Posts Tagged ‘Jesus Christ



Tulips in springIt’s happening.

Can you feel it?

If you stand REEEEEEALLLY still and cock your head a little to the left you can almost hear the new blades of grass shoving against the soil.

In a few places around my yard, a foolhardy daffodil or two has even broached the surface, looked around and hollered, “HEY! Where is everybody?? It’s springtime, Y’all!! Let’s get this party STARTED!!”

Right here where we sit on the calendar… right after the arrival of Daylight Saving Time… is positively pregnant with promise.

It’s a time of becoming.

It’s a time of eager anticipation.

It’s a time that teases us with visions of endless possibility.

It is also a time when I inevitably miss the message God has hidden inside the buds of the lilac bush.

I glance around my yard and my neighborhood, noting the dynamic costume change going on and mistakenly believe THAT is the main attraction.

You’ve seen it too; trees start pulling on their pale green sweaters … flowerbeds begin spreading their multi-hued quilts… dead, brown straw wakes up and breaks out the vibrant spring wardrobe.

I take it all in and say to myself, “THAT’S what I need! I need to SPIFF IT UP a bit! I need to break out some new threads! I need to do the same kind of extreme make-over I see happening all around me in the natural world. That is what will breathe new life into my weary soul!”

And so that’s what I do.

I start a new project.

I plan a new adventure.

I buy a new pair of shoes.

And in the process, I totally miss the real message hidden in the buds of spring.

As it turns out, the Christian mystic, Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), observed the coming of spring nearly a millennium ago and accurately captured its true meaning.

Fr. Richard Rohr, in his daily meditation, quoted Hildegard and observed, “[She] often used the word viriditas, the greening of things from within…. She recognized a readiness in plants to receive the sun and to transform it into energy and life. She also saw an inherent connection between the physical world and the divine Presence. This connection translates into energy that is the soul and seed of everything, an inner voice calling you to ‘Become who you are; become all that you are.’” 

When the Pharisee Nicodemus came to Jesus seeking answers to life’s persistent mysteries, Jesus told him rather directly to attain the new life he was seeking meant that he would have to be, “… born of water and spirit.” (John 3:5).

In other words, Nicodemus needed to “green from within.”

There is no doubt that the time of greening up and sprucing up is upon us. Heck, it might even be time for a new tie, pair of shoes or dress… whichever suits you best.

But as we take one more admiring glance in the mirror, let’s try to remember that the real transformation needs to start from WITHIN.

Abundant blessings…


The Child Within

inner childrenHe sees so much, sitting there
Perched on the edge of my soul.
An avalanche of wonder cascades
On… in… around his open, receptive eyes.

He misses nothing.
He is a bridge.
He is a lighthouse.
He is the key to the door of secrets.

His hand outstretched
E.T. glowing white fingertips
He invites me to “come”

“We should climb this tree
And sit silently
And watch.” 

“We should dive into
That pile of leaves…
And roll around.”

In his hand, a wrapped gift appears.
Open it,” he sings.
And so I open it
And I weep.

The gift pulses, shimmers, purrs
It glows a deep, satisfying blue.
It is the gift I have always wanted
But could never speak.

It is the gift of my life…

Mine to cherish.
Mine to own.

I love you,” he says.
And smiles.


S is for Serve

(This post is the fourth in a series. Recently, my mentor/counselor/friend suggested I create an acrostic from the letters of my name as a way of claiming my God-given identity.)

I hear it when we sit down to eat at a restaurant. “Hi, chauffeurthere! My name is Jean Luc and I’ll be your server tonight.”

I hear it when young men and women volunteer for a stint in their country’s armed forces. They talk about serving their country.

I hear it when someone is thrown in jail. “Joe will be serving a ten-year sentence for armed robbery.”

But honestly, outside of those three settings (and possibly on the tennis court), I can’t tell you that I hear many people using the word “serve” much at all anymore.

Why is that, do you suppose?

Is it because to serve can seem a little demeaning or subordinate? If I serve, I am, by definition, a servant. Aren’t servants the people the rich and famous employ to drive their cars, cook their food, clean their pools, and shine their shoes?

And hey…where is the glamour or power in THAT? You and I are movers and shakers and big fat DEALmakers! The whole idea of serving seems to mean putting the needs and priorities of another person AHEAD of my own.

We don’t want to BE servants. We want to HAVE servants!

But then we hear the persistent, intruding voice of Jesus breaking into our reverie, saying, “… whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave.” (Matt. 20:26-27, NRSV) and we wonder if he might have known something we have missed.

This conversation about serving causes me to think of a woman I once knew long ago. Her name was Susan. Susan worked as a receptionist at a prominent economic development council downtown.

Every time I had a reason to call someone in that office, I got the impression from Susan that there was absolutely nothing in the WORLD that was more important to her than putting me in touch with the person I was calling. If they did not answer their extension, Susan came back on the line and offered to leave her post and try and go track them down in person.

When I told Susan I was fine leaving a message, she assured me that she would do everything in her power to make sure they received my message and returned my call… as soon as possible.

And I have no doubt she did exactly that.

Susan had a true servant’s heart.

Yes, you can say that Susan was just doing the job she was paid to do… and you would be right. But the spirit she brought to that job sent the message to everyone she met that nothing was more important to her than SERVING others.

Susan was no Jesus. But her servant’s heart endowed every phone call with a fresh sort of dignity and worth. Even if I was just calling my friend Jim to invite him to have lunch with me, I hung up the phone feeling revived and energized.

I think the bottom line in all of this is that there IS real power in serving. But it is that peculiar kind of “upside down” power Jesus so famously promoted.

It is the power that comes from giving instead of getting.

It is the power that comes from emptying rather than filling.

It is the power that comes from being all about YOU instead of being all about ME.

And sadly, it is exactly the power that the world seems to be desperately short of these days.


Hi. My name is Russell. How can I serve you today?


S is for Significance

two-sparrows(This post is the third in a series. Recently, my mentor/counselor/friend suggested I create an acrostic from the letters of my name as a way of claiming my God-given identity.)

JOAN: (my spouse of 18 years and winner of the Nobel Prize for Longsuffering and Patience) “What’s wrong, honey?” she turned toward me and asked… a concerned look creasing her brow.

ME: (yet again, playing dumb… a part I have mastered through many years of diligent practice). “Nothing. Why do you ask?”

JOAN: “That sigh you just made. It sounds like something is bothering you.”

ME: (wracking my brain to recreate each detail of the past five minutes… recalling that, yes indeed I DID sigh audibly just a moment ago, and yes indeed, there IS something troubling me… all the while wondering how she does that…) “Well, I guess I am a little worried about the meeting coming up at church tomorrow. I’m afraid things might get a little messy and I’m not sure how I’m going to handle it when they do.”

… all of this then followed by a probing and thoughtful conversation about the issues in play, my personal dilemma, challenges facing the church, and possible solutions.

It really was a great conversation… one that ultimately helped me through a very difficult passage. It also further solidified the truth of the thesis that I married way UP when I married this lady.

It was also a conversation that might never have happened at all… absent Joan’s ability to see the SIGNIFICANCE of something as small and barely audible as my involuntary exhalation of breath.

All of which causes me to wonder: how do we draw the line between significant and insignificant in the world around us? And what do we mean by the word SIGNIFICANCE anyway? The New Oxford American Dictionary offers this definition: “The quality of being worthy of attention; importance…”

Based on that definition I have to ask: Where might I find the standard used to measure the “importance” or “worthiness of attention” of anything? Is it purely a subjective yardstick or is there some universal standard? Case in point: a complete stranger, hearing the same sigh Joan heard, might not have attached any significance to it at all.

In today’s wonderful world of social media, we say that a topic is “trending” when it catches the attention of some critical mass of people in the Twitter-verse. Then and only then is that topic considered SIGNIFICANT and worthy of our collective attention.

But then what does that metric say about ME? Or YOU? Can either of us be considered significant if we lack vast armies of Twitter followers or Facebook Fans?

Maybe that explains why we hear about so many young people with a burning ambition to “be famous”. Maybe it is their way of saying, “I want to know that I actually MATTER in the world.”

I am part of a faith tradition that tells me my life is highly significant… even lacking 50,000 Twitter followers or my own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Addressing the topic of personal significance, Jesus once famously comforted a group of people – each of whom had far fewer than 100 Facebook friends – by saying, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31, NRSV).

This, my friends, is TRUTH, in all caps.

You matter. More than you can possibly know. God said so.

This divine reminder of the worth of ALL persons is one part of the reason I chose to make the word SIGNIFICANCE part of my name acrostic.

I also chose this word as a way of reminding myself to keep my eyes and ears peeled for the hidden significance in the world around me. I want to know what that glance meant, or how that rock came to be exactly THERE, or how this street got its name, or how many hours it took to build this chair.

Including the word SIGNIFICANCE also carries (for me) an inherent moral obligation to guard against dismissing any person (or their viewpoint) as “insignificant” or unworthy.

I am sure this is all part of the burden and blessing of being an artist; their heightened state of alertness to meaning and significance and nuance is great fodder for their work. But I’m sure it also makes it hard to just “turn off” for a bit and enjoy a little therapeutic mindlessness.

So yes… I am significant. I celebrate that.

You are significant. I acknowledge and appreciate that.

The world around us is both significant and magnificent and a mystery waiting to be explored.

I love that!


Spring, Soil, and Seeds

seed2tree2I’m getting the bug.

The spring-cleaning bug, that is.

Partly because there are several places in my home that are really messy and cluttered and in great need of cleaning. [Looking at you, garage!]

But my hygiene zeal also comes from the fact that if I am doing spring-cleaning, it means it is SPRING! And after a winter like this one, spring can’t get here quickly enough.

But this time, when the dust starts flying, I am going to do things a little differently, I’ve decided.

I am going to sweep up all the dust and gather all of the unused, outdated, broken, surplus, and superfluous contents of my house into one place.

Then I am going to get them all out of here… far from my sight.

And exactly 40 days later, I am going to bring them all back in and put them right back where I found them.

“Excuse me?” you say. “You’re going to do WHAT???”

I know. Sounds weird, doesn’t it.

But doesn’t this approach to spring cleaning bear some resemblance to the way Christians approach the season of Lent?

To wit: in the true Lenten spirit of self-examination and repentance, a devout Christian begins this sacred season by identifying something in his or her life that is “out of whack”… or in need of cleaning, if you will.

Maybe that thing is over-eating. Maybe it’s gossiping. Perhaps it is excessive use of social media, smoking, casino gambling, or nose picking.

He or she will then amass all the self-discipline and moral vigor they can muster and vow to “give it up for Lent.”

Those of us “on the fast” then grimace in pain as the dessert cart wheels by our table, hoping someone will ask us, “Aren’t you going to have any?” so that we can steeple our fingers, look heavenward, and say, “No. Sorry. I gave up tiramisu for Lent.”

We can’t wait for Easter Sunday to arrive.

Yes, certainly, because it means we can once again be reminded of and celebrate Christ’s victory over the grave. But MOSTLY because Easter means we can stop tormenting ourselves with all this DENIAL and go back to the gluttony we’ve become accustomed to.

Seems a little ridiculous, doesn’t it?

Because really… if we made the decision that this “something” we gave up is corrosive enough to our souls to do away with for 40 days (not counting Sundays, of course!), why would we want to open the door and bring it back in AT ALL??

OR… is it possible that the “spring cleaning” approach to the Lenten fast is a bit misguided?

IS IT POSSIBLE that we might be called to think of the Lenten fast as less of a short-term, temporary, self-improvement program and perhaps see it more as a time to dig a little deeper… pause a little longer… pray with a little more intentionality… or reflect a little more honestly?

It might just be that the Parable of the Seeds and the Soils (found in the 13th chapter of Matthew) sheds helpful light on a better way to understand the purpose of the Lenten fast. If you remember that parable, you know that handfuls of seed sowed by the same farmer produced vastly different results.

It was the same farmer and the same seed in all five scenarios. The thing that was different – the reason the seed either shriveled and died, or did not sprout at all or sprouted, took root, and produced a MASSIVE crop – was the SOIL.

Maybe the Lenten fast has more to do with properly preparing the soil of our hearts to receive the seeds that the Farmer is getting ready to sow there.

What do you think?


U is for Undaunted

(This post is the second in a series. Recently, my mentor/counselor/friend suggested I create an acrostic from the letters of my name as a way of claiming my God-given identity.)

The entire lifetime of Janis Joplin.

The whole of the time encompassing the birth, infancy, toddlerhood, preschool, kindergarten years, elementary school, awkward puberty, high school, initial dabblings in music, endless practice, mastery, brilliance, slogging along, touring, recording, stardom, struggle… the whole ride, all the way up to the tragic and untimely deaths of Janis… or Jimi Hendrix… or Jim Morrison… or Kurt Kobain…

27 years.

Nelson_Mandela-2008Which, as it turns out, is the same amount of time Nelson Mandela spent in jail on Robben Island, and in Pollsmoor and Victor Vester Prisons in South Africa.

Do you remember the moment? Do you remember seeing the live video, via satellite, on the day of his release in 1990?

I do.

I remember the joy exploding from his face… the throngs of adoring South Africans lining the streets, ten deep, calling his name, singing, dancing.

I remember the stoic scowls of the prison officials and guards.

Mandela emerged that day – from Hell – undaunted.

Whole. Unbroken. Unbowed.

27 years??? How is that even possible?

Was Mandela secretly a Marvel superhero… bitten by a radioactive spider… or born on a planet with a red sun in a far-off parallel universe… or charmed by a magic potion?

Or did he just figure out a way to tap into a hidden spring of Something… Something that might live inside every single one of us?

Can I too live undaunted?

Can I tap into the same Source he found?

Or must I first be martyred… unjustly imprisoned… stripped of freedom, dignity, and humanity in order to gain access to the deep wellspring from which Mandela drank?

Or is it mine for the asking?

Can it be found by those seeking release from different prisons; from the prisons of addiction, resentment, fear, or despair?

Is it available to those wounded only by rejection, hostility, loneliness, prejudice, or greed and not by clubs, bullets, and whips?

How deep do my wounds have to be?

How close to death’s doorstep must I crawl in order to taste this True Freedom?

Jesus says, “Yes. You can have it, too… whoever you are.”

Jesus says, “Come to me… for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28).

Yes. We too can live undaunted.


R is for Redemption

(This post will be the first in a series. Recently, my mentor/counselor/friend suggested I create an acrostic from my name as a way of claiming my God-given identity.)

I love the table in our breakfast room. In fact, it is the table where I now sit and write these words you are reading.

Besides being a great writing surface and just the right size and shape for Sunday dinners with the family, I discovered a whole new trick this table can perform – it can serve as an illustration of a theological principle that resides deep in the core of my identity.

Here’s what I mean: while the legs and frame of this table are new, the tabletop is made out of reclaimed barn wood. Here is a picture of the table… complete with the Table top picinappropriately colored table runner I bought one day from a street vendor in Guatemala.

If you look hard at the surface of this table you can see nail marks, cracks, scratches and a wide range of other kinds of imperfections.

The barn that gave birth to our tabletop (located, we were told, somewhere in central Missouri) had been abandoned long ago. The wood was exposed to the blistering sun, pouring rain, and dramatic temperature swings as the barn just sat there, ignored… unappreciated… unused.

No one knew what its original color was as all of its paint had long since peeled and fallen off.

One day the owners decided it was time to tear that old barn down to make way for something else. Fortunately, a furniture builder came by just then and offered to buy all of the wood planking from the barn.


That which had been cast aside and labeled as useless was suddenly given a new purpose. Yes, it did take a little work to transform those weathered planks into a serviceable table, but here they are: living a new life as a vital element of our breakfast room… making vital, daily contributions to our family’s well-being.

Most of the time we see redemption as only about being saved. As Psalm 34:22 saysThe Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.” Psalm 72:14 makes a similar appeal when it says, “From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight.”

The barn wood variety of redemption, however, has two components: salvation and rebirth. That barn wood did not simply avoid being turned into kindling. While retaining its essential identity, that wood was transformed into something else completely!

I see Jesus as an agent of “barn wood redemption.” He not only set people free from lives that were seen as discarded, useless, and unproductive. He set them on new paths, gave them new identities, and – most importantly – RECLAIMED their original identities as beloved children of God.

I know that God has begun a huge redemption project in my life. I can’t wait to see where it is headed!

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