Please Don’t Give Up Chocolate for Lent this Year…

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Today is Ash Wednesday, the official start of Lent.  Which means that people all over the world will begin their Lenten fasts.  In my experience, however, these chosen fasts have more to do with crash dieting than with deepening one’s walk with Christ.

Having grown up in a tradition that didn’t talk that much about practicing Lent, I only had a vague idea of what Lent was as a high schooler.  If you were to ask 16 year old me what it meant to practice Lent, I probably would have told you that for 40 days before Easter you weren’t allowed to eat chocolate, soda, and you were supposed to go for a 3 mile run instead of watching TV every day.  In essence, Lent was a second shot at that failed New Year’s Resolution.  Other than the timing of the season, I didn’t know that Lent had all that much to do with God.

As an adult, I have come to understand what Lent means in the practice of the faith.  The season is meant to be a time of anticipation, a time of making room for Christ.  That is the purpose of a Lenten fast- to create a hunger for God, to create space in your life and your schedule to devote yourself to prayer and reflection.  In my thinking, the practice of Lent should draw you closer to God, creates a sense of fullness and satisfaction, not one of hunger or deprivation.  So let me ask you (humbly, gently); does giving up chocolate, caffeine, or fast food really create room and awareness of God in your life?

Is there another practice that could better accomplish that purpose?

I so often see people (and have been guilty myself) of choosing something for a fast that is really more of a diet plan.  In my mind I am thinking I am doing this for God, but if I also happen to lose a bit of weight in the process, that’s ok too.  As I reflect upon this, I realize that that is dancing a line very close to idolatry.  What am I really pursuing in this goal?  To draw closer to Christ, or to draw closer to my goal of the perfect body?

In the past few years I have decided that instead of giving something up for Lent, I will instead add something.  A daily (or if that’s too hard, regular) practice that serves to draw me closer to my savior.  To more deeply connect me with the author of life. To invite me into a time of personal worship.  This year, I am going to try and set some time each day to create.  As an act of worship.  Acknowledging that I am formed in the image of my Creator.  That practice speaks deeply into my soul as something I need right now.  Perhaps there is something your heart is whispering to you that would draw you closer to God…

Time each day to walk, outside, appreciating God’s marvelous creation.

A family meal each week, set aside to connect with each other on a deeper level.

Worship music in your car on your morning commute.

Reading the Christian book that has been sitting on your nightstand for weeks.

My challenge to you is to use Lent to enrich your relationship with Christ in a way that has no other outside benefits.  Let your pursuit of Him for the next 40 days be unspoiled by other secondary goals.

And may the Peace of Christ be with you.

 

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Betrayal

Now the Festival of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching,  and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people.  Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve.  And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus.  They were delighted and agreed to give him money. He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present.
Luke 22:1-6

As I was meditating on this passage today, I found myself struggling to put myself in Judas’ shoes.  What would it take for me to betray Jesus?   But as I thought from his perspective, I realized something.  There must have been a lot of moments, small disappointments, that led up to this moment of betrayal.  At some point back in Judas’ past, Jesus had not lived up to the standard of what Judas thought he should be.  And since that point, small moments, slights, and disappointments had been adding up.  To the point that a true believer became jaded.  A disciple turned into a thief.  A savior was betrayed for 4 months wages.

Judas, like the rest of the nation of Israel, had been waiting for the Messiah for a long long time.  400 long years had passed without one prophet, one word from God.  And now, Jesus enters the scene.  What would they hope for in a savior, this tiny, downtrodden nation?  A warrior king?  A fierce deliverer?  A strong leader with the courage, the riches, and the fierce will to restore the Glory of Israel?

Instead, they got a carpenter.  A man who tells parables instead of issuing rallying cries.  Who spurns the religious elite for a band of outsiders, foreigners and misfits.  A man who in no way is living up to the savior Judas had built up in his head.  To me, the only way this betrayal makes sense is if it is built out of bitterness- broken dreams and unmet expectations.

All of this begs the question: Who do I want Jesus to be? 

So I sat with it.

Judas

The first few things that came to mind were born out of my immediate desires:

  • Safe
  • Under Control
  • Predictable
  • Linear

Then, I tried to dig deeper into that.  What came to mind- compassionate (to realize that my striving, to see that I am seeking to please), listening (to hear my need for direction, my pleas for mercy), Loud (to speak above my constant clamoring to hear Him).

As I sat, thinking of what I truly needed in a Savior, a final thought.

NOT ME.

I need Jesus to be something outside of my constructs.  In order for him to be safe, and in order for him to be sovereign, he must be bigger than me, higher than me.  He must have an eternal perspective, to see all stories that weave together into The Story.  To be fully for me, He must not be caught up in my daily whims, tumults, and crises.  To be worthy of my faith, to be the true hope of the world, he must be exactly what he is.  Human.  Divine.  Sovereign.  Just.  Merciful.  Unexpected.

When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’”

 At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind.  So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”
Luke 7:20-23

Cans of Veggies and Wet Feet

 It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus.  Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God;  so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
John 13:1-9

I had a bizarre dream last night.

I was being discharged from the hospital.  My room was filled with plastic bags of canned vegetables (why? who can even know) that I had to take to the car.  However, after lugging them down the stairs (in my hospital gown), I found that my car had been moved.  My friend offered to drive me around to look for the car, but in the process she kept not listening to my directions, turning the wrong way, and running into walls.  I couldn’t find my car, and my arms ached from holding up the heavy bags.  I was anxious to the point of frenzy, still woozy from my illness, and unwilling to surrender my burdens. 

And then I woke up to the sound of my one year old crying.  Now I am no dream analyst, but I can pretty much tell from this dream that I have some control issues.  And some feeling-out-of-control issues.  Starting my morning in this manner left me feeling a bit jittery, and like there was something I NEEDED to do, a small alarm ringing in the back of my mind.

And then today, I sat down to meditate on Jesus washing Peter’s feet.  As I sat in the silence and imagined that moment, I began to have some of the same reactions as Peter.

But wait- Jesus, I serve YOU, you don’t serve me!  Yes.  This sounds good.  And this is a principle I adopt more often than not when it comes to life as a disciple of Jesus.  But it is totally backwards.  When I view myself as a servant of God, and don’t first allow Jesus to minister to me, I am operating on human terms.  My service to God is earning me favor.  It keeps me feeling secure, righteous, and in control.

Laying down all my gold stars, all my good works, all my efforts, and allowing Christ to cleanse me is a powerful act of surrender.  It is saying that I can’t keep things going smoothly on my own.  There are too many cans of vegetables (I know- it’s bizarre- but let’s roll with the metaphor) and the car keeps moving.  I will never finish the task on my own.  And I am not meant to.  Because if it were possible for me to be good enough on my own, then Jesus sacrifice for me would be a cosmic waste of time.  And oh how I am in need of that sacrifice.  I need the redemption.  I need to be forced to admit that I can’t do it all by myself.  I need to be willing to be humble enough to allow God to minister to my soul- my heart, my needs.

The martyr on the Cross should always remain Christ.  When I look at my life and realize that that I am casting myself in the role of suffering servant, it’s time for a reality check.  For if I can’t humble myself and allow Christ to wash my feet, how can I possibly accept the enormity of his sacrifice for me? If I am unwilling to first be ministered to by Christ, then those who see my efforts will never see God shining through them, only the increasingly strident acts of a pretty good human.

If I keep trying to be good enough, responsible enough, DO enough to keep my life running smoothly, I will inevitably fail.  The truth is, we aren’t in control of our lives.  Sooner or later, something will happen that will prove to us beyond all doubt that WE are not in charge.  And when that happens, if all of our trust and valor is built upon our own resources, our defenses will crumble.  However, if we continually seek to submit to the tender ministrations of Christ, then we know the One who holds our future.  And we are able to stand in trust that God is sovereign, and that God is in control. Humility leads to trust, and trust leads to a deeper, truer life.

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Alabaster Jar

Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.  Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him.  Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.”  He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”
John 12:1-8

This Holy Week, my church is hosting a collection of daily reflections, each day focusing on a different character in the narrative of Jesus’ final days.  Today, we reflected upon Mary’s anointing of Jesus.

It is commonly held that Mary anointed Jesus with an alabaster jar of pure nard, worth about a year’s wages.  An extravagant gift.  Many reflections dwell upon the value of this act, the monetary investment wrapped up in it.

But today, as I was sitting with this passage, I found myself thinking along another line.  This alabaster jar of nard was usually given to a Jewish female by her parents, traditionally as a bride price.  Therefore, as Mary used this precious gift to anoint Jesus, she must have also been aware of the hopes and dreams associated with this oil as she was pouring it on the Lord’s feet.  Hopes for a wedding, a family, a life filled with love and joy.  That jar, that oil, meant so much more to her than it’s monetary value.  After all, oil is meant to be used.  It is how and where it is used that is significant.

All of the hopes wrapped up in this small jar are wonderful things, and yet, all of them also have the potential to become idols.

alabasterThis made me wonder- What is in my jar? What hopes, dreams, and values am I holding in my jar full of treasures?  What are the things for me, that are valuable beyond simply their monetary worth?

Here is another common misconception.  Mary did not smash the jar to get the oil out.  Instead, when it says she broke the jar, what it means is that she broke the seal on the jar.  God didn’t ask her to smash her dreams to bits in service to Him.  Neither does he ask this of us.  As I was praying through this, I began to understand something more clearly:

I don’t believe that God calls us to sacrifice our dreams,
But he does ask us to surrender them.

To me, the difference between sacrifice and surrender is similar to the difference between smashing the jar and breaking the seal.  When the jar is smashed, its contents become  useless, poured out on the floor amidst sharp shards of the broken vessel.  However, when the seal is broken the jar remains whole, its contents protected.  But the beautiful aroma begins to escape, and permeate the room.

I can admit that there are many dreams I hold that I have been afraid to surrender.  They are too precious to me to be willing to allow God to do what he wants with them. They are too tender even for me to be willing to fully name them, for fear that they won’t come into being.  Yet hoarding them sealed tight in a jar is the one way to guarantee they won’t come into being.  Instead, I think that God is calling me to take a step in trust.  Break the seal.  Allow God to begin working with them, and allow the aroma to begin to permeate my world…