The Pile…

garbage pile

Imagine all the evil of the world piled into one place.  What’s in the pile?

There is big evil, of course.  Slavery throughout the centuries.  Genocide.  Wars of conquest and plunder.  Apartheid.  Into the pile goes not just the sins of nations, but the sins of complicit individuals, many of whom would claim, “We were just following orders.”

On the pile goes personal sins.  Lies. Adultery.  Failure to rest.  Dishonoring your father and mother.  Coveting.  Our assumption is these are little sins.  Not in God’s eyes.   They are violations of his values.  On the pile they go.

Crimes are on the pile.  Personal crimes like assault, murder, theft.  Crimes committed by corporations and businesses go on the pile too.  Treating people like machines.  Corporate greed.  Failure to pay a living wage.

A big addition to the pile are the sins of God’s people.  Start all the way back with the people of Israel.  They doubted God in the desert.  Their neighbors’ gods were more attractive, so they failed to be loyal solely to God.  Forward to the church.  The sins of the church are many.  Lusting for power.  Failure to welcome the least of these.  Attaching God’s name to things God wants nothing to do with.

There is evil in the world that doesn’t come from personal choice.  There is the evil of cancer and of AIDS.  There are the unexplained hurricanes and tornados, the earthquakes and floods.  All the unexplainable evil is added to the pile as well.

Then there is what you add to the pile and what I add to the pile.  I bring my assortment of the seven deadly sins: pridegreedlustenvygluttonywrath and sloth.  I shaped each of these sins according to personal preference.  Some control me more than others.  All are present in my life… and in yours.  Compared to the rising mountain of sin, our contribution can seem small.  But comparison is useless.  Add garbage to a pile of garbage and it still stinks.  Add my sin and your sin to the pile of sins and it still stinks.

Jesus followers claim that on Good Friday, Jesus did an extraordinary thing.  He gathered up the towering pile of the sins of the world, past, present and future, and put it on his soul.

Imagine the agony.  His soul, pure, perfect, never warped by double minded thinking, now bearing the pile of sin that stinks up his creation.  We don’t like to think about this big pile of sin Jesus carried.  It’s too ugly.  It stinks.  It overwhelms us.

Only when you force yourself to look at the pile do you realize the magnificence of the cross.  Sins that would crush our souls with their wretchedness are loaded onto Jesus’ soul.  He absorbs the punishment you and I could not carry.  The death we deserved became his.

Before we rush to Easter and its joy, pause and look at the pile.  Now you understand how big a miracle Jesus’ resurrection is.  He took the whole pile of sin and crushed it with grace.  The sins of the nations.  The sins of the criminals.  The sins of God’s people.  The sins of corporations and businesses.  Your sins.  My sins.  Crushed by the power of His grace.

Was it His Time?

Day 237 of 365 - Moo Clock

As a pastor, death is part of my job.  I’ve done over 500 funerals in my time.  Once, I did three in the same day.

Each death is different because each grief is different.  I’ve done funerals where no one cried, because everyone was glad the person died.  If you don’t understand that, you’ve never watched your Momma suffer with Alzheimer’s for fourteen years.  I’ve done funerals where everyone was in tears, because the person’s work wasn’t done yet, and everyone knew it.  That’s the reason people cried at my Daddy’s funeral.   Forty-two was too young for “King Kong” Smith to die.

There is a way of thinking that says, “When it’s your time, it’s your time.”  I understand where this thinking comes from.  It comes from a hundred years ago when the number one killer in the United States was strep throat.  We’ve forgotten in 1850, the infant mortality rate for whites was 22%; for blacks, 34%.  A man could be cutting wood and get a splinter; he might be dead from blood poisoning in a week.  Death was a lot closer back then.

We live in a different time, a time that is still new.  Strep throat now means a trip to the doctor, not a death watch.  Frying everything you eat really isn’t healthy (even if it is delicious).  Exercise really helps.

If a man smokes three packs a day, gets lung cancer, and dies, do we say, “It was his time?”  If a man overeats, becomes morbidly obese, and dies from a stroke, do we say, “It was his time?”  If a man drinks too much and drives, then hits a car and kills a family, do we say, “It was their time?”

I wonder if God grieves because some people show up in heaven too early.  They might arrive early because someone took an assault rifle and fired on a crowd at a concert.  They might arrive early because they were poor stewards of their own body, of their own soul.

No one, of course, knows the answers.  Our inability to know means sometimes people say, “Don’t ask why.  Have faith.”  I think that’s the wrong equation.  The Bible is full of people who ask God “why,” including Jesus (“Why, O Lord, have your forsaken me?”).  It is okay to ask God “why.”

The Bible also shows us that God does not always give a direct answer to “why.”  Sometimes he does, usually when people have sinned and want to know why God is punishing them (see the Prophets).  God answers pretty clearly.  When there is tragedy, however, God does not answer the questions.  But he does show up.  The point of the book of Job is not that God gives Job answers; it is that Job asked God to come and speak, and God did.

I think after you ask why, and you encounter God, real faith begins.  This is faith that is based, not on human logic (“It was his time”), but on a living God who walks with you, talks with you, and loves you through every moment of life.

God wants us to know more than anything that life is a precious gift.  Life is to be cared for, stewarded, treasured.  Take care of your life; exercise; eat right; go to the doctor.

But above all, seek God.  He gave you your life as a gift.  Real encounters with him make life worth living.

I Want to Matter to Someone…

do i matter

I hate being treated as a number.  You know those places that have the little machine that says “take a number?”  I avoid those places as much as possible.

I don’t think anyone wants to grow up and be a number.  Did anyone ever dream: “I’m the 43rd employee of this company?”  Or “I can’t wait to be the 18th girl he sleeps with.”  Or “I’m the 45th patient the doctor has seen today.”

That’s why we try to leave our mark. We carve initials in trees, put locks on bridges, and write our names in concrete.  That’s why we get mad when someone we love doesn’t call.  That’s why we are hurt when someone doesn’t notice we are struggling.  We want to matter to someone.

It’s easy for human beings to get overwhelmed with tasks, schedules and life.  And human beings have a limited capacity to meet another person’s needs for significance.  We’ve all been friends with that needy person who never can get enough affirmation or attention (Free advice:  If the last sentence describes your current boyfriend/girlfriend – run away.  Now.).

Realizing every human being has limitations means it only makes sense to seek your significance from an infinite being, someone who never runs out, who never gets tired.  Someone who has unfailing compassion and never ending grace.  Someone like God our Father.

God shows you how much you matter when through Jesus, the Son, he gave his life for you and defeated death for you.

To find your significance in God means you let him render the verdict on your life.  He determines if you are a good parent, spouse, or friend.  If you follow Jesus, then all the validation you ever seek will come.

You do matter to God; make sure he matters to you.

Who Weeps with You?

Jesus weeping

It was one of those uncomfortable moments in the store.  A young mother with three small children was trying to get her shopping done.  The middle child by size (about two, I’d say) was not happy.  She was ready to go home.  I understand that feeling.  After about thirty minutes in a store, I’m ready to go home, too.

Two year olds have surprisingly big voices in little bodies.  This little girl started to tear up, and scream, “I want to go home!  I want to go home!”  Everyone in the store heard her.  Everyone in within a ten-mile radius heard her.  Everyone knew she wanted to go home.

Her mother tried all the standard techniques: “Shhh!  Be quiet.  We will go home in a few minutes;” “If you stop crying I will buy you some candy (that would work for me);” and, as the mom felt the stares, “Will you stop crying!”

None of the strategies worked.  The little girl upped her decibels.  Dogs began to howl outside the store.  I think I saw a jar of pickles start to vibrate.  More people were coming around the corner in search of this awful sound.

The young mom had reached her limit.  She pulled out the nuclear option phrase: “If you don’t stop crying this instant, I will give you something to cry about.”

The two year old looked at her mother with non-comprehending eyes.  You could read her thoughts on her furrowed forehead: “I already have something to cry about!  That’s why I’m crying.  What part of “I want to go home Momma” do you not understand?”

My heart went out to the little girl and to her overwhelmed Mom.  How do you reason with a two year old whose emotions have torn her away from whatever reasoning  ability she has?

Jesus once encountered people who were weeping because their friend Lazarus had died.  Jesus, who could have healed him, didn’t come in time.  Now Jesus was on the scene.  He could feel the accusing eyes and read their message: “He was your friend.  Where were you?  You could have done something.”  Jesus does not tell them “Don’t cry.”  He does not tell them he will give them something to cry about.  Instead, he joins their grief.  In the shortest verse in the Bible, we told one of its great truths: “Jesus wept.”

Jesus understands the moments in your life when you are overwhelmed with emotion.  Jesus, with infinite patience, stops to feel with you.  He shares your tears.  But he also will share your joys, your anger, your anxiety.  To your joy he brings song; to your anger, perspective; to your anxiety, peace.

I give the young mom credit.  Realizing what she said and how it sounded, she stopped her shopping, picked up the two year old up out of the buggy, and held her while she cried.  She let her daughter cry out her frustration.  Then she tickled her and made her laugh.

I think that is what Jesus does.  He holds us when we are flooded with emotion.  He cries when we cry.  Then, when we least expect it, he brings something good, he brings joy.  Jesus is the God of the morning when night turns to joy.  Whatever your tears, he will hold you.