Friday, April 24, 2015

"The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man," 
G.K. Chesterton

You don't always have to understand.

Leave the best mysteries alone. The moment we think we have fully dissected and rationalized some marvelous thing, that same moment, the wonder is gone. We have to realize that joyful bewilderment is glorious. Embrace it. Embrace the fact that you can't understand. Don't be afraid that the gift is too wonderful to accept. Go ahead and take it, and laugh, because that's what grace is: something irrational, something unsafe. We don't deserve it and we can't understand it. It's too much for us to handle. Our cups overflow. But don't be frightened, or proud, or ashamed. There's a new robe on your shoulders and new shoes on your feet. They're killing the calf that's been fattened just for you. Be thankful, and also be happy, and also stop trying to know why. Because. Because He's good. Because He loves. Because His love is so strong that our weakness doesn't matter anymore.

Because He wants to.

There is no answer more satisfying than that beautiful riddle.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

That's My King

Today death lost its sting and the grave is empty.

On Good Friday, I listened to a very beautiful message. In it, the pastor declared that there is a glorious reason that we focus on the burial of Jesus.  He died. . . Why did He need to be buried, also? What is the real significance of reciting, "crucified, dead, and buried"?  What is important about the tomb? Well, He was buried, not because God needed it to happen. But because we need it. We need to know, and see, and believe, that He was closed up in that dark tomb with all of our sins. . . And that He walked out alive without them. We need to know that our sins are buried and gone, and that we are set free. We need to know, so that our guilt can roll off our backs and fall away.

Today is the happiest day of the year! He is alive. Have hope: He is making all things new.

Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed. That's my King.

Friday, April 3, 2015

To the East of Eden

"A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well—or ill?” 

East of Eden, by John Steinbeck, is hard to read. It's full of sin, full of despair. The story that unfolds between its excellently-written pages is not happy and it's not safe. It is the dark story of a family living a cycle of wickedness. It is the tragic tale of Cain and Abel brothers lived out over again. It is the despair of a wretched woman choosing to fall farther and farther into the depths of depravity. It's an uncomfortable story about lost, sinful people. And the longer the sin lives, the more monstrous it becomes. The longer it lives, the farther it spreads itself. The land to the east of Eden was the land that the Lord gave to Cain. The east is the place of exile. To be east of Eden means that he has left the garden behind. It means his back is turned toward all that is good, true, and beautiful. It means he is an outcast, marked and alone. And that is the choice he has made.

But it is in the east that the sun rises. And so there is hope, even in the darkness, that he will see the light

East of Eden is about that hope for this lost family. It is about the "hard, clean questions". It is about reaching a place where you must choose whether to throw out the monster or to become him. And those are the only two options because even the most passive of persons has things growing in their heart. Sometimes weeds, sometimes flowers. "The Hebrew word, the word timshel - 'Thou mayest' - that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open...Why, that makes a man great...He can choose his course and fight it through and win." We get to choose and we do not have to be our past. That is Redemption. It is throwing off the old self. This is especially glorious for the man, Adam, in Steinbeck's book, because he has lived, and loved, and suffered, believing there is no choice. He has borne the despair of watching his own son becoming Cain, and he believed there was no hope. But then he is told the complete story of that brother murderer for the first time, and he hears, for the first time, the importance of the words God spoke to Cain: "Thou mayest rule over sin", and he knows that it is true. There is a choice. And if Cain had chosen to repent his awful sin, he would have been loved and forgiven. If he had chosen the good, he would have been brought back home with great rejoicing.

But, as right and as wonderful as that might be, Steinbeck falls short. In the midst of all the words and ideas he has masterfully arranged into truths, he is missing the most beautiful word, the most beautiful Truth, of all. The word is Christ and the truth is that He washes away our wickedness with blood. "We have only one story," writes Steinbeck. "All novels, all poetry, are built on the never ending contest in ourselves of good and evil." He is right. This contest has formed all of history. Good or evil. Abel or Cain. Light or darkness. But there, Steinbeck's answer suddenly becomes hollow because the heart of man is desperately wicked and deceitful above all things. There he falls short because we are not alone in this contest. There he falls short because if we stood on our own before the almighty Judge, we would be convicted as infinitely guilty. There he falls short because the Son of God entered into the mess and became the mess for us. Instead of us.

Timshel. We mayest, indeed. But only when He wills. That is why there is ever hope. That is why we can ever find our way back home. That is why we may turn happily to the west, with the sun at our backs, and return to the garden. And that is why He will run out to meet us with a love that is stronger than we can imagine.

In Remembrance of Me

 (This is one that I wrote a couple years ago for Good Friday. I figured I'd re-post it today with a few edits.)

We're getting so close to our destination on this journey through Lent.

Last night, the Rabbi broke bread and shared wine with his followers, telling them that his body will be broken like that, his blood will be shed.

Do this in remembrance of Me.

Today the Messiah hangs from pieces of metal driven through his body. On a crooked tree. Between two thieves. The slow, awful sound of iron pounding through flesh, into wood. The mother weeps over her shattered dreams. She has seen her Child tortured, beaten, and hung up there. This pure God-Man drips with his own blood, the flies come, the people laugh.

But still these earthly agonies cannot compare to the absolute darkness when Yahweh turns His back. There had never been a moment as terrible and there never will be again. All creation groaned as the Creator turned away because He could not keep on looking at our filthy mess. Because He could not keep looking at His Son, dirtied as He was by us.

Eloi, eloi lama sabachthani? An utterly human cry of anguish from the lips of God, Himself.

And the disciples still do not understand.

The Ruler strips Himself, dirties Himself, speaks with prostitutes, washes feet.

The first will be last, and the last will be first.

We are sons of the King, and we are slaves to each other.

For us to live, Someone must die.

And they still do not understand. They don't know that Sunday is coming.

They return to their city --- a city with a dark soul. Betrayal, denial, deception, cruelty. That's all they will see, because they cannot believe there will ever be hope again. They understand now that this world is a bloody mess. But they don't understand that that is why He came.

Be ready for the world to suck everything out of you, and know that it will. We live in a smashed place surrounded by broken people. Here, they hate truth. Here, there is war and death. Here, there is hypocrisy and greed. Here, there is deep, long pain. Here, it will some days take everything you have to go on.

Try explaining that. Try explaining, to someone, a hell they're living.

But this is only the middle of the story and all the best stories get awfully dark before the end. All of this is part of the cost. For now, "to love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken," (C.S. Lewis). Broken hearts are a price we sometimes pay for loving life. But life is worth that. A new morning, or a song, or a mother with her child. A wedding day, a springtime, a smile, a peace that passes understanding. Forgiveness. There is beauty in this world and it is a beauty that is growing. This world was good before, and it will be good again, indeed. Because Sunday is coming.

We cry, but not alone. Our Savior weeps with us. He doesn't leave us to our sufferings. Instead, He came and lived our sufferings.

Now we see in a glass darkly, but then face-to-face.  Now we only know in part, but what we can know now is that He came because He loves us. He came to crush the head of the serpent by surrendering Himself to death. And death couldn't handle Him.

They laughed because they had killed the King of the Jews. They were convinced that if He really were God, then He could have come down off of that cross, and that if He could have come down off of that cross, then He would have. But He didn't.

In order for death to work backwards, He had to commit His spirit into the hands of His Father.

It is finished.