Category Archives: Faith

Maundy Thursday: This is Our Cup

The words are familiar to me, to many of us who believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

This is my body, broken for you.
This is my blood, poured out for you.

When I am most aware, I whisper those aching words with reverence, the weight of them pressed against the inside of my cheek and held there. I take the bread solemnly, the silence echoing louder than betrayal.

The words of Jesus at the Last Supper often hold heavy for the Church, whether Communion is a weekly ritual or reserved for the holiest of occasions. The Church sits quietly, stilled, as the bread is raised and broken, the wine poured and blessed.

We hear those words again, some of the very last words of Jesus, Son of Man, and we hold our breaths in remembrance of Him.

During this ritual, we feel the holiness. Somehow, a few words, a couple of poetic sentences that surely made little sense to the men who heard them first, spoken with a heavy, hopeful heart centuries ago still manage to capture us, steady our attention.

If we close our eyes and open our hearts, if we really focus, tilting an ear to Heaven, we can hear these words of Jesus. We can hear his hands breaking the loaf into pieces, hear the sound of wine splashing into an empty cup. We might even hear the desperation in Jesus’ voice.

His time is near. It must be done. He watches as bread and wine — his body and blood — are given out to the twelve he has chosen. Men who bicker, men who falter, men who just don’t get it, not yet.

I can picture Jesus watching, looking around the table at his closest friends. His last supper, his final feast with his most devoted followers. Unassuming men he chose, not because of power or influence, but because of their simple faith. He called; they came.

And his body and blood, broken and poured out, entrusted to these twelve men and for the whole world.

What an image, just as powerful yet more subtle than the image of the cross. Around this table, with bread crumbs in his palm, a wrenching reminder of what is in store, Jesus could still turn back. No doubt this last supper sounds like bones breaking, like blood and water pouring out. The bread tastes dry in his mouth, the wine bitter enough to bring tears. And only Jesus knows it, feels it, tastes it, gets it.

Now, today, on this side of the Crucifixion and impossible Resurrection, we get it, at least a little. As his Church that understands the meaning of that last supper, as his people who celebrate and remember Jesus’ words, we break the bread and we pour the wine and we invite those whose reverence still settles them in their pews and draws them to the altar. To come, to dip the bread in the wine, to partake in the holy feast, the New Covenant. To know and trust and remember his broken body, his blood poured out.

It is a ritual well-known and cherished by the Church, a pointed understanding of what Jesus was truly offering when he offered his disciples the broken bread and shared cup.

The body of Christ, broken for you. The blood of Christ, poured out for you. For me. For the whole world still unaware, still wondering if there’s more.

What a beautiful, tragic night that was in our faith history.

And what a call for us the Church to follow Jesus, to share in his brokenness, to be the new body of Christ so willing to pour out and down and into the cracks of this hurting world.

We are the Church. And this is our cup.

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The Dust in These Bones

Today is a sacred, symbolic day for the church. As a proclaimer of Jesus (with a long history of irrational sentimentalism), I place ALOTTA importance on this day, Ash Wednesday. The emotional youth group kid still trapped inside me absolutely LUVS this somber kick-off to Lent, the heavy meaning behind burnt palm branches and anointing oil, the grounding reminder of the dust in our bones.

“For dust you are and to dust you will return.”
(Gen. 3:19)

Those words still me every time.

But today, and maybe for this season of Lent, I want to land on a different piece of Scripture calling us back to our beginning.

“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”
(Gen. 2:7)

I think of those first passages in Genesis, the pure poetry behind a creative and involved God. I think of the light and the earth and the sea spinning into existence, the glory of God stamped onto every atom of this created universe. I think of the magnitude of God, and the smallness of our galaxy, our sun, our world, in all of it. I think of our outright insignificance, and the pure beauty of every tiny thing in our tiny lives.

I think of God, an infinite and uncontainable God, and his illogical interest in us, in me, right here and right now.

I think of how the story goes, how God saw this world and declared it good, from the sun and the moon and the stars to the mountains and sycamore trees and untamed oceans. How God filled this world with created life, wild, beautiful, bizarre animals to run and swim and fly. How God took his time and fashioned in his way every big and little thing that catches my eye and breath.

And then, after all of that perfect detail poured out straight from God, he crouched down in that created dirt, the smallest grains of sand in this grand and glorious earth, and thought, “Just one more thing before I’m done.”

I think of how God, creator, artist, poet, scooped some of that dirt into his infinite hands and formed eyes, hands, legs, a brain, a heart, arms, knee caps, eyelashes, ears, hips, lungs, bones, marrow.

And then, miracle of miracles because creation was not yet complete, God leaned in close and breathed his infinite breath into this dust cavity, awakening every handmade inch.

Today, as I close my eyes and remember the dust from which I came, I will press into the God who wakes it up in me.

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The Season of Jesus

When Jesus saw him coming he said, “There’s a real Israelite, not a false bone in his body.”
Nathanael said, “Where did you get that idea? You don’t know me.”
Jesus answered, “One day, long before Philip called you here, I saw you under the fig tree.”
Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi! You are the Son of God, the King of Israel!”
Jesus said, “You’ve become a believer simply because I say I saw you one day sitting under the fig tree? You haven’t seen anything yet! Before this is over you’re going to see heaven open and God’s angels descending to the Son of Man and ascending again.”

John 1:47-51, The Message

It is the rising crest, the building climax. This is the season of Jesus, his final years on earth, packing eternity into one held breath.

I’ve tried, for many years now, to wrap my mind and arms around Lent, to bear hug what it means to draw closer to Jesus as he draws closer to the cross. This season of remembrance, of following his dusty footsteps to Golgotha, to death, to the excruciating trade for eternal souls.

I lose a bit of myself each time, and gain so much more of Jesus.

Each year I get pulled in deeper. The hitch in my throat grows thicker when I think of Jesus, of his short time on earth and even shorter time drawing in as many as he can as he heads back toward Heaven. The knot in my gut tightens as I think of what it means to follow Jesus up that hill and onto that cross. I try to understand what it means to love so thoroughly it bleeds one dry. On honest days that thought makes me shudder.

I wonder often what it must have been like to be called, touched, seen by Jesus on earth. To be one of the first who saw who he really was, no matter how dimly. To stare astonished as miracle after miracle rolled along behind him, a wake of healing and loving and letting in.

So here we go, another Lenten season, another chance to focus more wholly on Jesus and his journey, to taste his presence and soak up his words. To walk alongside him as he hands out fish and bread and sight and salvation.

To know, even as we dive in head first, that we haven’t seen anything yet.

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We Saw His Star

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There is magic in the air.

It is crisp and clean, like a snowflake landing on your tongue or the faint chiming of a bell, the sharp scent of cinnamon or pine trees freshly cut.

It all feels elusive; the waiting, the anticipation, the can’t-quite-put-your-finger-on-it. It shimmers and shines, skirts beneath your feet spreading shadows against the wall, glinting off frosted windows like tinsel, darting just out of sight when you turn your head to catch a glimpse, a miracle shy of the attention.

It is cold now, at least on our side of the world, the side farthest from the sun, the earth tilting us away from the light and toward the unknown. The chill steals your breath and catches in your throat, settling under your skin. It is bone-deep, even as we turn our collars up against the wind, wrap our scarves tighter around our chins, bury gloved hands deeper in our pockets.

It is a reminder, this brittle chill tinted with hope. It doesn’t seem so unforgiving, knowing it has a purpose, knowing it paves the way, knowing the earth will tilt us back toward the sun and edge even closer than it has in months.

Yet here we are, facing space, millions of eternal souls brushing shoulders, hurrying in out of the cold. And as we bustle and hustle and make and check lists, we wait.

We wait for dawn and then for dusk, for the earth to make its way around the sun, for the end of the day or week or month or year, for the culmination, for the prize.

We have been waiting our whole created lives.

* * * * *

This post is a sample – Day 1 – of my Advent devotional Long Lay the World: Essays & Images to Prepare Him Room, now available as an instant download. If you like what you see, grab your copy and meet me back here each day in December. I’ll bring the hot chocolate.

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The Good Promise

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Here it is. Here we are: Advent, this first Sunday of hope, of a season recognizing and remembering how God came in after us. The more attention I give to this time of anticipation, the more heart space it takes up.

I try to remember my anticipation is nothing – not a thing – compared to the waiting and hoping of God’s people before Jesus was born to us. I try to remember God’s silence leading up to his promise fulfilled. I try to remember a people whose very identity was weighted by the attention and direction of God sliding into emptiness. I wonder if they noticed at first, how the God who spoke to them in fire and wind had grown quiet.

I wonder when their laws and rituals took the place of any intimate relationship with God; I wonder if their blood sacrifices were nothing more than duty, before leaving the temple no closer to holy ground.

Hundreds of years passed between the final prophecies of Malachi promising God’s deliverance and the first chapter in Matthew setting up the story. Generations born and gone with no new word from the God of their ancestors, the God of their history. The history of their people and their favor from God little more than legend.

We are lucky; we flip those few blank pages between the Old and the New and we jump right on in to the catalyst, the coming of Christ.

This season I hope to settle into those blank pages, the silence that stretched for centuries. I hope my heart swells with the anticipation of a promise fulfilled. I hope you’ll join me.

* * * * *

My Advent devotional Long Lay the World: Essays & Images to Prepare Him Room is now available as an instant download. Grab your copy and meet me back here each day in December. I’ll bring the hot chocolate.

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Long Lay the World

Oh, by the way, I wrote a Christmas devotional.

Long Lay the World COVER

My photographer buddy Alan Brock lent me some of his stunning photography to punctuate my words. This daily devotional leading up to Christmas Day is intended to make God a little clearer and closer this holiday season.

You can get your own digital copy here! You can check out a free sample, or purchase an instantly downloadable version complete with high-resolution images for $4.99, or you can upgrade to include one 8″x10″ print of your favorite image ready for framing for $29.99!

I’m so excited to share this project with you. I’ve poured a lot of 5ams into this, and I hope it helps you focus on God this Christmas.

 

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I Believe In A World That’s Made Clean

I believe in a world that’s beyond me
I believe in a world I ain’t seen
Past the glass
The shotgun shacks
The violent, faceless, racist facts
I believe in a world that’s made clean

I have this song on repeat, because it so fully describes how I’ve felt these last few days. I have read every possible thing I can about the refugee crisis pouring out of the Middle East, watching my European brothers and sisters welcome fleeing souls, wishing I were there to clasp weary hands and usher in weary feet and tuck in weary children. I can’t physically be there when the families wash ashore, and it makes me want to pack my bags and hop a plane and go.

I conveniently forget, or choose to ignore, that every land on this earth is war-torn. Every street is battle-scarred and blood-stained. Every one of us is an exile.

I believe in a world that’s made clean. I believe with my whole calloused heart God lets us be part of that work. I believe God can fix the world all on his own; I believe God is asking us to help. I believe God is asking us to be instrumental in ushering in new life.

I oftentimes let fear close my doors and my heart, my eyes and my fists. I hoard and I heave, hoping others are more generous, more aware. I do what is easy, instead of what is right, and good, and true. I don’t let it take root that I have a job to do; that we are all searching for home, for rest; that my faith in a world made clean is the hope a worn and weary world needs; that faith without elbow grease is hollow; that the abundance I squander has nothing to do with me, has nothing to do with God’s special favor for me, has nothing to do with my ability or skill or talent or worth; that if I am going to believe in and hope for this world beyond me, I have got to be willing to go to the places not beyond me and work toward that peace on earth.

It isn’t enough to wait on God to fix things; to appeal to him to fix things. Because he already answered every exile’s prayer for refuge.

The answer is you, and me, and the Church, the body of Christ prepared and bestowed with God’s own Holy Spirit to finish the work.

Let’s finish the work.

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