Tag Archives: Jesus

Holidays x One: Passover/Easter

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Passover and Easter have evolved into odd civic holidays that celebrate the rites of Spring, fertility, rebirth, seeds spouting, lambs being born (and eaten), eggs being decorated (and eaten), chicks and bunnies soft and squeaking in baskets, or their chocolate equivalents smearing across tiny faces. Why odd?

Well even though at Christmas the birth of Christ and arrival of Santa Claus have no connection, there’s the giving of a gift that affords it some type of universal credence. But the Easter Bunny has no connection whatsoever to slavery, deliverance, death and resurrection.

Passover commemorates the release of the Jewish slaves from captivity in Egypt. The story is rich with plagues, a secret prince (Moses), murder and miracles, the parting of the Red Sea, the visit of the first-born sons by the angel of death. The key ingredient at the Seder table is unleavened bread representing their hurried departure.
Easter commemorates the betrayal of Jesus Christ, who claimed to be the Messiah, the Son of God, his trials, crucifixion, death, burial. Then his resurrection. The key ingredient is the wine and bread representing the spilt blood and pierced flesh of Christ. No chocolate bunnies in sight.

Digging deeper, both celebrations invite us to remember what is gone and to wait for deliverance.

Remembering can be hard for the person who is alone. I lived for years with a busy houseful of children, step-children, “adopted” children and friends of children. It was expansive and fun within those four walls. The phone rang constantly, events, meals, cars coming and going, birthdays, graduations, new jobs, lost jobs. I used to tell them, “If you have a crisis you have about three weeks to milk it because by then another will come along.”

Remembering and re-living that season of my life is a struggle. I look at pictures and sigh. I wonder how all those folks are doing, grown with their own homes, their own families, work and accomplishments. It’s weird to go all day without a phone call, not to be making a costume, a decoration, a huge dinner or even a dessert. I sometimes look up their Facebook pages even if I’m not a friend, just to see their smiles.

Maybe a better way is to remember with joy and be grateful for having that time of life at all. One that many would have given anything to have had. Think back to your favorite Easter memories–was it hiding eggs as a child – or finding them? Was it brand new patent leather shoes at any age? Spring break in college? Surrounding a church pulpit with dozens of lilies? Cutting off a piece of crusty, salty lamb fat and popping it in your mouth with a juicy sliver of meat?

Waiting for change is an even greater challenge, even if it’s not deliverance from bondage or rising from the dead. The change we think will never get here. The check that’s in the mail. The escrow taking forever to close. The vacation that we’ve been putting off year after year. The retirement that we keep pushing back.

Often it’s the waiting that brings about more change than the actual receiving of what you are waiting to happen. Waiting strengthens us, even when it’s hard. But sometimes what comes after is just plain miraculous.

That’s worth remembering.

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I’m not impressed

When you read the breathless, impatient, earthy story of Jesus in the earliest gospel, the book of Mark, you see Jesus toss the economy of society on its head. Back then there were religious leaders who wore fancy robes, who dissected the law into hundreds of rules, who figured they were better – far better – than the rough and tumble fishermen that Jesus chose to learn about the Kingdom of God. The economy worked pretty much like this:

rich = powerful = favored by God.

The formula also worked the other way:

Favored by God = powerful = rich.

And 2,000 years later, most of the population of planet earth still think that’s how it works. Are you rich, powerful and think you are favored by God?  There’s a good chance you’re going straight to hell. 

Jesus stunned his disciples by shattering this equation. 

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.

The disciples were astounded.

Who, then, in all the world, can be saved?” (Mark 10:25-26)

The disciples thought that being rich meant being in God’s good favor.  And the rich kind of thought that, too.

Again and again Jesus chipped away at this backward thinking.

“Blessed are the poor,”

“Whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all.”

“Go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven.”

“The Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die and hand him over to the Romans. They will mock him, spit on him, beat him with the whips and kill him, but after three days he will rise again.”

Ouch. 

Becoming a follower of Jesus may mean surrendering your fine robes, stepping back from your place of honor in the church, losing your home, your job, not having enough to eat and learning to accept the charity of others. It may mean you will be gossiped about and mocked. It may mean being beaten and killed. 

And the new equation looks like this:

Surrendered = powerful faith = favored by God

It’s not rocket science. The more you depend on God, the more your faith has a chance to grow strong; the stronger your faith, the more God is pleased. It actually makes sense if you can get past the beaten and killed part. Which you should, since past that is the rise up part. 

You, too, will rise. And it won’t be your riches or your power or your status or your poverty or your martyrdom that gets you there.It is not something that you can buy or earn. It’s not that you deserve it.  It will be because of your faith that this world has been doing it backwards and Jesus split open the curtain on eternity so we can follow him through it into a kingdom of justice and mercy and righteousness. Forever.  

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Walking the Plank

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Transition throws me for a loop every time – silly, of course. We all know that the only constant in life is change. But somehow my longing for comfort and control gets me to settle into a place with a deep, satisfying sigh. Close my eyes. Take a break from watchfulness. Then everything tips and I find myself rolling sideways, stumbling down a new ramp of transition. Looking for a new normal.

Some transitions are instantaneous. In 2003 my husband collapsed on his favorite street in San Diego, Shelter Island Drive, just outside the bank. From that moment on, he never drove his truck, never wrote a check, dialed a phone, made love, or flipped a pancake. Everything changed and I spent eight years catching up.

Other transitions are expected. The kids grow up and launch their own lives, families, children, careers. They are navigating their own transitions without me. The family home is sold. I live alone.

What I didn’t expect was the final step in another, slow, insidious change that I’m just now having to acknowledge. Over the course of Mike’s long illness, I had to let go of my online bookstore, localauthors.com, which had kept me in the loop of writing and writers. I published my ninth book in 2002, Conscience of the Community, the memoir of the Rev. George Walker Smith. I’ve written a couple since then, but that was the last one published.  It may always be the last one published. There might never be a tenth and my writing career may be over.

I was making a comfortable salary in communications and as a political advisor, then $10,000 less after a layoff. Then another layoff three weeks after my husband died. Then $30,000 less at a temp job. Then unemployment; then the end of unemployment. In three years, it appears my working career has also slipped away.  Along with it has been a precise and surgical removal of my self-reliance, replaced by utter dependency on God’s grace.  

It’s scary to be lonely and disregarded by others when status and recognition have been a part of my identity as a writer, a worker, a woman.  How I want to cling to them and scrape up some remnant of the career I’ve had, to stave off fear. Because the biggest challenge of aging and poverty is fearing that no one cares. It’s the core fear of each of us, really, at any age and in any transition.

Alongside the highway of transition are neon signs, flashing with audacity at my fear. God Loves You! God Cares for You! God is Strong When You are Weak!  These words have illuminated my road for most of my life. But walking down this slow path that winds to the bottom of my ramp of loss, I see a new sign, handwritten on a simple plank.

You are mine.

It makes me smile. I am seeing the Lord provide for my daily bread. He is sustaining my health. He has given me time to ponder and read and know him. This transition may be the best yet. 

Originally posted at DevotionalDiva.com

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Catching Fire Eclipses Twilight

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Never is it more crystal clear that Katniss Everdeen, the heroine of The Hunger Games movies, is the anti-Bella Swan, made famous in the Twilight series, than The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

Bella is brave in her own way, of course, as a clumsy girl stumbling into one bad decision after another trying to save the man she loves – she thinks she loves. The Twilight movies spend time and money to stretch normal – to make Vampires and Werewolves really just like you and me. In fact, we all have a dark side, right? And Bella, even when she finally has strength, uses it to fight for her daughter and the right to allow good and evil to co-exist. And, aptly, even that turned out to be a bloodless fight that takes place in the mind.

Katniss takes responsibility for herself from the moment she volunteers to take on the fight against evil. There is no subtext of tolerance here. Evil in these movies wears false eyelashes, loves its indulgences and murders for play and manipulation. It’s an embodiment of the seven deadly sins – lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride. The fight is not for balance. The fight is to the death.

One of Catching Fire’s most devastating moments comes when Katniss understands that winning was a lie, promises of life-long protection were more lies and the lies will never end.

“You are going to be on this train for the rest of your life,” explains the blowsy, boozy coach, Haymitch.

Katniss has to develop her own strength — get dirty, bloody and hungry. She has to be defiant and risk everything. Only when it’s Game Over does the idea of strategy find a foothold in Katniss’s passionate battle against wrong.

“Remember who the real enemy is,” we are reminded. And it’s not inside us. It’s real and it wants to devour us.

The movie itself is spectacular – far more than the first. Everything is intense and not just true to the book, but visually carving the book’s intentions into your psyche and you carry it with you.

When you leave the theatre, the glitter of the mall, the spectacle of Christmas and the pretense of Santa Claus might be an affront. Especially if you know that the real meaning of Christmas celebrates a defiant carpenter born in a stable, wielding a whip and headed toward death to overcome evil once and for all.

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Gravity

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Gravity. There are two meanings to this word.

One is the scientific description of the earth’s property that holds all things to itself. The   pull that keeps us grounded. That allows the planets to move around the sun; the    universe to exist in the void. It’s the mysterious substance that makes life possible.

The other meaning of the word in English is the gravity of our fragile hold on life. We  humans are not in control. Not even close. The gravity of our situation is clear. We are  constantly on the brink of extinction and capable of destroying ourselves, individually  and as a species. We are capable of destroying our planet and some say we are halfway  there. More importantly, the planet is capable of destroying us and some say we are  more than halfway there. The long-term chances of survival are grave. And that brings up  a third related meaning. Our final destination is the grave.

Or is it?

Gravity is not an action movie in the usual sense. Sure, the special effects are amazing and lots of situations are life-threatening, but there’s no bad guy. No evil force. The threat is the randomness of the universe. Impersonal, uncontrollable events that happen for no particular reason. You can’t exactly “boo” the universe, and there is no winning against it, so it’s not power or weapons that save the day.

Sandra Bullock’s Dr. Ryan Stone spends the first third of the film overcome by panic. She’s hyperventilating, can’t save herself, can’t stop spinning. George Cloony’s experienced astronaut Matt Kowalski is the voice constantly saying, “Be not afraid. You’re wasting oxygen.” Or, don’t let fear of death waste your life. His graceful acceptance of death shows the way for the terrified Dr. Stone.

The crux of the transformation of Dr. Stone is revealed in her self-dialogue. “We’re all going to die, we all know that. But I’m going to die today.” Her angst centers on the fact that no one will pray for her, or miss her – that her life has been meaningless. Then she says something like, “I can’t even pray for my own soul because no one ever taught me how. No one ever taught me.” With that little comment, director Alfonso Cuaron takes the blame off the individual and makes the case for community and the need for those of us who are alive on this planet take responsibility for one another. We have to teach each other to pray.

So in the movie a little miracle happens. Life after death makes an appearance. And when the fear of death is removed, panic is diffused and it turns out that there is a savior. There is more out there than we know. There is something beyond the grave. In fact, because of the savior, there actually is no death. God conquered death for us by the resurrection of Jesus from his grave and his ascension from earth.

Anti-gravity.

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Who is Jesus?

Away in a manger

No crib for a bed,

The little Lord Jesus

Lay down his sweet head.

The stars in the sky

Look down where he lay;

The little Lord Jesus

Asleep on the hay.

             It’s not quite that simple.

First there is the conviction that there is such a thing as meaning and purpose, so that rules out nihilism. Then there is the idea of a primary force that created everything, so that rules out atheism. And if you accept that a force created everything, you have to accept that the force is smarter and more powerful than you, so you can’t define it on your own terms, and that rules out we-are-all-one-with-god or we-are-god nonsense. Once you admit that you can’t define God you are pretty much left with exploring what God has to say about himself, and that gives you the scriptures, which puts agnosticism to rest. Once you study scripture, which is, basically, the history of God’s dealings with humans, you have to accept a linear universe, and that rules out all the “isms,” re-incarnation, and karma. And once you accept a linear universe with a beginning and an end, you figure out that you are on the timeline for a reason and maybe you should find out what it is. So, to find out the reason, you might as well ask. Once you ask, God starts telling you to look at Jesus, because he became the incarnation of God and overcame death to teach us who we are, which puts pretty much everything else to rest. And once you see Jesus, you see your failings and how much you fall short, which makes you want to be saved from your ridiculous striving to be “good.”  And once you ask Jesus to be saved, you are.

It’s that simple.

But knowing who God is, what the world is, who Jesus is and who you are and how it all fits together takes the rest of your life. And let me give you a hint. He’s not asleep on the hay.

From The Truth Swing by Francine Phillips (copyright 20013)

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Mike at Sea

He sailed through life.

Careful preparation was his secret.

Checklists.

Survival was given every opportunity to prevail over

being a helpless speck on a wide, wild ocean.

He was careful.

But once underway, he sailed into the headwind,

preferring the sail to the rudder.

He didn’t like to tack.

Straight ahead.

Confident.

Capturing the wisps of air and current

and channeling them into power.

Powerful.

Until…

a rogue wave, strange and rare,

sucked the bottom out from under him,

pounded relentlessly,

overwhelming,

coming out of nowhere.

Slammed and tossed.

Powerless…

but still afloat.

And he navigated the strategy of letting go of the rigging.

Forsaking the sail after all.

No option to come about.

Allowing himself to float.

His buoyancy maintained

by being positive, cheerful, accepting and loving.

And loving.

It turned out he had a savior.

Jesus.

Yes, that Jesus.

“Even the wind and the sea obey him.”

He survived tumultuous seas on faith, 

forsaking sail and rudder altogether,

and discovered that he had an Anchor.

Now he sails again on glassy seas, the wind at his back.

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