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The Way of the Cross – Lenten Season 2018

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener…I am the vine, you are the branches.  If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit;  apart from me you can do nothing….If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given to you.  This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:1,5,7,8 NIV).

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever!  Amen” (Ephesians 3:20,21 NIV).

“And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you” (Romans 8:11 NIV).

The Delivery

In a mother’s womb were two babies.

One asked the other: “Do you believe in life after delivery?”

The other replied, “Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.”

“Nonsense” said the first. “There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?”

The second said, “I don’t know, but there will be more light than here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths. Maybe we will have other senses that we can’t understand now.”

The first replied, “That is absurd. Walking is impossible. And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. But the umbilical cord is so short. Life after delivery is to be logically excluded.”

The second insisted, “Well I think there is something and maybe it’s different than it is here. Maybe we won’t need this physical cord anymore.”

The first replied, “Nonsense. And moreover if there is life, then why has no one ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere.”

“Well, I don’t know,” said the second, “but certainly we will meet Mother and she will take care of us.”

The first replied “Mother? You actually believe in Mother? That’s laughable. If Mother exists then where is She now?”

The second said, “She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of Her.  It is in Her that we live.  Without Her this world would not and could not exist.”

Said the first: “Well I don’t see Her, so it is only logical that She doesn’t exist.”

To which the second replied, “Sometimes, when you’re in silence and you focus and listen, you can perceive Her presence, and you can hear Her loving voice, calling down from above.”

*****

This little story is making the rounds on the internet and on facebook.  I love it.  It’s a wonderful way to describe our situation as we live in darkness and grow and prepare for our delivery.  It is very well done.  But the metaphor isn’t perfect and I would like to improve it a little bit.  Let’s talk about the umbilical cord….

So, the two babies are there in the womb but one has an umbilical cord and is fed by her mother but the other one is dead and withered in the womb (but still able to talk and discuss and “pretend” that it is alive when it is really quite dead).  The metaphor is already starting to get ugly but it is closer to the truth.

One baby is being fed by this umbilical cord and the other is not.  One is alive and in contact with her mother and the other one is not.  And this is important because new life, real life comes through the umbilical cord.  They will both be delivered at some point but one will be delivered in a still-birth and the other will be a beautiful baby girl.  That difference makes all the difference in the world.

Jesus said that he was the umbilical cord of life (the vine) and we are the babies (the branches) and that without his life flowing through us and in us, there is no power (you can do nothing) and there is no fruit (no life).  Life is in the blood and the blood brings both oxygen and energy.  Without that life there is no change, no growth, no transformation.

So, let’s get our metaphors straight.  On the one hand, we are prostitutes who run after other lovers at a moment’s notice because we forget who we are and are we take all of our husband’s directions as obligations rather than as a path to a deeper and more loving relationship.  We are broken but have been redeemed, bought with a price and we have been given the Holy Spirit who regenerates our hearts and makes them soft and pliable and more willing to make an effort in this relationship.  We discover that we have some basic faith, some expectation of blessing, some desire for our husband but we aren’t so good at putting it into practice.  Why?

Jesus said that we needed to remain in him and that his word needs to remain in us.  In our metaphor for today, we are babies that need to have life pumped into them on a regular, continuous basis in order to have the power to live, grow, change and become more mature.  Without that connection, that relationship, we will wither and die and be just like all of the other babies that are not regenerated.  It doesn’t mean that we aren’t alive.  Maybe we are but maybe we aren’t.  How can you tell?  If you are pinching the umbilical cord so hard that life doesn’t flow through it, if you have it wrapped around your neck so tightly that you start to resent it being there, if you sit on it, ignore it, stick it in your mouth and chew on it, anything in fact, other than to take care of it and nurture it and let it feed you, then you are in trouble.  The umbilical cord is our relationship with Jesus.

So to speak plainly and not in metaphors, let me say it in another way.  We have this new relationship with God.  We have faith that it is true and that salvation is ours when our friends and perhaps even family think we are crazy.  They certainly don’t believe in these fairy tales.  And we discover that we are filled with expectation of good things, of blessings, of benefits that will come from this new relationship.  We are not in it for the benefits, mind you, but we know that good things will come naturally from it.  Like being in love.  The relationship is it’s own reward.

And finally, we have this new desire.  It drives us crazy sometimes.  We want it but we don’t want it.  We want to love God but we don’t want to give up all of our other forms of pleasure and stress-relief that we have learned to rely on to get through life.  We love, but poorly, half-heartedly, inconsistently.  And we know it and it drives us crazy.  That’s the good news because our family and friends don’t have that struggle.  They don’t even remotely care about loving God.  They don’t want God at all.  We are the crazy ones, struggling with sin, wanting to know God better, agonizing about our shortcomings, like a teenager in love, thinking about every word, every gesture, every thought and wondering whether or not it will change the way He looks at us, whether it is true that He really likes us, even though He knows us so well, especially when we still are so broken and weak and even rebellious in our efforts to love Him back.  Can it be?  Is it really unconditional?  Does He like me even when, and especially when, I am a walking mess and I grieve the Spirit?  The answer is transformative if you really believe it, hope for it and live and breathe it.  It’s called agape love.  And, yes, it is astonishing!

The umbilical cord has miraculously been re-attached, the life is starting to flow through it and we are starting to experience the steady supply of faith, hope and love and the oxygen and energy it brings to our efforts.  The Bible calls it Resurrection Power and it comes to us from the Holy Spirit when we walk with Him in abundant life.  We look forward to our Delivery (Deliverance) from this body of death into a new life on the last day or when we die but, for now, we are supposed to work with our Mother, stay in the relationship and make every effort to keep that umbilical cord in good working order.  It is our life-line to resurrection power.  When that life-line is working well, anything can happen.

Obviously every metaphor breaks down at some point and here it breaks down in the sense that a baby has nothing to do but exist and grow and get ready for birth.  But in the case of the Christian life, we are more involved than that.  Yes, Jesus is the author and finisher or our faith but we need to be committed to the relationship, ready to make every effort to take care of and nurture that relationship so that resurrection power flows through into our lives and into the lives of the people around us.

So, here is the point I want to make.  Focus on the relationship not the sin.  Confession is not about the sin, it’s about the honesty that is necessary for any relationship to flourish.  Repentance is not about rules and regulations.  If the confession was honest, then there will be a real committment to change and we have all of the resurrection power of Christ available to us through the Holy Spirit to make any changes that God wants to see in us, in order to perfect our love for Him and for others.  Forgiveness is about the love of God shown in the cross.  It is about healing not about punishment.  Reconciliation is about restoring the relationship.  Most sin isn’t about the sin even in our earthly relationships.  It isn’t about the harsh words she said or the stupid actions that he did, it’s about our fear that the relationship has been broken, it’s about our hurt that he or she doesn’t really care, that the love was just a sham, a fake, a temporary desire.  It is the broken relationship that matters not the sin.  That was just the symptom of something deeper.

And, yes, we are talking first and foremost about your relationship with God but that includes your relationship with your brother and sister in Christ.  John makes it clear that our relationship with other Christians is the same thing as our relationship with Christ.  We are one body.  One Spirit.  What you do to the least of these my brothers, Jesus said, you do unto me.

The same is true for God.  Sin is a symptom of a broken relationship.  That needs to be dealt with first, and the sin will mostly take care of itself.  If you can learn that one truth, it will save you a lot of heartache and keep you clearly on the right path, the way of the cross on the road to Jerusalem.  It might also save your marriage….

The Desert Warrior

P.S.  Let’s talk to God…..

Lord, I want to learn to love you more.  Not just in spiritual experience in worship but everyday in my actions and words.  I want to join your cause, learn your ways, take your paths.  Help me, Lord.  I want to focus on our relationship and learn to love you more and talk to you more.  Help me to learn that when I don’t want to pray it might be because there is something I am hiding, some sin that I don’t want to bring into the light.  Help me to learn that when I am not willing to be transparent and honest with my fellow Christian in a small group or one-on-one setting that it might be because I don’t want to be real with them because I am scared, or tired or just plain in a bad mood.  Help me to work on the relationships in order to find true resurrection power and abundant life.  In Jesus name I pray.  Amen.

Read more       (from The Temptations of the Cross)

He had caught her interest and the seeds of doubt grew quickly in the virgin soil.  He had cast doubt not only on the clear word of God but also on God’s character.

Was God trying to keep some good thing from them?  Was this fruit something that her man as King of the earth was entitled to have?  Should she try it first to make sure it was all right and then give some to Adam?

The woman saw that the tree was good to eat and pleasing to the eye and that it was desirable for the knowledge that it could give.  So she took some of its fruit and ate it.

She gave some also to her husband who had come up behind her.  He held the fruit in his hand, looked into her eyes and realized what she had done.

“We will be like God,” she said in response to the question in his eyes.

He hesitated only long enough for the desire to take root in his own heart and then he ate it.  Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they realized that they were naked.  (Read more…..)