Love Leads Us Home {following Christ to calvary}

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He came to be our Way back to God.

He came so that the sin blocking our path into the Holy of Holies…into the presence of the Father….would be no more.

Because of Jesus, you and I can boldly come before the throne of grace, receiving mercy and help.

Because of Jesus, we abide in the Father’s love…and His Spirit abides in us.

As we enter into this month before we celebrate His resurrection, I want to have heart and eyes open to our Savior and all He has done for us. Can we dare to pray that we will see Him more fully than we ever have before, to love Him as we never have before? Can we pray for the Holy Spirit to wake us up, to teach us, to help us understand what it means to pick up our own crosses and follow Him?

In uncertain times and in every season, we set our eyes on Him…and I am feeling such a pull in my heart to keep steadfast focus on our Father, His Son, and His Spirit. Although we have been focusing on moments from Christ’s ministry over the past few months, I’d like for us to spend March following Jesus as He teaches, heals, and saves in the power of the Spirit and in obedience to the Father. I’d like for us to walk along through the Word all the way to the cross on Calvary so that we can see that empty tomb on Easter morning with fresh eyes and hearts ready to rejoice.

So on the in-between-regular-post-days, I will be posting readings from Scripture…in this way, we can journey through the Gospels together (in (loosely) chronological order). Please join in and invite others to read along with us…it is my prayer that our faith will thrive and our hope will flourish as we keep our hearts tuned to His!

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Stampede

“The next day the huge crowd that had arrived for the Feast heard that Jesus was entering Jerusalem. They broke off palm branches and went out to meet him. And they cheered: Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in God’s name! Yes! The King of Israel!…The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb, raising him from the dead, was there giving eyewitness accounts. It was because they had spread the word of this latest God-sign that the crowd swelled to a welcoming parade. The Pharisees took one look and threw up their hands: “It’s out of control. The world’s in a stampede after him.” -from John 12 (the MSG)

I’ve often read this portion of John 12, imagining people crowded in the city streets, relaying everything they’d heard about Jesus and eager to see Him face-to-face. Those who had seen Lazarus emerge from his tomb were exhilarated by the sight of death defeated and proclaimed this absolute miracle to everyone– what power, what authority, what divine favor rested on Jesus, son of Israel! With this man came healing and deliverance, provision and life itself — was there anything He could not do?

Maybe the men and women looked sideways at the Roman soldiers, thinking that their time of ruling the streets of Jerusalem would soon be over. Maybe they wanted to welcome in this man of divine power, believing that he would be the one to finally liberate their people.

They were looking for the fulfillment of God’ s promises and hopeful that this man called Jesus was the One….their Messiah.

Knowing that some of these same men and women were likely the ones who cried for His death only a short time later, I’ve often thought about our own slippery allegiance…how our adoration can turn to accusation just like theirs. I’ve thought about the way I welcome Him into my own life on a day-to-day basis…do I invite Him in with praise? Do I leave everything behind to press in to His presence, wanting to see His face?

I’ve wondered what Jesus was thinking as the cheers of ‘Hosanna’ met Him. I wonder if He thought about how these crowds would soon betray Him. I’ve wondered if His spirit was heavy, even as the palm branches waved, because His people could not see that the Kingdom of God would begin in their hearts and not in political power. Maybe He looked ahead to the day when He would return and they would understand that He was King, not only of Israel, but of Heaven and Earth…

Yes, there are so many parts of that journey through Jerusalem that have intrigued me before, but something different stood out to me as I re-read the passage this morning.

It occurred to me that, of course, they didn’t understand the full revelation of who He was. They didn’t yet know just how far He would go to obey the Father, to bring life to sin-deadened souls. They didn’t yet know that He would soon intercede on our behalf at the right hand of God, taking all of our burdens and abiding in our hearts.

They hadn’t yet witnessed the full depths of His love — but, still, they knew that Jesus was no ordinary man. They knew the power that they had seen, the compassion and wisdom He’d shown.

They knew He was drawing near.

And that was enough to get them moving. In acknowledgement of what had already come to pass and in anticipation of what was yet to come–they spoke of their hope to everyone who would listen. They spread the news and so a crowd welcomed Him in jubilation and honor.

As I considered the way that those who’d followed Him ‘spread the word of the latest God-sign‘ so that the crowds swelled in eagerness to see the Jesus, I felt a question stir in my heart —

what about us?

Because we do have the privilege and honor of knowing the fullness of the Savior’s sacrifice. Not only have we seen His power, but we ourselves are filled with His Spirit and grace — if the eye-witnesses to Lazarus’ resurrection were excited, how so much (incomparably more!) was Lazarus himself amazed at his new life? We, who were once dead in sin, are now alive! We are the walking/talking miracles, signs of God’s power and mercy!

And don’t we believe that He is returning to us, just as He promised?

So are we so over-joyed, so thankful, so eager for His return that we can’t stop sharing our latest ‘God-sign’? Do we share how He’s moved in our lives?  Is there no stopping our adoration? Does satan try to keep our testimonies quiet to no avail?  Are we so excited to welcome Him that we seek Him and bring along the crowds, with praise ringing bold and true,–a ‘stampede after Him‘ — until the enemy must throw up his hands in despair because it’s out of his control? 

I pray that this becomes our story…I pray that we renew our passion…I pray that we will learn to open up and speak His hope…I pray that we, who are so blessed with the truth of His gospel, will not fail in spreading the Word.

When He returns again, there will be no question as to Who He is. On that day, the King of Kings will come with might and power…every knee shall bow and tongue confess that He is Lord.

And, until that day, in the here and now…it is up to us, the family of God, to lead the way to worship. It is up to us to share the miracle of life we’ve been given. It is up to us to declare the truth of who this Jesus is — although the Jewish men and women didn’t know it on that day they gathered in the streets, He is the fulfillment of God’s promises. The true Messiah, the Lion and the Lamb, the King of our hearts. His love is the greatest miracle and it’s for whoever will receive it.

By the power of the Holy Spirit and the word of our testimonies, will you pray with me that we will speak of His love to all of those who need Him? Will you pray that we will see our ‘world stampede after Him’?

 

Prayer

Wild wonder, that I can enter into Your presence…this is holy ground, wherever I call Your name and find You with me (and so everywhere is sacred, for “where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast.”) Who is like You, Lord, in love or in power? No one can compare to Your majesty…and yet You, King of all Kings, have numbered both my tears and every hair on my head. This heart runneth over and over (and over again) in thankfulness for who You are…

…and, still, there is bluster and noise. Life presses in and I allow this and that and the other to take up space in my heart that rightfully belongs to You. Oh, I am weary of forgetting You and the sand-spurs of sin sticking to my skin…falling so short of what You’ve called me to be, I can only say that I’m sorry, in need (again and again) of Your grace.

Who could stand in the light of Your holiness? I am breathless with gratitude for the gift of Your Son. “Behold, what manner of love is this?” Love so lavish, extravagant, divine that He would give His life for me, become my righteousness and the reason I whisper Your name–Abba-Father— and You know me as child, adopted and joint-heir in this kingdom…me, so unworthy and somehow still chosen…

Please sing me awake with Your love song so that I can’t close my eyes to You…You are worthy of only my all…and my all doesn’t seem like enough and my faith somehow still falters, but frail beginnings grow in Your hands and so I offer to You: me. (How can it be, that this is what You desire? How wide, how deep, how long, how high is Your love…)

Lord, give me strength enough to ask You to mold me–not on my terms, but Yours. Will you interrupt me, change me, sanctify anew, move in this place ? (oh, I want to trust Your heart enough to hold nothing back!)…I believe– please, Father, help my unbelief…for my soul, it is so thirsty and my heart full of yearning for the Water and Bread that satisfies…

…because we are in desperate need, all of us, in the noise and the chaos and the pain — these generations searching and searching, needing something True and something Good…needing You, only You.

I am humbly before You…asking for Your Spirit to re-define us so that we will be Your hands and feet, a holy people set apart for You…isn’t it time that we hear Your Word and follow Your heart? Lord, this I know to be true: Your compassion can overwhelm this darkness, Your love cast out all fear. Fill us more and more with Your love until it is overflowing, a mighty river flowing from Your heart to our hearts to every single heart on this earth…

This waiting-time, it’s not forever — and until You come again, Lord, this is the time and the place –now, today, wherever we are and wherever we go– to be Your good and faithful servants…transform us until we are like the moon, reflecting Your life-giving Light. And I know that You will guide us, bring us safely and forever home to You…in the fullness of time, our eyes will see Your face, at last — Your presence our only dwelling-place…and this is eternal wild wonder, this is awe and this is blessing.

This is my heart left only with simple praise.

Thank You, Abba-Father.

Broken

Broken.

From the Garden of Eden to Noah’s generation, which is where we now pause, humanity was broken. Holy communion with God – broken. A mother’s heart, seeing the pain of an angry son and a son murdered in a field – broken.  A family watching their own people turn away from what is true and beautiful to violence — relationships, broken.

The thoughts of men turning towards evil in every way — God’s heart? Broken.  “The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain…” (Genesis 6:6) 

But one man was found righteous and this man found favor with God — and, through Noah, humanity was given a chance for redemption.

The earth was given a new day, a new start, an mankind was given a new opportunity to walk with God.

But, again, we look back and see God’s laws, given to us for our own peace and good….broken.

God provisions to meet Him through obedience, sacrifices, and a pure heart were ignored, discounted, forgotten again and again. Through every phase of history, He pursued and He loved and the people He longed to bless remained rebellious and selfish. The world was again full of pain and corruption. Entire nations hurt. Families were torn apart. Hearts were in pieces.

But God does not give up. A way of redemption was given, once again, through a righteous man. But this was not just any man. This was Jesus Christ, son of man and son of God, without any sin. Without blemish. Perfect in every way. After Him, no other sacrifice was necessary. Through Him, we were given all that we needed.

He became our Righteousness, our Redeemer, and our Savior.  Jesus came and was wounded so that our broken pieces could be made whole. Our hearts, our families, our relationship with God — renewed and restored.

I think we could all use a good reminder of who this Savior is. Because I’ll be the first to admit — my heart is hurting.   

I’ve spent the last week and a half processing the events happening around us. Earthquakes, threats of nuclear meltdowns, thousands of lives lost, governments gearing up for battle. I’ve been hanging out with teenagers and learning bits of pieces of their stories, hearing the pain behind some of their casual words. I’ve had a few preacher’s kid moments, where I’ve wished I could stand on the front lines to protect those called to preach God’s Word and seem to be an easy target for other people’s frustrations.  I’ve had moments of aggravation and confusion, wishing the people of God would stop hiding behind petty issues and step up to love like Jesus.  

In these weeks leading up to Easter, I’d like to share His life with you. Maybe you don’t really know what Jesus did while He was here on earth. Maybe you’re not actually sure of what He taught us and what it means to live in His peace. 

If you feel broken, please read along. My words will fall short, no doubt, but the God I’m describing to you will never fall short. He is more than we can imagine and more than we need.

Jesus. He is our hope. We are still broken and only He can make us whole, and He can restore us even when it doesn’t seem possible. Sometimes we have to just be still and remember who He is.

Isaiah 53
Who believes what we’ve heard and seen? Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this?
The servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling,
a scrubby plant in a parched field.
There was nothing attractive about him,
nothing to cause us to take a second look.
He was looked down on and passed over,
a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand.
One look at him and people turned away.
We looked down on him, thought he was scum.
But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—
our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.
We thought he brought it on himself,
that God was punishing him for his own failures.
But it was our sins that did that to him,
that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
Through his bruises we get healed.
We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost.
We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way.
And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong,
on him, on him.

He was beaten, he was tortured,
but he didn’t say a word.
Like a lamb taken to be slaughtered
and like a sheep being sheared,
he took it all in silence.
Justice miscarried, and he was led off—
and did anyone really know what was happening?
He died without a thought for his own welfare,
beaten bloody for the sins of my people.
They buried him with the wicked,
threw him in a grave with a rich man,
Even though he’d never hurt a soul
or said one word that wasn’t true.

Still, it’s what God had in mind all along,
to crush him with pain.
The plan was that he give himself as an offering for sin
so that he’d see life come from it—life, life, and more life.
And God’s plan will deeply prosper through him.

Out of that terrible travail of soul,
he’ll see that it’s worth it and be glad he did it.
Through what he experienced, my righteous one, my servant,
will make many “righteous ones,”
as he himself carries the burden of their sins.
Therefore I’ll reward him extravagantly—
the best of everything, the highest honors—
Because he looked death in the face and didn’t flinch,
because he embraced the company of the lowest.
He took on his own shoulders the sin of the many,
he took up the cause of all the black sheep.

Ash Wednesday: Living in the Light

 A Franciscan blessing to you on Ash Wednesday (as seen on World Vision ACT:S)~~

May God bless you with discomfort. Discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart. Amen
May God bless you with anger. Anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace. Amen
May God bless you with tears. Tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their pain into joy. Amen
May God bless you with foolishness. Enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done. Amen 
And the blessing of God, who creates, redeems and sanctifies, be upon you and all you love and pray for this day, and forever more. Amen 

 Here’s the thing about truly loving Jesus Christ — it changes you. It transforms the way you look at the world, at other people, at your family, and yourself. Spending time in His presence will cause you to step out in small ways — maybe you’ll ponder the expression on the face of a person next to you at the grocery store and make you offer them an extra smile and warm greeting just in case they’re hurting. Maybe you’ll take an extra few minutes to really cherish your child snuggling with you on the couch. Maybe you’ll buy extra food to donate to someone in need.  Maybe you’ll be absolutely stunned at the wide blue expanse of sky that is a constant show of His glory and stand still, lifting praise up to Him.  When your eyes are opened to grace, every day contains multitudes of moments to love.

  But knowing the love of Jesus and then seeing the sorrow of sin in our world is going to change your life in big ways, too.  Because you have the answer so many people need. You have hope. You have peace. You have freedom. You know the Savior who redeems us with His own blood! — and when you fully realize what you have and Who you know, you will want your life transformed to be a reflection of Him. You will want to give everything. You will not mind being called radical or extreme or even crazy, because you’ll know that Jesus gave His everything and we, His servants, are not above Him. If He suffered, then it goes without saying that His followers will suffer.  May we, like Paul, say: I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead! (Phil. 3:10)

So maybe you’ll go to another country to share the gospel. Maybe you’ll quit your job to work for a non-profit. Maybe you’ll volunteer your time to reach those who are hurting. Maybe you’ll give your hours to study and teach others about the Word of God…the specifics are different for everyone. But each and every one of us are called to do something big for the Kingdom of God—we are commissioned to tell this world about the death, resurrection, and return of Jesus Christ. When we love our Savior with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength, we will spread His name through our neighborhoods, through our counties, through our nation and world — no matter the cost, no matter the sacrifices to our comfort, no matter what He asks of us.

On this Ash Wednesday, I’m thinking of how short our lives here on earth really are…and I’m reminded that I want to make my life glorify God in the small ways, in the big ways…in every way.

Let us be like Noah, in Genesis 6, who surely cast aside everything in his life – his reputation, his own agenda, his own day-to-day comforts — to tell his world that God had given a way to escape the coming judgment…that He had provided a way of redemption and life!   

We know our Savior. We know our hope.  So by the power of the Holy Spirit and through the grace of Jesus Christ, may we tell our message- boldly and in love. May we live our message-  in merciful actions and others-first relationships. May we reflect the light of Jesus Christ, beautifully and brightly.  

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

A Look at Lent

The particular denomination I grew up in didn’t have a big focus on Lent; in fact, until a few weeks ago, I’d never given it much thought. The  World Vision ACT:S group is launching an experience called Relentless Acts of Justice for this year’s season of Lent, which made me wonder…what, exactly, is Lent and should I be a part of it?

In terms of time, Lent traditionally begins on Ash Wednesday and occurs 46 days before Easter Sunday. But as Sundays are not included in the fasts, it is a span of 40 days. This is based on the time Jesus spent in the wilderness where He fasted, prayed, and was tempted.

Churches who participate in Lent usually focus on fasting, praying, and helping others. From what I have observed, these 40 days are a time to remember that we are humble before the throne of God (Ash Wednesday’s foundation is on the fact that we are made from dust and will one day return to dust). It’s a season of repentance and remembering the sacrifices of Christ.  It is meant to be a time of simplicity, of making sure that your focus is where it’s supposed to be, and reaching out to others the way Jesus reached out to us…and all of this leads to Good Friday, when we remember the death of Jesus Christ, and the celebration of Easter.

Just as Advent ensures that we remember what the coming of Christ means to us in the midst of holiday chaos, I think that Lent ensures that we take a good look at the life of Christ and all He endured for our redemption. We all know how life pulls at us…our brains are usually juggling a billion and three things….and, for me, I know that I need times where I can pull back and readjust my focus onto God and off of myself.

Easter is a crucial day to a follower of Christ. His resurrection was victory over death, over sin, and over satan’s plan to forever separate humanity from God.  Of course we want to celebrate the morning that the stone rolled away and Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man, stepped out of the grave!  But our victory through Christ came after He humbled Himself to walk on this earth and suffered on the cross…so, as much as we can, we should understand the cost of our salvation. Knowing the price paid, how much more will we rejoice in this gift to us of eternal life and communion with God?! 

I’m pretty sure that my church hasn’t focused on this season for fear of doing things just for the sake of ritual. But with the right perspective, I believe that Lent can be a beautiful 40 days of pushing aside distractions, giving up things that hinder relationships with God and others, really meditating on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and living out His words.

And can Lent affect your life over the long-run? I think so.  I hope that the time we spend with Christ changes us so that we better reflect Him in our daily lives…and so 40 days of conscious dedication to time with Him can only strengthen our faith and will to work for His kingdom. From my personal experience, I know that the more you know Him, the more you love Him. And that love will change your entire life, no doubt about it.  

With all this said, I’ll tell you that I have signed up for Relentless Acts of Justice with the ACT:S network.  Here’s their goal for the season(from the World Vision site):

“Lent is almost here! This year, we’re doing something a little different than your ordinary Bible study. We’re going to explore the Gospel narrative through the lens of six different injustices using stories and experiential activism.

ACT:S is all about action. We are a network of young activists fighting to change the brokenness in this world, writing our own modern-day Book of Acts. But to truly understand the brokenness brought by global poverty and injustice, we need to take a step back. We need to experience and understand the world – just as Christ took human form to experience the struggles of man.

Beginning March 9 (Ash Wednesday) and through Easter (April 24), we will try to emulate Christ’s incarnation through six real-life stories that we will bring to life by giving up everyday luxuries.”

Basically, they’ll send out emails throughout the 40 days to guide participants on a journey through Lent. If you’d like to get involved, click here to find out more and to sign up.

Whether or not you are actively involved in Lent, please take time to consider what Christ means to you…His sufferings, His grace, His compassion, and His love.  In and out of season…every single day, we are called to daily take up our cross and follow Him.  In the wilderness of our lives, He understands us and will help us every step of the way.