody has their own ways of pursuing spiritual growth, but one of the ways I am choosing to try to follow closer to Jesus these days is what I call, in a phrase you can only learn in Divinity School, becoming less of a jerk.

photo-1444828589547-4ee6f3cb625a

Well, that’s not exactly true. But during this holy season of Lent – this time in which we are encouraged to take an honest and searing look at our lives and the habits that keep us away from God – I am working to become less critical of myself and of other people.

One of the byproducts of being trained as an analyst and to be skeptical is that you become an expert in identifying the ways that people fall short of the glory of God and the inherent failures of groups and systems.

There is a place for clear-minded and honest analysis, because we can only grow more faithful if we are willing to tell the truth about ourselves and our communities and organizations.  But when these efforts command so much of our time and attention, the costs can be too high.

We pay the price that comes from perfectionism when we fail to meet the impossible standards we set for ourselves.  It doesn’t matter that no one can meet them – that’s beside the point we tell ourselves.  And the standards not only lead to self-doubt and self-criticism but also being unable to live the life God wants for us. Instead of honestly trying to be obedient to God’s call on our lives, we find ourselves stuck and unable to move because we become paralyzed by the fear of not being able to live without failure.

Another steep price we pay is that we miss out and fail to appreciate the incredible gifts of the people around us.  When all we can see is the ways it can be better, we become blinded to the ways that God has been and still is at work in and through our community.

The truth is the more devoted we become to critical analysis the harder it is to appreciate the good things in our lives.

And when we miss the good things in our lives, we miss the blessing and the presence of God – in our friends, in our families, and in the countless people who reveal God’s love to us each and every day.

I was reminded of this last week when my wife and I were discussing a chapter in the book we are reading together for Lent.  As we were reflecting on the chapter, she reminded both of us that we are so much better off focusing on the blessings God has given us than stressing out on the things we don’t have. (Writer’s Note: I clearly married up.)

So, during these forty holy days of Lent I am trying to build a habit that will stick – to spend less time in analysis and snark and more time in celebration and appreciation.  We all can be good at a lot of things, but I am hoping to become better at learning how to see and celebrate the way God is at work in my life, in my family’s life, and in the life of the church and the people and the community we love.

It generally takes about six weeks for habits to take hold – so I have high hopes for this season of life.  I don’t know what you are up for Lent – probably something much holier than trying to become less cynical and critical- but whatever it is I hope and pray that you experience God’s grace and power to see the change you long for.

Ways Off the Path

Week 1: Paying Attention to the Wrong Things

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