Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Poinsettia That Endures

Believe it or not, I still have a Poinsettia plant blooming at my house. It certainly has lost some of its luster along the way; it looks a bit haggard after nearly four months and will eventually succumb to higher sun angles.  However, unlike the vast majority of Poinsettias that faded weeks, if not days, after Christmas, as of today, mine is still hanging in there.
This Poinsettia has made it all the way to Holy Week!

We often use the term Poinsettia (or Easter Lily) to refer to those who show up at church for Christmas (or Easter) but then disappear about as fast as the flowers that adorn the sanctuary on those special days.  However, the Poinsettia at my kitchen evoked a different image in my mind this morning—one of endurance and perseverance.

We leave the manger in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve feeling upbeat and full of energy and life.  The birth story inspires us, but the ensuing weeks put us to the test. The journey descends into Lent,culminating in Jerusalem with Holy Week. We are asked to follow Jesus into darkness and suffering. It is not a journey for the feint of heart; our true character is revealed.  

In many ways, the liturgical journey we take with Jesus parallels our life’s journey.  It isn’t all that long chronologically (the 116 days between Christmas and Easter this year is actually one of the longer ones possible), but we all know that a great deal of living can happen in the span of a few months.  No doubt we could all name some difficulty, hardship, or suffering we have had to endure since Christmas, something that has tested us during the past few months—whether it be physical, emotional, and/or spiritual. 

As we walk through Holy Week and the cross comes into view, we probably feel a bit like that haggard and faded Poinsettia in my kitchen.  Yes, we made it to Jerusalem—but our bloom isn’t as bright as it was four months ago and our leaves are torn and worn.  It’s a good thing Easter is near, for we surely stand in need of resurrection!

If you feel that way as you reach the end of Holy Week, take heart; know that you aren’t alone.  There are other companions on your journey who are also tired and leaning heavily on Jesus.  Each in our own way, we are all faded Poinsettias hanging in there waiting to experience the beauty of the Easter Lilies.  Walking the journey from Christmas to Easter has taken its toll on all of us, yet there is something we gain in enduring and persevering through difficulty and hardship and choosing to remain faithful—and hopeful—that forms us in a way that nothing else can. 

It’s only as we pass through the darkness, and endure suffering that reaches its nadir at the cross, that we are truly prepared to receive the light shining from the empty tomb and the hope that dawns on Easter morning.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Walking My Way Toward Jerusalem

My Lenten practice this year has been to try and cultivate more joy.  It hasn’t been easy—but maybe that’s not a bad thing as it implies God has to help me do it.  The Lenten/Easter season is always busy for our clergy family; this year is no exception. There's so much to balance with jobs, kids, animals, church activities, etc. I get frustrated because it seems like by the time you finish running around completing the endless list of tasks each day, there's precious little time—and energy—left to pursue one’s passions and dreams.  

I ask God to help me focus less on the task and more on the people, but I’m a task-oriented person and I admit that I struggle to do it.  Experiencing joy in the midst of our seemingly endless to-do list is hard.

Reading the Gospels (especially Mark) I get the sense that Jesus was focused on his task too.  From the moment he descended from the Mount of Transfiguration, his eyes seem fixed on Jerusalem.  While the disciples faltered along the way, Jesus did not. He didn't let his follower’s questions and doubts distract him from his mission. Jesus came to advance the Kingdom of God, which meant he would have to challenge the “normal” order of things.  He knew that would require a trip to Jerusalem—the home of the Jewish Temple and local seat of Roman authority.

By remaining faithful to his calling, by seeing the journey all the way through to Jerusalem and having Rome do their worst, and appear to "win" on Good Friday, Jesus sets the stage for God’s ultimate victory on Easter Sunday.  

Jesus died the way he lived—sacrificially. He becomes an innocent victim of crucifixion, and exposes the "broken" and corrupt Roman system in a way that he couldn't if he had lived a long life or even suffered a less violent death. [See Colossians 2:14-15.]
In the end, even Rome's worse can't overcome God's best.
As we approach the end of our Lenten journey and the city of Jerusalem comes into view with cheering crowds and palms lining the parade route, I wonder: Will I see my journey through to the end—no matter what?  

While the things I do each day aren't nearly as dramatic as dying on a cross, there is something to be said for the sacrifice of "being there".  My choice to marry and have two children commits me to walk a certain way at this time of my life.  For me, faithfulness is found in my willingness to "be there" each day for my wife and family and do what is required at this time in my life.  My sacrifice may be in willingly choosing to lay aside (at least for now) things I would dearly like to have more time to pursue so I can pour my time and energy into those I love.  (I assure you, this "feels like dying" sometimes.)  The fact is, however, though it is certainly a temporary sacrifice, it is not forever; Lord willing there will be plenty of time to focus on me.  My children, on the other hand, will only be with me a few brief years; my opportunity to influence their direction in life is fleeting.  


There is no higher calling as a parent than to try and shape the lives of our children. I don't want to miss the window God has given me to be a positive influence on these young lives; I will never have this chance again.