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 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, Prayer

Giving Up Complaining

Lord,

Forgive me when my words are filled with complaints… to You, to others, to no one in particular. Forgive me when I get focused on the things that aren’t going the way I would like or imagine and get my heart focused instead on the many ways in which you have blessed me.  Forgive me Lord when my words which express desire for more or different get in the way of showing the world your abundant grace and joy.  Forgive me for the ways these complaining words have damaged relationships, hurt people, or given an inaccurate picture of You.

I can’t help but be reminded of the Israelites who grumbled their way through the wilderness, longing to go back to Egypt… forgetting the slavery they endured there. (Exodus 16, Numbers 11) Your provided freedom and they grumbled that it took so long.  You provided food and they grumbled that they wanted something different.  You lead them and gave them guidelines to help them live the best life possible and they grumbled.  Lord, I confess I do the same. Forgive me of my grumbling.

Replace my complaining spirit with a spirit of praise… a heart that longs to bless Your name and the many ways You provide for me, lead me, care about me, and use me.  May I not be conformed to the complaining pattern of this world but may my mind be transformed and renewed (Romans 12:1-2). Like Paul, may I learn contentment and praise in every situation, coming to you with any worry, concern, or fear, presenting requests with thanksgiving to Your glory by your grace (Philippians 4).

In the Mercy and Name of Jesus,

Amen… let it be so!

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Lent

Sunday Joy: I Choose Peace

In all the things I “gave up” this week … I still didn’t give up peace.  I gave up comfort and safety… I resolved to trying things even when the situation doesn’t quite seem “perfect… I chose to pray with expectation instead of sticking with “safe” prayers.

There is definite potential for uncertainty and anxiety in these resolutions. It seems as if praying for these things could potentially bring the exact opposite of peace.

Yet, the reality is that I can give those things up BECAUSE of the peace I find in Jesus. In tough times, I don’t need to just focus on the next best thing that’s coming my way; I can rest in God’s arms right now. If sharing my faith with a friend fails in epic ways, I can have peace that I obeyed what God was calling me to do and that’s enough. If the prayer I pray doesn’t get answered in the way or time I would desire, I can trust that God used those moments of prayer to draw me closer to His heart and will provide for all I need for the outcome.

I had a friend ask me this week how I felt about a situation that could have great potential for producing anxiety and fear… this situation brings with it a level of risk.  I surprised even myself by saying: “I’m so excited!”  I realize after the fact that I was able to respond in that way because I know that I’m exactly in the place God needs me in that situation and with that there is great comfort.

I gave up a lot this week, but in doing so, I choose peace. peace

Lent

Giving Up Comfort

Last week, I mentioned a book I was reading called Killing Christians by Tom Doyle.  I cannot even begin to describe some of the painful, UNcomforable things the believers shared about their lives.  I have been challenged to pray for these brothers and sisters who have no option but sacrifice when they decide to follow Jesus.  I think what astounded me most was that in literally every single story anyone who was still alive at the time of the publication of the book said something to the effect of: “I’m still alive, but I know that my death will come soon.”  Even more incredible is that every sentence like that is almost inevitably followed up with, “But don’t worry about me.”

Being a Christian isn’t just a label for these people.  It’s not one of many options of how they might spend their time on a Sunday morning.  It’s literally life and death, every single day.  It’s fathers and uncles hunting them down to kill them for “dishonoring their family” by following Jesus.  It’s hiding in coffins to smuggle Bibles into their country.  It’s anything but a comfortable life.

When I say that I’m giving up comfort today, let me be clear, I am not asking to have to experience the things these people went through.  I actually pray I never experience them as I pray that the suffering would be ended for them and those around them.  However, I’ve realized that I can’t just keep turning my eye to the reality of things like this.  To be honest, it would have been much easier to never pick up this book, or to put it back down a few pages in.  Ignorance is bliss, right?

God may someday call me to make some life or death decisions in regards to following Him or to suffer because I bear His name. If that day comes, I pray for strength and courage to point boldly to Him.  Like Paul wrote:

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. (Philippians 12-14)

But whether or not a day like that ever comes, today, I can give up the comfort of ignorance and avoidance.  I can stop being an apathetic Christian. I can “sacrifice” time to pray for my brothers and sisters who are suffering things greater than I can imagine.  I can “sacrifice” some of the things that bring me comfort in this life and invest that money or other resources into things that last eternally.  It’s a scary, scary, prayer to pray, but today I ask that God would help me give up comfort that I may live passionately for Him.

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