Category Archives: spirituality

The Cross Is Not Greater

It’s hard to find silver crosses, the kind you wear around your neck. I wore a gold one for years because it’s what mama sent me and it was simple, the style I like. I remember when our home church got a makeover and the cross that hung on the stage was transformed from a simple fashioned cross to one resembling a bookmark. It was framed with molding and a contrasting color in the middle, the cross now fastened to the wall against this red. It took some getting used to.

The chapel in our Center underwent renovations and it was the cross that drew questions. When there was no cross in sight the first few weeks the men asked.

The hymn sings about a rugged cross and I suppose it was. It wasn’t for looks but utilitarian purposes. What did you need other than wood strong enough to hold the weight of a man, hold the weight of a people?

Holy Land Tour  claims of being on the site of the birth of Christ

Holy Land Tour  claims of being on the site of the birth of Christ

DSC_0194 (1)

present day Golgotha

present day Golgotha

There was a hillside where these public executions took place. In Jerusalem it was Golgotha, the place of the skull. Today, this hill sits above a bus terminal with a Muslim cemetery on top of it. It still sits high over an area, an area one can picture hoards of people gathering, crosses situated where everyone could get an unobstructed view.

Last Sunday, Palm Sunday, we focused on the palm branches and the people waving them or placing them on the ground for Jesus’ entry as they called out, “Hosanna!” Later we will focus on the bread and wine of the Last Supper Jesus shared with his disciples but already it’s the cross that occupies my thoughts. It’s symbol looms large as the shadow is cast.

Jesus says all who follow him must carry their cross too. It sounds harsh and I work to reconcile it with his promise to help carry our burdens. I wonder about the crosses we carry and the times we let them press us down as we try to carry it alone. I see many who carry the cross of addiction. It’s an easy one to see like the crosses atop the high steeples. Some of us tuck our crosses inside our collar, behind our shirts, trying to hide the weight dragging us down. It’s so much easier to disguise gossip as concern or depression as just a rough time that will pass. This cross called an emblem of suffering and shame doesn’t have to be the suffering that will kill us. We don’t have to die on our cross because Jesus did that on his. 

It’s a song I haven’t heard in years but the words came to mind today:

The cross is not greater than his grace

Our sin, is not ever, greater than his grace.

 


The Cross

It was that year, the year I was searching a bit, stretching into a new journey. I’d claimed my faith the summer before, held it as my own, no longer accepting the hand-me-down faith from my parents. So when I saw that crucifix hanging in the seaside shop on a weekend with my cousins, when I saw that bold statement not part of our faith tradition I bought it. Life was different, I was different and this was bold. For me.

No telling what daddy would have said but he wasn’t there, he’d left mama and she was the less reactive one. She was calm when she said, ‘we believe He [Jesus] isn’t on the cross anymore.’ And that made sense. Perfect sense really so I didn’t wear that crucifix much after that. No problems with the symbol but if I wanted to be bold I would be bold at saying that cross didn’t hold him then and it doesn’t hold him now.

But it is the cross, that cross with its promise and shame, that claims attention this week of the passion of Christ.

My friend, Cindy, over at Mama’s Empty Nest, is telling the story through her photography and I hope you’ll stop over to her place.  I keep telling my story with too many words and should take a cue from Cindy but we follow our hearts.

It’s a story about a cross because that’s where it all changed. A cross designed for slow death, a criminals death. A cross that held death but could not contain it. Let’s begin.

DSC_0545

Holy Land Tour

 

IMG_5138

taken by Tampa


Such Extravagance

Church. The building, not the people. Church in a rented space in a strip mall; in a very old two-story house with peeling linoleum floors and creaking stairs. Once our church had been a funeral home, a place to remember the dead and now, it was a place to raise the dead in spirit.

IMG_6797

Holy Land Tour  Greek Orthodox church

 

Holy Land Tour

 

IMG_3645

Our church buildings have seldom looked like a church. No steeples or tall spires. Some had folding chairs rather than pews. The look almost always, sparse. Modest. A pulpit, a table called the “holiness” table and always, always, always, the mercy-seat. The altar. The place to humble yourself before God in prayer.

We were walking through the Vatican in Rome several years ago. Our tour group moving too fast for me to take in all the beauty. The ornate detailing and art wasn’t just in the Vatican but, it seemed, in every cathedral in Rome. Gold, marble floors and marble sculptures and stained glass that streamed light in a way it seemed heaven was shining  right down. It was a lot. Too much, I thought. I would have sided with Judas when he chastised Mary for using expensive perfume to pour on the feet of Jesus. Such extravagance, wasted, when it could have been used to feed the poor.

Holy Land Tour

Henry's iPhone pics

Israel tour

Nazareth

Last month we were in Israel and again, the churches were magnificent. The chandeliers dripped from the ceilings in the Greek Orthodox churches as gold painted frames hung heavy with paintings centuries old. I’ve been in museums with less. This wasn’t modern culture but the ancient traditions carried on. In days long ago when people lived spartan lives this was their church. I didn’t get it. It seemed to gloat in the face of their lack.

This was their museum, she said. Their education. This was their solace, their sanctuary from the day-to-day. Our tour guide was smart, this one. As she instructed us in the less obvious.

DSC_0715

DSC_0077 (1)

Holy Land Tour

We had seen the dryness of the surrounding desert. We had glimpsed the nomadic life of the Bedouins and remember at one time, in that time, there was little beauty and much toil. I could see the dirt floors and imagine the smells of sweat that couldn’t be washed off with a daily shower. How the dust must harden like a scab and the escape the beauty of this house of God would offer. To know this beauty was lavished on you by a loving God. Yes, that is comfort from a hard life. That is worship.

I was critical of beauty being displayed in church. I was ignorant of the importance of that beauty. Of what it communicates about God, about his loving nature, his pleasure and joy to share such artistry. I failed to get how His story is told in the stained glass images. The Gospel message in pictures because few could read the words from the text.

Times are different. We are different. Not better, not worse, just different. The stories of our faith are told through multi-media. Projected on a screen, played from the stage by the worship band. Coming together still provides the solace from the week. Not the dusty grime of old but a calm for the harried pace of working parents just trying to get from Sunday to Sunday where they can exhale for a couple of hours.

The beauty once found in the buildings must now be carried in us. His beauty, in us. His radiance in kindness shown. His colors shown in our laughter and tears. We use to sing this old chorus that tells the true story:

“Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me

All His wonderful passion and purity

Oh, Thou Spirit divine, all my nature refine

Till the beauty of Jesus be seen in me”


Five-Minute Friday {mighty}

Every Friday, I link up with Lisa-Jo Baker and a host of bloggers to free write for 5-minutes for the word prompt provided by Lisa-Jo. To join your voice with ours, click here. Ready?

GO

Mighty? Really? What were you thinking Lisa-Jo? I can’t, right now imagine a more difficult word to write about. Mighty implies big and I’m not a “big” girl. I don’t care much for big scenes, big productions or big hair. Nope. Not me. I’ve always tried to be small. Which seems ridiculous to anyone who knows me because I’m a loud girl. Big voice and all of that. So mighty, huh? What am I to do with that?

{press pause}

We lived next to the Mighty Mississippi for three years. I wasn’t impressed. I’ve met a few people of notoriety with mighty voices and still, nothing.

Turns out, mighty isn’t always big. Not the kind of mighty that counts. The kind that is powered by heart and spirit.

TaPeaUACVxtLXMSs37TK0uYq3aDAHPdH_SrkedVZlo0

PAP corps 2438

I have sat in an un-airconditioned, make-shift church in Port-au-Prince, sat on hard backless benches filled with people of meager means whose voices were mighty as they prayed and praised and showed the Spirit of a Living God who can be nothing less than mighty.

DSC_0025

I have heard the quiet voice of desperation that could only hope for a mighty healing from a mighty God. Read the pleas for God to answer. The voice of addicts who have declared their life unmanageable and where is the mighty in that?

Turns out the mighty is never found in ourselves but in One Greater. The only One Greater. The Only One who is truly mighty. His Spirit gives might to our voice, to our cries, to our joy. We are His Mighty People.

 


Give me an answer

You could hear the desperate plea in his voice. A family member begging for an answer to this plane that has vanished. Gone like a vapor. Not today. Not in this world. That doesn’t happen. Someone always has an answer.

There’s that black box that’s suppose to play this beep so it can be found but it’s not. The radar – useless. Nothing. No answer.

You can find opinions and speculation but there are no answers for the many hoping for something to hold on to. A flicker of hope their family members are alive.

You can Google everything today. It’s the modern Tower of Babel giving answers in any language at any time. Need an address? Google it. Want to know who won the World Series in 1971? Google it. How about cooking tips or medical questions or family genealogy or when the next harvest moon will be? Google knows it all. Except…this. And we can’t accept, in this Google-age, that there is no answer.

Two months ago, a friend went to the doctor to see why she’d felt so poorly for the past month. Just shy of her 47th birthday, surely it was something simple. Hormonal maybe. Her answer was stage 4 melanoma. Is this answer better than no answer?

IMG_6716

People say God answers prayers and I believe he does but…..But it’s hard to understand sometimes. Is no answer an answer and what about those answers we don’t want. Don’t expect. Is that God? Is it man or coincidence or chance or karma or___?

I believe in God. Him first, him only. His answers, his timing, his silence. This faith thing isn’t easy. There are a lot of questions, but this one is first on our lips: why? And when I don’t know the why it’s little consolation to another to say “God knows”. When a heart is desperate for an answer in this instant-answer world and someone tells us God loves but he’s silent now – where is the comfort? Where is the peace? Where is the answer?

cloudy

instagram

I could give you scripture, but is this what you want to hear ? Or do you want to know right this moment why your son is an addict or what happened to that plane?

Maybe I spend too much time around folks who aren’t the church going kind. They cast a doubtful eye at our claims that Jesus is enough and He is all we need. It’s easy to doubt when you’re living in a men’s shelter – again. When you’ve tried to pray away your alcoholism or homosexuality or pornography addiction and after you begged God for the umpteenth time, you still crave that drink.

IMG_0712

Wait.

That’s the answer. Wait. It’s hard at first. The hardest thing ever, this waiting for something. You don’t sleep and you pray to God even if you’ve never been sure of His existence. You work and keep busy and you check messages and email a hundred times a day. Your prayers are more like pleading and you do it loud with an ugly tear-stained face until you’re dry. And in this dryness, you begin the waiting.

In this quiet, when my breath is gone and words fail and all seems far away, when desperation grasps at any words to bring relief, not an answer but some kind of calm, now I can hear His words

Pushed to the wall, I called to God;
    from the wide open spaces, he answered.
God’s now at my side and I’m not afraid;

Answers are still absent but the spirit needs to breathe and the poetry of Psalms soothes the weary soul.

I was right on the cliff-edge, ready to fall,
    when God grabbed and held me.
God’s my strength, he’s also my song,
    and now he’s my salvation. (excerpts from Psalm 118 the Message)

God of all, of those who call you Father and those wandering about, God who has mercy on the just and unjust, hear our cries to you. When we beg for answers, show us your peace. When we ask why, give us mercy. When we feel lost and forgotten, give us your presence.


Maybe we need a ritual or two

You forget how new our country is until you walk in another.

You forget that Christianity is a new religion and others came before it still taking root in this land called holy.

We visited many churches in Israel, walking through in a daily stream of tourist, some kneeling, many lighting candles, most of us just trying to take it all in.

These aren’t like the churches I’ve known. The brass lanterns strung throughout in no particular fashion looking more like a closeout sale of Pier I and surely those kind of thoughts are why we Americans aren’t liked so much.

Church of the Nativity Bethlehem

Church of the Nativity Bethlehem

Holy Land Tour  claims of being on the site of the birth of Christ

DSC_0813

DSC_0830

The stained glass, the frescos and mosaics are beautiful but I don’t get the robes and the crown and swinging another brass thing holding incense and honestly, I don’t get the rituals at all.

The candles are lovely and I saw a mom showing her young son how to put the candle in the sand, to stand it up and push it deep so it would stand. It’s one more ritual I don’t understand.

DSC_0715

 

Holy Land Tour

 

Holy Land Tour

DSC_0696

 

Holy Land Tour  claims of being on the site of the birth of Christ

 

boy lighting candles

For years I was uncomfortable with the thought of the mysteries of God. I was certain we were to know him and there was to be no mystery. Everything clear. Understood. But now, older and maybe wiser, or at least knowing how can I understand a God who loves me beyond reason? The mysteries of God, yes, I embrace and am thankful for that which I receive but do not understand.

I gave one of the men a small carved fish with the words Jesus on it. I pushed it in his hand, the first day he was back from a relapse. I said, “do you see what it says?” He took his glasses off of his shirt, a ragged T-shirt all he had now. I told him, “It says Jesus. Keep that in your hand. Hold on to it and when things get rough, feel that in your hand and know it says Jesus.”

Maybe we need a ritual or two. If an action, a motion, can turn my thoughts to my Savior, isn’t that good? Isn’t that what he wants? To think on him when things are good, when they are bad, when we are lost and when we know we are found?

He has this way, this God who can be found everywhere. He has this way to get my attention and turn it around on me. To take something that seems silly and empty and make me realize if the heart is right there is purpose in the action.


Will You Follow Me, Please?

It got to be comical. As we traveled in our tour bus our guide would give us information about our next stop. Once we arrived, she would stand and say, “Will you follow me, please?” Every time.

She asked suggestions to name the tour bus and, of course, we said, “will you follow me please?” Susan smiled and answered, no, that was going to be on her tombstone.

Holy Land Tour

 

Holy Land Tour

We are focusing on the two words, “follow me” throughout Lent. The two words Jesus said to his disciples and the two words he beckons us now. Follow me.

I stood in front of the men in chapel, looked across the diverse group of men, and thought of how these were just the men Jesus called to follow. Some have college degrees, some need help reading. Some were successful business men and others have only succeeded at denial. All are broken. Them. Us. These are the called. These are the ones to whom Jesus says, “Follow me”.

Truth is, everyone is following someone or some thing. Some idea, some philosophy. We follow a diet, an exercise plan, a 5-year plan, a creed, a mentor. Often the one we follow is us. Self.

As a follower, we check up on the latest scores, events, updates. We have some interest in who or what we follow. There is a connection be it geography, interest or shared background. We know something about who we follow but when we follow Jesus he knows more about us than we him. Always.

That’s the crazy part. He knows me and still calls. He knows my weaknesses, my fears, my failures, my needs and he chooses to ask me to follow him. That never fails to amaze me.

This is where we started Sunday. The first week of Lent. We start with who are we following and who will we follow. We can’t be neutral on this. When we say we don’t follow anyone it only means we are following self. I’ve done that. Still wrestle with that and every time I’ve let self lead I end up lost. Not at first. But the road that seems fun turns into a dead-end. Self is not a good leader. Not for me.

I choose to follow Jesus. Again, today, I choose. To let him guide me with his word for living.

My sheep recognize my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27 the Living Bible


Shabbat Shalom

The itinerary listed a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. This was the most interesting to me before we left. Living here in South Florida, in a town referred to as the Venice of the US, canals, intracoastal waterway, the Atlantic Ocean, being on or at the water calms me. The grandness of the ocean reminds me of God, his vastness, his majesty.

Stories of Jesus often took place on the water. Our guide told us that every promise God made to the Jewish people involved water. Jesus is living water, he said, and we would be on this very still and large lake on their Sabbath.

I thought our boat would continue to motor around the lake (not really a Sea) but after we were out a short distance we stopped. The sun was bright and it went from warming me from the cool breeze to heating me right up. It got quiet at first and then the boat Captain shared a bit of his testimony telling how he came to faith on this Sea. Part of me thinks this would be a great marketing ploy but a bigger part of me chooses to believe him. He led the group in some music for worship and I found myself withdrawing rather than singing. My thoughts weren’t on the lyrics but on the past when Jesus would have been on this sea, when he would have calmed it during the storm and when he told the disciples to put their nets on the other side.

sunrise over the Sea of Galilee

sunrise over the Sea of Galilee

DSC_0243Holy Land Tour  worship on the Sabbath

from an overlook on Mt. Arbel

from an overlook on Mt. Arbel

We were in a country where there are a lot of maybe’s and probables about where Jesus was born and where he may have been beaten and where, maybe, the prayed in the garden, but this lake, this Sea of Galilee….there is no uncertainty here. And I thought there was no uncertainty that we were here on their Sabbath for our worship. I felt the line between us {Christian} and them {Jew} dissolve because we were more alike than different so yes, let’s come together for the Sabbath.

This was the place Peter got out of the boat to walk toward Jesus. This was the place he started to sink and we say it’s because he took his eyes off Jesus.

Holy Land Tour  worship on the Sabbath

This is the place Jesus cooked breakfast on the shore and said to Peter, “Do you love me?” and after asking three times Peter found restoration for his three denials. This is the place for Shabbat shalom – a peaceful rest.


Israel: update two

The wind is biting cold today, to me, this South Floridian only use to ocean breezes to cool from a scorching sun. The sun here is darting in and out from the clouds and we are half a world away in every way.

Our bus stops at the border to pick up a temporary guide while we are in Bethlehem. Bethlehem is in Palestine territory so we pass through a check point and pick up Jonny who is waiting to show us his hometown. He tells us he is one of few Christians in Bethlehem and he thanks us for coming.

It’s a strange place, al, of this area, where buildings are built on top of buildings again and again. There are no “streets where Jesus walked”.

We visit the Church of the Nativity. Some of these churches are shared by more than one denomination. Often Catholic and Greek Orthodox or Armenian as today. Their rituals as foreign as the language.

Jonny leads us to an area where we wait as it’s an Armenian holiday and the religious men are conducting some kind of liturgy perhaps? There are no congregants, just their chanting song and swinging the incense container.

The church itself is gaudy. Too much of everything. It’s like a Pier One outlet with gold lanterns hanging everywhere. There is no explanations of these symbols but it’s the same we’ve seen in others. Some come to light candles and we wait in the cold, caverness cathedral of plaster, stone and marble.

Finally he calls us a few at a time, pointing, there is the birth place and there, there the manger.

The rugs are on the marble floor and pillows to knees. There are golden candlesticks and a clergy of some kind pointing and ushering out. Next. People are streaming in and out looking at just what I’m not sure.

But they know why people come. They know we all want a piece of this. This place where our Savior was born, we want to be near it, see it, but it isn’t him. The beautiful mosaics and the candles and the prayers tucked in a wall, this isn’t him.

He is more. He will always be more than what we try to make him. He cannot be contained in our tours or cathedrals. Jesus isn’t limited to this area or that and praise God our Father that he is never to be held to any one place but they are within. It is this indwelling that stirs inside when we sit in this olive grove or kneel beside this cut out marble they tell us was his birthplace. Or maybe it was here.

The only place that matters is that place on our hearts. The one that aches when we are lead to Caiaphus’ house and are reminded of the pain Jesus bore for us.

All of these geographical places have reopened the one place where I need him to live and that’s right inside this heart where the winds have blown cold.

We leave tomorrow. Fly home with hundreds of photographs, olive wood manger scenes and camel trinkets. We will carry stories and memories and a fondness for a land that is so very different but so welcoming. And I will think on these things. All of them.

20140227-165626.jpg

20140227-165646.jpg

20140227-165705.jpg

20140227-165731.jpg


Up to Jerusalem

We sat in the Garden of Gesthamani with a cool breeze blowing but the sun warming. A couple moved to another area when 31 of us sat in an area that must see gatherings like us daily. It was a noisy place with car horns sounding and a busy city life moving about. There was no solitude or quiet in this place that evokes contemplation.

Our tour guide, while a Jew, has knowledge not only of the prophets and the Torah but also of Jesus, shares some thoughts with us about this area. She has done this many times and has heard the Americans and surely others say how they long for the quiet of the time when Jesus would have been here, in prayer, wrestling with what was to come. The dark and mournful place it must have been and we have walked through the peddlers calling “$1 for 10 postcards” and we move around the other tour and it is nothing like in Jesus day. Until Susan tells us it exactly like His day. The city streets would have been filled at that time because is was festival time and tens of thousands would have filled the streets with their braying donkey’s and clattering pots for the meal they would cook around a campfire they would make. Some would be selling their wares and that time, that life would be the same but different.

Our group pauses for prayer and while different ones offer spoken prayers we begin to hear the call to prayer from the speakers on the mosques and there is a strange dichotomy happening. I thank God for his having all of this sorted out and I need not worry over those bowing to another God. He is God of all, the everlasting to everlasting, and this is His to call and His to love and His give and I am His so I pray thank you to my God. My redeemer.

She says this is a holy city and we call it the holy land and I know it is where Jesus walked and King David before him and Abraham even before. I know that and I feel the weight of a holy solitude in this small olive grove but. But is any holy but Him? Any place, any city? Semantics and I am taking things too literal but it’s me I caution from revering anyone, any place more than the One.

A little more than three days here. This is just the start really. The history was laid in Tiberius and around the Sea of Galilee. We have come up to Jerusalem to know Him more. This God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This God of all.

20140224-181004.jpg

20140224-181014.jpg

20140224-181055.jpg


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,352 other followers