Archive for the ‘Lent’ Category

communion confrontation

Our church’s Maundy Thursday Service dominated my soul. Last week was a particularly full week of conversations with a particular theme, namely the reality that the work of Christ is BIG enough to cover our sins, even our darkest ones. I have fought for and with people to help them see that the LIFE, DEATH, & RESURRECTION of Christ can forgive ANY sin, cover ANY iniquity, shine light into EVERY dark corner, heal EVERY pain, and restore ALL brokenness. Well, Thursday night was the Holy Spirit’s turn with me. As I held the wafer and the juice I sought to lift specific sins before the Lord and met the resistance of my soul. I found myself hardened to the extent of telling myself that the work of Christ was not enough for the darkness of my heart. In my mind my sins were to great- my pride to rooted, my rebellion to out of control, my spirit to autonomous… But then the  Holy Spirit grabbed me, shook me, and softened me. I was freshly ambushed by the love of Jesus, freshly washed in the reality of forgiveness, and restored to a confidence beyond what I had previously known.

I have learned a lot through my reflection on this, specifically that my heart still needs the gospel DAILY and that I will never move beyond the place of deep need of the mercy of Christ. I am  also moved to deep gratitude for the means of grace the Lord has provided for his people, sensible signs and seals of the covenant realities we live in (specifically communion). And I am continually transformed by the relentless grace of my merciful King. If I were him I would have given up on my by now.

Thanks be to God for his unending grace!
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” Lamentations 3


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This is a painting by Rembrandt called “The Raising of the Cross”. If you are familiar with some of Rembrandt’s self-portraits, you will notice that he has painted himself in this painting as well.  He is one of the soldiers helping to lift the cross. This was not just a historical painting, or a religious painting. Rembrandt made it a deeply personal work, exploring his own guilt and complicity in the Crucifixion. As we are thinking about the Resurrection power that is working in us, Good Friday is a good day to consider, along with Rembrandt, the unfathomable cost of our sin.

4 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.
 6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53:4-6

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Sunday we looked at Luke 5:27-6:5, where the Pharisees confront Jesus about the company he keeps, why His disciples don’t fast, and how He observed the Sabbath. One of the things we see in Jesus’ answers is that the Pharisees had become so consumed with keeping the Law that they had lost the spirit of the Law. They had forgotten why they fast and celebrate Sabbath. They had forgotten that they too were sinners who needed to repent.

I have been reading a book called Love Mercy lately, and the author was talking about how her reading of Isaiah 58 had literally changed  her life.  As I read through it, it reminded me of the Luke text. Isaiah 58 is God telling Israel what kind of fasting pleases Him. It gets right to the heart of what Jesus was telling the Pharisees. It’s alot to take in, but please take a couple of minutes to read and think about it:

58 “Cry aloud; do not hold back;
lift up your voice like a trumpet;
declare to my people their transgression,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
 2 Yet they seek me daily
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that did righteousness
and did not forsake the judgment of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments;
they delight to draw near to God.
 3 ‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not?
Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’
Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, 
and oppress all your workers.
 4 Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to hit with a wicked fist.
Fasting like yours this day
will not make your voice to be heard on high.
 5 Is such the fast that I choose,
a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed,
and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
and a day acceptable to the Lord?

 6 “Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed  go free,
and to break every yoke?
 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
 8 Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
 the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.

9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away  the yoke from your midst,
 the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
10 if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
 then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.
11 And the Lord will guide you continually
and satisfy your desire in scorched places
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters do not fail.
12 And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to dwell in.

13 “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath,
from doing your pleasure  on my holy day,
and call the Sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
or seeking your own pleasure,  or talking idly; 

14 then you shall take delight in the Lord,
 and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; 
I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
 for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

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Lenten silence

Five years ago I went with a short term mission team to northeastern China.  One of the nights we were blessed to have the opportunity to worship with a small deaf-mute congregation. We “listened” to the sermon as it was translated from sign language to Korean to Chinese to English. At one point, the pastor directed his signs/comments to us. He said that he felt sorry for us that we were not deaf! Because he could not hear the noise and distractions of the world around him, he said he had an advantage over us. He was better able to listen for and hear the voice of God. During Lent, we intentionally deprive ourselves of some things so that we can better devote ourselves to God. As we are literally drenched in noise all day long, both aural and visual, we will have to intentionally unplug to find stillness and silence. Choosing silence is always difficult for us, but we need to choose it if we are going to hear Him.

Psalm 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”

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In view of God’s mercy may this prayer flow from our hearts. Thank you, puritan fathers:

Lord Jesus, I sin. Grant that I may never cease grieving because of it, never be content with myself, never think I can reach a point of perfection. Kill my envy, command my tongue, trample down self. Give me grace to be holy, kind, gentle, pure, peaceable, to live for Thee and not for self, to copy Thy words, acts, spirit, to be transformed into Thy likeness, to be consecrated wholly to Thee, to live entirely to Thy glory.

Deliver me from attachment to things unclean, from wrong associations, from the predominance of evil passions, from the sugar of sin as well as its gap; that with self-loathing, deep contrition, earnest heart searching I may come to Thee, cast myself on Thee, trust in Thee, cry to Thee, be delivered by Thee.

O God, the Eternal All, help me to know that all things are shadows, but Thou art substance, all things are quicksands, but Thou art mountain, all things are shifting, but Thou art anchor, all things are ignorance, but Thou art wisdom.

If my life is to be a crucible amid burning heat, so be it, but do Thou sit at the furnace mouth to watch the ore that nothing be lost. If I sin wilfully, grievously, tormentedly, in grace take away my mourning and give me music; remove my sackcloth and clothe me with beauty; still my sighs and fill my mouth with song, then give me summer weather as a Christian.

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I had an amazing conversation yesterday where someone blessed me with his naked honesty (and who doesn’t mind me using his story for this post). This man articulated a hesitation to allow himself to find all his joy in Christ alone because, frankly, he does not think that Christ can bring the kind of joy other things can. His association with finding joy in Christ alone is more involvement in church- more committee meetings, more events, and less “real life”. As the conversation progressed I realized the issue was not with Jesus at all but with his Bride, the church. Have we really gotten this far off, where our service and worship to our Savior and King encourages disengagement from participation in the joy of God’s mission because it is equated with disengagement from “real life”? This Lenten season is an opportunity to find more and more of our joy in the only place that can satisfy- in Christ alone who says, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full;” and through this find joy in being more a part of God’s mission.  As you fight for this joy to be a reality in your heart and life, and if you can identify with the man I had the conversation with, then curb your reflections this Lenten season with the videos below. Fight for joy, fight to know the One who fought for His people with His life, and fight with me to reform His Bride that we may be faithful to His word, His mission, and live for His glory. We MUST stop associating finding our joy in Jesus with more meetings and events. Lord have mercy!

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Try and guess whose words these are from an extremely prominent ecclesiastical figure, spoken in their Ash Wednesday sermon yesterday. I think you will be surprised:

“… conversion means changing the direction of the path of our lives. It is going against the current when the “current” is a superficial, incoherent, and illusory way of life that often drag us down, making us slaves of evil or prisoners of moral mediocrity. Nevertheless, through conversion we tend to the highest measure of Christian life, we trust in the living and personal Gospel who is Jesus Christ. He is the final goal and the profound path of conversion, the path that we are all called to travel in our lives, allowing ourselves to be illuminated with his light and sustained by his strength, which moves our steps. Convert and believe in the Gospel’ is not just the beginning of the Christian life, but the accompaniment of all our steps, renewing and penetrating all aspects of our lives. Each day is a moment of favour and grace, even when there is no lack of difficulties, weariness, and missteps, when we are tempted to abandon the path that follows Christ and retreat into ourselves and our selfishness without paying attention to the need to keep ourselves open to the love of God in Christ in order to live the very logic of justice and love… The “human being”, he continued, “is dust and to dust it will return, but it is dust that is precious in God’s eyes because He created humanity, destining us to immortality.  Jesus the Lord also wanted to freely share in human frailty with each person, above all through his death on the cross. But it was precisely this death, full of his love for the Father and for humanity, that was the way of glorious resurrection, the means by which Christ became the source of grace given to all who believe in Him and participate in the same divine life”.

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Lent, anyone?

Everyone in the South knows about, and probably celebrates in some form or fashion, the Easter holiday. The Easter feast has always been the most celebrated day in the church calendar year and in the South in particular it has become a major part of our culture. When we look beyond putting on our finest and grabbing time with family, when we look at the reality of Easter, particularly at the centerpiece of it- the death and resurrection of God in the flesh Jesus Christ- we are challenged. When we really look we see the very nature of truly celebrating the holiday demands preparation and participation because our God participated in humanity, the punishment of our sin, and victory over the grave- for His people to be prepared for a right relationship with Him and for them to be prepared to be the vehicle for the Victory of God to the world.  The high nature of this church Holiday has resonated throughout the history of our church with importance and has, for centuries, called for preparation. Traces of a Lenten like observance begin as early as 140 AD with Saint Irenaeus speaking of a time of forty hour preparation for Easter. The first reference to a forty day preparation occurs with the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. For much of Christianity, the season of Lent was a time of preparation for newly converted Christians to prepare for a glorious baptism on Easter Sunday.  They were known as catechumens – which means to learn the way of Christ – and where we get our word catechism.  (Thank you, Gabe, for the details seen above). The beginning of lent is traditionally marked with Ash Wednesday (tomorrow), a day where we are reminded that we come from dust and return to dust. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of our 40 day period where we as the church have the opportunity to prepare our hearts for our High Holy day of Easter. We can remember, reflect, prepare, and participate through prayer, fasting, worship, disciplines, fellowship, the Eucharist, and a host of other avenues. This season is for the edification of the people of God, for the church to repent of what it has placed in her center and in an intentional way put the work of Christ back where it belongs- in the center. This Lenten season I will be participating in a discipline to help me see what I need to repent of and help me put the work of Christ back where it belongs. I hope you will join me in this journey. Also during this season we will be posting different prayers and lenten reflections, so stay tuned… Until then, feel free to join us at our noon Ash Wednesday service.

Lenten blessings to you all.

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