The one about ritual

I wanted to talk about Lent. I feel like in the last few years Lent has became much more of a presence in my life. When I was younger up through high school and college the only people in my life who participated in Lent were my Catholic friends. I think that lately there has been a move in the Evangelical community to embrace the rituals of more traditional denominations, and I think it’s great. Growing up in a tradition that greatly emphasized a personal non ritualized relationship with God is something for which I’m truly grateful. But, I do enjoy exercising the part of my spiritual muscles that can be a little weaker. I enjoy praying written out prayers for the specific reason that it helps me not focus purely on my own needs and desires. I like reading Scripture and not waiting for God to tell me something specific, but instead reading something from a church father or mother that illuminates something I never noticed before. So for the past few years I have participated in Lent in some way shape or form.

I always struggle with the question of giving something up. I don’t want to act like Lent is a New Years Resolution watered down. Giving up soda, candy, TV, or social media might be healthy for me, but is that what Lent is really about? I don’t say this to criticize those who do give up those kinds of things. I think those things working in conjunction with the true meaning of Lent can have great value. If I’m giving up social media it’s to spend more time in God’s presence; every time I would normally be on Facebook I pray or read my Bible. Otherwise I’m just giving up a not so great habit and not really focusing on what Lent means. Lent is the time to prepare myself for the wonder that is Easter. To remember what my Savior did on the 40 days leading up to his death and resurrection. So sometimes I remember that time by giving something up. And other times I add something to my life. Either way can help me embrace the Lenten season.

Last month I began praying and thinking about what if anything I was going to do for Lent. I finally landed on some things and I thought I would share them here. This isn’t to bring glory to myself but to maybe help those of you who still aren’t sure if you want to do anything to get some idea. (It’s only the day after Ash Wednesday, plenty of time to start a Lent fast.)

This year I’m not giving anything up. Instead I am adding things. I am adding how much Bible reading I do in my day. I signed up for the Lent For Everyone plan on YouVersion.com. This plan takes readings from NT Wright’s book of the same name and sends them to your phone every morning. I also signed up for Preston Yancey’s amazing Lent project. Using readings found from The Book of Common Prayer, I am already loving this study. There are easy instructions on the website if you’ve never done anything like this before, and the readings are sent to my email every morning. I tend to read the morning part of the Preston Yancey blog followed by NT Wright’s book in the morning right when I wake up. Before I leave for work in the afternoon I read the second part of the Yancey blog, and finish out his post at night before I go to bed. It’s only been 2 days of this, but so far I’m really loving it. I feel like I’m not just starting or ending my day with Jesus, but instead I’m carrying him with me throughout the whole day.

If these ideas don’t appeal to you I would encourage you to check out Rachel Held Evan’s 40 Ideas for Lent 2014 that she just posted yesterday. She gives ideas for online things as well as books and other activities. If you’ve never done Lent before it’s not too late to start! This will be my fourth year doing and each year it becomes more and more special. If you decide to do something leave your plan in the comments! I’m always looking for new ideas. If you have participated in Lent what do you find most special about it? What are you doing this year? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

The One About how I did it!

So it’s finally here! 40 days of blogging everyday! Some days I am not gonna lie it was really really hard to carve out time to write something much less think of a subject matter. But here it is Easter Sunday and I did it! I feel really proud of myself and I think this is going to help me write more regularly from now on. I can’t promise I’ll be writing everyday, but I am going to write often.

Thanks everyone for reading this and supporting me! I can’t wait to start the next series. I’ll leave you with my favorite song to listen to this Easter. Happy Easter everyone! He is risen indeed!

The one about waiting

Yesterday was Good Friday. Tomorrow is Easter Sunday. So what is today? I think it’s waiting Saturday. A lot of the people involved in the Easter story were waiting on Saturday. The disciples were waiting in the upper room for the Romans to find them and arrest them as well. The women were waiting for the day they could go to his tomb to dress his body. And creation itself was holding it’s breath and waiting.

Waiting

Waiting for that moment when the power of God could no longer be contained. Waiting for the moment when the earth would shake. Waiting for the moment when the stone would be rolled away . Waiting for the moment when death would lose its hold. Waiting for the moment when Jesus would walk out of the tomb completely alive.

But before Sunday could come, Saturday had to finish. I think all of us can be in a ” Waiting Saturday” moment sometimes. Where we can feel that something big is just around the corner. But it hasn’t come yet, and we are starting to wonder if it ever will. I’m in a “Waiting Saturday” moment in my own life. How I remind myself I can get through it is by looking at the followers of Jesus on Saturday. They were waiting, and had no idea that their answer was so close. Less than a day away, all their prayers would be answered. They were so close. They just needed to wait a little while longer.

Whatever ” Waiting Saturday” you are going through I want to encourage you in it. The wait is almost over. You are so close. Just wait a little longer.

Sunday is coming.

 

The One about how today is so good

We made it to Kansas. I got many hugs from Edie and the L’s. I ate Chinese Food for dinner. We might go see The Hunger Games. But all of those things are just a small fraction of what makes today great.

Today over 2,000 years ago my death sentence was commuted. I have life because He gave up his. Sometimes I think we try to rush by Good Friday because we are so anxious to get to Jesus rising from the dead on Sunday. But it’s important to reflect on the magnitude of what Jesus did. How he was beaten and humiliated all for me. When he died my life truly began. And I am so thankful.

This is short because I really am finding it hard to put into words how I feel about today. I’ll leave off with the link to a wonderful song that really encapsulates everything I’m trying to say.

The one about feeling alone part 2

I’ve written before about how sometimes I can feel alone. Re-reading a chapter in Lucado’s book tonight that talked about the Thursday night before Jesus’ death. He has a last meal with his disciples. A meal where he takes on the servant role and washes his disciples feet. After this he takes them to the Garden of Gethsemene and he asks them to pray with him.

These are agonizing moments for Jesus. The beauty of our Savior is that he was fully God and fully human. So he knows what he must do, but his human side quakes with fear. He literally sweats blood. He asks his Father to take the cup of suffering away from him. And yet in the end he says “not my will but your will be done.” And what does he find the disciples doing while he’s praying with all of his strength? They have fallen asleep. All Jesus wanted was to not be alone in those moments, and they couldn’t stay awake. He is not angry at them though. He understands their weariness. But understanding it doesn’t change what Jesus is going through. Lucado’s words are better than mine.

“He knew that before victory would come defeat. He knew that before the throne would come the cup. He knew that before the light of Sunday would come the darkness of Friday.”

And through all this the disciples sleep on. What is Jesus’ response? It’s to pray for them. In his last moments with his disciples he prays for them. He prays for us! Lucado quotes Jesus’ words from the book of Matthew. ” I pray for these men. But I am also praying for all people who will believe in me because of the teachings of these men. Father, I pray that all people who believe in me can be one…I pray that these people can also be one in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me.”

Does this blow your mind? Cause it blows mine. Jesus in his last moments alone before the humiliation of his trial and death begins is praying for ME. His thoughts are consumed with me! To paraphrase a sentence Lucado says; as His final prayer was about ME. His final pain was for ME. His final passion was for ME! I want to always be blown away by this thought. I don’t ever want to take that thought for granted.

Jesus struggled with having to die. He was afraid. He asked his Father to provide another way. But God said no. And Jesus accepted it with peace in his heart. One more quote from Lucado: “The battle is won. You may have thought it was won on Golgotha. It wasn’t. You may have thought the sign of victory is the empty tomb. It isn’t. The final battle was won in Gethsemane. And the sign of conquest is Jesus at peace in the olive trees. For it was in the garden that he made his decision. He would rather go to hell for you than go to heaven without you.”

Tomorrow I’ll be on a plane. I’m very excited to see my family for a week but I am sad to miss going to church on Good Friday. But tomorrow on the plane I’m going to think about that above paragraph. And I’m going to thank Jesus for being so unselfish to think of me in his last moments on earth.

Thank you. So much.

The one about talents and pennies

Max Lucado doesn’t have a section in his book And The Angels Were Silent about what Jesus did the Wednesday before he was crucified. So I decided to pick a part of the last week of Jesus’ life myself that really stuck out to me. It happens while Jesus is in the temple preaching some of his last messages. The Scripture passage I’m writing about is found in Luke 21:1-4, and it’s about the widow who gave 2 talents in the offering box.

The word talent in this instance is not referring to a skill, but rather a measurement of money. In my translation (The New Living) of the Bible the words used to describe the widow’s offering is “two pennies” Jesus has watched the rich come in and put in some money in the offering box, but when he sees this widow give her 2 pennies he says to his disciples, “I assure you, this poor widow has given more than all the rest of them. For they have given a tiny part of their surplus,but she, poor as she is, has given everything she has.”

This passage of Scripture is so encouraging especially when put in the context of where Jesus is at this moment in time. He is about to die for the sins of the whole world. That’s giving quite a lot of himself isn’t it? One of my favorite things about Jesus is that he never asks us to do that which he would not do himself. We are to give him everything we have because he has already given us everything he has.

This is not an indictment on the rich, but rather on the heart condition of those concerned. The rich were coming in placing their offerings in the box looking over their shoulders at the same time. “Look at how much I’ve given!” This widow came in and gave more than she could probably afford and didn’t expect anyone to notice her. After all in the ancient world widowed women were not always paid attention to. Instead she draws the attention of the King of Kings. Her! With her 2 pennies. Because she gave them with a cheerful heart.

What are my two pennies? I’ve found lately that my time can fall into that category. I have almost every moment of this week planned out, and sometimes that stretches over to other weeks of my life. When I’m done checking things off my list sometimes I don’t want to spend time in daily devotions; I’d rather watch TV or go on the internet. Sometimes God can become part of my check list. I want to be more like this woman and give ALL My talents and pennies to God with a cheerful heart not worried about what I have to do next. Just basking in the presence of God. That is another one of my prayers this Easter.

The one about my childhood fear

I grew up in the church. I was very blessed to have parents who loved God with all their hearts and wanted to raise my sister and me not just in a religion, but in a relationship lifestyle with Jesus. Having said that, being in the church since birth means that there are some cultural things about it that I find funny and things that I find repeated in the memories of my friends who also grew up in the church. It’s the reason I find the blog Stuff Christians Like so funny. I prayed a version of the sinner’s prayer pretty much at every church service I attended just in case I wasn’t really saved until I was about 15 and realized, once was enough. I’ve agonized over riding in the “cool’ van while on youth group trips (come on we all know there was one van that was cooler than the others). And I’ve even though “please don’t let the world end before I have a boyfriend/have sex” But the thing that really scared me when I was little? Accidentally committing the unforgivable sin.

The scriptures that I am referring to are Matthew 12:31-32 where Jesus says (talking to the Pharisees) “Every sin or blasphemy can be forgiven-except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which can never be forgiven. Anyone who blasphemes against me, the Son of Man, can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, either in this world, or in the world to come” (New Living Translation)

I can’t have been the only kid growing up in the church who freaked out when she heard this verse right? I remember thinking “what does blaspheming the Holy Spirit sound like? What if I accidentally do it? How will I know if I’m getting close to doing it? I thought God forgave all sin?” Eventually my mother explained it to me. (I’m not sure if I asked her or what; that memory is vague.) What does this have to do with Holy Week? Read on.

On Tuesday Jesus returned to the temple and the religious leaders asked him a spiritual question whose only purpose was to trap Jesus and put his authority into question. Jesus refused to play their spiritual games and instead chose to tell 2 parables about men with calloused hearts who ignored the truth right in front of them until it was too late. I’m not going to type out each parable, but you can find them in Matthew 21:33-46, and Matthew 22:1-14. Both stories feature a benevolent king/leader sending emissary after emissary to his people wishing to give them a gift. Time and time again the people in the stories send the emissaries back and in one case actually kill the messenger (pun intended)

Lucado paints the moral of the parable this way. “No price is to high for a parent to pay to redeem his child…A parent will go to any length to find his or her own. So will God. Mark it down. God’s greatest creation is not the flung stars or the gorged canyons; it’s his eternal plan to reach his children. Behind his pursuit of us is the same brilliance behind the rotating seasons and the orbiting planets. Heaven and earth know no greater passion than God’s personal passion for you and your return.”

This is the love that enabled Jesus to lay down his life for all of humanity on Good Friday. His desperation to see us reconciled with God. So who is Jesus condemning in these parables? Certainly not people who sin. No, he is again condemning those religious hypocrites who know the truth and willing turn a blind eye away from him. As Lucado puts it “The religious leaders knew Jesus was speaking about them. Just as their fathers had rejected the prophets, now they were rejecting the Prophet-God himself.” We know they knew who he was talking about because in verse 46 of chapter 21 it says they were so angry at Jesus they would have arrested him then and there except they knew the rest of the crowd would be against them. It is in this moment that the plot for Jesus’ arrest begins. And here Jesus again speaks very sobering words. “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to people who do the things God wants in his kingdom” Matthew 21:43.

Now we get back to the unpardonable sin. My mother explained it to me in a similar way that Lucado talks about it in his book. Here comes a big quote, but bear with me it’s the most important point of the whole post.

“It was not God who made the people unworthy. It was their refusal to listen that excluded them from grace. Jesus condemns the cold heart, the soul so overgrown with self and selfishness that it would blaspheme the source of hope, the heart so evil it would see the Prince of Peace and call him the Lord of the Flies

Such blasphemy is unforgivable, not because of God’s unwillingness to forgive, but man’s unwillingness to seek forgiveness. The calloused heart is the cursed heart. The calloused heart represents the eye that won’t see the obvious and the ears that won’t hear the plain. As a result they do not seek God and pardon will not be given because pardon will not be sought.”

Or, as my mother put it; “the fact that you are worried about blaspheming the Holy Spirit is proof that you are not in danger of doing so.” There is no unforgivable sin in the eyes of Jesus. He will forgive ANYTHING. ANYTHING. It’s me that can close the door forever. It’s me that can see the son of God and say “no thanks I don’t want it.” This Holy Week and today especially I am praying that God will help me recognize him when he comes to me. That I will not let my heart became callous towards him. I want to be like the disciples and the other people in the temple listening to Jesus preach, not the religious leaders.

He wasn’t what they thought the Messiah would look like so they rejected him. This Easter season my prayer is that I will throw away my preconceived notions of Christ and be ready to follow him whatever form he takes and in whatever direction he leads me even if it’s a direction I am unsure of. The Holy Spirit is the one who draws me to God. I will not ignore his voice no matter how hard it is to hear what he has to say. Because if I ignore it enough, someday I might not hear it anymore.