Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Post-Palm Sunday Reflections

Palm Sunday must be important. It is one of the few events recorded in all four Gospels.

What makes it so important? It is the message Jesus is sending, which is often misunderstood and too often taught incorrectly.

The story has Jesus riding a donkey into Jerusalem. The Jesus' followers and even the crowds began cheering. They were offering up the interwoven spiritual and nationalistic cheers for this donkey riding rabbi. Luke has the Pharisees telling Jesus to quiet the crowds to which Jesus responds that even if he did, the stones would cry out.

So what's happening? Let's put the story into the context in which it occurred. First, we must remember that Jesus is Jewish. Jerusalem's people are Jewish. The religious leaders are Jewish. So it strikes me that we should look at this event through Jewish eyes to understand it (which most do not ironically).

The first mistake people make is the very reason Jesus is riding a donkey. Jesus rides the donkey NOT to be humble. On the contrary, he rides the donkey to elicit praise and adoration. From the O.T. tradition, the kings of Israel rode donkeys. Yes, Zechariah has a verse about riding the donkey in humility, but the very image of the donkey is one of kingship. So, when Jesus rides a donkey into Jerusalem, he is in fact making a startling claim: He is King and worthy of praise.

The second mistake is what this does to the crowds. They are not worshiping Jesus as the Son of God. They are adoring a challenger to Rome. In Jesus (or anyone willing to lead them), the Jews saw a possibility of overthrowing the Romans. As this young, popular leader takes the mantle of leadership/kingship by riding the donkey, the people cheer for they want the oppression, the taxation, and the humiliation of Roman occupation to end. The crowds are cheering a hero-to-be. They want a military coup, and symbolized by donkey, Jesus is a tantalizing possibility.

The third mistake is continues this same theme. The Pharisees are not asking Jesus to avoid being adored. They are begging Jesus to not rouse the attention and anger of the Romans. Potential Messiahs had come and gone...each leading failed rebellions against the Romans, and each one leaving the Jewish people in a worse position as the Roman military tightened the vice on Palestine. This is, from a historical perspective, the reason why Jesus is crucified. He was a threat to Rome. The Jewish leaders were quick to hand him over to the Romans as a peace offering. What an irony for that is exactly what he was.

What is at stake in this scene is the Kingship of Jesus. Notice that this is all the Romans are concerned with during the trial and crucifixion: "Are you the King of the Jews?"

Jesus riding the donkey made that claim, and the people spread their palms out before him. Yet, just a few days later those same people were apathetic or fleeing or even condemning Jesus to death.

I cannot hold a palm on Palm Sunday without thinking of Ash Wednesday for I see in the palm waving in my hand the sin and betrayal of Jesus I have and will commit even while I wave it in worship of Him. The tension of the Sunday is hard to hold, and maybe it helps us understand the Grace we live with...for every day we worship Jesus we also end up betraying him. It's nothing new.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Holy Week Thoughts

Today at the Men's Tuesday Morning Breakfast, we talked about Jesus in the Garden of Gathsemane (read Matthew 26:36-46 here). It takes place on Thursday of Holy Week, after the Last Supper, late in the evening.

It is such a fascinating scene. The Divine Word made flesh praying in the Garden that God's Will would be done...Why? Because, the very human Jesus does not want to endure the Cross. "If there's any other way?...But, I will do whatever you will, Father God."

It is the loneliest of scenes in all of Scripture. Yes, Jesus' friends and students all fell asleep instead of staying awake and praying for him, but I think it's more than that. On the eve of arguably Jesus' most important day, he's not so sure. The Cross is closer than ever before. The betrayal is closer than we would expect. The comfortability of the now is more tangible than ever. Today, worship, teaching, and friendship. Tomorrow, suffering, despair, and death.

Too often we dehumanize Jesus. It's actually a long standing idea: Jesus was too good, too perfect, too divine to be like us. "There's no way that Jesus got tired, smelly, irritated, cranky, angry, or even scared." Yet, the Scripture says that he was fully human. Just like us, and so he must have had the same feelings that we have.

Jesus was scared in the Garden. Reluctant to give up all the things we take for granted, I believe he knew what was coming, and he didn't want to do it. But, he did want to do what God called him to do. I think that is what I take away from the Garden: Jesus' love for God was so strong that he would do anything God called him to do...Sounds obvious! Of course Jesus would! Yet...

Often I find myself not wanting to do what I know I'm called to do: To leave the comfort of my bed at 2 a.m. to pray and talk with someone in the mist of a crisis that words cannot fix. To turn the other cheek when people are intentionally hurting me. To apologize for hurting someone else. In these moments, I hear the struggle happening in my heart: You don't want to do this...You don't HAVE to do this...You don't DESERVE this.

I'm positive that Jesus felt the same way, except those things were way more true of him!

So when I taste that moment, I know that I have tasted just a tiny speck of Jesus' night in the Garden. This helps me to understand just how unobvious the temptation really was for Jesus, how human he really was, and, ultimately, how much the Father loves you and me: He loves us enough to put Jesus through this. Enough that when Jesus begged for something different, God stuck to the plan.

In the Gardens of our lives, my prayer is that we might find the strength in our hearts to love God and follow Him...wherever the Spirit may lead.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Excerpt Regarding the Cross

The following is an exerpt from the April Newsletter...

The Cross of Jesus is about death. Scriptural claims that Jesus died as an atonement for the world’s sin. It was a substitution death. His death for our death. However, the Cross stands as a symbol of our death, too…a death to sin, a death to shame and guilt, and even a death to ourselves and our selfishness. The Cross is literally a garbage heap for all of our sin, shame, and internal “junk”. When Jesus suffered and died on the Cross, he took all of that “junk” and it died on the Cross with him. It’s sad that so often we put gold on our crosses for the Cross is ugly, horrid, and deadly. We should see it no other way. It truly is a symbol of everything ugly in humanity.

And everything beautiful about God.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Proud of the Boilers

Purdue was knocked out of the NCAA tournament last night in a good game against Duke. The officiating wasn't terrible aside from moving screens and headlocks and goal tending not being called, but the big difference was the talent and size of Duke.

Kudos to a 29 win team, Big Ten Champs, and an impressive resume despite the amazingly unlucky nature of the year: Three very serious injuries to two starters (PG Lewis Jackson and SF Robbie Hummel) and one promising back-up (PF/C Sandi Marcius).

With Moore and JJ saying they will return, only a major bout of injuries should sideline this team from at least a Final Four.

With Carroll and the two Johnsons coming in, this team might be very, very special next year.

Thanks to Chris Kramer and Keaton Grant for coming to Purdue at its lowest and leaving it at a very high level that continues to climb! You both were the heart and soul of Purdue basketball for these last four years. Keaton's shooting and Kramer's taking over a game with defense will sorely be missed...yet, their hard work has laid the foundation for a program ready to earn the "elite" status.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Another Game...

...another Big East loss!

I'm sure after the tournament, we'll hear all about why the Big East really is good but somehow the stars were aligned against them in the tournament.

Wake up talking heads! The Big East is NOT the best conference in the nation. It only scores the most points. One problem: Some schools actually play defense.

In the Coastal NBA love-fest, the sports media doesn't understand that defense and fundamentals still matter in college basketball. Butler gets it. Northern Iowa gets it. The Big Ten gets it.

Now if only Purdue can pull the upset tomorrow night. It doesn't look good on paper. Three high scorers. A forest of big men. Several McDonald's All-Americans. Coach K. The name: Duke.

But, we have heart. Go Boilers!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sweet 16, Baby!!!

Wow, what a game!

Purdue, the most hated team by analysts world-wide, is proving the critics wrong. Chris Kramer pulled out one of his best games. As Larry Krisbee said over the radio, "Chris Kramer has written himself in the books as a Purdue legend."

Good for Chris.

Now for what I consider the best team in the tournament: Duke. I was worried about them before we lost Robbie. I hope Purdue proves me wrong, but I think we will really struggle against Duke.

But, then again, this team has proved everyone (except Purdue fans) wrong so far!!!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

NCAA Night #2

ESPN experts: Big East is the best league in the nation. Big Ten overrated, not that good.

Big East Tournament Record: 4-4 (including a close game with questionable officiating for a win of #2 Villanova over a #15, and of course #3 Georgetown getting embarrassed).

Big Ten Tournament Record: 4-1 (with the one loss being the 7th best team in the BT).

Upset of the year: Purdue over the mighty, powerhouse of Sienna. How Purdue managed to overcome the sure defeat by such an overwhelming opponent is amazing...or at least that's what we heard all week. CBS "experts" went so far as to say, "Is picking Sienna really even an upset?" To that I reply....

I have some college friends who host a nationally recognized Purdue blog...The language is a bit suspect, but I think some of the recent content adequately summarizes how every Purdue fan feels...I'll let them say it here.

Friday, March 19, 2010

What Is Wrong With Our People?

I have been generally supportive of the Obama administration with the exception of ramming the health care bill through. That being said, there was a CNN news story that sadly demonstrates how easily we USAmericans are willing to give up our freedom of speech.

In this story, a teacher in a poor, Hispanic school, hampered by assanine statistical assessments based off a dreamland understanding of learning, tied a string to the feet an effigy of President Obama holding a sign saying to fire all of the teachers in the school (mass firings are in the works).

It was not a "hanging" or "lynching" as the media are "innocently" suggesting by using the word "hang". The doll was hung by its feet. It is not a hate crime. It is a political statement against a bad policy. Yet, the superintendent is blazing a trail toward firing the teacher with as much media spotlight as possible. Granted, I've yet to meet a school superintendent that I liked, but the Gestapo is alive and well if a teacher can't argue against the President of the USA in his classroom...especially on behalf of his students well-being.

Even more appalling is that the media are giving this superintendent airtime. By shutting down free speech, marching lock step with popular opinion, and putting on a farce of a disciplinary action, this superintendent hearkens back to a different era...My hope is that the teacher fights for his rights in this case for this case is not about a teacher...It's about our freedom to Rage Against the Machine.

America is doomed if we so easily give up our rights and our thoughts.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

NCAA Night #1

Phrase of the night...Phrase of the year...Phrase of the last two years...

The Big East is WAY overrated. Plain and simple, this league does not play disciplined basketball. Their defense is suspect, they turn the ball over, and they don't play smart. It really is a shame Villanova won, or it could've been a perfect start to the tournament.

So far my brackets are looking pretty good, though Vandy broke my heart and my Sweet 16.

Tomorrow, the Big Ten teams get some PT. I have two Big Ten teams in the Final Four (OSU and Wiscy), and I have a "shocker" if I'm correct: Five Big Ten teams in the Sweet 16. That's right. Five for the underrated conference that knows how to play ball.

Kudos to Ohio University...Only you thought you could do it, and you did. Great job!

Sick & Sicker

Well, the whole family is sick...Some of us have the respiratory stuff. Others of us have...well, the OTHER stuff!

I hate being sick, and I especially hate being sick to my stomach. It's funny how I haven't had "stomach flu" for years, and then we had kids. Bam! Every year now. Ugh. I wanted to commit seppuku at one point, but I think the worst is over now.

Poor Sophie was coughing so hard that she puked last night. Everywhere...Over everything...

Usually I'm the one to clean up the mess, but I had to defer to Steph. After a few failed attempts and a couple of heaves herself, I jumped into the fray, arms deep in puke and saved the night.

Moral of the story: Despite all this, I received a great treasure: A night spent on the couch holding my daughter, having her hug me and say, "You're the best daddy ever!" Despite the puke, the coughing, and the OTHER stuff, it was a precious moment.

Side note: I'm ready to not be sick.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Carl Jung & the Bible

I was looking for a quote attributed to Joseph Campbell. In reality, it was Campbell quoting Carl Jung, famous psychoanalyst. It comes from Campbell's The Power of Myth. It is so very wonderful: "Religion is a defense against religious experience."

If nothing else, that is the nugget for the day; however, in reading this article regarding an analysis of Answering Job by Jung, it dawned on me a very important point that I've always felt, but never heard articulated: The Bible must stay together, lest we turn God into a horrid beast, sub-human, something less than worthy of our worship.

Jung argues that the God of the book of Job is amazingly self-serving. God allows ha-satan, the adversary in Hebrew...something akin to " the prosecutor," to set a wager of Job's response. Jung uses the word "bamboozles." All in all, Jung, a believer in God (not necessarily the God of orthodox Christianity...but shaped by the Church and Scripture), makes some blasphemous statements...

But, I had a hard time arguing with him...I wanted to, but there are some really crazy things in that book. That got me started on the book of Joshua....more crazy things. Yet, each of these books have some beautiful things, too.

I think perhaps what Jung is pointing to is the incarnational nature of Scripture. Job was never meant to stand alone. It is a book of a community talking about suffering. Joshua was book of national identity and power. The book of Judges is about survival. The Gospels are books of hope and salvation. The Epistles are about community conduct (ironically so are Numbers, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy).

Taking a glimpse of God given to us by these inspired men and women allows us only to see in St. Paul says, "We see through the mirror dimly..."

Looking at the Bible as such takes some faith because it's not neat, pretty, and concise. It takes work, hope, and faith to see the God of the Universe behind the pages, behind the stories.

It takes courage to sit through the argumentation of having a book like Ezra in the same Bible as Ruth....or the Epistle of James alongside St. Paul's writings.

Jung and Campbell are men I love to converse with (through their writings...they're both dead), and I often leave conversations with them provoked, disturbed, and questioning...

And for that I thank God for them, for their minds, and for their courage to write uncomfortable questions and thoughts...I also thank God for the Spirit giving me the courage to cling to faith and question at the same time.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Creativity and Busy-ness

I have been sparse in my blogging recently...busy-ness is a part of it, but to be honest, my creative juices just haven't been flowing.

I remember one of my senior pastors told me one time that associate pastors always have more creative ideas because senior pastors are immersed in the details while the associates get to sit back and look at everything from a distance. At the time, I scoffed, but I think I'm eating some of that scoff right now...

It kinda has me thinking...what is creativity? Where does it come from? Why are there some days when it all comes so easily, when there are other days that it's impossible to pull an idea?

I think being creative requires intentional, hard work. Last week I took three days to be intentional about laying out sermon series and schedules for the year. My first day I finished one series...ONE! It was frustrating, but rewarding. I was able to take time to really think through some issues we need to deal with, how God's Word applies to those situations, how do we apply that Word, and lastly, creative vehicles to communicate that Word in tangible and receivable ways.

I stayed at home to have total quiet, total concentration, and absolutely no interruptions. It was worth it because as I went, it got easier, and soon I had until September planned out...with some nifty sermon series in there I might add!!!

Perhaps, I just need to be more intentional about blogging now!