April 15 (Holy Saturday) – Relinquishing
Luke 23:56 On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.
I cannot imagine what the day after Christ’s crucifixion was like. Mass crucifixions were so terribly grisly, the images must have been seared into the minds of all those who witnessed it. The blood, the screams, the smell. Soldiers with clubs and spears killing the condemned after hours of agony so that the crowds could go and observe their Holy Day.
Each of Jesus’ followers would have sat and replayed these scenes again and again. They would have remembered all the things he did and said, and then wondered… was any of it true?
Looking back now, this terrible day is the ultimate lesson in relinquishment. What else could have destroyed their old, false notions of who and what Jesus was besides this break? As they pondered the past they could see how false and failed their notions of who and what Jesus was had been. They heard “It is finished!” and assumed everything was all over. Instead, this was Jesus relinquishing his hold on his limited, time-bound existence in order to ascend to his rightful place where “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” (Philippians 2:10)
So now, it is your turn. For 40 days, you have considered your relationship to Jesus. You have reviewed what you want and why. You have considered how you would turn away from those things which held you away from Christ, and how you would reorient yourself to him. Today, in this last day before the celebration of the resurrection, what do you need to leave behind you? What mistaken beliefs and false assumptions have held you back from truly following Jesus? What can you not release from your life that keeps you from having that one thing that is greater than all the rest. Before the sun rises tomorrow, say no to all that is partial and failing and yes to the life abundantly God has for you in Christ Jesus.
April 14 (Good Friday) – Relinquishing
Luke 23:44-49 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.” And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
April 13 (Maundy Thursday) – Relinquishing
On this day when we remember Jesus as he gave us the “New Commandment” (Mandatum Novum in Latin – a corruption of Mandatum is where the word “Maundy” comes from), and as his hour of crisis approached, Jesus had a decision to make. He prayed his prayer of relinquishment and went to meet both his death and his glory.
The Quaker spiritual writer Richard Foster shared his own prayer of relinquishment. Perhaps this may be your prayer, both today and every day as you seek to follow Christ:
Today, O Lord, I yield myself to You.
May Your will be my delight today.
May You have perfect sway in me.
May your love be the pattern of my living.
I surrender to You my hopes, my dreams, my ambitions.
Do with them what You will, when You will, as You will.
I place into Your loving care my family, my friends, my future.
Care for them with a care that I can never give.
I release into Your hands my need to control, my craving for status, my fear of obscurity.
Eradicate the evil, purify the good, and establish Your Kingdom on earth.
For Jesus’ sake, Amen.
April 12 – Relinquishing
Philippians 3:13-14 …forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
Does this talk of relinquishment seem to you to be more about giving something up than receiving something wonderful? Then understand that Relinquishment is always about more saying “yes” to God than saying “no” to yourself. Relinquishment allows us to give up the things we have already said we want to give up anyway so that we can become the person God means us to be.
This passage from Philippians 3 reminds us what our lives are to be about. Our desire to be like Christ is to be so strong that it makes everything else seem worthless in comparison. If that is true, what would we not give up to obtain this?
Do you recall the parable of the Pearl of Great Price in Matthew 13? A merchant of pearls finds the one perfect pearl and spends all that he has to attain it? Or (right before it) someone who finds a treasure hidden in a field and gives all that he has to buy the field? This is relinquishment in its most remarkable form, and, for Christians, its most logical form.
The problem is, on one hand, we have the things we have now, and they satisfy us, in a partial sort of way. We know that the treasure is in the field, and have seen that one perfect pearl. We know that, whatever we spend to obtain these things is more than worth it – it would enrich beyond our wildest dreams. Yet, frozen by fear or simply by habit we cling to that which passes away, even while we stare longingly at that which would finally satisfy that dull ache deep inside. Pray, now, about those things that are keeping you back from having God’s best for you.
April 11 – Relinquishing
Jonah 4:10-11 …(God says) should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”
No one in the Scriptures had more trouble with the concept of relinquishment than Jonah. Jonah had a sweet gig as a prophet to his own people until, one day, God told him to go to the people of Nineveh (of all places) and preach God’s wrath and repentance to them there. Jonah had to be… convinced (after some up-close-and-personal time with a large fish) to do what God had asked. Nineveh represented everything that a man like Jonah would have hated: opulence, worldliness, idolatry, heedless sinfulness and not being Hebrew. So, if there was a consolation, it was that Jonah would get to see God roast this abomination of a city after he was done.
Except after he went and preached – they repented! The result? Jonah was furious that the only thing he was looking forward to – seeing the Ninevehns fry – was now off the schedule too! In one of the most spectacular scenes of juvenility in the Bible, Jonah began an epic pout that God ruined through… horticulture.
Jonah’s problem was that he did not want to relinquish the world as he imagined it for the world as God intends. God, it is obvious from the story, was not going to let this pass in Jonah’s case. With us it often is not so obvious. For us, we have to cultivate a lifelong habit of relinquishment since God seems to have left the whole fish-eating-you thing out of the equation. These days, God uses a heightened conscience and awareness of the Spirit to help us discern when his will and ours depart. Who depends, today, on your ability to give up a fantasy world in order to bring about God’s best intention on the earth?
April 10 – Relinquishing
Luke 22:41-42 Then he… knelt down, and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.”
It seems odd to end a series of meditations that began with “Goals” with a week’s worth of thoughts on relinquishment. But look at those goals again – to put God and God’s desires first, not to put lesser goals before the greater, not to compare your walk with God with anyone else’s. To observe Lent is to begin to understand how much pain, suffering, anger and futility God wishes to ward off in our life by keeping us away from that which leads us away from him, rather than closer to him.
Take, for example, the great Christian tradition of the prayer of relinquishment. The most prominent example of this type of prayer comes from Jesus in the hours before his trial and eventual crucifixion. Knowing the horror that was almost upon him, Jesus does the most human thing one can imagine: he asks his Father to let all this pain and terror pass him by. At the same time, however, he relinquishes his hope for skipping pain for himself in the short term in order to strive to secure an eternal glory expansive enough to include all humanity. This is for us, certainly, the greatest goal of all!
The prayer that Jesus prays is awe-inspiring in its selflessness. However, we must also see that prayer as the only path to fulfillment Jesus had open to him. While it is almost impossible to imagine the pain and humiliation that was to come upon him, is it not possible that not fulfilling his work on the cross would have been made for lifelong, searing pain in his spirit?
In this Holy Week we will look at the scope and power of the Prayer of Relinquishment and see why praying this prayer can mark both the lowest point and the highest attainment of our spiritual lives.
April 8 – Resolving
2Cor. 6:4-5 …as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger…
When I was young, I was a member of “Training Union.” This used to be the name for the Southern Baptist’s program to teach discipleship principles to kids and teens. Training Union was definitely works-based, and the more tasks you accomplished the higher in “rank” you would go. One of the tasks was to read a whole series of simple biographies written about foreign missionaries. There were tales of heroic spirituality, personal sacrifice and general derring-do.
Now, fifty years later, I recall those books, and I guess some of it must have worn off on me since I ended up on the mission field myself. In nearly every case, however, what so impressed me was their resolution. Resolution to stay in their work despite hardships. Resolution to continue preaching despite ominous threats. Resolution to continue to serve God, even when that service entailed the death of your children, your spouse or yourself.
I used to look at those books and wonder at those stories. Surely those missionaries must be a human sub-species, over endowed with a bravery hormone or faith much larger than the quarter-of-a-mustard-seed the rest of us have.
Now, I know different.
Loving and serving God, even in the most trying of circumstances, is never a matter of extraordinary effort, but of simple resolution – beginning by saying “Yes, I will.” What we need to know to serve every day is not secret knowledge, but God’s promises available to anyone who reads God’s Word. The power needed to live for God is ours already through the Holy Spirit, we just need to open ourselves to it.
Friends, everything that is necessary to be one of those “heroes of the faith” you’ve always read about is right before you. All that you need do to become that person you want to be is to resolve to take what God has already given you. May it be so in Christ Jesus!
April 7 – Resolving
Psa. 107:1-2 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, those he redeemed from trouble…
Psalm 107 is a lovely meditation on human suffering and divine providence. People get into desperate straits, and, at the peak of their sorrow, “Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress…”
In this Psalm is a lesson in resolve by example – in this case God’s example. In each case, the Psalmist lists those things which terrify humans the most: being lost in the desert, forgotten in prison, cast adrift in a terrifying sea storm, or being their own victim, sickened by their own sin. In each case the solution is the same – calling out to God. In each case, no matter what the situation and no matter what got you there, God reaches out to the victim and saves them.
The key here is this word in Hebrew חַסְדּ֑ – hesed, God’s steadfast love. This is the never-give-up, no-price-too-high, against-all-odds love God offers to us in Christ. There is no need to review here God’s holiness, hatred of sin, demands for righteousness. Yet, in the midst of these hard, fast statements, it is clear that God’s love seems to transcend all the bounds we assume this would set. We don’t know how or why, but we do know that God’s love for humanity is greater than can be overpowered by our sinfulness. God’s resolve to love us is the result of love being at the root of his own character! God loves without limit, because God’s love transcends all limits.
This over-the-top, nearly absurd kind of resolve to love is the very model for all resolve in spiritual life. Our resolve cannot be based on what is outside us, but on the love of God which is inside us. Our ability to resolve one thing comes from God’s steadfastness its very self. No matter how weak we may be, the loves that saves and powers us can overcome anything!
April 6 – Resolving
Acts 4:32-34 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.
You can take your hand off your wallet. This is not meant to be a reflection on the pleasures of communal ownership! And (as the last sentence in the passage implies) it is not a long-term solution. Looking at the lifestyle of the early church is a lesson in resolve, however.
Can you imagine, for just one moment, what this moment in the early church’s life looked like? They knew that the leaders were looking for them, and had promised to wipe them out lest the news of Christ’s resurrection cause the public to turn on them. Many Christians were drawn from the lower reaches of society, and faced losing what little they had. And then there were these “outbreaks of the Spirit” – fire falling on a meeting room, or Peter and John going to pray and just happening to heal a lame man. You’d think they’d learn to keep their head down and their mouths shut.
What happens instead is that the earliest disciples form a mutual support society. They were entirely sold out to spreading the news about Jesus and his resurrection, but between the opposition of the religious and political leaders it would be impossible live normal lives and still accomplish their evangelistic goal.
The solution was that the richest gave up everything they had, and the poorest contributed what they could and need was wiped out among them. “…on finding one pearl of great value, the merchant went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matt 13:45-46) Can there be greater resolve than this? And this resolve changed the world!
April 5 – Resolving
Luke 9:59-62 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Can’t you let the guy grieve?
We marvel at these “hard sayings” of Jesus, where Jesus says things that seem to disrupt the pattern of love and friendship that he seems to otherwise promote. There are ways to understand these sayings so they do not seem so draconian. However, these statements stand, and with good reason. There must be a break in the way that we look at life before we follow Jesus and after. And it is all a matter of resolve.
We might say that Jesus is contrasting degrees of loyalty – that the loyalty we have toward Jesus is so great that it makes our commitment to other, lesser things (family, home, job, country) look like hatred in comparison. However, the words of Jesus still give a corrective this notion. In Luke 14 Jesus uses the word for “hate” to describe one’s attitude toward the very ones that the Ten Commandments told you to honor. He wasn’t playing around, and the people who heard him in that day and time would have been more shocked than we are.
The question is one of resolve. How many things can wheedle their way between you and your call to follow and serve Jesus? There are all manner of emergencies, exigencies, events and exceptions that vie for our attention every day. The question is how many of them do you let displace your vocation of following and serving the Lord? These words come to us as a permanent challenge to our resolve to truly serve the Lord first and let him order the rest.
April 4 – Resolving
Matt. 16:24-26 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
Jesus was beginning to worry Peter. He was becoming a bit of a downer – outside of the being the Son of God, or course. He seemed to be obsessed with how hard things were going to be, and how hard choices had to be made… and how he was going to die. Soon.
Peter, knew that there was not going to be any successful movement built on suffering and death – look at what happened to Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptizer after all! So, with the best of intentions, he took Jesus aside to give him a little… pep talk.
We imagine him saying “Jesus – you’ve got to be more positive! No one wants a preacher who only talks about sacrifice and loss. And all this death talk is creeping us out! Now, if we…”
“GET BEHIND ME, SATAN’ Jesus hisses straight into Peter’s earnest, know-it-all face. And then he seals the deal:
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
Here is what Jesus said – ‘Every one of you should be saying the exact same things I am. You should be adapting to the fact the abundant life you want is never won through earthly abundance. That self-actualization is not the same as dying to self. That lasting joy doesn’t grow out of a faith that dots its “i” with a smiley face. In fact, if you want to live in a way that gives you real freedom, pick up the instrument of your execution every day and then you’ll be ready to follow me!’
Of course, Jesus was right, and Peter ended up living in just this way. Are you resolved to do the same?
April 3 – Resolving
Luke 9:51-53 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem.
We are now only a couple of weeks before the end of Lent. We have talked about many aspects of the journey to becoming the person God has called us to be in Christ Jesus. Along the way, we have been challenged. But the time grows short now, and everyone who has taken this discipline upon themselves has a decision to make: ‘will what I have thought about doing be what I actually do?’
There is only one way this happens – to resolve that this is your new path and that you will follow it. Maybe you made new goals, dealt with yourself, decided a new path was needed and thought about how you could order your priorities in a God-centered way. But you could do all of that while sitting in your favorite easy chair. How do you resolve to make the intangible commitments in your mind real?
Imagine Jesus, in the final weeks of his life, knowing (as he did) that he was going to a horrible death on the cross. Arrival in Jerusalem would mean it was too late, and his fate would be sealed. The time to decide was now, and Jesus did the fateful thing that made betrayal, suffering, death and, yes, resurrection possible. He “set his face toward Jerusalem.”
To “set your face” was a Hebrew idiom that meant you had unshakable determination to do a thing. Considering what was about to happen, Jesus would need that kind of resolve. To truly give our lives over to God through the leadership of the Spirit requires us ‘to set our face’ as well. To turn away from what is easy toward what is best. Are you resolved to follow the Savior.
March 31 – Reordering
Matthew 22:36-40 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
What does matter most?
Here, in Matthew 22, Jesus uses language that is about as plain and specific as it gets. Not only does Jesus answer the question about which is the greatest commandment (and throws in commandment number two for good measure) but goes on to say how this duo is to be used. These commandments are to shape the way we understand every other commandment in the scriptures!
In other words, if you test what you believe you are taking away from a Bible-reading session, and it does not comport with either of these commandments – you are not done reading or thinking yet. If you have prayed about an action, and it doesn’t sit well with either of these commandments – you aren’t done praying yet. And – most important – if you are deciding how it is you will live your life, and it doesn’t square with these two commandments, its time to think again.
If we are to reorder, and put first God’s Kingdom, and we neglect the very thing Jesus identifies as the thing that everything else literally “hangs” from, there IS no way to put God’s Kingdom first in your life. Imagine your life as a bunch of grapes – there may be dozens of grapes and twice that many stems, but there is only one branch from which you hang.
Lent gives you the opportunity to ask what your life “hangs from.” Look at your life and answer that essential question. No one has a perfect life, but the Spirit wants to help you move from where you are closer to where God calls you to be.
March 30 – Reordering
Matt. 6:31-33 “Therefore don’t be anxious, saying, ‘What will we eat?’, ‘What will we drink?’ or, ‘With what will we be clothed?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first God’s Kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things will be given to you as well. (WEB)
When Jesus looked out over the crowd gathered to hear to sermon on the mount, he saw a cross-section of humanity. His disciples were mainly middle class, but in the crowd were many “people of the land,” the poorest of agrarian society – farm hands, but regarded more as implements than people. There were likely richer folk, but this was way up-country, and the people there the commonest of common folk.
That makes it even more remarkable that Jesus said what he did in this passage. With people who often had no idea where their next meal would come from listening in, he says “Stop worrying about you will eat! I know your water is often filthy and you live in an arid place, but stop stressing over what you will drink! You are wearing hand-me-downs from five years ago and are almost indecent, but stop worrying about whether you’ll have decent clothes!”
Its seems insensitive for Jesus to talk in what seems to be a dismissive way about the necessities of life to very poor people, but this is exactly Jesus’ point. It does not matter how well-off or how broke you are, your life will always be a hot mess if you are not first seeking to bring about God’s Kingdom through what you think do and say. Haven’t we all seen this? Rich folks living lives of glitzy despair and the poor equally (if not comfortably) locked in degradation and desperation. Everything, from the way you look at life, to the way you are affected by your situation is ordered by what you put first in your life. What is it that orders your life?
March 29 – Reordering
Philippians 3:7-8 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8 More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ
We have looked at parts of this passage before, watching as Paul struggled to reckon with and subdue his past. How was he able to put aside his rather grand heritage and follow the very Christ he attempted to discredit? By reordering his world – and radically, as it turns out.
Despite all the things he had be proud of (verses 4-6), once he met Jesus and realized God’s call to him through Jesus Christ, he understood what was to be first in his life. It wasn’t his good name, or his reputation or his penchant for learning, it was just this: being so like Christ, even suffering and dying as he did, that he, too, could obtain resurrection from the dead. Compared to that, Paul said, all of these wonderful achievements and attributes are σκύβαλα (SKOObala) – the Greek term for… well… poo.
Knowing Jesus, and what Jesus did in his life, became the ordering principle for Paul. Everything else became subordinate to this. The importance of every other aspect of his life was measured against this singular “surpassing value.”
What about you? What is the one thing that orders the rest of what you do? What you put first in your heart bring priority and order to everything else. It is this question that Lent was meant to ask. What is your answer?
March 28 – Reordering
Matthew 20:14-15 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
Here is another infuriating story about Jesus and his willingness to turn the established order on its head. The Wage-and-Hour division would be launching an investigation into this man who hired people at 5 p.m. and paid them the same as those who clocked in at dawn. What gives?
Jesus was speaking to his disciples when a rich young man came up and asked to follow Jesus. He was a fine religious specimen – and Jesus admired him! In the end, though, he went away grieving, because he was simply unwilling to let go of his hard-gotten gains to follow Jesus. Meanwhile, the disciples (who were watching all this) thought of the sacrifices they had made in leaving their homes, families and businesses to follow Jesus. They no longer had so much as a place to lay their heads while the rich man went home, teary-eyed, to have a glass of wine and lie down on his nice, comfy bed to forget his sorrows.
The story of the workers in the vineyard was part of his answer. His answer was meant to assure them that, even though there were many who had more and had followed the established order, the fact that they followed this brand-new way would result in blessing nonetheless.
Part of the reordering required to know and follow Jesus is to be willing to accept a calculus that counts things like faithfulness, submission and gratitude in new ways. In God’s calculus in Christ Jesus, there is one gift for all that is never earned by how much we do. This is the Good News of the Gospel – we cannot earn what God freely gives!
March 27 — Reordering
Matthew 19:29-30 …everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.
One of the things that most upset the religious people of Jesus’ day was his disdain for the accepted order of things. Look at Matthew 19 – the entire chapter is a rejection of the “normal” order of things like marriage and divorce, the significance of children to the kingdom of God, the role of wealth in spiritual life, even the potential for family to be a spiritual hindrance. So, in Jesus’ world, children sit in his lap while the greatest teachers of the day sit and watch (and seethe). A rich man is not courted for his potential support, but walks away in sadness because he could not let go of his wealth. People are commended for leaving behind home and family to do the work of the Lord.
Then, Jesus makes clear what his program truly is: turning everything upside down: making many who are first go to the back of the line, and saying to the sad and straggling at the back, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ (Luke 14:10)
We are taught, throughout our lives that there are certain principles of fairness and justice that are just plain common sense. Jesus seems not to have gotten the memo. The question, for Jesus, is not who got to the front of the line first, but who should be at the front. His favor is not upon the one that got (or took) the most toys, but the one who knows how to give what they have away to those who need it most.
Jesus posits nothing less than rejecting the entire system by which we order the world, and reordering according to what my friend, Bill Pannell, calls “Kingdom Values.” Can we surrender something we think is ours by right and give it to someone whom God declares must be first?
March 25 – Reorienting
…it is certain that [humanity] never achieves a clear knowledge of [themselves] unless [they] have first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize [themselves]. Calvin’s Institutes 1,1,3
At the very beginning of the Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin asked a question ‘Which comes first – knowledge of ourselves or the knowledge of God?’ His answer still puzzles people nearly 500 years after he first asked the question. Calvin’s answer is one which affirms the notion of reorientation in the most forceful way.
The “natural” way of understanding who we are as human beings insists that the only way we can know ourselves is to intently study ourselves. But Calvin saw something different. He knew that humanity was not what it was supposed to be, and that if we studied ourselves we would only get the distorted image that humanity’s fall into sin left to us. Instead, to truly understand who we are and what we are supposed to be, we have to know God, and what God wants us to be in order to know ourselves.
Calvin’s realization about human beings and what we are called to be is a call to turn away from the mirror and to our God to discover ourselves. How do we do that? By the great disciplines of the church: prayer, reading the scriptures and meditating on them, being in worship and service in fellowship with others in Jesus’ name. In each case, these are the things that teach us more about God, and what God created us to be. Simply being with one another in fellowship is part of God’s way of teaching us more about what God wants us to be as we see the Spirit at work in others.
In the end, the most important reorientation we can experience is the one that calls us away from believing that we define ourselves and into the realization that it is the one who made us who gives us our true identity. Where do you find your identity?
March 24 – Reorienting
1Cor. 9:19-20 For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law.
I grew up in a period when “self-actualization” became very popular. A whole genre of literature called Self-Help books was launched to teach people how to (constructively) put themselves first. The (rather cheesy) anthem of this movement was a song popularized by Sammy Davis Jr., “I’ve Gotta Be Me!” In it, the singer says:
I’ll go it alone, that’s how it must be
I can’t be right for somebody else
If I’m not right for me
How far that is from Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians! Paul’s vision of personal fulfillment was not focusing on his own needs and wants, but involved placing the needs and desires of those around him first. All this did two things – First was to take Paul’s eyes off his own temporal goals and turn his will to serving what God actually wanted him to do rather than what he imagined God wanted. His call was to spread the Gospel to everyone he could.
He was successful in this (to an amazing degree) by taking on the concerns and desires of those he went to serve. His great discovery was that his path to fulfillment was not in becoming what he wanted to be , but in submitting to what God called him to be.
In this is the essence of Lent – to seek, in these 40 days , to take on the same attitude Jesus had as he approached the cross. That is to do whatever God bids us do, to reorient ourselves from ourselves to what God wants us to be. In this is the way to true self-fulfillment for us.
March 23 – Reorienting
Judg. 16:28 Then Samson called to the LORD and said, “Lord GOD, remember me and strengthen me only this once, O God, so that with this one act of revenge I may pay back the Philistines for my two eyes.”
Samson, the great strongman of the Bible, suffered from a rather deadly combination – he was both pretty cocky, and a really dumb cluck. Samson went through his life flouting the rules and making terrible decisions, even when he had plenty of evidence right in his face that pretty much screamed “Don’t do it!!!”
So, how did a knucklehead like this end up in the “hall of faith” in Hebrews 11 (along with a few others known for poor choices, by the way)? Reorientation.
At the end of his life, Samson was a laughingstock. His Philistine lover, Delilah, wrung the secret of his tremendous strength out of him (after three tries) and turned him over to the Philistines. They gouged out his eyes and imprisoned him for all the injuries he inflicted on them over the years. One day, after he had been sentenced to turn a gristmill an ox, he was commanded to entertain his captors, probably by doing strong man tricks – bending metal bars and such. They didn’t realize that enough of his strength had come back (along with his hair) that he could literally bring down the house, which is exactly what he did.
There, blinded and dressed like a common slave, something clicked. He saw where his life of self-seeking and laughing at God’s law had gotten him. As the Philistines mock-cheered his sideshow performance, he reoriented his life toward God. He turned from his life of courting disasters (along with Philistine women) and cried out to God to use his God given strength as he was always meant– to actually further the welfare people of God.
March 21 – Reorienting
1 John 4: 20-21 – Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
One of the toughest reorientations we all experience is facing away from the pagan way of thinking about God and turning to the Christian way. The pagan way sets the God they have in mind high on a pedestal, above humanity. Pagan gods are jealous and possessive – they could care less about what is around you as long as you give them their due. The ancient gods (like Baal) and modern ones too, are happy to receive cast-off people as human sacrifices, whether offered on altars made of stone, dollars or ideology.
The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jesus is not like this. The earth is not the place where the rejects went. Instead, the earth teems with humanity, and every person bears within them the image of God. The one and only God does not ask you to face away from humanity in order to give him glory, but implores you to embrace others, showing them the same give-everything-I-have love we say we want to give to God.
God’s way of viewing our human community is even more amazing than this. It is not just that God wants us to be nice, as though we are sharing space in a kindergarten sandbox. Instead, the possibility of our love for God is predicated on our love for others! The inability to love those around us whom we can see is evidence of the real ability to love God whom we cannot see. Perhaps the first reorientation of Lent is away from worshipping the pagan gods at their mirrored shrines and worshipping the God of Jesus Christ who turns us toward one another.
March – 20
Acts 1:10-11 While [Jesus] was [ascending] and [the disciples] were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
The word “reorient” literally means to “face east again.” The idea is to take someone who has gone substantially off course and face them in direction they were supposed to be going. If the disciples of Jesus were facing in the wrong direction it was no big surprise. Their lives started going seriously off-track in the week before Jesus crucifixion, and proceeded to be hit with every kind of unexpected occurrence since. Jesus cheered, Jesus jeered, Jesus betrayed, Jesus tortured, Jesus tried and convicted, Jesus crucified and died. And then – Jesus risen, Jesus materializing, Jesus disappearing, Jesus cooking fish on the beach, and now, if the rest wasn’t enough, Acts says that Jesus levitated off the ground and disappeared into a cloud.
So, the picture of the disciples standing and staring into the cloud is not a surprise. They no longer had any idea of what to expect, and stood staring into the fog. They are shaken out of their trance by two beings in white robes who (naturally) seemed to appear out of nowhere. Their message was simple – Jesus will come back, but the work he left for you is here, now, so stop staring into the sky.
Maybe we all still feel the same disorientation they felt, because we still seem to spend a lot of time looking at the sky and waiting to see Jesus there. Jesus did promise to come again, but when is a) not your problem, and b) not your concern. You have stuff to do now, here. The reorientation of Lent calls us to stop staring into the sky and face the things given us to do. Facing the right direction can make all the difference.
March 18 – Repentance
Romans 8:22-23 Repent therefore of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and the chains of wickedness.
Simon the Magician was envious. He could see that something miraculous happened each time Philip, Peter and John prayed for people to receive the Holy Spirit, and wanted it! Simon had been an immensely popular “holy man.” He went and offered the Apostles the one thing he thought most priests wanted – money – to gain a share in the miraculous things he saw unfolding around him.
Peter and John made clear what they had was not for sale. Even though Simon believed in Christ, he mistook the Christian faith for being about getting power rather than serving God and others. Peter and John could sense this right away and gave him a tongue-lashing. Simon’s action showed the intent of his heart and that revealed exactly how evil his intentions were. His only hope? Repentance.
Simon had decided to follow Jesus, but this meant to him that he wanted Jesus to go before him on the path that he (Simon) chose. Simon never changed his mind – truly repented – of who and what he had been and wanted Christian faith to be only an adornment of his life, rather than its vital center.
The Apostles’ saw that, despite his belief in Jesus, he had never really repented of his old way of life – never really had his mind changed about who he was and about where he was going. Instead of turning around and traveling the Way of Life, he was still sinking deeper an into a rut filled with bitterness and evil. What had not changed for Simon was what he wanted out of life. Until the ‘intent of his heart’ changed, blessing would always be just beyond his grasp. Is our intent to have our lives re-ordered by the Gospel, or simply to have the Gospel be one of many #hashtags that describe who we are?
March 17 – Repentance
Lent includes St. Patrick’s Day this year. Patrick was the son of a deacon and the grandson of a priest. He never really found religion very important to his life growing up and he lived pretty much as he pleased. One day, when he was a young teenager, Patrick was abducted by a group of Irish pirates and sold as a slave to Milchu, a landowner. Patrick was enslaved for six years as a cattle-herd before he made his way back home.
While enslavement is never a thing to be sought, Patrick found that the days he spent alone with the livestock gave him a lot of time to think. That is when, like the Prodigal Son, he “came to himself.” He rediscovered the Christian faith of his family and repented of his unbelief, turned to God, and spent his days in the fields repeating the prayers he had learned as a child. It was during one of these marathon prayer sessions (Patrick said he would pray some prayers hundreds of times in a day) that God revealed to him in a vision that his time of enslavement was done and to go home.
After a couple of decades back at home Patrick eventually went back to Ireland to preach and bring the nation to faith in Christ. But his fabled life started with this one thing – repentance. Rather than using his six years as a slave to carefully tend a garden of rage and bitterness against the Irish, he literally changed his mind about what his captivity meant. Redemption touched not only his life situation, but extended to Milchu, his former “owner” who became one of Patrick’s first converts to Christianity. The point is this: the change of mind true repentance makes can transform anything from a horrible mistake to a platform to give glory to God. Is there something in your life that holds you back from following God? Have you repented of that thing and sought God’s help to turn it around?
March 16 – Repentance
Acts 2:37-8 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
On that day long ago when Peter laid out what the Hebrew Bible said about the Messiah, he tied those prophecies to the person of Jesus of Nazareth. As he did so, everything clicked into place in his hearers’ minds. They wanted to know how they could acclaim Jesus as God’s anointed one in their own lives. Peter’s answer was threefold: repent, be baptized, receive the Holy Spirit.
Peter understood that the only way into new life in Christ was repentance – reckoning with yourself and wanting a new path. However, there was more. Repentance was only a beginning. Next was to accept baptism – publically acknowledging that you were now part of God’s family and claimed by the grace he displayed in Christ Jesus. But there was still one thing more: receiving the Gift of the Holy Spirit.
This is the greatest thing to which repentance opens us. Notice that this gift is not something that only some get, nor is it something that requires a secondary experience. Receiving the Gift of the Holy Spirit is part and parcel of the experience of coming to Christ in repentance and being baptized into God’s family. Repentance brings the possibility of living in the Spirit!
This is the essential answer of how we can continue in the new way our repentance has shown us. The Spirit, God’s imminent presence in the world, had power to Christ’s followers to live in the way that their repentance opened to them. Part of the renewal that Lent offers is to realize that we are not in this on our own: God gives us the strength we need to live in this new way!
March 15 – Repentance
Mark 1:15 [Jesus was] saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
We have so often heard the word “REPENT” yelled at us by terribly angry preachers, or seen it jokingly included on signs that say “The End Is Near” we can begin to lose the true effect of repentance. Repentance is not meant to result in sniveling, woe-is-me self-condemnation. The purpose of repentance is putting us right with God!
In Mark, Jesus makes clear that repentance is the path to believing the good news because the possibility of repentance IS the good news! We are not condemned to repeat the same mistakes and live in the same aimless way forever. Repentance gives us the possibility to live the abundant and joyful life we seek. It is as we recognize the failures and disappointments of the past and seek the power of God to live in newness of life in the future that repentance – and Lent – come into sharp focus.
I know you have read Bible stories where Jesus says to someone not to sin again. Have you ever thought about this? How impossible, even ludicrous it is to say this to anyone, much less some of the people to whom Jesus said it. Why would he tell them something so obviously out of the realm of possibility?
Repentance. There is no question that the people Jesus said this to would probably sin again before they walked to the end of the block. But the gift of repentance means that, once we get started in one direction, we are not condemned to continue down that same path. Repentance gives us the possibility of starting over again – as many times as we need. Former slaver John Newton wrote his hymn Amazing Grace as his testimony to the power of repentance in his own life. Once lost – now found, blind, but now I see. Maybe the best news of all is that regardless of what we were, we can be new!
March 14 – Repentance
Psa. 32:3-5 While I kept silence, my body wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not hide my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,”
and you forgave the guilt of my sin.
What comes to your mind when you hear the word “repent?” Someone emotionally distraught over their sins who wants to change? Someone disgusted with their actions and determined to ask for God’s help to chart a new course? Someone who doesn’t like the direction of their life and resolves to ask God’s Spirit to help them turn it all around? Someone who wants a new strength and vibrancy in their relationship with God and reorders their priorities to do just that?
All of these things are examples of the kind of repentance God seeks in our lives. The root word often translated as repentance in the New Testament is “metanoia”, which means to change one’s thinking. While there is always the element of feeling sorry or regretful for past actions, no amount of sorry every makes for a different outcome without the determination that it will come out different next time. The decision to dedicate oneself to finding a different outcome is what makes repentance different than simple regret. Repentance always means that we view what we have done in a way that makes us change our mind about how we want to live going forward.
Regret and guilt are common coins of human existence. They are also poisonous for spiritual life. Guilt that never moves from regret to a resolve to see something new grow from our failures is not of God’s Spirit. God will never despise “a broken and contrite heart” (Ps. 51:17), but God never sentences us to live with one either. Confess your sins – yes. But leave them and resolve for a new way, with God’s help
March 13 – Repentance
Psa. 51:3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
and blameless when you pass judgment.
5 Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me.
Psalm 51 is a bummer. It is thoroughly pessimistic about goodness and human beings. And it is not just what we do that makes us sinners according to the Psalmist – we emerge from the womb already guilty.
Like I said – a bummer.
Imagine, for a moment, a visit to the doctor. She saw something ominous in your bloodwork. A suspicious shadow on the x-ray. When you come into the office for results, she looks you in the eye and says “Well… everything seems OK.” Did this doctor do you a favor, or just insure that whatever is wrong with you get steadily worse.
After we have set goals for Lent and reckoned our real position in life, we are ready to get going, right? No – something seems to have a grip on you. You want to break free – to have this be the year that Lent is different, that you use this time to remove the impediments that keep you from following Jesus the way you always hoped. What is missing?
For us to be on a Lenten journey, or even to begin one, we must first repent. What does that mean? We must change our minds about who and what we are. We must deal with the fact that we are sinners and that this sin has affected us in every aspect of our lives, including ways of which we are not aware. Reckoning with our past and present helps us to know where we are in relation to God, but it is repentance that helps us understand where we need to go after that. In this week of Lent we will look at the discipline of repentance and the role it plays in the life of the Christian.
March 11 – Reckoning With Our Present
Philippians 4:11-13: …I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
For most of the latter years of his life, the Apostle Paul had a life few would want – shipwrecked, snake-bit and stoned (with real rocks!). When not being chased from town to town by angry mobs of religious people, he sat in prison basements or was trying to shout down the people who were trying to shout him down. We imagine he must have gone to bed every night cursing the day he decided to get into the preacher business. But Paul didn’t live a life of resentment: he had learned a crucial skill in his life in Christ: how to be content.
Today, being ‘content’ sounds like some sort of passive cop-out, the excuse of someone too lazy to care about getting things right. But contentment was something completely different for Paul. In reckoning with the present, he understood that even the worst situations did not go on forever. So, instead of living a life of resentment and unending regret, he decided to take the longest view on his situation: sometimes good, sometimes not, but always “pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)
The question of contentment is, essentially a question of goals. For Paul, contentment was not something that flowed from the outside in, but from the inside out. He was a constant striver, but that was saved for achieving that for which he had been called in Christ. His life situation was changeable and relative – his calling to live for Christ was constant and eternal. Have we mistaken the discomforts and pleasantries of this day for that which matters forever?
March 10 – Reckoning With Our Present
Matthew 4:3-4 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But Jesus answered, “It is written,
‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
When Jesus was ending his forty days of fasting and prayer, “the tempter” knew exactly what to do – attack Jesus at his most vulnerable, by trying to hoodwink Jesus into making the present his goal, not God’s future. “Jesus,” he said, “show us you are a miracle-worker, a superhero, the King above all Kings! You can make your hunger go away now, and set yourself up for power and pleasure for the rest of your life!” The tempter pushed present fulfillment and a (vain)glorious future, knowing that human beings are very nearly powerless to resist either one.
So it still is with us. We live in daily fear of there not being enough, even when drowning in plenty. The fear chases us to work in the morning, and home in the evening. Our lives are measured out in the degree of threats to our safety and to our 401k. Every action gets weighed by whether it makes us safer, richer and/or happier. We do not reckon with our present, it holds us in sheer terror every day and then threatens our future if we disagree with its motto: Play it safe.
Jesus is our model in how to reckon with our present. Even in the extremes of hunger and deprivation, he understood that his challenge as he lived on earth was to live faithfully day-by-day in view of the calling of the Father into the future. By not mistaking the fever or despair of the moment for that which was eternally significant, he could live a life of power and daring. What others saw as foolhardy and heedless, he could observe from a non-anxious view of the present as another stage in a much larger process of God’s will being worked out on the earth.
March 9 – Reckoning With Our Past
Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD.
Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications!
One of the things that can keep us from experiencing a Lenten renewal is the power that past mistreatment, disappointment and bitterness exercises over us, even for events long ago. Perhaps the greatest barrier to real self-examination is our refusal to go to that place in our life where we failed, or others failed us, or events beyond our control exploded on us, leaving us hurt, angry, bitter and forever unresolved. We have no idea what to do with these memories, and they forever cling to us.
Reckoning with disturbing events in our past demands that we cease treating the memory of these times as things that we can either hide from God, or that we can handle on our own. Sometimes, reckoning with our past means confronting God with the most disturbing feelings and events in our lives and asking – even doubtfully or defiantly – for God to help us get over them.
Isn’t this impious, you may ask. Answer – ‘No!’ God is big enough to take our anger and forgiving enough not to hold it against us. The proof? Look through the Bible, where people cried out to God, yelled at God, wondered where God was and even made fairly outrageous accusations against God (Jeremiah 20:7-8). In each, God heard these things for what they were – cries for help and healing.
In this time of prayer and introspection, we must find the courage to look at our lives as they are, not as we (or others) wished them to be. There are others we can turn to who can help us end the past’s power to make us defeated and bitter, and turning to them is another good Lenten discipline. In any case, we cannot erase our past, but with God’s help and by keeping our eyes on the one who overcame death, it need not rule over us either.
March 8 – Reckoning With Our Past
John 9:24-25 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”
Many Christians find themselves caught between their heartfelt faith in Christ and the corrosive doubt with which religious belief is assaulted in this post-modern world. We seem forever caught between a type of Know-Nothing Christianity that gleefully conjures up silliness like Jesus riding a dinosaur, and a Know-Everything materialism that confidently asserts nothing can be known that science cannot explain.
This seems to leave a thinking believer with no place to be. Yet, the man born blind (from John 9) shows us the path between these two positions. When the man was confronted (repeatedly) by the religious authorities of the day, berating him for not heeding “orthodoxy,” he cut through their arguments with this simple assertion: “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” The place this man started was not with all the reasons why (or why not). He began with the one thing he truly and surely knew: what his own experience with Jesus was.
This is how we reckon with our own doubts: our faith was never meant to be the kind of irrefutable, bullet-proof surety the fundamentalist says they have. Something that is self-evident and undeniable doesn’t require any faith – and is, thus, a distortion of Christianity. Instead, our faith begins with a call to faith that is no one else can hear, and our salvation comes in response to that faith we are given. Doubt should never deter us from keeping a Lent devotion, nor cause us to be ashamed of our questions. The strength of our faith is our experience with Christ in our heart through faith. Begin Lent there. Our personal dealing with Christ sets all doubt in perspective, and puts to flight all easy belief.
March 7 – Reckoning With Our Past
Philippians 3:4-6 “If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.”
I wonder how many times Paul returned in his mind to those times. Back when he called himself Saul and was the ringmaster of his own carnival of evil. Did he hear the cries of children as they were torn from their condemned mothers’ arms? Did he remember the impassioned speeches he made that turned angry crowds into lynch-mobs? Did he still see the pile of cloaks he agreed to watch over so others could stone deacon Stephen until his lifeless body disappeared under a pile of death?
Whatever else we can say about our past, we know this for sure – it is never going away. None of it. Paul knew that he would never outlive the ignominy of being a merchant of death. Nor would the false glories of being a proud religious expert ever fade away. Even if was only in his own mind. So, if these things never go away, what is our choice concerning them? Putting them in their place.
It doesn’t matter what the past holds. If there was glory and honor, we fret that the glory has faded. If there was shame and regret, it still stings. There is only one solution: “…whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…” (Phil. 3:7-8) Lent gives us a chance to live – fully – in the right now by putting the past in the past, and facing forward to follow the master.
March 6 – Reckoning With Ourselves
Luke 15:16-17 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger!’
These words from Luke 15 are particularly haunting: “when he came to himself.” There he is, the Prodigal – dirty, humiliated and ravenous. Before him, filth-caked pigs root through trash and he finds himself wanting to wade in and snatch choice morsels from their slobbering mouths. That’s when he feels that twinge of recognition: “Can this be me?” “How did I get here?” “Did I really do all those things?”
The great illusion that plagues human beings is the notion that – it’s not so bad. That we can handle it. It’ll pass and we’ll be fine. Everything can be on fire around us – every relationship, every dream and every plan – and still we tell ourselves ‘no prob.’
It is not until we are willing to drop the pretense and admit that things are out of control that the real work of restoration begins. Just as restoration came to the Prodigal when he came to himself and went to the father, so it is with us in our own lives. We must leave behind the fiction of our own ability and return to the Father.
This is the first work of Lent: admitting that we are not who we are meant to be, much less who we, ourselves, want to be. To come to ourselves, and see, in that moment of recognition, our selfishness, our folly, our shallowness, our petty cruelty and willful self-deception. We can be blind to our own faults. May this day be devoted to seeking God’s wisdom on ourselves: who we really are, what we have really done, how far we need to go. But do not let this reckoning lead you to despair – let it lead you to the Father so he may do the work in you that you cannot.
March 4 — Goals for Lent
John 21:21-22 When Peter saw [John], he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!”
One of the most damaging things we do to ourselves as we develop goals for our Lenten observation is to use someone else’s spiritual walk as the model for our own. No – you read that correctly: I am encouraging you NOT to compare yourself spiritually to someone else or to try to use someone else’s goals as your own. Why? No one else’s walk with God will EVER be like yours. And that is OK.
Anytime we attempt to make another’s spiritual life the standard of our own, failure and discouragement is sure to result. Is your prayer life a pale and quavering shadow of someone else’s? Then you must begin with your prayer life, not theirs, and make your goal to be more definite and firm than YOU have been. Do you have a sharp tongue and critical attitude to others? You will not become the picture of graciousness and blessing in 40 days, but might you be better enough that you and others could notice the difference?
The Apostle Paul said “Be ye imitators of me even as I am of Christ.” (1 Cor 11:1) Paul, through his own struggle to become faithful, would have known better than to make his faith the measure of anyone else’s faith. Instead, he offered his own struggle to do what Christ did in his earthly life to inspire our own practice of faith. Christ’s words to Peter – Follow Me – are the exact words we need to hear as we determine where we hope this Lent will lead us. As we determine what we hope will develop in our walk with God this Lent, let us fix our eyes firmly on Christ and ask what he would have us do and be. That must be our only real concern.
March 3 — Goals for Lent
Matthew 6:33 – “…strive first for the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
My favorite business book is The Goal by the late Eliyahu Goldratt. In this fictional story about a manufacturing plant, he asks a question with importance for everyone: What is your Goal, and is what you are doing actually helping you to achieve your goal? In the book, a company that makes widgets forgets that making money by making and selling widgets is their goal. They chase all manner of other goals, but none of them make widgets or money! It takes an outside consultant to remind the bosses what their goal really is. Finally breaking free of a prison of their own narrow thinking, the company returns to profitability by focusing on what really matters, and letting irrelevant goals go.
Lent gives us the opportunity to ask us ‘what our goals are in our life?’ We all know the verse above, and want to agree, but do we really? We all desire the “all these things” (Jesus was talking about things like food, clothing and health) being added to us, and spend a good deal of our lives striving for just that. However, the strength of our desires pulls a fast one on us – we begin to mistake satisfying the desires as the goal with the seeking of God’s righteousness as something we do when we get the time.
But this is the opposite of what will bring us the fulfillment and joy we seek. We seek food? We will be hungry again in a few hours. We seek stylish clothes? That lasts until the season changes. We believe we need this or that – leisure or possessions or security? We should know ourselves well enough by now to know that there is no amount of any of these things that will make us contented. It is only when seeking God and doing what God recognizes as good and right that the desires that plague are put right, and we can be right.
March 2 — Goals for Lent
Philippians 3:13-14 “…this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”
“You know what happened the last time!” Yeah, we do. We made a commitment. Bought into a new program. Made a resolution. Promised ourselves “next time it will be different.” It wasn’t. Whether it was last month or last decade, it crops up and persecutes us. “You said!” We did, and we blew it.
I cannot imagine that there was anyone who dragged around a larger bag of regrets than the Apostle Paul. He was not just an antagonist to the church, he was a persecutor and enemy of the Body of Christ! His mission was to make life as difficult for Christ’s followers as he could. And he did a great job – until that day on the Damascus road when he came face to face with the one he was persecuting and his life changed forever. Well… sorta. Even after his conversion, he complained bitterly about his inability to do what he wanted to do for Christ and the church. He called himself a wretch for his weakness… and then kept pressing on.
As you think about setting new goals this Lent for faithful discipleship in the year to come, I will tell you now that one of the first things that will occur is that your mind will dredge up every time you started something, and didn’t finish it. Every time you made a vow about reading your Bible, or praying more, or being more loving, or… well, you get the picture. Just because it didn’t happen in the past does NOT mean it won’t in the future. And, remember – nothing is ever sure. Paul acknowledged it – he was going to strain toward the goal. Achieving it was going to be hard. This Lent, do not let your past shut down your future. Forget the past’s defeats and press on toward the new creature you hope to be in Christ!
When Jesus was preparing to begin his earthly ministry, he started with a full 40 days of fasting, prayer and (one would assume) self-examination. Lent encourages every Christian to follow Christ’s example and use this time before the celebration of the Resurrection for a special time of prayer, contemplation and checking one’s willingness to deny self and follow Christ.
For the forty days (not counting Sundays) before Resurrection Sunday, I will be posting a 350 word (or less) meditation each Monday-Saturday about some aspect of our practice of the Christian faith. Some may choose to observe Lent by practicing a daily fast – refraining from something that is meaningful enough to you that your desire for it causes you to think of it often. Then, when the desire crops up, you use that desire as an occasion to remind yourself to pray.
There is no magic in observing Lent, and no one forces you to, or will deter you from observing Lent. This is our opportunity for a yearly spiritual checkup, and a time to “…remember that from which you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.” (Revelation 2:5) May it be so! The first post will be on the New Hanover Presbyterian Church Facebook page beginning March 1.
Goals for Lent
Ecclesiastes 2:11 “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and again, all was vanity and a chasing after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.”
Tradition says the writer of Ecclesiastes was King Solomon, King David’s over-achieving son with Bathsheba. The scriptures have abundant stories of Solomon the Wise, who solved an unsolvable problem. Of Solomon the Rich, who had literal tons of gold flowing into this treasury every year. Of Solomon the Strong who enslaved his neighbors to build his works and defeated his enemies with little bother. But, between the stories of success and grandeur, there is another side of Solomon. His family was riven with intrigue and betrayal, his appetites were such that they amaze us today, and his one-time passionate loyalty to the God who loved his father David became a lukewarm afterthought as Solomon went after other “gods” with embarrassing abandon.
At the end of his life – and too late to make many things right – Solomon realized that the life of luxury of a rich, powerful king made the possibility of grasping happiness as unlikely as grabbing the wind. Seeking fulfillment, he had plunged his hands into the deepest and richest royal coffers in the world, and withdrew fistfuls of ashes. His conclusion? The richest king, in the end, was no better than the most wretched pauper.
Ash Wednesday is meant to remind us of this most basic of facts: we come into this world carrying nothing and will leave the same way. The greatest playboy of the House of David has this to say to posterity: “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone.” When you receive the ashes today let them remind you of the many things that will surely pass away. And then may they help you turn your eyes to the one thing that will not.