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Are You Disappointed?

The crowd was disappointed in Jesus. He did not turn out to be the Messiah they wanted. He did behave as a warrior king.

Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” For the third time he spoke to them: “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.” But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. [Luke 23:20-23, NIV]

disappointmentI had an unpleasant confrontation with my daughter about this very point, but in somewhat different terms. Relatively new to the contemporary and casual worship (having been exposed to Russian Orthodox practices most of her life), over the last couple of years, she was coming into a place of understanding and personal commitment. She was getting direction from the messages and found solace for her many losses as an teen adoptee. And then her father, my husband, died this past December. Her world crumbled and her faith faltered. After all, how many losses can a person take? I knew it was hard for her. But I thought she would bounce back. Today, I discovered otherwise. I could hear in her voice and her attitude that she felt betrayed by God. This God who supposedly “saved” her from her circumstances and yet plunge her into grief.

Jesus had stopped being the kind savior who had intended the best for her. Her seeds of faith had dried in the heat of sorrow.

How can I help her? Although my many years in my faith in God and Christ has sustained me through these months, she has not had the same foundation. She is disappointed like the crowds that day on the streets of Jerusalem. They wanted something else, not what God was offering, not what this Jesus was offering.

I grieve twice over now for my daughter. Nothing is the same and nothing will ever be same. I am sure the disciples were not much better. They scattered at the arrest of Jesus. Only a few came to his execution (John, Jesus’s mother, and Mary Magdalene, who believed). She believed he would survive the cross and live again. So much so, that even in the face of his death, she returned to the grave on Sunday morning, just in case, just in case. When the body was gone, she wavered (and for this reason perhaps, she did not recognized Him).

I believeDisappointment feeds upon our thoughts. We must consciously choose to believe in the face of the “evidence.”

I am reminded of the little girl from Miracle on 34th Street, who rides in the car in the last scene, repeating over and over again, “I believe, I believe, I believe.” Sometimes it simply takes that much.

Extravagant Love

Without a doubt, one of my favorite passages, for the story and its implications is Mark 14:3-9:

While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.

“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.

mary and nardThis act speaks volumes and as Jesus said, her story would be told throughout time. Here we are, two thousand years later, and her sacrifice is still included in the Easter story. In today’s dollars, pure nard would probably cost about $3000/ounce. The amount she used, which had been saved for her own burial (or her family), was about twelve times that. She gave it all, without reserve.

She gave out of her love for Jesus. She gave our of her innate understanding of who he was (my own interpretation). She gave because He was more valuable to her than any material thing. She gave without thought for anyone else. She broke many rules that day. She offended many. She probably shamed a few. But she acted with resolve and humility.

And me? Not so much. I rarely exhibit extravagance in my devotion. I am exuberant and I am big-natured and flamboyant, but not in the arena of worldly possessions. I see it daily now as I examine every detail of my home. I have to move. I have to give away or throw away all the non-essentials. Even that is hard to do. And here, Mary, gave not her “non-essentials” but her most valuable possession.

Oh, dear Lord. Forgive my materialism, my 21st century pragmatism and self-preservation.

I am the Resurrection

I am 2It wasn’t the first time Jesus made “I am” statements. In fact, this is the 5th time he is recorded as saying “I am. . . .” The others (all somewhat cryptic and yet captivating as metaphors):

  1. I am the Bread of Life (John 6:35)
  2. I am the Light of the World (John 8:12)
  3. I am the Gate (John 10:9)
  4. I am the Good Shepherd (John 10:11)
  5. I am the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25-26)
  6. I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:16)
  7. I am the Vine (John 15:5)

But are they all metaphor? Instead, I can’t help but wonder if Jesus wasn’t using the simplest transformationof language to communicate the most complicated piece of information: his true identity. In all but one of these phrases, there is way-finding or sustenance. But in the 5th phrase, there is something else: transformation! In essence, he is telling us that without the Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah, the Holy Spirit, we are dead. Jesus is life. Jesus gives life where there is death.

walking deadI’m not just talking about heaven and the after-life. I’m talking about now. Most humans are just “walking dead” (amusing that a television show of this title is so popular). And as long as people are dead, it’s hard to imagine life, true life. It happens in the most extraordJesusinary and paradoxical way. Instead of hanging on, we are to let go. Instead of hoarding, we are to give away. Instead of certainty, we are to walk by faith. Instead of wealth, we are encouraged to embrace poverty.

Authentic Christianity, and by that I mean true Jesus followership, is mind-blowing.

Purify

Refining-FireJohn MacArthur writes, ” ‘He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering of righteousness,” [Malachi 3:3] is not agreeable to those who want only a soft and sweet Christ.” In particular, it’s critical to understand that the “sons of Levi” referred to were the priests and caretakers of the Temple. They were the ones anointed for Godly service. And by prophet, the warning came that they would be refined by fire.

This is no different from today. God will purify the body of Christ from corrupt men, perhaps not with the speed we would prefer, and yet, we see many fall from grace and exposed.

But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. [Luke 12:48, NIV]

Hosanna! Hosanna!

HosannaI just did a brief review of the other posts I’ve done about Hosanna! Such a powerful word and so poorly understood. Certainly, during the time of Christ, it’s original meaning prevailed: Save us!

The next day the huge crowd that had arrived for the Feast heard that Jesus was entering Jerusalem. They broke off palm branches and went out to meet him. And they cheered:  Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in God’s name! Yes! The King of Israel! [John 12:12-13, The Message]

Of course, in today’s world, the idea of needing to be saved has been usurped by the “born again” crowd (and I can’t exclude myself from this group either).

But I know how off-putting it can be. I had only been a follower of Christ for a few weeks when a friend convinced me to attend his church, a Pentecostal church in upper Manhattan. It was my first time in a church since my teens and although I was sure of my new found elmer-gantry2faith, I had no answer when a well-meaning greeter asked me on my way out: “Are you saved Sister?”

What? Saved from what? All I could think about was Elmer Gantry or Robert Duvall’s The Apostle. So much fire and brimstone and drama. Are you saved?

And yet, Hosanna is proclaimed on Palm Sunday, the day we remember Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey. The people welcomed him and believed in his power to “save them.”

Art by Johannes Bengtsson

Art by Johannes Bengtsson

I have to say, hell-fire and brimstone were never the driving force behind my transformation from self-serving bohemian to Jesus freak. For me, it was pure revelation: truth became evident and indisputable. I could not call Jesus a lie. But I didn’t exactly feel saved either. I was, of course, but I couldn’t see that back then. I couldn’t see my own descent into the dark world of drugs, alcohol, and free sex. I was spiraling dangerously fast until Christ grabbed me by the hand and pulled me out of the maelstrom. But I dhelpidn’t really see it until much later, from a distance.

So, yes. I was saved. I am saved.

Perhaps the cry for us today is simpler: Help! Just help.

And Jesus answers: “I will.”

Losing My Life

I’m not sure which is harder, contemplating this scripture from the book of Mark or reading Oswald Chambers’ entry for March 12.

labyrinthAfter calling the crowd together with his disciples, Jesus said to them, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me and because of the good news will save them. [Mark 5:34-35, CEB]

Chambers wrote: Our motive for surrender should not be for any personal gain at all. We have become so self-centered that we go to God only for something from Him, and not for God Himself. It is like saying, “No, Lord, I don’t want you; I want myself. But I do want You to clean me and fill me with Your Holy Spirit. I want to be on display in Your showcase so I can say, ‘This is what God has done for me.’ ”

Sometimes “taking up our cross” is couched in testing language. Test God, give this up or let go of that, and yTower of Babelou’ll see, God will bless you. Or, and I’m sure I’m not alone, there’s a lot of “gimme prayers,” even ones are cloaked in the name of empathy: “Oh Lord, heal so and so, I love them so much.” It’s as though our love or our prayers might just do the trick and turn God’s heart. Or even worse, those times we have called on God exchange our lives for someone else’s, as though that kind of martyrdom would make a difference; after all, we would only inflict loss and pain on those around us.

I am thoroughly self-centric. I confess it amidst great embarrassment. Just by writing, I have to admit to a certain audaciousness. I have done the very thing Oswald speaks of: flashing God’s power in my life. [Look what God did for little old me.]

egoPerhaps it’s a little of Eckart Tolle coming through, his view of the ego and its battle with Spirit/Now/Presence, however it would be best to express it in his terms. But the point is the same: the “I” in us continually seeks to find the center of our universe. That “I” says, “How does this affect me? What happens to me? What about me? What about what’s best for me?” (Effie sings in Dream Girls)

pelican sacrificeTruly losing oneself happens without fanfare. As soon as I say, oh I have given up all for Christ and carry His cross, well, quite honestly, I’ve just “found” myself wearing different stripes. Nothing has really changed.

No. Losing oneself slips in unnoticed.

Fighting Anxiety

anxietyHistorically, I have not been an anxious person but when I checked the definition, I recognize a build up of some anxiety over the last few months, understandable I suppose, as a relatively new widow. The future carries a lot of unknowns that have generated emotionally charged days. Anxiety is a state of mind created from an expectation of future threat. I get that, totally, as they say. But I am told, instead:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. [Phillipans 4:6-7, NIV]

The essential information here is that anxiety can be pushed back successfully, but not by trying to “not be anxious.” Instead, I am encouraged to actively transfer my anxious feelings into and onto the Holy Spirit, that Presence within, that gift of God, who is willing to apply a strong filter. The future is still unknown and filled with dangers even, but a God perspective minimizes its impact and ability to cause actual anxiety.

It’s important to ask for help. That’s where the prayer part fits in.

grief angelI believe God is actually OK with me learning how to handle some difficult situations (as part of maturing). The more time and energy I spend with God, the more I am able to walk with God, be more like God, and dwell in the Presence of Christ’s Spirit. But, it’s important to keep tabs on this relationship. My tendency has been to blunder along and convince myself that I can do it all, I can manage, I can handle hard feelings and I can make lots of decisions, all the while working full time and running a household (at least, what’s left of it). That’s the old me who used her busyness and quick thinking and “bull in a china shop” approach to everything in order to side-step the anxiety, a fear of failure, overwhelming loss and grief.

That will not work this time. I have discovered that I, too, can drop into a kind of general malaise that manifests as anxiety that is peppered with muscular tension, restlessness, fatigue, and problems in concentration.

So, I’m asking God. Right now. I’m asking for that transcendent Jesus to go to work now. Thanks.

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