Preparing for Easter (Tuesday): The Unseen Story

story227 And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. 28 But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” Luke 23:27-31 


There were throngs of commoners, local women who were unknown, shrieking and mourning over the torn Man stumbling by. Some hid their eyes from the suffering, but those who dared to look wailed with grief and fright. The story of Jesus’s torture had spread like wildfire as injustice burned fear deep within their souls.

The self-proclaimed Messiah seemed to always surround Himself with ordinary people, and now, too, even on His execution day, He engaged nameless individuals in the crowd.

To their surprise, Jesus turned. He turned and looked right at them and predicted their suffering. “Your city,” He warned, “your city will be destroyed. Weep for your future. Weep for your children’s future. You will seek refuge from destruction and have to flee from what’s familiar to find it.”

Predicting the destruction of Jerusalem that would later come in AD 70, Christ used His own suffering to teach about Jerusalem’s coming doom. City-dwellers and rural residents alike longed to be rescued from oppressive Roman rule. For years, they had begged God for a political leader only to meet a Messiah who spoke mysteriously about a world beyond what they could see. They wanted relief for their everyday, but He spoke of peace for eternity. They wanted an alternative to crooked laws, but He offered deliverance from their sin that was staining their choices and relationships and communion with Jehovah.

“You’ll have to flee what’s familiar…” Challenging them to consider a kingdom beyond what they could see, Jesus offered something bigger than even the Roman empire. 

And He calls us, too. The Restorer of what’s broken calls us beyond what’s tangible, beyond our temporary comforts, in order to find healing.

It’s easy to forget, isn’t it? It’s easy to forget we were made for a different world. We imagine relief from this tangible world, but Christ’s deliverance is bread for the famished soul; it’s peace for the war waging within our heart and thought-patterns.

Are you begging for a change in circumstances? The Rescuer sees you and is offering to transform you.


photo source | steve halama

Preparing for Easter (Monday): The Immigrant’s Path

Narrow street in Jewish Quarter Jerusalem26 And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. Luke 23:26


Do you see him? Do you see that man from the countryside, common and random, thrust into the drama of an execution? Originally from North Africa, Simon the immigrant had journeyed into a new life in Israel, only to walk yet another path — this one stained with blood.

He followed Jesus from behind, struggling to balance a heavy beam as his mind raced to find an explanation. Splinters dug into his neck, but fear kept him moving as he looked straight ahead at the tortured Man, avoiding the soldiers’ glare. What in the world had that Man done to deserve such a beating? To earn such a humiliating death?

Power and oppressive force had yanked Simon into the day’s events, as he navigated the scene. Carrying the burden of death on his shoulders, remnants of blood stained his cloak while his mind and heart were forever scarred. The suffering and the mystery captured him, wooing him into a Love Story even he didn’t understand at the time.

The Man was known and cherished, as commoners in the crowd wept hard and grieved His suffering.

Will we surrender to God’s plan, to the path chosen for us?

We walk through life, busy with determination for ordinary tasks and plans, but God calls us to more. Might we gaze beyond ourselves and see burdens we could carry? Are we willing to be pulled from our daily routines and thrust into something bigger than ourselves? Are we surrendered enough to get dirty and soiled and participate in redemption?

Culture exalts power and independence, but Christ-followers are called to journey deeper into self-denial, positioning others’ needs over our own. Friend, let’s stay faithful amidst the brokenness. Let’s serve at a moment’s notice, gazing ahead to the purpose God has ordained for us.

Like Simon of Cyrene, let’s follow.

Preparing for Easter (Join Me)

Train 2I seem to have stepped on a fast-moving train. I don’t remember boarding, and I certainly didn’t know it would move at this speed. I think I would have chosen something else.

I look around me, and I see beauty. I really do. I see beauty in the scene outside my window, and I pause for a second to breathe deep and drink it all in. But I’d rather be breathing deep on the other side, feet standing their ground, motionless. And I see beauty in the faces of those outside, watching my train race by their peace. They’re all so different, and I wish I could hear every single one of their stories.

But I’m racing instead, journeying to who knows where at record speed.

It’s humbling. I’ve learned to set boundaries, but now they’re mocking me. I’ve learned to say “no”, but I’m clearly not in control right now. I’ve promised over and over to live, but it’s taking great effort to not be numb.

In one week, I’ll celebrate Christ’s resurrection. I’ll delight in His triumph, and I’ll claim the hope that comes in knowing there’s a story bigger than my own. I’ll read that rescue plan with my name on it, and I’ll be amazed life truly can come from death. I’ll remember I was created for a different world where dying and suffering and bad choices and sin will be no more. I’ll exchange loneliness for eternal community with God… insecurity for the bliss of not thinking about myself… shame for Christ’s righteousness.

But I’m racing, and I don’t want to miss it.

Maybe your life is moving too fast, too. Maybe you had every intention of a Lent reading plan, but now you’re just trying to wake up from the detachment. Maybe you’ve forgotten you were created for a different world, and the urgency of your everyday is forefront on your mind.

I invite you to jump off the train with me and pause. Come with me into six different stories from just one day in history before we celebrate on Easter morning. We’ll slow down and touch some tangible things from Christ’s execution day. We’ll turn them over and over in our hands, and hopefully our hearts will follow. We’ll ponder and reflect and in doing so, we’ll be able to celebrate Christ’s resurrection that much more on Sunday.

A path. A story. A game. A cross. A curtain. A tomb.

Yes, instead of racing, we’ll open our eyes and ponder how each of these elements in Luke 23 connect to not only our own stories but with an eternity we can not see yet. We’ll start on Monday.

Monday | The Immigrant’s Path
Tuesday | The Unseen Story
Wednesday | The Game of Mockery
Thursday | The Other Cross
Friday | The Temple Curtain
Saturday | The Borrowed Tomb
Easter Sunday | Resurrection: Just the Right Time

I hope you’ll join me.

goodfriday

photo source (train) | Femke Ongena
photo source (cross) | Jametlene Reskp

A Time to Speak

prophet“And now, Lord, take note of their intimidations intended to silence us. Grant us, Your servants, the courageous confidence we need to go ahead and proclaim Your message while you reach out Your hand to heal people…” Acts 4:29,30

I get confused sometimes.

My heart pounds with empathy as suffering weeps in silence. I reach out to touch the wound that’s not mine to touch. And my fingers linger on the scar as I long for healing to flow forth.

The job of Savior is already taken. 

And I get intimidated sometimes.

Responding to hurt and binding up wounds is often easier than opening up my mouth to proclaim abrasive truth.

Do you follow? I want to be the healer instead of the prophet.

“Christan, you need to stop bringing home your clients’ angst,” a friend told me, the social worker hoping to save my corner of the world. Years ago, I had a 14 year-old client whose story came home with me everyday… whose fragments felt like my own brokenness, for I tried to piece them together in my mind all night long. I stayed awake night after night thinking and pondering and carrying a shame that wasn’t mine to hold. I still think of her.


“Is now the time, Lord — the time when You will reestablish Your kingdom in our land?” (Acts 1:6) Fresh from witnessing the resurrection, Christ’s friends were still feeling oppressed… still feeling taken advantage of… still wanting a political hero to rescue them from Rome… still full of fear at what they might find just around the corner.

Have you waited incredibly long to be rescued?
Have you yearned and longed while injustice rips through the flag of freedom over and over, tearing it to shreds?

“Here’s the knowledge you need: you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you. And you will be my witnesses, first here in Jerusalem, then beyond to Judea and Samaria, and finally to the farthest places on earth.” Acts 1:7-9

You will speak and reflect Me among what’s familiar
…and among people and cultures just a tad bit different
…and with those whom you fear and scorn and judge
…and with those you’ve never even thought of before.
That’s what you need to know for now.
You’ll open your mouth.
You’ll speak truth without fearing what others think.
You’ll boldly proclaim My love for those right in front of you,
for those that don’t look like you, for those who make decisions you would never make, and for those you’ve forgotten about. (Acts 1:7-9 paraphrase)

“You will speak, and I will heal,” says the Maker of Heaven and Earth.

Oh. But I want to do the healing. I want to bind up the wounds and see brokenness transform before my eyes. I want to do something meaningful, and healing seems significant.

But the job of Savior is already taken.


Again…
“And now, Lord, take note of their intimidations intended to silence us. Grant us, Your servants, the courageous confidence we need to go ahead and proclaim Your message while you reach out Your hand to heal people…” Acts 4:29,30

I see the accusers pointing at me. I see their hate …and confusion …and fear. Everyone has a story that’s led them to today. But I will proclaim what’s real without intimidation. I will not wait in silence. I will open up my mouth and exchange shame for courage and proclaim a Gospel-driven message of love and wholeness. For now, I will speak.

And I’ll watch my Savior reach out His hand to heal those I love. I’ll see His hand with that deep, deep scar cover the wound. I’ll see Him touch the scars and bring a restoration I never could.

Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord. Psalm 27:14

 

photo source | john sting, portugal

4 Ways to Uproot Bias

coffee-shop-post-photo

It was quite a year: 2016 forced us to consider the refugee crisis… the #BlackLivesMatter movement… kneeling during the national anthem… a polarizing, words-heavy presidential campaign season. Yes, we saw numerous headlines forcing us into self-reflection, sometimes catching us off-guard, and we’re still reading similar headlines. What are our gut reactions to the latest stories? How did we get those opinions, and how did we get so confident in our views?

How did we get so… biased?

Five years ago, I conducted an interview with an African American woman on racism, and she kept redirecting the dialogue toward stereotyping. I’m finally beginning to understand why.

It’s getting near impossible to ignore our biases — those thoughts many of us ignore yet are influenced by daily. Current events shine a light on our thought patterns. It’s uncomfortable, for when news stories call us to sort through our own perceptions of people groups, we come face to face with the ugliness of our hearts.

So what do we do about it? We know we were made to live in community, and we want to. But stereotyping and silent prejudices have us facing the highest of relational walls. How do we uproot biases that have been lodged discreetly (and not so discreetly) in our hearts?

I’m clearly not an expert, and I’m stumbling along, but Scripture is full of guidance. Verse after verse, story after story, we see our Rescuer’s heart and His value of community, unity, the marginalized, the oppressed, and misunderstood people groups.

The apostle Peter, surprisingly, has a lot of relational advice. The man who betrayed his friend, Jesus, and then hid when it really mattered, eventually drank from the cup of forgiveness and grace. (John 18, John 21)

But time often has a way of bringing back our self-protective patterns. And Peter, the guy with the flaring temper and abrasive personality, is openly prejudice as he tries to lead the first century Church. We see him excluding people because of their race and refusing to eat with anyone who doesn’t share his ethnicity. (John 18, Galatians 2)

In true redemptive fashion, God pursues and restores him again, transforming Peter into an advocate for healthy relationships. The one who was an open racist is now giving advice on how to get along with others.

Our Redeemer can do the same transformation for us today. Sure, you may not prohibit someone of a different race from eating with you in the office cafeteria, but are you judging her and feeling superior as you eat together? Where do your thoughts jump when you pass a young man dressed differently than you? In a matter of seconds, we can make judgment calls on someone’s intelligence, value, and worth, all while feeling better about ourselves.

Here are some principles on how to uproot bias in our hearts — even when it’s in there deep.

Bravely Enter into Self-Examination
When we hear about injustice and oppression in our community, we often want to do something. I have been challenged over and over by others lately to first look inward. Sometimes it’s easier to join a movement of mercy or establish a cause for justice than to examine your own heart.

“Get yourselves ready, prepare your minds to act, control yourselves, and look forward in hope as you focus on the grace that comes when Jesus the Anointed returns and is completely revealed to you… Put aside the desires you used to pursue when you didn’t know better.” I Peter 1:13-14 

Choose to engage in self-reflection as you search your mind and heart. Get ready for what you’re about to find. But don’t stop there. Look forward in hope to the grace that’s available to you.

A few questions to ask yourself:
What stereotypes and biases have I been entertaining?
What do I assume about certain people before we’re even introduced?
Why am I scared to self-examine?

Discover What’s Been Missing from Your Narrative
While intentional steps are needed to move forward in combating our bias, it’s worth pausing and figuring out what got us here. What’s your story? What were you not told in childhood textbooks? Were photos of different races missing in articles you read throughout high school and college? From TV shows to history lessons and everything in between, sometimes what’s missing from the narrative imprints our hearts as much as the noise.

“You know that a price was paid to redeem you from following the empty ways handed on to you by your ancestors; it was not paid with things that perish (like silver and gold), but with the precious blood of the Anointed.” I Peter 1: 18-19

Peter urges his readers to remember that the blood of Christ shed on the cross — the heart of the Gospel story — can cover the “empty ways” passed down, which includes our ignorance. Once you see, you cannot un-see. And God graciously restores our ability to live in community as He reveals what has been missing from our life’s narrative.

Be in Relationship with Those Different From You
“Live as those who are free… Respect everyone. Love the community of believers…” I Peter 2:16-17

When we develop friendships with those who are different from us, our view of other races and cultures expand. We still see color, for our creative God has proven His love for diversity in the creation of humans and the physical world. But our stereotypes of others don’t have as much power over us when we’re in relationship with people who represent various histories, values, and customs. Instead of “that Asian woman”, I now see a woman that reminds me of a friend. Instead of “that black man”, I remember the seminary student in my small group. Instead of “that poor white guy”, I think of the man who is a greeter at my church.

Relationships turn people into people instead of just members of a larger group.

Crave Truth
Be hungry to learn more. The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. Peter describes it like moving from infancy to maturity:

Be like newborn babies, crying out for spiritual milk that will help you grow into salvation if you have tasted and found the Lord to be good.” I Peter 2:2-3

When we wrap our minds and hearts in humility, when we listen to learn and not refute, truth will prevail. As we enter into the tension of what we’ve always believed to be true compared to new discoveries God is revealing, we can thank Him for stretching us into the community He intended.

Self-exploration and discovery are uncomfortable, but growth is often preceded by discomfort. Listen first as God reads your heart back to you. And then relying on His forgiveness and mercy, move toward relationships and advocate for truth like you never have before.

photo credit | patrick tomasso