Heavenly Thinking

Another place filled in heaven. Just this past week a dear friend’s journey of pain ended as he took his last breath of earthly air and entered the welcoming arms of his Savior. “Why” questions have now been answered. When enveloped in the reassuring arms of Jesus, such questions disappear into nothingness. What could we possibly wonder about when our deepest longings have been satisfied?

Recently I read about a man whose relationship with Jesus was so personal that friends and family said heaven wouldn’t be a surprise since he had developed such an intimate walk with his Lord here on earth. What would that be like? Perhaps it is living each moment so focused on Christ that he is my automatic “default” setting. When my mind swirls with the practical activities of the day, he is as near as my thoughts. When I wonder if the pay check will last, “don’t worry about tomorrow” slips in to bring settled peace. When irritations with others pluck at my peace, he gently asks me to set aside my perceived privileges, taking on the real privileges of servanthood. When I sorrow over our friend’s death, his voice whispers, “I too wept when my friend died.”

But just as with any other discipline, these responses need to be practiced. Perhaps I need to set the timer every hour to remind me to specifically turn my eyes upon Jesus. Or maybe wear a bracelet so my attention is caught as I see or feel the beads. Or maybe notes on my desk, near the phone and on the kitchen counter with just the word “Jesus” written on them.

“Be still and know that I am God.” Such stilling, such knowing is not merely a weekly or monthly practice. If the hourly habit is being formed, then when news comes, when tears flow, when storms shatter, I will be still. I have practiced the knowing with my head and it is penetrating into my heart. I will be learning to increasingly think like Jesus, who “because he never lost sight of where he was headed–that exhilarating finish in and with God–he could put up with anything along the way…”* Heavenly thinking will become my earthly habit.

* Hebrews 12:2 (The Message)


It’s Just the Beginning

GOEaster has come. And gone. New clothes are back in the closet. Dinner leftovers are packed into the refrigerator. It’s back to business as usual.

Or is it? What happened on “Easter Monday”—and the following forty days—in the lives of those early followers of Jesus? John had entered the empty tomb; he believed but didn’t yet understand. Thomas needed physical proof. The women (whose resurrection story the disciples at first dismissed as mere female hysteria) returned to household duties. Or did they too set out on the 70-mile trek in response to the resurrected Jesus’ “meet me in Galilee” command? When the troupe faithfully and fearfully got there, Peter and six other disciples went fishing, perhaps in confusion, maybe in resignation.

Their faith had been bruised and battered, but Jesus had said that faith even as small as a mustard seed would produce miraculous results. Maybe, just maybe…

Jesus wasn’t finished with them. He too made the trek to Galilee. He needed to tell his friends “the rest of the story.” His purpose for coming, for living, for dying, for living again didn’t end on that first day of the week. Peter needed to hear that a lifelong ministry lay ahead. Matthew writes that the eleven who obeyed Jesus’ command to meet up with him in Galilee “worshiped him.” And in an oh, so human editorial comment, Matthew adds, “but some doubted.”

But it was to these doubters, to the ones tempted to return to the safety of fishing, to the betrayers, to the weak—to us—that Jesus gives a final command: Jesus, undeterred (by their doubt), went right ahead and gave his charge: “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 The Message)

Easter is just the beginning. Maybe your mustard seed faith is dry and shriveled. Maybe you doubt. Maybe you’d like to retreat to the comfort zone of fishing, or any other activity that requires no risk, no danger, no disappointment. Jesus says, “Easter is only the beginning. Now it’s time to go. And as you go—day after day after day—I’m with you.”

Holy Week

Holy WeekWhat makes this week more holy than any other week of the year? In our increasingly secularized cultures, to set aside an entire week to focus our minds on the events of Jesus’ last week before the cross seems excessive or even morbid. Why not just go from everyday living to the glory of Easter? After all, isn’t his resurrection our faith’s foundation?

All who have experienced soul-ripping grief at the death of a loved one would agree that time seems to stop at the sighing last breath. Nights are endless, days drag like boulders pulled by a plow. The final goodbye produces its own unutterable pain, but the days between death and funeral and burial—though filled with practical details—seem hours longer than the actual twenty-four.  As we endure, and perhaps dread, the public acts of farewell, there is the incongruous something within that cries to “just get it over with.”

Could this be similar to why we joyfully anticipate the glory of Easter Sunday but do our best to ignore—or at the very least de-emphasize—the emotionally-draining events of Holy Week? To shop for colorful spring clothing is far more satisfying than symbolically wrapping a rough towel around our waists to humbly serve others as Jesus did at the washing of feet.  What joy in preparation for a sumptuous Easter Sunday family reunion meal while how meager—and heart-rending—to contemplate the meaning of the bread, wine and bitter herbs that Jesus and his friends ate just before going out to the Mount of Olives. Triumphant is the music of “Christ, the Lord, Is Risen Today.” Somber are the notes of Braham’s Requiem.

New clothes, good food with friends and family and uplifting music are all rightful celebrations of the resurrection, what the Apostle Paul preaches as the bedrock of our faith. But I believe our Easter joy would burst with new meaning if we first took the time and concerted effort to walk thoughtfully through Jesus’ last days, if we pondered the emotional depths of Jesus during that Thursday, final meal with his friends, if we asked God to let us more deeply glimpse his agony of relinquishment in Gethsemane, if we wept over his human cry, “I am thirsty.”

Many churches practice what is known as the Easter Vigil where individuals gather in the darkness of Saturday night to read scripture and contemplate the sadness that surrounded Jesus’ followers after his death and burial, a darkness that represents all the meanings of darkness: hidden and secret sins, the darkness of the world and of our hearts. At a point soon after midnight, one candle is lit to symbolize Christ’s resurrection and worshipers light their own small candles from the larger one. Those who have participated in such a service of remembrance and celebration relate how their view of Easter has been forever changed.

While this vigil may not be practical or possible for all, let me encourage you to not avoid the pain of walking with Jesus through the days between Palm Sunday and Easter. I assure you that the sunrise of Easter will never be more glorious!


(If you enjoy allegories, narratives in the style of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, find a copy of Calvin Miller’s The Singer and walk through the week with fresh eyes.)

A New Kind of Walking

FootstepsBlessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly…

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked…

Oh, the joys of those who do not follow evil men’s advice…

Perhaps you, like myself, are familiar with the opening words of the first Psalm. Over the years I’ve heard many sermons on the words of the poet. Everything from “don’t go where you wouldn’t want to take Jesus” to “be careful with whom you associate.” That first warning I now disavow, especially when I look into the life of Jesus and see the places he went. Hebrew weddings were raucous with free flowing wine and he seemed quite relaxed. Even refilling the wine casks when the supply was running low. And then there was the dinner party where a female boldly interrupted the proceedings, probably between the appetizer and entrée just when the hostess thought she had everything well managed. I love the ways various translators describe the woman: from “a woman who lived a sinful life” to “the town harlot” to “an especially wicked woman”! And Jesus seemed not the least bit surprised nor bothered; in fact, he used the occasion to forcefully confront what we might call the mere appearance of religion.

So what could be a pragmatic application of the psalmist’s words? I was struck by how Dr. Dallas Willard describes what it means to walk in the counsel of the ungodly: It is just (talking) the way most people talk. It is to live as if it matters what people think of you. To live as if the outcomes of your life are on your shoulders and you control them. It is to live as if aging is something to worry about. It is to live as if satisfying your desires and appetites is central to your well-being and a wise strategy for living.*

Quite simply, Willard says that walking in the counsel of the ungodly is living just like those who do not have a God-ordained spiritual destiny, are not representatives of the Kingdom of God, do not march to a different Drummer. It’s in the everyday things that we live radically different from the world around us. We refuse to joke about ethnic differences. My first response to the person asking for help at the intersection is compassion, not judgment. We not only generously give of our time and goods but celebrate—and seek more!—opportunities to do so. Instead of kicking the Christian brother or sister who has fallen, I weep and pray and offer my friendship.

I don’t know about you, but I have a long way to go in this kind of walking. In Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of this psalm, he describes the one who’s made progress: You thrill to God’s Word, you chew on scripture day and night. You’re a tree replanted in Eden, bearing fresh fruit every month, never dropping a leaf, always in blossom.

This old psalm is becoming new.

*Living in Christ’s Presence; InterVarsity Press, 2014