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Things are not as they seem…

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Have you ever wondered what the mother of Barabbas thought, felt or wondered when her son was released and Jesus was condemned? If there is a universal character that represents all of us in the Good Friday story it is Barabbas…we have all been acquitted, set free from our sentence of death because Jesus went to the cross in our place…

Good Friday is the day we remember that life often has dark encounters where we are left wondering if God is real, kind, involved or aware.

Good Friday dares to combat our need to have life tied up in neat little bows…to always have happy endings…to ride off into the sunset…instead, it creates the sacred art of waiting….the holy transformation of not knowing…the necessity for all who follow Jesus to embrace the dark night of the soul where we learn the divine language of silence.

Jesus reminds us that in this world we will have trouble…He doesn’t say, “But if you believe in me I will make sure you experience zero troubles or pain!” No…he simply says ‘don’t be afraid of what you will face…trust me.’

But trusting God is hard when you are experiencing a Good Friday…”where are you God? Don’t you know what’s going on? Don’t you care?”

Like Pilate, sometimes we make choices that are pressured and forced. While we want to wash our hands of painful outcomes, we know deep inside that there is blood on them no matter how hard we try to justify our decisions…we are experiencing Good Friday.

Like Mary Magdalene…perhaps we have been helped, healed and transformed. Our life has been pulled from the gutter. Grace has invaded our world and for the first time we feel that we were valuable, needed even wanted. Our life is changing, our choices are evolving in healthier ways, our existence is becoming significant which is no small thing…and then we run into Good Friday…all seems lost…all seems hopeless…was it all a joke? Just another religious thing? The divine silence is so loud you could cut it with a knife…where are you God?…we are experiencing Good Friday.

Like Peter…perhaps we have been rescued and loved over and over again…we have received grace after grace yet we still put our foot in our mouth. When it mattered most, as someone was asking about our faith in Jesus, we froze…afraid of what they might think of us…afraid of how His name might affect our reputation or status…and in that defining moment, we deny Him, divert the conversation, bail on the one who always bails us out…and we feel the darkness of Good Friday surrounding our heart…Jesus, I’m sorry…

In different ways, by our words and by our actions our voice has joined the ancient chorus shouting crucify, crucify, crucify.

While we long to quickly jump from Good Friday to resurrection Sunday and shout “He is Risen” at the top of our lungs…Jesus asks us to stay here a while, to linger and suffer with Him…it is our own Gethsemane…but will we stay awake with Him just for a little while?

I think the images of Good Friday are flowing from the heart of the Apostle Paul as he says “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death”  (Phil 3:10)

The reason why Good Friday is so important is because we can never truly enter into the full Joy of Easter Sunday until we have embraced the absolute emptiness, and despair of Good Friday…We will never exude joy until we have encountered a necessary grace born on the dark night.

Good Friday centers me on the truth that things are never as they seem…it might be Friday…things might be confusing and dark…but God is always up to something, and Sunday is coming..

Here’s a great hymn to close out my thoughts…

Alas and Did My Savior Bleed

1. Alas! and did my Savior bleed,
and did my Sovereign die!
Would he devote that sacred head
for sinners such as I?

2. Was it for crimes that I have done,
he groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! Grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!

3. Well might the sun in darkness hide,
and shut its glories in,
when God, the mighty maker, died
for his own creature’s sin.

4. Thus might I hide my blushing face
while his dear cross appears;
dissolve my heart in thankfulness,
and melt mine eyes to tears.

5. But drops of tears can ne’er repay
the debt of love I owe.
Here, Lord, I give myself away;
’tis all that I can do.

Pain In The Ash

The season of Lent is almost here, it begins next week and flows from Ash Wednesday.

Interestingly enough, the huge celebrations of Fat Tuesday sprang up as a reaction to the imposition of religious ritual concerning the observance of Lent…a season in the church year whose focus is on repentance and realignment with God.

In and of itself, having a time of spiritual realignment is good for everyone…however, when the grip of religion laces its fingers around anything, it tends to strangle out the beauty and grace, and in their place are born rules, regulations and legalism.

Fat Tuesday, then, became the last opportunity before the 40 days of Lent to go and sin wildly. As I ruminate on this, isn’t that always what happens in our lives when rules replace relationship? When we live by a check-list of dos and don’ts, we begin to think and respond in contractual terms instead of relational exchanges. When this happens, we experience Fat Tuesday’s surrounding every area of our life.

For instance, when a marriage becomes contractual exchange, then love is something that is earned in light of certain actions having been done well. And, contractually, if certain actions are not done, or are not done to the expectation of the other person, then love is contractually withheld until those things are accomplished.

This is not a marriage though, it is a contract based on rules. A relationship that is based on an unconditional covenant understands that sometimes things don’t always happen or get done the way we want, desire, or expect, but since the marriage is based upon covenant love, love is always infused regardless of contractual performance.

You might also see the Fat Tuesday effect in marriage happen when a spouse is bound by duty to “do something” “be something” or “go somewhere he/she doesn’t want to go.”  Since he/she did their contractual duty they feel justified to over indulge some area as a “reward” for their work. Maybe a husband finds justification in going on an extended hunting trip because he just got word that his In-laws are coming to stay for an extended period, so he needs to get out-of-town for a while before that happens and his In-laws rules cramp his style…or perhaps a wife limits out the credit card on a spa day because her husband’s college buddies are due the next day, and since she is being the “good wife” and allowing it, she’s gonna splurge!

Do you see how contractually we live? Do you realize contractual living, or religious living results in the creation of Fat Tuesday’s? When genuine love and relationship fills our world, we can enjoy life, have fun and not feel guilty about it! Isn’t that a novel concept. Religion creates Fat Tuesday’s…Fat Tuesday’s create guilt and shame…Guilt and shame turn a powerful season of grace and alignment like Lent into a ritualistic experience of dos and don’t devoid of their real meaning.

When we approach God contractually, we turn something that is holy, cool, and cosmically awesome like Ash Wednesday or Lent, into a check list of contractual duties to appease God into liking us again…This is so far away from the God revealed through Christ.

If we would live in a sense of daily alignment, in other words, simply realizing that God is for us, not against us, and that as we make mistakes, or perhaps over-indulge in something that isn’t good for us, we stop, and have a relational conversation of confession, repentance and forgiveness. God isn’t standing by with the lightning bolt of contractual misuse ready to smite us, but rather is simply waiting for us to say…“man, I blew that one, I’m sorry, please forgive me..”

In that moment, the spirit of religion is thrown out the window, and a relationship is born. Religion focuses on rules to keep you in line. God invites you into a relationship, where the interactions are based upon a mutuality of love.

Because I am so grateful that God loves me on my best days as well as my most abysmal days, I look forward to a season like Lent not in such a way that compels me to go out and get bombed out of my skull because I won’t be able to drink for the next 40 days, but instead, I long to have a season offered to me where I can realign my thinking process with God’s…Where I can experience grace in the midst of economic trials…Where I can be reminded that God doesn’t care about how well I perform for Him, only that I love Him, and He is thrilled that I simply showed up!

Maybe what I am saying is that an excessive emphasis on rules naturally finds its outlet in sin or doing things that we normally wouldn’t do if we lived relationally. Perhaps Fat Tuesday’s exist because the religious rules push people where they don’t need to be pushed. Maybe, just maybe, some of the dumb choices that are made in the Fat Tuesday’s of life wouldn’t happen if we understood God relationally and religiously…hmmm, I think I’m right.

What would be even more powerful is if we all realized that God intends our lives to fully experience fun..joy..laughter…and good times. Sure there are some incredibly hard valley’s we will go through, but the religionists among us seem to think that that is all that God wants us to experience…”Stay in the lines, only use these colors, don’t have fun if at all possible, chin up, gut in…etc.”

As I think of Jesus, and all his human interactions, I think of how often He was at parties, amongst friends, enjoying the things of life…not just sitting in Temple or Synagogue assailing Himself religiously. Jesus had an incredible sense of humor that is lost in translation from the Aramaic and Greek into English. He enjoyed living, had fun, and avoided the mistakes of the Fat Tuesday’s of life while enjoying all the celebrations of this life.

So on Wednesday this week (Ash Wednesday) take some time to remember that you are human, a creation of God’s, made of earth, and that one day you will return to the elements of this planetary creation. In light of that truth, ask God to help you realign your heart and soul to His, not because you are doing all the right things, but because He is such a great God who loves you and will never leave you in the hard moments of life.

If you’re in the Seattle area, come and hang with me for an Ash Wednesday service at Snoqualmie Valley Alliance…it starts at 6:00 and will be interactive, reflective and powerful, you won’t want to miss it!

And guess what, you won’t walk away feeling guilty (that’s religion) but you will leave feeling the freedom that comes from our God of Grace and Truth.

Monty

Finding Happiness SNQuotes 6/18/12

What is happiness? Where do you find it? How is it measured? Humanity has been asking these questions and seeking the answer since the very beginning. Here are some varying thoughts from men and women who come from some very different places and spaces. Read, ruminate, consider and smile.

Monty

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Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.  ~Mahatma Gandhi

I heard a definition once: Happiness is health and a short memory! I wish I’d invented it, because it is very true.  ~Audrey Hepburn

Affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our lives.  ~C. S. Lewis

God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.  ~C. S. Lewis

It is neither wealth nor splendor; but tranquility and occupation which give you happiness.  ~Thomas Jefferson

We find delight in the beauty and happiness of children that makes the heart too big for the body.  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product.  ~Eleanor Roosevelt

Your success and happiness lies in you. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties.  ~Helen Keller

Happiness is found in doing, not merely possessing.  ~Napoleon Hill

Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get.
~Dale Carnegie

Are you bored with life? Then throw yourself into some work you believe in with all your heart, live for it, die for it, and you will find happiness that you had thought could never be yours.  ~Dale Carnegie

Happiness is not something you postpone for the future; it is something you design for the present.  ~Jim Rohn

The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts: therefore, guard accordingly, and take care that you entertain no notions unsuitable to virtue and reasonable nature.  ~Marcus Aurelius

The word “happiness” would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.  ~Carl Jung

A man who as a physical being is always turned toward the outside, thinking that his happiness lies outside him, finally turns inward and discovers that the source is within him.  ~Soren Kierkegaard

God will prepare everything for our perfect happiness in heaven, and if it takes my dog being there, I believe he’ll be there.  ~Billy Graham

What we call the secret of happiness is no more a secret than our willingness to choose life.  ~Leo Buscaglia