Have I been discounting Jesus’ pain?

1186px-Titian,_Christ_Carrying_the_Cross._Oil_on_canvas,_67_x_77_cm,_c._1565._Madrid,_Museo_Nacional_del_Prado

Rank the following in order of importance to your faith:

a.  The Life and Teachings of Jesus
b.  The crucifixion of Jesus
c.  The resurrection of Jesus

It’s amazing to me how varied people’s answers are, when I ask this.  What’s your order?

Mine is a, c, b.   Even though I know  resurrection is the gift at the heart of my relationship with God, I can’t help but think about how much Jesus has taught me to walk in the light.

I suppose I go back and forth between a and c.  But b, crucifixion, never makes it out of the 3 spot.

I was reading about crucifixion, about how extremely painful a form of execution it was.  How the nailing of the hands, which was not always done, would have added another layer of agony.  Add to that Jesus’ scourging, whipped until he was bloody, and there’s no discounting the suffering he encountered.  It was unspeakably bad.

And yet I do not give it the attention I give the other parts of the story. Have I been discounting Jesus’ pain?

I’ll admit, it occurs to me that there have been many others to die on a cross.  Many to be tortured, punished, put to death in cruel and unimaginable ways.  I’ve seen the pain of warfare and the harm of disasters.  I am aware that these human bodies are mortal, and fragile.  It’s all part of being human.

Jesus died among the worst ways possible.  But there were two thieves hanging there with him, enduring the same fate.  There have been saints who have been martyred in the same way as Jesus.

Crucifixion?  It’s a terrible way to go, but for me, it’s not the showstopper of Holy Week.

Until I think of this:

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.  —1 Peter 2:24

The physical pain of the cross would pale in comparison to the spiritual weight of the world.  He “bore our sins” in order to heal us, an unthinkable feat.  Without Jesus’ pain, the Easter story would be very different.  The entire Jesus story would be very different.  The pain of the crucifixion anchors Jesus as our champion, taking on all the sin the world can throw at him.

And still…I can’t stay there.  I can’t give the crucifixion the same due I give the resurrection, or Jesus’ ministry.  Here’s why:

Whereas there is a place for me in the crowds that followed the life and ministry of Jesus, and a place for me inside the wondrous empty tomb on that Easter morn, I find no place for me on the cross of the crucifixion. It’s too powerful, too dark, too dangerous.

I can look at the cross, and pray at the cross, and pick up my own cross, but I cannot climb up and embrace the burden of this kind of pain.  There is only one who ever could.

And so, this Holy Week, I invite you to spend some time with all 3 parts of Jesus’ story.   .  There’s a reason it is referred to as the Greatest Story Ever Told.  If some parts are more painful to watch than others, just do what I do:

Take a good long look,

 

But keep a safe distance.

 

In Christ,

Mitch

a747e5885686d03b4e7721bfa59cb978--where-is-jesus-jesus-painting

Lucky 13

 

mess-of-unfinished-thoughts
I did a funeral today.  Can you guess what psalm I used?

That’s right.  Good ole Psalm 23.  The psalm people who don’t even know scripture probably know.

It’s so well constructed.  So heartfelt.  What could beat images like the gentle shepherd, and the valley of the shadow of death, and dwelling in the house of the lord forever?  I don’t know for sure who wrote Psalm 23, but it’s earned its place as Top-10Bests.com’s 2nd most famous scripture, right under the reigning champion  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

But just once, I’d love someone to suggest something different.  Maybe accidentally ask for Psalm 13 instead of Psalm 23.

Have you read Psalm 13 recently?

Psalm 13

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me

Psalm 13 has a lot going for it.  It’s about the same handy size as Psalm 23, has a nice ending, but most importantly, it SOUNDS like me.  Like the frenzy of thoughts and emotions that can race through my head in a tough time.

Psalm 23, for all it’s glamour, sounds like a perfect vision.  Psalm 13 sounds like a perfect mess.  And when I’m in a serious time of need, that’s what I closely resemble.

Here’s some of the ways Psalm 13 resonates with me:

“Will you forget me forever?”  A flat out accusation of God.  An irrational declaration of abandonment.  CHECK.

“How long must I wrestle with my thought/have sorrow in my heart”.  Yes!  When I’m in a bad way I can’t seem to control my thoughts or feelings.  I’m just stewing in my fragmented juices. CHECK.

“How long will my enemy triumph over me?”  Defeated.  Lost.  Weak and Helpless.  CHECK, CHECK, CHECK and CHECK.

“Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death”.  Overdramatic much?  Yeah, been there too.  CHECK.

And then, right when it seems I’m throwing in the towel, like I’ve dug myself a hole darker than any shadow of death, then I come to my senses.

“I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he’s has been good to me.”  CHECK. Yep.  Wallah! Like a deathbed conversion, I realign myself with God. (Could you say ‘Grace’?)

So that’s it.  For your consideration.  Psalm 13, although far less poetic, and lacking the compelling narrative of other Psalms that end with “3” , really speaks to the crazy messy faith journey I find myself on time and again.

As I understand it, that’s what many of the Psalms are designed to do — hold themselves up like a mirror to our own irrationalities and uncertainties.

Okay… reading Psalm 13 at your funeral?  Maybe not the best choice.  Better to pick something flowery and King Jamesy.

But to help steer you out of the jumbled mess that is your rocky faith life?

You could do worse than Lucky 13. (CHECK!)

Have a great week,

Mitch

14076


MY NEW BOOK!  A collection of my favorite devotions from over the years, complete with study questions.  Perfect for individual reflection or group discussion.  Get yours on Amazon!

barefoot.: devotions & discussions by Rev. Mitch Todd Paperback

Intervention.

Supportive_friends_at_an_intervention

Create in me a clean heart, O God –Psalm 51:10

This is an intervention.

We’re worried about you.  You’ve been distant lately.  Whenever we try to talk to you you seem so distracted, unfocussed.  Like your mind is caught up in other things.

Have you gotten yourself in some sort of trouble?  Are you making bad decisions?  Have you forsaken us for something unhealthy?  Maybe it’s your actions that have been problematic, or maybe it’s your thoughts.  You know, unhealthy patterns of thinking are just as dangerous as their corresponding actions.

Okay, we’ll just come out and ask it:  Are you cheating on us?  Of course, we already know the answer.  We’re your parent, your brother, your spirit.  We know you best.  We know every thought before you think it, every move before you make it.

We’re your heavenly family, with bonds stronger than even those of your earthly family.  When you pull away like this, it hurts us.  It hurts the whole Kingdom.

So what can we do to mend your cheating heart?  How can we guide you back into the fullness of relationship—not just with us, but with your earthly brothers and sisters?  How can we help you be healthier?  Holier?

This is an intervention.  It doesn’t work unless you admit you have a problem.  We love you so much, and we want to give you room to ponder who you are, and who you want to be.

Why don’t you take some time to think about it, and pray about it.

How about, say, 40 days?

Have a good Lent,

Mitch

Holytrinity

________________________

MY NEW BOOK!  A collection of my favorite devotions from over the years, complete with study questions.  Perfect for individual reflection or group discussion.  Get yours on Amazon!

barefoot.: devotions & discussions by Rev. Mitch Todd Paperback

 

 

1001 Way Forward Jokes (for Methodists)

Q:  Why were the moderate delegates in danger when a fire broke out?
A:  They hadn’t considered the Exit Plans.

Q:  How many General Conference 2019 delegates does it take to change a light bulb?
A:  It depends on if a majority can turn the same direction.

Q:  Is such an important, crucial moment in the life of our church a joking matter?
A:  You bet your modified connectional one church simple backside it is!

Let me explain.

On September 11, 2002, one year after the terrible attacks in New York and the Pentagon, I sat in the sanctuary at Manhattan, KS FUMC.  We hosted a community worship service, and there was a full sanctuary of people of different backgrounds and religions.

Right at one of the most solemn moments, I heard something from across the room.  Laughter.  A woman was laughing.  It took me a few moments to realize it, but it was something I’d studied in seminary:  Holy Laughter.  Folks from some more Pentecostal churches believe that, much like speaking in tongues, the Holy Spirit could lead people to laugh.

Well, the folks around me were not impressed, nor was I.  It seemed crass and out of place, especially on such a dark occasion.

But since then, the idea has stuck with me.  Holy Laughter.   Is such a Spirit-led thing possible?  I kind of hope so.

I may not believe in glossolalia (speaking in tongues) or spirit-fueled utterances, but I believe in the holy power of laughing.   I would consider it high up in my list of spiritual gifts.   Every sermon, every wedding, ever funeral — I aim to include some laughter, because I’ve seen what it can do.

Now, there’s good laughter and bad laughter.   I try not to be crude, or divisive.  I’ve made my share of jokes that cut another person down — I’m ashamed of those.  But I find that laughter can open up lines of communication that once were closed.  Laughter can heal anxiety like nobody’s business.  Laughter, if truly used according to the Spirit, can awaken hope, relief, and yes…a Way Forward.

Hard as I try, I’m not much of a prophet.  I have strong beliefs but I prefer to be a shepherd to my flock, guiding them as they grow in faith.   I struggle with anxiety and uncertainty as much as anyone, but I’ve learned that nobody is served by an excess of fear and panic.

And so, as our delegates head to Saint Louis for this momentous occasion, what I have to offer is a counter-intuitive suggestion:  Laugh a lot next week.   Find the humor in moments big and small.  Laugh with people from different places and different positions.  Not divisive or crass humor, and maybe not when it’s clearly uncalled for — but embrace the kind of Spirit led humor that can lighten a room and clear a way.

Even if you’re only laughing on the inside, if you feel the nudge, let er rip.

Grace, Peace, and Blessings!

Have a great week,

Mitch Todd

My style of humor is more spontaneous, so these riddles fall more into the Laffy Taffy realm of bad.  Enjoy.

Q:  What do you get when your denomination is reduced to a single location?
A:  The One Church Plant

Q: Why does the Connectional Plan have trouble meeting people?
A:  It’s Complicated.

Q: If Jesus showed up in St Louis, where would he sit?
A: Enterprise Center.  Bruins vs. Blues.

Q:  How many Bishops does it take to change a denomination?
A: That’s not their job.  (But if you get desperate you could ask)

Q: If there’s a schism, who gets the cross and flame?
A.  Jesus gets the cross.  The Spirit gets the flame.  And God gets a headache.

(That’s 8 down, and 993 to go.  You write the rest.)

 

 

The Wrestling Life

04e0077fb4d38809

The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still. -Exodus 14:14

What a match this has been.

On one side, it’s been You and God, and on the other side, your opponents.  You know, your physical and mental illnesses that bring you to your knees.  Injustices that try to hold you down.  Doubt and Fear that threaten to do a pile driver on you.  Sin and shame that will hit you with a chair when you least suspect it.

You and God?  Totally outnumbered.  There’s an endless mob climbing up over the ropes trying to pin you. Adversaries you’re wrestled with for so long you know them as well as you know yourself.  Grabbing you by the hair, and flinging you into the ropes.

You’ve had about all you can take.

Isn’t wrestling supposed to be fake?  This doesn’t feel fake.  It feels like you’re getting your tail kicked.   Sometimes life is like that.  And no matter how hard you try to fight it, sometimes it feels like you may be going down, and you may not be getting up again.

Gasping for breath, you see it out of the corner of your eye:  God’s hand, reaching out desperately.  How could you have forgotten?  This is a tag team match!  If you can just reach out and take…God’s…hand…

Connection!  God swoops into the ring as your beaten body slumps to the side.  God says, “I will fight for you; you need only to be still.”  And so you are.  It’s all you can do.

You lie there, panting, having done everything you could do to overcome every last sin, sickness, and shortcoming.  You’ve long been accustomed to the wrestling life, one ordeal after another.  One obstacle, one battle, one endless bout, but now, you have taken God’s hand…

God is powerful. Doubt and Fear dissolve at God’s gaze.  Injustices and enemies reel at God’s signature move — a mighty blow, arms formed into the shape of the cross.

As the match continues, you just lie there, as instructed.  Your breathing slows.  Your eyes droop.  You are still.

And then God is prodding you.  You awake refreshed, energized.  God nods back to the ring, hand outstretched to you.  God has done so much on your behalf, but most importantly, God has renewed your strength, so that you’re ready to go back to the battle..

It’s your turn again.   You take God’s hand, and climb back into the fray.

Now this story may seem a little bleak to you.  Life must surely be more than a constant battle, and our relationship with God is certainly more than a “Tag, you’re it” at the edge of a wrestling ring. But the moral of the story is essentially clear:

God will fight for you when you can’t. And when life threatens to overtake you, God can give you rest.

So get out there!  Grab that lingering self-doubt by the shoulders and pin him to the mat.  And remember, you don’t have to conquer all your adversaries at once…

just the ones walking around in their underwear.

Have a great week,

Mitch

thn5ane2mc

 

_____________________________________________________________________________________

MY NEW BOOK!  A collection of my favorite devotions from over the years, complete with study questions.  Perfect for individual reflection or group discussion.  Get yours on Amazon

barefoot.: devotions & discussions by Rev. Mitch Todd Paperback

SHUTDOWN?

 

picture4If a government can shutdown, I wonder:  Can a denomination?

In a month and a few days, delegates from around the world will gather in St Louis to try to chart the course for the United Methodist Church.  At issue is how United Methodists respond to certain aspects of homosexuality.

There are “Traditionalists” who view homosexuality as a sin and want to make sure the church doctrine strongly reflects this.  There are moderate “One Church Plan” folks who advocate letting conferences and churches choose whether or not to allow gay marriages and ordinations.  There are “Simple Plan” folks who want to remove all restrictive language and any barriers for LGBTQ people all together.   There are any number of variations on these themes, represented by the 78 petitions delegates will have to examine at this February meeting.

What if they can’t make a decision? What if our delegates remain just as log-jammed as the rest of our denomination appears to be? What if there’s no consensus, or even a majority, and we’re just stuck?

This is a possibility, by the way, and I honestly don’t know what the Way Forward would be in such a situation.  Maybe we’d just…

SHUTDOWN.

You know?  Like the government?  If we can’t agree and can’t move forward, maybe we’ll just have a shutdown.  A partial denominational shutdown.

Can you picture it?

  • Churches would get filthy.  With no one to empty the trash, our sanctuaries would start to look like neglected national parks.
  • Ministries would be crated while people on opposite sides tried to compromise on what our priorities are supposed to be.  Until the higher-ups get things figured out, all our local churches could offer is fellowship time.  But no donuts.
  • Pastors and staff would show up for a week or so, but then we’d start calling in sick.  You’d see us taking temp jobs at coffee shops, trying to strike up a conversation about religion.  You’d drive through Taco Bell and find your preacher handing you your order, winking and tossing in extra salsa packets.

Ya think?

Nope.  No way.  I don’t know what we face in the next few weeks, but a shutdown is not in the picture.  Unlike our government, the Church doesn’t close.  Discipleship does not get furloughed.  Good News is not subject to a budget.

You or I may stumble, or change course, or lose our way, but the Church of Jesus Christ continues its mission.  Remember what Jesus says to Peter?

“…and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”  –Matthew 16:18b

I take that to mean that we are, and will remain OPEN FOR BUSINESS.  The business of saving souls.  Transforming lives.  If we strain, we’re still open.  If we split, still open.  If things change…or don’t change, we’re still open.

Be sure to let people know that.  In your giving, and working.  In your loving and witnessing.  Christ’s work doesn’t stop, even when Christians argue, or worse.

See you on the job.

Maybe I’ll even bring donuts.

Mitch

open for business banner

_____________________________________________________________________________________

MY NEW BOOK!  A collection of my favorite devotions from over the years, complete with study questions.  Perfect for individual reflection or group discussion.  Get yours on Amazon!

barefoot.: devotions & discussions by Rev. Mitch Todd Paperback

 

 

Siren Song

loud-musicThe Song:

At noon and 6pm, music pours forth from my church.  Bells, or electric facsimiles of them, send out five minutes of tunes into the neighborhood around us.  In a closet behind the sanctuary, a cassette is timed to play through outdoor speakers.

It sounds really nice.  We have a few different tapes we can play, even a tape of Christmas tunes to play in December.  I’ve threatened to look online for one that plays Beatles tunes.

The Siren:

Perched atop our building is an elaborate speaker, pointing in all four directions.  When this sound cranks up, people go into their basements.   I suppose the sound is grating, but it could save your life.

It seems to go off at least once every spring when dangerous clouds are swirling overhead. When I hear it, I feel an instant pang in my gut, a warning that all is not well.

What sort of vibe is your church putting out?

Is your church a gentle lullaby, coaxing people in, or is it a brash trumpet, alerting all to imminent danger? Does your church present itself as a sacntuary of rest and comfort, or as a watchtower blowing the whistle on the threats we face?

Which is the right one to be?

A prophetic, siren blaring church is uniquely suited for fighting injustice, for helping the marginalized.  Members of a Siren church write letters and go on marches.  They take risks and carry the banner of Jesus Christ into a broken world.

A song church that sends music out to all who can hear is sending an invitation of peace, gentleness, maybe healing.  Inside the walls of this church is a place of comfort, of creativity, of togetherness.  Members of a Song church invite others to praise God and acknowledge each other as made in the image of God.

There are, of course, many other types of churches, but still I wonder…which of these two would you be drawn to?  Is God’s Kingdom blessed by both?

In the spring, on the first Monday of the month, something interesting happens.  The siren fires up for its monthly test at the same time  that the bells begin to play.

Let me tell you, for a couple minutes there at noon, it’s quite a racket.

But to the discerning ear…

it sounds like harmony.

Have a great week,

Mitch

love-loud-thumb

 

___________________________________________________________________________

Thanks so much for supporting me with my new book.  If you’ve enjoyed it, and are so inclined, I could sure use some more reviews on Amazon.  If you have a minute, that would be great!

MY NEW BOOK!  A collection of my favorite devotions from over the years, complete with study questions.  Perfect for individual reflection or group discussion.  Get yours on Amazon!

barefoot.: devotions & discussions by Rev. Mitch Todd Paperback