Tagged: Jesus

Give Up God For Lent

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As we approach the Church season of Lent and as you scramble to decide between giving up Facebook for the third year running or maybe chocolate or video games (nah, never) or who knows, online shopping, Peter Rollins is offering another option.

Give up God for Lent.  Continue reading

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Crucifixion, Forgiveness, and Resurrection

This was a piece used in The Spire, a monthly newsletter published by the American Church in Paris. Visit acparis.org for current and past issues.

Resurrection3-600x405Resurrection Sunday. A day filled with hope in the endless possibilities of new life as Christians all over the world celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This singular event signals the climax of God’s redemptive plans for the world. Through Jesus Christ’s resurrection death is defeated and the hope for everlasting life springs forward into our existence here and now. It’s something worth celebrating. And it’s something worth reflecting on in the wake of a week of violence concluding with the crucifixion of the Reverend Thomas Uzhunnalil, a Salesian priest, who was kidnapped in Yemen earlier this month.[1]

As news reports poured in the morning after Easter, like many of you, my heart was filled with deep despair for the victims of senseless violence in the name of religion. And I thought about how easy it is to lose hope in goodness when acts of terror and unspeakable violence are carried out. In these moments we echo the psalmist who says “How long, LORD?”

To be honest, there is a lot in the world to find saddening.

But as I reflect on this past Holy Week I can’t help but look at Jesus on the cross. Luke 23 tells us two things that Jesus does that should give us a model for how we are to react to the violence of the past week.

First, Jesus forgives the very people who are nailing him to the cross. In the middle of excruciating pain and unbearable fatigue, Jesus does not retaliate. He forgives. There’s a strong temptation for us to want to retaliate against those who wrong us. Including those who wrong people in our tribe (i.e. other Christians). But Jesus clearly demonstrates that as Christians forgiveness is always to be the norm.

Second, Jesus says to the criminal hanging on the cross next to him, who asked that he remember him when Jesus comes into his kingdom, “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.” Jesus, even in his own pain, shows compassion.

So what can we learn from this? What do Jesus’ final moments tell us about how we should respond to the unspeakable horror of crucifixion and mass murder of Christians in the 21st century?

Lots actually.

First, forgiveness. Is there a more difficult concept to grasp in our context than forgiveness? Evil runs rampant in this world. And we feel the pull of vengeance, but often disguise it in the name of justice. But if Jesus’ own story is any indication of how we are to orient our own lives, then forgiveness is the natural (though instinctively unnatural) response to violence. Remember the words in Colossians 3 to “forgives as the Lord forgave you.”

Second, compassion. This characteristic is slightly more nuanced. Compassion demands that we not only forgive our oppressors but have compassion for them. The people who are capable of such heinous acts as crucifixion are also people in deep need of the grace, mercy, and love of Jesus Christ who was obedient to death, even death on a cross. And so we are required to be ambassadors for Christ through our posture of compassion to even the cruelest of aggressors.

Is this easy? Of course not.

There is something counterintuitive. Something so foreign to saying to someone who has hurt you so severely, “I forgive you.” And yet, as Christians, that exactly what we are urged, compelled, even commanded to do.

I don’t know the way forward. I don’t know how to resolve the crisis of a terrorist group who is hell bent on committing such brutal and unconceivable acts of terror.

I do know that death and hate do not have the final word. I do know that on the cross Jesus shows us that self-sacrificial love, including forgiveness is normative for his followers.

And I do know that resurrection changes things. Resurrection says that no matter how deep the despair. No matter how much things seem like they are lost, broken, damaged, etc. Death and sin and loss and terror do not have the last word. The surprising, beautiful reality of Jesus’ resurrection is that there is always hope for new life where hope and healing are possible in the midst of death and darkness.

Let’s practice resurrection.

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[1] Sharkov, Damien. “ISIS CRUCIFIES CATHOLIC PRIEST TOM UZHUNNALIL ON GOOD FRIDAY: REPORTS.” Newsweek. March 28, 2016. Accessed March 30, 2016. http://www.newsweek.com/isis-crucify-catholic-priest-good-friday-441219.

 

Giving up for Lent

This was a piece used in The Spire, a monthly newsletter published by the American Church in Paris. Visit acparis.org for current and past issues.

We’ve all been there. We’ve all had the last minute panic over what to give up for Lent. For some of us it’s chocolate. For others it’s alcohol or sugar or some other food we deem unhealthy and tempting. More recently it’s become popular to give up social media, in particular Facebook.

Our practice of self-denial during the Lenten season has its roots in remembering the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness. In our self-denial we are constantly reminded of the example Jesus set and the victory Jesus won, while also remembering the cost of following him.

But what happens after our 40-day journey? Chances are we pick up those habits again. We begin eating chocolate. We start drinking beer. We logon to Facebook. In his book The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis wrote, “The New Testament has a lot to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself.” In other words, self-denial isn’t about the mere practice of self-denial, but in something deeper.

temptation_jesus22Perhaps we’ve used Lent as a time for self-denial as an end in itself. What would it look like, then, to truly give something up for Lent? And not only give it up for Lent, but forever.

On the first Sunday of Lent in youth group we looked at the story of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness in the gospel of Luke. Over and over Jesus is tempted by the devil. First with hunger, then with authority, and finally with power.

As we studied this story together one thread that runs throughout these temptations is control. Over and over again the devil is tempting Jesus to take control. When Jesus is starving the devil tempts Jesus with food. The devil then tempts Jesus by offering authority over all the kingdoms of the world. Finally, in what seems to be the most tempting situation of all, Jesus is tempted to show his true power. And why not? If he showed his power to people in commanding the angels to protect him, many people might have come to believe that he really was the Son of God.

Where in your life are you tempted to take control? What places in your relationships, education, or career are you tempted to be the one in control?

We live in a culture that encourages even celebrates the mastery of our destiny. We’re in charge. We’re in control. Nobody else. If we want something and work hard enough at it, we can have it. It seems good enough. In fact in some ways these lessons are good for us as individuals. It is good to work hard for something. It is good to have the hope that we can pull ourselves out of hardship through hard work.

But in the end it’s all about control. Who is ultimately in control?

In effect when we try to become the master of our own fate we are saying (whether consciously or not) we want to be God.

The temptations of Jesus in the wilderness were the same kinds of temptations in the Garden of Eden. The serpent said to the humans, take control, be in charge of your own lives, because you know best.

More often than not in our own lives when we try to make ourselves the masters of the universe we inevitably mess things up. God does not expect control simply to assert God’s authority over us, as deserving as it is. God’s control over our lives is always in our best interest and always protects us, despite our very best protests against the idea and our claims that we know what’s best.

So during this season, our youth have been challenged to give up for Lent. To give up control over their lives. To give up the idea that simply with enough hard work and determination that we can live the best possible life.

It’s a lesson I am learning myself in a deep and powerful way this Lent.

So won’t you join us in giving up for lent?

Because in the end, our giving up control means giving the Creator of the world, who loves us more than anyone ever could, the power to guide and direct our steps toward truth, beauty, and goodness.