God’s Shame

I want to start off by saying thank you to all who’ve reached out to me to show their care and concern following the surgery. Your love has been an uplifting thing, and I truly appreciate it.

This morning’s attempt at some sort of message to you is really my first time back at the keyboard since the surgery. I just haven’t had the energy for much. I still kind of don’t. I know others have far more difficult roads to travel than the one I’m currently on. Still, I won’t lie. It’s been a rough week. For one, I think I can officially say I miss sleeping far more than walking.

My plan was to forego the prescribed pain medications for as long as I could, but as it would go, I ended up taking them, anyway. Once I did, the pain lessened, but the typical difficulties I experience with the medications began. After a little more than a day of nausea, headaches, and sweating, I decidedly went cold turkey (except for Tylenol), having realized that all the discomforts brought on by the surgery were far preferable.

Of course, as some of you know, things got even more complicated this past week. Less than twenty-four hours after surgery, a terrible storm blew through and we lost power, which didn’t get repaired until Friday morning. Thankfully, we invested in a generator a few years ago. When the storm was at its worst and the lights were flickering, Madeline was over at her grandma’s house and Jennifer was running some necessary errands. Harrison and Evelyn were here with me. I probably shouldn’t have, but when the power finally did go out, I managed to hobble from my upstairs bedroom to the basement to help get the generator up and running. Harrison and Evelyn did the heavy lifting to get it outside and gassed up. Josh drove from his apartment in Argentine (through a warzone of fallen trees, as he described it) to take and fill our other gas cans. I directed traffic on breaker boxes, switches, and hookups. Once everything was in place, Evelyn covered my leg with a towel while I crutched outside in the rain to pull the startup. Not long after that, Jen made it home, and like a champ, took everything from there. I could see she’d already switched into “prepper” mode as she went right into doing things like putting flashlights in each of the bedrooms, giving directions on what things could or could not be operated while the generator was engaged, and making a point to go outside every twelve hours or so to shut the generator down to let it cool before refilling it with gas. Of course, while doing all of this, she was also making sure I had everything I needed.

I am, indeed, a blessed man with a wonderful family. And so, here we are together a few days beyond all the excitement and well on our way to greeting whatever new and exciting things may be coming over the horizon.

I won’t keep you long this morning. Again, I don’t have much energy for sharing at the moment. I guess I’ll say that for me personally, the last few days have been nothing short of constant conversation with God. Prayer, that is. I’ve been sending along a steady stream of anything and everything to His listening ears. I’m praying while eating. I’m praying in the shower. I’m praying at two o’clock in the morning. Sometimes it’s little more than unintelligible mutterings as my calf muscle cramps and pulls on the newly sewn tendon. In those moments I’m just begging for relief because the Tylenol does very little to help. In between, I’m telling Him random things that come to mind; things that pertain to my family, things that meet with many of you as individuals, things relative to the entire church family at Our Savior and beyond. Other times, my words to Him are self-analyzing. They’re honest communications telling Him what I really think about things; about myself, about what’s happening right now, about what’s going on in our world, about the things I do or don’t do that I want to change for the better.

Thankfully, God is so graciously willing to hear all these things, especially when it comes to the darker moments of genuine contrition or concern. I assure you that devout prayer does turn in such directions sometimes, so be ready.

Of course, and technically, God knows every little detail behind every possible thing we could share before we utter the first word. And yet, how incredibly comforting it is to know that He still craves for His children to spill it all, that He wants to hear our voices in His divine ears, that He wants us to know that He is listening and won’t turn us away. He loves us.

You should know that this love is what fuels His very core, and its most vivid display can be seen in the crucifixion of His Son, Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:8; John 3:16-17).

We’d expect the world to disparage the crucifixion of Jesus, and so it does. It’s strange, then, that here at 3:50 AM I’d stumble across a few Christian friends on social media expressing in passing their general discomfort with crosses and crucifixes. While I don’t know the math behind Facebook’s algorithms, I’m guessing there’s a chance these friends might read this. Still, I’m pretty sleep-deprived and in pain, so, whatever.

Firstly, and for the record, I prefer crucifixes over crosses. The corpus—the body of the Lord on the cross—matters to me. Secondly, what are you, vampires?! Why would a Christian be offended by the symbol of the Lord’s work to save us? How is it at all possible to be offended by the depiction—the visible communication, the visual transmission, the observable delivery—of the very act that rescued the world from Sin, Death, and the power of the devil?

No wonder Christianity is slipping away in America.

Although, what should I expect? So many of our mainstream churches are believing and teaching some ridiculous things these days. It should be no surprise to me, then, that there’s a pretty popular megachurch in Brighton, Michigan teaching that both crosses and crucifixes are offensive to visitors, and as a result, they refuse to display them anywhere in their facility. Think about that for a second.

Saint Paul dealt with this kind of idiocy in various places in his ministry, one of which he addresses in the very first chapter of 1 Corinthians (vv. 18-31). By the way, this was a letter written to a church filled with Christians who thought they knew better than the rest of Christendom. In many circumstances, they thought they knew better than Saint Paul, himself! So, from there, I think I’ll just say that any Christian or church offended by a crucifix needs to rethink things—a lot. I honestly don’t know how anyone can look at a crucifix and, in any way, disregard the all-important Gospel message it is silently proclaiming—which is that God was indeed ready and willing to meet us in our filth, that He wanted to be the absolute miracle of relief we needed in our most dreadful of hours. And how did He bring forth and accomplish this aid? By His Son’s death on the cross.

As this meets with prayer—since that’s what I was originally talking about—I don’t know how anyone can look at a crucifix and say honestly that God does not care enough to hear our cries no matter the hour or the need.

To close, there’s something else to consider when approaching prayer from this gritty perspective. I’d urge you to keep in mind the nature of the things you’re sharing with God and then ask yourself, “Would I be willing to publish on social media what I’m sharing with God right now?” If the answer is a red-faced “no,” then you’ve taken one step closer to the deeper teaching value of a crucifix: to the visceral nature behind something unseen becoming seen. I suppose in one sense you can know that seen or unseen, you have a “seen-it-all” God who loves and receives you as others couldn’t and wouldn’t. But then in tandem, you can be mindful that your God didn’t rescue you from your darkest, most secretive, sins by some private act. His death was a humiliating public spectacle—a sanctioned execution. He was tortured and propped up for all. His death for all sins for all time was meant to be seen. And I dare say, once you see it, you can’t unsee it. I’m guessing that while God is okay with your shame remaining hidden from the masses, He thinks it’s better for His to be out there in the open.

I’ll just leave you with that.

The Shape of the Gospel — Ash Wednesday

The penitential season of Lent is soon to be upon us. It begins this week with Ash Wednesday.

So, who cares? Christians do. At least, they should. Although, it would seem many Christians—even some of the clergy—are preaching and teaching against it. I don’t know why. I did hear one say it’s some sort of innovation to the Church Year and therefore to be avoided. I heard another suggest it hinders the Christian’s ability to prepare for Easter with joy. That’s sad. One sure way to rob the victory of its joy is to be ignorant of what’s at stake in the war. Ash Wednesday offers a much-needed glimpse of the battlefield.

I find it strangely interesting that even the sensual (though unofficial) liturgies of something like Mardi Gras would portray a better awareness and care for Ash Wednesday and Lent, whether their partakers actually realize it or not. Even in the midst of a celebration that holds the well-deserved reputation for overindulgent debauchery, there is the sense that it must and will come to an end.

“Live it up,” its rites and ceremonies proclaim, “for after Fat Tuesday, it must all expire.”

And it does. What once was gives way to the ashen dust of death remembered by Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is the proper headstone for all things carnal.

A day in the Church Year in which believers’ foreheads are marked with the ashes of what were once lively and verdant branches (the palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebration), Ash Wednesday reveals that the Christian Church knows something of this world that the world itself cannot fully fathom. It knows the wage for Sin is Death—real and eternal Death. It knows this as it recalls God’s terrifying words to Adam and Eve after the fall into Sin. These words still reverberating, it hears the truth in them. It knows the necessity for their honest contemplation so that we would see the world as it ought to be seen. It knows to immerse itself in the depths of a solemnity that acknowledges the horror of the very real predicament that the entire human race is facing. The Church knows there’s so much more than just an end to things, but there’s also a terrible dreadfulness just over that end’s border for those who remain enslaved to the mess.

You can’t ignore it.

You can’t hide from it.

You can’t outrun it.

You can’t overpower it.

The inevitability of its reach is woven into the very fleshly fabric of every man, woman, and child who was ever born in the natural way.

It was with divine, and yet heartbroken, authority that God announced this to His world and its first inhabitants: “Because you have done this, cursed is the ground because of you…” (Genesis 3:17). Cursed things are put away from God. By this curse—this self-inflicted and permanent vexation—“you will return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19).

The thing about Ash Wednesday is that you can’t make your way into and through Lent without contemplating the veracity of the curse. Ash Wednesday has become a guardian of sorts at Lent’s contrite door, and it won’t let you into the forthcoming events without being stamped. The stamp it reaches out to give, it goes on your head and not your hand. Its dust crowns the human frame as the only appropriate coronation for someone born into the un-royal lineage of the Sin-nature. It adorns the skull that shields the corrupted human mind, the organ fed by a sinful heart so that it would calculate and then initiate every ungodly act of thought, word, or deed. The mark’s dirty-cold embers are the kind that distinguish Cain from Abel, openly identifying the murderer and reminding him of the dusty ground that opened up to swallow Godly innocence.

And yet, even as Ash Wednesday won’t let you forget the seriousness of the disease, it will be just as fervent with the cure.

Remember: That filthy mark is in the shape of a cross. It’s smeared onto the penitently-postured foreheads of Ash Wednesday’s observers who know their need for a Savior. It serves as a silent proclamation of God’s truest inclinations in our darkness. It’s the shape of the Gospel—the death of the Savior, Jesus Christ, for a cursed world. The Great Exchange—His righteousness for our unrighteousness. It tells of a birthright, not earned, but given in love. It beams through dusty grime the truth of an imperishable crown of blamelessness, not earned by the wearer, but won and granted by the Savior. Cain is marked and no one can touch him. God has been gracious. For us, even in that smeared cross’ quiet, there thunders above every human wearing it an otherworldly hope for eternal life through faith in the Savior who was nailed to it on Good Friday. The booming crack of its message drowns out the devil, the world, and the sinful flesh’s accusations to the contrary.

Ash Wednesday’s mark serves as a gentle reminder of something else in particular. It heralds rebirth.

That cross of ash will dot the same place where God first made the sign of the cross upon His Christians in Holy Baptism. If only for a few hours, it will make visible the invisible, leading each of its bearers back to the moment when God He put His own name on them, claiming them as His through the washing of water and the Word, thereby grafting them into the entirety of Christ’s self-submitting work to accomplish Mankind’s redemption (Romans 6:1-10).

It’s been said that the best opportunities are seldom labeled. This “best opportunity” of Ash Wednesday is, in fact, labeled. Its tag may be grimy, but it happens to be one of the most condensed opportunities in the entirety of the Church Year for a right understanding of our condition in Sin and our glorious rescue by the Son of God. Don’t keep it at arm’s length, but rather embrace the opportunity to gather with the faithful and sing as we do in the appointed tract, “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:10).

If you have any say in your evening activities, I encourage you to participate. Set aside 7:00pm this Wednesday. Make your way to Our Savior in Hartland, Michigan. Or go to your own church if it is offering a service. Either way, just don’t make the mistake of missing out on the powerful manner and message of the Ash Wednesday proclamation. You’ll be given the opportunity to look Sin and Death square in the eyes. You’ll see your mortality there. But you’ll see so very brightly and hear so very clearly the Good News of your brand new beginning through faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the compassion of God who took upon Himself human flesh and made His dwelling among us for our rescue.