Every Day is Valentine’s Day

For the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers…

For the past several months I have been visiting my folks on a regular basis. Why is that newsworthy, you may ask? Well, because in the past four months my mom has developed acute dementia. Christmas Day, everything is fine.

January comes, but my mom didn’t come with the new year.

She is slowly leaving us. Without saying goodbye.

In one of my recent visits I noticed a card set neatly among the family photos. There hasn’t been any movement in this neatly displayed arrangement for some time, and it has always been the temporary resting place for all the cards honoring special events. Curious, I looked closer, wondering what was being celebrated in late April.

It was a Valentine’s Card. From my dad to my mom.

With All My Love…it began.

I was dumbfounded. Usually the cards came down within two weeks, tops, after the significant day had passed. But there it was. A Valentine’s Day card in April. That was was quickly erased by a second and more astounding notion.

Why bother?

I thought. Dad, mom doesn’t even know where she is living anymore. She thinks her folks are still alive and that she is moving home any day now. Surely she hasn’t even seen this card, let alone understood it’s contents.

She doesn’t recognize your love for her, I thought. So, why bother?

Then it hit me. The Cross is God’s timeless display of His love for His lost creation. God shows His love in this, that while we were sinners, Christ died for us.

I’ve always wanted to fix that verse. I wanted the verb tenses to be consistent. How can God be presently revealing His love through an event that took place 2,000 years ago? And why bother? Loving a people that won’t recognize the magnitude of His love for them?

So now it’s all coming together for me.

While my Mom may not recognize my Father’s love for her, I do. And maybe, just maybe, in a moment of clarity or healing, she will see that card and realize the love her husband has for her. And has had for her for over 50 years.

And perhaps someone will see a cross one day, and realize that God the Father loves them. Perhaps it will be in the form of service, friendship or worship. But whatever form the Cross takes, it will be seen for what it was meant to be seen as: God’s timeless demonstration of love for His wayward creation. The Cross is His Valentine’s card…and it is never going to be removed as a result of time passing. Or because of our blindness. Or because of a lack of results.

God isn’t a pragmatist in regard to love.  And apparently neither is my Dad. If they had been, love would have been measured, restrained and withheld.

And the greatest of these is love. Because it never fails. Even if we do. Even when we do.

So I’m more determined to love without condition. Not holding back because I fear failure. Or because I anticipate a lack of response.

I will love the way my Fathers have loved. Without regard for recognition or result. In that, there is great reward.

Paradise

Paradise is pretty much that. Paradise.

But that’s not how the story begins.

I was the kid voted least likely to succeed. The one whose little brother was a foot taller and a whole lot smarter. I was always referred to as “that one.” For a while, I didn’t even know I had a name.

I was the guy you didn’t want your kids to play with. The one you didn’t want your sons to hang out with in the teenage years. I was the boy you didn’t want your daughter to date.

Get the picture?

So it was no surprise to anyone, including me, that I turned into a loser. A thug. A career criminal. I never hurt anyone, mind you. I threatened many folks. But never laid a finger on a soul. Petty theft. Breaking and entering. Bullying. Slander, abuse and fear were my weapons, and intimidation was my game. I feared no one, and everyone feared me.

I loved no one. And no one loved me.

Well finally my lawlessness caught up to me. I stole the wrong woman’s bag and ended up with a death sentence. Not just any death. Crucifixion.

Turned out there were three of us to be hung on crosses that day. One a fellow ‘colleague’ of mine. The other was the one known as the “King of the Jews.” He was called many other things as well, depending on whom you got your information from. His real name was Jesus of Nazareth. A carpenter’s son. And he had created quite a stir the last few years where I’m from.

I wasn’t sure what to make of it. But the fact that he was on a cross told me all I needed to know. He was guilty. Just like me.

Now you probably don’t know what it means to be hung on a tree. Arms suspended. Body weight crushing your tendons. Suffocating in the fluid caused by collapsed lungs. Essentially naked in front of a crowd of people who are cheering your slow, excruciating death. All the while still having enough hate in me to lacerate anyone within eyesight.

In this case it was Jesus of Nazareth.

I have to say, from the beginning he was different. I fought hard against my Roman oppressors. Took out a handful before they got me on that cross. Cursed every one of them and their mothers! Not Jesus. It’s like he wanted to be crucified. He stretched out his arms and practically invited them to drive the nails through his hands and feet. While we raged, he resisted. While we spat out vile epithets, he offered forgiveness.

I even turned on Jesus. The two of us poured out our wrath on him. Mocked him, ridiculed him, and challenged him. Made me feel good to think there was someone worse than me.

Then a funny thing happened.

My mind began to change. I can’t explain it. I saw him with new eyes. No longer did I see him as a helpless fool, I saw him as an innocent sacrifice. The Passover Lamb. Dying in the place of those who are truly guilty. Dying for people like me.

And in my final breaths, I asked him a favor. “Don’t forget me, Jesus.” He turned to look at me. I didn’t know what to expect. Would he add to my guilt? What he remind me of my past? What he place condemnation on my soul? If so, I would be deserving. What would he say?

I’ll never forget these words. I hope you don’t either.

“Today, you will be with me in paradise.”

Me? A criminal. A lifelong loser. In paradise? It’s as if Jesus knew my heart when I asked him to remember me. To forgive me for all the terrible things I have done. He said he wouldn’t forget me. Guess what? He didn’t.

Today I’m in paradise.

With Jesus. Being with Jesus is paradise. And my life of perpetual crime, disobedience and shame is overlooked by the great promise of a Savior who came not to condemn sinners like me.

But to save them. Trust me.

He has done marvelous things. I’m living proof.

An Occurence on State Street

I was just minding my own business on State Street.

Enjoying lunch with a former player I had coached in soccer. Matthew was in his senior year at Westmont as the starting goalkeeper. I could not be more proud of his athletic accomplishments, spiritual maturity and emotional depth. As we finished our salads, a woman approached me and asked about my t-shirt. Dumbfounded, I realized I was flying the shirt from our church’s mission trip to Puerto Escondido. It’s a bold shirt, yet very cool.

My new friend was probably a product of the 60’s. Perhaps attended UCSB. Get the picture? I told her that King’s Harbor was a church.

“What kind?”

“A Christian church,” I responded. (Never quite sure how to answer that one.)

And before I could get another word out of my mouth, she shrieked (really), “YOU’RE A SURFER, WHO LOVES JESUS AND HATES ABORTIONS!”

I started to say something. Although I admit I hadn’t formed any words yet. But to no avail, as she covered her ears and began running down the street. As if anything I could say in return would harm her.

Matthew just started laughing. “It’s State Street, don’t forget.”

Indeed.

But as I dropped Matthew back off at Westmont, I couldn’t shake the woman’s reaction. Is that how everyone sees Christians? In the heat of the current culture wars, isn’t there another way?

Everyone loved Jesus in His days. Everyone but the self-righteous. My guess is that my friend on State thought I was the self-righteous one.

I also pondered an imaginary conversation we would have had. Instinctively I wanted to say, “No. I’m not.”

But… yes, I was.

I am.

I am a surfer who loves Jesus and hates abortions.

But I still wanted to yell back as she fled: “Come back! I’m not who you think I am!”

I wanted to tell her that I have compassion on both sides of the abortion debate. I wanted to tell her about how Jesus talked to a Samaritan woman, that no one else even acknowledged. I longed to share the story of Jesus rescuing a woman on the verge of execution by the religious leaders of the day. To open the pages of the Gospels to share about a woman who was bleeding to death, and who reached out to Jesus.

To Jesus.

Who was known to be the guest of sinners.

It’s been a while since I have been invited to someone’s house who didn’t love Jesus.

So this occurrence on State Street has me thinking. Can I live in such a way that glorifies God, depends on the Holy Spirit and attracts the attention of folks who need a Savior?

Let’s hope so. I believe this is the Great Commission in its essence.

Passion Week Meditations V

It’s Saturday.

The day between the Cross and the Resurrection. I wonder what the Apostles did on Saturday.

Did they pray, lamenting and interceding on His behalf? That’s an interesting thought, praying for God. Did they go to the Cross? Standing and staring. Interestingly, the scriptures give us no indication that any of Jesus’ followers ever went there again. (I, however, have been three times. Hmmm.) Did they go back to their old lives. Fishing, collecting taxes, and the like.

Saturday was like the proverbial pregnant pause. It must have been like the waiting on the High Priest to exit the Holy of Holies. Holding your breath to see if your sins were covered for any year. Watching. Waiting. Only for a full 36 hours.

That’s a difficult labor. That’s one long breath.

So today I will try to enter the story. As if I don’t know what happened on the glorious Sunday morning. I will endeavor to be desperately desirous of a better ending then the one that seems to have been written on Friday. I will attempt to place myself at the foot of an empty cross, in the company of the women crying out and in the midst of those despairing of what appears to be a failed effort at starting a new and revolutionary way of living with God.

It’s Saturday. Only Saturday. Here’s to hoping tomorrow brings better news.

Passion Week Meditations IV

“…that saved a wretch like me.”

 I was born this way.

My life was essentially over before it started. My father wasn’t there for me. My name, Barabbas, means son of the father. Funny, huh. My mother was raising a pack of kids. The third of seven, I was lost in the midst of the chaos and made my own way. Determined to never be hurt again, I set out to blaze a trail of my own. I would march to my own beat, and no one else’s. Ever.

I would be my father’s son.

I became known as a hellion. I led a band of marauders. I took an unusual amount of pleasure at the expense of other’s pain. I delighted in division. I reveled in revelry. I lived by the laws of lawlessness. You didn’t want to cross my path.

Eventually my past caught up to my present. It was time. I was guilty of all I was charged, and then some. I deserved my certain sentence of death.

I had become my father’s son.

Now it was the time of the Passover Feast. The governor had a tradition to release a prisoner of the people’s choosing. Some lucky guy is going to walk out a free man, I thought to myself. I wonder who it will be.

Suddenly there was a tremendous amount of commotion. Pushing, shoving and grabbing. I was being led out to Pilate’s courtyard, along with the one known as Jesus. It quickly became clear to my what Pilate’s intentions were: give the Jews a pretty easy choice as to who to “pass over”…a career criminal or the miracle worker?  What a joke, I thought. This won’t take long.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Apparently the human commitment to the status quo is a stronger drive than the desire for righteousness. In a strange twist of irony, the guilty one was set free. As the guards released me from my chains, I glanced incredulously at the one who would take my place. Was that a wink from his eye, and a knowing smile that crossed his face. Did he know all along?

I ran as fast as I could to get away from the crowd of insurrectionists. Oh the irony. Yet, I could not forget this man. I circled back around as they dragged him to Golgotha. My eyes could not leave him. And he uttered these words, “Father, forgive them. For they know not what they do.”

Yes! That’s me! I don’t know what I am doing. Or what I have done. That day I determined to receive what Jesus was offering.

And on that day, I became my Father’s son.

Passion Week Meditations – I

“And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”

It seems I always find myself at the feet of my Savior.

It’s not a comfortable place to be. Certainly not socially appropriate behavior for a woman. But it just seems to turn out that way every time I’m in His presence.

As a disciple

The first time it happened was when He came to our house. What an honor to host Jesus. Oh, how excited I was! I had heard of the things that Jesus had said and done. They were marvelous! Breathtaking. Captivating. Dare I say, liberating! Jesus and my brother had become close friends. My big sister Martha had invited Him for a meal.

I felt like a school girl, such was my excitement to have Him in such close proximity.

And so it was that when He entered our house and began to speak, I was mesmerized. Without even thinking, I sat down to listen.

At His feet.

I instinctively and involuntarily assumed the position of a follower of the Rabbi.

Was I the first girl to follow Jesus? To sit at His feet? I am asked that question often. To be honest, I don’t know. But I do know how sweet it was to be allowed to sit. And listen. And learn. At His feet.

As an intercessor

I somehow grew to believe that being a disciple of the Lord Jesus would insulate me from trouble. From pain, hardship and loss.

That bubble would burst one fateful day.

You see, Lazarus my brother and a friend of Jesus had taken ill. We had sent urgent word to reach Jesus to come quickly to heal him. We knew He was in the region. Yet, He didn’t come. And Lazarus worsened. Then, he died. Where was my Jesus? Why was He late? So late.

When He finally reached our home, it was four days too late. I was inconsolable. Hearing that He was asking for me, I ran. And ran as fast as I could to meet Him. I had not rehearsed my speech. My emotions raced between anger, joy and sorrow.

 Upon seeing Him, I fell. At His feet. And I pleaded. I complained. “Where were you? You could have helped! You could have saved him!”

What was I thinking? It was so disrespectful, yet it seemed perfectly appropriate. Then I started weeping. Uncontrollably. At His feet. As I looked up, through my tears, I saw an unforgettable sight. Jesus was weeping too.

My Savior, oh my Jesus, how He loves us. How He cares about us! And you know what happened next.

As a worshipper

Shortly after Lazarus was raised from the dead, we held a celebration to honor Jesus. This was Martha’s idea, and it is how she communicates her affection. Serving is her love language.

I was so overjoyed to host Jesus again. Yet, something told me this would be our last time. Things were heating up, and Jesus now had His share of detractors. Mixed with awe and gratitude was a sense of foreboding.

Was His time near?

I wanted to bring an expression of devotion. Something that truly communicate my extravagant love for Him. My total surrender to Him as a disciple and a worshipper. And it hit me. The most valued possession I owned I was an expensive jar of perfume. I had been saving it for my husband. For my marriage bed.

Without thinking, or maybe I was, I broke the alabaster jar open and poured it out.

At His feet.

The sweet aroma filled the house. Yes, my complete love and worship of my Messiah had now taken center stage. It was all I could do to say to Him that I would be emptied of myself. All the days of my life. Not holding anything back from my Jesus.

And so it was. I lived my life at the feet of Jesus. I have no regrets.

Neither will you.

Justice Conference: Finishing Well

Well done, good and faithful servant.

Call it a pre midlife crisis. Turning 48 seemed like a great to take up triathlons.

Of course, I had to consult my partner in adventure. Neal is always up for a challenge. Always. It’s always humbling to come in second, particularly when there are only two of us competing. Neal was in. Let’s do Redondo, he said. Sounded good. My own backyard. Maybe familiar surroundings will help. Friends at the finish line. Etc.

I’ll spare you the gory details. I took so long in the first transition area that Neal asked me if I had taken a nap. You know you are slow when the finishers are walking back to their cars with their t-shirts, cheering you on. I digress.

The race ends with a slightly steep uphill run to the finish. It’s the last thing you want to see as the race comes to a close. Suddenly I hear the announcer herald my arrival. “Coming up the ramp is Chris Cannon. Pastor. Community Leader. Activist. And all around nice guy! Let’s welcome in to the finish line!”

Huh? Do they do this for everyone? No that’s not possible! Oh, Anne must have put the guy up to it, I thought. Pretty clever, that woman! So I hear cheers, and I start pushing it. In fact, I had enough left to sprint. As I turned the corner to run the last 40, there was my family, Neal and his family, Eric and Josh! Wow! It felt good to be cheered on to the end!

Later I asked Anne how she managed to get the announcer to do that. (I had noted that the other finishers had not had the luxury of a personal biography read aloud at the finish!) She said she was going to ask me…she was just as mystified as I. After I did some inquiring, it turns out that the announcer was a man whom I had done some social advocacy with years ago, and had kept with me via networks, etc. Mystery solved.

This story came to mind at the close of the Justice Conference over the weekend. Francis Chan had been exhorting us to “finish well.” For our lives to “make sense.” And that God was looking forward to our home-going as much, if not more, than we are.

How precious to the Lord are the death of His saints.” ps. 116:15

 

For the first time, that scripture made sense. It was indeed a holy moment. God was longing for my finish as much as I! As sweet as it was to be welcomed across the finish line at the Redondo Beach Sprint Triathlon, it will be immeasurably more wonderful to be received into the arms of my Savior with the words,”Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into your rest.”

I feel myself able to run a little harder now. I have more in me! I am being cheered on by Abel, Abraham, Moses, Gideon and Rahab. By Noah, David and Samuel. They are all yelling, encouraging me with these words: By faith! Yes, by faith I will run a good race! By faith I will finish well!

And by faith I will hear “Well done, good and faithful servant…”

May I stand, humbly, along the side of the faithful saints of Hebrews 11 and do the same for you. As you do the same for me. Encouraging one another, and all the more, as we see the finish line drawing near.

Let’s run a good race, friends!