Category Archives: Lent

Letting down our defenses

This morning, I led a conversation on the fights that form us as Christians– red versus blue carpet, choir versus praise team, contemporary music versus hymns, offering plate versus Apple pay, suits versus skinny jeans and a t- shirt, 8 a.m. versus 11 a.m. service.  You know, deeply transformative wars for righteousness.  And these fights seemingly go on forever, handed down to each generation because we will surrender NEVER!

But, I think these fights begin within, that they are not fighting words we hear but something more difficult to discern.  Consequently, I invited the group to pray and then to silently read a section of Walter Wangerin’s “In Mirrors,” where he focuses on what shows up of ourselves in the faces of others and especially in the face of Christ.  Afterwards, I invited them to journal about what they were fighting for, fighting about, who they were really fighting with and then to surrender.  I closed this part of our time together with words that I hope will help us discern the fight within and help us let down our defenses:

All that I am striving for, climbing up the ladder and back up the ladder again after getting kicked, shoved, tripped and tricked to go back down the ladder, all that I think I want to have and know I need, all that I should have done and could have done, all that I wanted to be and never was,

I release.

All that I am fighting for, all that I have and want to keep, all that I am afraid to lose, all that I fear is slipping through my fingers,

I surrender.

All that I think I am, all that I want to be, all that I am expected to become and do and say, all of me that gets in the way of God’s will,

I give up.

All that I have a grip on and need to get a grip on, that I hold tightly while it strangely squeezes the life out of me, all that I am afraid to give up, won’t give up on, won’t give an inch on, won’t budge, won’t move,

I let go.

Today, I let down my defenses.  I choose faith and to surrender, to give up, to let go of the fight.  And before I am tempted to reach for it again, take the fight out of me.  This is my prayer.  Amen.

Jesus is still calling us

“… Jesus himself continues to teach us. He has not contracted laryngitis. His voice is not hard to hear. His vocabulary is not difficult to understand. He is the good shepherd, and his sheep do hear his voice. He guides his people. He corrects his people. He forgives his people. He instructs his people. He oversees his people. He empowers his people.”

| Lynda L. Graybeal & Julia L. Roller, Learning from Jesus: A Spiritual Formation Guide

During this season of Lent, we are following in the footsteps of Jesus and in times like these, our footing may seem uncertain. But, we are not on shaky ground. We have a guide and he has been this way before. One foot in front of the other, we must rely on Jesus and trust that he knows the way that we should go. Facing Calvary’s cross, he didn’t turn back and neither should we.

No yellow brick road in either case, the road ahead will cost us something of ourselves. More than giving something up for Lent, we are invited to give in to the spiritual impulse of deep belonging. Keep your chocolate and surrender to a more authentic connection.

This is the time to listen up for the calling of Christ. Jesus is calling us by name, not as individuals but as a body. Author Sarah Young has made popular the phrase turned book title Jesus Calling and he is. Jesus is calling us not just in the pages of hardcover and paperback books, not only in devotionals and on mugs color– coordinated to capitalize on a product. No, Jesus is calling us to come together, to come closer, to come nearer to him to hear what he has to say to us, to direct our path, to give us a vision for the future.

In our world, there is much we could worry about, no end to ruminations of what could go wrong. But, there are also opportunities around every corner to be drawn more fully into fellowship with each other.  Jesus is still calling us. Because he has not lost his voice or his vision for us.

A good death

We are prepared to live and to live life to the fullest.  We are told to push life to the limits, to do and be all that we can be.  We are encouraged to live life in the fast lane because you only live once. “Do it while you can.  Do it while you’re young.  But, by all means, live!”

“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are American ideals and the American way. And our capitalist system has for sale a myriad of ways to express and experience them all.  For monthly installments or a one- time fee, we can describe a period of our lives as a good time “while supplies last.”  But, Jesus makes no such claims.  He guarantees none of these conditions. 

Life with Jesus will involve death and there is no commercial, commercial break or coupon for this.  Because his way is not American or any other.  He says to disciples then and now, “Those who love their life will lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12.25, NRSV).  Jesus does not hide reality from us.  He is not a salesperson but the Savior, “full of grace and truth” (John 1.14).

He does not promise us a good life but he does model a good death.

Give me a sign

See the source image“The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 

| John 2.18, NRSV

No bunny or top hat.  Nothing up his sleeves.  Miracles are not to be confused with magic shows.  Turning water into wine, Jesus has performed his first miracle because his mother tells him to.  In John 2, Mary does not grab Jesus by his ear but she certainly catches the ear of the servants during the wedding at Cana: “Do whatever he tells you.”

And no one questions her authority.  Jesus is the Messiah and still, his mother knows best.

After partly catering a wedding, Jesus cleanses the temple. From filling to emptying, Jesus moves from celebration to chastisement.  From wedding to whipping, Jesus drives the point home: We are not in control, not in charge, not in possession of what we hold and hold dear.  Jesus can change things in an instant.  Only he is constant and consistent.

Still, we petition, “Show me a sign.”  The limitations of our eyes prove obvious in the face of the future.  The present has its challenges; our flesh has its limitations.  This is most obvious when in crisis and even in the presence of Christ.

“We’ll believe it when we see it.”  It is a glaring contradiction for a faith that espouses, “We walk by faith and not by sight” (Second Corinthians 5.7).  Maybe this is why the Israelites wandered for so long.  If only we were satisfied with the presence of God and not enamored more with the signs.  Giver or gift, we want the presents.  Savior or signs, we sit for the magic show rather than follow him.

Follow Me

See the source image

“We begin our Lenten journey addressed by the remarkable assurance that the God who summons us in is the God who goes along with us.”

| Walter Brueggeman, A Way Other Than Our Own: Devotions for Lent

Where is Jesus going?  To the cross.  We know the way that he must take.  We are so familiar with his steps to Calvary that we dismissed them as if three steps to salvation or seven steps to a sin- free life or twelve steps to get out of hell.  Capitalism has fooled us and commercialized the cost of discipleship.

Attending church regularly does not school us.  Sitting in a pew is not to be confused with sitting at Christ’s feet.  “Learn of me.  Don’t simply meet to talk about me as if I am not in the room: ‘Did you hear what Jesus did?’  Take up your cross and follow me.  If everyday you are going the same way, talking to, learning from and helping the same people, you’ve lost me.”  We’ve got to keep up.  We must stay close.  We cannot lose sight of him.  “Wait, Jesus!  I’m coming.”

Because it is not only easy but tempting to lose him.  Because knowing the way and going his way are two very different things.  Because it is easier to point the finger and say, “This way” than to actually submit to be pinned down to his way: the cross.

Where is Jesus going?  He knows the way and still we are called to follow.  No easy way and no way out, he wants us by his side, sharing in his suffering and his cross.  One foot in front of the other, we climb Calvary’s hill together.

We know the way that he must take.  Knowing is the painless part.  No blood, no sweat, no tears, right?  “I can agree to that.  I can go along with that.”  But if following Jesus is so simple, then why are we not closer to him?  If following Jesus is so easy, then why are we not farther along?  If we are so familiar with his steps, why do we struggle to find our footing?  When Jesus says, “Follow me,” we raise our hands.  But, what follows this confession is even more telling.