Read Ephesians 2:1-3 (also Ephesians 3:14-19; Matthew 11:28-30)
I think sometimes we give ourselves a pass when it comes to our thought-life, our imagination, our inner being. The huge problem with this is that it is only in our thought-life or imagination that we hold genuine, saving faith in Jesus Christ. If your imagination is severed from Christ, so are you. Outer being follows inner being; walk comes from heart. So, your outer life may seem to look Christian, but that will change soon enough. It probably already has to a greater degree than you are aware of. If this is where you find yourself – away from Christ- then immediately shut down your will. Don’t “try” anything. Just discover what’s true. Ban anything in your conscience that smacks of a courtroom. Forget about guilt or innocence. Life and death are much more useful categories here. You want to get away from once again making a case for your good intentions. No one’s keeping score. You’re either dead or alive. Your only antidote is the Cross of Christ, where He who was alive became dead (and became sin per 2nd Corinthians 5:21), so that you who sin and are dead could become alive. Jesus is always your only chance, your last chance. Come to Him now – weary, burdened, and broken – and He alone will give you peace… and life. You can never give these to yourself.
Read Psalm 61:1
I wonder why the Psalmist seems to implore God to listen. This would seem to be more appropriate with another human being. Technically, it is impossible for God not to hear, right? When is He not listening? When is He distracted, checking his e-mails or flipping through the channels on His jupiter-sized jumbotron in Heaven while we try to tell Him something? So, why the big, dramatic plea? Hear my cry! Is it indicative of a theology problem? Maybe the Psalmist wants to show that none of us can keep our doctrine straight when in pain or duress. Or is it a type of clean expletive? Maybe we’re being given the right words to say when we have no words to say, when all our emotional circuits are overloaded, when sin tempts us to spew profanity. Perhaps there is something else to consider. When we call out to God like the Psalmist does, we identify Him alone as our source of help. We’re not calling on anyone or anything else. There are times when we have something to say or something to ask that we don’t need anyone else to hear. More so, these are usually times when we must hear our own voices express this singular faith in Him as part of the rescue operation we’re crying out to Him for. Even today, there may be moments when it needs to be just you and your Lord. Ask Him… and no one else… to hear you. Tell Him that you have something to tell Him and be consoled by the reminder you give yourself that you have no other Savior but Christ.
Read John 10:10
Jesus contrasts Himself and His work from “the thief.” In this one verse He gives us full perspective and hope. The news today, filled with murders and darkness, can all be summed up as the work of the thief. He comes “only to steal and kill and destroy.” Jesus, however, brings life. This helps us think. We can see things as they are once we know that all of life is a struggle between two forces. There is, however, a striking imbalance between the two forces. Jesus offers life… abundantly. The thief will perish. This means that if my thinking is clear because my eyes are focused on Him, far from having a rough time in my life, I can celebrate and relax even amidst turmoil.
So today is my daughter’s birthday! We have balloons and decorations. We have plans for multiple celebrations, including a full-fledged “Brave” (the movie) theme party in a few days. I’ll be dressed in a bear costume so she and a dozen other little girls can shoot at me with plastic arrows repeatedly. She’s eating a cookie for breakfast. Cupcakes will arrive in school today via mommy. Awesome fun, all of it. (Yes, sugar = fun.)
What Jesus does and did means that the awesome fun of today is the stuff of forever. The thief is not invited then, so I am not going to attend to him now, not even a little. He is conquered, gone, removed. It is finished. This is the joy of Easter that Lent and Holy Week bring us to. This is the result of the Cross. This is Jesus. He paid the price for your sins; now, because you believe, the thief has no claim on you. Don’t forget. No matter what, don’t forget the never-to-be-broken promises of God. Enjoy your abundant and eternal life in Christ even today! And beware of 9-year-old sugared-up warrior-girls and their plastic arrows! Especially if you’re dressed up like a bear!
Read Mark 5:18-20
Jesus delivered a demon-possessed man. He went from the equivalent of a rabid animal to “clothed and in his right mind.” Afterwards he wanted to stay with Jesus and join His inner circle, but Jesus sent him away with a commission instead. “Go home and tell your friends what the Lord has done for you… how He has had mercy on you.” The man did it. He had a mission field of ten cities (The Decapolis); he went from maniac to missionary. Later in Mark, when Jesus returns to this area (Mark 6:54; 7:31), He encounters enthusiastic believers and seekers. Jesus performs healing miracles and a second feeding miracle (4,000 fed with 7 loaves left over) for these Gentiles in this Gentile area. The difference is that these Gentiles, with no Jewish framework to understand Jesus as the Messiah, believe anyway. Was the formerly-demon-possessed-man-turned-preacher behind this? Now, imagine what you can do if you simply start telling your friends what God has done for you. This man did not go to school. He had no training. You don’t need training to tell your God-story, only courage and compassion. Who are you telling today? How are you telling them?
Read John 4:7
The story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman is interesting and profound on many levels. For me it starts with Him asking her for a drink. She was surprised by this request. (Perhaps it’s fair to say that it was more than a request.) She voiced her surprise first. “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” The two couldn’t be more different, separated by very high walls of both culture and gender. How can He be reaching over these walls? But this is what Jesus does all the time. If we pay attention, He is making surprising, human-rule-breaking requests of us all the time. They usually involve some form of major or minor sacrifice. The Samaritan woman teaches us many things about Jesus, including how to deal with His surprising requests. She talks it out with Him. She asks her questions. Notice how Jesus always stays with people like her until they get it. He’ll do the same for you today! Is He asking you to do something, to reach across some kind of chasm into the life of another with grace, encouragement, provision, forgiveness, or love? Always choose a conversation or discussion with Him in prayer over an outright rejection of His request. He always has a reason, a good one, for what He asks of you.
Funny thing… Jesus never got His drink, at least not from her. Turns out He was after a lot more. He always is. Her reaction… (John 4:29)… “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” Turns out she and all those she knew were after more than a drink as well. So are we.
Read James 1:22-25
“Man has always been his own most vexing problem.” This is how Reinhold Niebuhr begins his two-volume work, The Nature and Destiny of Man. Some would agree that this one sentence stands out as a contender for the prize of being the nine most important, accurate words written by a Christian theologian in the 20th century. With all our doctrinal issues settled centuries before, these newer words tell us about the challenge of faith in the 20th century and our own. Of course, James offers a timeless expression of this with his imagery of a man looking in the mirror and then forgetting what he looks like. But James, being Scripture, gives us more. The problem that “man” has with himself is an exact reflection of the problem he has with God. We forget and are vexed by ourselves because we forget and are vexed by God and His Word. We hear it – we hear God, in other words – and we don’t listen. This is the story of humanity. This is my story and yours. Basically, we don’t do what God says and we get in trouble. This trouble manifests in confusion about ourselves and everything else. Anthropology is the study of humanity. It is the junior partner to Theology, the study of God. Scripture makes us students of both. Only when we truly know ourselves and our problem can we then know (and abandon all else for) the fullness of God and His solution, Jesus Christ. Vexation stops with Christ. Applied to my small life and little day, it boils down to what I do. Will I be a doer of His Word today or not? What I believe comes alive only when I live it out, only when I obey Him. One of my favorite things about that the Holy Spirit is how He helps me want to obey God despite myself. What an ongoing gift, what a real comfort He is! He “un-vexes” us.
Read James 4:17
This verse points out an uncomfortable truth. We know what to do. We know what’s right. Sin is choosing something else. Every honest believer can see this play out daily in his or her life. Our capacity for self-sabotage remains strong despite our best intentions. It can be disheartening. Don’t let it be. Jesus doesn’t see His role as Savior as an inconvenience, something He’ll do as long as we need Him to. Bible verses like this emphasize this. He offers fresh help today. We wouldn’t have our need for help pointed out so readily otherwise. Knowing I knew what to do and didn’t do it puts me, at that difficult moment of self-awareness, right back into my Savior’s hands. “Help, Lord.” There are NO effective prayers that take a different tone than this. Whether the Lord’s Prayer or some version of “Have mercy on me, Lord,” every standard, Biblical foundation for prayer depends on our acknowledged need for God’s help and His loving provision of it.
This Sunday, the first after Ash Wednesday, ask God for greater help. Ask Him to help you ask for more help. Ask for help especially in those areas you don’t think you need any help. Have you done everything you know you ought to have done in every situation in your life? No? Then ask for forgiveness, grace, and a new start. In other words, ask for help. Don’t throw up your worn out defenses. Don’t offer excuses. Don’t turn away. Ask for help now.
Read Isaiah 26:3
In the very cold temperatures we’ve been experiencing in the northeastern United States this year, it’s been interesting to see people’s reaction. A life verse for me, Isaiah 26:3 has come to mind. “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast because he trusts in you.” This is my memory of the old NIV version of this verse. It speaks of God keeping people in the Shalom of Shaloms (that’s the Hebrew translated in English in the NIV as “perfect peace”) because they kept themselves in Him. These days every time I see person run into a house, a building, or a car to avoid extreme temperatures it reminds me of how God wants us to run into Him. Get inside! Outside of God the conditions are untenable. You will struggle even to survive. Inside you might forget about the conditions (the weather) altogether. Trust is the door into God. For me the strange paradox is found here. I often look to my circumstances to fortify my trust in God. This huge mistake betrays my often less than steadfast mind. Often God offers Himself as a shelter from or in the midst of circumstances. Whether circumstances are good or bad, I am to run into Him. He will keep me warm on the spiritual equivalent of days like this.
Read Ephesians 5:15-16
Our verses for today seem to make sense on the surface. “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” That last bit, however, about the days being evil has always been jarring for me. What does it mean? Various commentators have suggested that Paul is talking about the evil times he lives in. I wonder if he might have meant something more basic, something more practical. My struggle with time can feel like a struggle against the powers of evil. My list of tasks exceeds the time I have to complete them in. I’m constantly watching the clock. Rarely do I check the time and think to myself, “Great, I have plenty of time.” This may be where the evil part comes in, because the truth is that I do have plenty of time. Everyone does. Almost every feeling of “not enough” that occurs to us during a day, whether it is about time or money or affection from a loved one, etc., turns out to be deceptive and destructive. That 10th commandment about not coveting points to this. Even Adam and Eve were somehow convinced that paradise was not enough. This led to evil and a continuation of the very feeling (the lie) that they were trying to stave off through committing the first sin. The best way for me to go through the day as a servant of Satan rather than God is to nurse the perspective that I’m being shortchanged somehow. Everything bad that we as humans do, every other broken commandment, starts here. Paul’s words speak of a wonderful alternative. If with God’s help we are careful and wise about how we walk (inside and out), we can make something of our time.
Read Luke 17:11-19
Lent is about change. When Jesus journeyed to Jerusalem and the cross, He knew He would never return to things as they were. In fact, He knew that nothing would ever be the same again. When we journey with Him by faith in our lives, we too are never the same. Luke 17:11-19 is one example of how this works. “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” Perhaps you can relate to this cry. Jesus’ first word in response to this was “go.” It was as they went that they experienced healing. Life in Christ is still like this. At the end of the account only one cleansed leper journeyed back to Jesus to express gratitude. Even here Jesus’ response to this was to send him. “Rise and go…” How is He saying this to you today? I find that sometimes my biggest problems in life and with God stem from my stubborn refusal to “go there” with God. I see it in others’ lives too. Whether it involves finally “going” to church or “going there” in asking forgiveness from someone, there are few blessings from God that do not involve us making our move too. Make your move today. Go there. If God has said, “go,” then what are you waiting for? When His Father told Him to go to Jerusalem to face death for you, He did not hesitate.