Monday, April 22—Saturday, April 27

Easter is not an event that we celebrate one day of the year. It’s a season. “Eastertide” lasts fifty days—from Easter Sunday to Pentecost Sunday. (But really, Christians have fifty-two Easters every year. The reason we gather on the first day of each week is to celebrate what happened on the first day of the week after Jesus’ death.) So, we begin Eastertide by focusing on that great and marvelous mystery that we call the resurrection.

 

Monday, April 22

Read: 1 Corinthians 15:3-8

Consider: Paul’s description of himself in 1 Corinthians 15:8 has been translated in various ways. The NIV uses the phrase, “one abnormally born,” while the NASB reads, “one untimely born” (15:8). Paul seemed to be saying that even though he did not see Jesus in the flesh, and was not one of the twelve disciples, he nevertheless viewed himself as an apostle.

In the decades following Christ’s time on earth, those who had seen him, walked with him and ministered with him were called apostles. But Paul also took that designation as can be seen in the opening words of his letters.

Perhaps Paul’s “untimely born” comment simply meant that his birth placed him in the wrong place at the wrong time to be considered an apostle by others. Perhaps it was that his new birth took place too late for him to interact with the Nazarene as Peter and Andrew had. Regardless, Paul knew that he had seen Jesus. He knew he had a personal encounter with the risen Christ.

“…he was raised on the third day…and…he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time…then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also…” (1 Corinthians 15:4-8)

“He appeared to me also”—what a powerful statement! I love Paul’s attitude. We do not hear him lament that he did not get to go to the empty tomb. We do not hear him wish that he had been behind the closed doors when Jesus appeared to the disciples. Rather, we hear him rejoice at his encounter with the risen Christ. And to him, that encounter was no less meaningful than the experiences of those who saw Jesus in the flesh.

In the days to come, we’ll remember those people who saw Jesus after his horrendous crucifixion. And we may be tempted to think that those are the people who could really embrace the resurrection. But, like Paul, we who were born too late, are not really late at all. With Paul, each one of us can proclaim, with joy and amazement, that “he appeared to me also.”

Pray: Thank the Lord that his presence is not dependent on time or place. He is with you right now. Praise him that today you can see and know our risen Lord!

 

Tuesday, April 23

Read: 1 Corinthians 15:1-22

Consider: At the outset of Paul’s teaching on the resurrection, he gives us a remarkable fact. Jesus “appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time” (15: 6). Apparently, Jesus did some preaching after his resurrection.

Somehow, through biblically themed movies or other stories about Christ’s passion, we tend to get the impression that after his resurrection, Jesus was only seen by his disciples, and that they only saw him for a few moments. But the picture we get from the New Testament is much different. Jesus was seen by hundreds of people. They saw him, heard him, touched him and believed him.

Later in Paul’s life, he found himself on trial before King Agrippa. At that hearing Paul shared his story. He told about how he persecuted the Nazarenes until he encountered Christ on the Damascus Road. And then Paul discussed that thing that he was called to proclaim—the resurrection.

“At this point Festus (one of the rulers at the hearing with the king) interrupted Paul’s defense. ‘You are out of your mind, Paul!’ he shouted. ‘Your great learning is driving you insane.’ (Acts 26:24)

This was not the only time that Paul’s sanity was questioned. When you go around proclaiming that a dead man came to life, people don’t want to take you seriously. But Paul knew that evidence had leaked out. He knew that hundreds had seen Jesus. I love his response…

“I am not insane, most excellent Festus. What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner.” (Acts 26:25-26)

There was a lot of spin going on after Jesus’ resurrection. The chief priests and elders paid a hefty sum of money to the soldiers who were at the tomb. They bribed them to say that the disciples had come during the night and stolen Jesus’ body (Matthew 28:12-13). The Gnostics would later say that the resurrection was not a real, physical event because Jesus was not truly a man. Others claimed that Jesus never actually died. He was simply wounded on the cross and later gained back his strength and health. But throughout all the spin, Paul was convinced that even unbelievers were grappling with this thing, “because it was not done in a corner.”

All of us—believers and unbelievers—are confronted with the resurrection. But it’s not simply a matter of whether we believe it happened. The resurrection presents a host of questions. How does it shape our view of God and creation? What does it say about death? What does it mean day by day, as each one of us live through joy and sorrow, courage and fear, loss and gain?

Of course, answers do not come fast or easy. Our lives are given to us by Christ’s resurrection, so we spend our lives discovering his life in us and our lives in him.

Pray: Thank the Lord for the resurrection that resonated down through history. Praise him that history—including your own history—is still being written by that amazing event.

 

Wednesday, April 24

Read: 1 Corinthians 15:50-58

Consider: There are so many questions that swirl around the resurrection—that is, the resurrection that is yet to come. Different images are used throughout the Bible. We all want to know what heaven is and what life will be like after we die.

The Bible speaks about a restored creation—a new earth and new bodies. Paul talked about those new bodies. He called them “heavenly bodies” or a “spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:40, 44).

People have often misconstrued Paul’s words — “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” — to mean that we will ultimately be disembodied spirits living in a mysterious, non-physical realm. No, Christianity doesn’t teach the escape of the soul to a hidden place. We believe in the resurrection of the dead.

And Paul’s words, along with those of the other New Testament writers, affirm that Jesus will return. He’s not snatching us away to heaven. He’s coming back to again bring heaven to earth, for, heaven is the presence of Christ.

Paul is very specific that Christ’s resurrection makes our resurrection a reality…

“Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:57)

Because resurrection has taken place, and because it will take place, we always have hope.

“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Pray: Thank the Lord that, because of the resurrection that has taken place and the resurrection that is yet to come, you never have to live a moment of your life without hope.

 

Thursday, April 25

Read: John 20:19-21

Consider: It is difficult for us to imagine the emotional journey taken by Jesus’ disciples in the final days and hours of Christ’s life. If any of us had witnessed a crucifixion—even the crucifixion of a complete stranger—we would have been deeply traumatized. But these men had seen their leader, mentor and brother—their hope—mercilessly tortured and executed.

It seems natural, then, that Jesus’ first words to them following his resurrection were…

“Peace be with you!” (John 20:19)

I think that sometimes we look for peace, freedom, joy and hope as if they were individual “things” to be grasped. There are times of great stress in our lives when we yearn for peace. There are times when we crave freedom and joy. But to isolate them as distinct needs is the wrong approach. I believe they come in a bundle. Perhaps a better way to say it is that they are inseparable.

Jesus gave them words of peace as his presence gave them hope. They could be freed from fear because he was with them. And all of this was the result of his love for them. We should not look for hope and peace as though they were commodities that Jesus dispenses. We should simply look to him.

“He himself is our peace…” (Ephesians 2:14)

“…Christ Jesus our hope…” (1 Timothy 1:1)

“…where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17)

“God is love.” (1 John 4:16)

All we really need to find is the risen Lord.

Pray: “Lord, it is so easy for me to grasp at peace or joy rather than practicing your presence throughout my day. Teach me how to live in a constant awareness that you are with me. As I experience you, I will thank you for what you bring — ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness’ (Galatians 5:22). But I will remember this day that, though you bring beautiful gifts, you are the gift.”

 

Friday, April 26

Read: John 20:19-22

Consider: There was something strange and beautiful that took place when Jesus appeared to his disciples behind those closed doors. He “breathed on them” and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (20:22).

That Greek verb that John used — “breathed on them” — is found only once in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. (That translation is called the Septuagint and is the translation of the Old Testament that Jesus’ disciples knew.) We find it in Genesis 2:7 where…

“…the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”

Remember, Christ was not only present at creation, he was one with the Father, making him the Creator. Here is what John and Paul said about Christ the Creator…

“Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” (John 1:3)

“For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…all things have been created through him and for him.” (Colossians 1:16)

And so, Christ breathed into Adam—that is, he breathed into humankind—the Spirit of God. I believe this is the meaning of being created in the image of God. And then, after his resurrection, he did again, this time to his disciples who were cowering in fear, behind locked doors.

By this act Jesus shows us that resurrection is a second creation—the new creation. We are a new creation in Christ and someday we will see all of creation raised up when he proclaims…

“I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:5)

Pray: “Lord, your word says that ‘if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!’ (2 Corinthians 5:17). I thank you that today I can walk in newness of life. The resurrection—the new creation—is a reality in me and I plan to live this day in the light of that reality.”

 

Saturday, April 27

Read: Luke 24:36-48

Consider: Christianity is not based on a concept. Many religions are. They have a central teaching that is not connected to time or space. For example, the ancient Greek philosophers (who worshipped multiple gods) spoke about the ascendancy of the mind or the spirit. They saw the body as being something to be transcended. These are conceptual religious teachings.

But the faith of Christianity is not based on an idea. Our faith is based on an event. The life, death and resurrection of God-in-the-flesh, Jesus Christ, is the basis of who we are, what we do, and how we live. That is why we work so hard to remember.

We celebrate Advent and Christmas every year so that we can remember that God became a man.

We live the reality of Lent, Good Friday and Easter every year so that we can remember that Christ suffered, died and rose again.

We break the bread and take the cup to remember that Christ’s body was broken, and his blood was shed on our behalf.

We baptize believers to remember that we are buried and raised with him.

That is why Christians can join hands even though we may disagree over many concepts and ideas. We can transcend theological and political differences. We can span the gulf between cultures and races. We can do this because our trust is not in our own wisdom or our ability to comprehend abstract philosophies. We don’t manufacture an intricate belief system and try to align others to it. Rather, “we preach Christ crucified” and resurrected (1 Corinthians 1:23).

That is why it was so important to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to simply tell us what had happened. They didn’t tell us their opinions on the origins of the universe. They led us to the maker of the universe who made a way for us to know him and live in him. They are like Andrew, one of the first disciples. When Andrew met Jesus, he ran to his brother, Simon, and said, “We have found the Christ” (John 1:41).

Pray: Thank the Lord that you heard the Jesus story. For it is in following him that we find God and discover life.

Holy Week

This week—Holy Week, or sometimes called Passion Week—we’ll look at the events of each day between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday as recorded in Mark’s gospel. You’ll do more scripture reading this week than usual. Most of the passages are longer than the meditations.

The accounts of Tuesday, Thursday and Friday are long, but since they are narratives, they read quickly (and on the audio versions, I’ve shortened the readings). Tuesday has a lot of content and teaching, so you may want to mark that passage—Mark 11:20-13:37—and linger there later when you have plenty of time. This week it will be good to get an overview of all that transpired in those final days and to see the impact on our world and in our lives.

 

Monday, April 15

Read: Mark 11:12-19

Consider: It was the day after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He came into the city on a colt—mocking the displays of power the Roman officials used when they came into town. Instead of raised swords, palm branches were lifted high. Instead of homage paid to Caesar, the crowd shouted, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (11:9). Jesus was proclaiming a new kingdom that is unlike any other kingdom.

This new kingdom would redefine everything, including strength. Strength would no longer be found in coercion, but in love—self-giving love.

Along with a new view of power, came a new view of God and how we interact with him. Religious observances would be turned upside down. And that’s exactly what happened when Jesus entered the Temple. He overturned the tables of the money changers who were robbing the people as they exchanged common currency for Temple currency. He scattered the assets of those who were selling animals to sacrifice. The religious leaders thought he was desecrating the Temple, but he was showing that their use of it revealed a total perversion of the faith. Religion—just like government—was being used to oppress people rather than to liberate them.

They had built a religious system wherein you paid for your righteousness. But that’s not what Jesus desired for his people. He entered the place of worship as though it was his Father’s house. Quoting the prophet Isaiah, he said…

“Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’?” (11:17).

All nations! Christ would move worship of Yahweh beyond the confines of Judaism so that the original promise to Abraham would come true, that “all nations on earth will be blessed” (Genesis 18:18).

Christ himself is that blessing that was promised. Because of what Jesus was about to do, the very life of God is available to all. If we miss that point, we’ll miss the good news. And Jesus was emphatic that the good news was for everyone — “all nations” and all people. Including you and me.

For Christians, this week will include a lot of extra activities. Maundy Thursday services, Good Friday observances, vigils, and, of course, Easter celebrations will mark this amazing week. But in these “temple” events, it is important that we do not reduce them to mere religious exercises. Our faith is not a duty. It is the liberation of the world.

Pray: Thank the Lord that “whoever places faith in him, shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

 

Tuesday, April 16

Read: Mark 11:20-13:37

Consider: Within this passage lies the essence of the gospel. What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? What does it mean to follow in his footsteps? The answer came in response to a question that was asked of Jesus — “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” (12:28).

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this…‘love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (12:29-31)

Once in Matthew’s gospel Jesus shared this truth and followed it by saying, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:40). That phrase, “the Law and the Prophets” was another way of saying “the entire word of God.” It was a phrase they used to describe their Bible (what we call the Old Testament). In other words, Jesus was saying that you can sum up all the commandments of the Bible in these two mandates—love God with your whole being and love your neighbor as yourself. If we keep those two commandments, we are fulfilling God’s intent for our lives and our world.

It’s strange that, for many Christians, this takes a back seat. They put so much emphasis on correct doctrines and right beliefs, that they miss the point. If our beliefs allow us to despise others, we’re not walking with Jesus. We may be talking about him, but we’re not allowing his life to flow through us.

One of the men who heard Jesus answer that question—who heard Jesus explain what is most important—would later write these words…

“God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” (1 John 4:16)

Pray: “Lord, I can’t love like you love without the presence of your Spirit in my life. I open myself to you. I want your Spirit to live in me and to teach me—day by day and step by step—how to love.”

 

Wednesday, April 17

Read: Mark 14:1-11

Consider: This simple act, by a woman we know little about, is recorded in Mark’s gospel as something of great importance. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, wherever the good news is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her” (14:9).

Along the journey to Jerusalem Jesus had been telling his followers about his impending death and resurrection. They had not been ready to accept it. In fact, they rejected it. At one point “Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things” (Mark 8:32). But here we have a woman who had somehow grasped what Jesus was about to do. Jesus said, “She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial” (14:8).

Some have called this woman the first Christian. She was the first one to accept Jesus’ offering of himself on the cross.

What does it mean for you and me today to accept the cross? How do we live out Jesus’ death and resurrection?

We must learn from this woman’s gesture and from Peter’s misunderstanding, that the ways of Jesus are not like our ways. Will we be like the disciples who tried to get Jesus to act according to their values? Or will we hear what Jesus has been trying to tell us along the journey to Jerusalem? The Kingdom of Heaven comes by way of self-giving love—by way of the cross.

Pray: Thank the Lord for the cross. Ask him to help you understand it at a deeper level throughout this special week. Pray that you might grasp it in your spirit, rather than trying to know it by your intellect alone. Ask him to help you have the spirit of this woman about whom Jesus said, “She has done a beautiful thing” (14:6).

 

Thursday, April 18 — Maundy Thursday*

Read: Mark 14:12-72

Consider: In Jesus’ time of greatest spiritual and emotional agony, he fell to the ground and cried out, “Abba Father” (14:36). The New Testament was written in Greek, but here Mark makes a special note of an Aramaic word that Jesus used—Abba. This is a very special term. It is a word for “Father,” but it goes far beyond that word. It is a term of endearment and intimacy. Young Hebrew children use it in the same way that English speaking children use the term, “daddy.” It is about loving and trusting the one who is closest to you.

How would it impact our lives if, at our times of greatest pain, we had complete trust in Abba? It would empower us to say to him what Jesus said — “I want your will to be done, not mine” (14:36).

Pray: Thank your Heavenly Father that you can trust his love, even when you can’t understand his ways. Ask him to help you trust him more. Today you may want to start a practice of addressing him from time to time as “Abba.”

*A note about Maundy ThursdayMaundy is a form of the Latin word, mandatum, which means “mandate” or “command.” We call this day Maundy Thursday, because on that evening, before his arrest, Jesus gave us his mandate…

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34)

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12-13)

 

Friday, April 19 — Good Friday

Read: Mark 15:1-47

Consider: All four of our gospel writers—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—describe Jesus’ encounter with Pontius Pilate, and Pilate’s question, “Are you the king of the Jews?” In John’s account, we hear Jesus reply, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).

It’s important for us to understand what Jesus was saying to Pilate. Many have thought that “not of this world” meant that Jesus’ kingdom is only spiritual in nature and is not concerned with the physical world in which we live. Many have taken this as an admonition to live only for a world to come and to ignore the great needs all around us. But in the original language of the New Testament, the word that is often translated “of” (ek), can also mean “from,” as it should be interpreted here. Jesus was saying that his kingdom did not originate here, but that it was brought here for a purpose. He then went on to say, “my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36).

Remember, Jesus taught us to pray that we—and the world—might recognize its coming…

“Our Father in heaven…your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:9-10)

What a strange story. God became a man. “He humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8). And through that act, followed by his resurrection, he chose to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth. We now live in that kingdom and walk in the values of the King who brought it.

Take some time today—Good Friday—to meditate on the price that Jesus paid for you and me to live with him this very day.

Pray: Thank God that heaven and earth met in Jesus. Thank him that Jesus came to us, bringing heaven—the presence of God—with him. Today we stand in his presence because of what Jesus did on that Friday. Today we live by the values and the hope of the new kingdom.

 

Saturday, April 20

Read: Hebrews 9:1-14 and 10:19-23

Consider: In Mark’s gospel, Saturday is silent. We go from the sealing of the tomb on Friday (15:46-47) to the events of Sunday morning (beginning at 16:1). So, let’s reflect on an important statement that we encountered in yesterday’s scripture reading.

“With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” (Mark 15:37-38)

The curtain of the temple separated us from “the Most Holy Place”—God’s presence. Mark tells us that now, through his death, Jesus has torn the curtain—that thing which represented our inability to approach God. And now, we not only have access to God, but we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body” (Hebrews 10:19-20).

If you see a barrier between you and God, it is an illusion—an illusion of your own making. If there is a wall, it has been built by you, because, through the cross and the empty tomb, the curtain has been ripped and the walls demolished.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

Pray: “Lord, today I enter your presence. I do it with gratitude as I try to comprehend the great price you paid. I do it with confidence, but also with humility, knowing that I don’t deserve what you have done for me. Lord, may I never take for granted the fact that I can live in your presence, that you hear my prayers, and that you are always with me. May I always avail myself of this great gift. Help me to be continually aware of your presence. Thank you for the gift of eternal life that I can experience right now.”

 

Sunday, April 21 — Easter Sunday

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” (Luke 24:1-8)

Lent — Week 5

Monday, April 8

Read: John 2:13-16

Consider: Matthew, Mark and Luke record this event as taking place in the last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry—right after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-17, Luke 19:45-46). John places it much earlier. That has led some scholars to believe that Jesus may have done this more than once. He may have taken this stand in the Temple on two separate trips to Jerusalem. We don’t know for certain. But we do know that Jesus attacked the religious power structure in an unforgettable way.

To say that the Temple was God’s house does not begin to convey what it meant to the nation of Israel. When I was growing up, my parents referred to our church as God’s house. They were trying to teach me reverence for what happened in that place. But I knew it was not literally the place where God lived. Even as a child, I understood that God was not confined to the building where we worshipped.

But to the first century Jews, the concept of the Temple was much different than our idea of a church building. They really believed the Temple to be the dwelling place of God. His presence was there like no other place. Though he transcended time and space, the Temple was the place where you would go to put yourself in physical proximity to God. Jesus called it, “my Father’s house” (John 2:16).

But the system that supported that holy place had been corrupted. Those who administrated the workings of the Temple used it to consolidate their wealth and power. The money changers—who exchanged common currency for Temple currency—and those who sold animals to sacrifice, were ripping off the poor who came to worship. Jesus was infuriated. He said…

“Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of thieves.’” (Mark 11:17, where Jesus was quoting Jeremiah 7:11)

How do we keep our worship pure? How do we keep from allowing the pollutants of our culture to encroach on God’s presence in our lives?

It is important that we come to God in humility. He is to be the object of our worship and not our own agenda or our own needs. Whether in our quiet place at home or in the company of other believers at church, we must never be takers. We are givers—giving God our worship and offering ourselves to him.

We’re often tempted to be shoppers, or consumers, of church. We’re tempted to come for what it will give to us. We want to enjoy the music, the fellowship, the preaching. We want our needs to be met.

Of course, our needs are met in communal worship. With an open heart, we will receive much. But we must enter worship to give. By our presence and by our humility, we give glory and honor to God.

Pray: As you pray today, place thanksgiving at the center of your worship. Declare his glory. Before you ask for daily bread, honor his name. Pray in the manner that Jesus taught us to pray…

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”
(Matthew 6:9-13)

 

Tuesday, April 9

Read: John 2:13-22

Consider: In first century Jewish thought, the Temple was the place where heaven and earth met. God was present with his people in that place. There, divinity and humanity, eternity and time, heaven and earth, came together. That is why it was revered as God’s house.

So, the people were shocked when Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (2:19). They weren’t simply shocked at the outlandish claim that the most amazing structure in the world—which took forty-six years to complete—could be rebuilt in three days. They were shocked at the audacity of Jesus to challenge them to destroy it. Didn’t he get it? Didn’t he know what the Temple was?

Well, yes, he did get it. But they didn’t. They didn’t understand that “the temple he had spoken of was his body” (2:21). They didn’t understand that Jesus is where heaven and earth meet. The divine and the human, eternity and time, heaven and earth met in Jesus, the Christ. The God-man who transcended time, brought the new kingdom to earth. God stood before them, but they didn’t recognize him.

The disciples didn’t even understand. How could they? But later, the truth became clear to them.

“After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.” (2:22)

Pray: “Lord, thank you for bringing heaven to earth. Thank you for coming to our time and space with eternity. Help me today to understand how I live in this new kingdom. Help me to live by eternal values in a world that can’t see you. I want your light to shine through my life this very day.”

 

Wednesday, April 10

Read: 1 Corinthians 6:12-20

Consider: When Paul wrote his letters to the Corinthian believers, he was writing to a troubled church. They were divided, there was great tension among them, and there was awful sin in the church. Paul wrote about what life in Christ is supposed to look like. In the great thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians—Paul’s poem of love—he described God’s intent.

In today’s passage, Paul was addressing sensuous sins—particularly sexual immorality. But there is one important statement there that not only bears on our sexual ethics, but on every aspect of our lives.

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price.” (6:19-20)

Recall our discussion of the last two days. The Temple was where heaven and earth met. But Jesus redefined the Temple. No longer was it a building made of stone and wood and gold and fabric. Now his body was the Temple—the place where God meets humanity and the new kingdom invades the kingdoms of this world (John 2:21).

But now Paul helps us understand another mystery of grace. Now he tells us that “your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19). Yes, you heard that right. It is God’s intent that his Spirit lives in us—individually, and as a community. So now the divine and the human, eternity and time, heaven and earth meet in the people called the Body of Christ—the church.

Ours is a high calling that humbles us and drives us to our knees. God has ordained that the world would see him through us.

Pray: Pray for the church—the church around the world, the persecuted church, and your local manifestation of the church. Pray for God to protect and purify his church. Pray that he will use you to help the church be what he calls it to be.

 

Thursday, April 11

Read: Matthew 21:1-11

Consider: Kings don’t ride donkeys. They ride chariots or magnificent horses. They enter a city dressed in splendor, accompanied by symbols of power. Their troops, fully armed, march in lockstep behind them. They must present an aura of power and invincibility. People must respect them or, at least, fear them. So, they don’t ride donkeys.

So, it must have been strange when the people of the Old Testament heard the Prophet Zechariah’s words…

“Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’” (Matthew 21:5 quoting Zechariah 9:9)

Zechariah went on to say…

“I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war-horses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.” (Zechariah 9:10)

The “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6) had entered the city. But he came to “proclaim peace to the nations” in a manner that was unlike any other king—before or since—has ever done. This is the story of the cross.

The story of the cross is much different from the story of the sword. The people of Jesus’ day could not see that it was God (John 1:1) who was being bludgeoned, tortured and killed by the Roman Empire and the religious establishment. And, to be honest, we have a hard time seeing, too. When push comes to shove, we still want to retreat to the ways of the kingdoms of this world. That is why the days ahead—Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter—are so important. If we miss the cross, we miss the good news.

Pray: “Lord, in the Holy Week that is almost upon us, give me a new perspective on the meaning of the cross. I know that I cannot comprehend it unless I am willing to submit to it. Show me your way and help me to be willing to hear and know and live your truth.”

 

Friday, April 12

Read: Luke 19:36-40

Consider: On Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, he performed miracles and taught about the new kingdom that had arrived. Some recognized who he was. Others did not. The same held true on that day when he entered the city. While some said…

“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” (19:38)

…others said…

“Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” (19:39)

But even among those who hailed him as the Messiah, did they really understand what that meant? Their concept of a king was that of a dictator who ruled by strength. Could they comprehend that the king who rode the donkey would lay strength aside and submit himself to the cross?

“As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you.’” (19:41-44)

Jesus’ words came true in 70 A.D. when the Romans sacked Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple and burned the city to the ground. Jesus saw it coming and said, “If you…had only known on this day what would bring you peace” (19:42). Peace does not come through strength as the world reckons strength. Their decision to use the sword, and the strength of their enemies, destroyed them.

Jesus went to a cross and called his people to conquer in the manner that he did, not in the ways of the world. When we can’t see that, he weeps over us and says, “If you only knew…”

Pray: “Lord, you ache when we refuse to listen and hear your truth. I humble myself before you, to listen—and to hear—no matter what you tell me about the cross and what it means for me today. Thank you for your heart. Thank you for your grace. Thank you that you didn’t kill for us. You died for us.”

 

Saturday, April 13

Read: John 12:12-19

Consider: We commonly refer to Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem as “The Triumphal Entry.” But what may be more accurate is to refer to it as the “Anti-triumphal Entry.”

The people of that day were accustomed to triumphal entries. That is what the Roman generals would do after battles they had won. They would ride into town trumpeting their victories, displaying the spoils of war, and pulling behind them the conquered people who were now their slaves.

It was about this time of the year that Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator of Jerusalem, would ride into town to display his might and to warn people that they would be crushed if they opposed him. It was a way of keeping the peace during the Jewish festivals—in this case, Passover.

Jesus rode into Jerusalem from the other direction—the opposite side of town from which Pilate would enter. He came on an undersized donkey, rather than a great horse. Instead of the swords and spears thrust in the air by Pilate’s entourage, the people around Jesus raised palm branches. Some scholars believe that Jesus was lampooning the pomp and so-called strength of the Roman Empire. It makes sense. The word teaches us the folly of the kingdoms of this world.

“The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One…. The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.” (Psalm 2:2, 4)

“And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Colossians 2:15)

When it was happening, it was difficult to comprehend. In John’s account of Palm Sunday, he tells us that “At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him” (John 12:16).

On our side of Good Friday and Easter, we have a clearer picture—much clearer than those disciples could have had on that first Palm Sunday. Yet we still need to submit our understanding to Christ. It still goes against our grain to believe that he conquered by suffering and that he won by dying. We are still prone to believe in the kingdoms of this world. We must constantly let Christ re-orient our minds to the reality of the New Kingdom. And we need to be willing to conquer by suffering with him.

Pray:“Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” (Psalm 25:4-5)

Lent — Week 4

Monday, April 1

Read: Matthew 3:13-4:1

Consider: “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert…” (4:1). As we walk this journey with Christ, there will be times—whether by way of unexpected circumstances or by the hand of God—when we are led into the desert.

The desert is a metaphor for the dry, barren seasons of our lives. As Christ-followers, we have times of spiritual abundance, when we seem to be overflowing with blessings, joy and peace. But we also experience times of great struggle. In these desert experiences, it is often difficult to see God or to sense his presence in our lives. Our prayers seem like mere words rather than connections with the Almighty. Our doubts creep in on us, making us wonder if our relationships with Christ are real. Even when we don’t doubt the reality of God, we’re tempted to doubt that we have a place in his plan. And that’s one of the realities of the desert—temptation. We experience something akin to what Jesus experienced when he “was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil,” and there “the tempter came to him” (4:1, 3).

What are your greatest temptations when you are in the desert? Some common ones are…

The temptation to look for the quick fix to a problem, rather than allowing God to do his work in you.

The temptation to doubt God’s care, his will for your life, his work in your life and your ability to hear his voice.

The temptation to run from the desert, rather than looking for God in the desert.

Matthew tells us that Jesus was in the desert for forty days. “Forty days” is a biblical figure of speech for what seems like a long, long period of time. Much like we colloquially use the word “million” (as in, “I’ve told you a million times”) to describe an exhaustive thing, so the “forty days” was an apt description of desert dwelling. When we’re in the desert, it seems like there is no end in sight.

But there is. The desert is not our permanent home and we are not left alone—no matter how it feels—when we wander through the arid landscape of doubt.

Pray: “Lord, when I cannot see your face or discern your ways, help me to trust your heart. While your presence eludes me on an emotional level, help my faith to sustain me in knowing that you are always with me.”

 

Tuesday, April 2

Read: 1 Kings 19:1-12

Consider: Elijah made a statement that makes us smile. We don’t smile because it’s funny. It’s not. It’s an expression of despair. We smile, knowingly, because we have all felt the way Elijah did when he said, “I have had enough, Lord” (19:4). And some among us have even known the depth of Elijah’s pain in that Judean desert—a pain so great that he “prayed that he might die” (19:4).

What is amazing about Elijah’s desert experience is that it came on the heels of his greatest victories. Read the eighteenth chapter of 1 Kings and there you will find a powerful man being used by God in the performance of two tremendous miracles. Elijah was literally on top of the mountain, seeing God’s work in a way that few people ever have or ever will.

But it doesn’t take long to go from the mountain to the desert. As we saw yesterday, Jesus’ baptism, accompanied by the opening of the heavens and the proclamation of his calling, was immediately followed by a desert experience and the temptations it brought.

Perhaps that is why the desert feels so barren. When we have experienced the joy and fullness of relationship with Jesus Christ, we can feel so empty when it seems to be gone. But that is the point. It feels barren. It feels empty. But the desert is a place where we cannot fully trust our emotions. We must rely on our faith in the one who said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

Sometimes the desert teaches us—and even forces us—to listen for God in ways we never have before.

“Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.” (1 Kings 19:11-12)

Pray: Ask the Lord to help you to find him in the desert. That means offering him a humble, teachable spirit, along with the courage and patience to listen for the gentle whisper.

 

Wednesday, April 3

Read: Psalm 63:1-8

Consider: Psalm 63 is preceded by a note indicating that this is a psalm written by David when he was in the desert of Judah. This desert psalm, however, does not have the angst that we heard yesterday from Elijah when he was in the desert. In fact, it sounds like a song of praise.

“O God, you are my God…” (63:1)

“Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.” (63:3-4)

“My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.” (63:5)

None of the “I have had enough, Lord” (1 Kings 19:4) that came from the lips of Elijah. What gives?

There are two different concepts of the desert that impact our Christian lives. We have spent a couple of days speaking about the barren, parched experience, when God feels far away, and we are struggling to survive the spiritual drought. But the desert is also seen as a place to escape to—a place we go, so that we can hear God’s voice. Christian history teaches us about the Desert Fathers and Mothers—contemplatives who intentionally spent a great amount of time in the desert, away from life’s distractions, to listen to God.

Sometimes we find ourselves in the desert, going through an arid place in our spiritual journey. Other times, we flee to the desert to be alone, focus our lives, and hear from God. And sometimes we experience both at the same time. We find ourselves in a barren place, but we embrace the experience by seeking and finding God in that place. Then, whether we speak in the present tense or we speak in hope of what is to come, we can say…

“My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.” (63:5)

And at this present moment, by faith, we can proclaim…

“Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live…” (63:3-4)

Pray: “Lord, even if I can’t praise you for the desert, I will praise you in the desert. Thank you that what feels like a barren wasteland is, in fact, holy ground, even though I may not be able to see that right now. Thank you for the hope that ‘My soul will be satisfied.’

 

Thursday, April 4

Read: Leviticus 25:8-13

Consider: Jubilee means you get to go home.

“…each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan…in this Year of Jubilee everyone is to return to their own property.” (25:10, 13)

So, what exactly is the Year of Jubilee? Well, when we see what God had in mind for the nation of Israel, it is almost too good to be true.

We know that, in the course of human affairs, tragic events can lead to generations of misery. People are plunged into poverty. They lose their land and their homes. In ancient times, people would often have to sell themselves as slaves or indentured servants just to feed their families. This meant that generation after generation would suffer because they were born into poverty or slavery and had no opportunity to escape their oppression. Of course, that was not God’s intention. He wanted his people to be free.

So, every fiftieth year was proclaimed the Year of Jubilee. All debts were cancelled. All slaves were set free. Everyone returned to their family home. It was a new beginning. Jubilee meant forgiveness and freedom.

When Jesus announced his mission on earth, he read from the prophet Isaiah…

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

What did Jesus mean by “the year of the Lord’s favor”? He was referring to the Year of Jubilee. But this new Jubilee is different. It isn’t something that only takes place twice in a century. No, the cancelling of debts, the liberation of the enslaved and the invitation to come home is now an ongoing reality because, Jesus said…

“Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)

The year of the Lord’s favor has come because Jesus is our Jubilee.

Pray: “Lord, it is almost too good to be true. You forgive, liberate and grant us a new beginning. Today we celebrate this new life that we’ve been given. Thank you.”

 

Friday, April 5

Read: Luke 4:16-30

Consider: Jesus proclaimed that a new world had come with the Messiah. The Kingdom of Heaven is not a territory, like the kingdoms of this world. No, this new kingdom is the presence of the King. So “the year of the Lord’s favor”—the Year of Jubilee—had come. It was “fulfilled” before their very eyes (4:21).

It should have been a time for rejoicing. (See yesterday’s meditation on the meaning of Jubilee.) If those people in the Nazareth synagogue would have accepted their freedom, they would have entered a new reality—a new way of life.

But there was a problem. They wanted freedom for themselves, but not for their enemies. They wanted their debts to be cancelled, but they wanted their enemies to pay.

When Jesus first entered the synagogue, Luke noted that “everyone praised him.” And after he taught, all of them “spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips” (4:15, 22). That is, until his words were gracious toward those that they did not feel were worthy of God’s grace. After Jesus talked about how God blessed foreigners and enemies (a widow in Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian), they assaulted him with the intent to take his life.

They had forgotten the original promise that God gave to their father, Abraham. God had said that “all nations on earth will be blessed through him” (Genesis 18:18). All nations. All people.

Lent reminds us of grace. And the more we grasp the grace that is given to us, the more we are compelled in our spirits to be people of grace. If it’s not good news for all, it’s not good news at all.

Pray: “Lord, may your grace be evident in my life and through my life. I pray that people will experience your love through my words and actions this day. Make my arms like yours—open to everyone.”

 

Saturday, April 6

Read: Matthew 6:9-15

Consider: For most of us, The Lord’s Prayer has been committed to memory through repetition. We’ve heard it and prayed it repeatedly in church. I always smile on the inside when I’m in an ecumenical gathering and we pray that prayer. Everyone seems to do alright, until we get to the part about forgiveness. Then nobody in the room is quite sure whether to say, “Forgive us our trespasses” or “Forgive us our debts.”

When I lead it, I like to use the phrase from Luke’s rendering of the prayer — “Forgive us our sins…” (Luke 11:4). That is the forgiveness that Jesus was addressing, for even in Matthew’s account Jesus ends the prayer by talking about God’s forgiveness of our sins and our forgiveness of others.

But there is a reason that in Matthew we read, “Forgive us our debts.” There Jesus was making a reference to the Year of Jubilee—that time when debts are cancelled.

As you’ll recall, the Year of Jubilee was a time when all debts were cancelled, all slaves were set free and everyone was allowed to return to their homes, no matter what circumstances had caused them to lose their homes.

As Jesus prayed, he referred to sin as a “debt” to remind us that just as we are recipients of Jubilee, we are also to be givers of Jubilee — “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” We forgive as we have been forgiven. We set others free as we have been set free. We cancel wrongs committed against us as our debts have also been cancelled.

So, we see that when Jesus set forth his mission in that synagogue in Nazareth, he was also describing our mission. Read that statement again, replacing Jesus’ “me” with “us”…

“The Spirit of the Lord is on us, because he has anointed us to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent us to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”—to proclaim Jubilee! (Luke 4:18-19)

Pray: “Lord, I’m honored to be part of your body—the Body of Christ on earth. Help me to discover my gifts and my place in your body. I want to use my life and my resources to fulfill the high calling you have given to us. Thank you for including me!”

Lent — Week 3

Monday, March 25

Read: Mark 10:35-40

Consider: “Be careful what you ask for.” That’s a common statement we use when we speak about a certain kind of arrogance mixed with ignorance. It’s the arrogance that claims to know what it does not know, and yet is too ignorant to know that it does not know.

James and John were Zebedee’s sons, but Jesus liked to call them the “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17). They came to Jesus with the request that they be given places of honor in Jesus’ new kingdom. Jesus was pretty straightforward with them. He said, “You don’t know what you are asking” (10:38). And then he asked them a question…

“Can you drink the cup I drink?” (10:38)

Their naiveté was evident in their bold assertion. “We can,” they answered.

Oh, if the Sons of Thunder could only have seen the future. If, at that moment, they could have known that, in intense agony, Jesus would plead to the Father saying, “if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me” (26:39). Perhaps then they would have understood the nature of their selfish and misguided ambitions and would not have been so confident in their ability to drink his cup.

Jesus didn’t chide them, but he told them something they could not understand in that moment. It was a statement they would certainly look back on with wisdom born of experience and tragedy. He said…

“You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with…” (10:39)

That was a statement of love and affection. Jesus was telling them that he had called them to be like him—in his suffering, death and resurrection. He was assuring them that they would be true to their calling. Of course, they couldn’t see it then, but Jesus was affirming their faithfulness, even though they had a lot to learn about humility.

Pray: “Lord, I don’t want to copy James’ and John’s self-assurance and self-importance. But I do want to hear you say, ‘You will drink the cup I drink.’ Help me to place my confidence in you, knowing that you will be with me and in me as I face the life to which you called me. Thank you for inviting me to share in your suffering and in your life (Philippians 3:10-11).”

 

Tuesday, March 26

Read: Mark 10:35-41

Consider: One of the most telling moments of this event is seen in Mark’s statement about the rest of the disciples — “When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John” (10:41).

It is easy for us to see the ego problems James and John exhibited by trying to secure the best seats—the most honorable positions—in Jesus’ kingdom. But the rest of the disciples displayed the same outsized ego, as they determined that those two were not going to push to the head of the line. They felt justified in their judgement of James and John, not realizing that they were really revealing a great deal about themselves.

We need to see ourselves in those ten disciples. Many times, the sin that offends us the most is our own sin when we see it in other people. The problem is, when we keep looking at that sin in others, we don’t see it in ourselves.

How many times have I said that someone was judgmental, not realizing that, in saying so, I was judging them? How many times have I decried the hate speech of someone else and have done it with spiteful words?

This is an important spiritual exercise. Look at the sins that cause you the greatest outrage and ask the Holy Spirit to show you if those same sins are present in your life. Lent is a time for this kind of nakedness before God. This kind of humility—and confession—liberates us.

Pray: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

 

Wednesday, March 27

Read: Mark 10:42-45

Consider: Two of the disciples had come to Jesus wanting to be elevated above their peers. The other ten got wind of it and took personal offense at their brothers, pointing out their arrogance, but not seeing their own pride. (See yesterday’s meditation.) And, of course, in all this jockeying for position, they all missed the point.

They missed the point of Christ coming to them. They missed the point of how God would transform our world. They missed the point of their assignment once Jesus placed the work of the kingdom in their hands. They missed the point.

So, Jesus called them together and explained it—again. He had been teaching the good news of the kingdom. He had been living the good news of the kingdom. But now he had to, once again, connect the dots for them. And he did it with a powerful phrase — “Not so with you” (10:43).

The rulers of this world use force — “Not so with you.”

This culture honors strength and intimidation — “Not so with you.”

This world says to watch out for yourself — “Not so with you.”

People think happiness comes from being first and best — “Not so with you.”

Humility and servanthood are seen as weakness — “Not so with you.”

It is unthinkable to lay your life down for someone else — “Not so with you.”

He continued…

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (10:45)

Pray: Ask the Holy Spirit to help you to “have the same mindset as Christ Jesus…”

“…who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5-8)

 

Thursday, March 28

Read: Mark 4:26-29

Consider: Jesus’ parables are always intriguing. And it’s not by accident that they are sometimes difficult to understand. Many times, it was his intention to bring the truth in a manner that would cause us to wrestle and struggle to comprehend his words. And sometimes he didn’t even intend for everyone to understand, because the hard of heart, those who would not recognize the Messiah, certainly could not comprehend his words.

So, in reading the parables, sometimes we must look for clues. Was Jesus referring to something those people understood, but we might miss? That’s the case in today’s reading.

Most of the people Jesus addressed were familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures—what we call the Old Testament. So, when Jesus made reference to those scriptures, his listeners would try to ascertain how Jesus was interpreting them. Many times, Jesus was telling the people that the One the prophets foretold—the Messiah—had arrived. Their scriptures had been fulfilled.

Today we read Jesus’ simple account of seed growing to full maturity. Jesus pointed out that the farmer “does not know how” it happens. It’s going on right under his nose (or, at least, out in his field) all by itself. Then Jesus said…

“As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” (4:29)

I wonder how many of his listeners recognized his reference to Joel 3:18, where the prophet said, “Swing the sickle, for the harvest is ripe.” That passage from Joel describes the judging of the nations and the liberation of God’s people.

Jesus was telling them that judgement was coming. But the judgement Jesus spoke about would be much different than what they had always expected. Jesus himself would take the judgement on his shoulders and in his body. The liberation of God’s people would then be offered to everyone.

We usually think of God’s judgment as condemnation on sinful people. But our New Testament teaches us that…

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Pray: “Lord, thank you that you came, not to destroy us, but to destroy that which destroys us. Thank you that you judge evil in order to liberate us. Thank you for the freedom you offered and then gave to me.”

 

Friday, March 29

Read: Mark 4:26-29

Consider: As we saw yesterday, Jesus told a simple story about seed that is planted, grows on its own, imperceptibly reaches maturity and then is harvested. It feels like a rather ordinary story with nothing to make it compelling. But he began this short parable by reminding us that “This is what the kingdom of God is like” (4:26).

Jesus was speaking about the judgment of evil and the liberation of God’s people—liberation offered to everyone. And he was assuring us that this kingdom is advancing.

God is always working. Sometimes his work is obvious. Often it is not. Behind the scenes, in the shadows, gradually and imperceptibly, God is making all things new. But we must have eyes to see.

And what God is doing in the cosmos, he is also doing in you and in me. Daily he is drawing us to himself, teaching us, revealing himself to us and guiding us. Like the farmer in Jesus’ parable, we don’t know how. And even though we know a harvest will come, we’re often oblivious as to what God is doing in us today—right now.

The Season of Lent is a good time to ask God to open our eyes and unstop our ears. We’re not willfully ignoring him, but life often dulls our spiritual senses. As we spend time with him and try to clear the clutter from our minds, we’ll begin to see how his love is operational in our lives every day. You are growing, even if you can’t see it right now.

Pray: “Lord, thank you for your active love in my life today. Help me to recognize you everywhere—in nature, in those who are created in your image, in beauty and in your whispers to my spirit. Thank you that you have a journey for me and thank you that I never walk it alone.”

 

Saturday, March 30

Read: Mark 4:30-34

Consider: The parable of the mustard seed is familiar to many of us. (It appears in three of the gospels.) It helps us gain a new perspective of the kingdom of heaven on earth. What seems small and imperceptible, is the powerfully advancing work of the One who created all things, the One who is “over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:6).

What I love about Mark’s account of this parable is his comment that follows it.

“With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand.” (4:33)

We should remember that our understanding of Christ and his way is an ongoing journey. We have so much to learn, but he is patient with us. He gives us as much as we can comprehend. He teaches us, mentors us and then leads us to new levels of understanding.

Take this one parable as an example. Over time the Holy Spirit will reveal to you how God is working in you and through you. You can see, in small ways, the mustard seed growing before your eyes. Then he can enhance your vision and you’ll see new avenues that he is opening and expanding in your spirit and in your actions. These are those thrilling moments in life when we see God in ways we’ve never seen him before.

The next verse is exciting. Mark told us that…

“He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.” (4:34)

If we sit with him long enough, he’ll “explain” it—he’ll reveal himself—to us.

Pray: “Lord, teach me how to quiet my heart, slow my racing mind and listen to you. Thank you for your patience as I learn how to learn from you.”

Lent — Week 2

Monday, March 18

Read: Hebrews 9:1-10

Consider: In the Old Testament—the “first covenant” (9:1)—God planted the seeds of understanding so that his people could get a small glimpse of what was to come. He also did it so that those of us on this side of the resurrection could look back and see God’s great plan of redemption for you and me and all of creation.

Moses was commanded to set up a tabernacle. Solomon would later replace the tabernacle by building the Temple in Jerusalem. Both had an inner room called “the Most Holy Place” (9:3). While the priests offered sacrifices throughout the year in the Holy Place, the Most Holy Place was only entered once a year by the High Priest. There, on the Day of Atonement—Yom Kippur—the High Priest would make a sacrifice for his own sins and a sacrifice for the sins of the people.

That was God’s design. But it was not his ultimate design.

“The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still functioning. This is an illustration for the present time…” (9:8-9)

In other words, “the Most Holy Place” wasn’t really the most holy place. That was still to come. And it came in the most unusual manner to a location that didn’t seem holy at all.

“…the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger…” (Luke 2:6-7)

The Most Holy Place is the presence of the Christ. The writer to the Hebrews will later make it clear that the tabernacle with its Most Holy Place was a “sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one…heaven itself” (9:24).

What is heaven? Heaven is the presence of God. Heaven—the true tabernacle—came to us. And with his arrival came our new life—our resurrection.

Pray: “Thank you, Lord, that what was so high came so low. When we could not enter the Most Holy Place, you brought it to us, filling our lives with your presence. Throughout this day, help me to remember that I walk on holy ground as I walk with you.”

 

Tuesday, March 19

Read: Hebrews 9:11-15

Consider: As we saw yesterday, every year on the Day of Atonement the High Priest would offer sacrifices for his own sins and for the sins of the people. But the writer of Hebrews wants to make something very clear to us. What happened on an annual basis—“again and again” as he put it—has now happened “once for all” (7:27, 9:12, 26, 10:10).

And the once-for-all sacrifice did what no other sacrifice could possibly do.

Even though the High Priest would offer sacrifices—“the blood of goats and calves” (9:12)—those sacrifices would not remove sin and guilt. They couldn’t. They could only point to something greater—something almost too good to be true…

“For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.” (9:24-26)

Did you catch that—“to do away with sin”? I love the way Paul put it when he said that we are no longer “slaves to sin” (Romans 6:6) because of what Christ has done.

As we noted at the beginning of Lent, the truths we encounter are too much for us to grasp with our intellects alone. When it comes to Christ’s sacrifice, we can’t force this reality into old paradigms of redemption. In trying to do so, some atonement theories have made God into someone who demanded blood before he would forgive. Don’t let the crucifixion of Christ make God into a monster for you. When you see Christ on the cross, see the crucified God whose very essence is love (1 John 4:8, 16).

As we look toward Good Friday and Easter Sunday, as we take the bread and the wine, and as we consider Christ’s sacrifice, we’re humbled, and we’re overcome with gratitude. This was done for you, for me, for all of creation—once for all!

Pray: Today in your quiet time, try to find words to express your gratitude for what Christ has done. Of course, no words are adequate. But as you verbalize your gratitude, you will experience it anew and afresh. Then try to spend this day in thanksgiving. Whatever comes your way, remember that because of what Jesus has done, you “have passed from death to life” (1 John 3:13).

 

Wednesday, March 20

Read: Hebrews 10:19-24

Consider: The people of the first covenant viewed the Most Holy Place as the presence of God. As we saw on Monday, it contained some amazing things.

“Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, which had…the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover.” (9:3-5)

The space between those “cherubim of Glory” was seen as the epicenter of God’s presence. For that reason, the Most Holy Place was a very intimidating place. The people were always aware that God’s glory was so great that a human may not survive being in his presence. Only the High Priest would enter. He would only enter once a year. He would bring a sacrifice. And they always tied a rope around his waist or his ankle, so that in case he didn’t survive God’s presence, he could be dragged out of the Most Holy Place without another mortal having to enter it. No one else would dare to enter.

So, it is shocking that the New Testament writer to the Hebrews proclaims that now “we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place” (10:19). How can sinners like us have confidence to enter the presence of a holy God?

The answer is found on Golgotha. As Jesus died, Matthew reminds us of that heavy curtain that separated the Most Holy Place of the Temple from the rest of the world. He said…

“When Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” (Matthew 27:50-51)

That is why, the Hebrew writer says, we have confidence. Because “a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body” (10:20). In his death, Christ obliterated anything and everything that would separate us from God. So now we can “draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience” (10:22).

We don’t bring anything with us. No blood from a sacrifice. No safety rope in case we’re not welcomed. We come with nothing and we are totally accepted because he gave everything.

Pray: With humility, gratitude and confidence, enter the Lord’s presence today. He tore down everything that could separate you from him. If there are any barriers between you and God, they are illusions. Look beyond them and see that you are already accepted and loved beyond your comprehension. With confidence, express your love and gratitude to the One who gave you everything.

 

Thursday, March 21

Read: Matthew 6:19-24

Consider: This passage from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is known to most of us. Here he gives us the beautiful image of “storing our treasures” in the right place. While this call to prioritize the eternal over what passes away inspires us, Jesus followed that with the immensely practical statement that we cannot serve two masters. These words are guiding lights for us as we navigate our lives toward his purposes.

But sometimes we miss the other powerful image embedded here. It’s right in the middle of Jesus’ words on treasures and money.

“The eye is the lamp of the body.” (6:22)

Because we often read the Sermon on the Mount in small sections, it can appear to be a series of random thoughts that Jesus shared with the people on that hillside. But Jesus’ statement on the “lamp of the body” was not a digression or a tangent. It was central to what he was teaching about material possessions and priorities.

How we view life matters. Our picture of God determines how we live. Our understanding of Christ’s work liberates us. Our knowledge of the presence of the Holy Spirit empowers us. If your vision is clear, your whole being “will be full of light,” but if your vision is distorted, your life “will be full of darkness” (6:22-23).

Jesus is “the light of the world” (John 9:5). And one of the healings that he repeatedly performed was the opening of eyes that could not see—restoring those who were blind physically and those who walked in spiritual darkness.

During the Lenten Season—these precious forty days—let’s ask God to open our eyes. We may not be blind to God’s love and grace, but perhaps some things have gotten a bit foggy. Life has a way of doing that to us.

While we must earn money, pay bills and deal with important temporal issues, it is easy for life to get a little out of focus concerning the true source of life. While we live in a culture of verbal and physical violence, we can get sucked into a perverted way of viewing righteousness, thinking that to be right is what is most important. In a time when the vulnerable are abused and neglected, we can forget that God became vulnerable for us and died for us rather than killing for us. As the powerful seem to rule the world, we forget that the meek will inherit the earth and the peacemakers are the true children of God (Matthew 5:5, 9).

Lent helps us clean our glasses, wipe the windshield and look again at the magnificence of what God is doing.

Pray: “Lord, I thank you for these moments. You have taught me that time alone with you is essential for keeping my vision clear. As you bring things into focus through the scripture and prayer, teach me to walk through this day with my eyes open. I want to see you and all that you want to show us today.”

 

Friday, March 22

Read: Matthew 6:22-23

Consider: Part of my spiritual training as a child was learning how to guard my life by guarding my mind. I was taught that it was my responsibility to determine what I would put into my brain and into my soul.

Some people think it’s prudish when we avoid certain movies, books or web sites. But you don’t need a degree in psychology to know that a steady diet of explicit sexual and violent entertainment impacts how a person thinks and acts.

What we take into our lives will fuel our lives. These days I often hear my exasperated friends say, “I’m taking a break from watching the news” or “I’ve got to spend less time with social media.” Our various forms of media have become so coarse, confrontational and combative that we often find it eating away at our values. We see people attacking others with no regard for our inherent dignity as those who are created in God’s image. It takes a toll. Life looks increasingly ugly and hope dissipates. We think we’re seeing reality, when in fact, we’re seeing a distortion of God’s creation. The reality is that God is here. God loves every man, woman and child. God is love. You are existing in that love that is “over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:6). But, “if your (spiritual) eyes are bad, your whole being will be full of darkness” and you’ll miss what is around you and in you (Matthew 6:23).

I believe we need to be informed. I think it is important for me to know the conditions and events of our world. I work very hard to keep up on developments around the globe. But I also know that I cannot allow this culture to condition my mind. I need to laugh at the absurdities I see as advertisers tell me what will make me happy. I need to resist our political leaders when they call good evil and call evil good (Isaiah 5:20). I need to understand that I don’t fully understand, thereby helping me have a teachable spirit. In other words, I need discernment and strength to avoid spiritual blindness and keep the hope I have in Christ’s future for me and for all of his creation.

Pray: “Lord, your word instructs us to guard our hearts (Proverbs 4:23) and you taught us that our spiritual receptors are the gates we must protect. This day I will fix my gaze on you. By doing that, I have confidence that you will give me discernment that will keep hope alive in me. Our world needs your hope lived out in us. Thank you for inviting me to be a source of hope and an agent of grace.”

 

Saturday, March 23

Read: Matthew 20:29-34

Consider: It seems like such an obvious response. How else would they answer a question like that? The men were blind, and Jesus asked them, “What do you want me to do for you?” (20:32). It sounds like a totally unnecessary question. Was Jesus just making small-talk before he healed them? After all, they were shouting, “Have mercy on us!” (20:30-31).

Actually, it wasn’t a silly question at all. Those men had asked for mercy from a lot of people over the years. Usually the “mercy” they were requesting was money or food. In that day people with any kind of physical limitation were left to beg for help and to rely on the goodness of others. So, asking for mercy was an everyday experience as people passed by them on the road. They asked for food or money or help in getting from one place to another. But I seriously doubt that they ever expected more than that from those they encountered each day. So, Jesus asked them, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Their response showed that they had at least a little insight as to who Jesus was and what he could do, because they answered him saying, “Lord, we want our sight” (20:33).

Early in Jesus’ ministry among us, he went to his hometown and spoke in the synagogue. He described his mission on earth by reading from the prophet Isaiah, including these words…

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim…recovery of sight for the blind…” (Luke 4:18-19, Isaiah 61:1-2)

When I think of the spiritual blindness that Jesus was referring to, I wonder if our healing is dependent on our response to the question Jesus posed to the blind men by the side of the road — “What do you want me to do for you?”

What do I want when it comes to my spiritual blind spots? Do I want to hang on to my opinions? Do I want to embrace my biases and prejudices? Do I want my theology and politics to remain unchanged, only to become more deeply entrenched in my heart and mind? Or do I want to see?

For Christ to do a new thing in my life, I must be open to it. To receive new insight and wisdom, I must desire it. I wonder if today, during this Lenten Season, Jesus is asking me, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Pray: “Lord, I want my sight. I want the perspective on life that you want me to have. If I can begin to see as you see, then I can begin to love as you love.”

Lent — Week 1

Monday, March 11

Read: Isaiah 58:1-3a

Consider: One of the most common practices associated with Lent is fasting. Many ways of approaching a Lenten fast have evolved over the centuries. Some people abstain from food on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. There is also a tradition of fasting from meat during Lent. Some people give up other specific foods—usually pleasant or favorite foods—for the entire season (except on Sundays). And some choose to “fast” from things other than food or drink. (For example, one popular fast that has developed in recent years is abstaining from social media during Lent.)

Of course, the issue is not how we fast. The focus should be on why we do it.

Isaiah pointed out that the nation of Israel was faithful in fasting, but they got it all wrong.

“‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’” (58:3)

It’s clear from these words that they had an agenda for their fasting. They were using this form of worship to get God to do something for them. When he didn’t deliver like they thought he should, they said, “What’s the use? Why did we even bother?”

Our prayers, our fasting and our self-denial are not tools to coerce or bribe God. God knows what we need, and he loves us, so there’s no point in bartering and bargaining with the Father. Also, Lent is not a self-improvement regimen to help us feel better about ourselves. It’s not a time to give up sweets so we can drop a few pounds.

We engage in prayer to partner with God. We raise our awareness of his presence because he loves us, and we love him. We crave a deeper relationship with him—not a relationship that is an “add-on” to our lives, but a relationship upon which our entire existence is built.

And when we give something up for Lent, we’re teaching ourselves to let go. We’re putting the other gods that vie for our attention in their place. We’re recovering our perspective and realizing that there is only one God who supplies our needs.

So, what we do to humble ourselves before God is not based on what we want God to do. Our humility is a result of our gratitude for what he has already done.

Pray: Take time today to thank God for what he did. God came to us, became one of us, and gave himself completely to us through death and resurrection. Then ask God to increase your desire for intimacy with him. He told us that the hungry would be fed. Pray that your hunger for him deepens during this important time of the year.

 

Tuesday, March 12

Read: Isaiah 58:3-5

Consider: People often ask why the Old Testament is so different from the New Testament. Sometimes it appears as though God has two different personalities—one we see in the laws and rituals of Israel and one we see in the life of Jesus Christ. Let’s be honest. We’ve all struggled at this point. Every one of us who have been exposed to the Bible long enough to read various portions, have questioned the continuity between the two covenants.

We don’t have space here to address the most common question, that of violence in the Old Testament and non-violence in the new covenant. But let’s look at another common misunderstanding. Many people see the faith of Israel as simply a religion of laws, rituals, sacrifices, fasts and rules. In other words, it seems like it is based on what a person does and not on who a person is.

But when we read the prophets, we discover something much deeper. We see that God used external practices to teach them about the work that God wanted to do on the inside—in individuals, in the nation and in the world. He used the outside to re-align the inside.

In today’s reading we hear Isaiah taking the nation to task because their religious practices were not aligning with their lives. He pointed out that they exploited their workers, quarreled and engaged in violence. As they lived in this manner, they had the audacity to fast before the Lord and complained because he wasn’t blessing them enough.

“Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?” (58:5)

While Lent is a designated time, it is so much more. While we take forty days to center in on our spiritual journeys, we don’t do it for only a season. Lent helps us to recalibrate for the rest of the year. It is not “only a day” to honor God. It is a season designed to help us experience increased intimacy with him, so that we hunger for that relationship every day of our lives.

Pray: “Lord, I pray that these days will help me to learn and re-learn truth and insight for this journey. Help me also to un-learn—to discard those things that I won’t need or that will sabotage my walk with you. My prayer is that new holy habits emerge—whether in prayer, simplicity or awareness. I don’t want to designate my spirituality to a corner of my life. I want to grow ever closer to you.”

 

Wednesday, March 13

Read: Isaiah 58:6-12

Consider: Through the prophet Isaiah, God told the nation of Israel that they had missed the whole point. They had fasted and worshipped in order to receive something from God (58:1-3a). They had separated worship from life—practicing their religion in one way and conducting their affairs apart from those values (58:3b-5). After challenging them, he described, in beautiful language, his intention for worship and life.

We may not be the hypocrites described by Isaiah. We’re not violent, conniving, greedy people who are trying to steal from the poor. But Isaiah 58 is still a very important chapter for us. It helps us see that our worship is not simply designed to impact our personal relationships with God. Our worship must empower us to be Christ to our world. Our worship and our activism are inseparable. In describing the fast, God called us to…

“…loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free…to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood…do away with the yoke of oppression …spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed…” (58:6-7, 9-10)

People often make a false differentiation between personal spiritual practices and acts of mercy and grace. We dare not make that distinction because it tempts us to choose one over the other. It tempts us to believe that one part of the gospel is enough. At the very least, it tempts us to emphasize one and de-emphasize the other.

But according to God, personal spirituality and serving the vulnerable are one and the same — “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen?” (58:6).
  We know that none of us can do this alone. God called the nation of Israel to the task. In the same manner, today he calls the church. We are the hands of Christ. But to be his hands, we must join ours. The work for peace and justice is ours together. Together we are called to intimacy with God and the work of Christ on earth.

Pray: “Lord, be close to me and be close to your church. As I pray for my journey during this Lenten season, I pray for the journeys of my sisters and brothers. May our individual lives be a communal life of worship and servanthood. Empower us to be the face of Christ to our world.”

 

Thursday, March 14

Read: Isaiah 58:6-11

Consider: We’ve spent a good part of this first full week of Lent in Isaiah 58—Isaiah’s description of the “fast” that honors God. There’s one more thing we need to see before we leave this great chapter.

While we pour ourselves out for others, something wonderful happens to us.

“Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: ‘Here am I’…the Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs…and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” (58:8-11)

This promise is consistently found in the New Testament as well. Jesus described it as losing your life, only to find it again. Being poured out—emptied—and then being filled with Christ. Dying—what Paul called crucifying the “old self” (Romans 6:6)—and then being raised to a new life.

That is why Lent is so powerful. It helps us to humble ourselves. Through real and symbolic acts, we teach ourselves what can die and what must die so that we can truly live. And in this time of reflection, recalibration and repentance, we can’t help but see the resurrection that Jesus has already brought to us.

Pray: “Lord, I’m always tempted to clutch on to my possessions, my time, my opinions—my life. But you taught us to lay our lives down, just as you did. And in so doing, we discover how to live. I want to learn this way of life as I journey with you through Lent and beyond. Thank you for your love and your patience.”

 

Friday, March 15

Read: Luke 4:14-19

Consider: What would be “good news” to a poor person?

When I was a youth pastor, I challenged our church in northern Indiana to make a large donation of clothing to an inner-city ministry in Chicago. The response was amazing. I found myself sorting through a massive amount of used clothing. Most of it was very good stuff that was thoughtfully given. But as I worked through the stacks, I noticed that some people had simply used this project as an opportunity to clean out their closets. I kept running into old neckties. Neckties? Really? We were trying to clothe people who were sleeping on heating grates in the winter. Neckties? Is that what the homeless population of Chicago needed?

What was it that Jesus meant when he said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor” (4:18)? What would it mean for us to be good news to the poor?

As Jesus taught, he seemed to flow seamlessly between various meanings of poverty. Sometimes he spoke about material poverty. His teaching—really the whole Bible—is very clear about our responsibility to those without resources. There is no ambiguity there.

Other times Jesus spoke about spiritual, emotional and relational poverty — “the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3). Most of the time, Jesus touched people who were poor in every area of their lives. Today, you and I interact with people who experience material poverty. And we continually interact with those who are poor and vulnerable in so many other ways. Some poverty is visible. Some is hidden from us. How are we good news to those who are poor?

We begin by recognizing our own poverty—whatever form that may take. We are not saviors who bring all the answers to the world’s problems. We are one with those who hurt. So, whether we’re volunteering at a food pantry, contributing money for orphans overseas, helping a child learn how to read, embracing someone who just lost a loved one or holding a hand at the side of a hospital bed, we begin by sharing their space. And we do that by seeing our own poverty and our profound need for help, mercy and grace.

That’s what Jesus did — “for your sake he became poor” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

Pray: “Lord, my culture tells me not to embrace poverty. It tells me that I should be ashamed to be poor. And yet, you became poor for me. You entered this one who is poor in spirit. Help me to love like you love. In my poverty, help me to see people not as objects of pity, but as my sisters and brothers who are with me on the journey.”

 

Saturday, March 16

Read: John 8:31-36

Consider: Yesterday we considered the fact that Jesus used the word “poor” to refer to various conditions in which we find ourselves. The same is true when it comes to the concept of freedom. It’s a broad term because there are so many ways in which we can be enslaved. Poverty, the threat of violence, addiction, a dysfunctional relationship, racism, the lack of opportunity, and so many other forms of oppression and bondage can put us in seemingly hopeless situations. On any given day, a huge portion of the world’s population find themselves yearning for freedom. And perhaps the most pervasive bondage of all is fear. Oppression brings with it the frightening unknowns of the future.

Jesus proclaimed a new kingdom. This “kingdom of heaven” would not be based on the old, tired values of the empires of this world. Jesus described his mission—the work of this kingdom—by reading from the Book of Isaiah…

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners…” (Luke 4:18 quoting Isaiah 61:1-2)

The proclamation and reality of “freedom for the prisoners” is central to the new kingdom. After all, that great axiom that we often quote — “the truth will set you free” — came from the lips of Jesus (John 8:32).

This liberating truth is not some abstract idea, though it is often presented in that way. Jesus explained this freedom by speaking about the forgiveness of sins. Though there are many types of bondage, sin is at the root. Sometimes it is the sin within us, sometimes it’s the sin in those who oppress others, and often it is the sinful systems of our world—what the scripture calls “rulers…powers…world forces of this darkness” (Ephesians 6:12).

Lent is a time to remember the liberating work of Christ. It begins in us. We are humbled by the forgiveness of our sins. We are challenged to take the joy of liberation with us into the world where we can be agents of grace and reconciliation. Our confidence is not in our ability to diagnose and fix the problems of our world. Our confidence lies in the knowledge that Christ is the liberator and we are his hands. For…

“…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36).

Pray: “Lord, you are ‘the way and the truth and the life’(John 14:6). Your way, your truth and your life set us free. Show me how I can be a messenger of freedom. Lead me to someone who feels imprisoned in hopelessness or fear. Empower me to be your face, your hands and your voice. Through my words or my actions, bring life and freedom to your world today.”

The Lord’s Prayer, Ash Wednesday, Lent

Monday, March 4

Read: Matthew 6:9-13

Consider: As we’ve seen throughout the past few weeks, every request—every line—in The Lord’s Prayer is also a call on our lives. When we offer worship (6:9), we’re called to give ourselves fully to God—which is our authentic act of worship (Romans 12:1). When we pray for God’s kingdom to come and his will to be done here and now (6:10), we’re giving ourselves to him to be agents of his kingdom on earth. When we pray for daily bread (6:11), we commit ourselves to trust and simplicity. When we ask for forgiveness (6:12), we are engaging ourselves in the hard work of forgiving others.

And then Jesus concluded the prayer with one last request — “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (6:13).

Of course, Jesus wasn’t worried that the Father would actually lead us into troublesome temptation (see James 1:13). That was simply a poetic way to say, “Lead us to the right path. Show us the way.”

And so again, Jesus places a call upon our lives. It is a call to faithfulness. It is a call to follow Christ, no matter where he may lead.

Sometimes we want to see the end before we begin. We don’t want to follow unless we know it will lead to our desired outcomes. But it doesn’t work that way. We don’t discover God’s will and then follow. We follow, and then along the journey we discover that God is up to something wonderful in our lives. To say “Lead me” is to say, “I’m following.”

I’ve always said that you can’t kick the tires on God’s will. You don’t get to test drive it. If you’re still deciding whether you’re all his or not, you won’t see his plan for your life. But when you embark on the journey with no thought of turning back, the discoveries are amazing.

One of my favorite passages about obedience is the New Testament reflection on Abraham…

“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” (Hebrews 11:8)

Pray: “Lord, it’s easy for me to fear the unknown. And, yet, it is not unknown to you, and you never tell me that I must face it alone. I pray that you will help me to know the thrill—the exhilaration—of anticipating the good things ahead of me on this journey. And help me to know the abundance is not in circumstances or acquisitions, but in the growing sense of your presence. Thank you for asking me to follow you.”

 

Tuesday, March 5

Read: Matthew 6:13

Consider: As is often the case, the words that describe Jesus’ life and teaching can have broad meaning, sometimes multiple meanings that cannot be contained in one English word. When we read the word, “temptation,” we tend to think of it solely in terms of being seduced to some sinful practice or being pulled along by a sinful impulse. But in the original language of the New Testament, the word used here can also mean “trial” or “tribulation.” It may help us if we hear that request as saying, “Lead us not into temptation, times of trial, tribulation or great stress.”

Many mornings when I pray The Lord’s Prayer, I hear myself praying, “Lord, may this not be the day of great trouble.” I think that is in keeping with Jesus’ prayer.

Yes, we know that trials are inevitable. We know that we will be tempted. We know that we cannot avoid pain. But we can pray that trouble, pain and temptation will not overtake us. We can take our fears to him. We can and must pray, “deliver us from evil.”*

And when we take our fears to him, we give them to him. We take our hands off them and enter the day with his peace. For we have prayed the way Jesus taught us to pray.

Pray:  Ask the Lord to show you how to give your fears to him. While we are diligent to avoid temptation, we should not live in fear of falling away from Christ. While we know we will experience pain and suffering, we can have confidence that we’ll never walk through that valley alone. It’s not easy to live above our fears. In fact, it’s not even possible without his Spirit guiding us. So, we want to learn how to give our fears to him. Keep before you the request the disciples made to Jesus when they said, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1).

__________

*In the oldest manuscripts of Matthew’s gospel, that is where the prayer ends — “…deliver us from evil.” But there was an addition in later manuscripts that found its way into some versions of the Bible, and therefore became a part of our worship. It’s a beautiful phrase…

“For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.”

I think it’s a good way to end the prayer, for in this manner the prayer begins and ends with praise.

 

Wednesday, March 6 — Ash Wednesday

Read: Genesis 2:4-7

Consider: Dust. Did you ever wonder why the scripture teaches us that we were formed “from the dust of the ground” (2:7)?

Dust reminds us of our commonality with all of creation. The same elements—the same “dust”—that make up trees and soil and grass and water, comprise our physical bodies. Of course, they’re arranged differently and appear in different proportions, but we are made of the same stuff as all of creation. But we are different—much different than the plants and the other animals.

Some would say it’s our intellect that sets us apart. Some would say we’re at a later stage of evolution. But the scripture says something very specific about what sets us apart from the rest of creation. We are different because we have been created in God’s image (1:27). What is more, we have been endowed with “the breath of life” (2:7).

In those created in God’s image, the “breath of life” is not oxygen. It’s spirit. (In both Testaments, the words for “spirit,” “wind” and “breath” are interchangeable.) What the author of Genesis is telling us is that, in a special way, God placed his Spirit in that part of creation that he made in his own image.

But for humankind, that wasn’t enough. We who were given everything, wanted more. The Genesis account of Adám—which is the Hebrew word for “man”—is a powerful metaphor of our desire to be our own gods (3:5). (And the great irony of history is that while we wanted to become gods, God became a man. But now we’re getting ahead of ourselves.)

This dust-made-man would experience death. God told Adam that he would “return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (3:19).

Those are haunting words. But we don’t dodge that statement. In fact, today we choose to embrace those words—to re-live them for a very important purpose.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Around the world pastors and priests will make the sign of the cross in black ashes on the foreheads of the followers of Jesus. As they do, they will repeat those words, “Dust you are and to dust you will return.”

Those words are hard to hear. They may even sound morbid to us. They are difficult because we know they are true.

As we’ll see in the days ahead, Lent is an important season for us. And part of that importance is the reminder of our own mortality. And we cannot fully comprehend or celebrate resurrection until we acknowledge and deal with death.

The ashes on our foreheads are beautiful because death points us to resurrection.

“For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:21-22)

Pray: When we humble ourselves something beautiful happens. As we acknowledge our mortality and our deep need for grace, we are filled with gratitude for what Christ has done for us. As you pray today, verbalize your humanity and your need. Then let your prayer well up into thankfulness for what Christ has done to defeat death — “the last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26).

 

Thursday, March 7

Read: Ephesians 3:14-19

Consider: We see God’s majesty in creation. We see his creativity. We experience his embrace and we know his love. But to see God, we look to the Christ who became one of us.

The Christ came to us in flesh and blood, taking on our humanity. So, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, we can begin to discover and even grasp “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (3:18).

But how can we grasp it? The dimensions are too great. His mercy is beyond our understanding and his grace is greater than what we could ever have imagined. How can we possibly wrap our minds and our lives around this love?

The answer comes in the next part of that sentence. We are told that we can “know this love that surpasses knowledge” (3:19).

Sounds rather mysterious. How can you “know” something that can’t be known—something that “surpasses knowledge”? Well, that’s the point. What cannot be known on a cognitive level, must be known in another way. What I can’t “grasp” with my mind alone, must be embraced at a deeper level.

And that is the purpose of Lent.

There is no way that in the forty days of Lent (or forty years for that matter) we can “figure out” the meaning of the cross, how our sins are forgiven, how Jesus suffered beyond the physical pain of crucifixion, what happened while he was in the tomb, or the many ramifications of the resurrection. They are beyond our mental capacity.

Yet, we can know. We can know because we are not trying to encounter the truth of a set of concepts. We are choosing to encounter the One who said, “I am the truth” (John 14:6).

So, pray for one another during this Lenten season. Pray the way the apostle prayed for the Ephesian believers…

“I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19)

Pray: “Lord, in the days ahead—these precious days of Lent—help me raise my awareness of your presence. Teach me how to attune my spirit to yours in the everyday chaos of life. And when truth is too high for my mind, help me to embrace the One who is the truth.”

 

Friday, March 8

Read: John 12:20-24

Consider: The request and the answer don’t seem to go together. The request was simple enough — “we would like to see Jesus” (12:21). But the response was strange. Jesus began talking about his death and what it would mean for the world.

Some Greeks had approached Philip with their request. They probably felt comfortable going to him because “Philip” is a Greek name. Maybe they thought the Jews would not be open to speaking with them and someone with a common heritage would. So, they went to Philip. Then he and Andrew went to Jesus to pass the word that some Gentiles would like to talk to him—to “see” him.

It was almost as if Jesus was saying that to see him would be to see him die. He would be the “seed”—the “kernel of wheat”—that was about to fall to the ground.

This dying was not an option. Jesus pointed out that unless the seed “falls to the ground and dies” its mission comes to naught. “But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (12:24).

We Christians use a symbol of death—the cross—as that thing that unites us. I’m sure that was strange to people of the first century. Why would we honor a symbol of Roman torture and domination? Are we preoccupied with death? Well, no. We’re preoccupied with resurrection. But resurrection is not possible without death. So, we don’t see Christ as merely a teacher of wisdom (though he certainly was that). We “see” him in his death. The One who had all power and wisdom, humbled himself and conquered through what the world perceived as weakness.

Jesus didn’t come to fix us up with minor repairs. He came to bring the dead—you and me and all of creation—back to life. And he did that through his own death and resurrection.

Pray: “Lord, you taught us to be like you in your death and resurrection (Philippians 2:5-8). This day of my life is yours. Show me how the humility of my heart and the servanthood of my actions can point people to you.”

 

Saturday, March 9

Read: John 12:24-25

Consider: Jesus’ death and resurrection are not only the work of Christ two millennia ago. The passing from death to life is the ongoing work of Christ in our lives and in our world.

After describing himself as the fallen seed which brings forth life, Jesus included you and me in the purpose of Christ. He called us to the same mission. His words are echoed throughout the gospels…

“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 for the good news will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35)

So, during Lent we not only talk about Jesus’ death and resurrection, but we talk about our own as well. We don’t center in on the physical death we all face. Yes, we have hope for resurrection when we close our eyes in death. But Lent helps us focus on the hope we have for this day. That hope means that we can put to death—we can crucify—those things that bring death to us and to our world. We die to sin, addictions, despair, hopelessness, ego and all else that destroys.

“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin…now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him…count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life…” (Romans 6:4-13)

We are “those who have been brought from death to life.”

Pray: “Thank you, Lord, that resurrection is a reality for me today. Continue to show me what must die, so that I can live.”

The Lord’s Prayer — Week 4

Monday, February 25

Read: Matthew 6:1-6

Consider: Before Jesus gave us a simple, beautiful model prayer, he shared some wisdom about how that prayer—and the life that prayer reveals—is approached. He said, “when you pray, go into your room, close the door…” (6:6). 

I used to read this instruction simply in terms of the quiet space the closed door gives us. There’s so much noise in our world, so many things clamoring for our attention. The solitude of the closed door is an invitation to shut out the noise and give our full attention to communion with the Father.

Sometimes I can talk over the noise. But I can’t listen. The closed door quiets my heart to hear my Father speak his love into my life.

But Jesus had more in mind than simply quiet time and space. In these initial words on prayer, he talked about those who practiced their religion in public—those who loved “to be seen by others” (6:5). Don’t go there, he said, “do not be like the hypocrites” (6:5).

When we are worried about how others perceive our faith, we’re in murky waters. Whenever we become centered on perception, we neglect reality. If I give attention or energy to how people perceive my relationship with Christ, I begin to sabotage that very relationship.

Jesus wants us to be free. There is bondage in pretense. There is freedom in closing the door. We don’t have to perform. We get to enjoy the presence of the One who loves us more than we can imagine.

Pray: “Lord, today I close the door. As you help me to close out the noise and chaos of this world, help me also to close the door on false expectations of what it means to commune with you. Help me to simply enjoy the knowledge that you are with me right now.”

 

Tuesday, February 26

Read: Matthew 6:5-6

Consider: One of the potential pitfalls on our journey with Christ is the performance trap. Even though we believe in God’s grace and we know that we don’t earn his favor, we are constantly tempted to measure our walk with him in terms of the things we accomplish. We’re tempted to see holiness as something we attain—something we achieve—by doing the all right things and avoiding the wrong things. In fact, Christians often ask each other, “How are you doing spiritually?”

This “doing” and “accomplishing” often invades our most intimate moments with God. We wonder if we’re spending enough time alone with God, if we are praying in a way that pleases him, if we are doing it correctly. We think our spiritual disciplines don’t measure up to those of other believers. We chastise ourselves for being too shallow. And, if we’re not careful, we sabotage all that he wants to do for us because we trying to do it ourselves.

This perfectionism—sometimes called “moralism”—is not what prayer is about. Prayer is practicing the presence of Christ in our lives. Prayer is living with an awareness of his presence and gratitude for his presence. Prayer was beautifully described by Paul when he said in God “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

So how do we escape the performance trap? “Go into your room, close the door.” Close the door on false expectations. Close out the “relationship rules” you or others have placed on prayer. Stop making prayer something you do and accept it as the gift of his presence—the presence he gives, not something you attain.

The door is closed. No one is looking or judging. You are alone with the One who already accepted you. Nothing to earn. Nothing to prove. Enjoy your time alone with God.

Pray: Thank the Lord for inviting you into his life.

 

Wednesday, February 27

Read: Psalm 23:1-6

Consider: Jesus said…

“When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6)

Be careful how you hear those words. Over the past two days we’ve looked at the performance trap—the danger of seeing our spiritual practices as vehicles to earn God’s favor, to gain human approval, or to simply make us feel good about ourselves. Because we so quickly fall into that way of thinking, it would be easy for us to hear the word “reward” in that manner. We are tempted to think that if we pray as Jesus instructed us to, he’ll later reward us with some kind of blessing. It may be earthly, or it may it be in heaven, but we’re working for some future prize. We see prayer as “I perform, then he rewards.” But I think that misses Jesus’ whole point.

The hypocrites that Jesus referred to saw religion in that quid pro quo manner. Because of their pretense, he said, they got a flimsy reward—they impressed people and impressed themselves. Big deal. But Jesus’ “reward” is different. His reward is his presence. When I close the door and get alone with God, I receive the greatest thing that could possibly be given to me—the awareness of God’s presence.

Listen to what that means.

“I lack nothing…he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul…even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil…my cup overflows.” (Psalm 23:1-5)

Could there be a greater reward?

Pray: Take some time to meditate on that great poem—Psalm 23. Get alone, sit or lie in a comfortable position, close your eyes and picture the “green pastures” and the “quiet waters.” Let him lead you there. Let him “restore” and “refresh” your soul. Picture yourself in those places of beauty with Christ by your side. That is the purpose of the poetry of the Bible. It is intended to help us see God in new ways and to understand our relationship with him beyond what we can grasp on an intellectual level. And remember, you don’t earn the refreshment of your soul. He leads, he guides, he restores.

 

Thursday, February 28

Read: Matthew 6:9-12

Consider: As we’ve seen in recent weeks, every phrase of The Lord’s Prayer brings with it a call. We begin the prayer with worship (6:9). But worship is a call on our lives—a call to give ourselves fully to God so that our worship is authentic and true. We ask God for his kingdom to come to earth and for his will to be done here and now (6:10). This calls us to commit ourselves to the work of the kingdom—to be agents of his love and grace. We pray for our daily needs to be supplied (6:11), but in so doing, we are called to simplicity and trust. We’re called to put our wants and our needs in proper perspective so that we can recognize God’s work as he supplies all our needs—as he gives us our “daily bread.”

But the next petition is even more strongly and explicitly connected to a call. Jesus said, “This is how you should pray…forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors” (6:12).

This must be awfully important to Jesus. For, just in case we don’t fully comprehend the connection between forgiving and being forgiven, he added this statement after the prayer…

“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (6:14-15)

Wow! Jesus is serious about forgiveness.

Of course, we all know that forgiving can be extremely difficult. No human knows the betrayal you have experienced except you. No person understands the wounds you have suffered except you. So, when Jesus calls us to the hard work of forgiveness, he is not talking about an easy forgiveness that ignores the depth of evil in our world. He is not saying that one day we are going to flip an emotional switch so that we can freely and easily forgive. No, the one who was on his way to the cross knew the terribly hard journey of forgiveness. And he invites us on that journey with him.

Forgiveness is usually a process. It is fraught with pain that eventually alleviates pain. But it is necessary. It liberates us from the bitterness that can consume us. It sets us free. But it must be undertaken by the power of the Holy Spirit. We can’t do it on our own. When we invite God into this process, he makes the impossible something that you and he can accomplish together.

Pray: “Lord, even though I may not have fully forgiven those who have harmed me, I am willing to learn how to forgive. Teach me. And thank you for forgiving me when I did not deserve your grace.”

 

Friday, March 1

Read: Matthew 18:21-35

Consider: Yesterday we considered the fact that forgiveness is often a process by which the Holy Spirit patiently teaches us and guides us on a healing journey of forgiveness because of great sins that have been perpetrated against us. But in today’s parable, Jesus seems to speak about a range of sins that we must forgive, including the small indignities of life. The debt that the servant owed to his king was a debt so huge—millions of dollars in contemporary terms—that he could never repay it. But the debt that was owed to this servant was just a few bucks. It was not a life-changing amount. It should not have been a big deal.

That’s descriptive of our lives. While there are times when we need the Holy Spirit to empower us to forgive in heroic ways, most of the time we need to have the integrity, discipline and self-control (which also come from God’s Spirit) to forgive the small stuff.

So, we need to see forgiveness as a lifestyle. That’s right, a lifestyle—part of the ebb and flow of everyday existence. Remember, Jesus said, “seventy times seven” (18:22).

I often say that if we’re going to be friends for any length of time, we’re going to have to forgive each other repeatedly. Most of the time we’ll need to forgive without being asked. We’ll need to overlook one another’s flaws, understand each other’s bad days, and give grace to each other when we struggle. We’ll need to understand that we often misinterpret one another’s words, actions or lack of action. No family, no friendship, no relationship of any kind can survive without the continuing humility to ask for forgiveness and the continuing grace to grant it.

I think that’s part of the beauty of The Lord’s Prayer. It’s not a prayer that is intended to be prayed once in a lifetime. No, it shows us the way we should pray every day. For just as we’re taught to pray for “daily bread” (6:11), we’re taught to pray for daily forgiveness and for grace to forgive every day.

What a great way to live!

Pray: “Lord, today is another day in which I will have the opportunity to be like you. You are the One who forgives. Give me the grace today to forgive others as you have forgiven me. Help me forgive people’s small mistakes that complicate my day. Help me to learn how to forgive the great injustices I’ve endured. And teach me how to forgive myself.”

 

Saturday, March 2

Read: Matthew 5:7

Consider: We’ve all experienced the awkwardness of praying The Lord’s Prayer in a setting other than our own church. When we get to the part about forgiveness, we get a little tentative because we don’t know if the leader is going to say, “forgive us our debts” or “forgive us our trespasses” or “forgive us our sins.” As soon as we get to “And lead us not into temptation,” we’re home free.

So, what does the New Testament say? Well, in Luke’s account Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us” (11:4). In Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).

Does it matter which way we say it? No. Generally speaking we get the same message, because Jesus made it clear at the end of the prayer that “if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (6:14). But there’s a context here that is helpful to our understanding of forgiveness. It helps us to see that sometimes forgiveness is the act of showing mercy.

In Matthew’s account, when Jesus spoke about “debts” and “debtors,” his listeners probably took those words at face value. They didn’t look at “debt” as a poetic way of talking about sin. They were thinking about economics. Jesus was speaking to people who had a heritage of living in community. In those small villages they shared chores, possessions, child rearing and life. But Jesus spoke to them at a time when Caesar and Herod were bleeding them dry through outrageous taxation. Because they had lost so much, they were tempted to hoard what they had. Community gave way to “every man for himself.” So, Jesus was not only telling them to remember that God had cancelled their debt of sin, he was also reminding them to be people of grace and mercy in all areas of life. God watched out for you. Watch out for each other.

At times, forgiveness can be best understood as being willing to cancel what someone owes you—whatever kind of debt that may be.

Pray:“Lord, teach me how I may show mercy to someone today. Perhaps someone will withhold kindness that I deserve as a child of God. Perhaps someone owes me gratitude for something I’ve done for them. Help me to remember the debts you cancelled for me and teach me how to forgive the debts of others. Thank you for your grace.”

The Lord’s Prayer — Week 3

Monday, February 18

Read: Matthew 6:5-11

Consider: One of the things that continually impacts us about The Lord’s Prayer is the simplicity of it. The phrases are short, the requests succinct. After all, Jesus had just told us not to “keep on babbling” in our prayers (6:7), thinking that there is more power to them if we multiply the words. No, the opposite is true. There is beauty and power in simplicity.

And could there possibly be a simpler request when it comes to our needs? Jesus said, “This is how you should pray…‘give us today our daily bread’” (6:9-11).

That’s it? No begging? No deal making (as in, “If you do this one thing for me, God, I promise I’ll…”)? No planting of financial “seeds” to convince God that you’re serious? Just “Give us today our daily bread”? What’s the catch?

Well, there is no catch, but there is something more that is needed. For the last two weeks we’ve seen that a call to pray is also a call to act. It is a call to enflesh—to live out—the prayer we pray. When we begin the prayer with worship — “hallowed be your name” (6:9) — we’re called to give ourselves to him completely. We’re called to cast down our idols and all the gods in our lives that compete with the giver of life. When we pray for his kingdom to come and his will to be done “on earth as it is in heaven” (6:10), we’re called to participate in the work of that kingdom—to be part of the answer to that prayer. So, when we’re called to ask for our daily bread, we’re called to combine that simple request with simple trust.

No begging. No deal making. No threatening. No cajoling. No bribing. Just trust.

After all, “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (6:8).

Pray: “Lord, this week as I consider my relationship with you in the context of my daily needs, teach me to trust you in ways I never have before. Teach me to rest on your promises. Teach me to cast my anxieties on you. I don’t want to dishonor you by refusing to believe that you really care for me. Thank you that today you hear my simple prayer for daily bread.”

 

Tuesday, February 19

Read: Exodus 16:1-21

Consider: Okay, let’s be honest. How many of us would have tried to gather enough manna for more than one day? After all, it was just lying there on the ground. It wasn’t going to hurt anyone if it was stockpiled. What if it didn’t come the next day? Wouldn’t it be wise to have enough for you and your family in case God didn’t deliver the following morning? So that’s exactly what some of the Israelites did, only to wake up and find maggots and stench where there had been the sweet taste of honey wafers (16:20, 31).

Why did God choose to feed his people in such a strange way? Well, this was only temporary. When they reached the land of promise they would plant fields and raise animals. They would feed their families in the ways of seed time and harvest. But while they were in the wilderness they had to be fed by the hand of God. And God wanted them to learn how to trust him—every single day.

Did you notice that Jesus asked us to pray for just one day of “manna” at a time? He said, “This is how you should pray…‘give us today our daily bread’” (6:9-11).

How are we praying? “Give us this year our yearly bread”? “Give me a lifetime guarantee so that I’ll never have to depend on you moment-by-moment”? We often pray that way, and sometimes we don’t pray at all for daily bread. We just depend on our own resources. But we’re not called to trust our own wisdom, our own cleverness or our own strength. We’re called to trust the One who gives us wisdom, makes us clever and strengthens us day by day.

So, God teaches his children to be totally dependent on him. He teaches us that he is with us today and that he will be with us tomorrow.

By the way, one of the things the Israelites had to learn was that even in the land of promise when they were planting fields and raising animals, it was still their God who was supplying their needs. He is the giver of all good things.

Pray: “Lord, please supply my needs today—not just my physical needs, but my spiritual and relational needs as well. And I thank you in advance, because I know the ‘manna’ will be there for me. I won’t ‘gather’ for tomorrow by being consumed with worry. You are with me today and I’m confident you’ll be here tomorrow.”

 

Wednesday, February 20

Read: Matthew 6:25-34

Consider: A few verses down from The Lord’s Prayer we find Jesus enlarging on that simple request he invited us to pray, “Give us today our daily bread” (6:11).

He speaks about trust. He repeatedly tells us there is no need to worry (6:25, 27, 28, 31, 34). He assures us that our Heavenly Father is aware of our needs (6:32). And then he gives us a powerful tool.

How many times has someone said to you, “Don’t worry,” as if that instruction alone will do the trick? If it was that easy—if you could just flip a switch and quit worrying—you would have done that a long time ago. But the anxiety won’t leave, and you’re plagued with “what ifs.” It almost angers you when someone glibly says, “Don’t worry about it!”

But there is nothing glib in Jesus’ instruction. He tells us how—through his power—to be at peace.

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (6:34)

In other words, Jesus is teaching us to live in the present moment. A few years ago, I heard a speaker who had studied anxiety and depression. Now, don’t get me wrong, I know there are no simple answers to clinical depression. It is not a spiritual problem, but often a physiological and chemical problem which requires medication and therapy. But even for people suffering from severe anxiety and depression who must take it very seriously and use resources for support, this professional was encouraging them to learn to live in the moment—to find joy in the “right now.” He saw this as part of the answer to dealing with anxiety.

Jesus told us where we shouldn’t live. We shouldn’t live in the troubles of tomorrow (6:34) or the regrets of the past. With simple trust, we ask the Father for what it is that we need right now (6:11), and we thank him for filling our right-now needs.

One of the most important spiritual disciplines we can develop is the capacity to live in the moment. But it is not simply a matter of being present. It is being present while being aware of Christ’s presence.

Pray: “Lord, help me to live in the joy of this moment. That joy comes from the knowledge that you are with me right now. May your presence be real to me throughout this day. And tomorrow…well, we’ll think about that tomorrow.”

 

Thursday, February 21

Read: Matthew 6:25-34

Consider: Jesus said, “Do not worry about tomorrow” (6:34). A literal translation would read, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow” or “have no anxiety about tomorrow.”

I know it’s not the best translation of this passage, but I just love the way it is rendered in the King James Version of the Bible…

“Take therefore no thought for the morrow…”

Take no thought? Come on! Well, like I said, it’s probably not the most accurate way to translate it from the original language. But you’ll have to admit, there’s real beauty to it.

I know, I have to think about tomorrow. I’ve made appointments. There are schedules to keep. There are bills that will need to be paid. I must show up for work ready to go. I have to prepare for tomorrow with adequate sleep and nutrition. But what I love about “take no thought for tomorrow” is the joy of that statement. When Jesus tells us to trust him, he’s not talking about a forced dependence or a begrudging dependence on him. He’s talking about a dependence that brings joy and freedom.

Yes, you and I are very responsible people. We’ve given thought for the tomorrows of our lives. But for now—for right now—could we just “take no thought for tomorrow”? Could we just bask in the presence of the One who has given us this moment?

Pray: “Lord, thank you for your presence in my life right now. Because I have you, I have everything I need. I don’t know what all I will need tomorrow. But for now—in this moment—my needs are met, for you are with me, and your presence meets all of my needs.”

 

Friday, February 22

Read: Matthew 6:19-21

Consider: The passage we’ve read for the past two days in which Jesus instructed us to put away worry and to live in the present, is preceded by an important perspective he has for us. Within the Sermon on the Mount we read about the things that Jesus wants us to highly value. And, at this point in the sermon, we also read about the things on which he doesn’t want us to place a high value.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…” (6:19-20)

I believe this is Jesus’ way of saying, “Consider what is temporal and what is eternal, then value what is eternal.”

Let’s not separate this from the words that follow about the liberation of living in the moment. (See Wednesday’s and Thursday’s meditation on 6:25-34.) When we figure out what is really important, we begin to see that so many of our worries are silly. So, before Jesus spoke to us about worry, he spoke to us about simplicity—the simplicity of our desires and the simplicity of our values.

“Treasures on earth”—temporal stuff—often take more than they give. We find ourselves worried and stressed about things that really don’t have all that much value. Perhaps we’ve spent a lot of money or time or effort on something, so we believe it is to be highly valued, cared for and protected. But what if we’ve spent our money, time and effort on the wrong thing? We then end up valuing it in inappropriate ways, because, as Jesus said, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (6:21).

The simplicity of that request in The Lord’s Prayer — “Give us today our daily bread” (6:11) — is to be part of a broader simplicity in our lives. When our desires are in sync with God’s will for us, simple trust is easier to find.

Simplicity is more than minimalism. It is a spiritual reality—an inside-out work of the heart—that brings perspective, focus and liberation.

Pray: “Lord, lead me on this journey. Teach me how to value what is truly precious and release me from bondage to the things that don’t really matter.”

 

Saturday, February 23

Read: Proverbs 30:7-9

Consider: I’ll have to admit, I can’t remember the last time I prayed, “Give me neither poverty nor riches” (30:8). I think all of us, in some manner, have asked God to keep us from falling into poverty. But I’m guessing very few of us have asked God to make sure we never get rich. I mean, have you ever heard of someone buying a lottery ticket and praying that it wasn’t a winner?

“Give me neither poverty nor riches” seems like a strange way to begin a prayer, but the words that follow sound very familiar.

“…but give me only my daily bread.” (30:8)

We call the Book of Proverbs part of the “Wisdom Literature” of the Old Testament. And the writer is truly giving us some wise counsel as we listen in on his conversation with God. He’s afraid that money will become an idol—that he will find his sufficiency in material wealth—and that when that happens, he will “disown” God (30:9). That kind of person is described as asking a strange question — “Who is the Lord?” (30:9). It shows that there are other gods competing for his allegiance.

Our lives are complex because of competing voices demanding allegiance. So many things are vying for our attention and our affection. Some are beautiful and some are toxic. So, it takes wisdom, intentionality and commitment to recognize the false gods. As we simplify our lives, we gain a better perspective which empowers our liberation.

And so, the wisdom writer decides that the best course of action is to simply pray for his “daily bread.” I believe God agrees with his wisdom, for he chose to give the Israelites only enough manna for one day at a time. And our Lord lovingly taught us the joy and freedom of simplicity when he taught us to pray, “Give us today our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11).

Pray: 

“Our Father in heaven,
Holy is your name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:
For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.”