Archive for April, 2012

Building Bridges

[Note: Granada is hosting Compassion Day on May 5th when the congregation will spread out across the city to serve and show the love of Jesus in tangible ways.]

When construction began in 1932 on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco construction workers quickly learned how dangerous the conditions were.  Workers often walked hundreds of feet above the water along narrow swaying catwalks in high wind.  It was estimated that a person’s life would be lost for every million dollars spent.  Of course, engineers pushed for worker safety requiring hard hats, special sunglasses, and safety harnesses.  They even built an on-site hospital to treat the injured as quickly as possible.  The most effective device for saving lives ended up being a large safety net that draped over 50 feet below the roadway section that was under construction. (I for one would not care to fall fifty feet before reaching the net!)  The safety net was so successful that the local newspapers printed a regular box score:  “8 lives saved to date.”

When I read about the story of the building of this great bridge, a number of things struck me.  First, the bridge I drove across was built at great cost, not only in dollars but also in lives.  I loved the drive but took the cost for granted.  The second thought I had was this: it takes work to bring people together, especially when the chasm is great.  It was then that I began to see the service Jesus calls us to engage in from a different light.  It takes work, and love to bring people together.  It takes…

Painting a classroom to love the teachers at a local school.

Serving a meal to bridge the gap between “them” and “us” at the rescue mission and women’s shelter..

Walking a horse with a handicapped child to enter that child’s world and bestow the gift of joy.

This put Jesus’ ministry into perspective.  Of course, he had to take on human flesh.  Of course, he had to learn the language.  Of course, he had to love his neighbor.  Of course, he had to feed the hungry, give sight to the blind, touch the lepers, welcome the outsiders, and preach good news to the poor.  He was love.  The incarnation is about building a bridge across the most severe and broad chasm, from God to humanity.

This also makes sense of Jesus command to us to serve as he has served.  This is the way we experience his presence, share his love, and build a bridge.  On May 5th, we are not going into our community to serve because we are good people.  We are doing this because Jesus built a bridge to us. He made it possible for us to be joined to God.  And, when I think of what Jesus did, I remember there was no net to catch him.  He fell to earth that we might be lifted to heaven.  In the process, he also became our safety net protecting us as we build bridges through loving service.

This is our prayer: to build bridges through loving service, to meet the people of our city, and to show and share Jesus’ great love.

Sifted

Message from Maundy Thursday service at Granada:

Luke 22:31-34

31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift youas wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”  33 But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”

 34 Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”

 Today and tomorrow are the most painful days in the church calendar. We struggle being able to see how such pain and brokenness could fit into God’s plan.  Well, we should.  Jesus is in agonizing prayer in the garden, betrayed by his friends, arrested, falsely accused, beaten and mocked. Sentenced to murder in the sham of a trial.  Marched out of the city carrying his own cross of torture.  Nailed spread eagle. He died an agonizing death in public disgrace.

On the night these events start, tonight, Jesus shares Passover with his disciples.  After the Passover meal, Jesus says:

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

 Frankly, these words disturb me.  Here’s why.  We are told that the Evil one, Satan, asked Jesus if he could sift Peter. Yes, Satan exists.  The Bible tells us that you have an adversary, the father of lies, who wants to kill and destroy. He wants to take everything that God made and is good and ruin it.  Distort it. Crush it.

A tribulum used for crushing.

Satan wants to sift Peter. When I think of the word sift, I think of what my mom asked me to do when I was a child.  When she was making biscuits, she would hand me a sifter and ask me to sift the flour.  No big deal.  I thought it was fun.  We don’t know what real sifting is.  We buy our flour pre-sifted. In the ancient world, sifting involved a violent three-step process.  First, beating or crushing.  They would place grain on a hard surface and run a sledge across it to beat and crush it.  The sledge was called a tribulum. It is from this word that we get the word tribulation. The kernels were then smashed between stones or rollers. Then the bits would be separated, then the good stuff, the grain or flour taken out.  Called being revealed.

Beaten.

Separated.

Revealed.

Satan says, I want to sift Peter like wheat.

If that isn’t enough, Jesus’ response shocks me even more.  He doesn’t say,

No, you can’t do this to Peter.

Don’t touch him.

Hands off.

Instead, Jesus says, “I will pray for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.”  In other words, yes, I will let you sift him.  Peter, I pray that you will hold onto your faith. One final surprise for me in this text:

Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. 

The “you” there is plural.  Jesus is talking to Peter, but he addresses all the apostles at once. Satan has asked to sift all of you.

How many of us have been there?  How have you been sifted?

Sickness. Lingering pain and fear.

A marriage ended.

A loved one’s death.

A career going down in flames.

Living in loss.  Loneliness.

William Paul Young, author, The Shack

Beaten. Separated. Revealed. Has Satan sifted you like wheat? Years ago I read the story The Shack, enjoyed by some and criticized by others. I enjoyed the book because it caused me to love God more, but do you know the story behind the book?  William Paul Young spent the first part of his life being sifted.  His parents were missionaries in Papua New Guinea among tribal people. He learned the language of the native people before his parents did, and one night listened to the people of the tribe talk about killing his mom and dad.  Sexual abuse became a normal part of his life as he was victimized by the indigenous people.  When he was sent away to boarding school, the abuse continued.  Strangely, after all this he entered ministry. He had learned to keep up appearances and keep his addictions secret.  Those skills could not protect him from heartache. Some years later, during one short stretch of time, his mother-in-law died suddenly, his 18 year old brother was killed as well as his five year old daughter.  In the midst of this, his wife discovered he’d been involved in a three month long affair with her best friend.  Beaten.  Separated.  Revealed.  The pain was so deep he planned a trip to Mexico to kill himself so that his family would not be able to find his body.

This is why this man wrote his story of the God who loves us in the midst of our sin and brokenness.  So what are the encouragements that we can get in the midst of sifting?

Jesus always goes first.  He’d already been sifted by Satan.

40 days in the wilderness tempted.

The rejection of his people.

The misunderstanding of his family.

The abandonment of his friends. And, yes, the cross.

All of this purposed to destroy Jesus.  When you are there, remind yourself, Jesus was there first.

You are not alone.  He knows.  No one understands like Jesus.

Second, God is in control. Satan can’t do whatever he wants.  He can’t take control from God. We learn this at the cross of Jesus.  Though Jesus is being sifted.  Even what Satan does feeds into God’s plan.

Satan thinks he has defeated Jesus at the cross….At the cross Jesus brings the greatest possible victory.

He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Colossians 2:13-15

I love that part where it says the evil powers were made a spectacle of.  Notice Jesus made a mockery of the power of evil by taking its worst and then bringing out the best.  Grace. Forgiveness. Reconciliation.  Healing. A healed relationship with God and eternal life.

Granada Porcelain - The Cross of JesusOne of the most painful times of sifting for Sandy and me took place when we moved to Miami in 1999.  Leaving our home in New Jersey was like ripping out the heart of our children.  Our whole family was crushed.  Beaten. Revealed.  There were fights in our home. Anger. Bitterness and resentment.  Sandy and I wondered if we had made a mistake.  We wondered what God was doing.  I remember going into our bathroom and seeing hair.  Her hair was falling out because of the stress.  We saw counselors as a family.  Nothing seemed to help.  We were exhausted by the pain and sadness.  During a particularly painful moment of anger one day, one member of our family threw something across the room.  [I need to stop and tell you that in our home on one wall above French doors, we have 15 porcelain plates commissioned by Granada Church in the 1970s and 1980s.  One plate came out each year, and each one is a picture from the life of Jesus.  We were given a set of those plates when we came to Granada.]  That night that flying object hit one of those plates.  The plate fell to the floor and shattered into pieces.  Destroyed. Can you guess what plate?  Yes, the cross.  Someone replaced our broken plate…but the message of God was not missed on us.  You are being sifted.  Yes.  It will be painful, but remember the cross.  I died to redeem your pain.  To give meaning to your brokenness. So whatever is happening, don’t doubt my love for you.

The third thing we learn is whatever the sifting may be, God will use it for good.  Satan sifted Peter.  That very night within a few hours Peter is sifted. In fear he denied Jesus. In disgrace he ran to hide.  He’d failed.  Been weak. He folded in the face of a little servant girl.  But, that wasn’t the end.  After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to Peter and the other disciples.  Jesus showed Peter his unconditional love.  He fully restored Peter and removed his shame.  Why did Jesus allow the sifting?  Through it Peter could see how much Jesus loved him.  He could see how weak he was and how much he needed to rely on Jesus for strength.  He was prepared for things far more difficult that he would face in carrying the gospel into the world.

After William Paul Young had endured so much pain,  God miraculously showed up in the form of two friends.  These friends told Paul there was hope. A seed planted that could bring new life. Young said: 

And suddenly all my hope came back. The last time in my life I was suicidal was that day. And I’ve been suicidal my whole life.  It’s the grace of God. Kim [my wife] was furious for the first two years [after discovering the affair].  And it took eleven years for us to heal.  A year and a half ago, Kim and I were sitting in front of a group of friends—and they all knew my history….And she said to them in front of me, “I never thought I would say this in my life, but it was all worth it.”

I cannot tell you the specific reason for your sifting.  I can tell you that God who loves us, allows us to taste the sweet fruit of hardship.  What is that: the sufficiency of Jesus.  How do we know Jesus is sufficient?

He has been there.  Jesus says:  I have prayed for you, that your faith will not fail. What is this faith, this faith that will not fail?  It is faith in Jesus. Jesus isn’t telling Peter that he has to rely on his own strength.  What he means is: Peter, you are going to have to trust me and my love for you.  You are going to have to cling to me.   I never fail.  So as the darkness comes, and it will come.  Hold onto Jesus. Amen.

[I am indebted to Rick Lawrence and his book “Sifted.” His wonderful worked challenged me to look at this passage more closely.  His ideas inspired and informed my message.  Thank you.]

Ready for Easter?

This is holy week, the week that spans from Palm Sunday to Easter.  For the disciples of Jesus, this week was an emotional roller coaster.  They had a hard time getting their minds around what happened.  I do as well. First, for the disciples, there is the exhilaration of Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem on a donkey.  The crowds cheered Jesus and praised him with the ancient song of prophecy about the coming Messiah.  The hearts of the disciples swelled with expectancy.  They were so certain about Jesus’ victory that they argued among themselves about who would have which posts in the cabinet of his messianic kingdom.

But, rejection was fast on the heels of triumph.  Before Jesus even entered the city, the religious leaders shut down the spontaneous outburst of worship.  Not only did they fail to welcome Jesus, they hatched a plot to kill him. One of twelve joined in their conspiracy.  Each day Jesus taught and preached giving people hope that their dreams would be fulfilled.

Thursday, Passover Day, ended with celebration.  Passover is a feast day in Israel unlike any other.  It is the day the people celebrate the greatest salvation event of their history.  Over a thousand years before, God showed up and liberated them from the Egyptians.  Each year the table is filled with lamb, and wine along with symbolic foods.  The evening meal is punctuated by the story of redemption retold, shouts of joy and the wine of freedom.

With the disciples, however, Jesus ends the meal in curious sadness. He informs them that the imagery of the meal will become the story of his life.  He is the true lamb. His body will be broken.  His blood will be shed.  And, truth be told, within 24 hours, what Jesus promised is fulfilled: a garden arrest, the mockery of a trial, savagely brutal beatings, a Roman cross of torture, and a shameful defeat in death.

From Friday to Sunday morning is a time of waiting. Jesus descended fully into death. The creed says that Jesus made the trip to hell for us and for our redemption.  During that time, the depression of the disciples set in deep. Their dreams died with Jesus.  Even though Jesus taught them about his resurrection, they can’t see beyond the cross. And, how could they? How could they be ready for the empty tomb? How could their hearts keep up?

There have been many times when my heart could not keep pace.  Life moved too quickly for me to process the pain or for the joy to fully register. When my friend Josh died five years ago, I was not prepared. First, I struggled getting my heart around the fact that he was gone. Second, I couldn’t believe God allowed it to happen. How could this be part of his plan?  I had my own plans, too, and they were nothing like God’s.  What had I missed?

I felt the same bewilderment a little over a year ago when my friend Paul died very suddenly. It made no sense to me (as if God’s way should)!  As I look back I can see we have a place in our hearts we can hide things away to process later. We do this because we are not ready or we don’t believe we have the resources.  And once we put them in hiding, we would rather not bring them out. We don’t want to feel the pain.  We have no desire to revisit the moment or dredge up the thing we worked so hard to suppress. And, why should we? Why not simply move on with life?

The truth that I have learned is that we can never really move on with life until we deal with it.  Our heart’s growth will be retarded, limited. We become stuck.  And then we find unhealthy ways of coping.  Hidden things want to come out, and they will in one way or another, but not in healthy ways. We will do those things than keep our heart numb, that divert our attention, and that leave us more cut off from what we are feeling deep inside.  The end of this is not good.

I can see much of what I struggle with in the disciples.  I believe they doubt Jesus’ resurrection because they have not yet processed his horrible death.  Their hearts just cannot process it all.

He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. Luke 24:44-47

This has changed my thinking about Holy Week.  First I have learned that I need to take time to pray and think about it.  If I don’t do that (and there have been many years that I have not devoted the time to do so), then I miss true Easter joy.  The day rings hollow.  I cannot appreciate the light because I have not allowed my heart to experience the deep darkness of Thursday and Friday.  Second, I have also learned that I have to honest about what I am feeling, and learn to take it to Jesus.  I find that Christians have been taught they must always be nice, never angry, never question, never allow your emotions to get the best of you. But, this means being dishonest. This is not the way to life.

This Sunday is Easter.  Are you ready?