Posted in Grace

Street corner violinist

As I left Starbucks this afternoon, I heard accompanied violin music. A man was playing some new age-ish much on the corner of the driveway. I stopped to listen, and then stepped in to take a picture.

As I did, a man stepped up to talk to me. I remember seeing him inside Starbucks. He had an earbud and an ugly polo shirt. He said, “Did you take a picture of that guy?”

I admitted, “Yes.”

He said, “I’ve been watching him for two days. He’s been out here every day. I figure he’s making $30 an hour. He’s not homeless. Just out there taking advantage of people.”

I said, “Oh. I didn’t know.”

Honestly, I was going to put a few dollars in his box. Just like I would do for anyone busking. Just like I hope someone would do for me one day when I am playing my guitar somewhere.

I got in my truck and drove away. But I thought, “Can’t I throw a few bucks to a musician on a street corner without feeling guilty?” So what if he’s not homeless? He’s pretty good. He might play a request. He might have a family. At least he is doing something.

Posted in 2022 Lent Devotions

First thing in the morning

Bonus “Mirror of the Passion” devotion for Easter Sunday. Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. (Luke 24:1)

It’s early. It’s still dark. But I’m awake. I always wake up five minutes before my alarm. It’s how I’m wired, I guess. I might as well get up. My routine: feed Samson (my dog), start the coffee maker, walk the dog, pour a cup of coffee, grab my bible, journal and a pen. It’s time to find out what Jesus has to say today.

That’s right, he’s already up. His word is active and alive. It will easily cut through joints and marrow and speak to my heart. It might be something I’ve heard a hundred times before. It might be something I’ve never thought about before. It might be a promise I’ll need to get through the day. Or it might be one I can pass along to someone else.

Jesus is up before the women who went to the tomb. He is risen, the stone’s rolled away, the guards have fainted, and the tomb is empty (except for the linen). Maybe they can return those spices for store credit.

If you ever think you’ve go it all figured out, just remember Easter. Nothing went as expected. Yet it turned out better than anyone could have imagined! Add a bit of Easter to your daily routine and you’ll never be bored.

He is risen; he is risen, indeed! Hallelujah!

Posted in 2022 Lent Devotions

The stone

“Mirror of the Passion” devotion for April 16, 2020. Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

And Joseph rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. (Matthew 27:60)

Impressive. All the art work I’ve seen shows the stone in front of the tomb as at least a thousand pound hunk of rock. Joseph rolled it there? Whoa, this guy’s in better shape than me.

The stone was meant to keep people out, right? Or was it to keep Jesus in? All of the above? I don’t know.

All we know is that the stone was in place on Saturday. On Friday it was open, til they laid the body of Jesus there. On Sunday, when the women showed up, the stone had been rolled away. On Saturday, the stone was doing its job, sealing up the entrance to the tomb.

How do you respond to a locked door? Walk away? Look for another way in? Jiggle the doorknob, hoping it will somehow open? Check the windows? Do you accept the reality? Or look for an alternative?

Saturday is one of those days. It feels like nothing is going to happen. It’s a done deal. Your hopes and dreams aren’t going anywhere. Monday will come soon enough. Back to the routine. Same old same old.

If they only knew. If they only knew what was happening behind that stone. If they only remembered Jesus’ words about resurrection and life. If they only knew what was happening in the dark. If they only saw the scene in hell. If they only knew what the women would find on Sunday morning.

We don’t know what’s happening behind the stone walls, behind the scenes, behind what seems to be unmovable obstacles in our lives. These are places we cannot go. But these are the places where the most important things are happening.

Just wait til Sunday morning. Just wait til the sun comes up. Just wait til you wake up. The biggest, unmovable assumptions of your life won’t be a problem any more.

That’s the power of resurrection.

So maybe this is Saturday. Maybe you’re stuck. Maybe you have no place to go. There is a big rock in the way. Maybe there is nothing you can do. Just wait. The sun will set. The sun will rise. And it will be a new day. It will be Sunday. And all of those worries will fade like the morning dew.

I’ll wait, Lord. I know the new day is just a few moments away.

Posted in 2022 Lent Devotions

Take care of my mom

“Mirror of the Passion” Lent devotion for April 15, 2022. Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. (John 19:26-27)

The dying often worry about those they will be leaving behind. Those left behind have to assure them, “I’ll be fine.”

This is on Jesus’ mind as his moment of death approaches. His mother, Mary, is there at Golgotha, along with John, “disciple whom he loved.” From the cross Jesus says, “John’s going to take care of you now,” and then, “Take good care of mom for me, John.” The gospels don’t mention Joseph after he and Mary find the twelve year old Jesus in the temple. That was about twenty years ago. I guess he’s not around anymore.

Mary was entrusted with the honor and responsibility of giving birth to the Christ and taking care of him as he grew up in Nazareth. She fed him, taught him how to walk and talk, and raised him in the Jewish faith. I’m there were many moments when she told Jesus to be careful, have a good day, and be home in time for supper as he headed out the door.

How we take for granted those who spent so much time taking care of us when we were growing up. When you have kids of your own, though, you become aware of what it takes to have a little one dependent upon you. You begin to understand and appreciate those who prayed for you each night, took you all those places you needed to go, and watched to see what kind of man or woman you would become. And when you wanted to go off on your own, they struggled to let you go. They just wanted to hug you forever!

The mother of our Lord knew she couldn’t hold on to her son forever. She knew why he had come. She knew his hour had come. She knew it was time to let him go. But it wasn’t easy. Not here, at the cross, at Golgotha.

I wonder how often someone asked, “Hey, Jesus, is there anything I can help you with? Anything I can get for you?” The Jesus we get to know in the gospels is low maintenance. He didn’t need much and didn’t ask for much. Just some water at a well in Samaria. A few figs from a tree. And now, “Do me a favor. Take care of my mom.”

Thanks for everyone who has and will take care of me. Amen.

Posted in 2022 Lent Devotions

Copycat

“Mirror of the Passion” Lent devotion for April 14. 2022. Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34)

In Latin, that verse begins mandatum novum do vobis. We’d call it a “mandate.” A command. An order. Jesus gives his disciples this command on Thursday night, which we call Maundy Thursday, after he has washed their feet. This is more than “I really want you to,” or “You really should,” or “I hope you will,” or “Why don’t you give it a try.” This is mandatory.

We’ve mastered many “one anothers.” We’re jealous of one another, annoyed with one another, upset with one another, and tired of one another. We envy one another, irritate one another, ignore one another, and anger one another. Love one another? That is something new and novel.

This mandate goes beyond tolerating one another, accepting one another, and being kind to one another. Jesus’ love was sacrificial. He gave his life for us without expecting anything in return. This is his definition of love. You pour out your life. You pour yourself into someone else. It’s one way. It flows out of you. There’s nothing in it for you. You get no return on your investment. And did I mention, this is mandatory.

My definition of love is usually different than his. I tend to love those who do things for me. I love those who are attractive. I love those who give me gifts. (I really enjoy food gifts.) I love people who are nice to me. I love folks who are lovable. Bottom line: I love those who love me.

Jesus reminds us that anyone can do that. Anyone can love someone who first loves them. Anyone can do that with their eyes closed and one hand tied behind their back. If you want to stand out, you love like Jesus. If you want to love like Jesus, you have to get to know him. And when you get to know him, you are overwhelmed by his love.

So what do I do with this command, this order, this mandate? Well, if I want to imitate someone, I am going to watch them, study their every move, and do everything they do. I would go to every performance I could, watch videos, and listen to their recordings over and over again. I would practice, practice, practice. Of course, I wouldn’t get it right the first time. Or the second. Or the thirty-fifth time. I would practice in front of a mirror. I would get someone to watch and listen to me, and then tell me how I was doing. In time, I would get better and better.

I think that’s what Jesus meant when he invited a few to follow him. Watch. Listen. Learn. And imitate. Be a copycat.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, than to love like Jesus is the highest form of worship.

When I grow up Lord, I want to be like you.

Posted in 2022 Lent Devotions

Sneaking around

“Mirror of the passion” Lent devotion for April 13, 2022. Photo by Structuro on Pixabay.com.

Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him. (Matthew 26:14-16)

I was today years old when I discovered that “Spy Wednesday” was a thing. In some traditions, it’s a day of fasting and worship. I don’t ever remember paying much attention to this day.

We’re not quite at Thursday’s Passover meal. Jesus has already wreaked havoc with the temple vendors and teachers. In between, the chief priests and elders are stealthily plotting to arrest and kill Jesus (Matt. 26:3). To help them, they have someone on the inside, one of the twelve, Judas. With some change jingling in his pocked, he’s looking for just the right moment to hand Jesus over to them.

So there’s a lot of sneaking around going on. Jesus may have been teaching every day in the temple, but he left Jerusalem and spent his nights on the mount of Olives. Since it’s Passover, the city is filled with more people than usual. It’s going to be tough to find and arrest Jesus apart from the crowds.

Jesus knows exactly what’s going on. They can be as sneaky as they want, but he’s already told the disciples that he would be betrayed. He knows Judas is a double agent. He knows he won’t have long to pray once they get to Gethsemane on Thursday.

I remember having all kinds of pretending to be a spy. I made a periscope from an old quart milk container to see around corners. A friend and I would wire up bell wire, batteries, and light bulbs to send Morse code messages to each other. From high in a backyard tree, we could see what was going on in the neighborhood using my dad’s binoculars. We encrypted secret messages to each other with simple substitution cyphers. We listened in on conversations through the AC vents in the house.

Now I like to eavesdrop on people in coffee shops. I’ve listened in on sales pitches, job interviews, bible studies, and employee reviews while innocently enjoying a latte. I am amazed what I can learn about a complete stranger from a few seats away. It’s not hard to see someone enter their PIN on a keypad, either. (I try not to do that too often.)

When do you find yourself sneaking around? How about when you eat food you don’t want someone see you eating? Hiding the candy wrapper under other trash so no one knows? If someone asks, “What are you eating?” you mumble “muhphen” with stuffed cheeks. You never weigh yourself when someone else is looking, do you? Ever buy something with cash so it doesn’t show up on the bank statement? Have you ever seen someone at the store, but ducked down an aisle before they saw you so you wouldn’t have to talk to them?

Why are we sometimes so secretive? Because we’re afraid. We’re afraid someone will find out.

Guess what? He sees. He knows. He loves. He forgives.

That’s it, Jesus. I’m not sneaking around any more.

Posted in 2022 Lent Devotions

Teaching Tuesday

“Mirror of the Passion” Lent devotion for April 12, 2022. Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

Jesus was teaching daily in the temple. (Luke 19:47)

Tuesday of holy week is often called teaching Tuesday or tricky-question Tuesday. The religious leaders tried to trip up Jesus with questions about taxes and marriage after the resurrection. This is the day Jesus taught about the end times, told important parables about his coming, and came down hard on the Pharisees who were in it for their own glory, not God’s. Jesus knows the timeline. He’s not pulling any punches in these last few days of his life.

Jesus was clearly into teaching. Some addressed him as “Teacher.” So that would mean we are the students. He could call us “Class” right?

That’s the way it should be. However, I’ve certainly heard a lot of tricky questions over the years. They usually go something like this:

  • So if some guy lives on a deserted island all by himself for his whole life and never gets to hear about Jesus and believe in him, does that mean that he’s going to hell?
  • If Genghis Khan, Jack the Ripper, Sam Berkowitz, Jeffrey Dahmer, or Adolf Hitler repented at the last minute before their death and believed in Jesus, would they go to heaven?
  • If your family is starving and you can’t get a job and you steal some food, is that a sin?
  • What happens if someone kills themself? They have murdered, but they can’t repent. Are they automatically condemned?

Books have been written about such questions for generations. Trust me, they are way above my pay grade. And yours. It’s not our job to distinguish the sheep from the goats. You and I don’t get to decide who gets kicked out of the banquet. Jesus said, “Don’t go and pull up all the weeds. You’ll destroy the wheat.”

A better question is, “Is he still the Teacher?” If your answer is, “Yes,” then the next question is, “Are you still learning?” If you’ve got questions, you obviously don’t know everything. Are you taking some time each day, with his word open in front of you, letting the Spirit teach you and remind you of his promises? When’t the last time you attended a bible class at your church? When’s the last time you taught a class? (Remember, the teacher always learns more than the students.) What questions (yes, even the ones I’ve mentioned) have you brought to him in prayer?

One sign of spiritual maturity is admitting there’s a lot you don’t know and you’ve got so much to learn.

If it’s been a while, start slow. Start on Tuesdays. Teaching Tuesday. The Teacher is in.

Lord, I have a question. Or two.

Posted in 2022 Lent Devotions

Get out of here!

“Mirror of the Passion” Lent devotion for April 11, 2022. Photo by Harry Gillen on Unsplash

And Jesus entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.” (Luke 19:45-46)

After Solomon built the first temple in Jerusalem, one of the highlights of the dedication was his prayer. He knew that God couldn’t be kept in a box, even one the size of the temple. But the temple reminded people that God would hear their prayers and respond with grace.

By the time of Jesus, the temple had been destroyed, rebuilt, and enhanced. Currency exchange and livestock sales drowned out the prayers of God’s people. What a zoo – literally!

It drove Jesus nuts. “Not in my house!” He tipped tables, threw chairs, and chased everyone out, both man and beast. “My house shall be a house of prayer.”

Just imagine you’ve finally gotten to Jerusalem. Just like last year, you lined up at the temple to buy a couple of pigeons to bring to the priest for your sacrifice. You’ve done this every year for as long as you can remember. Just before it’s your turn to make a purchase, a man cuts in line, starts pushing people around and throwing furniture. You say, “Hey, what’s your problem? I would have let you go first. Calm down. All you had to do was ask.”

Or, you’ve got your little table set up at the temple. You’ve only got a few goats to sell this year. They’ll go quickly. “How can I help you, sir? Hey, take it easy, you’re gonna hurt someone! Those are my goats!”

It’s crazy. Jesus must be out of his mind. But you know what? If you showed up at your house and saw a guy selling tacos from a truck in your driveway, you’d lose it too. “What’s the matter, mister? Don’t you like tacos?” That’s not the point. This is my house. Get out here! I’d be throwing chips and salsa around too!

For some reason, we allow religion to become transactional. We come to church with an offering in exchange for a rite or ceremony. It breaks my heart when someone asks, “How much would it cost to have my child baptized?”

I think that’s how Jesus felt. His heart was broken. He was in Jerusalem to pick up the tab for sin. And these folks were cutting into his business.

Not in my house.

I’m just here to pray, Lord.

Posted in 2022 Lent Devotions

The real celebration

“Mirror of the Passion” Lent devotion for April 10, 2022. Photo by Jason Dent on Unsplash

For this last week of devotions, I’m going to think about what happened each day of holy week and what it might have been like to be there with Jesus.

And [two of the disciples] brought [the colt] to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road. As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” (Luke 23:35-39)

What an exciting day! It’s Sunday, and the crowd hails Jesus as the conquering hero and their next king. Hundreds of years ago Solomon had ridden into the city in the same way, to assume the throne of his father David. Unfortunately, the celebration is premature. You can watch plenty of running and cycling races where the front runner relaxes as he or she nears the finish line, only to be passed by another who wins the race. This is not Jesus’ ticker-tape parade. By the end of the week, the powers of darkness will appear to have won. Jesus’ victory is still a week away.

I wonder if I would have been among those rejoicing and praising God. Or would I be one of those telling the disciples to keep it down? If there is loud music coming from down the street, do you crash the party or call the police to complain about the noise.

About half a year ago, a crew of roofers from Mexico was finishing the roof on a new house on our street. For most of the day, we could hear their music, and it made me want to stretch out on a lawn chair with a cool drink and pretend I was on a cruise. About a month ago, the family across the street must have been testing out some big speakers, blaring some kind of Eastern European music from the garage. They were outside dancing, while I wondered how long this song would last.

While Jesus is truly worthy of all honor and praise, I think he likes cheering us on. “Be bold and courageous!” “Don’t be afraid.” “You can do it!” (“Nothing will be impossible for you.) “Well done!”

There is a lot of joy in heaven when someone turns to Christ in faith. The shepherd who found his sheep, the woman who found her coin, and the father who welcomed his son home had to celebrate (Luke 15). That’s the real celebration!

Thanks for all the encouragement, Lord.