Friday, April 18, 2014

He Emptied Himself

"He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[a] being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."
-Philippians 2:6-8 (ESV)

Another Friday in Jerusalem.
Another crucifixion.

Thousands had been crucified before and thousands would be crucified after this date in history. This morning three men were on the docket for their supposed threat to the dominance of the Roman Empire. They would be executed. A continual reminder to the people of who was in charge.

But I can imagine that there was something different about this Friday in April 33 A.D. A few more onlookers watching Jesus of Nazareth carry his cross through the streets of the city up to the place of the Skull just outside of Jerusalem. This was the man who had been performing miracles, feeding the people, teaching about Yahweh, and proclaiming himself as God's Son. He had caused a stir throughout the country. An oppressed, subjugated, and enslaved people had reason to possibly hope again--in this man.

Would God finally be taking down the Roman Empire establishing his own Royal Kingdom with Jesus as the King? Would there finally be freedom for the chosen people of God?

The eyes of thousands followed his blood-stained journey through the streets, and with each painful step wondering if this suffering man could truly be God in the flesh. Memories of him telling stories at a sunrise or holding out his hand to touch a condemned woman or sitting with the little children filling their minds as they watched him stagger up the street. Let's remember the good times, perhaps they thought. Not this moment, not this time.

And as He was hoisted up on the cross, nails driven through his body, many began to walk back down the hill to their homes, hopes crushed and hearts broken over a man, just a man apparently, who was near death.

He truly did empty himself. He spent his entire life emptying himself. He was simply about the will of his Father. And it was the will of the Father to crush him, to offer him up as a sacrificial lamb for the sins of many. And it was the will of Son to obey, even to death on a cross.

He was humiliated for us. He became nothing for us. He was mocked, whipped, beaten, shamed, abused, executed...for us.
He was emptied for us. So that our empty lives, empty from sin, from brokenness, from living for ourselves could be filled with his presence. If he did not empty himself fully then our lives would have been eternally empty of the only relationship we truly need.

Jesus did not grasp for equality with God so that He could grant eternity with God for us.

He could have called his legion of angels. He could have said no--I can't drink this cup of wrath. He could have abandoned us to the eternity we deserve without him. But he didn't. The angels stayed in heaven. He drank the cup of wrath. He felt the abandonment of the Father so we wouldn't ever FEEL that. Ever.
He endured in his death what we had earned with our lives--a blood-soaked cross from sin-soaked lives.

As the sun set over Jerusalem on Friday night I am sure that the mood was one that the people of Israel had felt many times before--bitter disappointment. God's chosen people went to sleep full of tears, anger, and hopelessness.

What they couldn't know then (and what many still don't know even now) is that God himself had truly walked before them that day, and that he had lived among them, laughed among them, cried among them, and finally at the end--suffered among them. And when they saw Jesus as his weakest, that is when the glory of God was truly at its greatest.

Another Friday in Jerusalem.
But a crucifixion unlike any other.

The great Anglican pastor John Stott writes in his book The Cross of Christ

"I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as “God on the cross.” In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of the Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world. But each time after a while I have had to turn away. And in imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in Godforsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of his. There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark, the cross that symbolizes divine suffering. “The cross of Christ . . . is God’s only self-justification in such a world” as ours. . . . “The other gods were strong; but thou wast weak; they rode, but thou didst stumble to a throne; But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak, And not a god has wounds, but thou alone.”

But God demonstrates His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8

Thursday, January 9, 2014

My Top Ten Favorite TV Shows of 2013

If you know me--you know I love cinema and television. Grew up watching them both and remain devoted to watching them as much as I can--partly for the escapism that film and television provide, but mostly because I love narrative, love the stories that writers and directors tell through their mediums and how they speak to all the issues (both serious and not) that we find ourselves as people and as a culture continually in.

So--with those comments out of the way here are a few more comments. I won't be able to watch nearly as much television anymore thanks to two new girls in my life (the twins, ahem) so I wanted to create this list for 2013 before I totally forgot about what I watched and how it impacted me. Also, these shows are my "favorite" shows of 2013, not necessarily the "critically best" shows I watched all year and it is also only a small number of shows because I don't watch every single television show out there. I wish I could, but I can't. So some famous and critically acclaimed shows that would probably make list simply don't show up because I haven't watched them. Sorry people. Please forgive me. Maybe next year, or next decade.

Alright, alright---now on to my favorite television shows of 2013. In a very particular order.

10. "Amazing Race" (CBS)
I know, I know. Now you are concerned about my critical eye and true understanding of good television. But, have you actually seen the "Amazing Race"? You have only had about the last 12 years to do so. It is just good television to get lost in an hour. And the wife and I have...scratch that...had been watching previous seasons on Hulu Plus--where you have some amazing real life characters, couple after couple who are trying to salvage their relationship from the throes of death by arguing every single leg, and the perennial "old couple" who "everyone else will underestimate, but will win the race", but who no one ever underestimates, but seems to estimate almost exactly right every single season.
As far as "reality" television goes--the exotic locales, crazy contestants, and terrible wardrobe choices of host Phil Keoghan make the "Amazing Race"riveting television.

9. Parks and Rec (NBC)
My lone comedy on the list. But a worthy show nonetheless. It stays fresh and funny every single episode.
Ron Swanson--as good as they get.

8. Top Chef (Bravo)
It remains the best of the crowded network of foodie/cooking shows. Head Judge Tom Colicchio is the best.

7. Downton Abbey (PBS)
The third season righted the ship from season two, though still falling below the glory of season one. The cinematography, acting, and stories were spot on this year. Matthew Crawley, being my favorite character on the show will be missed in the recently started season four, but the this will hopefully allow the show to go in new directions and continue building on its excellent foundation. Just cue the theme music...

6. Parenthood (NBC)
A fairly conventional family drama, but one that continues to turn in poignant performances from its strong ensemble. And now being a new parent I have a feeling I will be watching it in a very different way now. Simple, but rich television viewing on the highs and lows of life that our family alone walks us through.

5. The Fall (BBC)
A violent and palpable series with Gillian Anderson as a detective investigating a series of murders in the UK. The show doesn't pull any punches and can be (to be honest) over the top in its viciousness at times, but it is first-rate storytelling and it kept me on the edge of my seat in every single episode.

4. The Americans (FX)
Besides Broadchurch it was the best new drama of 2013. A story about Soviet Cold War operatives living in Washington, D.C. in the 1980s had a cool vibe and even cooler plot that picked up steam throughout the series.

3. House of Cards (Netflix)
I loved this series. Kevin Spacey was brilliant. And the intrigue and drama and soap opera goodness of the storytelling kept the series taught and immensely watchable. Being able to watch it all in about three days through Netflix certainly helped. Political drama doesn't get any saucier and crisper than House of Cards.

2. Broadchurch (BBC America)
You may not have heard of this eight week series on BBC America. Fear not, it is coming stateside with an American remake. The series sets in on the murder of 11 year-old Danny Latimer in the small, seaside town of Broadchurch. It is anchored by fantastic performances from Olivia Colman and David Tennant as the lead detectives in the case. Broadchurch is the story of a tragic murder of a young boy, but that is only the beginning of the mysteries in the this complex and engrossing television drama.

1. Breaking Bad (AMC)
Vince Gilligan's final season was as good as television gets. What more can be said of Bryan Cranston's mesmerizing performance as Walter White? Outside of HBO's "The Wire" this is the greatest television drama I have ever seen. I am still thinking about moments from the final season and wishing there was one more, but thankful for the way in which this show went into that good night--at its very best.

There you go! My Top Ten! What did I miss? What do you guys like?


Tuesday, December 31, 2013

I Love You Because I Love You: A Letter to My Daughters on the Eve of Their Birth

Dear Girls,

Who knew that grainy black and white images that most of the time I cannot make heads or tails of would melt my heart so completely? These images are all that I have seen for the past six months of you. But tomorrow I will get to see you (and hold you) in living color.

I wanted to write you this letter on the eve of your birth. I am not sure when (if ever) you will read it, but I wanted to put pen to paper (digitally of course) so that one day you might know what your dad was thinking and feeling the day before you were born and changed my life forever.

First off--forgive me if I struggle telling you apart at the beginning. You are identical twins after all. Other parents tell me I will be able to tell you apart and I trust them, but patient if you can, it’s my first time having identical twin daughters. It will only be your first act in a lifetime of forgiving me!

I can’t wait to meet you tomorrow and hold you and look at your eyes. Whose eyes will you have? How much hair will you have? How the heck am I going to be a dad to two daughters? The nursery is all set for you for both. Who knew they made little mini-hangers? You have some cute little dresses on those hangers that will make it difficult for me to stay mad at you I think. I see how you girls get your dads wrapped around your fingers! I look at your cribs, and your nursery and know that I will spend many a night staying up with you, waking up with you, and just staring down at you as you sleep wanting to bottle it all up forever.

I haven’t even met you yet and I wonder about all the places you will go. As every parent says--they grow up too fast. I don’t think you two will be any different from that. It seems like just yesterday we found out you were in your mommy’s belly and now tomorrow you touch down on planet earth in all your beautiful messiness. I think about who will be become, what your personalities will be like. Will you love books like your dad? Or games like your mom? What will fascinate you and what will you become passionate about?

And let’s not even mention all the boys you are NOT going to date! I hope you like sweatpants and convents. This will be my prayer for you both! But just in case that doesn’t pan out, I pray you meet a man who loves you for who are, who will protect you and serve you, and be willing to give up his life for you. Wow, that last sentence was hard to type--you two getting married seems forever away, and yet time flies by and pretty soon I will be writing another one of these sappy letters on the eve of your wedding day. Jeez.

The truth is I have no idea what being a parent is really like, what being a father is really like. I have no idea what the years ahead will hold for all of us, all the great and glorious days and all the difficult and sad days that will make up our lives. I already want so much for you both and want you to know that everything I am doing is for you good, so that you might grow up to be women like your mom--full of love for the Lord, for all kinds of people, and for things that truly matter. I’m not perfect and I know that I will make a ton of mistakes. I hope, someday, you will be able to see my heart and how incredibly much I loved you.

And why do I love you you ask? Because you are my daughter. Not because of how smart you will be (though I know you will much smarter than me), not because of how beautiful you are (though I know you will be gorgeous girls inside and out), not because of anything you will achieve or do (thought I know you will achieve and do far more than I could ever dream for you both)--I love you first and foremost because you are mine, my daughters, my girls and nothing will ever change that.

So here’s to all that lies ahead. To the long nights, to the girl-crazy birthday parties, to the bath tub times, to the running in stroller times, to the teenage year fights and rolling of the eyes. To Thanksgivings and Christmases with two beautiful and messy families you are being born into, to hugs and snuggles, and tears and tantrums. To dancing together and watching football together (hopefully), to showing you the glory of the South and the power of a chicken quesadillas. To praying everyday that one day you will come to know the God of your father, a much greater Father who loves you far more deeply and perfectly than I ever could, and to these verses sinking into your souls-

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I am convinced that the best part of my life is about to start and it’s all your fault. I hardly feel ready, but you didn’t ask me, you just decided to come and start your lives and I can’t wait to see what lives you girls will live.
One more thing before I go--and one I hope you will always know--

I love you because I love you.
Always have, always will.

See you tomorrow,

December 31, 2013