Devotional, Lent

Angels, Stand Down

Angels are one of those topics that people seem to either be really fascinated by or generally stay away from. These warrior messengers of God may be hard for us to wrap our human minds around, but their presence throughout Scripture is undeniable.

Around Christmas this year a teammate and I ended up in a conversation centered around the angels present in the narratives of Jesus’ life. Many of us know about the angel that announced Jesus’ birth to his mother Mary, explaining how she, a virgin, would conceive the Messiah. Then there’s the angel that appeared to Joseph saying, “It’s okay, go ahead and marry Mary.”

Here’s were a theme of protection by the angels starts. Biology and all of history up to this point in time was working against Joseph believing Mary’s story. According to Old Testament laws, Mary could have even been stoned to death for her presumed act of adultery, no care given to the child inside her. While Joseph was already trying to figure out a way to avoid that, the angel that appeared to him sealed the deal, confirming he should go forward with the wedding.

Angels appeared again on the night Jesus was born, announcing the good news to Shepherds nearby.

A while later, after the wise men arrived, God sent an angel to Joseph, warning him that Jesus’ life was in danger. A messenger appeared again when the coast was clear to return.

Even here, at the beginning of Jesus’ life, angels were on the seen fighting for and protecting God made flesh, Immanuel. This fully God yet fully man being had a great purpose in the world, and He had a whole army of God working to make sure He could carry it out.  Matthew even records a group of angels ministering to Jesus after His temptation by Satan in the wilderness and one appeared again in the garden the night before Jesus’ death.

But a few hours later, as Jesus’ hung on the cross, the presence of this warrior army was not to be found. All throughout Jesus’ life they were on call to provide and protect, but in this moment of greatest need, not one could be found. Matthew’s Gospel gives us a glimpse behind the curtain of the spiritual realm to see why. As one of Jesus’ disciples attempted to use physical earthly war to fight of those seeking to arrest Him, Jesus replied,

“Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think that I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:52-53)

They actually were there, on call, watching the whole thing happen. During the time of Christ, a roman legion was 6,000 soldiers. If this was the measurement Jesus was referring to, then more than 72,000 angels were there, ready to jump in at any moment, should the Father say the word. But instead of “attack” or “protect” or “get him out of this sticky situation,” it seems the Father was saying,

“Angels, stand down.”

The next verse in Matthew’s narrative reminds us why Jesus didn’t call out to his Daddy to send out the troops:

“But if I did, how would the Scriptures be fulfilled that describe what must happen now.”

72,000 angels ready to save one.

One God-man willing to suffer to save all of us humans.

It’s mindblowing really. Yet, it’s true. We can only imagine the agony of the Father not sending 12 legions and even more to save his dear Son. But that just goes to show how precious we, His sons and daughters, really are to Him.

The angels didn’t show up. The Son was beaten, murdered, and placed in a tomb.

That’s the reality of this day, this “Good” Friday we “celebrate” each year.


Thankfully, though, the angels’ work wasn’t actually done:

“Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb. Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. … Then the angel spoke to the women. ‘Don’t be afraid!’ … “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen.” (Matthew 28:1-6)

While only one showed up on the scene, I bet they all were rejoicing! Forty days later, Jesus took his rightful place on the throne in heaven surrounded by the legions of angels. No longer were these warrior messengers being told to “stand down” and hold back. Instead, they gather, with all the saints, bowing down, praising Him for that moment on the cross, worshiping Him forever.

“I looked again and I heard the voices of thousands and millions of angels around the throne and of the living beings and the elders. And they sang in a mighty chorus: ‘Worthy is the lamb who was slaughtered—to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing.’ And then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea. They sang: ‘Blessing and honor and glory and power belong to the one sitting on the throne and to the Lamb forever and ever.’” (Revelation 5:11-13)

Oh, how I long to join that song.
Oh, how I long for that day.

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Lent

“Save, now!” – A Palm Sunday Reflection

I wake up and I know I need this week to be different. In these days of global pandemic, of soul searching, of anxious uncertainty, I know need this week, this Holy Week, to be one where I lean in and linger long and listen well.

I hit play before my feet hit the floor and the words begin to settle my soul. The podcaster puts aside her own words this week and speaks the Words of Scripture. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are her special “guests” today as they begin to tell us what happened in this week thousands of year ago, this Holy Week.

Certain phrases strike me like they never have before:

The crowd gathered.
A simple phrase, yet one in such contrast to our current reality. No crowds will gather on this day, not physically at least. I picture this scene, the complete opposite of social distancing.  

If anyone asks you, “Why are you doing this?” Tell Him, “The Lord needs it…”
I consider the ways God has called me, often to things that don’t make sense to others. In words and actions they ask, “Why are you doing this?” and in reality I, like these disciples untying the donkey, don’t really know. The full picture isn’t clear yet, but this much I do know: the Lord asked; I will obey. The Lord needs it.

He went to the temple, and he looked around at everything.
He sees. Oh, he sees. He sees all the thing that break our heart, they break his as well. We can imagine what he saw that day in the temple… his response to come in the days to follow. In this day, he seems to avoid action, but really, he’s taking it all in and as he does, he weeps.

“If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace?!?”
Heartbroken, longing to give his people peace, yet seeing all the ways they turn the other way. Downcast heart, I can hear him asking these words to me as well as I flirt with the things that promise peace and give only the opposite.

Do not be afraid, Your king is coming.
Oh, friends, the King is on the way! He is not absent. He is not turning his face away. He came on that first Palm Sunday and he will come again in ALL his glory and there won’t be enough palm branches to wave or coats to lay down to honor him enough.

“If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
The Pharisees, they tried to stop the praise, tried to stop the crowds and the disciples from bringing honor to their King. But when a King comes, one worthy of all honor, glory, and power, the praise can’t be stopped. May I live my life in such a way that I make the stones keep quiet. And so we say, 

Hosanna!
A cry of honor and celebration. Literally, it means “Save, now!”  Yes, this is the collective cry of our hearts this day. Save us! Save us now! Save us as the only One who can. From sin. From disease. From addition. From pride. From broken relationships. From anxiety. From all this and more. Save! Now! Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. 

Hosanna in the Highest! 

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Lent

Maundy Thursday: Giving Up Everything … to Come

I’m not sure where or how I first heard this invitation to communion by Renovatus Church, but it is definitely one of my favorite things to reflect on from time to time in preparation for communion: 

“This is the Table, not of the church, but of the Lord. It is made ready for those who love Him and for those who want to love Him more.

So come,

You who have much faith and you who have little,

You who have been here often and you who have not been here long,

You who have tried to follow and you who have failed.

Come, because it is the Lord who invites you.

It is His will that those who want Him should meet Him here.

Come to the Table.”

Today, as we celebrate the Last Meal Jesus shared with His disciples, the Passover meal with a potentially confusing twist for those present, I think about those sitting around the table with Jesus that night.  I think about how easily the invitation quoted above could have been His welcome that night.

There were those that loved him… And those that wanted to love him more…

There were some of great faith… and some who by the end of the night would walk away in fear, deny him, and even one who would betray him…

They had tried to follow him for 3 years, yet many times failed…

These were ordinary men, chosen by Jesus, sinful, broken, humans… THESE are the people Jesus shared this last meal with. 

What comfort there is in realizing here near the end of this Lenten journey, that I’m in good company. When I try to give up all the things I’ve blogged about … and fail…When I do the opposite of showing Jesus love…When I’m overwhelmed by fear or worry or insecurities or the opinions of others… That is perhaps when His invitation is the strongest…

Come! Meet with Me here!  Nothing about you makes you worthy of an invitation, but it’s all about the One who does the inviting. So come! 

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28)

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. (Revelation 22:17)

Let’s give up anything today that might keep us from Jesus’ table. Let’s give up the thought that anything could keep us from being welcome there. 

As Pastor Chuck would say,

The table is set. All is ready.

Come! 

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Lent

Holy Week Wednesday: Giving Up Half-Hearted Worship

The first few days of Holy Week were busy for Jesus… the giant Parade on Sunday, lots of teaching and going in and out of the city, and more.  Wednesday seems to slow down a bit and you can tell as Jesus’ time on earth draws to a close, He is drawing close to those He cares most about. As He is about to go “all-in” for his disciples (and for US!!!) we see one of His followers express her “all-in” devotion and worship.  Here’s the story:

Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table.  And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste?  For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.”  But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me.  For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.  In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial.  Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” (Matthew 26:6-13)

Mary was ALL IN here.  As I looked up synonyms of that phrase some suggested included: drained out, spent, emptied.  Seems a pretty fitting word.  Another synonym caught might eye: wasted.  That’s all the disciples saw.  How could she waste this?  It’s easy for us right now to quickly read through this account and clearly see what a beautiful thing she was doing, but when we take a step back I’m guessing most of us can understand where the disciples are coming from.  Other gospels tell us that the cost of this perfume was likely at least a year’s wages.  That makes me take a step back. Would I be willing to even buy something that cost me a whole year’s worth of paychecks let alone just give it away… literally pour it out on someone’s head and feet?

In today’s world, that would be a car … (probably a really nice one)… a decent down payment on a house, and a whole lot more.  It starts to make sense from our earthly point of view why the disciples thought there might be a better use for it.  Yet Jesus scolds the disciples not the woman.  No… this gift wasn’t wasted at all.  And as Jesus promised, her gift is still talked about to this very day.

Mary’s gift is a great reminder for me to be ALL IN… to not hold back in my worship even when it seems extravagant or even wasteful.  There’s a challenge to be present in worship as we gather throughout this week but also to worship with my life… to do the things that others see as a little crazy… to give more of my time when the justification to care more for myself is great… to do whatever it takes to get to the end of each day, each week, each year, and the end of my life and be gloriously spent for God’s glory.

Claude Bissell seems to have summarized it well:

“Risk more than others think is safe. Care more than others think is wise. Dream more than others think is practical. Expect more than others think is possible.”

And I might add: all to the glory of Jesus.  Let’s give up half-hearted worship these last days of Lent and be ALL IN!

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Lent

Holy Week Tuesday: Giving Up Hypocrisy

Reading through the events of Tuesday of Holy Week it’s easy for me to get annoyed and even judgmental of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and other religious leaders of the day.  It’s easy for me, on the outside looking in, to think, “They were clearly astonished and amazed by Him, why wouldn’t they just believe?… How could they not see how he was the very One they had been waiting and longing for? … How could they be so rude, arrogant, stubborn?”

Jesus describes their hypocrisy this way:

 “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.  Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra long tassels. And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues.  They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.’ (Matthew 23:2-7)

Humility is tough. It’s hard to admit that you’re wrong.  What I find fascinating about my own heart, is that while fighting against those who judge others or those who say one thing and do another, I’ve found that I am doing the very thing I’m fighting against.  I may not judge the “sinner” like the Pharisees of our time… but sadly, I can often be found guilty of judging the Pharisees themselves.  In fighting so hard for grace for all, I forget to extend it to those who perhaps need it most… for only once we’ve experienced God’s abundant, life-giving, freeing grace can we then extend it to others.

So today, on this Tuesday of Holy Week, I give up my own hypocrisy.  I give up saying one thing and not actually doing it.  I give up offering judgment instead of grace… to EVERYONE, not just those who I see “worth it”.  I give up doing anything simply “for show”.   I give up thinking I’m better than those who think they’re better than everyone else.  Oh, that pride is a tricky thing!

Keep me humble, Jesus.  As we continue down this road to Calvary and my road through life, keep my eyes focused only on You, not concerned with the people around me, except to offer them grace.  May we be overwhelmed by the freedom that comes in trusting You to be God, and realizing that we don’t have to be.  Help us give up our hypocrisy and, in doing so, be better able to point to You and Your great love for us ALL.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen

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Lent

Palm Sunday: Giving Up My Expectations of Jesus

Today is the day we celebrate Palm Sunday in the church.  A day that is somewhat confusing.  It has hints of Easter-y, joyful celebration as a big parade welcomes Jesus to town; yet, knowing what is to come in the days ahead before Easter, it is also a somber event.  Knowing that some of the same people who exalted him on that first Palm Sunday, were likely in the crowd just days later yelling, Crucify Him!

This story of Jesus entering the town on a donkey as people placed palm branches and their coats on the ground is familiar, yet each time I read it something new sticks. Today I especially noticed the desperation likely in these people. I mean, you don’t just cry out “SAVE US!” (which is what Hosanna means) for no reason.  These people either had some hope that maybe, just maybe their Messiah had finally come or perhaps were just simply recognizing their need for a Savior. Either way, they were desperate for something.

From all that I’ve read about the events of this last week, it seems that while some in the crowd likely believed Jesus truly was their Messiah, many believed the Messiah would come and have an earthly Kingdom, not a heavenly one.  Perhaps as they saw that Jesus wasn’t coming to kick Roman butt and take His place as an earthly King of the Jews, is what made the shift from “Hosanna” to “Crucify!”…. when Jesus didn’t come as they expected Him to.

But does Jesus ever really come as we expect?

Rarely have I seen that be the case in my life.

Oh, my Jesus ALWAYS comes through…  He’s faithful like that!  But rarely is it in the ways I expect.  So as I enter into worship today, crying out with the crowd, “Hosanna!”,  I do come with that same desperation and need that I think was behind the cries on the first Palm Sunday.  But I hope that I also come without expectations of how Jesus will fulfill the needs in my heart.  Being brutally beaten and killed would not have been in “Bekah’s plan of how God could save the world” … but thank God that He didn’t ask me!  He knows what’s best in my life and I choose to give up unrealistic expectations and trust HIS ways are higher than I could ever imagine.

Hosanna! Save Me! Come Soon, Lord Jesus!  How I long for the day when you will enter not on a donkey, but on a great white horse… not to be led to a cross to be killed, but to lead us to our Heavenly, forever-home.  Hosanna! Come soon, Jesus! Save us! Amen

  

Lent

Giving Up “Having It All Together”

Recently I had a chance to talk with a friend who just got back from teaching for 2 years in South Africa at an African school there.  As she shared about her experience she shared that one of the things she learned while there was dependence on God and the peace and freedom of giving up the desire/need to “have it all together”. She described things that happened in her classroom that caused her to freak out and yet no one around her seemed to think it was a big deal.  Some of these things would be likely talked about and cause concern for months or even years in our culture, but there they shrugged it off, moved on,  and didn’t worry about it. While balance is needed in everything, I was reminded as she shared these stories of my own desire for control and to come across to the world as someone who “has it all together”. We all like (or at least think we like) the false rest found in appearing to know what we’re doing and exactly how to do it all the time.

Confession time: I don’t.

“Having it all together” (whatever that even means or looks like), is just another form of the self-reliance I’m also trying to give up. We live in a culture of self-preservation. But in reality, none of us have it together and trying to preserve the illusion that we do is not only prideful, it’s exhausting.

Let’s give it up.  Let’s just admit today that we don’t have ANYTHING “together”, let alone everything.  What relief there can be in taking that pressure off ourselves and remember that JESUS is the one who holds us, and the whole world together.  Let’s abide in Him, lean on Him, and not worry about the rest.

Jesus said, “I am the Vine. You are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in Him, He it is that bears much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing. … These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”  (John 15:5, 11)

“And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
 (Colossians 1:17)

Jesus, teach us to give up fighting for the illusion that we ‘have it together’.  Instead, let us abide in and point to You, the One in whom all things hold together.  Teach us honesty and vulnerability with You and with each other.  Help us be our true selves, the ones who desperately need you and aren’t ashamed of that, but rather praise You in that truth.  Give us peace in being out of control, knowing that You never are.  In Your Powerful Name we Pray, Amenimg_1559-3

Lent

Giving Up Division and Disunity

Last words are important. The very last words of someone’s life seem to carry extra importance. This is one of the reasons John is one of my favorite books of the Bible; he gives nearly 10 chapters in his 21-chapter book to tell the story of the last week of Jesus’ life. Chapters 14-16 basically outline the last main conversation He had with His disciples. Chapter 17 is one of my personal favorite chapters as Jesus, still in the presence of His disciples, shifts His focus onto His Father in prayer. He prays about himself, thanking God for the work He has done through Him in His time on earth. He prays for His disciples there present with them. He wraps up by praying for “those who would come to know Jesus because of the word of the disciples there”… in essence, he prays for US!

These last words not only are significant, there seems to be a theme that comes out in them. Here are a few select verses from Jesus’ prayer:

“… that they may all be one, just as you, Father are in me, and I in you, that they may also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. … that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you send me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:21-23)

In just 3 verses we see time after time after time again where Jesus desires them to “be one” or describes His own “oneness” with the Father. In a word, he’s praying for:

UNITY.

What I find most interesting about this is that He says that unity is the way in which people will know about Jesus’ love. And it makes sense when you think about it logically.  Yet, sadly, in practice, unity is hard for us humans.  Satan gets us to focus on the differences, how we might do something better, or simply how “the other person/group of people is wrong!”  I have literally had young people tell me that one of the reasons they don’t want to be Christian is because, “if the Christians can’t even get along with each other, why would I want to be part of that?”   It all happens so quick… an under-the-breath comment, one word of gossip, one email with misinterpreted tone-of-voice … and division is present.

Today, I give up division and disunity.

Jesus, rather than looking so much at each other, help us your children, keep our eyes on You alone.  Unite our focus on the things that matter most and leave the rest up to You.  Give us courage to resolve conflict, honesty and humility to confront each other when necessary, and above all, Your sacrificial generous love for each other.  Through our love for each other, may those who don’t know You, witness Your unifying love!

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Lent

Giving Up Guilt

Sorry for the silence over here on the blog the past few days.  I was away at a middle school retreat and then ended up super sick and in bed most of the weekend unable to even hang out with the awesome youth. Between all that and other factors, blogging just didn’t happen.  It actually seems quite fitting that I had planned to blog today about giving up guilt.

While there are good and healthy places for guilt, like when it convicts you of sin, I often find myself struggling with unnecessary guilt placed on my shoulders most often by myself. This weekend had potential for a lot of that…

… Potential to, as I mentioned, get stressed about the things that didn’t get done, like not getting the blog up or things at work that didn’t get done before I left. 

… Potential to feel bad about not being able to be a part of the retreat and potentially getting other people sick.

… Potential to block out those who wanted to care for me while sick.

… Potential to see necessary self-care as selfish

But you’ll notice that in all those things, and many more I could have listed, I used the word potential.  I saw this weekend the work that God has been doing in my heart the past few weeks in this process of “giving up”.  Each of those were areas where I could have found myself overwhelmed with guilt and frustration. Yet, by God’s grace, somehow that wasn’t the case.  Before I even declared in my mind to give up that unnecessary guilt about things outside of my control, God was already working that in my heart.

He drew me into grace that things that most needed to be done would be, and the world would go on without a few dishes done or blogs posted.

He helped me see his hand of provision and protection instead of wallowing in pity or self-preservation.

He has surrounded me with awesome people who care about me whether I ask for it or not and brought me to a place of gratitude instead of guilt.

Some things we have no control of in lofe. Let’s give up the guilt that Satan tries to use to steal and kill and destroy our lives.  And for the things where we really ARE guilty, we can give up that guilt too as we run to the cross and find our amazing God ready and waiting to exchange it for His grace. 

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

“Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)

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Lent

Giving Up Too Many Words

Sometimes I just need to shut up and listen. Perhaps that’s a little blunt, but it’s true for me… and probably many of us.  I am somewhat of an external processer and so writing or speaking are helpful for me to process life and different situations.  Still, there are times when I’d be much better off listening to the people around me and gaining their insights before opening my mouth.

This seems especially true in my relationship with God. Ecclesiastes 5:2 challenges me in this area as well:

Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.

Sometimes I read this verse and wonder how it jives with other verses that talk about “pouring out” our hearts to God, or praying continually.  Those wouldn’t imply “few words”.  I don’t think that’s what this verse is talking about; no, it’s tackling the very problem I described above… times when I just need to be quiet and remember that GOD is GOD and I am not.  He’s up in heaven; He knows and can see ALL.  I am just one tiny human being here on earth.  If I can keep this in mind, the words that come out of my mouth are much more honoring to God.

This reminds me of something a friend was sharing with me recently about a book she read called “A Praying Life” by Paul Miller.  In it Miller describes both the fact that God is a personal God as well as a powerful, almighty God.  God is so much more than those two things, but when we can keep BOTH of them in view, we approach God in prayer in the best way.  We remember that He cares about us in a personal way and wants to know every detail of our lives.  He longs to be intimately involved with us.  At the same time, he is GOD! He is powerful. He is One to respect with awe and reverence.  He’s not just my genie to make things happen the way I would like them.  He’s not my servant. No, He’s almighty and personal all at the same time.  Sometimes, yes, He just longs for me to pour out my heart, every little detail.  But I also need moments where I stand in stunned silence at the God of the universe, capture in awe, speechless.

Lord, You ARE God in heaven, and I am just a mere human here on earth. Let my words be few as my heart finds awe in your power and majesty.  Quiet my lips when I need to be still and listen.  Open my ears to what you would have me hear.  May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and My Redeemer! In Jesus’ Name, Amen!

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