Aren’t You Tired? {Listening to the Beatitudes: Part 3}

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“Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.” ~Matthew 5:5 “Aren’t you tired?” Three simple words cutting through our humanity.  We labor and strive for a way of life, and grow thoroughly exhausted.  Miss Hilly Hollbrook knew all … Continue reading

Too Big for Your Own Britches {A Leadership Antidote for Pride}

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“And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment,either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.” ~Deuteronomy16:18-20 Someone’s got to be in charge, right?  I’ve watched this unfold thousands of times with children at play.  Put three children in a room and the leadership vacuum … Continue reading

How Humiliating

I can’t stop thinking about Lazarus…you know, the dead, stinky guy.  (If you don’t, you can read about him in John 11.)

I can’t stop thinking about what it must have been like for Lazarus—to be the dead, stinky guy.

To be the guy that was sick…and called upon the Lord for healing, only to receive in reply a “Please leave a message at the beep.”

To be the guy who in his weakest moment would serve as an example of another’s greater power.

To be the guy whose stinky condition needed to be wrapped up and hidden away.

To be the guy whose hope was gone…whose time was up.

It must have been humiliating.

I can relate to the disappointment that his two sisters experienced, and him, when Jesus didn’t come and do what Jesus is supposed to do.

I wonder if Mary felt she had wasted her perfume on Jesus.  I probably would have let the thought cross my mind if He disappointed me so.

Were they all mistaken about Jesus’ sentiments for the Favored Family of Bethany?   Because that’s the whole point of having “family connections” with Jesus, right?  He’s supposed to rush in at just the right moment and with one brush of His Superman cape He will make everything okay.

Instead, all their family connections got them were disappointment…

Loss…

Grief…

And Lazarus got a stinkin’ four day nap.

It must have been so humiliating.

That is until the dead, stinky guy heard the voice, “Lazarus, come forth.”

Really?  Now?  Why so  late?

I have to think Lazarus was a bit bashful, maybe embarrassed, about coming out of that tomb.  He’s covered in four-day-old grave wrappings and probably a terrible case of bed head.  Good thing it wasn’t one of the sisters, because no woman would ever be caught walking out to get the morning newspaper, let alone to be the morning headlines, looking like that!

The sisters are terrified at just the thought of the tombstone being opened and the family stench getting lose.  Last time we met Martha she was worried about the lunch not being so-so and now Jesus is pulling corpses out of the closet!  It’s her worse nightmare.  The whole town will be a buzz with this circus event.  Will this ordeal ever end?

How humiliating.

Yet the text tells us, “The man who had died came forth, bound  hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth.”

Here’s the point I think we all see in the death and life of Lazarus that we are so apt to overlook in our lives:

Humility is required to walk into the new life to which Jesus calls us. 

Lazarus wasn’t going to get cleaned up until he came out.  Either will you.  Either will I.

Don’t you find that often we would rather let death hang in the air than to take the humble steps of receiving life from someone else?  We’re so afraid to reveal our true condition that we’ll hide as the dead, stinky guy rather than just say, “I’m sorry.”  “I was wrong.”  “I need a second chance.”   “I need you to help take these wrappings of death off of me—they are squeezing the life out of me!”

New life doesn’t come until you step out of the grave clothes of the old, disappointing, stinky life.

Too many of us cling to the Monty Python line, “I’m not dead yet!”  Well, in fact, you are…but you don’t have to stay that way.

Come out.  Humble yourself.  Come out and live.

“Jesus said, I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in Me will live even if he dies.”

~John 11:25

Unless: Remembering There are Worse Things than Failure

He gave up 11 runs in the first inning.  When the coaches moved him to the outfield, he dropped a ball and somehow managed to kick the ball behind him.  It might have been the worst outing of baseball I’ve witnessed in a long time.

For a parent, sitting in the stands and watching your child fail…publicly…is excruciating.  You want to rescue.  Find a good excuse.  Twinkle your nose and make yourself…and your child…disappear.

Unless…

You woke up that morning with uncertainty about the state of that same child’s health.  On Monday, my energetic sixteen year old sent me a text from school that read, “My heart is really hurting.”  I wanted to write back, “Mine just stopped.”  Three hours later we had good reports from the doctor about his tests, but a visit with the Cardiologist was needed.  Having a family history including a heart disorder and a cousin who died at a young age, the two-day wait for the next appointment seemed like eternity.  Aren’t these the kinds of things that are supposed to happen to other people?  Can’t we just go back to yelling at him about missed homework and a messy bedroom?

Sitting in the baseball stands today after more good news from the Cardiologist (although we’ll still need to wait for the genetic testing to be completely sure), I realized failure is a beautiful gift.  If you’re out on the field playing the game it’s because you’re still living.  You have life in you.  “Thank you, Lord, that my son has the ability to not throw hardly a single strike–but he can throw.”  “Thank you, Lord, that he has the ability to try to yet miss catching that ball.”  “And yes, Lord, thank you for giving him the ability and the encouragement to smack that last at bat into the outfield for a good solid hit.”  “Thank you, Lord, for his life.”

Sometimes you need a week like this to put everything in perspective.  Failure is not the worst thing that can happen.  Being unable to try; unable to risk failure…that is far worse.

Go live.  Fail.  Give thanks that you can.

Maundy Thursday: Greatness Bends

Maundy Thursday.  It’s the Church’s remembrance of the last will and testament of Christ–the washing of others’ feet and the necessity of His cup and bread.  ‘Maundy’ is Latin for ‘commandment,’  so today is supposed to be more than just a memory to examine.  It is a call to action from the red letters, “For I gave you an example to that you should do as I did to you” John 13:15.

The idea of foot washing is foreign to us, unless you’re paying to get your toes painted pink.  First Century Jerusalem was dirty and transportation was done on foot.  By the end of a long day, the feet would be caked with wear and tear.  Since dinner was eaten in a reclining position, a host would provide a courtesy wash for the members of his table.  Foot washing was an unglamorous necessity and a duty performed by the lowest level house servant who had no other choice than to obey his master’s commands.  Yet on this occasion, no servant was present.  Who would take the initiative to do the dirty work?

Jesus washing dirty feet.  The words don’t seem like they should all be in the same sentence together.  They sound so undignified, so degrading.  By this time in His life, the disciples had seen Him turn water into wine, heal the unheal-able, calm the storms, and feed the masses.  While a complete understanding of who He was might still have been cloaked by their simplicity, they knew that whoever He was, He was in the category of greatness. 

“Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands and He come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself.  Then He poured water into the basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded”  John 13:3-5.

Greatness bends.  Love can’t adequately love from a lofty place.  It lowers itself.  It lays aside position, power, and preeminence.  It resists pride’s inclinations.  Love humbles itself to meet the needs of others. 

The commandment is for us to do the same.  “If I then, the Lord and Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” John 13:14.

No true disciple is exempt from the commandment.  If we call Christ ‘Lord,’ we are going to take up the towel of His humility.  Not in washing tables.  Not in rallying the masses.  Rather, in being humble in the relationships with those who sit around our table–the annoying, the inept, the mistake-prone, and yes, even the betrayers.  The commandment calls us to the deeper places where real transformation takes place–for both the servant and the served.

This last commandment of Jesus reminds us people are messy.  Often, their feet isn’t all that stinks.  They are going to need frequent cleaning up.  You are going to have to gird yourself for a lot of dirty work. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him” John 13:16.

Who is “around your table” who needs to be transformed by your humility?  Don’t deceive yourself, there is someone and the command is for you to wash their feet.  I know.  They probably are difficult, and prickly, and easier left alone.  Pick up your towel today.   Don’t wait!  Bend and serve them.  True greatness bends.

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.  It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of  Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” Matthew 20:25-28.

There Are Days…

Do you ever find that there are days that seemed filled with more than your share of allowable errors? 

Yesterday I was more mistake-prone than usual.  I overslept.  I had an editing fail.  I spoke some careless words.   I forgot to pick up my boy at baseball…causing the hubs to miss a business dinner.  I arrived home to a messy house filled with grumpiness.  It was an epic fail day.

Instead of going from “strength to strength,” I seemed to be on one slow ride swirling around the drain of humanity.

Humans fail.  It’s a reality we try so hard to avoid. 

I don’t know why we are so reality-resistant about our humanity.  Pride.  Insecurity.  Fear of others.    Maybe the need to measure up gives us a false sense of security that we won’t be swallowed up…by other’s expectations or criticisms, or overlooked, or worst of all, found unworthy. 

There are days when I think we’re all just trying too hard.  Doing too many things to prove we’ve got what it takes. 

There are days when the failures–be they big or small–are just reminders that I haven’t yet surrendered to humility.  I haven’t yet embraced the virtue of being poor in spirit.  No, the poor in spirit have nothing of their own accounting.  They have reached into the depths of their performance pockets and pulled out nothing.  They are desperately dependant on the riches of another.  They’ve come to the end of themselves–and their own kingdom building–and have surrendered to One whose riches are not conditioned on their perfected accomplishments.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God”  Matthew 5:3.

There are days when that has to be enough. 

What will you need to surrender today in order to let it be enough for you?

Advent: Of True Greatness

“Infant Holy, Infant Lowly”

Infant holy, Infant lowly,

For His bed–a cattle stall;

Oxen lowing, little knowing

Christ the Babe, is Lord of all.

Swift are winging angels singing,

Noels ringing, tidings bringing:

Christ, the Babe, is Lord of all!

Christ, the Babe, is Lord of all!

Flocks were sleeping; shepherds keeping

Vigil till the morning new

Saw the glory, heard the story–

Tidings of a gospel true.

Thus rejoicing, free from sorrow,

Praises voicing greet the morrow:

Christ, the Babe, was born for you!

Christ, the Babe, was born for you!

Polish Carol, paraphrase by Edith E.M. Reed

Do you ever find yourself frustrated that you are not receiving what you believe you deserve?  Or relieved that you have not received what you know you deserve?  The human condition is bent toward self-exaltation.

The Babe in the manger confronts our self-idolatry.  We tell stories about ourselves to make us look better than we know we are.  We dress up vice to make it appear as virtue.   We jockey and canjole for esteem–in our own eyes and the eyes of others.

“Christ, the Babe, is Lord of all.”   He entered poor.  Lowly.  Humbled.  

As you meditate on the manger today, let the paradox of the most Holy One wrapped in swaddling recalibrate your idea of of true greatness.  Bend your knee to peer closely at the strength, majesty, and glory tucked amongst the hay of His makeshift bed.  Let the sounds of the first breaths and sighs of the Incarnate One woo your heart to humility. 

Is there some task or responsibility you feel is beneath you?  Is there a relationship in which you feel you are undervalued or disrespected?  Remember Jesus.