Holy Tuesday

80103178Read Matthew 25:1-13

(Again, adapted from an older blog…)

Yes, in some corners of Christendom, Holy Tuesday is a holiday. The parable of the ten virgins is sometimes developed today in various services and studies. Related to this, the oils used in prayers for healing and anointing are sometimes anointed and prayed for. Praying for our oils is an interesting idea, one related to praying for our prayers.

I recall one of the verses of one of the first worship songs I ever learned: “Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning.”

Yes, indeed. I want to keep going in Christ and I want to be ever ready for His return. It could happen before Easter this year, or a thousand years from today.

His coming once affirms His return. I need oil (for lamps and for healing) because life and the night are long. I need vigilance because it will all end suddenly. Midnight is coming.

Holy Monday

Read Matthew 21:18-22

(adapted from a blog of mine 5 years ago today…)

Holy Monday. That’s what today is called. In some Christian traditions the withering of the fig tree (Matthew 21:18-22) is the focus. Others recall the story of Joseph (from Genesis 37), as it parallels Christ’s story in many ways. Still others read through the entire gospel of Matthew and some of Mark at various hours of the day as part of a three day period of reading through most of the gospels. The Roman Catholic Church sometimes (in our part of the world anyway) offers confession for a big part of the day.

Holy Monday. It almost seems like an oxymoron. For some of us, it’s the one day of the week that doesn’t feel holy. For me it has always been holy, a day off. Today I can’t tell my family I’m too busy for them. Today I can’t tell God I’m too busy doing His work to spend a little alone time with Him. Today I eat a real breakfast and read real books.

That fig tree account always makes me swallow hard and take a deep breath. Am I fruitful enough to escape withering? Am I faithful enough to move mountains? All creaturely holiness begins with the wholesale insufficiency created by these questions. “Woe is me, Lord. I need help.”

Hosanna!

Leafy-Palm-BranchesRead Matthew 21:10-11

Jesus entered today into Jerusalem. All knew who He was. He knew who He was. The confusion about identity belonged to others. Some believers shouting “Hosanna” may have become confused about who they were after hearing themselves shout “crucify Him” just days later. The greatest identity confusion, however, seems to be on the part of the Pharisees. The irony here is that few people in that world would have spent more time and effort cementing their identity together. They were “large and in charge,” to use the familiar phrase. They had worked hard to become so in their own minds and others’ eyes. Jesus called this into question. Jesus always calls into question our campaigns for self-promotion and self-importance. He invalidates our false self-validation. He cannot set us free otherwise. When we shout “Hosanna,” He hears us. He will “save us,” as we have cried out for Him to, by saving us from ourselves. Pray that He root out all the puff and posturing in your thinking, all the indignation at not being honored by others, and, most especially, any bitterness resulting from any resentment at not being tended to. Pray that He forgive your sins and set you free from them. Self-worship is self-consuming self-deception. Worship of God is true and liberating as well as overflowing with joy and hope. Hosanna! Save us, Lord!

Despite Fear

Read 2nd Timothy 1:7

Even though God did not give us a spirit of fear, many of us still have it. There it sits in our hearts, darkening our thoughts and plans with faithless “what ifs.” Our fear discredits our faith, which is interesting because verses like 2nd Timothy 1:7 exist to discredit our fear. It’s one or the other with every decision we make, starting with the decision we make about how to feel in this moment. Here are some of the ways I notice fear lying to me…

1) Fear claims that I have to choose it over faith in order to be safe. Safety is a powerful tool in the hands of fear. We never have too much or enough safety. The quest for safety can metastasize into a paralyzing spiritual cancer. Fear disguised as safety prevents us from doing anything, if we let it have its way with us. Fear can kill us in the name of safety.

2) Fear poses as wisdom from God. A cautious spirit has choked many a vision. People wait for everything to be lined up, for all the money they need to be in hand, for all the obstacles to be cleared, for every adversary to become an ally, and then, and only then, will they proceed. Inaction, however, is not always wisdom. Sometimes, because of fear, people stop waiting for God and start waiting for everything to be perfect.

3) Fear acts like a friend. “I’m only thinking of your best interests. I don’t want you to get hurt or lose what you have. Stay hidden and quiet and you won’t get burned.” Fear, the kind the Scriptures say God didn’t give us the spirit of, is never a friend.

4) Fear always has a plan for me. Fear always comes preloaded with its own ideas and agenda. Whatever I want to do or feel called to do takes second place to fear. If this spirit did not come from God, it will not lead me to God.

Instead, we have a different spirit when we have Jesus Christ as Lord. Fear still has a voice, but it loses its vote in how we live our lives and in how we feel on the inside. Let the Cross of Christ free you from the grip of fear and fill you with the power of faith to live for God.

Squirrels

iStock-6301333_squirrel_s3x4Read Luke 19:40

With Palm Sunday upon us, let’s think about the scene. It involved all of Creation. By saying that the rocks will cry out to Him if believing people don’t, Jesus is referring to all of Creation. “Creation testifies about Me, even if you won’t.” Creation harmonizes with the Gospel. This idea is found throughout Scripture. (Two, among many, interesting places to read about this, to my mind, are Joshua 24:27 and Romans 8:22 and their respective contexts.) So – stay with me here- all of Creation includes squirrels! You’ve probably seen a squirrel recently. If you log onto creation.com, you can read about how amazing these little things are. Their existence, for Creationists, stands as a furry rebuke of any theory of origins that departs from Genesis 1-2! If you won’t sing Christ’s praises this weekend and next, Palm Sunday and Easter, your role may be outsourced to a rock! Or maybe even to a squirrel! Why does Jesus say something like this to learned religious leaders? He takes their serious protest and makes it silly. One lesson for me: if I take myself too seriously, my self-regard and my misplaced affection for my own knowledge and social position may blind me to my only hope, Jesus Christ. Even as a believer, I can miss Him if all I’m looking for is myself. In this case, Jesus calls me silly too. And rightly so; I am. If I prefer my idea of wisdom to wonder and abandonment in the presence of Christ, I must salute the rocks and squirrels; they know better!

Light

Read John 8:12

(Sorry this is so late. This one is short and adapted from one written about 6 years ago…)

Nothing beats light. Light has cleansing properties that simply can’t be overstated. Light in relationships brings healing and new trust. Light in the mind brings peace and rest. Light on the earth brings life and growth. Light in the spiritual realm brings clarity and victory. Light makes everything beautiful. Light comes in more than one variety, more than one shade, more than one way. Light was the first thing God created after He created the Heavens and the Earth. Genesis 1:3 – “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” (KJV). Near the end of the Bible (Revelation 22:16), Jesus is “the bright and morning star.” More light. Easter Sunday is about the dawning of light that is purchased and initiated by Good Friday. It was sunny for part of today – inside and out. Light makes life good. Let there be light in your life today (and tonight).

United or Divided

Read Ephesians 2:14-16

(From an older blog. Hope you agree it still seems fresh…)

The cross unites those who unite themselves to it, but by the same token it also divides those who divide themselves from it. When He makes the two one, both of the two have to want it. Reconciliation is not forgiveness; it involves two. Forgiveness involves one. The Cross will set one free, but it will not set things right between two unless both are free. This is a tough lesson to learn. The Cross kills hostility between people as long as none are hostile to the Cross. The Cross can’t be the starting point; it has to be the whole point. The Church itself, in these latter days, is being split apart due to the Cross, but certainly not by the Cross. Its purpose is unity. This shows how important reconciliation is to God. The fuller teaching of these verses includes the negative of this as well. If we don’t rely solely on His crucified flesh to break down the dividing wall of hostility between us, we then, by default, reinforce it.

Beyond Lazarus

Read John 11:43-44

C.S. Lewis points out in his book, Miracles, that the “resurrection” of Lazarus is unlike the resurrection of Christ. Lazarus was given back his old life, a life he would lose again. Being brought back from the dead is something less than resurrection. It is getting back what we lost. I think many Christians limit their hope to this. They want to go back to sweeter times. They want youth, money, relationships, enthusiasm, or whatever they feel they no longer have, to be restored by God “like that which the locusts ate.” Christ rising from the dead gives us more than a second helping of the best of the life we’ve known. It is a new life, an entirely different life, and an eternal life. It is a life where losses can be recategorized as gains, even painful losses. The resurrection of Christ shows how our pain will be eclipsed by joy, just as death is eclipsed by life. Christ did not merely stand up to sin and death. He destroyed everything that destroys. In time, rather than instantly, we who believe will see the fullness of this destruction. Death will be removed from the scene. Loss will be impossible. Death returned for Lazarus, but not for Christ, and not in Christ. The day will finally come for you, Christian, when Jesus Himself will wipe away every tear from your eyes. And you will never see those tears again.

Choirs

Read Psalm 149:1

In the weeks to come, in many churches, choirs will sing. They will sing something like “Hosanna” on Palm Sunday. They will sing something like “He Is Risen” on Easter Sunday. They’ve been practicing. The words will all be similar. Most members of most of these choirs will be a little nervous. They’ll want what they do to be their best and to be appreciated as such. They hope those of you who listen to them in church experience something that makes you feel closer to God. Having not grown up in church or in churches, I am always amazed by choirs. A bunch of people went way out of their way to sing for me, to sing to me. We live in a world where fewer and fewer people get sung to. Sure, we can pull up any recording we want online, but none of these are live or personal like a choir in church. In fact, nearly all of the recordings we listen to these days are digital, which means we’re hearing a noiseless, impressive, but audibly reduced version of what something sounded like. That’s right, every iTunes tune you have is really a kind of counterfeit; it is the digital idea of the music and not the music itself. Ask any fan of vinyl records and they will set the record straight for you. I wonder if there is a parallel to Christian faith. How many people who claim to be believers will skip worship on Palm Sunday or Easter? Some of them have something to say that sounds like, “I don’t need to go to church to be a Christian.” OK. But I have to admit that when I hear this, right or wrong, I wonder if these people have real faith or some kind of digital version of it. Close to the real thing is not the real thing. If you don’t want to be with people, I don’t know how you want to be with God. Heaven is people. God redeemed a people. And He’s got choirs. It doesn’t look like there will be any soloists at all singing God’s praises in Heaven. No doubt about the choirs though. No doubt.

Keep No Secrets from God

Read Matthew 7:21-23

This may be one of the scariest set of verses in Scripture for believers. Christ rejects those who think, based on their behavior, that they are in with Him. As they are cast from His presence, they lift up their own behavior as their defense. Jesus seems to bypass all their activity. He ignores it. It never meant anything to Him. He rejects their works as well as them. These people were serving only themselves, which, by definition, renders all their works “lawlessness.” They put on a show that they were pleased with, but they kept their secret life to themselves. If we look back at Matthew 6, we see the kind of secret life Jesus looks for and seeks to enter as Savior and Lord. We meet Him here or we never meet Him. “I never knew you.”

As a pastor, I encounter many people who claim to believe, but keep God at arm’s length. They live as if they are keeping secrets from God. The logic of it points to plain, old unbelief. To them God is an idea only; he is like a paper cut-out. When the reality of death and judgment approach, like with every last one of us, they still refuse to turn to Him for help, and, instead, turn to themselves and their performance. It is scary and sad. It is also very easy to relate to for most of us. This is where our sinful pride betrays us and breaks every promise it makes to us. When Jesus says, “I never knew you,” He is basically saying, “Look, you’ve been on your own the whole time. You’ve done it your way. You’ve relied on and lived for yourself. So, this is how you’re going to take it the rest of the way. This is how you will stand on Judgment Day: alone.”

The alternative is to come to Jesus Christ now. Show Him your sin, your failure, your fear, your wearisome burden, your scars, your lack of faith, your weakness, your idolatry; show Him all the wicked ugliness we humans try to cover up with religious behavior. Confess it clearly and cleanly. Trust Him and His work on the Cross alone for full, forever forgiveness of it all. Jesus invites us – exhorts us really – to make it impossible for Him to ever say, “I never knew you.” Think of how astounding His love is! If we turn Him down in this life, we turn Him down forever, and then He turns us down. The Cross is Christ’s way of insisting that we keep no secrets from Him. In other words, we don’t keep ourselves from Him. Whatever service we render in response is worship and nothing less.