This temptation doesn’t mean I’ve sinned yet. Jesus was tempted too.
This temptation is lying to me about myself,...
My grandfather is dying. Not in the immediate sense. He doesn’t have a tumor or a months-to-live diagnosis. He’s dying in the eventual and inevitable sense, like we all are really, but more palpably. The doctor says he’ll probably die of a stroke. He has them every so often now.
I saw Papa just a few weeks ago. He can’t sit up anymore. He can’t leave the house. But he still knows who I am, and he can still tell stories.
I sat with him one day with my daughter London. I asked her to tell Papa her favorite Bible story. She said something about Jesus, got distracted and fell off the bed.
Then I asked Papa to tell me his, and he said, “I like Samson. But that’s not a story for little girls.”
He explained, “Samson wanted to be a better man than he’d been.” He seemed focused on that moment in Samson’s story after he’d been blinded and imprisoned, when he was for the first time in his life weak. Papa said, “Samson asked God for the strength he’d once had, and God gave it to him.”
I left that day thinking about how hard it is to die. How everyone talks about you in the past or future tenses. They tell stories of the life you lived before. And they whisper about the approaching tomorrow, making Hospice plans, asking delicate questions about your funeral “wishes.”
When the people around you are (with the best of intentions and hearts full of love) waiting for you to die, it’s hard to remember you’re alive.
When my friend Belinda was dying of brain cancer she said, “If God wanted me dead He’d have taken me by now. Evidently he has work for me to do.”
My Papa is trying to live. He and I prayed that God would put his hands on pillars, that he would have all the strength he needed to glorify God today.
Papa lives 17 hours away from me; the drive home was long. Between Dallas and Austin I ran into standstill traffic and took a detour of my own invention, wandering through cotton fields and cow pastures just as the sun began to set. The afternoon sun spilled light like gold, washing my drive with color.
At first, I couldn’t take my eyes off the view. I praised God. I sang songs. I pointed to every change in the landscape, yelling to my daughters in the back seat, “Look! Look! Look!”
But then I got distracted and stopped paying attention. I started thinking about where I needed to be, how much laundry I had to do, what tasks needed tackling this coming week.
And then I looked back at the sunset and wondered why I ever stopped looking.
A perfect sunset is a thing not to be missed.
So I watched. I considered the long shadows cast by barns and water towers. I enjoyed the wildflowers, on fire with light. I ooh-ed and aah-ed.
But then I got distracted again.
This cycle went on for three hours. It was the longest, most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen. I spent all three hours trying my best to ignore my phone, postpone planning, keep my hands off the radio and stay present.
Dying people aren’t the only people who struggle to stay in the moment.
I was talking with some friends the other day about how hard it is to live in the present.
My older friends said they spend too much time reminiscing, wishing things could be like they once were or regretting what they can’t change now.
My younger friends said they spend too much time looking ahead, planning for a future that might not even come.
Jesus said, “Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
But that doesn’t stop me from jumping ahead or reaching back, dwelling on the days and moments just out of reach, ignoring the life in my lap, the sunset unfolding right before my eyes.
We all want to play with our kids and grandkids, to listen to music with our eyes closed, to take walks, to do good work without distraction, to give without worrying about tomorrow’s account balance.
But instead we go over the check book ledger three times and we spend hours re-hashing in our heads conversations we had two weeks ago. We scroll through our old Instagram pictures while new photo-worthy moments pass us by.
Justin and I were studying James chapter four recently, particularly this part:
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.
Clearly, James is concerned about people making plans without God, banking on a future of their own making.
But what I thought was interesting was the way James discounts the future. Like my friend Jim Gardner once said, “The future doesn’t exist.”
James says, You don’t know anything about tomorrow. And then he finishes the thought by saying, basically, do the good you know you ought to do TODAY.
Today, you have buckets of opportunities to do good, to gaze upon beauty, to live fully.
Do. Gaze. Live.
And don’t waste one moment bothering with the opportunities you missed in the past or worrying about whether or not you’ll have opportunities tomorrow.
If we can do it, if we can manage to stay present in every day, we will see God everywhere as we step with confidence into the works he’s prepared for us.
That night, as I watched the sun set, I saw God in a whole-earth transformation. I saw the ground soaked in color and then watched the clouds sop it up like a sponge until the earth turned grey and the sky flooded with raspberry, lilac and poppy red.
I thought of my grandfather, a setting sun, and of the way he soaked me in color even in dying. And I imagined I was a pillar, touched by a man strengthened by God to live fully, contagiously, in the present.
Tonight my husband crawled into bed with my girls and told them the story of the crucifixion. I came home from the store, and he told me he’d told them. He said London cried. He cried.
I walked to their room and crawled into bed—my turn.
“Dad told you about the cross?” I asked. They nodded.
"I cried," London said. "I cried tears from my eyes… I don’t know if they were sad tears or happy tears."
It’s nine at night as I write this. I’m sitting on my porch under a string of lights listening to melancholy music thinking about London and her cross-colored tears.
I’m thinking of Crime and Punishment (my favorite book) and of Raskolnikov who found Christ at the cross…
"The darker the night, the brighter the stars,
The deeper the grief, the closer is God!”
I find it hard to look at the cross straight on…
From one angle, I look and I see God, the Beginning and the End, dying. I see the inky black of sin exploding and dripping and seeping until the whole world, even the Son is blotted out. “Darkness over the whole land…” I see depravity and desolation.
But if I step two feet to one side and tilt my head, I don’t see the sin so much. I see a savior. I see courage. I see an Atlas carrying the world’s sins, sins heavier than the world itself, on His noble, Deliverer shoulders.
Then I drop to my knees and look up and the view changes again. And I see my friend, my brother, suffering, sweating, bleeding, thirsting, gasping. And I love Him, and I wish He’d come down.
Last night I looked into John’s account of Jesus’ death and I saw Jesus as volunteer. Willing. Obedient. Submissive. And I raised my hand, ready to take up my cross, ready to be a Christian, a follower even (especially) unto death.
Sometimes I look at the cross and I just feel guilty. Sometimes I look and feel thankful. Sometimes I’m confused.
Most of the time I feel completely and utterly unworthy.
And when I try to take it all in, to feel everything at once, I end up crying like London, not sure if the tears are happy or sad.
A cross is an intersection, where one thing meets another.
THE cross is THE intersection. Of death and life. Sin and holiness. Light and dark. Love and hate. God and man.
It is explosive and magnetic.
Should you ever find yourself overwhelmed or confused or crying inscrutable tears at the foot of the cross, know you’re just where you ought to be doing just what you should.
Last night I attended a Good Friday service. We read John’s account of the crucifixion together, aloud. As we read the words, “he bowed his head and gave up his spirit,” every soul in the room went silent as every knee suddenly and simultaneously dropped to the floor.
We knelt in thick quiet.
On Palm Sunday my preacher talked about Jesus, Jesus riding on a donkey like a hero, King Jesus parading toward His destiny as the Savior and Deliverer of God’s people.
The crowds that day cried, “Hosanna.” And while Hosanna was proclaimed with joy at the triumphal entry, it is a joyful, hopeful desperation. Because “hosanna” is a hungry word, a dying man’s word, a slave’s word, a word on the tip of parched tongues.
Israel saw in Jesus a Savior and she wailed, “Hosanna!”
Literally: Save. Us. Now.
Palm Sunday is the moment when hopeless, tired, oppressed people catch a glimpse of salvation to come.
Oppression is defined like this: “The exercise of authority or power in a burdensome, cruel, or unjust manner.”
The Jews were certainly oppressed—oppressed by Rome, oppressed by their religious leaders, oppressed by a scheming upper class, and oppressed, most significantly, by the power of sin and death.
Jesus came to set the captives free.
And He did. And He does. And He will.
But today, some of us are still captives. Many of us, even those of us faithful to Christ and freed from the sting of sin, are a people oppressed, a people under the thumb of rulers and powers, principalities and the like—all out to eat us, to use us for parts, to steal what we have and what we might have later, too.
No, we’re not slaves to Rome…
We’re slaves to Capital One. And Apple. Target. Coca-Cola. Blue Cross, Blue Shield. Pharmaceutical companies. Monsanto. Vogue magazine. Facebook…
Just because we call America the “Land of the Free” doesn’t mean we are.
We are a people who can’t eat well even when we want to because good food is expensive and bad food is cheap.
We are a people told at every turn, “You’re too fat.” And told seconds later, “Eat more chicken.” Told “You’re beautiful as you are” by the very companies hawking products to make us more beautiful.
We are a people who can’t climb out from under the mound of debt we accumulated as child-adults, mailed candy-colored cards the minute we broke free of our parents’ supervision.
We are a people who want to be pure but can’t unsee the images forces upon us on billboards, in a magazine on a table at our best friend’s house, on the web page that was supposed to be about the White House but was actually debauchery.
We are a people who can’t make a cup of coffee for fear we’re drinking the sweat of ill-paid, mistreated workers in a faraway land. And who can’t sweeten it without fear of cancer.
We are a people who want to know the truth but don’t know where to find it. No one speaks straight—not Fox News, not CNN, not our schools, not even all our churches.
We are a people who would be happy with our small houses and old cars if we didn’t spend all day watching people on TV complain about their houses and cars, nicer than ours but not nice enough.
We are a people who will never be enough. Never have enough. Never know enough. Never do enough. Never make enough.
Here in this land of plenty, we are daily convinced there is never ever enough. We call it ambition and the pursuit of happiness, but it is oppression.
Because if there were ever enough, if for one moment we were all content, profits would stop growing and stock prices would drop and the rich people who get rich on the backs of discontented consumer cattle would be bothered.
We are a people, friends, who should cry “Hosanna!”
Because we need saving.
It seems proper to write a post like this before Easter, before the resurrection, before the whole of hope breaks loose.
But, of course I’m writing it after Easter, too, and I can’t completely make sense of that.
I think many of us need to break free today, to be reminded that Christ has broken the shackles of sin and death, to walk away from the burden of our guilt and shame, to know that salvation has come, that freedom is free.
Some of us feel oppressed by the natural consequences of our bad choices, ankle weights slowing our run to a jog when we long to sprint. We need to keep running, to pray for strength, and to make better choices, to remember that every good choice makes the run tomorrow easier.
Others of us cannot avoid the burdens we bear, heaped upon as they are by the forces of evil, reminders that the kingdom of Heaven has not fully and finally broken through.
Some of us, especially the poor and the weak, will continue to suffer under the weight of a fallen humanity.
What I suspect is this: Most of us reading this post are both oppressed and oppressors. We suffer under systematic violence, misogyny, hatred, idolatry and greed. And at the same time, we feed the system.
We keep buying cheap coffee and cheap clothes and cheap tomatoes, oppressing workers all over the world. And we do it partially because so many among us can’t make enough money to support a family and buy fair trade.
We pay for pornography, oppressing women and (yes) children, abused in an industry unconcerned with the health and well-being of its victims. And as we make slaves of them, we become enslaved ourselves.
We buy seventy inch television screens to replace our fifty inch ones and stack our rejects in landfills, 175 million tons of it each year. We oppress the land and future generations in our slavery to advertisers and professional football and our own greedy thirst for spectacular entertainment.
We starve ourselves to measure up to some arbitrary definition of beauty, a definition the beauty industry intentionally changes to discourage contentment and fuel sales, and at the same time, we enroll our daughters in beauty pageants, parading them before a panel to be judged on an appearance they cannot change.
When I look at the children of Israel on Palm Sunday, I see a people aware of their oppression, a people desperate to be saved from a life they cannot bear.
But when I look at us, a people equally burdened (although in different ways), I too often see a crowd drugged into apathy by the momentary satisfaction of a house in the suburbs, a new car, a closet full of clothes, and a yearly vacation to Disney World.
You guys. It’s bad out here—the kind of bad that makes you want to kick and scream.
Scream “Hosanna!” Yell it at the top of your lungs. Yell it in the grocery store. Yell it at the nursing home and in hospital halls and in your child’s elementary pick-up lane. Yell, “Hosanna” because you cannot save yourself and you cannot save the world.
But, people of God, Body of Christ, don’t just yell Hosanna. Be Hosanna.
Step up and step in and save the world. Be the light and the love Christ called us to be.
Fight for the poor and the weak. Fight for our children. Fight for the people in actual, literal slavery right now today.
Fight for freedom by spending only what you have on only what you need. Fight for freedom by turning off your radio and turning off your TV. Fight for freedom by feeding the hungry and feeding them well. Fight for freedom by refusing to crash diet or phototshop your wrinkles in family pictures.
Support a community garden.
Buy used clothes or fair trade clothes. Or just buy a lot less clothes.
Adopt a child through Compassion or World Vision. Teach your child that other people matter just as much as she does.
Give more money. To your church. To your friends who need it. To charities and missionaries and Bible translation committees and whoever else can find a good way to spend it.
Get rid of your stuff. You don’t need it; it’s just weighing you down, tying you to this world in which you do not belong.
On Palm Sunday, the children of God cried “Hosanna” and laid palm branches and cloaks at the feet of their Deliverer. Hopeful, expectant.
Today we echo their hope-filled cries of desperation. And we answer them with kingdom lives, our whole selves offered in the fight for freedom, our whole hearts confident the One who brings rescue has come and is coming.
The other day Eve and I were hanging out at the house. She played with Barbies and her new plastic penguins. I folded laundry and wrote a post.
After a little while she came into my office and, as is her custom, climbed into my lap in the most awkward way imaginable—her hands in my hair, her elbow in my eye, her feet entangled in the computer power cord, almost knocking the laptop and my coffee to the ground.
Then, settled, she sat in my lap, her huge five year old self blocking any chance I might have at the keyboard.
She held my face between her hands and lifted her (stinky) feet to my shoulders. [She’s quite flexible.]
We sat this way for thirty seconds.
Did I mention Eve’s an extrovert and her love language is touch?
Did I mention I’m an introvert and fundamentally bothered by invasion of my space?
In an act of motherly love (and extrication), I kissed Eve’s forehead, told her I loved her, and lifted her off my lap and onto the floor.
I said, “Go play.”
She said, “But I want to be with you.”
I said, “You are with me.”
She said, “No, I want to be WITH you. I want to FEEL you.”
"God With Us"—it must have meant something much different to the apostles and to Mary and to Lazarus. For them, Jesus Emmanuel meant a conversation over figs watching the sun set behind Jerusalem. It meant washing one another’s feet and rubbing shoulders in a crowd.
I forget sometimes that people actually held Jesus’ hands. I forget they helped Him into a boat. I forget they carried His cross and rubbed His skin with spices.
"God with us" looks different today.
Often I find myself trying to climb into a lap I can’t reach.
Because I want to be WITH God. I want to FEEL Him.
Before Jesus died He talked to His apostles, trying to prepare them for His absence. He said:
"And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will bein you.”
I find it interesting that when Jesus leaves, He doesn’t say, “remember that I was with you and that’ll be enough.” He doesn’t say, “Even though I’ll be in Heaven, I’ll still be with you but in a different way.” No, He offers two points of hope: 1. He says He’s coming back. And 2. He says He’ll ask the Father for another advocate (an advocate like Himself), the Spirit.
For us, Christians living post-incarnation, “God with us” is the Spirit.
And it’s not just sitting beside us on the couch in the body of a single man who comes and goes. The Spirit is inside us, permanently, perseveringly present.
Do you want to be WITH God? Do you want to FEEL God? Consider the gift of the Spirit…
I don’t know every way the Spirit of God works. I know the Spirit works through the Word. I know the Spirit works in prayer. I know the Spirit tills the soil of my heart, fertilizing virtues until they bloom into fruit.
I know when I feel alone I can crawl into bed with the Living Word and feel held.
And I suspect there’s more…
For me though, the Spirit most powerfully presents Himself in the lives of the saints. When I need God, when I need to FEEL God, I seek out His people, people full to spilling of Spirit.
I sit in their living rooms or beside them in a truck or across a table at Chick-fil-a and I experience the very presence of God.
I look into God’s eyes—blue, brown, and hazel. I see God’s smile—sometimes crooked, sometimes straight, so often beaming. I touch God’s hands—giant, wrinkled and tan or small and ivory with glitter-painted finger nails.
Sometimes I take walks with God. Sometimes I laugh with God. And occasionally I climb up into His lap and let Him stroke my hair.
Because sometimes it’s not enough to know God’s close.
Sometimes we need to FEEL Him.