Thursday, March 27, 2014

Lenten Reflections: Build Up


"....love builds up." - 1 Corinthians 8:1

Within each of us lies the power to build up and destroy. We do a good job at construction, but unfortunately we demolish with greater skill and efficiency. We demolish what we've built, and take more pride in rubble than we do building supplies.  

Who have we demolished? Who have we built up? 

Demolition takes less time than construction. Demolition requires more force. 

Demolition is primal. 

Construction is evolutionary. 

Demolition is the world.

Construction is the Kingdom.

As followers of Christ, we've been built up. Demolition was our future, but through the love of Christ, we now have plans for construction and renovation. We been hired onto a construction crew. But in us still lies the choice. 

Being built up comes with a price. By being built up, Christ then calls us to build up.

A reciprocal construction contract.   

Build.

Build community.

Build relationships.

Build a new culture. 

Build the Kingdom.

We been given tools of construction, called to build up what we've previously destroyed; in our lives and the lives of others. Will we build up, as we've been built up? Will we construct.

Brick by brick, nail after nail, one stone at a time? Or one detonation?  

Build.

Lent is about realization. Lent is construction. But construction cannot begin without a clear analysis of what has been demolished. Our past is filled with demolition, but we begin looking forward to what our spirits can construct. Before us stands the Kingdom of God, with many projects in need of completion.  

Lord, send us Your Spirit, that we may be the kind of Church that builds, not destroys. Enable us to love one another, serve one another and forgive one another. Enable us to build rather than destroy. As You were torn down, help us to build up. As You have built us up, help us to build up as well, for the glory of Your Kingdom. Amen.  
 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Lenten Reflections: Pride


"For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, PRIDE, and foolishness."
Mark 7:21-22

Look within and see our ashen hearts. What lies just below the surface? Allow me to introduce you to my favorite sin.

Pride creeps forward, ever hidden from the conscious, ashamed of what it demands. Pride spits forth every evil intention, not the least of which is itself. The Green Monster lurks within, devouring the "selves" of others, in order to feed the "self". Ravenous. From which all other sins are conceived, Pride gives birth to sin. Sin's origin fights for first place. And when Pride crosses the finish line, it accepts it's medal while the entire family is waiting to celebrate his victory. 

"There's Lust, waiting with a smile!"

"Oh look!", Pride thinks to itself, "Greed is here too, pushing himself to the front of the crowd!"

"Murder's here as well! But where is Sexual Immorality? Oh yeah!  Hiding behind that tree, as usual!"

"Victory is mine!"      

Pride puts "ME" above "EVERYONE ELSE". Me first. You last. I win. You loose. I'm great. You suck.

Pride climbs the ladder of success, makes as much money as it can, in order to buy more than anyone else. Pride hordes what it produces and justifies it as "The American Dream". Pride sends us across the globe, to "minister" to the poor, while we kick them out of our communities at home. Then pride calls us "Missionaries". Makes us feel better, doesn't it?

"Not in my backyard!", Pride screams out. "But downtown? That's fine. I'll drive down there Saturday night and help, before the sun goes down."  

Pride hurts. Not just the others that it devours, but our own hearts as well. Because Pride reveals what we hate to see.

"You know, you think that ol' pride's gonna choke you going down, but I tell you what.. Ain't a night goes by I don't thank the boss up there for giving me a big enough throat.... Think about it Bud, pride's one of those seven deadlies, you know what I mean?" - Uncle Bob

Pride made Bud flip off Sissy from his Ford Pickup. 

"Even those tears; I. Me. Mine. I Me Mine. I. Me. Mine." - George Harrison

Don't try and console me! I'll suffer alone!

"They cannot take your PRIDE." - Bono

Oh, how I wish they would.  

Lord, we look around and see that pride is killing the Church, killing our families, killing our society. Starve our ravenous pride so that we may hunger instead for truth, unity, community, selflessness and You. Starve us for You. Amen     

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Lenten Reflections: Death

"....and to dust you shall return." - Genesis 3:19

For a hard days sin, our payment is death. And we work hard for our sin, don't we? From morning to night, we labor for sin, cherish it, covet it and seal it away in the hidden places of life so that no one ever knows about it. But death soon finds each of us at the end of our lives, and a life of sin is what we present for the big payoff. We can't avoid it. We climbed the proverbial ladder of success, competed to be the best, screwed over those who deserved to be screwed, made the grade and accepted the honor. Sin perfected. 

"My sin is better than yours!"
We did what we set out to do.
Mission accomplished.
Now we get ours.
Payday.   

Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

Lent magnifies the filth that is you and me. The ashes still linger from last Wednesday. They've been washed off, but the dirt still remains. It sears the skin and penetrates the pores. Ashes. A dark reminder of the inevitable end that we will all face.Yet through the paradox of the Resurrection, we are cleansed of the filth, healed of the wounds that cripple, the broken limbs that cause us to stagger and the pains of death that haunt. Christ breathes new life into the lifeless, rejected and formless filth that we are. All of the eternal promises of Eden come racing back and we find ourselves naked, but covered in filth.  

Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

Lent reminds us that through Christ, death is no longer a payment that we have to bear out of our pockets.

We lost our debit cards.
We are out of checks.
No petty cash.

The expense lies on the One who mimicked our efforts and climbed the ladder of success of sin with us. He accepted the check and cashed it in, forging our signatures. Yet we still go through the motions. We mimic death, as He mimicked our sin.

Fake death for real sin.

UNeven exchange for services rendered.   

Lent portrays life. A micro-life in 40 days. A journey toward light, but filth that remains and darkness that overwhelms.

Thank God it's Friday.

But resurrection comes a few short days later. The check will be returned to us.

INSUFFICIENT FUNDS

Lord, Thank You for accepting the wages of our life of sin. By Your Spirit, breathe new life into us this day. Let Your Holy Spirit fill us, so that as we continue in our journey of Lent, we remain Holy as You are Holy. The journey is long. We know that we face death at the end. But through our faith in You, remind us and encourage us that Your Resurrection awaits us. May we be alive in You. Amen

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ash Wednesday Reflections

Today is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Growing up Roman Catholic, Ash Wednesday was always a big day for those observing the liturgical Church calendar. Somewhat of the Christian's "Day of Atonement", Ash Wednesday is the first day of the 46 day Lenten season, which ends on Holy Saturday, April 19, the day before Easter Sunday. Lent is a time of spiritual reflection based on the forty days of temptation that Jesus faced in the wilderness. (Matthew 4:1-11) Lent is a time of deep reflective prayer, fasting, sacrifice, spiritual self-examination and repentance, in anticipation of the day Christ sacrificed Himself in atonement for the sins of all mankind. Specifically, Ash Wednesday is a day to be reminded of our human mortality; the ashes being a sign of mourning over of the fragility of live and the sin that has birthed that condition. It calls us to repentance and begins a long 40 day journey of coming to terms with sin and committing ourselves to face it, wrestle with it and deal with it throughout the remained of the year.   

Growing up, I always perceived Ash Wednesday as the magical day when all "good " Christians somehow purged themselves of the debauchery and hedonism that has crept into their lives over the last year; especially after Mardi Gras. Mostly, I remember classes being cut short so that all good Catholic school students could attend Ash Wednesday Mass, and the subsequent embarrassment of walking around all day with "dirt" on my forehead. "Hey, church boy! You've got dirt on your head!" When I got home from school, my mom was always quick to remind me not to wash the ashes off until bedtime, but was more lenient once I started to develop acne. Those oily ashes can wreak havoc on a teenage forehead. I have always found it perplexing that some pastors have the skill of creating a perfect cross, while others only seem to manage an unidentifiable smudge.   

But as I look back on my spiritual journey, Ash Wednesday was merely a strict religious observance and nothing more. I had no idea why I was called to observe the day, and had no clue what the ashes were supposed to symbolize in terms of my faith. I was a faithful Catholic and believed in Christ, but in terms of dedication, giving up meat on Friday was about as far as I would go. Have you noticed all the fast food restaurants pushing fish on their menus lately? I wonder what McDonald's will do to rival the culinary delight of their "Fish McBites" from last year?    

So this year I'm wondering to myself if Lent is suppose to mean more than just giving up something? Is it more than marathon prayer meetings, fasting, reading scripture and other "religious" activities? Is there more to Ash Wednesday? Is there more to observing Lent? I think there is, but I think that most of us don't want to think about it, because Lent has to do with a really nasty word. OK, now I'm going whisper it so that no one else hears. Ready? "Sin". Gasp! There, I said it! I know. I know. No one likes to talk about it, right? But we're all screwed up anyway, so let's just throw it out there and get it out in the open.

When you get right down to it, Lent is about sin. It's about looking back and reflecting over the last year and coming face to face with all the crap that has infected our lives. It's about taking stock of our walk with Christ, and meditating on the areas that we have fallen short. And as we enter these 40 days together, it's a time to prepare ourselves for Easter. A time of the year that we stop and remember that our Christian faith revolves around the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and nothing more.

Lent is not about looking more "holy" because you have ashes on your forehead. It's not about fasting so that all your friends can see how dedicated you are. It's not about piously praying several times a day so that those you work with can witness your awesome dedication to God. And I've got news for you; it's not about sacrifice. God doesn't want out lame sacrifices anyway.

When we think of Lent, we automatically think of giving up something, right? We give up sweets, coffee, smoking, technology, drinking, sex (no way!), anger, meat, cussing, etc...etc...etc. And although sacrifice is a vital aspect of the Lent experience, I think it has become a distraction from what what we are really called to as followers of Christ. We live in a culture, and are even part of a Church, that finds it politically incorrect to talk about sin. We don't like to confess sin to one another, because that makes us "bad" Christians. We don't like to hold someone accountable for sin, because that would be judgmental. And let's face it, in the post-modern church of today, sin is offensive. It's become intolerant to even mention sin for fear that others might think we're religious zealots.

Now, I am in no way advocating that we pursue campaigns of judging one another, and I'm not suggesting forms of self-righteousness. I'm not even asking us to feel bad about our faults and failures. We carry enough guilt during the rest of the year. Like I said, we're all screwed up to some extent, and those of you that know me know that I'm up there with the worst of them. I guess what I'm getting at is that maybe it's time to observe Lent for what it is: a time of repentance. Repentance is a good thing when you think about it. It's not about some angry person on the street corner screaming, "REPENT!"  It's not about doom and gloom, fire and brimstone and God's wrath on pathetic worthless sinners like you and me. Repentance, when you get right down to it, is about loving one another. When we call each other to turn from our sins and turn back to God, we are essentially communicating to them that we care about them. It's about saying to those we love, "Repent! Please! Because I love you and see what a freaking mess your life is! And my life is a mess too!  Help me! I'll help you! We're in this together!"

So, as we begin Lent on this Ash Wednesday, let's commit to the discipline of repenting. It really is an ancient discipline, when you get right down to it. Repent! And do me a favor. Challenge me to repent as well, especially when I fall short. Because I will fall short again and again. I promise. Because I'm a mess.