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Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Inspired by . . . sacrifice

The rising sun and the warmth it brings is my personal benediction and feels a lot like resurrection after a week of sacrifice.

Freezing cold temps, no power, no water. Sleeping on couches, not being able to flush toilets, buy groceries, or wash dishes. Dealing with illness when everything is closed, and it seems like there is no one to help.

The suffering has felt like sacrifice.

But none of this has been by choice. The weather descended in layers of beauty that left tragedy in its wake.

We haven't chosen to go without. To be ill.

Don't get me wrong. The suffering is real and God is there with us in it. Protecting, growing, healing. Because God is both just and merciful, all suffering will be redeemed. But as much as I would like to, I can't count the suffering of the past week, the going without, as sacrifice.

True sacrifice involves choice.

Lent dawned with frigid temperatures and the realization that we faced at least four more days of cold. It was hard to focus on Christ's journey to the cross when we were harvesting snow for water and trying to control a 103.8° fever without the help of a doctor. I was thankful for @briannashowalter 's devotional A Field Guide to the Beatitudes, which reminded me right at the beginning that "humility ushers God's kingdom directly into our lives."

If we're not careful, suffering can make us prideful.

Over the next few days the lack of those things we take for granted; utilities, our favorite foods, good health, kept reminding me of the importance of the liturgy of Lent.

And here is where I stumble with my words. Because I don't believe that there is one way or a right way to "do" Lent.

Jesus chose to die for us. He wasn't a victim of circumstances or of the will of men. He willingly laid down His life.

"Therefore doth My Father love Me, because I lay down My life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of My Father." (John 10:17‭-‬18 KJV)

In a similar way, we make a choice to enter into His suffering. We can't truly enter without repentance: acknowledging that our sin separates us from God, being regretful of our sin, and commiting to change by turning away from our sin into the arms of a loving and forgiving God.

But how we do this is as unique as our personal walk with Him is unique.

It can look like intentionally doing meditative or creative things that bring us into His presence. It can look like intentionally not doing certain things to free up time for prayer, reading scripture, and Lenten devotionals.

Whatever you believe God is leading you to do, or not do, during this season the reward and goal is greater intimacy with Him!

God can and does bless us through worldly suffering. But there is a special blessing that comes from sacrifice.

"But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed."(1Pet 3:14)

Seven days into this year's Lenten journey the sun is high and the temps are climbing back into the 70°s. Even so, I realize I am a long way from the resurrection. Even though I'm physically and emotionally tired and still fighting a head cold, my spirit needs to be reminded of its poverty. I need to experience the liturgy of Lent so that I can fully embrace the JOY of resurrection.

The rhythms of the Church calendar dance in harmony with nature. As life begins again in the darkness and slowly reaches upward toward the warmth and the light, so we move slowly and hesitantly through the days of Lent, up toward Jerusalem, and the final death which gives life eternal.


Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Inspired by . . . the face of Christ

"For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." (2Co 4:6)

One of my Advent readings last year was All Creation Waits by Gayle Boss. Each day, Boss shared about a different creature and how they adapt and wait through the long winter. The black bear wakes up in the spring, a new mother. Unaware that new life began within her and was birthed to her as she slept.

The Northern Cardinal with his bold red suit and pretty mate, who draws our eye so quickly against the winter white or drab brown landscape. Who knew how carefully they calculate their body weight each day. Eating enough to stay alive and warm but not too much, lest they be unable to fly quickly away from danger.

If we have eyes to see and ears to hear, creation speaks loudly of God's invisible attributes. His everlasting power and deity. (Rom 1:18-21)

Creation is a large and necessary part of God's revelation to us. But it is not a complete revelation. The first chapter of Hebrews tells us that Jesus Christ is the embodiment of God's revelation, the stamp of God's very being.

Creation speaks, without words, pointing us to the Creator - Jesus Christ. In Him everything in heaven and on the earth was created, visible and non-visible. (Colossians 1)

Jesus is not a better revelation - He IS the revelation. There is no salvation apart from Christ. (Acts 4:12; Rom 1:16; Eph 2:8-9)

Truly, the things of this earth become strangely dim when we look full on His wonderful face. For the glory of God is revealed in Christ alone.


Sunday, January 31, 2021

Inspired by . . . a second banquet

This past year has been one with many postponements. Many of us have been repeatedly disappointed and disillusioned when things haven't worked out as we hoped. Some of these postponements are and have even been potentially dangerous to you or to those whom you love.

The book of Esther has one big postponement that I've always stumbled over as I've read through the text. Esther's uncle, Mordecai makes it clear that deliverance for the Jews will come no matter what Esther does but that she just might be Queen, "for such a time as this." After prayer and fasting, Esther decides to act. In the famous scene, she approaches the king and he extends his scepter to her, telling her he will grant to her any request, up to half his kingdom. Esther request that he and the evil Haman join her that day at a banquet she has prepared. The king does so in all haste.

Yet, after the feast, "over the wine," when the king asks again what her request of him is, rather than tell him, Esther invites the king and Haman to yet another banquet the next day!

I admit, as the reader, I am impatient with Esther's delay. Perhaps the Jews waiting for deliverance were getting impatient as well. After all, it seems like there is a lot of "banqueting" going on! But when reading the scripture through again this morning, God spoke to my heart.

We don't know why Esther delayed making her request to the king at that first banquet. Perhaps her heart failed her and she needed another night in prayer. This was, after all, no small request. Or perhaps God Himself impressed upon her to delay. The scripture doesn't tell us. But what we do know is that two things happened in between the first banquet and the second banquet.

In Haman's malice toward Mordecai, he had erected gallows, 75ft high. At the same time, the king, who couldn't sleep that night, was reading a chronicle of memorial events and was reminded how Mordecai had saved his life.

Although the book of Esther never mentions God by name, it is easy to see His hand at work in all these things. The next day when Esther finally brings her request to the king, to spare the lives of her and her people, and exposes Haman's role in the plot, the king is so enraged he has to step into the garden to contain himself.

We know how the account ends. Haman is hanged on the very gallows that he set up for Mordecai and Haman's plot against the Jews is thwarted.

In the same way, we may not know or understand why some of the things in our lives are being delayed. In some cases, it may even appear as though the enemy is winning.

But that is not so, Beloved.

God doesn't always clearly stamp His name on everything. It is not always obvious to us that He is at work. This is where our faith comes into play. We trust the Truth, even when we cannot see it. We trust God and the promises He has made to us in the scriptures. We trust that He is working all things together for good... not necessarily what we think of as good, but His good, according to His purposes.

In other words, even if things don't work out the way WE want them to or according to OUR timeline, God is using them to advance His kingdom and His purpose. And as hard as it may be, we can rest solidly in the comfort of this Truth. Because God is for us. He loves us and His ways are always true and right and just.