Posts Tagged ‘Lent’

Here I am in the midst of the Lenten season. I have been reading my Bible, trying to pray, avoiding social media, and really working hard to get myself into a routine that is conducive to good faith practice–that is, I've been working real hard to root our sin and draw closer to Jesus. It is necessary because I know myself and I know when I am off-balance my tendency is to let it affect everything in my life. I can still function, but it is not a robust functioning. It's more like a robotic, going through the motions kind of functioning devoid of joy and verve.

I mentioned in a previous post, Lenten Reflection #6, that I have been reading the Psalms and the Proverbs as part of my Lenten reflection. I learn something new every time I read the Psalms. They are without doubt one of my favorite books of the Bible for reasons I have mentioned elsewhere: they are raw with emotion and powerful naked humanity on display. DA Carson, in his book How Long, O Lord?, writes this about Psalm 6 in particular and the Psalms in general:

It is overwhelmingly important to reflect on the fact that this psalm and dozens of similar ones are included in Scripture. There is no attempt in Scripture to whitewash the anguish of God's people when they undergo suffering. They argue with God, the complain to God, they weep before God. Theirs is not a faith that leads to dry-eyed stoicism, but a faith so robust it wrestles with God.

David…does not display stoic resignation, nor does he betray doubt that God exists. Even when he feels abandoned by God, his sense of isolation issues in an emotional pursuit of the God who, in his view, is slow to answer. (67)

So this morning as I was reading my Psalms for the day and jotting a few thoughts in my journal, it struck me that frequently the Psalmists cry out to God, "How Long, Lord?" Well of course I have know it was there because I have read it before, but for some reason this morning it stood out to me like a rose on a thorn bush.

Psalm 6:1: "My soul is deep in anguish. How long, Lord, How long?"

Psalm 13:1: "How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?"

Psalm 35:17: "How long, Lord, will you look on?"

Psalm 79:5: "How long, Lord? Will you be angry forever? How long will your jealousy burn like fire?"

Psalm 89:46: "How long, Lord? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire?"

Psalm 94:3: "How long, Lord, will the wicked, how long with the wicked be jubilant?"

And if that isn't enough, this is only one way the Psalmists ask where God is at any given moment. Sometimes they are even more to the point, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Psalm 22).

Tough to figure out this God–this God who is 'playing hard to get' (R Mullins). I mean think about it, why would the Psalmist have to cry out, "Answer me when I call to you my righteous God?" (Psalm 4:1) if God is already active in this world and in our lives? Why do we have to ask God to answer us? It almost sounds like a parent scolding a child who stubbornly refuses to answer: Answer me when I am talking to you! The child of course, will not be cajoled into speaking until he is ready to speak and there is nothing the parent can do but wait….wait….wait….

"Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God. Do not forget the helpless." (Psalm 10:12)

I wrote in my journal this morning a few thoughts about this 'How long, Lord?' question I keep seeing in the Psalms. I have to be honest: I find this question the most frustrating of all the questions the Psalmists ask. You know why? Because there is literally nothing I can do to force God's hand or to open his mouth. I can pray. I can sing. I can offer myself daily as a 'living sacrifice'. Nothing. God opens his mouth when he is ready and until then…the righteous, the faithful–whoever they are–wait.

And it get's no better in the New Testament. I recall twice, at least, when I hear this question asked. One indirectly in Acts 1: "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" I take this as an indirect, "How long, Lord? How long?" The other time is more direct and is found in Revelation 6: "They called out in a loud voice, 'How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?'" Wow. Even New Testament people are not answered, always, directly or quickly.

I came to a couple of conclusions in my journal notes.

First, it seems safe to say that the people of God must wait. We wait a lot. I guess, however, that we are willing to wait. We must wait. What else is there to do but hope…and wait? (That's the last line of my favorite book of all time, The Count of Monte Cristo.)

Second, the people of God complain a lot while they wait. I don't see that God anywhere in Scripture ever faults his people for their anxious prayers or the words that make up the prayers. In fact, God seems to desire our prayers.

Third, I'm not sure what God is doing with all those cries. I think about Israel in Egypt for 400 years. Then the writer of the Exodus tells us, almost casually, "The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them" (Exodus 2:23-25). Really? He saw their oppression and looked on them? Meanwhile, Moses had to grow to about 80 years before the prayer was answered.

Fourth, read Hebrews 11. "These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised" (11:39). None of them?!? Seriously? Then in almost the very next breath he writes, "Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith."

Fifth, you ever just get tired of waiting?

This week has been Dr Seuss week at the school–perhaps all across the country. Each day we have been reading different Dr Seuss books and completing little projects to go along with the book. Tomorrow's book is Oh, the Places You'll Go. This is a great book, but for some reason I haven't been able to find my copy so I decided to look up a youtube version and let the kids watch it. I always  preview these things and while watching it after school today, here's what I heard:

And IF you go in, should you turn left or right…
or right-and-three-quarters? Or, maybe, not quite?
Or go around back and sneak in from behind?
Simple it's not, I'm afraid you will find,
for a mind-maker-upper to make up his mind.

You can get so confused
that you'll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles cross weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…

…for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or the waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for the wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.

On the one hand, it seems to be the thing about being a Christian. We spend a lot of time waiting. I don't think I wanted to wake up today and think another minute about waiting. I certainly didn't want to work on a Dr Seuss project this afternoon and think about waiting. I typically hate when Valentine tells her husband at the end of Monte Cristo that we have to 'hope and wait.' I hate waiting. I'm tired of waiting. I wish God would hurry up and make some kind of revelation about what he's doing or going to do or whatever.

On the other hand, we do seem to spend a great deal of our life waiting. Maybe that's because God thinks we need a lot of mid-course corrections. The trick, I think, is to press on through the waiting, through the times when we are seemingly standing still. Maybe when it seems we are standing still is when we are actually making the most forward progress. Maybe.

I don't think waiting is 'wasted space'. Or wasted time, for that matter. Waiting is waiting and we occupy our time with thoughts (think about Hebrews 11 again) and the business of the Kingdom and with creating space for God to move within us. Waiting is a way of unfettering ourselves from all that keeps us moving in the wrong direction. Waiting allows us to re-evauate, re-assess, and re-direct our lives or, better, to allow God to do so.

I don't know who said it or where it came from, but in the front of my Bible I once scribbled these words: Maybe what God is doing in you while you wait is more important than what you are waiting for.

Now, once again, I am undone.

Undone. And waiting.

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In a little book I have called Answering God, author Eugene Peterson writes,

"But the first requirement of language is not to make us nice but accurate. Prayer is not particularly 'nice.' There is a recognition in prayer of the fiercer aspects of God…Psalm language is not careful about offending our sensibilities; its genius is its complete disclosure of the human spirit as it makes response to the revealing God. Given the mess that things are in, it will not be surprising that some unpleasant matters have to be spoken, and spoken in the language of our sin-conditioned humanity, for the language of prayer is, most emphatically, human language. It is not angel talk." (41-42)

Sometimes we simply do not have the words though. Sometimes talking to God is difficult because perhaps we think what we have to say might be offensive or too caustic for God's ears. When I read through the Psalms–or the Bible in general–I am quickly disabused of that idea. Those who pray use real words and often rather salty language. It seems that God's ears are quite accustomed to our complaints and our verbal atrocities. He's been around a while; he can handle it.

But that's not how we pray. It really isn't. I have been involved in the church since I was born. I cannot remember a day when I haven't been involved with the church in some way. And I am one of those people who actually listens to everything that is said in church. I pay close attention because I want to hear the Scripture read and preached, I want to hear the prayers prayed and offered, and I want to hear the Spirit move among God's people. On the other hand, I'm also like Stanley Hauerwas who wrote,

"I do not trust prayer to spontaneity. Most 'spontaneous prayers' turn out, upon analysis, to be anything but spontaneous. Too often they conform to formulaic patterns that include ugly phrases such as, 'Lord, we just ask you…" Such phrases are gestures of false humility, suggesting that God should give us what we want because what we want is not all that much. I prayer that God will save us from 'just.' (Hannah's Child, 255)

Hauerwas goes on to note that because of his fear he took to writing out his prayers. I'm OK with that. Some folks need to do just such a thing. When I was younger I objected to such things, but the older I get and the more cut & paste prayers I hear from people leading worship or in small groups, the more I am fine with the practice. Nevertheless, I think there might also be another solution though and that solution has to do with the Scripture.

Part of the reason I think corporate prayers are so anemic is because our minds have not drank deeply enough of the Scripture to let it saturate the part of our brains that generates language. Or we are simply content with formulating our own nonsense. But if we trust that the Bible is the Word of God then why shouldn't we pray back his words to him? Why shouldn't we remind him of what he said? Why shouldn't we pray the very words he gave us and hurl back to him the words he hurled at us?

I'm not sure why we think our words are better than his words. But to my point: the prayers we offer in public worship, the prayers offered by our leaders (preachers, elders, deacons), those prayers are weak and speak nothing: "Thank you God for this day. We just pray for this or that. Bless the gift and the giver so that your message will go out in this community and around the world. Be with us."

There's nothing wrong with these words at all, but when these words are the meat and substance of our prayers, and when these are the same words repeated time and time again from pulpits and by leaders, it makes me stop and wonder if we are even in tune with what the Bible has to say about the work God has planned for us, through Jesus, in this world? Jesus said that the very gates of hell cannot count an offensive to stop the church or mount a defensive position that the church cannot conquer. Yet our prayers are prayers thanking God for the day. Again, nothing wrong with thanking God for the day, but don't you think our prayers could have a little more urgency? Don't you think our leaders should pray with a bit more expectancy? Don't you think our prayers should have a little more prophecy infused? 

I mean seriously: Why are all those prayers we read in the Bible there in the first place? Are we just supposed to read them? Are they there for decorative purposes? Are they there so we can marvel at how wonderful the saints of old prayed? Or are they there to guide and direct our own prayer life, to give us words to pray, directions for our journey, and/or language to fatten up our prayers? Think about Jesus on the cross and the prayers he prayed. Luke 23:46: "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit" is from Psalm 31:5. Mark 15:34: "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" is a quote from Psalm 22:1. Or think about Stephen in Acts 7 who was stoned to death because of Jesus. He prayed twice during his execution: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit," and "Lord do not hold this sin against them." Well, it seems to me that these are both allusions to the words that Jesus prayed on the cross, words that Jesus quoted from Scripture.

Or think about Revelation 6:10: "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" This was prayed by the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. But here again is my point: How many times in the Older Testament, especially the Psalms, do we see these words or words similar to them? Look at Psalm 13:1, for example. Or Psalm 6:3. Or Habakkuk 1:2 for that matter. The point, of course, is that even these dead saints in Revelation are still praying the Scripture.

This post could go on for a while because I haven't really even laid out all of my reasons for believing these things or the reasons why I think we should pray the Scripture. And by 'pray the Scripture' I do not only mean using the language of Scripture but I mean literally praying through it. That is, opening up a book of the Bible and literally praying it's words back to the Father–kind of like we do when we recite the Lord's prayer. Like I said, this post could go on for a while and I want to end it for now. Suffice it to say, in conclusion, that I think perhaps it would do us well to dig deeper into the Scripture as congregations. Our lives as members of the church should be centered around the Scripture. Scripture should be read frequently from the pulpit. Scripture should be sung. Scripture should be read as part of the worship. Scripture should be prayed. Scripture should be preached. Scripture should be read privately and publicly.

I hear the words of Amos the prophet:

"The days are coming," declares the Lord, "When I will send a famine through the land–not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. People will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it" (8:11-12).

I get this. I think it's going on right now and is evidenced in the prayers we pray.

Several years ago I became rather obsessed with the book in the New Testament we call 'Hebrews.' I don't remember the exact dates off the top of my head, I just remember catching a glimpse of it one day (I think I may have been reading N.T. Wright's book Following Jesus) and then diving in deeper until I absolutely fell in love with the short letter. Aside from those concerning chapter 11, I have heard very few sermons from Hebrews–which is a shame. It's a beautiful book in every way and, in my opinion, not terribly difficult to interpret.

Well, of course there are some parts that are difficult to understand and which might call for some more nuanced explanations, but I think if a person reads the book slowly and looks for some key clues in context (which are rather easy to find in our English Bibles), then the book begins to make sense in every way. And the truth is, I'd love to share that with you and perhaps someday I will. Tonight though I'd just like to focus for a minute on the particular verse that is kind of my theme verse during this Lenten season.

"And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:1b-2)

I kept coming back to this verse today…thinking about Jesus being the author (pioneer; trailblazer) of our faith and why, if this is true, I should 'fix my eyes' on him. Because let's be honest,it's not like I can literally see him no matter how hard I stare and no matter how fixed my eyes become on a particular spot in the sky. It's not that I think Jesus is in the sky, but, well, I guess that's where I have been trained to look for God: up there.

So the questions are something like: How do I fix my eyes on Jesus? and Why do I fix my eyes on Jesus.

I have heard a lot of folks get down on the church or Christianity or even Jesus. They have things to say like, "Oh you are just running away from your problems." Or, "You are just avoiding all the lousy stuff in the world." Stuff like that. But I don't think that's it at all. The book of Hebrews does not say we are running away from anything–but we are running to someone. Just because we are running to someone doesn't mean we are running from anything though. I look at all that went on in the life of Jesus, his apostles, his saints…they were hardly escapists practicing escapism. I think the key is found in the first word of chapter 12: Therefore.

The word 'therefore' follows closely on the heels of everything that was written in the 'great faith chapter', Hebrews 11 which, interestingly enough, begins with a discussion of faith: "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for" (11:1-2). Oh, so faith is being certain of things we do not see…therefore…fix your eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of faith. Faith is not about not seeing, it's about seeing the right things. Faith is not about blindness, it's about being perfectly sighted. Faith is not being oblivious to what we see or endure in this world, it's about being fully aware that this world is not all there is.

Faith is about knowing where to look. Faith is about knowing to whom we look. Faith is about being able to discern who gives us hope and who does not. I find it not one bit ironic or strange that the author of Hebrews then points us to the one place where there is absolutely no historical doubt: Jesus was crucified. Of there there is not one shred of doubt–except from the sort of people who would not have faith anyhow. Yet because of this crucifixion we have faith that sees beyond this culture of death we have created–the world walks hand in hand with the devil who comes to 'kill, steal, and destroy.' Don't mistake it; it's all around us. Yet we are among those who do not fear death, even though we fear it, because we fix our eyes on Jesus.

Like when Stephen was being stoned to death in Acts 7: "Look, I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." That is faith! Faith that sees.

So look at all of chapter 11 and see the sort of trouble all those saints got into precisely because they refused to look anywhere but Jesus. For example, "By faith, Moses, when he had grown up refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy a season of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king's anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible." Amazing…Moses had eyes powerful enough to see someone who is invisible!

Faith isn't about 'blind-leaps'; faith is about being able to see beyond what normal eyes can see. Faith has eyes to see things at a distance and welcome them. Faith has eyes to see a better city, a better land than the one we live in now. Faith has eyes to see beyond the destruction of the flesh. Faith looks forward to a better resurrection. Faith has eyes to see Jesus…even amidst the clutter and culture of death that surround us.

You see, I think what I've been learning is this: it is terribly difficult to go through life with eyes that scatter all around–like Mad-Eye Moody from the Harry Potter books whose crazy eye was constantly zipping this way and that. Life doesn't function so well when that's what we are doing with our eyes. Our eyes need to be fixed on Jesus–the pioneer, trailblazer, architect, author and perfecter of our faith. I think sometimes I work too hard trying to muster up faith and I get discouraged when I fail. I'm always looking around trying to catch a glimpse of what faith looks like, heroic faith, radical faith. And people, some people, make a living telling the rest of us what real faith looks like. And then we try to recreate that faith in ourselves.

We don't need radical faith. We don't need heroic faith. We need Jesus. And if that sounds naive and simple, you're welcome.

I'm tired of tips and techniques for mastering faith. I want simple. I want simply to fix my eyes on Jesus because it seems to me if someone else was able to pioneer and perfect our faith we would have been told to fix our eyes on that person. But the author of Hebrews says we are to fix our eyes on Jesus…who understands the faith he calls us to and will perfect that faith in us…because he too endured the cross. He led the way!! He has blazed the trail he asks us to follow. So even if he calls us to 'take up our cross daily, deny ourselves, and follow him' we know he will not fail…and the faith he creates in us will not either.

It's kind of like taking a business model that works in city A and recreating in city B–which has nothing of the demographic markers that city A has and expecting it to work. Or it's like trying to take a model of church growthism and recreating it in another church in another town and expecting it to work the same wonders. All are doomed to failure. Well, here's the thing: I can neither create nor perfect faith…any faith. I simply cannot be entrusted with such a task. It is, and I am, doomed to failure. And so long as I look to myself or to others or all around that faith is doomed to destruction. Only Jesus can create and perfect the sort of faith that I need in my life…the kind of faith that looks beyond the failures and deaths of this world. This kind of faith, the sort spoken of in chapter 11, is resurrection faith. It's faith in Jesus, who, "shared in [our] humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil–and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death" (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Faith is not perfected by ignoring what's going on around us, but rather by keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus despite all that is going on around us. We fail because we try to create our own faith. We fail because we think we know what faith is and what it looks like. Do we really think self-manufactured faith will be enough to see beyond the deaths of this world? Will our own manufactured faith be enough for us to scorn family like Abraham? Will our own manufactured faith be enough to deny the pleasures of this world like Moses? Will our own manufactured faith be enough to obey God when he asks us to do something ridiculous as he did Noah? Will our own manufactured faith be enough to speak boldly the word of God in the face of death as did the prophets? Will our own manufactured faith be enough to scorn the cross for the joy set before us? Will our own manufactured faith be enough for us to run the race marked out for us?

Do you trust yourself to create and perfect that sort of faith? I don't.

Whatever else this verse teaches me, it teaches me that I absolutely cannot get by a single moment of my life apart from Jesus. And what's more? We fix our eyes on Jesus because…wait for it…because He is our reward…He is the joy set before us….He is the goal of our faith.

And if we fix our eyes on Jesus, then we know exactly where we are going and to whom we are heading. Right? If we are fixed on Jesus, then we have no confusion whatsoever about our path or our destination.

Right?

[Feel free to leave a comment. I'd love to hear from you.]

One of the last acts I performed as a member of Facebook was to follow a link to a blog post and read the blog post. It had something to do with Daniel 11 so I thought this would be a good thing–given that I am currently neck deep in a study of Daniel in preparation for weekly Bible school lessons and, further down the road, teaching it at a small undergraduate college nearby.

Then I got there.

I'm sure the blogger's intentions were good. Maybe not. Personally I think that if a person has to go to that much trouble to understand what Scripture is saying then the person probably has no idea what Scripture is saying. That's my opinion, but I'm pretty sure that the Bible can be understood on its own terms without the help of charts and graphs and overlays and all other such 'helpful' things. Take Daniel 11 for example which should be read closely on the heels of chapter 10 of Daniel.

Chapter 10 is a conversation between Daniel and one who 'looked like a man.' This one strengthens Daniel. Speaks to Daniel. And reveals things to Daniel. Chapter 10 is a prelude to what he says in chapter 11. It may well be helpful when reading Daniel 11 to think in big pictures instead of small pictures…that is, see the forest through the trees. There are trees and if we like it may prove a fun exercise to wander through the woods and attempt to identify all the different species of trees that we see, but there is a bigger picture in chapter 11 that the identity of one small tree cannot overshadow.

The cycle in chapter 11 goes something like this:

  • A king will rise up somewhere in the world.
  • This king will do as he pleases. He or she will do whatever necessary to gain and consolidate power for themselves.
  • This king will wreck the holy people of God.
  • This king will come to an end.

It is there. Over and over again it is there. 11:4. 11:6. 11:17-19. 11:20. 11:24. 11:26-27. 11:45. Everyone of these verses speaks to the downfall of some king who thought he was the cat's meow. Every single verse. Every king who has ever lived, every kingdom ever established on earth–all of them from the greatest to the least–comes to ruin.

It seems to me that this ought to give us pause for more than a moment. It seems to me that our reaction ought to be more in line with that of Daniel who 'trembled', who 'was overcome with anguish because of the vision,' and who 'mourned for three weeks, ate no choice food, drank no wine, and used no lotions.' I'm not sure this is our christian response when we see the world afire. Ours is typically not a response of repentance, but one of indifference. It starts with me.

I repent.

It seems to me it ought to give us pause to think about our own situation here in the United States because many Christians seem to think that somehow or other our kingdom is different. I think this is why we are fond of seeing the trees instead of the forest when we read Daniel. That is, if we can learn the true identity of the 'king of the North,' or the 'king of deception,' or the 'king of the South' as people who lived hundreds or thousands of years ago then, well, think about it: if that is the only thing true about Daniel's prophecy then it must not apply to our kingdom here in the USA, right? I'm sure it's important to know about Antiochus and Alexander and Ptolemy and the rest. That's the trees.

But don't you think it's also important to know who these people are in our world? That's the forest. And it seems to me that it is far more important to see the forest just now than it is to see the trees since, of course, we are living now and not then. Don't you think it is important, right now, today, to understand the fate of every single kingdom that has ever arisen on this earth? Doesn't this help us understand why now, even now, the world is afire with death, destruction, and hatred?

I'm thinking about my allegiance to Jesus. I'm thinking about how being a citizen of the USA affects my counter-cultural identity as a citizen of heaven–a much better country (Hebrews 11:16). I'm thinking that during this Lenten season, I need to reorient my eyes, my mind, and my heart so I will be guided by three passages of Scripture.

First, Hebrews 12:2: "…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." My vision needs to be clarified. My focus needs to be fixed. If the world is afire, I need to have a steady gaze. There is a greater joy than the shame of suffering. Jesus is at the right hand of the throne of God. All the kings of the world will come and go, but Jesus remains. (Which is a key to understand the entire book of Daniel.)

Second, Romans 12:1-2: "Therefore I urge you brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to daily  offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is true worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is–his good, pleasing, and perfect will." My mind needs to be clear and sober. My body needs to be holy and pleasing. If the world is afire, I must be ready to endure. Giving my body and mind to Jesus every day is the best way to be ready.

Third, Mark 8:34-35: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and the gospel will save it." I think we have to make up our minds whether or not we want to be Jesus' disciple. If we want to then Jesus tells us what being a disciple entails. Give up your life. Deny what the world tries to tell us our body needs. Take up your cross–which does not mean to simply endure the burdens and drudgery of life, although it means that as well–taking up your cross means head to Calvary with Jesus. Daily. Make the sacrifice. Daily. Give your life for something more than yourself. Lose your life for Jesus as he gave his life for you.

If the world is afire, I had better make up my mind right now whether or not I want to be Jesus' disciple. And if I want to, then here's what I had best be prepared to do and how I best plan to live. Like Rick said in Sunday evening's episode of The Walking Dead, "we are the walking dead." We are.

So this Lenten season there is a lot of turmoil in the world. There's a lot of death. There's a lot of hatred. Kings are coming; kings are going. Empires are rising; empires are falling. Look at the forest…what looms on the horizon of our own nation? What preparations are you making should this great empire we live in here in the USA be the next kingdom to collapse under the weight of its own hubris?

Fix your eyes.

Offer yourselves.

Die with Jesus.

Daily.

God bless you on your Lenten journey. Come back often for more updates and reflections on this life with Jesus.

Thoughts for Second Sunday in Lent, March 8, 2009

I’m preaching a series of sermons from 1 Corinthians to the church I serve during Lent. We are focusing on the essential and necessary oneness of the church that was forged in the crucifixion of Jesus. Part of the goal of these sermons is to introduce the congregation to some of the history of the so-called Restoration Movement while exploring the basis of our oneness in Christ. ‘We’ have a long history and I thought it would be appropriate to share some of that wonderful history that is so often overlooked when official church history is discussed.

Back in the day, there was a small publication that existed simply called The Plea. It was published in Tennessee by a Christian church and edited by Fred W Smith. I’d like to share a quote with you from the August 1951 editorial. He wrote:

“The Christian world is divided, not simply into congregations of believers for mutual benefit and service, but torn and rent by parties, factions, and schisms which claim exclusive rights to the promises of sacred Scripture. This is the ‘falling away’ which the Apostle Paul referred to in his epistles. (Fred W Smith, The Plea, August 1951, volume 7, #6. p 2)

The Restoration Movement was born out of a desire for Christians of all denominational stripes to recognize that unity has already been forged for us by Christ and that we need to but recognize and maintain it. The ‘founders’ of the movement came from Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist and other denominations. Some were Pentecostal, some were not. Some believed in instrumental music, some did not. Some practiced infant baptism, some did not. Some believe in mission societies, some did not. Some believed in conventions, some did not. Some believed in weekly communion, some did not. Sometimes they got along and worked hard at being one. Other times they failed and became two.

For the most part, I think the Restoration Movement has been a failure, at least in practice. Instead of bringing together the denominations it has, sadly, created yet two or three or four or five or more denominations (depending upon how you count the various churches who claim as their heritage the work of Thomas and Alexander Campbell and Barton W Stone among others). Nevertheless, the ideal still prevails and should be recognized for what it is: A call to recognize what Christ has already declared in Scripture to be true. If we failed in practice, perhaps we haven’t failed in theory. Perhaps the theory is still a good idea. We may not forge it, but we can at least recognize and honor it.

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:3-6, NIV)

Or:

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6, NASB)

So what is our goal? Are we as the people whom Christ has called walking in a manner consistent with our calling? Are we walking with humility, gentleness, patience? Are we showing tolerance in love for one another? Are we making it our ambition, as people of Christ, to preserve or maintain that unity that has been forged for us in Christ and worked out in the Spirit? Are we making it our goal to live in peace with one another? Seriously? We really need to ask ourselves these questions continually.

Are we wise enough to recognize that no matter how many different denominations we create, no matter how many theological systems we construct (all theology is a matter of opinion anyhow), no matter how many blogs we write (each one no doubt claiming exclusive rights (and rightness!) to the interpretation and proclamation of God’s truth!), no matter how much we fight and argue about who is right and who is wrong–at the end of the day: There is ONE body. We cannot change this. Christ has declared it to be so and nothing we can do will alter that declaration. There is ONE body. It is unfortunate that this Biblical fact causes so much upheaval among people. It is even more unfortunate that some have made it their life’s ambition to narrow this field as much as they can and cause as much division as they can in whatever way they can. Our goal, thus, should not be causing so much division that the expanse of the church is narrowed. Our goal should be recognizing and maintaining what Christ Jesus forged in his own blood.

That Body includes people that do not think like I do. That Body includes Democrats and Republicans and maybe even some Libertarians (I jest). That Body includes people who do not take communion every week like I do. That Body includes people who do not believe in a literal 6-Day creation like I do. That Body includes people who immerse as the first act of obedience instead of, as I do, the last act of conversion. That Body includes people who are monergistic and not synergistic like me. That Body includes Calvinists and Arminians and Calminians and Arminiasts. That Body includes pre-millenialists like John MacArthur and amillenialists like me and maybe even post-millenialists and pan-millenialists. That Body includes so-called Emergent types like Rob Bell and so-called hyper-Calvinsts like Mark Driscoll. Believe it or not, that Body even includes some Baptists, Lutherans. Methodists, Catholics, Nazarenes, Church of Christ, Anglicans, and Eastern Orthodox (and others; many others). And so on and so forth. My point is that who can number the Body but Christ? Whose job is it but Christ’s?

Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel. (Revelation 7:4)

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. (Revelation 7:9)

What he heard and saw corresponded in some way. He heard a perfect number; he saw a massive heap. And yet:

And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:10)

They sang together. They worshiped the Lamb as One! Do you see? Do you understand? They had one thing in common and it was Christ Jesus!

Practically speaking, the Restoration Movement was doomed before it started. Who, to be sure, could ever decide what is opinion enough for there to be liberty and what is essential enough for there to be unity? ‘We’ were stumped in those two places before we ever got to the ‘in all things love’ part. Still, I think there is hope and we are not outwitted just yet and I don’t think that our un-oneness has caused the Lord great consternation or upheaval. Could just be that our un-oneness exists also for his glory.

Maybe this is why he specifically told us to Love one another. Maybe this is why he said we are saved by grace. Alone.

“Christianity also is not intolerant because anyone can believe, regardless of race, gender, or social status. No one is excluded. Christianity is the most inclusive and exclusive of all religions. Anyone can believe, but it is only by faith in Jesus Christ that a person is saved. It is that glorious message of salvation through Christ alone that should be our banner and that which unites us. Jesus said, ‘If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to me.” Let our churches [and, I might add, our blogs] be known, then, for their strong and unwavering message about the crucified Christ, the very Son of God.” (Bob Russell & Rick Atchley, Together Again, 53)