“Why can’t we all get along” means “Why can’t everyone be like me”

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Rodney King famously exclaimed in the 1990s, “Why can’t we all just get along?” Recently, after witnessing the horrific shootings of the past week a woman asked me the same question. Perhaps you have been thinking the same thing the last couple of months. Seems simple right?

However,  what we really mean when we ask that question is, “Why can’t everyone be like me? I can get along with everyone!” Most of us can not imagine having blood on our hands, therefore we assume we would never go beyond a mumbled slander toward our adversary.  And surely everyone likes us! But does that mean we can get along with everyone? While watching people do the unthinkable on T.V. the vast majority of Americans believe they would make the right choices in every situation. Yet I promise that if you follow any given person throughout her life you would hear and see words and deeds that betray her ability and even predisposition to not only ‘not get along’ but even kill. I assure you that even the thoughts of your white haired grandma would scare you if you knew them!

While the rest of the world stunningly stares at the T.V. as they watch a man gunning down another man, Christians should remain unalarmed. Oh, we weep for sure. However we know why bad people do bad things because we know why good people do bad things – SIN.

The heart of the racist, the pervert, the rioter and the murderer brazenly beats in all our chests. We are all capable of the worst deeds. We all have that gene. The question should not be “why can’t everyone just get along” but “Why do people get along… ever?”

Therefore, while the Christian reply to villainy is certainly a call for justice, it also demands self reflection and repentance. Then, as we look at victim and villain with the eyes of Jesus who died for both, we pray for both. Yet most importantly, as our neighbors are paralyzed with fear, we have been given words of hope and peace; the words of our enemy’s savior, Jesus Christ. We not only know why people don’t get along, but we know that humanity is not simply stuck in some anatomical destiny of extinction. There is deliverance for free for all in Jesus Christ!

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Jesus came not only to save us from sin, death and Satan but also from ourselves. We are the problem after all not simply “those” people.

Jesus has reconciled us to God! We who were once His enemies. He didn’t do this by providing a path to peace, but literally pronounces us forgiven! it is finished. The power of knowing and trusting that overflows to reconciliation with those around us.  By God’s Spirit we are enabled to turn the other cheek, to look upon our enemy with compassion and forgive them.

Dear Christians, your neighbors need you because of what you know and who you know. You are called to be the calm voice in the midst of the storm. Christians are not shocked by what man can do and ,though it continues to amaze us, we know what God can do and has done and will do! For He is the one who turned the other cheek and transformed our violent blows into wounds that still flow with forgiveness and life! So instead of running around like Chicken Little crying, “The sky is falling,” hug your neighbor and tell them,”Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again” Hang on brothers and sisters. We will all get along in the resurrection.

Surrender! The War is Over! He is Risen

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He is risen!
Hiroo Onoda was sent to Lubang Island in the Philippines by his Japanese imperial commander during World war II. He was ordered to do all that he could to hamper enemy attacks on the island. There were three others with him.
One day, they came across a leaflet from the local islanders to them saying “The war ended August 15th.  Come down from the mountains!”  The few remaining cells discussed this leaflet extensively, but eventually decided that it was Allied propaganda trying to get them to give themselves up.  They felt that there was no way that Japan could have lost so quickly since the time when they were deployed.  Indeed, this would seem strange to anyone who had no knowledge of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Eventually, near the end of the same year local islanders, fed up with being shot at and raided, got a Boeing B-17 to drop leaflets all over the jungle.  These leaflets had the order to surrender printed on them from General Yamashita.  The few remaining cells once again scrutinized these leaflets to try to determine their authenticity.  In the end, the wording on the leaflet pertaining to the method with which they would be sent back to Japan seemed fishy to them; largely because the wording made it seem as if Japan had lost, something they couldn’t fathom and which was a big problem in their willingness to accept the war had ended.  If Japan had won, they would come and get them.  Japan couldn’t lose, so the war must still be going.
When this didn’t work, more leaflets were dropped with newspapers from Japan; photographs and letters from the soldiers families; delegates were sent from Japan and went through the jungle speaking over loudspeakers begging the soldiers to give themselves up.  In every case the cells encountered, there was always something suspicious in their minds about the way it was done to cause them to believe it was an elaborate hoax by the Allied troops.
Years passed in the jungle with these four soldiers continuing to perform their sworn duty of harrying the enemy at every opportunity and gather intelligence as best they could.  At a certain point, when most everybody they saw was dressed in civilian clothing, they began thinking that this too was a ruse from the Allied forces to lull the Japanese guerrilla soldiers into a false sense of confidence.  They considered the fact that every time they fired on these “civilians” shortly thereafter search parties would arrive hunting them.  Over time they had gradually let their solitude twist their minds into thinking everyone was an enemy, even their own fellow Japanese who would occasionally come and try to find them and get them to come home.  These of course in their minds were Japanese prisoners forced to come lure them away from the safety of the jungle.
Isnt’ that crazy!
Hiroo did not believe that the war had ended! But the fact was- it did! His belief did not affect the reality that the war had ended, but it did greatly affect how he lived for 29 years!
The same can be said of the resurrection! People may not believe it happened. But the fact is – it did! Believing whether or not the Jesus death and resurrection happened does not affect their reality, but it certainly affects how you live and enjoy your life!

The disciples weren’t in the jungle, but they were hiding in an upper room. They had been told by some of the women that Jesus had risen from the dead. But that’s crazy – more crazy than an atomic bomb! John and Peter saw the empty tomb! but they must not have really believed it. They were scared. They were scared that the war had just begun. Their leader had been killed and now their fellow Jews were coming after them!
Well Jesus, himself, came and found them huddled together paranoid of the enemy. He appeared in their midst and whispered, “Peace be with you!” Then he showed them something that would give them certain peace: His hands once limp moving, His side once pierced healed, Life after death! Then they were glad! Jesus said again, “as the Father has sent me, so I am sending you” and when he said this He breathed on them and said, “receive the holy spirit If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven, if you withhold the sins of any they are withheld.”
Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
Now we so often like to call Thomas – doubting Thomas! But he is any different than the rest of the disciples. They didn’t believe until they saw either!

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Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Jesus sends the Church to tell people hiding and scared, “the War is over! Come out of hiding! Surrender! He is risen! He died for you. He rose again. You have forgiveness and eternal life in Jesus name!”

The resurrection is not the product of belief. It happened whether its believed or not.  It is an historical event,  like the signing of the surrender of the Japanese! There were more than 500 witnesses. They never found the body. The witnesses were not gullible easy believers. They clearly struggled with someone rising from the dead. They were scientific in their need for proof, like Thomas said, ‘unless I see his hand, etc.’
Don’t let anyone tell you that the resurrection belongs over here in the faith category and science belongs over here in the knowing category. John says in the beginning of his first letter, “That which was( from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands.”
But do not be afraid to doubt either. Thomas doubted. Thomas asked a question. Jesus responded. The Resurrection can withstand questioning. It can withstand doubts. And the church, like Jesus is a safe place, to question, to struggle, to need more. Truth, if it is truth, can handle scrutiny right?  In fact Jesus came to those who doubt Just as He came to Thomas so the Church and her people come to those who doubt.
In fact it is imperative that people feel free to talk, to question, because the Devil wants you to keep your doubts to yourself, locked in a room, afraid. The Devil wants to keep you like those Japanese soldiers, hiding and living in a fear of your own imagination!
He is Risen!
There are people in dark rooms in your town! They live in fear like Hiroo Onada; suspicious, paranoid, fighting their past, their sin, scared of judgment day, scared of death. They live in a landscape marred by sin and suffering.   The war is far from over for them.  And don’t be surprised if at first they think you are passing out propaganda because it does sound way to good to be true!  Don’t give up on them!
Jesus sends you to go those places, to your neighbors, to your coworkers and classmates – don’t wait for them to come here ! Go and tell them “We have seen the Lord!” He is risen! He has paid the price for all of our sins. He has conquered death!
Surrender! The War has ended!

Remember what He told you

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“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ”  Then they remembered his words. Luke 24:5-8

There was a boy who held tightly to a letter. It was a letter from his dearest Father. He had been shipped to Europe during the second world war. His Father loved his son so he left him a letter that instructed him to take care of his mother and in his siblings among other things and concluded with, “I’m coming home soon!” He gave him his word.

That boy held on to that letter as days turned to weeks and weeks to months and months to a year. Two years past and that boy read that letter over and over. He memorized every word and clung to the last sentence like it was his dad’s warm body. He recited them every night, ‘i’m coming home.’

Two years went by when there was knock on the door. It was two army officers who reported that the boys father had been killed in combat.

Though there was great sadness and tears, hope overcame darkness. The boy had another man’s words, a man even greater and more trustworthy than his dad’s; The words of the one who was raised from the dead. He and his dad had the words of the Savior who says, “I will raise you up on the last day!” For years that boy has been clinging to those words.  and waiting.

Christ is coming! The boy will see his dad again. His dad will be coming home after all.

Through it all, just as the angels said – remember what He told you. Cling to Christ’s words. They are only words we can trust. They are the words of the one who has always completed what He promised, even rising from the dead.

Drop your bucket lists! Christ is risen

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More than ever I hear people, even young people, brag about their bucket list. In case you have been living under a rock or in Arkansas, a bucket list is a list of things a person wants to do before she dies. It could be a trip to Disney World, sky diving, eating fried worms, visiting Mesick, Mi, etc. You get the picture.

I understand what compels a person to compose such a list. We are always under time limits which force us to make priorities, utilize the time as efficiently as possible, and get the maximum done before the end. We constantly live under pressure really; whether we are at work, with our family, or even on vacation. So naturally when we contemplate death, the smart efficient american in us writes down a plan to make the most of our time. YOLO you only live once right?

Also in this retirement culture created by the great excess of wealth enjoyed by the Western world, completing bucket lists has become almost a rite and a right. right? While the rest of Christians in the world look forward to the new heaven and new earth, some fortunate Americans look forward to retirement and completing bucket lists.

Notice too how saddened people become when they hear of a person who died in his teens or younger. He didn’t get to finish his life, they cry! He didn’t get to grow old, retire and move to Florida.

Unfortunately no one gets to ‘finish’ his life! Death cuts all lives short. Death is the punishment of sin. Death has nothing to do with life. No one gets to wrap up her pretty little life with a bow and say, ‘complete’.  No one outside of Christ.

I feel so bad for people who live by the phrase YOLO or put so much hope in bucket lists. Will they be satisfied if they put a check in all their boxes? I doubt it. Do they really think death is the end, so get it all in now? how depressing! Worse, many Christians who just celebrated Easter, live like this! As St. Paul says, “if hope in this life is all we got, we are to be pitied more than anyone!”

I have good news for you who want to do it all but don’t have enough time. Christ is Risen. So it ain’t a mad race to the end anymore! This is not actually the best time of your life. You have not reached the prime of your life. You don’t need to rush around tying to get the most out of life! There is no end in Jesus! Christ is risen and you will rise too!

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Your life will not be completed when you die. Your life is completed in Christ and He is…
Risen, never to die again.

Indeed God has made a beautiful world and there is nothing wrong with enjoying it if the opportunity presents itself. But you’ll have forever to enjoy it. There is no rush. You have been freed to enjoy it, knowing that you don’t have to grab everything you can before you die. Christ is Risen therefore you will rise too! No matter what you have done on your bucket list, you ain’t seen nothing yet!

So put away your bucket list and YOLO bumper sticker. Stop worrying about ‘living life to the fullest’ and relax! In Christ you HAVE life to the fullest. So instead of making yourself happy because tomorrow you’ll die, try serving others and sharing the peace Christ has given you with others. God’s got a bucket list too. 1. Conquer sin and death – it is finished. 2. Go make disciples of all nations…

Christ is risen

What Christ Can Make With a Few Nails!

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Nails! What a simple invention! Yet perhaps the most essential device that holds civilization together. they are an archetype of technology, of civilization. Nails have been with us for at least 5000 years. What would we build without nails?
Nails connect one piece of wood to another to another. In time they create a home, a garage, a safe place, a sky scraper. A couple of nails and pieces of wood eventually turn in to a computer, an x ray machine, a man on the moon.

Nails. It is amazing what we can do. God has blessed us not only with a beautiful world, but beautiful brains that can build beautiful things. Like our Creator, we ain’t too bad at creating.

Yet more often than not, we do terrible things with the brains God has given us and the contraptions we make. We can even commit atrocities with just a few nails.

We laugh at ancient civilizations that bowed down before wooden idols. How can something made by man become the same man’s god! Ah, such idol worship has only become more sophisticated. If we can make that idol speak back to us, display images, temporarily heal our wounds, connect us to strangers half way around the world, satisfy our perverted desires – well maybe its worthy to be worshiped.

The worship of idols made by hands causes more americans to fall away from Christ than college professors or jackasses on t.v. As long as americans have their Super Bowl broadcast on high definition t.v.s and they can play farmville on their iphone, they could care less about what else is going on in the world, or what happens after death.  As Pink Floyd sings, ‘we have become comfortably numb.’ Don’t bother us about sin, death, or anything serious. out of sight out of mind.

We love what we build. it has become our god. like the tower of Babel. we think we can reach the heavens. Yet no matter how much we invent, we have not changed our condition one iota. We are depressed and dying creatures staring at the boob tube pretending everything is ok.

Worse, if we aren’t admiring what we build, we are using our minds and our creations to kill and hurt our neighbors or ourselves. What’s the first thing we did with the internet? We treated women like animals through porn!

So it should be no surprise that with our brains and nails we made a cross out of a couple pieces of wood. We turned on our Creator. We have no King but Caesar, they cried. But they really meant, We have no king but ourselves. like Eve and Adam, we want to be God. We want to be the builder. We don’t like Him to tell us what to do with our bodies, our words, our hearts. We would rather kill our King than submit.

So they drove nails in the flesh of God.
Yet those nails didn’t kill Jesus. We did!

And those nails did not keep jesus on the cross!
His love for us did.

With those nails our Lord was raised up high. By those nails our Lord suffered and died.  Yet with those nails, the Lord turned the tide and turned our worst act of rebellion into His greatest act of love! By His wounds we are healed, as Isaiah foresaw! By His wounds we are forgiven, our punishment replaced, our destiny destroyed.

With those very same nails, Jesus began to construct something amazing, something out of nothing! Something more marvelous than creation itself: A church! A people of God!

Sure enough Christ rose from the dead as He promised, yet the marks of the nails still decorated his hands and feet! And with these marked hands He sought after empty dead rebels, first his scared disciples, then you and me.

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And with those marks of the Messiah, Jesus raises the dead in baptism, He makes enemies into friends, He makes rebels into a community, He brings back lost sons and daughters to the Father, to Home!

He who has begun this good work in you will bring it to completion on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ!

In other words, just as He told Nathaniel, you haven’t seen nothing yet!

Are You Superstitious?

 

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BLAKE, William ‘The Soldiers casting lots for Christ’s Garments’ C.1800

“and the divided up his clothes by casting lots” Luke 23:34

cleromancy. sound spooky? it’s the practice of casting lots to determine the will of God or gods. its a common practice throughout history. According to Tacitus the Roman historian, the Germans were especially into this. they would roll dice or runes to determine everything.

we laugh at this humorous way to figure out what God thinks. We look down on it as some sort of primitive exercise unacceptable for sophisticated civilized americans such as ourselves. We have iPhones and CNN afterall.

yet doesn’t society do this now?

The psychic business seems to be doing quite well as their advertisements regularly appear on my t.v. and web browser. Someone must be paying for that crap. Horoscopes are still printed in the newspaper.

Yes of course you don’t buy into that. You are a Christian.

You have your own unique superstitions thought don’t you?

You don’t cast lots but you look for signs. God should i take this new job? show me a sign!

should i marry this guy? show me a sign.

should i take the call to ________ lutheran Church?

should i buy that Volkswagen?

Please Lord something! give me a sign!

What is God’s Will you frantically pray! If only we could just roll the dice!

even Christians can be superstitious can’t we?

We even treat God like the roman soldiers played with Zeus. And if we aren’t looking for signs, we bargain with the gods.

Lord, I’ll stop doing this if you will give me that.

Lord I’ll start doing this if you’ll spare me from that!

The great Luther bargained before he knew better. Frightened by a Lightening storm he cried, “Lord if you spare my life I will enter the monastery.”

Sadly superstition in our civilized country is alive and well, even in our churches. It makes sense if one doesn’t know god. If one did not know His will. Many people know there is a god, but they don’t know much about him. he, she whatever is probably not happy with me. The gods probably look down on me from way up there.

maybe if I press this magic button something will pop out.

So here are these soldiers at the foot of God’s cross. They had no clue how close they were to the one to whom they so much wanted to talk to!

They cast lots to see who would benefit from Jesus death! To Whom do the gods want to give the cloak!? Whom does God love? Of whom does He approve?

They cast lots because God was unknown to them. Does the great Zeus want me to have this cloak? Whom does he favor! so they clawed in the dark – they rolled the dice.

All the while right above them was a sign of God’s will far greater than rolling the dice!

The sign read, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” and below it the bloodied and beaten King cried out so that all may hear even 2000 years later – “it is finished”!

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They hoped the gods would bless them through the death of this Jesus – one of them would get some clothes!

Yet God gave a sign to the world of His Will! His son on the cross! And the gift of God to those soldiers even all the world was Forgiveness, eternal life, His Son!

So that you may know that Christ’s death for your sins is yours, He doesn’t leave it to a guessing game!

He splashes you with water and says ‘in the name of the father, son and holy ghost!’ you are a child of God

He puts bread and wine in your mouth saying – take and eat, take and drink!

We don’t need to look for signs! We don’t need to roll the dice.

God speaks quite clearly to us!
in the blood of His Son.

stop smiling like a buffoon

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“ i think a photograph is a most important document, and there is nothing more damning to go down to posterity than a silly, foolish smile caught and fixed forever.”- Mark Twain

My brother and I are infamous in our families for refusing to smile in photographs. As we were raised by the heroes of the past in books and biographies, none of them smiled in photos, so why would we? As Kanye West told an inquirer, “When you see paintings in an old castle, people are not smiling because it just wouldn’t look as cool.” i like it. yes i’m smiling as i quote Kanye.

Surprisingly as I began this trend back in my high school days I was met with nearly violent resistance! photographers threw stuffed teddies at me, made bizarre noises, family members punched me in the gut (well that might be exaggerated.) Seriously people really get upset. Which of course encourages me to smile less because I must be on to something.

It’s my picture after all! But i suppose they feel insulted. They probably think I don’t like to be photographed with them or I don’t appreciate the increasingly diluted art form, if you can call it that. Photography is to art what psychology is to science. That’s my analysis. You figure out how high I esteem photography …and psychology for that matter.

In the not too distant past, people did not smile for photographs or paintings. It wasn’t because they had to pose for a long time and therefore it was easier not to smile. It was likely because a photograph or painting was a single serious touchstone of a person’s life as Twain makes clear. Also as Twain indicates, smiling was likely considered something buffoons did. Only someone who has no clue a piano is falling from the sky to crush them would stand there smiling at the cars rolling by.

I  am fond of Twain’s reasoning (and secretly I agree with Kanye). Look at our political candidates these days. Since the Nixon/Kennedy run off, suckers running for office are always smiling, even while saying, “I’m not a crook”. God forbid we vote for someone who is serious. Likely, the advertising theory behind a smiling politician is ‘hey, if that guy is happy, I’ll probably be happy if he’s in the whitehouse.’ Sadly this strategy likely works. Once again America will get the president they deserve.

Then there is the ministry. It seems like every picture of a pastor from mega churches to small rural mission outpost have pics of pastors with plastic smiles. If we don’t smile people wont come, right?. “If you look like you aren’t happy pastor it will send a message that we are not a happy people?,” one member told me. From the dictates of advertising, pastors believe that if people see that you are happy being a part of God’s church, others will too.

hmmm. If people want to be happy, let them go to that medical marijuana store on Mitchell st.. i don’t care if people are happy, though I know they will be eventually in Jesus. I want people to die and rise in Jesus Christ. Quite frankly, that’s serious business. Life and death you might say! I don’t see firefighters smiling while they pull little children from smoke filled houses!

And no, I don’t believe Jesus smiled too often. Though He was the calm amidst the storm and still is. And if he ever did laugh, it was probably when he was on that high hill praying and telling His Father about some ridiculous antic of Peter’s.

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Perhaps we are very fortunate there are no photos of Christ’s passion for us. Instead we have been drawn by His act on the cross and empty tomb. And today He draws millions through the preaching of His Word whether the preacher is smiling or not.

Now don’t get me started on the bearded, shy, contemplative, ‘what, were you photographing me?’ pastor pose.

For Lent Let’s give up being Drama Queens

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Nothing worse than a drama queen right? like a train wreck we slow down our cars to watch them on reality t.v., hollywood award shows, or perhaps we get to enjoy a live show at work or on campus. they wear their emotions on their sleeve. well i suppose its just one emotion. they are upset and they want to make sure everyone knows. In fact the dirty little secret is that they like being upset!

I love Ash Wednesday and i love Lent, yet how quickly we can make the season a melodramatic t.v. miniseries! It begins with ashes on our foreheads as we walk out of church and are greeted by so and so at the gas pump or our neighbor at the grocery. Look at me with my ashes! i’m reallllllly sorrrrry. i’m succcchhhh a sinnnnner. I remember one member telling me with shock how someone asked him what was on his forehead. “they didn’t even know what it was pastor! can you believe it?!” he exclaimed. Of course he either didn’t explain it to the innocent bystander or he simply said, “well its for ash wednesday! haven’t you ever heard of it?!”

If you get your ash in church this wednesday please wipe it off when you leave the building unless you plan on sharing its meaning and Good news of Jesus with everyone who sees you! Don’t just be a drama queen, parading your sorrow for all to see.

And then of course there is the helpful discipline of fasting and abstaining. I’m a big fan of both. Yet these spiritual disciplines can quickly turn into someone moaning about her desire for a Latte but of course, “i gave that up,” as she announces her piety to the room. Soon everyone is sharing what they did or did not give up and how hard it is. Ok Cinderellas.

Ah but i recently discovered my own drama queen tendencies! I’ve noticed that i love to tell God how sorry i am! I have been apologizing to God for something i did a little while ago. I’ve been so upset by it. At night time i cry out, “i’m sorry please forgive me.” on my 6 mile run i get frustrated and repeat over and over, “Lord have mercy.” Sounds good right. A broken and contrite heart o lord you will not despise!? Well don’t let me fool you. Ive been acting like a drama queen! My old adam bought into the false religion that somehow if i keep saying i’m sorry with emotion and desperation God will forgive me. no, actually i think that by saying it enough and being upset by it enough i’ll make up for it somehow. hell, i don’t even care if he forgives me, i just like to make a big show about it! Drama Queen! I am forgiven by the blood of Christ period! its done. shut up about it! stop going on and on. I screwed up. I’m forgiven. move on.

This Lent don’t concentrate on how much of a show you can make of your unworthiness, your sorrow and contriteness. you aren’t kidding anyone let alone God. yeah, you have really screwed up! With a word Christ forgives you! period. Not because you said you are sorry or because you demonstrated a degree of sorrow, but because He loves you!

Our Lord is no drama queen. we are given really no details of his Passion if you think about it. He didn’t moan and groan about how much we were hurting Him. He didn’t prolong his pain to make us feel really guilty. He was quiet and to the point. It is finished! He gave up His Spirit. That’s that! In a moment all of our sins were paid for!

If you are going to go on and on about something for all the world to see, how about going on and on about God’s mercy in Jesus Christ!