Posts Tagged ‘cross’




Making Life Matter


Making Life Matter is a weekly 30 minute Christian inspirational and teaching program hosted by Maxie Dunnam and Shane Stanford. Next Step partners with Kingdom Catalysts to bring you MLM, which tackles issues of faith and life in order to deepen discipleship and encourage strong connections between following Jesus and living in today’s world. Mark your calendars to visit Next Step and listen regularly. Click below to hear today’s program.


The scene around the corner from my office today…


Three crosses

Good Friday, 2012 ~ Lafayette, Indiana


Jesus on the Cross

Good Friday, 2012 ~ Lafayette, Indiana

Betsy’s Story

John Meunier

A United Methodist lay woman recently shared a story with me about her experiences in the church. She discovered after many decades in the church that something had been missing from her faith experience. I’ll share her words directly:

As a life long Methodist, I have struggled with “something is missing.” However, being extremely loyal to the Methodist Church I had not seriously questioned any deficiencies. However, I went through a series of events that left me at rock bottom, and with a very strong urge to understand what was missing/what went wrong. I recently read Donald Haynes On the Threshold of Grace and he gave this take on Methodism that spoke to what I was feeling and has rocked my world; the title of the section is “From a ‘conversion theology’ to ‘gradualism’”; immediately prior to this he dealt with Wesley’s encounter with Bohler and Aldersgate: “Actually a different faith journey began in Methodism as long ago as the 1880′s. Methodist Sunday School literature began to emphasize the stories of the Old and New Testament and almost censored any references to the Cross and experential conversion. The philosophy of the religious education movement replaced conversion with ‘gradualism’.”

The concept of “almost censored” hit me hard–that is what I experienced growing up in the Methodist Church in the 1960′s. Experential conversion was a definite “no-no”. The crucifixion was “there” but never addressed head on. We always went from the Hosannas of Palm Sunday to the Resurrection of Easter. For me, Good Friday remained something of a mystery. Finally in the mid- 1990′s we had a pastor who introduced the Tennebrae service and that was my first experience of going through the crucifrixion of Good Friday to get to Easter–it made a huge difference. It was during his tenure that I got to the point of “Jesus did die for our sins”–this is after a lifetime in the church! I was in my early 40′s! Unfortunately, before I could internalize all that, we had a change in pastors that was absolutely disastous for me and the wheels started coming off.
I am at the point I am tired of “gradualism” and randomness in my faith walk. I actually believed I was on a “path somewhere”–I was, but it certainly was not where I expected. After reading Haynes’ summation of “what went wrong” with the church, it feels like I was destined for a “crash and burn”: “While the church is God’s mission to the world, we err to see it as an end in itself. The sad mistake of the 20th century was to develop a sophisitcated ‘church-ianity’ that was not synonymous with ‘Christianity. We developed ‘churchmanship’ (male and female) rather than discipleship. We assimilated new members by placing them on finance committees and program teams when they were babes in Christ looking for soul nourishment.”

Haynes’ book was not the first thing I have read about “what’s wrong with the UMC,” his mode of expression spoke to me on a personal level. I am the living walking proof “gradualism” is not the way to go. I also suspect, reflecting back prior to the “crash and burn” that is why people just “wander away”– they get stalled in their faith walk.





Matrix Mentor, Maxie D. Dunnam

Maxie D. Dunnam - Kingdom Catalysts

The bulk of the products in our grocery stores were not there ten years ago. The majority of these new goods are in the frozen and instant food departments. We have instant puddings, instant rice, instant coffee. No wonder we are fascinated with shortcuts. We don’t want to know if it will work, but if it will work now…quickly.

There is a severe fallacy in this mindset. Charles Kettering put it memorably: “If you buy a fiddle today, you can’t expect to give a concert in Carnegie Hall tomorrow” Jesus expressed it differently. “Do you pick a bunch of grapes from a thorn bush or figs from a clump of thistles?”

There is no instant wholeness for us as persons…

No instant reconciliation for our divided relationships, cities and nations.

Even Jesus had to walk the entire road to the cross – no instant resurrection, no skipping to Easter.

We need commitment and perseverance, but I promise: God will honor our faithfulness.



Holy Week Prep



Jesus - courtesy of the Jesus painter, Mike Lewis -

Next week is Holy Week, the countdown to our remembrance of Jesus’ execution. It’s a bit easier to think of it as the countdown to Jesus’ resurrection, but that’s taking the easy road. To get us (me) ready, it seems appropriate to focus on a few foundational things.

Interestingly, people put forth numerous reasons why Jesus was put to death, but Scripture focuses on four in particular:

1)    He aroused opposition because of the way he entered Jerusalem at the beginning of his final week of ministry (the event Christian Churches all over the world will focus on tomorrow). When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem he was riding a donkey and people were shouting “Hosannah! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!” (Mark 11.1-10) This pretty much mimicked Solomon (David’s son) who 1000 years earlier arrived on the royal mule & declared his kingship. (1 Kings 1.32-40) The crowd’s response pretty much said the same thing – this is the one destined to be Israel’s king and ruler. It would be pretty hard to avoid a run in with Rome when Jesus’ fans were suggesting in pretty unmistakable terms that he was Israel’s king not Caesar.

2)    He called out the ruling priests on their failure to live up to their calling. By disrupting the sacrificial trade and traffic he made it clear that the temple wasn’t the place of prayer for the nations that it was supposed to be. (Mark 11.15-18) First Rome is angry, now the ruling priests, scribes, and elders are offended.

3)    Jesus doesn’t help matters when he tells the parable of the Vineyard. (Mark 12.1-12) The ruling priests and their supporters had asked him by what authority he did what he’d done in the Temple. (Mark 11.27-33) He responds by telling a parable based on another story (Isaiah 5.1-7) that was already understood to warn about Israel’s impending judgment because of its failure to pursue justice – a story often directed against the temple establishment. Not a good way to smooth things over.

4)    The tipping point, so to speak, comes when an unnamed woman anoints Jesus with oil in front of his disciples and Jesus praises her for it. (Mark 14.3-9) Right after that Judas leaves for his rendezvous with ruling priest that leads to Jesus’ betrayal. (Mark 14.10-11) Lots of people have commented on the contrast between the devoted woman with no name and the treacherous disciple with an infamous name, but there’s another interesting element as well. Judas most likely told the ruling priests what he’d experienced right before he came to them – it was a pretty intense interaction, not likely that would have been overlooked.

Kimberly Reisman

Kim Reisman

We have a pretty strong tendency to focus on the internal, spiritual aspects of Jesus’ death – not a bad thing at all. But it’s important to stay grounded in the temporal aspect as well. Jesus was perceived as a serious political threat. His message threatened the status quo – a status quo no one in authority wanted overturned. He entered Jerusalem just like an anointed son of David, just like King Solomon so long ago. He acted like he had messianic authority in the temple, and he was was anointed by at least one of his own followers, which was easily interpreted as having messianic significance. It’s no wonder the high priest would ask him angrily, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of God?” and the Roman governor would put up a sign that said, “This is Jesus, king of the Jews.”


What are the environments in your life or church or community where the status quo reigns? What does following Jesus require you to do about that? What’s your next step?


**For a short read that will ground you in the temporal experience of Jesus and his first followers during that last week – check out Jesus, The Final Days: What Really Happened by Craig Evans & N. T. Wright. It’s not a new one, but it’s a good one.



For Holy Week and beyond…

Holy Week begins on Sunday. Many of us have been immersed in various studies and other introspective devotional explorations, which is a very good thing. To move us outward, on both the human and cosmic levels, I suggest a (relatively) short and provocative read by N. T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God.

N. T. WrightWe mark the crucifixion of Jesus once a year, but the problem of evil (and its solution) that is inextricably entwined with the death of Jesus extends beyond a single observance. In a broken world like ours, it’s always good to get a glimpse of the mind and purposes of our loving God. Not a new read, but definitely a valuable one.



Sing edited by Julie Tennent

Sing, edited by Julie Tennent


Edited by Julie Tennent

Each year Asbury Theological Seminary produces a daily scripture reader. This year’s edition, Sing, begins February 6, 2012 and runs through the Day of Pentecost (Feb-May). Edited by Julie Tennent, Sing teaches us to sing our way through the Psalms as we journey to the cross and onward to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Tennent has put together a masterful  collection of Psalms with singable melodies and accompanied by daily readings which give deeper insight into the psalter. Psalms were written to be sung and this is a perfect opportunity to rediscover the practice. This resource is being used by large and small communities alike to orient their lives around reading a common text. It also works well for individual or small group use. There will also be a creative range of online features via Asbury’s mobile reader app.

Click here for an index of singing the Psalms.

You can download a PDF version of Sing for just $.50 at Asbury’s Seedbed website

Click here to read Julie’s thoughts about using hymns for worship.

Celtic Trinity Knot

The strong name of the Trinity


I’ve got a lot of Irish in me. Lots of Malone’s & Patrick’s & Lilly’s dot my family tree. Plus a good deal of English & even some Native American – two of my great-great grandmothers on my dad’s side were Choctaw. I suppose that makes me a little mutt-ish – in the best sense of that word. It also draws me to Celtic spirituality. Right now I’m using the book A Song for Every Morning by John Davies for my devotional time. The subtitle is Dedication and Defiance with the St. Patrick’s Breastplate. I’m thinking it was the Celtic influence that caught my eye when I bought the book, but it may have been that I’m just attracted to anything that has the words dedication and defiance in the subtitle.

St. Patrick’s Breastplate is a wonderful morning prayer. It was probably written about 300 years after St. Patrick’s time but no matter. It’s powerful no matter who wrote it or when. The first part of it captured my attention in light of all the political wrangling and protesting that’s going on these days. Translated from the Irish the first stanza reads:

I arise today

Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity

Through belief in the Threeness

Through confession of the Oneness

Of the Creator of Creation.


In the early part of the 20th century it was put into hymn form:

I bind unto myself today

The strong name of the Trinity,

By invocation of the same,

The Three in One and One in Three.

Understanding the Trinity isn’t easy. But in a Celtic understanding of spirituality it isn’t as much a problem as it is a blessing. I like that. Not that it’s going to solve the whole mystery – why would we ever think our minds are big enough to get around the whole God thing anyway? Anyone who thinks they can give a complete description of God is either unbelievably arrogant or delusional. But the symbol of the Trinity hints at something wonderful. I like where the threeness in oneness takes me.

The problem for me is that our culture seems to be all about polarities. Everything comes in twos & each one is usually the polar opposite of the other. Or at least that’s what the culture says – male/female – young/old – rich/poor – liberal/conservative – extravert/introvert. If we don’t fit on one side or the other we at least have to find someway to fit on the spectrum in between.

But maybe life isn’t all about polarities. Maybe things come in threes? There’s space in threes. Instead of a line with two points, maybe we should think about triangles with three points. Maybe it’s not about locating yourself on a line between two opposites but about moving around a triangle.

In the Bible, the meaning of the names Joshua and Jesus is ‘Savior.’ Davies points out that the underlying idea of savior is ‘one who gives space.’ I don’t know how you feel about that, but it resonates with my spirit. I can bind myself to a God who’s spacious, who is a space-maker.

Early in my ministry I was told that I was ‘gender confused.’ You can imagine how that rocked my world. What prompted the comment was that I was a woman going into a ‘man’s’ field – ministry. The person who said this thought it was odd that I showed so many ‘male’ traits; yet, was so ‘feminine’ at the same time. Apparently the fact that I love to wear nail polish, am a sucker for the latest fashion & can’t pass a shoe store without being sorely tempted didn’t jive with my assertiveness, confidence & tendency to move into roles of leadership – or so I was told.

I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity – the Three in One & One in Three. The space-maker who is the source of my freedom. The one who empowers me to defy the forces that seek to restrict me to unbending characterizations or rigid roles.

Yet even as I bind myself to this God, I have to stay watchful & alert. It’s easy to become complicit with and conformed to our culture. As Christ followers we’re called to stand in opposition to such conformity. If it’s wrong, we’ve got to stand in defiance.

But our spirituality can’t always be about opposition. Opposition isn’t nourishing in the long run. That’s the blessing of our spacious Three in One & One in Three. It may be mystery. It may only hint at a way of understanding God. But it’s a beautiful hint, a blessing of a mystery. A space-making understanding that leaves room for the divine yes.


Death is not the worst thing

Almost always with cats, the end
comes creeping over the two of you—
she stops eating, his back legs
no longer support him, she leans
to your hand and purrs but cannot
rise—sometimes a whimper of pain
although they are stoic. They see
death clearly though hooded eyes.

Then there is the long weepy
trip to the vet, the carrier no
longer necessary, the last time
in your lap. The injection is quick.
Simply they stop breathing
in your arms. You bring them
home to bury in the flower garden,
planting a bush over a deep grave.

held in a lovers arms

held in a lover's arms

That is how I would like to cease,
held in a lover’s arms and quickly
fading to black like an old-fashioned
movie embrace. I hate the white
silent scream of hospitals, the whine
of pain like air-conditioning’s hum.
I want to click the off switch.
And if I can no longer choose

I want someone who loves me
there, not a doctor with forty patients
and his morality to keep me sort
of, kind of alive or sort of undead.
Why are we more rational and kinder
to our pets than to ourselves or our
parents? Death is not the worst
thing; denying it can be.

“End of Days” by Marge Piercy, from The Hunger Moon: New and Selected Poems, 1980 – 2010. © Alfred A. Knopf, 2011.

In this Easter season & always, followers of Jesus are reminded that death is not the worst thing. Because of the death we marked on Friday & the victory over it we celebrated on Sunday, we need not fear it nor deny it; we need not feel compelled to be kept ‘kind of alive’ or ‘sort of undead’ nor do we need to feel the same compulsion toward our loved ones. We’re freed from that fear and compulsion because the death & resurrection of Jesus sealed the promise that in our own deaths we will be ‘held in a lover’s arms’ – not only in those last moments, but for an eternity.

The Romans knew what they were doing – they crucified thieves, murderers, revolutionaries, anyone who opposed them – right outside the city gate, alongside the road to town. They wanted everyone coming and going into the city of Jerusalem to be confronted by the harsh reality of crucifixion.
They wanted the Cross to be unavoidable.

And so it is. The Cross is not just central to our Christian faith – it is unavoidable. It was for Jesus, it was for his followers, and it is for us.

And yet … how much do we avoid the Cross, avoid the concept of sacrifice, and avoid the challenge of discipline?

I was serving a church in northern Indiana a few years ago where we always displayed a rough-hewn wooden cross right up front, on the chancel during Lent. Maybe your churches do that, too, perhaps draping it with purple during Lent, and then white on Easter, or something like that. One year when we put up that cross, a woman – a very faithful, long-term Christian in our church – said to me, “I don’t like that cross, it looks too realistic.”

That’s it, isn’t it? Too realistic. Too harsh. Too much of a reminder of the price paid, the sacrifice, the pain, the blood, the death. We like to skip over that, we like to, as my preaching professor Carlisle Marney used to say,
“We like to bootleg Easter in ahead of Good Friday.”

And yet the cross is unavoidable, even if it is hard to explain and maybe even an embarrassment. The Cross is unavoidable.

When Paul wrote to the Corinthian church (I Corinthians 1:18-25) he had to deal with the Cross and the obstacle it presented. To Jews, it was a huge problem to think of the Messiah being executed on a Cross. To Greeks and their philosophers it was nonsense. But, as Paul says, to those who believe, it is POWER and SALVATION.

So as we continue this season of Lent let me ask you some uncomfortable questions:

  1. Do you have a cross in the place where you worship? If not, why not? What part of the Christian truth are you trying to avoid?
  2. Does your preaching (or your pastor’s preaching) ever include words like “sacrifice” or “salvation” or “redemption”? If not, why not? What part of our Christian faith are you and/or your congregation trying to avoid?
  3. If you’re a pastor, does your own understanding of your ministry include the concepts of “obedience” and “sacrifice” and “calling” – or is your understanding based upon terms like “career” and “success” and “higher salaries“?
  4. What if you’re not a pastor – does your understanding of your life and ministry as a Christian include the concepts of “obedience” and “sacrifice” and “servanthood” – or is it based on things like “convenience” and “status”?
  5. Do you invite others to become a part of a life-style of sacrifice and giving and service – or do you avoid all of that and try to do what one pastor told me was the secret to his ministry: “just keep the customers happy”?


I ask these questions of you and of myself, because I believe the Cross is unavoidable, and if we try to avoid the Cross then we miss the power of the Gospel.

Let me say that again:  I believe the Cross is unavoidable, and if we try to avoid the Cross then we miss the power of the Gospel.