suffering

When is the last time you really suffered?  Have you ever?

photo 2As pathetic as this sounds, I suffered mightily trying to train for a 5K today.  At about 2.5 miles, I was done.  Walking.   My lungs were burning.  My calves were lead.  I was sucking air like a fish on a dock.  And to be perfectly honest, I was probably flapping and flailing in a similar manner as well.   It wasn’t fun. And yet, it’s something I chose to do. In fact, running (let’s be real here, JOGGING) is something I would even call a hobby.  Suffering, it is not.

achkaTwo weeks ago I got a Facebook message from my Haitian friend Achka.  He was telling me that he was completely out of money.  That he and his family had not eaten for three days.  Stop.  Think on that.  Three days.  When is the last time you skipped a single meal because you didn’t have any money for food, much less went days without eating.  This is suffering.  And yet, not voluntary.  I wired him money for food, and although giving the money may have made my family’s finances a it tighter, the reward was well worth the cost.  Once again, we didn’t suffer because of it.

The cross, that was suffering.  Physical agony.  Emotional anguish.  Torture beforehand.  Staring into the abyss.  And God chose it.  It was voluntary.  At any moment, Jesus could have miracle-d himself off of the cross and immediately been healed.  Comfortable.  Smug.  But, he didn’t.  For your sake.  For mine.  For the sake of grace and the redemption of mankind.

When is the last time you suffered, or even were uncomfortable for the sake of someone else?  How is this part of our Christian journey?  Are we called to suffer?  Are we called to sacrifice our comfort, for the sake of the Gospel?  To what level?  What do we, as Americans, do with this thought?

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In My Image

Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover.

John 18:28

Oftentimes, we lose the spirit of God in our efforts to follow God.  I think if the Pharisees had stepped back and looked at their behavior, they would have realized how ridiculous it seems to refuse to enter the Roman palace when calling upon the governor to kill a man.  Yet how many times do our actions belie our stated intentions?

They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising.

John 18:40

barabbus

How often do we try to make God into our image?  Bad things happen when we do.

It was the religious elite that was the driving force behind Jesus’ trial.  They were the ones who could not accept Jesus as he was, who refused to hear the Gospel message.  Why?  Because it didn’t conform to what they were looking for in the Messiah.  They had read the prophecies, and had deduced that the coming King would be a political one.  One that delivered the Jews from Roman rule, one that brought glory and honor and power to the nation of Israel.

The kingdom Jesus came speaking about was not an earthly one, there was no glamour or prestige incorporated in serving this kingdom.  Jesus didn’t speak of politics, or hand out gold stars to those who broke their backs trying to keep the law.  Instead, he forgave adulterers.  His disciples ignored laws on hand washing.  Jesus healed on the Sabbath, with no respect for propriety.  He did not come to enforce the social mores of the day, but instead set forth a whole new series of ideals.  For the Pharisees, who had spent their entire lives adhering to the version of righteousness taught to them, this was a hard pill to swallow.  And to be perfectly honest, as a rule follower myself, I can understand the sentiment.  I don’t think that the Pharisees were evil.  They had spent their entire lives trying to live up to an impossible standard, to fulfill a law designed to be impossible to adhere to.  And now, to be told that their set of values should be turned on its head.  Mercy over justice.  Love over the letter of the law.  To a person raised in the midst of hard truth and hard consequences, this must have seemed preposterous.

It was much easier to call for the release of Barabbas, a person fighting the same battle you are rooting for.  Barabbas had taken part in an uprising, he was trying to overthrow the Roman government.  He was trying to fulfill the role of the Messiah the Jews were looking for.  An earthly king, not a king of heaven.

What do you expect from God?  A comfortable life?  Healthy children?  A job that brings you fulfillment?  These are all good things.  Godly things even.  Yet none of these are promised to us in scripture.  I find myself happy to be a Christ follower as long as my life is unfolding according to my plans.  But when these plans veer off course, I’m angry.  Resentful.  In those moments, I wonder if I as well am calling for Barabbas over Jesus- my plans and dreams over the plan God has for my life…

the Garden

photo (9)

Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples.
John 18:2

A lot of times I get the feeling that I am an expert on Jesus.  After all, I have been a lifelong Christian.  I have read the Gospels.  I can spout couplets from the Sermon on the Mount, and I have heard the teachings of Jesus discussed in countless sermons, books, Sunday school lessons, small group conversations.

But all I know of Jesus is what is printed in the Bible.  The disciples knew the real man.  Spent countless hours with him.  Judas knew to find Jesus in the garden, because Jesus was there so often.  It was their ‘place.’

photo (8)Where is your place with God?  

Do you have a ‘holy chair’, a regular meeting place where you go to be in God’s presence?  While that piece of furniture or corner of your house may not be holy in itself, the moments created there are.  I think that there is a great value to ritual.  Research has shown that our recall ability is improved when we are in a similar context as we were when the memory was made.  But  I would make the argument that we can condition our minds to focus as well.  Returning to the same spot, brewing the same mug of hot tea, murmuring the same prayer, all these can serve as markers for our minds, prompts to put us in a mental space to encounter the Holy.

Who do you meet with on a regular basis?

If you know me, this is a drum that I beat often.  Perhaps it is because I work at a church, and so Sunday mornings are often work days for me, but I really feel that my small groups are where I grow in my faith the most.  Sitting with a group of trusted people and wrestling with the Word together.  Talking through the real life struggles of being a wife and a mother and a worker and a Christian.  Admitting when we don’t know things, and working together to find God’s truth.  I think Jesus met regularly with his disciples because this is how we grow.  So who do you meet with?

John 18

photo 5I think I have written on here before, but in 2014, my goal is to read through the Book of John.  Thoroughly.  Just one time through.  Just one book.  Most passages I have read several times. Some I have read over and over.  And then, about a month ago, I slammed into a brick wall.  Just stopped reading.

Why?

Well, let’s call a spade a spade. I am a mom of two, one still a baby. I am a youth minister in the middle of a school year in full swing.  My days are full, and in those moments of solitude I carve out, the siren song of my pillow often sings more seductively than I would like to admit.

But there is something else.  In the back of my mind I knew I was there.  The crucifixion.  The ugliest point of our human condition.  The pain, the violence. The howling of the crowds, the apathy of the masses, the evil of our spiritual elite.  Blood and thorns and darkness.  I didn’t want to go there.  I didn’t want to wade into the midst of it, to see my face in the crowds.  And yet, here I am.

Have you read it?  Not read it in the sense of letting the words pass through your eyes… but really read it?  Immersed yourself in the story?  The prayer in the garden, spring wind whispering through olive trees.  The rattling of armor.  The kiss, the chaos, the trial.  In my mind, there are just a few central characters in this story, and yet in the reading, dozens more surface.  There are so many lessons to be taught, side notes about humanity- our weaknesses and our proclivities.  And through the midst of it all, the thin golden thread of grace.

I am going to be digesting the story a bit in the next few blog posts, but before I do, I challenge you to read it yourself, and see what God brings forth in your mind as you do.