95 Years, 262 Days

That’s how long my mom, Gloria Hinkle, lived on this earth before passing into Eternity on June 9, 2021. I was privileged to give the Meditation at her Memorial Service. This is what I shared with friends and family…


What does one say when privileged to speak at his 95-year-old mom’s memorial service?  Frankly, it’s something I’ve pondered over the past several years, knowing such an opportunity might present itself.  Every time I would think about it, I honestly came up blank.  Knowing that our creative juices get going under deadline, I posed a question to my mom.  Shortly after she turned 95, I asked her what her target completion date was.  Mom just grinned and said emphatically, “well, not 100!”  Turns out that her target completion date was 95 years, 262 days.

There was one theme that kept running through the minds of my siblings, spouses, and me as we shared with friends and extended family the events of the last week of mom’s life.  It was present again last night at the visitation.  That theme was an overwhelming sense of blessing.

More than wondering what I might say at my mom’s memorial service, I wondered what the last days of her long-lived life might look like.  It was an absolute blessing that mom’s mind was sharp to the very end.  It was an absolute blessing that she did not suffer or linger in a vegetative state.  She died peacefully, a week after a minor stroke – truly a blessing.

Last Friday, a week ago yesterday, mom was able to leave the hospital to return to Guardian Angels Care Center, which has been her home for the past four years.  When she left Mercy, there was a sense that, with some therapy, she might be able to live for quite some time and be able to communicate adequately.  But mom’s target completion date wasn’t 100.

Looking back, we suspect she used all of her remaining energy to get back home to the Care Center, to be among those who had cared for her these past years, to be with those who were an absolute blessing to her.  To any Guardian Angels representatives among us today, please know what a blessing you have been to her and to us, her family – especially during a pandemic.

The concept of blessing is foundational to our faith and is dispersed throughout the Bible, both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament.  Many Psalms include phrases like, “Bless the Lord, O my soul.”  We are quite familiar with the benediction that begins with, “May the Lord bless you and keep you…”  In his Sermon on the Mount, in the part we know as The Beatitudes, Jesus described those who are blessed in God’s economy – the poor, the hungry, those who mourn, etc.  In that same Sermon he also told his followers to bless those who curse them.

Several years ago I was contemplating the fact that in the Old Testament, blessings seemed to be a two-way affair – God blessing humanity and people blessing God.  As I started to look at occurrences of the word “bless” in the Old Testament, I discovered that God was the original “blesser”…

  • After the creation, God blessed Adam and Eve
  • After the creation, God also blessed the Sabbath
  • After the flood, God blessed Noah in a similar fashion as he blessed Adam and Eve
  • Noah, then in turn, responded with, “Blessed be the Lord,” the first example of humanity blessing God

On the surface, it kinda sounds like a mutual admiration society – God and humans blessing each other.  I figured there must be more to it than mutual admiration.  Being a dabbler in Hebrew (the operative word is “dabbler”), I decided to see what I could uncover about this word bless. This is what I discovered – the basic Hebrew word for bless is barak. Barak is the word for “knee” and implies kneeling.

This makes some sense. Throughout history, one approached royalty on bended knee – out of reverence, out of respect, out of humility. In Philippians 2, we read “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow” – bended knee. So we bless God with great reverence, literally and figuratively, on bended knee.

So, blessing God makes sense but what of God blessing us? What does that look like?  What immediately comes to my mind is the story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. During his last Passover meal with his disciples (which we know as the Last Supper) we read…

“Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end…Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist…and began to wash his disciples’ feet.”

Picture this! Jesus knew full well who he was as God incarnate – that all power and authority had been given to him.  This Jesus showed the full extent of his love and began to wash his disciples’ feet, presumably on his knees. Picture it!  The God of the universe, the Lord of lords, the King of kings on his knees, serving his own creation!  What a picture of blessing!  And what a picture of servitude!

Jesus was simply fulfilling and living out God’s vocational call of  Abraham a few thousand years before.  God told Abraham he would bless him and his descendants so they, in turn, could be a blessing to the rest of the world.  The task of the Israelites in God’s kingdom project was to simply bless those around them as they were blessed by God.  Pretty simple, pretty straight forward, and pretty clear.  They were blessed to be a blessing

When he washed his disciples’ feet, Jesus modeled for his followers what he wanted them to be about – blessing others by serving them.  Makes me think of the two great commandments – Love God, love (or bless?) others. How can we love others?  By blessing them, by serving them.

Looking back, I think that our mom understood the “blessed to be a blessing” concept more than we may have realized.  Over the years, she quietly served those around her – often from her kitchen.  On dairy farms in the mid-20th century, the role of the housewife was to serve the workers of the farm, which involved more than just meals.  Clean clothes miraculously showed up in our drawers. As did patched jeans.  Mom’s quiet servitude was a blessing to all of us.

That blessing, that quiet servitude, spilled over to those around her – to her neighbors, to her church, to her community (I believe mom was a charter member of the CAER board, the Elk River, MN, food shelf).  And it spilled into Guardian Angels Care Center four years ago.  We know she was a blessing to many there because the staff told us as much.  One small example of mom blessing the staff at the Care Center:  She weekly served the activities staff, setting up for Thursday Bingo.  (It was important for us to plan our visits with her as to not conflict with her weekly job.)

Blessed to be a blessing.  What a amazing concept! God ordained the idea with Abraham.  Jesus fulfilled it and passed it onto his followers.  As a follower, Gloria Hinkle quietly lived it out.  What might our world look like of we all took to heart our God-given vocation to simply be a blessing to those around us?  God, help us do exactly that!  Amen.

Surprise!

I like surprises. I suspect we all do. Actually, truth be told, I like surprises that aren’t too surprising. I suspect I’m not alone in that, either. One surprise I remember occurred about 25-30 years ago, when I discovered that I had been spelling surprise incorrectly the first half of my life. The spell-check in WordPerfect pointed that out to me. To my horror, I had been spelling it suprise, neglecting the first “r.” That means many letters, memos, and presentations contained my creative spelling of surprise. To this day, I cannot get my fingers to type surprise correctly, so I’ve had to set up an auto-correct option in the various apps on my computer.

When our children were young, we would read to them from the book, Theirs is the Kingdom. It was a wonderfully written story of Jesus and the early church. It is not a children’s bible, per se, especially related to the life of Jesus. It is more a aggregate narrative of all the gospel writings. The title of one of the sections of the book particularly captured my attention: The Surprise of the Kingdom. I remember thinking the title was apropos of God’s character displayed through the centuries and especially through Jesus. Everything Jesus did and said was a complete surprise to all witnesses. Thus the statement, “Get used to different?

A surprising story in the Hebrew scriptures, the Old Testament, can be found in Joshua 5:13-15. The context of the story was Joshua’s preparation of the Israelites to enter the land God had promised them centuries before. It wasn’t to be an easy task because others had occupied the land and weren’t about to give it up without a fight. The fortified city of Jericho was a major obstacle to their entrance. As the story begins:

Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

The first thing that catches our attention is that fact that Joshua engaged in a conversation with a guy who had his sword drawn. Earlier God told Joshua to be strong and courageous, but I don’t recall that God told him to be strong and reckless. The surprise, however, was the guy’s response to Joshua’s question, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

“Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.”

Neither? That answer certainly must have surprised Joshua! I suspect he was anticipating one of only two possible responses – our side or their side. For either of those two anticipated responses, I suspect Joshua knew how to react. But “Neither?” Not what Joshua anticipated. God’s messenger surprised Joshua with a response that was completely outside the scope of possibilities, likely shattering Joshua’s expectations and even his self-confidence. God does that ALL the time! Any reading of the scriptures reveals such, thus “The Surprise of the Kingdom.” God continually surprises us with outcome different than we anticipate.

I am reminded of a statement by David Hubbard (Fuller Seminary) in the introduction of his book, The Communicators Commentary: Proverbs:

“Another limit of Proverbs is even more important:  the mystery of Yahweh’s sovereignty... Our fear of the Lord ought to place major restrictions on our self-confidence.  We cannot use Proverbs like subway tokens to open the turnstile every time.  They are guidelines, not mechanical formulas.  They are procedures to follow, not promises we claim.  We heed them the best we can, try to gain the wisdom that experience can teach, and then leave large amounts of room for God to surprise us with outcomes different from what our plans prescribe.”  (My emphasis)

Joshua, when confronted with an outcome outside the scope of his thinking, responded rather appropriately. Recognizing God’s sovereignty, he hit the dirt:

Then Joshua fell face-down to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”

As we discover how to follow Jesus, may we learn from him, gain wisdom along the way from our experiences with him, and then leave large amounts of room for God to surprise us with outcomes different from what our plans prescribe. After all, he is sovereign!

Parables

I started the previous post with a story about Paula Deen’s restaurant. My wife, Barb, wondered what that story had to do with the rest of the posting. I said, “Not much, except for the word ‘heartburn’.” It was the only story that came to mind to lead off the post. I’ve learned from great communicators to start a talk or writing with a (hopefully) good story that draws people in. Are communicators manipulative? I don’t think so. I suspect they speak to our hearts. We always like a good story, whether in a book, movie, or sermon. Good stories draw us in and engage us.

I have been working my way through the Gospel of Mark as of late. I recently arrived at chapter four and The Parable of the Sower, as the heading in my Bible indicates. It was the first parable that Mark chose to include in his account of Jesus’ life and ministry. The realization that this was the first parable in Mark caused me to pause and think about parables a bit. It’s my understanding that nearly one-third of the teachings of Jesus’ recorded in the Gospels are in the form of parables or parabolic statements – upwards of 60. So some pondering might be of value…

It seems that parables were Jesus’ preferred way of teaching, especially in public venues. Jesus was a good story-teller. Actually, Jesus was a great story-teller. We might be well aware of many of his stories – The Sower, Good Samaritan, Mustard Seed, Hidden Treasure and Pearl, to name a few. Primarily, Jesus’ parables, his stories, point to God – his character and the nature of his kingdom. Parables help bring clarification to the reader or hearer.

I don’t know about you, but as I have read the parables over the years, they have not been especially clarifying regarding the nature of God and his kingdom. In fact they have often left me scratching my head in confusion. In addition, Jesus regularly concluded parables/teachings with a statement like, Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear – further adding to the confusion. I have ears but am not always understanding!

I know I am not alone in this – I suspect you might be in the same camp. As apparently were his disciples – even the Twelve, his inner circle. They indicated as such. In the Parable of the Sower they pressed Jesus to help them understand. Further confusing the issue, Jesus seemed to indicate that understanding was primarily reserved for the insiders.

Assisting me in my journey through the Gospel of Mark is Jim Edward’s commentary. Edwards agrees that Jesus’ parables, though reflective of real life, are not simple or easy to understand. I have always wondered how the first century hearers dealt with the open-endedness of Jesus’ parables. I suspect they went away saying something like, “Huh. That was new. I’ve never heard that before or, at least, not that way.” They probably went away pondering and discussing with their friends the meaning of the story – which I suspect was Jesus’ intent. He was helping them develop ears to hear!

Parables are often considered allegories, but Edwards suggests otherwise:

An allegory can be understood from the “outside,” but parables can be understood only from within, by allowing oneself to be taken into the story and hearing who God is and what humans may become.

Please take a moment and re-read the quote from Edwards. This may be why Jesus intimated that parables might be more understandable to the insiders – to those who were beginning to “get it.”* And who, in the early days of Jesus’ ministry, were beginning to get it (the operative word being beginning)? Those who had spent the most time with Jesus!

There we have it! As we spend more time with Jesus, the parables will begin to become more clear and make more sense to us. How do we spend more time with Jesus? Continuously reading the Gospels and pondering what we read – alone (with the help of the Holy Spirit) and with others (again, with the help of the Holy Spirit). As time goes on, we develop ears to hear. We might find ourselves saying, “Huh. That was new. I’ve never heard that before or, at least, not that way” – in other words, Aha! Moments.

* Over the years, I have pondered and discussed with others how to define “get it.” My best shot do far: If we “get it,” no definition is necessary. If we don’t “get it,” no definition will suffice.

Aha! Moments

A few weeks ago, my wife and I spent some time in Nashville. Looking for a place to grab dinner one night, we decided to try Paula Deen’s Family Restaurant – Southern-style cooking. If you aren’t familiar with Paula Deen’s recipes, people joke that she uses a stick of butter in everything. Wonderful, rich food that resulted in, unfortunately, heartburn!


During our time in Nashville, I was reflecting on Easter, circling back to one of my all-time favorite stories related to that first Easter. It’s often referred to as the Road to Emmaus story. If you have never read this story or haven’t read it recently, you ought to.  It can be found in Luke 24:13-35.  It’s a most fascinating story and well worth pondering.

It’s the story of two of Jesus’ followers (not part of the Twelve) as they traveled from Jerusalem to Emmaus on “that very day” – the day Jesus was resurrected, Anastasis.  As they walked the seven-mile trip, they had all kinds of time to talk through the events of the previous three days. As they walked, Jesus, whom they didn’t recognize (“their eyes kept from recognizing him”) came alongside them (it seemed like he just appeared) and asked a great question: “So, what were you guys talking about?”  As I write this, I have an episode of The Chosen playing in the background. I can picture Jesus asking the question with a twinkle in his eye…

“Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who certainly was a prophet, mighty in what he said and did before God and all the people.  Our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned and crucified him.  But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.  And besides all this, some of the women among us amazed us – they went to the tomb early this morning and found no body!  They claimed they saw angels or a vision of angels who said he was alive.  Others went to the tomb and they were right – there was no body.  And we don’t know what to think of all this.”  (My paraphrase and I added the last line because you know that’s likely what they were talking about as they walked!)

Then one of them, Cleopas, asked Jesus if he was the only person that hadn’t heard what went on in Jerusalem over the previous several days.  Jesus then asked the mother of all questions: “What things?”  Again, with a twinkle in his eye? 

Jesus followed with another question: “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”  And beginning with Moses [Genesis through Deuteronomy] and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. 

I wonder what he told them?  He might have reminded them that when God created the universe and all the things in it he said, “It is good.”  And after he created the first humans, he said, “It is VERY good.”

Then Adam and Eve ate the apple.

I suspect Jesus reminded them of God’s call on Abraham – that he and his descendants would become human agents to help Him restore creation, after the apple incident, to its right condition.  God’s words to Abraham: “I will bless you so that you can be a blessing to ALL the peoples of the earth” (Genesis 12:1-3).  The inauguration of God’s creation rescue mission.

And surely Jesus must have helped them understand, through the scriptures, that the one to redeem Israel, the Christ, would in fact be a suffering servant not a conquering hero.  And the redemption was not to re-establish Israel as a sovereign nation again, but to jump-start their original mission of being blessed to be a blessing for all peoples.

Whatever Jesus told them, they wanted more.  So they invited him to stay with them.  During supper, Jesus blessed and broke bread, their eyes were opened and they recognized him.  And Jesus vanished.

They said to each other “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” An “aha!” moment!!

We wish for those heartwarming moments when we sense Jesus’ presence that result in “aha!” moments, when something previously fuzzy comes into focus. Experience tells me that such encounters tend to happen when we least expect. For me, they seem to take place when I am in conversations with others as we figure out together how to follow Jesus well.

It was “while they were talking and discussing together” that Jesus showed up for Cleopas and his friend – an encouragement for us as we learn to follow Jesus. An encouragement to not forsake gathering with other pilgrims when “we don’t know what to think of all this,” whatever this happens to be. Who knows, Jesus just might show up and provide us with a sacred “aha!” moment.


Anastasis

Anastasis (not to be confused with Anastasia) is the Greek word for resurrection.  We just celebrated the Anastasis of Jesus.  We call it Easter (which is not a biblical term, by the way).

We understand Easter to be the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. However, I fear that the significance of the event gets lost as we focus on Good Friday and what Jesus did for us on the cross. Outside of the Easter season, we don’t talk much about the resurrection, but rather focus primarily on the Cross. Why the Cross? I’m guessing because of its implications related to our eternal destiny, that is, heaven. It’s the perspective that I had communicated for years.  And I’m pretty sure that I wasn’t the only one with that perspective… 

The reality of the ubiquitousness of such a perspective was evidenced several years ago when I asked a group of young people (college-age) what Easter was about.  The consensus: Jesus dying on the cross for our sins.  “And?” was my follow-up questions, assuming the answer would be, “And then he was resurrected.” Instead, the automatic and almost unison response was, “And now we get to go to heaven.” 

Looking back, this perspective of Easter was the lens through which I viewed Jesus, read scripture, did ministry, etc., for a big chunk of my life.  In more recent years (understand that “more recent” for me is the past 15-20 years!), I began to see things differently, through a new lens – the lens of Jesus’ resurrection, the anastasis.  It was a huge shift for me!

How huge?  It changed everything! The lens through which we see life affects how we see God, ourselves, and the world around us.  Some refer to this as our worldview.  How important is our worldview?   Think of how life must have changed for Copernicus once the thought occurred to him that maybe, just maybe, the universe didn’t revolve around the earth.

If we are honest, when our view of Easter-time is more focused on the Cross than the Resurrection, the universe sort of revolves around us.  (As I type this, I realize that I can’t possibly have a worldview if I’m the focus, can I?)  Actually, it doesn’t sort of revolve around us, it mostly revolves around us.  Thus the response, “And now we get to go to heaven.”

When Jesus was resurrected, he didn’t tell his followers, “And now you get to go to heaven.”  He communicated to them that as King, his subjects (followers) had a job to do:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me (sounds like a King!).  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (sounds like he is giving them a job to do!).”  Matthew 28:18-20

Before Jesus’ resurrection, his followers’ “worldview” was about themselves, personally and nationally.  The resurrected savior and King changed all that for them!  And for me!

Like Copernicus, once the thought occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, the universe didn’t revolve around my getting to heaven, my worldview changed, never to be the same again, for which I am eternally grateful!

Holy Saturday

Mary Magdalen and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid. (Mark 15:47)

For this day, Holy Saturday, Walter Wangerin suggested this message to Mary Magdalen as though it was from God. I want to share it with you all…

Even in your despair, observe the rituals. It is the Sabbath; then let it be the Sabbath after all. Pray your prayers. However hollow and unsatisfying they may feel, God can fill them. God is God, who made the world from nothing—and God as God can still astonish you. He can make of your mouthings a prayer—and of your groanings a hymn. Observe the ritual. Prepare your spices. Return on Sunday, even to this scene of your sorrow, expecting nothing but a corpse, planning nothing but to sigh once more and to pay respects.

One story is done indeed, my Magdalene. You’re right. You’ve entered the dark night of the soul.

But another story—one you cannot conceive of (it’s God who conceives it!)—starts at sunrise. And the empty time between, while sadly you prepare the spices, is in fact preparing you! Soon you will change. Soon you will become that holy conundrum which must baffle and antagonize the world: a saint. Saint Mary Magdalene. “As dying, and behold we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things”—that host of contradictions, the beauty of Spirit, the puzzle of all who know him not, the character of the saints!

Come again on Sunday, Mary, and see how it is that God makes saints. Come, follow.

Wangerin Jr., Walter (1992). Reliving the Passion: Meditations on the Suffering, Death, and the Resurrection of Jesus as Recorded in Mark. (p. 152). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Crucify Him!

It was the early 1970s. I had just begun to seriously follow Jesus. I was toggling over from a simple cognitive belief in Jesus to actually desiring to figure out what it meant to be a follower.

Late one evening, sitting in my living room, I was reading the Gospel of Mark in my new-found JB Phillips New Testament translation. As I read, I found myself immersed in the story – watching and following Jesus’ movements from the periphery. Why was I following Jesus? I couldn’t NOT. There was something about this man.

Reaching Mark 14-15 (the Passion narrative), which I was so familiar with that I didn’t know the story at all, I witnessed Jesus’ capture. I stood outside the High Priest’s house where Jesus was being questioned by the religious leaders. Watching as a bystander, I saw Peter interact with a young woman. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but I could see that he was getting agitated – agitated to the point of cursing at her.

It was dawn. The eastern sky was starting to take on a bluish hue and the roosters were crowing in the distance. A crowd began to gather, asking and wondering what was happening. Suddenly they brought Jesus out of the house and the crowd started to move, so I followed. We ended up in the Praetorium, the common courtyard connected to the palace of the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. I was in the back of the crowd, straining to see and hear what was going on.

Pilate seemed confused. What had this man done? Why had the religious leaders brought Jesus to him? He apparently offered to release either Jesus or Barabbas, who was in jail because he had led a failed insurrection against the Roman government. People around me started to chant Barabbas’ name, they wanted him released. Made sense – he had the guts to act on his nationalistic beliefs. Pilate then hushed the crowed. “What shall I do with Jesus, the so-called king of the Jews?” I could hear some people in the front yell “crucify him.” Then it became a chant. “Crucify him! Crucify him! We have no king but Caesar!” The chant filled the Praetorium courtyard. People around me were chanting, staring at me with a sort of patriotic contempt. Not having the courage to stand my ground, I yelled “Crucify him!”

Suddenly I was aware of my surroundings – my living room with my Phillips New Testament in my hands. I was fully aware that had I been there that day, I would have yelled “Crucify him” because I didn’t have the backbone to stand against the crowd. I suddenly felt like Peter must have felt. And I too, wept bitterly. And for a long time, till I fell asleep.

I woke up the next morning with sadness and a fair amount of self-abasement. I remember the feeling lasted several days. As I kept reading, the crucifixion took on a whole different meaning for me than ever before. I had called for his death. I was part of an insurrection against God’s own son. I would have yelled “crucify him!” I had followed the crowd, inflamed by people with an agenda that didn’t serve God’s purposes – people that had no personal care for or interest in the crowd. That realization increased the sadness and abasement.

A few days later I read the account of Peter’s denial in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 22:54-62), again from the Phillips translation. After Peter’s predicted third denial, the narrative says:

The Lord turned his head and looked straight at Peter…

Prior to my “Crucify him” experience, I think I was a bit judgemental of Peter’s denial. Serious, Peter? Jesus even warned you, yet you still denied him. From that perspective I assumed Jesus’ “look” might have communicated, “This is what I warned you would happen.” Not now. My perspective had changed! I envisioned Jesus’ eyes full of compassion as if to say, “It hurts, Peter, doesn’t it?” Feeling the same compassion, I was able to leave the sadness and self-abasement behind and follow Him anew, for which I will be forever grateful!

A prayer from Walter Wangerin’s Reliving the Passion:

Oh Jesus: you gazed into the hundred hearts amassed before you, thick with fear and fury. Was mine among them? Yes. Mine was among them. I have desired your death in order to preserve my life, my way of life, my fulfillment, and my own control. But you, like me, desired your death too! By a mercy I cannot comprehend, you accepted my evil intent even to save my own life! Well, I am therefore my own no more, but yours – no more an enemy, a friend to you forever. Lord Jesus, how I love you! Amen.

Walking the Talk

We are moving toward the week in Christendom we refer to as Holy Week and/or the Passion Week.  By passion we mean ‘suffer,’ and thus focus on the suffering Jesus experienced leading up to and including his crucifixion.  Assuming I was somewhat alert at 5-6 years old, I have read or heard the passion story every year for 65 years.  In my last posting (Reliving the Passion), I intimated that the passion story might be all-too familiar to us.  I think if we have ears and eyes that are open, we can see and hear this world-changing story anew every time we wander into it.  This year has been no exception for me. 

At Young Life College, we would always joke about our conversations coming full circle each week.  As we read the Gospels, moving into the passion week, it becomes apparent that there is a full-circleness to Jesus’ life, culminating at the cross.  His experiences that last week were opportunities for him to live out what he had been teaching his followers for three years. Some thoughts on that…

Jesus’ ministry started with the temptation to take a shortcut to usher in God’s kingdom, seen in Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels (Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-13).  The devil taunted Jesus with “if you are the Son of God…”  While on the cross, the people (including the chief priests and the elders) taunted him with “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”  Again, the temptation to shortcut the process.  The writers of the gospels often inserted the phrase, “Let the reader understand.”  It seems like Matthew and Luke may have wanted the reader to understand the connection of these two taunts/temptations. 

Jesus’ followers witnessed the admonitions of the Sermon on the Mount played out those last days leading up to and including his crucifixion.  Some examples…

In the Sermon Jesus outlined what prayer of kingdom people might look like (what we call The Lord’s Prayer).  In that prayer he suggested we pray for God’s will to be done and for protection from the evil one and from temptation.  In the garden he asked that the cup might pass, ultimately praying ‘thy will be done.’  And I’m sure throughout the twelve hours of mock trial and beating, there was many a prayer to not succumb to the temptation to do some ‘holy smiting!’

The beatitudes from the Sermon speak of what kingdom living looks like.  Jesus lived that out in front of his followers daily, but it especially showed up during this time.  Blessed are the peacemakers. Jesus told Peter to put his sword away and reminded him that those who live by the sword will die by the sword.

In the Sermon, Jesus told his followers not to resist evil or retaliate when slapped about.  He had the opportunity to ‘practice what he preached’ when mocked and slapped about by both the religious leaders and the representatives of the Roman Empire (Mark 14:65, Matt. 27: 27-31). 

You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden.  No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. (Matt 5:14-15)  The Romans made absolutely sure that crucifixions took place for ALL to see, as a reminder that the same thing could happen to those watching.  On the hill called ‘The Skull,’ Jesus, the light of the world, was hoisted up for all to see!  In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. (Matt 5:16)

I’m sure there are many other examples of Jesus, God’s true Israel (to borrow a phrase from NT Wright), showing and teaching his followers how to live during the first three years of his ministry THEN ‘walking the talk’ those final few days.  I am grateful that every year God has been faithful in helping me look at Holy Week, the week that changed history, in a new light.  This year has been no different.  Thanks be to God!

Reliving the Passion

Each year I look for ways to observe Lent in a more robust manner than simply “giving something up.” This year I am using Walter Wangerin’s Lenten meditations from Reliving the Passion, gleanings from the Gospel of Mark. Wangerin does an amazing job of bringing to life the all-too familiar story of Jesus’ Passion. In bringing it to life, he helps the reader crawl into the story, experiencing the passion and Jesus in new ways.

So, I want to share one of the daily meditations that I found particularly engaging…


Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas.  And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he was wont to do for them. And he answered them, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. (Mark 15:6-11)

Behold the people! Though they think themselves the force of the morning, in charge of things (by virtue of their numbers and their noise), they are in fact being put to a test which shall reveal the truth beneath their words, the reality beneath their self-assumptions and all their pretense.

Behold the nature of the breed!

A crowd has gathered at the Praetorium, a rabble, an obstreperous delegation of Judeans whose presence complicates Pilate’s inclination to release Jesus. These crowds are volatile. Instead of a simple release, then, a choice is offered the people. Let the people feel in charge; let the people decide. The Governor will, according to a traditional Passover amnesty, free one prisoner. Which will it be— Jesus of Nazareth?—whom they have falsely accused of treason against the Empire? Or Barabbas?—treasonous in fact, one who committed murder for the cause?

If they choose the latter, their loyalties to the Empire (which Jesus is supposed to have offended) are revealed a vile sham, and these are no more than temporizing hypocrites, pretending any virtue to satisfy a private end. But the Governor will release only one prisoner. Which will it be?

Jesus—who is the Son of the Father, who is the Kingdom of God come near unto them?

Or Barabbas—whose name means “the son of a (human) father,” flesh itself, the fleshly pretensions to god-like, personal power in the kingdoms of the world?

This, precisely, is the timeless choice of humankind. If they choose the latter, they choose humanity over divinity. They choose one who will harm them over one who would heal them.

If they choose Barabbas, they choose the popular revolutionary hero, the swashbuckler, the pirate, merry Robin Hood, the blood-lusty rake, the law-flout, violence glorified, appetites satisfied, James Bond, Billy Jack, Clint Eastwood, Rambo, the celebrated predator, the one who “turns them on,” over one who asks them to “deny themselves and die.” They choose (voluntarily!) entertainment over worship, self-satisfaction over sacrificial love, getting things over giving things, being served over serving, “feeling good about myself” and having it all and gaining the whole world and rubbing elbows with the rich rather than rubbing the wounds of the poor—

The choice is before them. And they think the choice is external, this man or that man. In fact, the choice is terribly internal: this nature or that one, good folks or people essentially selfish and evil, therefore. It’s an accurate test of their character. How they choose is who they are.

Behold a people in desperate need of forgiveness.

And this, Christ, is the stunning irony: that their evil was made good in you! You knew our nature as children of wrath; you knew exactly how we would choose; you put yourself in harm’s way that our sin might kill you, that your death might redeem us even from our sinful nature! Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, and I grow dizzy thinking about it. All that I can say with certainty, but with everlasting gratitude, is — Amen.


Wangerin, W. (1992). Reliving the passion: Meditations on the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus as recorded in Mark. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Pub. House., The 24th day.

Get Used to Different

If you haven’t watched The Chosen yet, I highly recommend it. The developers of the project hoped to create a “binge-worthy” series and they seem to have accomplished their intent. I had a fever several weeks ago, was self-quarantined for a few days, and I binge-watched the entire first season (eight episodes). It is well done! They really do a good job of depicting the humanity of Jesus as well as his likely interactions with the people, especially his followers.

The creators did an especially nice job of surmising the interactions between the disciples themselves. Of particular interest was the interplay of the fishermen (Simon, Andrew, James, and John) with Matthew (Levi), the Israelite, turned traitor, tax collector for the occupying Romans. There was no love loss. When Jesus invited Matthew to follow him, Simon questioned the action, “What are you doing? Do you have any idea what this guy has done?” Simon, after reminding Jesus what this guy was a tax collector, said, “I don’t get it” to which Jesus responded, “You didn’t get it when I chose you, either.” Simon’s response: “But this is different. He’s a tax collector.” Jesus’ retort has become my favorite line in the series so far – “Get used to different.”

I want this shirt!!

Get used to different – an understatement to say the least. As I read through the gospels, I try to imagine what was going through the minds of those first-century followers. Almost everything Jesus did and said was different. I picture them huddled together, collectively trying to make sense of what was happening.

I recently read Luke’s account of Jesus calming the storm prior to a visit to the Gentile region on the East side of the Sea of Galilee (Luke 8:22-39). To this point, the disciples suspected they might be following the Messiah, the anointed one of God that would rescue the nation of Israel from the Roman Gentile dogs. But Jesus seemed to do things differently than they expected of a messiah and the trip across the lake didn’t ease their confusion. When Jesus said, “Let’s go across to the other side of the lake,” I could picture the disciples discussing among themselves, “Serious? The other side? That’s Gentile country. They are different over there.” Get used to different!

As they crossed the lake (about the size of Lake Mille Lacs in Minnesota), Jesus fell asleep and a storm blew in. After being abruptly awakened by the disciples, Jesus calmed the raging storm and they continued their journey across the lake. Though the disciples marveled at what they had just witnessed, it left them fearfully asking, “Who then is this…?” We think he might be the Messiah, but messiahs don’t calm storms. Messiahs position themselves to overthrow pagan kingdoms. This is different. Get used to different!

Landing on the the other side of the lake, Jesus and his disciples were immediately met by a naked man who lived among the tombs and was possessed by a Legion of demons (Who, by the way, knew exactly who Jesus was – “Son of the Most High God.”). Cleanliness was core to the first century Jewish religious customs. What we see in this narrative is uncleanliness at every turn – an unclean (naked) man, with unclean spirits who lived among unclean tombs in an unclean territory where they raised unclean hogs. Any respectable rabbi (and presumably a messiah) would have gotten back in the boat and left. I picture the disciples huddled on the shoreline next to the boat, again asking “Who then is this…? This is really different than we expected.” Get used to different! *

In what ways might we need to get used to different? As Christ followers, I think we need to be OK with different. I think we need to learn to expect different. In fact, as Christ-followers, I suspect that God wants us to step into different. The late Howard Hendricks used to suggest that we should always be involved in something that stretches our thinking and comfort – something different than we are used to. Different drives us to God and causes us to rely on the Holy Spirit. Different leads to transformation. If we are serious about following Jesus, I suspect we need to…

Get Used to Different!

* If you know the story, you know that Jesus drove the legion of demons from the man. Jesus was not defiled by the unclean man in his unclean setting. Instead “the holy contagion of Jesus rescued and transformed the man,” borrowing from Jim Edwards (Edwards, J. R. (2015). The gospel according to Luke, p. 249).