Category Archives: God

Palm Shreds

Here in Florida — the land of palm branches a-plenty — one can actually find them scattered about to wave for Palm Sunday. Even if it’s only one palm frond you find in your backyard and you wave it as a personal worship celebration, and incidentally, for the amusement of your two young pups.

It is so much fun to watch their delight as you wave it to and fro. “Hosanna,” you say. “Hosanna.” You say this quietly, hoping the neighbors are not bothered by your odd behavior. But wave it you do and wave it some more as you see how delighted your pups are to play with it. Like kittens with a ball of string, Brittany Buddy and Retriever Lily, jump and frolic and lunge for the fronds. Finally, you give in and toss it in the air for them to catch. They each grab an end and tug and tussle, happily pulling it from each other. What fun! A new toy!

Ah, but then Lily gets a strong grip; she grabs and runs. Buddy gives chase. Lily spins, Buddy misses. Buddy grabs, Lily latches on and tugs it away again. Buddy gets frustrated and growls at Lily. She romps away to sit with her acquisition and rip, rip, rip the fronds. Buddy snarls and bites at her back. Not so playful anymore. Lily protects and defends what’s left. The palm branch is now in shreds.

On any other day, these two are inseparable. Where one goes the other follows. If one leaves, the other whines in protest. They share a common water bowl. They will eat from the same food bowl without complaint. They take turns when snacks are offered, never denying the other his due. And yet… when there is one treasured prize, the mild manner is left behind.

This is mine. Not yours. Because this is mine, it cannot be yours.

Somehow, this seems an apt and unfortunate metaphor for what can be divisive and ugly interactions between Christians in our day. As if there weren’t enough palm fronds to go around. As if Jesus were a limited or scarce commodity. As if my claim on Him meant you couldn’t have Him.

Nope. Today’s palm branches signify the welcome of a humble king and invite a willingness to follow. Wherever He leads us. No one said that Christ-following would be easy, not the least of all Jesus who rode into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey, knowing for certain what lay ahead. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Matthew 21:9)

So soon they would ring out, “Crucify him!” (John 19:15)

As we enter into this Holiest of weeks and follow Christ through the most harrowing of circumstances, let us give grateful thanks for His life, His ministry, and the way He made for us to follow. A way that promises abundant life with plenty to share.

Let’s not fight over who gets to wave the palm branch.

A new heart I give you

A dear friend received a new heart today. Literally

Not a Valentine’s Day heart. Not a sappy, sentimental heart-shaped gift. Neither construction paper cut-out nor “heart”-shaped facsimile, the heart he received was an organ. A life-saving, life-giving organ. This heart is a living, pumping cardiac-muscle of a heart. Sewn into the opening left when they extracted his old heart that wasn’t working well, really it was failing, not strong enough to pump life support to his body that was still young and strong and virile.

Yes, today God replaced his old heart of (nearly) stone with a heart of flesh, and it is beating in his chest right now. Receiving blood, pumping blood, delivering blood continuously, obediently, constantly to all the places in his body that were desperate for it.

Just twenty-four hours ago, this heart was perfectly happy to beat in someone else’s chest. To receive, pump and deliver blood there. What of this? What of these? What of him?

Why must someone die so another might live?

I cannot fathom this. Cannot explain this. Certainly cannot condone this. Yet.

Yet, one man of old did just such a thing. Died, giving Himself up for us. This is my body, for you. This is my blood, for you. This, I will give you. This is what you need. This will give you life.

Day by day, we’re offered a new heart, signed by God. A heart offered without price, save what was paid on the cross.

There for us when we need it. Before we know we need it.

This is no Valentine’s cut-out and no slobbering sentimentality. This is God’s own heart, work horse of our effort, unsung hero of our inner workings, grinding out our days supplying the lifeforce of our very being.

Day in and day out.

Awake and Asleep.

Conscious and unconscious.

Constant

Persistent

Resilient

So reliable, we don’t even remember it in our prayers.

So trustworthy, we don’t even think to question its methods.

So diligent, we don’t even begin to doubt its lastingness.

Yet.

Yet, sometimes when we cry out for a new heart, God complies. Our heart of stone is replaced by a heart of flesh, rock of ages past, usurped by flesh and blood. Gift given. Gift received.

And in gratitude, we pray: May the heart of Christ fill the space left behind. May the soul of Christ occupy this void. May the mind of Christ show the way to this generous spirit whose life ended too soon and yet. And yet.

There is life. And in its name, in His name, we rejoice.

Broken like a record: 400,000 lives need us to carry them into a new day

There I go again. No matter how I turn, turn, turn, I seem to keep ending up in the same place. Same grumbling. Same shaking my head. Same temptation to just keep dialing into the doom that feels nearly overwhelming in spite of my best efforts to haul myself up and onto the happy train.

Four years ago, while I was traversing the Capitol Mall on my way to attend the National Book Festival, I got a look at the 2016 Inauguration preparations. Pedestrians were only allowed to cross on designated pebbled pathways which were bounded on either side by tall chain link fence. Looking through the links I saw, in one distance, the Capitol building and in the other, the Washington Monument. Between them, what is normally a grassy expanse was instead covered in white plastic tarp, dotted at regular intervals by thousands of black sandbags. It looked to me like a huge cemetery.

How prophetic this feels today as tomorrow’s inauguration looms, now with 400,000 lives lost in the US alone to this deadly pandemic. I’m mired in gloom as I watch current preparations underway, standing as I am with metaphorical feet mired in today’s muddied grounds. I, free of Covid infection so far, am instead wracked by the virus of anger, unprotected by my antibodies of indifference, distracted continuously by division and rancor, all the while fretting in fear. Stone cold stuck in a furrow of my own making.

All of this angst fueled the very capable side-planking exercise I performed early this morning. 60 seconds to the right side: 60 seconds to the left. Stable and strong until I then tred to elevate one leg. Ha! it shouts, taunting and merciless. The mind says go, but the muscles say no way! Those hamstrings ain’t what they used to be, but at least they’re truthful. Better than my core which is now suspiciously silent.

Funny how a bit of daily sturdiness can trick ya into thinking you’re moving right along when actually you’re stuck in the rut of your regular routine. All that time you thought you were making beautiful music you were just a skip in the record, repeating the same refrain, over and over and over.

Time to pick up the arm of that old Victrola and set the needle on the next track to play a new song. Gently.

Today, this January 19th of 2021, the vast lawn of our National Mall is being draped, one might say planted, with 400,000 flags, each one representing a person who will not attend this inauguration because of Covid-19. Today, this hallowed ground will, in fact, be a cemetery. The image, though desperately sad, is incredibly moving. Ironically, from this brokenness, we can be inspired. Inspired not just to set up camp and mourn for the lost, though we have to and we will continue to, but rather to pick them up and carry them with us into a better day.

God will provide that day.

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, God will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:13

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