The journey to the top of Calvary must have been difficult. Jesus was exhausted as he carried the weapon of his demise all the way up Calvary. He’d been beaten. He’d been mocked. Yet he endured the pain of that brutal cross.
For me. For you. For the sins of the world.
Since the day Jesus was nailed to the cross, it has become more than a tool for execution. For me it is a reminder of forgiveness, how much I’m loved, and the tool used to redeem my brokenness. To others the cross is just art, something to look at. But as you can see from the pictures I took during my recent trip to Guatemala, even when the cross is represented artistically, it can still mean something.
Earlier this month we celebrated Christ’s death on the cross. I posted these pictures and asked my followers what the cross means to them.
A reason to love others.
But then one of my friends said this, “it’s something I don’t like. I gets in the way of everything I want to do.”
I agree with him. The cross is beautiful and it sets us free from our sins, but it also messes up our lives. Christ made the ultimate sacrifice for us and so how can we not sacrifice when Christ asks us to?
So, what does the cross mean to you? And a little deeper, what do you think Christ is asking of you?
I hope everyone posting this almost a month after easter isn’t too late. But then, I guess, the cross is always relevant.
I set Monday aside for practicing forgiveness. Believe me, I need all the practice I can get. Regardless, my thought was that during Holy Week, like Jesus, I would forgive something Big. So, I rummaged around in my past and touched on a particularly putrid wound I had so far bandaged over as “just a flesh wound.” Wiser people call it denial.
Ignorantly I pulled this memory out and laid it on the table. I could’t believe it. This grievance was not that big when I stowed it away for safe keeping, I thought.
Gaping, I wondered if I could hide Moby away again. But it was too late. I had even told my congregation I was going to work on forgiving something Big on Monday.
“I’m going to forgive the Church,” I said naively.
But it was difficult knowing where to start.
Like many of you, I’ve had several painful experiences in the church.* And yes, I said several. That means I’m like the guy who gets sick from the all-you-can-eat salad bar but keeps going back for more. And I’m not talking a little food poisoning here. I’m talking hemorrhagic colitis or E. coli O157:H7 infection.
But seriously, these three situations crippled me, hurt my family, and if not for God’s tender, firm hand and a few very good friends and counselors, I would have left the pastorate–and the church–and maybe the faith.
Never-the-less, all day Monday, as I went through my work day, I studied my wounds, and prayed, and grieved anew. This new pain piled on old is why we are reluctant to forgive. Mid-day, however, I remembered reading a book on forgiveness by Lewis Smedes. Smedes wrote you have to specifically name the wrong done to you before you can forgive.
I realized it was not mere denial blocking me from forgiving theses churches and moving on in a more free life. Low-grade bitterness stemming from vague forgiveness was keeping me emotionally bedridden. I had told others this truth but never applied it to these wounds of mine. Yes, I knew they hurt me. Yes, I was wronged. But how exactly? I was surprised after the years of moaning and groaning I’d done about this, I could not state the cause of my pain in anything but vague, general terms.
Unlike Aspirin, forgiveness cannot be applied as a general anesthetic.
Monday night I broke out my journals and began pouring over them to find clues as to what the real issues were. First, I recognized I was not hurt by “the church.” But rather I had experienced three separate battle field traumas in churches. Some were inflicted by individuals, some by systems, some by whole groups, some–in part–self-inflicted.
Second, I saw the wrongs ranged from a lack of acceptance resulting in judgement and subsequent isolation to emotional and spiritual manipulation leading to abuse or what is called clergy mobbing.
Suddenly the whale began to break into smaller pieces, pieces I could work on. Something in me floated free. Forgiveness began to feel real and attainable.
Attainable not in one day, however. As I ended Monday writing my newest journal entries on an old story, I adjusted my Holy Week goals. I would still work on my daily list. But forgiving something Big would not be a sprint but rather a marathon.
The next step? I’m not sure. But, as they say in running, I’m just going to put one foot in front of the other. And I’ll keep you posted on my progress.
Eugene C. Scott is not a runner but likes to use running metaphors. Metaphors are not nearly as strenuous. You can join the Living Spiritually community by following his blog and clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.
*In saying this I am not claiming to be a victim or innocent. Though I was wronged, I realize my faults and sins added to these situations. **Clergy mobbing is a term researchers have begun using to apply to the abuse of clergy.
I could hardly breathe the narrow streets were so crowded. This was the fastest way to the temple but it was not a good part of the city. I hated these grabbing people. Not Grandmother. Grandmother hated no one. Nor feared them. She hobbled along using her cane to pry her way through the middle of the crowd as if she owned the city. She moved fast for an old cripple.
“Grandmother, wait,” I called as she turned a corner.
“Grand . . . ,” I began again but a rough dirty hand crushed my voice back down my throat. I tried to scream but the hand clamped harder. I tasted blood, like metal. The man drug me me backward into a doorway. I kicked and twisted, crying. He forced me to the ground and bent over me, cruel eyes raking me. He grabbed at my body and tore my robe. I screamed. Then I saw Grandmother behind him. She raised her cane and brought it down on his hairy ear. Blood burst from his head and he howled. I jumped up and ran and got stuck again in the crowd. I couldn’t breathe, even to cry. Then there was Grandmother suddenly beside me, smoothing my hair, taking my hand.
“He was an animal,” she spit. “But Yahweh is our strong tower, our protector,” she said shaking her cane. She did not release my hand all the way to the temple. I looked at her thinking she was my protector.
My tears dried by the time we reached the temple. But my heart still quailed. A shabbily dressed, skinny Rabbi was teaching there. We stopped to listen. He looked up and there was peace in his eyes.
“Wait here my child,” Grandmother told me and limped across the court to the temple treasury. A man in purple robes, with a gold phylactery tied on his forehead, pushed in front of her and threw a large purse in, shrugging at the temple guards. He relished their silent praise. I shivered.
Men. Even in purple robes they were animals.
Undeterred Grandmother bowed her head and dropped her coin in on top of the man’s wealth. This is why we had come. To thank Yahweh for all he had done for her.
The Rabbi’s voice came soft but strong from right beside me, “I tell you the truth this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
How did he know Grandmother was a widow? I wondered. That we were poor was obvious.
Then the Rabbi turned and faced me and all my questions faded. This man saw inside me, knew me. But he did not need anything from me. I could see in his face–strong, plain, firm, satisfied–he was not a man like all the others, like that animal.His smile landed on me like a gift not a demand. It covered me like a cloak. He gave it expecting nothing in return.
Grandmother and I returned home by the longer road.
“Did you know that Rabbi?” I asked her.
“No, child.” she said.
Four days later we heard he was killed as punishment with two other thieves. At first I thought it was a mistake. But Grandmother said it was true. He had died on a cross. Still I knew it was a mistake. That man I had seen at the temple was no thief. That man knew about giving, not taking.
This day–the fifth most important in history: Jesus has four days left in what we call life. The Temple courts are full of people from all over the world. Rich people, powerful people. Yet he notices an old woman with no money and no influence. And he admires her. Like him she is a giver not a taker. Does Jesus receive hope from her actions that his gift too will be bigger than it looks?
Read Matthew 21:20-23:39, Mark 11:20-12:44, and Luke 20:1-21:4.
Also, go to tnc3.org for info on how The Neighborhood Church is remembering this week in history.
Two thousand years ago this week one man turned history upside down. I would give anything to have been there, seen him, heard his voice. Instead we can only use our imaginations to re-enter ancient history. Each day this week, called Holy Week, we are going look at this day in ancient history through the eyes of a fictional character who witnessed part of that day as Jesus lived it. Join us as we believe a better story: the greatest, truest story ever told.
If you’ve spent much time in rural areas, you know that farms are notorious for the presence of abandoned wells. If they haven’t been sealed, they pose a serious risk to adults and especially children. Unfortunately many wells remain hidden behind overgrown bushes and hedges.
If an adult or child falls into the abandoned well—and hopefully it’s dry at the bottom—serious problems result. The only way out of the hole is to rely on someone else to rescue you.
Like the man in the video above, all of us have fallen into a hole. Without the help of someone beside ourselves, we’re helplessly lost.
After watching the video, please join me in learning more about the person who rescues us.
Deuteronomy 10. After recounting Israel’s sin in chapter 9, Moses reminds Israel that God responded by giving them another set of the 10 Commandments on tablets of stone. Then he instructed Moses to construct an ark that would contain the tablets and operate as God’s “throne away from home.” In other words, he gave them another chance.
How should they respond?
And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good? Deuteronomy 10:12-13
Luke 8:4-15. Reading through the parable of the sower and the seed—our third time thus far in the Gospels—I was struck by the identity of the seed. It’s the word of God. “The word of God is living and active” we read in Hebrews 4:12. In Isaiah 40:8, God declares that “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.”
By joining in our Daily Bible Conversation, you’re planting powerful seeds into your life that will last forever. But seeds still need to be watered. While bursting with life, seeds can still lie dormant in the soil for years. Once life sprouts out of the seed, they must be nurtured and fed.
Jesus explains how the seed grows in verse 15: “But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.”
A good and noble heart is the soil. We create conditions for the seed to grow by hearing the word, retaining it, and persevering. The Message offers an interesting paraphrase. The good-hearted people “seize the Word and hold on no matter what, sticking with it until there’s a harvest.”
Here’s the Klassen paraphrase: The harvest comes to those who meditate on God’s word, and believe it throughout every season they encounter until the harvest comes.
You don’t need to be a hero to reap a harvest—you just need to believe God’s word and hang on.
Luke 8:16-21. Jesus’ words in verse 18 reinforces the point of our parable: “Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him.”
Then, to complete his thought on the sower and seed, Jesus explains, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.”
Psalm 69:19-36. I love the fact that in the midst of his pain, David still offers praise to God. “I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving” (verse 30). He still find reasons to be grateful to God in suffering.
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THE WORD MADE FRESH
Following the theme of yesterday’s conversation, God reiterates to Israel in Deuteronomy 9 that their righteousness isn’t the reason behind their blessing. God tells Israel in verse 9, “Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.” God gave the Promised Land to Israel because of his promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and because of the wickedness of the people inhabiting it.
For the rest of the chapter, Moses then recounts Israel’s sin of worshiping the golden calf, a transgression as grave as the surrounding nations. They deserved to be destroyed as well, but God spared them. Then he reminds them of their rebellion and hard-heartedness in other places (see Numbers 11 and Exodus 16).
For millennia, philosophers have debated the question “Why do bad things happen to good people?” But after reading Deuteronomy 9, I’d have to ask, “Why do good things happen to anyone?” With so much darkness in the world and my personal battles against self-absorption and rebellion among a host of other transgressions, it’s a wonder that God spares any of us from destruction.
Every breath, every sunset, every laugh, every moment of rest, every encounter with the divine is a gift from God.
Today is Palm Sunday, the first day of Holy Week, which begins with the high point of Jesus’ ministry. He enters Jerusalem to cheering crowds who shout praises to him and to God. Five days later they shouted “Crucify him!”
Any time we strain to pat ourselves on the back for something good we’ve said or done, we must remember that the vestiges of sin and darkness still remain. Akin to Israel in the wilderness, we all deserve destruction and judgment.
Like falling into a hole, all of us need someone to pull us out.
But praise be to God, he sent Jesus to save us—not because of our good deeds but because of his great love.
Building on yesterday’s conversation, I add to the caterpillar’s question “Who are you?”
By yourself, your actions merit destruction and hell. But that is no longer your identity. You are loved by God and forgiven of your darkness and sin, not because of your good deeds but because of God’s great love.
This week two thousand years ago, Jesus climbed into the hole and carried you out. The rest of our lives are simply one big THANK YOU for rescuing us.
What spoke to you in today’s reading?
What does the hole look like for you? What methods have you tried to climb out of your hole?
How did Jesus rescue you from your hole?
How does this fact influence the way you live?
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Last year our online community read through the Bible in a year. If you’re interested in reading through the Bible again (or for the first time), you’re welcome to dig through our archives. Last year’s calendar is located below.
This year we’re taking a slightly different focus as we explore the intersection of faith and life. So pull up a chair, pour yourself a cup of coffee, and join the conversation.