Lent Day 17: Pride is no celebration

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And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way. — Mark 10:46-52

Pride is the great enemy of humility. And yet pride is encouraged, nurtured, and even celebrated in our culture today. Bob Thune observes: “The brashest expressions of pride are easy to spot: the athlete who boasts about her talent, the arrogant entrepreneur who flaunts his achievements, or the well-connected neighbor who name-drops in every conversation. Most of us are smart enough to avoid appearing prideful in these obvious ways. But that’s just the problem. We can avoid looking prideful without actually killing our pride.”

What is pride? It’s not something to put on a flag or dedicate a month to. The Bible gives us the information we need. Pride often manifests itself as arrogance: the Apostle John refers to this as “the pride of life” (1 John 2:16). Pride can also manifest itself as self-centeredness, looking out for your own personal interests (Philippians 2:4). In other words: the essence of pride is self. Regardless if it’s arrogance and boasting or as self-protection and fear of people, it’s pride.

In our life as a Christian we are asked to put on humility while putting our pride to death. How? Simple. Look to Jesus.

Jesus is our model, because though he had every reason to be prideful (he was perfect), he chose instead the path of humility. Scripture commands us to follow his example: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:5-7).

Here’s the thing. Jesus doesn’t want us to mimicking him. If we do that, we miss the gospel. The heart of the good news is that we can be more like Jesus only if, and because, we are united with him. We are united with Christ by grace through faith in his life, death, and resurrection. Because we have rebelled against God, we deserve to be crushed by his divine wrath. Jesus “humbled himself to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8)—taking our shame and guilt upon himself, and enduring the wrath of God against our sin, so that those who humbly come to him can be forgiven and reconciled to God. This is the Good News of Easter! This is why we have to be in the wilderness. We can’t put down the pride without wrestling with satan first.

Are you ready to be free from your pride? Do you truly want to know Jesus Christ? It’s time to stop running and start repenting. It’s freeing, my dear friends. So the next time you think pride is worth celebrating, ask God what He thinks? I’m pretty sure He wouldn’t hold a parade.

Lent Day 15: Sacrifice to Celebration

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As they went out, they came upon a man of Cyre’ne, Simon by name; this man they compelled to carry his cross. — Matthew 27:32

I have always been drawn to Lent. I can’t really articulate why except that Lent encourages some significant self reflection. Too often, if done right, these reflections can lead to change and sacrifice.

Lent is filled with sacrifice. The point, of course, is to reflect on Christ’s sacrifice, to feel just a little bit of the pain he felt, and to draw closer to God as we let go of the worldly comforts. This isn’t easy. Sacrifice often includes pain of some type. Sacrifice requires thinking beyond yourself and your wants. Sacrifice demands discipline. Sacrifice isn’t fun.

And yet, I love Lent. I love the deep study and reflection of the season. Deep down, far below my selfish nature, exists a desire to remove the suffocating materialism and shallowness that so often characterizes modern life. I am so tired of cheap grace found in so many Christian circles.

When we traverse the wilderness of Lent, we suffer but it’s through the suffering of sacrifice that we draw closer to The Christ, authentically and humbled.

What a merciful God; he does not ask us to journey alone. As the psalmist said, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me…” God has been with us and continues to be with us in all times. Lent may be full of sacrifice but it’s also full of mercy and grace!

Easter is coming but don’t rush it. Don’t jump ahead to celebration without understanding the sacrifice. Jesus has indeed paid your debt but he has asked you to pick up your cross. We often forget that detail of the story. Lord, in your mercy, forgive us.

Will you join me? Or more importantly will you join Christ, picking up your cross, and following Him?

Lent Day 14: Prepare the Way

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And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.” And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.
— Mark 9:1-8

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, John the Baptist announced his coming in fulfillment of Isaiah 40: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” This is the cry of Lent: Prepare the way of the Lord! Make room for him in your life.

Have you ever really thought about that? Making room for Jesus is not easy in our world. Our lives are often scheduled to the minute. And yet the cry of John is still heard today.

An appropriate response to this cry is to take stock of our lives; to reconsider how we are living our lives in light of God’s presence and power made available to us in Jesus. And that is what Lent is for, to reflect on our lives as they are and as they could be.

The point of Lent is to reorient life God-ward. This reorientation has to do with desert and wilderness. A “wilderness experience” in our language usually means one has been gone for a while and now returns with new insight or perspective, “a new lease on life.” Whether it is a trip to the third world, or a hike in the mountains, people are stripped of their usual comforts, removed from the safety of familiarity, and are forced to see the world from a different vantage point.

If we approach Lent like we should, it is something like a wilderness experience. We should shake up our lives significantly enough that when we reach for our usual comforts and grasp a fistful of air, we are forced to cling to Christ – his body, his blood.

In Lent we focus on getting away from the life of flesh and into the life of the Spirit, denying our ways and embracing God’s. The point of giving things up is not to be reminded of how much we miss them, but rather to be awakened to how much we miss God and long for his life-giving Spirit. This means, of course, that Lent is not only about giving up things. It is about preparing our hearts for our savior.

As we get closer to Holy Week, will you be ready?

Lent Day 13: repentance

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1 Blessed is the one
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
2 Blessed is the one
whose sin the Lord does not count against them
and in whose spirit is no deceit.

3 When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night
your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer.

5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
the guilt of my sin. –
Psalm 32

Lent is a season of repentance. We don’t like to think about repentance because that means we must look at our sinfulness. And yet, that is exactly what we are called to do. Repent.

Today’s psalm highlights the blessings in this way of life that searches for those deeds, words, thoughts, even motives, displeasing to God—and owns them mournfully before him.

The first blessing is forgiveness. The repentant are the forgiven (vv. 1–5). In the psalm, this forgiveness is confirmed by David’s deliverance (vv. 6–7). Let’s be honest, David struggled in life. Troubles had surrounded him like mighty waters. It seems then that David doesn’t just look for his circumstances to change; he offers himself to be changed through his repentance. And the deliverance he receives confirms the forgiveness of the guilt of his sin. Would that we all approach our troubles with such priorities! The repentant are the forgiven—and in that forgiveness is our deliverance.

Another blessing in repentance is who David is becoming through it. This is alluded to in verse 8 of our psalm. He is becoming someone intimate with the teaching and counsel of the Lord, growing in his will.. Our repentance now has everything to do with who we are becoming for tomorrow. The seeds of your future self are in your repentance today.

This tomorrow that we repent toward includes the age to come, the new earth. The season of Lent comes to its end on Easter Sunday. In the resurrection of Jesus, we are promised our own future resurrection! Who will we be on that day? We learn from Jesus’s resurrection that there is an organic unity between our present and future selves. Just like the crucifixion marks of his resurrected body (John 20:20), the wisdom Jesus gained in learning obedience became part of his future self, a wisdom by which he leads us into salvation (Hebrews 5:8–9), enthroned on high.

Therefore, learning obedience through repentance today, we are being shaped for our future life. Who you are today affects who you will become in the day of Christ’s tomorrow. Every confession of deceit today promises a truer you tomorrow, or certainly a deeper enjoyment of your true you!

So let us journey on in the blessed life of repentance. It brings us the assurance of forgiveness and the promise of who we become through it!

Today’s devotional was written by Rev. Heino Blaauw.

Lent Day 12: Separate No More

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My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.

Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved;
in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.
— Psalm 22

Separation sucks! It doesn’t matter if you are an introvert or extrovert, long term separation sucks. This week, in Texas, all mandates were lifted, paving the way for people to do what people naturally do — fellowship. We were not created to be isolated. We need human contact: hugs, touch, holding hands. The longer we go without it, the deeper we fall into a pit of hopelessness.

Just like human beings are created to be together, we are also created to be joined with God. Psalm 22 is about a heart that feels separated from God. It reflects a time when God doesn’t feel close. He doesn’t seem to care. How we feel often conflicts with the truth we know about God. The lyrics of a Lauren Daigle song (“You Say”) share this struggle:

You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
You say I am held when I am falling short
When I don’t belong, oh, you say that I am yours
And I believe.

Feelings tell us God has forgotten us; faith reminds us of his powerful love. Feelings fool us into thinking God has hidden his face from us; faith convicts our hearts that he will never leave or forsake us. Feelings are fickle and often crush the spirit; faith gives hope.

Jesus deliberately quotes Psalm 22 from the cross, beginning with feelings of separation, but as he suffers, the entire psalm runs through his mind until his heart hears, “He has not hidden his face from him, but answered him when he called” (v. 24). Jesus clings to faith, not feelings, in his trials.

If you are feeling separated from God, now is the perfect time to reach out and say yes to God!

Lent Day 11: Soul-Lifting!

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To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. …
Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths. …
Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for your goodness’ sake, O Lord! —
Psalm 25

I am beginning week two of a new eating program. It’s really tough. No processed sugars. Very few calories. And none of my goto comfort foods. But really this is a perfect time to do such a change for, you see, Lent is a time for a soul lift. Psalm 25 begins with a declaration of trust in God before going on to name several issues with which we can identify.

“To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. … in you I trust” (vv. 1–2). The Hebrew word for soul is nephesh, which represents the whole self, not just the soul. My body and soul have both been troubled for many days. So it’s time for surrender. As we journey through Lent, it is good to affirm the foundation of our faith, to praise our God who guides us along life’s paths that are not always straight and well groomed. And let’s be honest, nothing about the past year has been straight and well groomed.

Psalm 25 is an acrostic poem with the first letter in most lines beginning with succeeding letters of the Hebrew alphabet. There are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet and 22 verses to this psalm. The use of the acrostic helps the psalmist paint a broad landscape with pathways that are detoured and overgrown with shame, malicious acts, a troubled heart, entrapment, loneliness, and affliction. Within these paths is written an instructional “ABC’s” of God’s teachings, forgiveness, and salvation. For every trouble or obstacle, there is an affirmation of God’s grace!

It is much too easy to be focused on the difficulties we face. But God’s endless grace can carry us through each situation, emotion, or misstep.

So, lift up your soul! Give thanks and praise for God’s steadfast love and trustworthiness. He beckons you to leave your burdens in His hands.

Lent Day 10

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How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me. —
Psalm 13

In the Book of Psalms, 67 are psalms of lament—songs that cry out to God in burden or complaint. In fact, these songs of angst make up the majority of Psalms. Although there are words of address, confession, trustworthiness, petition, and hints foreshadowing salvation within these songs, it was suffering, not praise, that inspired these songs of the heart.

As a trauma therapist, I have seen a lot of suffering. The human condition is fraught with illness, decline, anxiety, isolation, fear, confusion, and ultimately, death. It is in these moments that we, like the psalmist, seek God’s face. Even those who have strayed from God secretly cry out in hopes of seeing God’s face to bring about healing. As we enter into the one year anniversary of this pandemic, I have heard from many clients a form of lament. They are enveloped in pain. Add to that the trials of human life – including death, and it can seem a true path of despair.

In these dark times, though the soul still retains its capacity for faith, hope, and meaningful encounter, there is still an urgent need within us to cry out to God in complaint. The hefty inclusion of psalms of lament in the biblical canon assures us that God not only welcomes our complaints, but also that these are music to his ears. Imagine that: a God who does not feel defensive when we shout at him in honest agony! Rather, ours is a God who wrestles with us through pressing anxiety to urgent prayer and, ultimately, to expectant rejoicing.

Lent is a time for wrestling within as we wander through our wildernesses. It is a time of lamenting the felt separation from our Creator. It is also a time of coming to a deeper experience of the One who has called us to himself. In the world today, we are encouraged to bury any suffering within, ignoring the necessary wrestling we must do with the deep woes of our soul. God says, “No!” God encourages the wilderness because that’s where we learn to rely upon his strength.

My hope for all of us during this season is that we are able to live honestly before God and find within us the boldness to struggle with God so deeply that at times, only a well-crafted poem of complaint will suffice.

Lent Day 8: Beside Still Waters

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The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me.
— Psalm 23

Do you ever feel like the world is too noisy? Too demanding of every moment? There are meetings to be at, functions to attend, demands to be met, and if we’re not careful, our calendars and busyness can separate us from God.

Psalm 23 invites us to take a step or two away from the demands of the world. The psalmist’s words invoke an image of peace, rest, and tranquility taken next to a stream of quiet beauty—an image that has resonated with souls over millennia.

I find soul rejuvenation when I’m near a large body of water like a lake or the ocean. And though I don’t always have the means of picking up and physically traveling to a body of water, I do have the ability of becoming lost in Psalm 23. Scripture can do that for us. It can take us into a place of complete safety if we only allow His word to enter into our soul.

I encourage you to take a moment and ask our Good Shepherd to lead your spirit next to a place of green pastures and quiet waters—so that he may restore your soul. In this time of pandemics and quarantines and riots and divisions, we NEED restoration more than ever. God has invited you. Are you ready to say, “Yes?”

Lent 7: Worship Freely

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We are hungry, so we eat. We are tired, so we sleep. We answer when our name is called. There are emails and phone calls requesting a reply. There are schedules to be readjusted in light of unexpected events. There is so much to respond to that we often have to prioritize what is worthy of a response.

When the magi in the gospel of Matthew saw an unusual star that aligned with an Old Testament prophecy about the coming of the king, they prioritized their response (Num. 24:17). They cleared their schedules, packed their bags, and set out to find the child. It is unclear how much the magi really knew about who this baby was that they found in Bethlehem, but when they saw him, they bowed down and worshiped him. Their action tells us that they believed this child was one worthy of their praise. Their worship was a reaction for beholding God’s perfect self-revelation, Jesus Christ. He was worthy of their worship.

We hear the word “worship” and probably think of church. But worship is much more than a place on the church bulletin. When we worship God, we are responding to who he is and what he has done for each of us. Worship is like writing a thank you card. We acknowledge the gift that has been received and respond in gratitude to the giver. God has given the ultimate gift, one we could not possibly purchase for ourselves. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God provided a way for us to be restored into relationship with him. God did this because of his love (John 3:16), and we are able to love in response (1 John 4:19). Through Jesus’ faithfulness in completing the work on the cross, we are enabled to live by faith, trusting that he has truly reconciled us with God. He is worthy of our responsive worship. And our worship should be authentic and free.

So think of how you worship God. Do you worship without inhibition or are you reserved? Giving of yourself to God means you give all you are. It’s time for worship to reflect the joy we have in our identity. Would people see your joy in the way you worship?

Lent 6: Scripture is key

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“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the
race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the
throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
— Hebrews 12:1-3

Have you ever heard a small part of a conversation and thought, “There’s a good story behind that.” We all experience something like this in our day to day lives as we encounter moments when we hear something, such as a snippet of a conversation, and quickly realize that there is a bigger story we need to be aware of. The same idea applies to Scripture. While it is helpful to pick out certain lines or passages to hold onto, we cannot afford to separate them from their context. To do so would only distort the scriptures.

I would bet many of you have heard scripture taken out of context. You may have unintentionally done it yourself. Have you ever had scripture used to hurt you?

Scripture is a weapon but it’s supposed to be a weapon against evil. Like anything, however, even scripture can be used to harm. Since God has given us this holy book, we must use it as a way to draw closer to God.

Here are a few suggestions for becoming more familiar with the context of Scripture in order that we may know how to respond:

  • Read extensively. Scholar and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Holy Scripture does not consist of individual passages; it is a unit and is intended to be used as such.” If you spend most of your time in the New Testament, try reading some of the Old Testament as well. If you are focusing on a few verses, be sure to read the whole chapter in which those verses are found. Having a picture of the whole helps us to better understand the particular. And remember—Jesus quoted the Old Testament throughout his life. There’s a reason for that.
  • Utilize a Study Bible or commentary. Resources like these can help shed light on the historical context of what was going on in the lives of the original audience. They can also help in pointing us towards other passages within Scripture that address the same theme. While not all commentaries are created equal, many of them can help us understand what the text is saying and think through ways of applying it to our lives.
  • Ask questions. While reading Scripture, ask these three basic questions: 1) What is happening in the text? 2) What is the significance or meaning? 3) How does it relate to my life?

Studying of the scriptures is the most important spiritual discipline you can engage in. If you truly wish to know the heart of God and how to live out your mission as a Christian, read your Bible. God is speaking still.