near to Jesus

Somewhere in the middle of our discussion on Matthew 24:15-28 last night, I realized how different it feels to be near to Jesus in Lent.

In Epiphany, I was jostling with the crowds to get nearer the miracle. I was standing shoulder to shoulder with the disciples, trying to decipher the beauty and mystery of the God man. In Epiphany, I wanted to be near when Jesus touched lepers and saved harlots and spoke beauty and explained Truth. I wanted to be near Him like I wanted to be near beauty and like a magnet He pulled my soul closer.

In Lent, being near Jesus feels different because it means walking with Him to death.

He is no less beautiful or miraculous or True, but it feels somber to be beside Him as we go. I know it is for me that we’re on this journey – for my sin and hard heartedness that He has to set his eyes like flint on Jerusalem.

But I still want to be next to Him and I only want to be next to Him.

That is the repeat phrase I heard myself say after we finished prayers and I started off toward home last night. All those street preachers are right, at least partially: there is an end to this world and it is serious business. And in the end, I want to be found next to Christ – tucked under His provision and snuggled right up to His beauty when all that is somber thunders down.

If Christ is the most beautiful thing when the world folds in on its own desires, then He is definitely the most beautiful thing about this Wednesday morning.

expose the monsters

I lived three whole days yesterday, three separate and beautiful days packed gently into one late winter weekend Saturday. It started with an introduction to the best new neighborhood coffee shop and then an early meet up at the Hilton in Manhattan, included a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, a good sit by the river, a ferry ride back up to Midtown, laundry with the roommate, my first Prospect Park rollerblade, and it all ended with good, solid conversation.

Packed to perfection like brown sugar, I’d say.

The people in my apartment building probably think we’re crazy for rollerblading in the lobby, but I think they probably have amused conversations about it later (I take that as an “everybody wins” scenario).

The air is colder, but the sun is still shining over the little Brooklyn buildings out my window and I can feel the newness of today. I love the Sabbath because it pulls my heart like a magnet toward restful, quiet, deeper things. I resist often, but the morning is always the best time to get myself in the right current.

This is the second Sunday of Lent and I am meeting my monsters. You know the ones, right? The greedy monsters that hide in your gut or your mind or your wallet, growling to get filled on things that don’t last. I am meeting my monsters as I fast and as I feast these forty days. Honest? I want to give up and give in (and I have here and there).

I didn’t even do anything drastic, I am just that weak!

Getting empty like Jesus in the wilderness is not just a mental battle of self-control. Getting empty is asking Jesus with the rich, young ruler to examine my heart and then matching his loving gaze. I don’t know how many times I’ve read this passage and missed the way Jesus looked at this man before responding, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)

Jesus saw through all the ways this man had been filled by the world and then he looked at him and loved him (v. 21). With tender love and compassion, Jesus invited the man into emptiness so that he could be full to overflowing. It doesn’t make sense to explain and it didn’t make sense to the man who walked away with sadness like a garment.

Jesus wants to draw us inside this miracle of empty abundance. He wants us to expose the monsters hiding out in our hearts and feeding on all that is unlovely, because those things do not fill. Jesus is inviting us to get empty so that we can be full of a love that doesn’t rust or run out.

It sounds like a fairy tale and it isn’t in real life.

In real life it is hard, but very good and very right. In real life it is the current I want to get inside on this Sabbath Sunday. Join me?

honesty about sin means honesty about salvation

I read this gem in my Lent devotional this morning, from philosopher Søren Aabye Kierkegaard:

“Sin is the despairing refusal to find your deepest identity in your relationship and service to God. Sin is seeking to become oneself, to get an identity, apart from God.”

I don’t like thinking about my sin, even though it seems I’m always aware of it and always fighting shame against it. But it is a private shame, one I push beneath workflow and to the corners of social plans. I don’t like that I stumble and fail and forget lessons I learned the hard way. I don’t like that I require crazy amounts of patience from God, as He reteaches my heart to submit and love and serve and obey.

But, when I finally speak my sin into the light I realize how much energy I spent keeping it in the dark. Not that my efforts to hide selfishness and pride can keep anything from my Maker (and, of course I know that), but shame is a great and sly motivator.

When I confess my sin, I distance myself from any identity associated with rebellion and lean on the identity of the One who saves. But this relief only comes by way of honest confession.

So many times, I will kneel in church or pause for prayer and search my mind for something to confess. Satan somehow clears all the sin I have been shamefully hiding and replaces that elephant space in my mind with silent whiteness. My thoughts don’t even wander, there is just nothing there at all. Later, of course, the sins creep out from the corners to remind me that I am unworthy.

My heart needs confession (honesty about my sin) because my heart desperately needs forgiveness (honesty about salvation).

There is just no way around it, but there is also no greater glory to be found. God welcomes our confession and exchanges us a crown. He covers us in His grace and grants us inexplicable joy.

He leads us like a shepherd and chases us when we stray. What a beautiful friend we have in Jesus, friends – that He would chase down a forgetful and frightened heart to offer perfect freedom from shame.

because we have song, they said

The birds sang all over my coffee this morning, through the open window by the fire escape. I wish I knew their song. It seems like creation doesn’t hold back or get nervous or feel awkward about its praise.

It’s just the song inside and the only way is out.

The sunrise and the starlight and the sparrows under God’s watchful eye, all just singing out the songs buried inside. If I imagined myself into conversation with the birds outside my window and I asked them why they sang, I wonder what they would say. I wonder if they would think me silly and simple minded when they reply,

“…because we have song.”

This is the only option, but it is also the best and I love that the birds know that, and the mountains know that, and the life inside dead tree branches know that. Creation sings without shame or fear, but not to get glory.

Creation sings because the Creator gave them a song. And when creation sings, the songmaker is glorified.

I have a song inside, between doubts and delights and deserts. But the song is not for me. The singing is not so I can hear my own voice, but because I have a song. This, so that God would be glorified and others would see that I am also a part of the Spring chorus of sunlight and starlight and sparrows letting loose melodies into the sky.

Happy Sabbath day, friends.

getting near the glowing heart of the Lord

In a tiny Williamsburg living room last Tuesday night, we all stared down at the Mark 9 passage printed on our laps. After three readings, we talked about the transfiguration of Jesus over hot tea and no one had it figured out.

These men, the closest friends of Jesus, saw humanity in full glory and they were scrambling for the right response. I’ve been trying all week, but I can not find the right imagination to stand on that holy ground and watch as glory made Jesus glow.

But I am so thankful for Peter.

I think we would be friends, Peter and me. It would be a reckless friendship, but an adventurous one. I imagine Peter’s immediate response to set up a worship service with three tabernacles bursting from his hope to usher in the kingdom with the light of Jesus’ transformed face. In the middle of these glowing moments of glory, maybe Peter was grasping for the best thing he could think to do.

In the presence of Jesus, don’t we all do that? I don’t actually know what Peter was thinking, but I know what sometimes happens when I sense Jesus is near. I kind of hyperventilate.

I might be in a group of friends or about to take communion or walking alone between Bedford and Fulton. It can really happen anywhere – the sense that Jesus is present and His glory is real. I am sad to say I don’t feel it all the time, but when I do I immediately want to do something. And I want that something to be the best thing.

I get nervous and flustered and hasty. At the same time that I want to savor the beauty and miracle of Jesus’ presence, my heart swells to take part in it – to be swallowed up by a beauty that covers everything ugly and wrong.

I fear I will miss those moments – that I’ll arrive at 30, 40, 50, and 60 years old and think back on all the times I didn’t choose the best thing in the presence of Jesus. I fear I will look back and realize I didn’t have eyes to see the miracles or that my response will be clumsy and cluttered.

And then I think about Peter. And I realize it is okay to tend towards hyperventilation in the presence of glory. It is okay to not know how to do the best thing or to not know exactly what the best thing is. All of this confusion about my response to God’s glory is okay because the transfiguration is about Jesus.

Lent is not about subtractions and additions as much as it is about getting near the glowing heart of the Lord.

The fasting makes room for the feasting. The fasting churns up hunger for the feast and it is not about our response to the taste but about the food we choose to eat.

all the rightness I am not

The ash on his thumb was black and wet and when he rubbed it across my forehead I really did feel like I came from dust. The priest’s words, “From dust you came and from dust you shall return” felt like a confirmation of something I try to forget on the regular.

I was working late Ash Wednesday night, so I went with a coworker to the noon service at the local Catholic church. She knew all the right hand motions, so I just followed close behind. No one seemed to think it was weird to have a blonde-haired, non-Catholic stranger visiting their bilingual service.

And so the Lent season began.
Now, here we are in the middle and I am tempted to rush these 40 days.

If I am honest, I feel ripe for a celebration and that doesn’t fit with this somber, Lenten attitude. I crammed introspection into commutes leading up to Wednesday because I didn’t want to be hasty or thoughtless about this season. I fought for brain space between subway rappers and social media distractions because I wanted to be the right kind of prepared.

I don’t know if I accomplished all the necessary Lent preparations. I had some conversations, made some pancakes, heard some sermons, and sang some songs. But then that priest told me I was dust and I knew he was right.

And I knew I could never be the right kind of prepared, at least I don’t think so. God is just calling me to say “Yes” to all His rightness. My heart looks like my apartment right now – boxes and disorder and confusion – but I don’t need to get right in these 40 days or in preparation for them.

I need to believe Christ is all the rightness I am not.

I need to follow Christ into the desert, to fast from distractions and feast on the Word, because He is all the rightness I am not. He is all the order I cannot muster and all the beauty I cannot duplicate.

I was truly unprepared in every way for these Lent feelings. I am the wet, black ash smeared across my forehead and there is nothing I can do to get more right. But God, in His grace is all the rightness I am not. He makes a way for me to feast as I fast. He makes a way for the lowly and the weak to praise His name.

Whoa. whoa. whoa.

I can stretch into that kind of praise, with a heart that looks like a hurricane and a house that looks haphazard. I can sing this song with a full heart and know that the God who formed me from dust hears my humble song!

The Feast of the Resurrection

It’s not a thing, yet.

Easter usually looks like pastel outfits, higher church attendance, and some version of ham taking center stage at the Sunday dinner table. At least that has been my observation of Easter in mainstream Christianity over the years. And even in more serious circles, Easter is always situated on a Sunday so that means less paid time off to reflect on deeper things.

The Feast of the Resurrection is not a thing, yet. But it will be this year, April 18-20 in my Brooklyn apartment, and you are invited. This is something Patrick has talked about for years – he believes Easter should be bigger than Christmas and certainly bigger than Thanksgiving. And I am all in. Regardless of what traditions or work schedules tell us, we know Easter is about death dying.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20, ESV)

Jesus’ death and resurrection changed the course of our earthly and eternal lives. This seems like it deserves more than pastel colors, festive ham and a theatrical production on Sunday morning where a faux tomb is rolled away.

Enter the plans for The Feast of the Resurrection, a three day event with meals and Scripture and music and laughter. Slow mornings and lively afternoons and precious times gathered around a table to break bread, drink wine, and remember the life we were given when Christ conquered death on the cross.

If there was ever something to celebrate, it would be this gift. If there was ever a reason to cancel all plans to throw a big party, it would be to remember this event.

And so, it is happening. The first annual Feast of the Resurrection and I am already giddy with anticipation. I hope my preparations in Lent this year will look a little different, with this celebration in view. I am excited to see this vision of community and fellowship and joy spill over into a new tradition.

It’s not a thing, yet… but it is about to be and you are invited!