Forgetting is not an option…

This weekend I read a very interesting quote from Elie Weisel: “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” He made this statement during a Nobel Lecture on December 11, 1986. Weisel, a Holocaust survivor, knew that of which he spoke. How much more poignantly can you define helplessness in face of injustice than the Holocaust? The atrocities of the Third Reich defy comprehension, and all those who were led to their deaths had no power to change their fate.

Weisel did not survive his experience in a Nazi concentration camp to become a bitter man filled with hatred. He went on to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 for his efforts to advance the cause of human rights around the world. This was his life’s work. And I wonder if, as a young boy, he would have imagined a world in which he would be called to such a duty. The circumstances of his life and his people made it so, and we are enriched by his presence and the message of his life. If we choose to heed the wisdom of his counsel and his experience.

When I read the speech from this this quote originates, I am struck by another interesting statement:

Remembering is a noble and necessary act. The call of memory, the call to memory, reaches us from the very dawn of history. No commandment figures so frequently, so insistently, in the Bible. It is incumbent upon us to remember the good we have received, and the evil we have suffered. New Year’s Day, Rosh Hashana, is also called Yom Hazikaron, the day of memory. On that day, the day of universal judgment, man appeals to God to remember: our salvation depends on it. If God wishes to remember our suffering, all will be well; if He refuses, all will be lost. Thus, the rejection of memory becomes a divine curse, one that would doom us to repeat past disasters, past wars.

We are called to remember. Remembering is hard; it is painful. But it is necessary.

Tomorrow marks the beginning of Lenten season. Not all branches of the Christian church observe Lent; I grew up in a tradition that did not. But over the years, as I’ve learned more and more about the liturgical calendar, the more I have been drawn to this season of reflection and repentance. Of remembering. It is a way of focusing the heart on the significance of the cross.

Remember that you are dust; and to dust you shall return.

These are the words uttered as the ashes are placed on your forehead in the shape of a cross. It is a reminder of need. The need for salvation, for restoration, for healing. It is a confirmation that the Christian faith is about remembering; just as the Israelites who were called to remember their deliverance from bondage to Egypt, we are called to remember our deliverance from bondage to sin. And in our remembrance, we live a life of faithfulness to God our Deliverer.

We cannot do that if we don’t remember. Not to wallow in our sin and misery, but to build courage and resolve to live our future differently than our past through the power of the Holy Spirit. To live toward the promise we’ve been given through the deliverance we’ve received.

We also must remember that sin still lives in the hearts of men and women. And that our world is fallen. Fallen humanity build institutions and structures that then perpetuate that fallenness. This can produce horrible consequences, some so far reaching that they live on for generations. If we do not take the time to remember, and to face those realities with the courage and willingness to change them, we are doomed to repeat them; the cycle will not end.

We are living in a time when much of what has been a part of our history as a country is repeating itself. I firmly believe it is because we choose not to remember. We don’t want to remember because it is not pleasant; it doesn’t fit into our identity of an “exceptional nation”. It is jarring to our sense of self as Americans. I get it. But in refusing to see our past as it is, good, bad, ugly, we risk destroying what we wish to protect. Choosing to forget means we risk repeating the ugly realities of our past. And in fact, we already are. And lest we think this is something that is only happening “out there”, we as the Church in America must face the uncomfortable truth that we look much like the rest of our culture, and have since our beginnings.

Every year, it is customary to consider something you wish to “give up” for Lent. This year, I choose to give up fear. I choose to give up forgetting. I must remember. And even when I am powerless to change things, I still must speak. I must protest. I don’t know why this is so strong in me; it is burning in my belly. Perhaps it is a outworking of my faith in the God of this universe, who is making all things new. But I cannot separate my individual faith from my place in community. Where one is wounded, we all are wounded, whether we realize it or not.

I realize this is not the popular path. But it is the only path for me.

Because for me, forgetting is most certainly not an option.

Grace and peace…

In the midst of the mess…

Today’s sermon was awesome. So awesome I had to hear it twice – and blog about it at 1 o’clock in the morning. We have gifted teaching pastors at my church, and I am truly going to miss them when I move back to Illinois. I am so thankful for podcasts right about now.

Today Pastor Jimmy preached from 2 Samuel 7. In the events leading up to this chapter, David has been officially crowned king and is enjoying the favor and blessing of the Lord. Israel is united and there is peace in the land. David is living in the lap of luxury, and as he looks around he is troubled that he should live in such splendor while the ark of the Lord resides in a tent. A fancy, elaborate tent, but a tent nonetheless. For David, this is not acceptable; he wants to build an even grander home for the ark, for the presence of the Lord. His prophet Nathan encourages his plans until he hears the word of the Lord.

The Lord’s message is that David himself would not build the temple; his offspring would. Also in this message, God proclaims his covenant with David; God will establish the throne of David’s kingdom forever.

The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever. (2 Samuel 7:11-17 NIV)

There were a number of awesome nuggets pulled out of this text this morning. But there are a few that have taken residence in my heart and continue to nourish me. 
First, Pastor Jimmy pointed out that the Bible records both the good and the bad of humanity, even those who would be considered the “heroes” of the story. Abraham is our father in the faith; but he went along with Sarah’s idea of having her offspring through her maidservant Hagar. Moses was the great deliverer who led the the people out of Egypt; but he disobeyed God’s commands out of his frustrations with the people’s grumbling and complaining and was not allowed to enter the land as a result. David is called a man after God’s own heart; but he committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband murdered to cover up his sin when it was discovered she was pregnant. I could go on, but the point is all these men were deeply flawed but also deeply blessed and used by God. 
I love the fact that the Word does not gloss over the sins of those God chose to use. They did not have to achieve some level of perfection to used by God. God was looking at the orientation of their hearts. Even in the midst of their brokenness and sin, they still followed after God. And even though there were consequences for the sinful choices they made, God still used them and blessed them for their faith. 
Secondly, Jimmy pointed out that this promise was given to David before his sin with Bathsheba. And the offspring through which his throne would be established came through his relationship with Bathsheba. It’s amazing to me how God works. The statement that has been reverberating through my heart all day is “In the midst of the mess of our lives, God will advance his plans and purposes.” The Michelle translation: God is not thwarted by our screw ups. 
And this is why I think the Word is so thorough in the way it presents the men and women God chose to use. We cannot point to any one and say that it was his or her perfect faith or performance that achieved what came to pass. There is no other conclusion to draw but that it is because of God’s infinite faithfulness, not our own. This gives me encouragement that even when my life is a hot mess, the Lord is still there; His love never fails and His plans will not be destroyed. I may deal with consequences for my sinful choices, but He will never take His love from me and His plans will not fail. In the end, those plans are not really about me. God is so kind and merciful to weave my story into the fabric of His grander story. He has made me His own through His Son. But I am never the centerpiece; God is. And as long as I keep my eyes on Him, I will enjoy the peace of His presence and the abundance of His love. 
I pray you also will be encouraged by this peace and abundance as you ponder the glories of our Lord. As the Word says, there can be no boasting except in the Lord. Let us follow hard after Him and seek to live for His glory.
Grace and peace…

From Afar

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” – Hebrews 11:13-16 NIV

Hebrews 11 is known as the “Hall of Faith” chapter. From start to finish, we are reminded of those who saw the promise “from afar” and believed, and their faith commended them to God. I often wonder what it was like for these great men and women of faith – seeking after a promise not fully revealed, not fully known, but fully real to them. I often pray that I may be as strong and enduring, in the strength and power of the the Holy Spirit, to walk in the same boldness as I await the day that my faith shall be sight.

We are able to see the promise from the other side of the cross; we know more fully what that promise is, and Who embodies that promise. We gaze upon the scandalous beauty of the cross and see the Old Testament promises and prophecies fulfilled. We peer into the empty tomb and are filled with anticipation of what is yet to come. For although we know more fully, we are still waiting, still seeing from afar, the culmination of all God has said He will do.

We do not wait in vain. We wait in confidence and trust. The blessed hope fills us with peace and joy, as we are enveloped by the security of our God’s love and care. So let us wait in holy anticipation, knowing that He who promised is faithful and He will do it.

Grace and peace…

Prayer for Ash Wednesday

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have
made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and
make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily
lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission
and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives
and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever
and ever. Amen.

Why I’m observing Lent this year…

I have decided to observe Lent this year. We did not observe Lent when I was growing up; my first introduction to Lent occurred in seminary. I had heard of it before then, but had no real understanding why it would be something I’d want to consider. The more I learned about it, the more it intrigued me.

Lent is the season between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. The purpose for this 40-day period is to prepare for the heart for Easter. Traditionally, Christians have observed this period through fasting and repentance. Usually we hear of the season of Lent in terms of “what are you giving up?” Some people give up a certain food, or TV, or Internet.
This year I have decided to fast from cable news and political commentary for 40 days. Those who know me well understand. I can spend endless hours flipping from one cable news channel to another, surfing through blogs from every side of the political argument, soaking in all my poor brain (and sometimes my blood pressure) can handle. I knew this was the right direction for me when I breathed a sigh of great relief after realizing the State of the Union address is happening before Lent so I won’t miss any of the action. To say I m a political junkie is indeed an understatement. I even started a separate blog as a platform to flesh out my political thoughts, such as they are. The thought of 40 days without hearing or reading the analysis on the latest drama in Congress makes me a little sad – although I may find my sanity in the midst of all of this…(wink).

So, why Lent? What is the focus for me this season?

Refocus my attention on the Lord
We are entering a time on the Christian calendar that, to me, is the most important. My anticipation for the Easter season grows year I walk with the Lord. During this time, we are remembering the purpose for which the Son of God came to the earth. To bear our sins on the cross. To die the death we deserve for our rebellion. To reconcile us to God. To rise again to give us new life. How glorious this gift of love; how deep the sacrifice. For me to sacrifice the hours I spend watching or reading politicians and pundits spar over the latest drama happening on Capitol Hill is minuscule compared to such a grand display of love and grace. The desire of the heart during Lent should be to focus our attention on our Lord, our Savior, our God. 
It’s easy for me to become so entangled in the shenanigans in Washington that I lose sight of the Lord. There’s nothing wrong with being informed – in fact I firmly believe we need to be educated about the major issues of our day. But I have allowed this activity to take precious time away from other pursuits, in particular, my pursuit of a deeper relationship with the Lord. My desire is to spend this time turning my attention back to that pursuit…to turn my attention back to God. 
To remind me Who’s really in charge
It’s easy for me to get caught up in the soap opera that is our government these days. Every time you turn around another crisis (usually centered on budget cuts and taxes) is on the horizon. Watching the violence that runs rampant in the streets of our cities from coast to coast makes my heart weep. Hearing the stories of those who are struggling to survive in an economy that is fighting to stay alive and actually grow can cause anxiety and worry to take my heart captive. Weather that has gone wild; countries terrorizing their citizens and conducting nuclear tests. It’s enough to raise your blood pressure. So much going on – so much that seems out of control.
Focusing on the cross reminds me of a few things. First, those things that ail us are beyond our ability to fix. No politician or cable news anchor and solve the problem. Grass roots efforts, as vital as they are, cannot erase the effects of such deep brokenness. They bring relief, but not ultimate relief. But – and there is always a glorious “but” with God – there is a hope that can sustain us no matter what we are facing personally, nationally or globally. The cross, the empty tomb – they shout hope to us. Our Lord has provided salvation for all who call on His name. And He is coming again to set all things right, to make all things new. 
This hope is the anchor for our souls (Heb. 6:18); it keeps us steady in the midst of any storm we face. As I walk through this season of Lent, I want to redirect my focus back to this hope. It is the only firm and secure foundation upon which to stand. 
Whether you choose to observe Lent or not, my prayer is that you would take time in the coming weeks to reflect upon the goodness of God, the salvation of God, and the hope that comes from resting in His promises. 
Grace and peace…