Fat Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, and Lent

mardi-grasGrowing up in a non-denominational, evangelical tradition of worship, I was never particularly encouraged to participate in a liturgical event like Lent. Historically, after the Reformation, many Protestant churches abandoned the observance of Lent and other liturgical practices in distancing themselves from abuses in the Catholic church. Personally, the obscene excesses of Mardi Gras, the licentiousness of Fat Tuesday, and the legalistic penance I’ve observed on Ash Wednesday caused me to distance myself from Lent, too.

Rather than throwing out the baby with the bathwater, however, maybe we should consider the spiritual and relational benefits of preparing our hearts to remember the crucifixion of Jesus and celebrate His resurrection. Rather than giving up on Lent, it’s time we look to Jesus at Easter the same way we anticipate His Advent at Christmas.

journeyLent is a forty day journey of preparation —a season of prayer (talking and listening to God), fasting (focusing on God) and repentance (turning toward God and His purposes). It’s a time for reflecting on our shared experience of the suffering, death and glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ, the very center of our faith.

Like the Apostle Paul, “My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” – Philippians 3:10

Lent could be, if observed in the context of our relationship with God by grace, a time of self-examination that leads us to the end of our self-sufficiency and to full dependence on Jesus. The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary describes Lent as,

“The English word (stemming from an Anglo-Saxon word for ‘spring’ and related to the English word ‘lengthen’) that refers to the penitential period preceding Easter. Early Christians felt that the magnitude of the Easter celebration called for special preparation. As early as the second century, many Christians observed several days of fasting as part of that preparation.”

The traditional 40 day calendar for Lent goes from Ash Wednesday (March 6) to Easter (April 21), with exceptions for Sundays (always a feast day).  Ash Wednesday derives its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of adherents as a celebration and reminder of human mortality, as a sign of mourning over sin, and repentance of turning to God in faith.

40daysForty is a significant number in the Bible—it signals a time of waiting and preparation. In Genesis, Moses shows us Noah and his family in the ark, enduring the rains for 40 days and nights (Genesis 7:17). Moses, himself, spends another 40 days and nights on the top of a mountain, neither eating nor drinking as he experiences the presence of God (Exodus 34:28). In Numbers 14, Moses shows that the Lord God, fed up with the complaining and rebellion of the Israelites, condemned them to 40 years of wandering in the desert based on the 40 days they scouted the land of Canaan. We discover from Deuteronomy 8:2 that the purpose for the Israelites’ 40 year journey was to humble them and test them so they would realize what was in their hearts and their need for God’s presence and power.

Mirroring the Old Testament, the gospel writers of the New Testament reveal Jesus spending 40 days in the wilderness, fasting, and being tempted (tested) by Satan: “Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness 40 days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and the angels began to serve Him” (Mark 1:12-13, Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13).

reflections on Christ - crucifixionFollowing this pattern, followers of Jesus throughout the centuries have marked the 40 days leading up to His death and resurrection by a similar period of fasting  and testing known as Lent. May this season of Lent be one of repentance, hope, and joy in the resurrection of Christ—one that will last beyond these 40 days.

Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.

Love One Another

At the core of every person’s life is a need for relationships — with God and with God’s people.  God designed us, as people made in His image, with a desire to love and be loved. And yet, in our selfishness and sinfulness, it seems all we can think of is ourselves – me, myself, and I.

In the New Testament of the Bible,  many “one another” commands reorient our thinking and our living to think of others more and live for others above ourselves – all because JESUS loves us, loved us first, and loves us the best.

Are you stuck in a rut of feeling lonely and alone? Meditate with me on these commands to be lived out by Jesus’ power within us to love others as He loves you and me.

Accept one another
Therefore accept one another, just as the Messiah also accepted you, to the glory of God. (Romans 15:7)
Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, accepting one anotherand forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. (Colossians 3:12–13)

Admonish one another
Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)

Agree with one another
Be in agreement with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation. (Romans 12:16)

Bear with one another
Walk worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love. (Ephesians 4:2)

Build up one another
So then, we must pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another. (Romans 14:19)

Care for one another
God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the less honorable, so that there would be no division in the body, but that the members would have the same concern for each other. (1 Corinthians 12:25)

Carry one another’s burdens
Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)

Comfort one another
Therefore encourage (comfort) one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:18)

Be Compassionate to one another
And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ. (Ephesians 4:32)

Confess sins to one another
Therefore, confess your sins to one anotherand pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect.(James 5:16)

Be Devoted to one another
Show family affection to one another with brotherly love. (Romans 12:10a)

Encourage one another
Encourage each other daily, while it is still called today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception. (Hebrews 3:13)

Forgive one another
And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ. (Ephesians 4:32)
Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, accepting one another and forgiving one anotherif anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. (Colossians 3:12–13)

Get along with one another
Now may the God who gives endurance and encouragement allow you to live in harmony with one another, according to the command of Christ Jesus. (Romans 15:5)

Be Honest with one another
Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old self with its practices (Colossians 3:9)

Honor one another
Outdo one another in showing honor. (Romans 12:10b)

Be Hospitable to one another
Be hospitable to one another without complaining. (1 Peter. 4:9)
Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality. (Romans 12:13)

Be Kind to one another
And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ. (Ephesians 4:32)

Love one another
“I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
Do not owe anyone anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. . .(Romans 13:8)

Motivate another
And let us inspire one anotherin order to promote love and good works. (Hebrews 10:24)

Pray for one another
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect.(James 5:16)

Serve one another
For you were called to be free, brothers; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love. (Galatians 5:13)

Share with one another
Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality. (Romans 12:13)

Submit to one another
Give thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of Christ. (Ephesians 5:21)

Unity with one another
We who are many are one body in Christ and individually members of one another. (Romans 12:5)

Welcome one another
Greet one another with a holy kiss. (Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26)

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

Revelation

Reading thru the Bible  over the last 365 days of 2018, I’m finishing with the vision revealed to the Apostle John who was exiled on the island of Patmos because of His testimony about Jesus some time after 90AD.

What John wrote in the book of Revelation fascinates us and has caused generations of Christ followers to wonder as we wait for the end times. We’re strangely curious about Bible prophecy. The visions of the future seen and written down by John are similar to political cartons of our day that would seem strange without specific context and knowledge of particular individuals or circumstances. The intense scenes of real events yet to come encourage us to persevere today and remain faithful in the days ahead (Revelation 13:10).

Revelation isn’t primarily about prophecy, though. It’s about a person: JESUS. The book of Revelation focuses our attention of the person, power, and, future program of Jesus, the Lamb of God who was slain for the sins of the world.

To him who loves us and has set us free from our sins by his blood, and made us a kingdom, priests, to his God and Father—to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Revelation 1:5–6

 In the same way Christmas is not just about Jesus coming as a baby in Bethlehem; it’s about Him returning as our King to judge the nations and the rebels of God.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “the One who is, who was, and who is coming, the Almighty.” Revelation 1:8

The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever. Revelation 11:15

The book of Revelation isn’t just a fitting conclusion to the end of the year, but also to the end of Advent season as we anticipate the second coming of Jesus and his coming kingdom on Earth.

As we look back today over the events and activities of the past year (2018), we also look ahead with faith as we wait for our coming King.

He who testifies about these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! Revelation 22:20

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ in 2019 or until He comes back.

church fights

Fighting-in-the-Pews

It has been said that “church fights are the worst fights,” perhaps because they break out among people who profess to believe in unity and love. You name it, Christians fight over it. Sometimes the disagreements are over trivial matters, but often they are serious conflicts from different viewpoints. Many Christians have been so hurt by a fellow believer that they walk away from the church and never return.

In a recent blog Dr. Thom Rainer, President & CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources & former Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Professor, listed 10 reasons for conflicts that arise in the church. They mainly include unfair expectations and misunderstood intentions but are common issues in many churches. Conflict happens in every church. This conflict is sometimes managed well. Other times, not so much.

We can observe a biblical example of a personal conflict between two good, godly men, Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15:36-41. Their conflict is not about even an essential or biblical issue, but personal one regarding a person: John Mark.

Here’s a great story that highlights the realities of relationships. God is moving in the hearts of His people and working through them to take the message of salvation by grace through Christ to the world. Paul and Barnabas decide, let’s go back and encourage the believers in the church. Yea! From Barnabas’ perspective, it made perfectly good sense to take his cousin, John Mark, with them again because he started out with them the first time. “What?!?” Paul thought. We are not taking that guy, that quitter, with us again. Earlier in Perga (Acts 13:13), John Mark left Paul and Barnabas to return to Jerusalem. Paul didn’t approve of John Mark’s decision and Luke did not record his reasons or motives in either chapter. Regardless, Paul and Barnabas “had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed off to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and departed.”  Unresolved conflict.

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So how can we preserve unity while personally disagreeing with another? Here are four things to consider in every disagreement over non-essential, personal issues.

1. Expect disagreements as normal because of natural differences. Like fingerprints, each person’s background, temperament, experiences, relationships, and perspectives are unique. Because of differences, people will naturally disagree with one another. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s just a part of being human. Consider some of the differences between Paul and Barnabas: Paul was about the work; Barnabas the worker. Paul was more task oriented; Barnabas who was more people oriented. Paul was missional whereas Barnabas was personal. Paul was a teacher and Barnabas was more of a pastor. They had a different relationship with John Mark since he was Barnabas’ cousin (Colossians 4:10). There were other differences between Paul and Barnabas in regard to their training, home-life, temperament, spiritual gifts, experiences, and passions. In other words, they were different.

2. Even good, godly people will not always agree. This personal, relational conflict between these two godly men helps us see this. The Greek word, paraxusmos, is the word from which we derive our English word paroxysm, which denotes violent action or emotion. This was not a mild disagreement but an intense and passionate conflict! The term, when used negatively, describes anger, irritation, or exasperation in a disagreement. In Hebrews 10:24, it is used positively of stimulating or stirring someone to love and good deeds. Disagreeing is not always a sign of sin or selfishness. Robert Cook has said, “God reserves the right to use people who disagree with me.” By accommodating one another in love, mature believers can disagree without being disagreeable.

3. Every disagreement has an issue and varying viewpoints.  The issue always involves principles. The viewpoints always involve personalities. Differing points of view on the same issue are what usually causes conflict, not two different issues. Sometimes, identifying the issue and the viewpoints can greatly help us understand one another and move us toward a resolution and reconciliation. What is the issue? Is it essential, biblical, or personal?  What are the viewpoints? How could two godly men, both with good intentions see the same issue and come to such different conclusions? Why it so difficult to understand what another person is thinking?

4. Each viewpoint is valid in most disagreements. The story of the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas makes us uncomfortable, but Luke’s realism in recording it helps us to remember that these two godly men, as they themselves said to the people of Lystra, were “human beings with feelings like” any other (Acts 14:15). Notice that Luke does not relate the conflict in such a way as to put Paul in the right and Barnabas in the wrong or vise versa. BOTH of them had a valid perspective. In the heat of an argument, we usually see only one side - our own (perspective, personality, communication style, bias, etc.). But if the disagreement issue is not objective (either theologically or biblically), then it’s subjective. It’s personal for each Christian and not universal for every Christian. There’s room for someone else’s view, right?

A phrase used and applied often in our home that addresses disagreements because of various, valid viewpoints is this: “It’s not wrong; it’s just different.”

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The easy thing, the natural, and, unfortunately, normal thing to do when we’re involved in a conflict is to blame the other person (write them off) and/or walk away (either emotionally or physically or both). For me personally, nothing wears me out or weighs me down more than unresolved conflict. Maybe it’s because as I was growing up in my home, conflict was something to be avoided. And what I learned by experience in my family was that usually unresolved conflict resulted in withdrawal (physical, emotional, or both). So out of fear of distance and lost relationship, I naturally want to avoid conflict at all costs. I’m still growing, I’m still learning, I’m still very much “in process”.

What we need when sharp disagreements arise is for God’s Spirit to HEAL our relationships by resolving our conflicts.

How? I’ll address resolving conflict in my next blog post. 

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

Racism and Racialization

Most of the people I know are not guilty of racism, but many (whites) like me, and including me, are culpable of racialization – the collective misunderstanding of cultural position or unintentional misuse of power which causes racial division and results in diminished life opportunities for other racial groups.
Racialization is so embedded within our culture, it seems so normal, and it’s so difficult for some to see that the intentions our words or actions don’t have to be racist to contribute to racial division and inequality. Because our racialized society often both produces and reflects misunderstanding, hostility, disorder, unequal treatment, conflict, violence, compromised life opportunities, and other social problems, our nation has historically, with varying degrees of intensity, searched for ways to overcome it. And, yet, our nation still struggles with it.
Racial reconciliation with others will never happen by simply pursing love or unity – it will only come from pursuing Christ who reconciled us to God so that we can be reconciled with each other (2 Cor. 5:18-20).

That’s why I’m committed, as a white man by God’s creation and a follower of His Son, Jesus, by faith, to pursing multi-cultural relationships, multi-ethnic reconciliation among them, and multi-facited collaboration within and among local churches as a part of Threaded.

As we meet together and share our lives together (who we are), I’m constantly challenged in my thinking and perspectives, I’m continually encouraged by other fully-devoted followers of Jesus Christ, and I’m completely loved (when I ask stupid questions or same dumb things) by amazing men and women who by God’s design are different than me.

Follow me… not because I’m perfect… but because I’m following Christ.

 

Music and Memories

Music helps us connect life experiences with past memories. We need older songs to help us remember God’s Word and His faithfulness. At the same time, we also need new songs to make new connections. Words may challenge the mind, but music speaks to the heart.

This morning while reading through Psalm 9, I was reminded of a Keith Green song from years ago that helped me connect God’s Word during some difficult circumstances.

“I will give thanks to the LORD with all my heart; I will tell of all Your wonders, I will be glad and exult in Thee.” 

I remember the verse because of a simple musical tune. I’m reminded of times as a much younger man when I was faced with decisions to either give in to doubt and become bitter OR trust the LORD and give thanks.
Now years later, I can rejoice in the God who delivered me and continues to lead me. The Keith Green song is definitely dated and probably wouldn’t mean much to my kids or a younger generation. They need new songs to remind them of God’s Word and His faithfulness.

And the reality is that I need new songs, too, to be reminded that God is still working in the world. He’s still making things new. And He’s still working in me.

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

Racial Reconciliation

Achieving racial reconciliation is challenging and seemingly impossible — both in our country and within the church. The stipulations imposed on us because of our differences should not determine how we relate to one another, but sadly, it seems they do.

The most recent deaths of Alton Sterling (Baton Rouge, LA) and Philander Castile (St. Anthony, MN) by police and the deaths of 5 police officers (Dallas, TX) by Micah Johnson have once again ignited lingering embers of hatred and fear within our nation. We hear cries of “Black Lives Matter,” “Blue Lives Matter”, “All Lives Matter,” and more — each with their own allegations, critics, and followers.

Reconciliation 6When it comes to racism in America, it seems like our country hasn’t learned from the past or grown up from its failures of slavery, the Civil War, Jim Crow laws, segregation, and social bias. We can point fingers, blame politicians, scoff at social activists, and become hardened to the problems. We can remain ignorant to it or try to ignore it. But the problems of racism and the realities of its hatred are only increasing. Today, racism in America is no longer just a black and white issue.

Racism comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Racism isn’t just a southern problem, an urban problem, a Middle-East problem, or a American problem. Racism is a human problem. And it has always been a sin problem. It can be found in every culture but, it is most visible when cultures clash and inequities are felt.

At its core, racism begins with selfish pride and can be flamed into selfish hate when influenced over time with experience. Its siblings, classism and elitism, come from the same selfish, sinful, Satantic origins.  Racism won’t be eliminated from the world until sin is cleansed from our hearts and removed from the world in God’s time.

Human history, especially American history, demonstrates that diversity can too often complicate life and contradict holiness, but in Christ, a place where by grace we belong, we find unity. Lord help us, “above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

Reconciliation 4With this prayer, may we who belong to God’s family by faith in Christ alone always celebrate and prioritize our Christian family identity in Christ above ALL else (including our view of police or our stance on politics) and find our unity in Christ as the truest definition of our lives regardless of our skin color, cultural differences, socio-economic backgrounds, family status, or political leanings.

We need to live the way Christ wants us to live— united in Him. Diversity within the body of Christ has been the DNA of Christianity from the first century, and especially of the church—and the Lord delights in it!

Our reconciliation with others will never happen by pursing unity – it will only come from pursuing Christ who reconciled us to God.

Consider the following Scriptures:

For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by His life! And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have now received this reconciliation through Him. (Romans 5:10-11)

In Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed the message of reconciliation to us. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:19–20)

Only when we are reconciled with God through faith in Christ as our death substitute can we have hope of reconciling with others through life’s sojourn.
Reconciliation 1Since the shooting of Michael Brown on August 9, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri, our country has become a tinder box of racial tension, division, and fear. Over the last week of the latest racial conflicts in our country and here in our community, we’ve heard some rhetoric that seems way over the top. We’ve experienced the anger and fears between the black community and law enforcement. We’ve been horrified by the vengeance of misguided individuals. But, should the overreaction of some cause us to overreact or worse, not react at all?

What can I do?  What can you do? WHAT CAN WE DO?

Intercede through prayer. Ask God to soften our hardened hearts, reveal our racial blind spots, and heal the deep festering wounds. The Lord God is the only one who can do so (Psalm 139:23–24). We know that reconciliation is God’s will according to His Word (Romans 12, Ephesians 2, and 2 Corinthians 5), so let’s pray without ceasing that we will be His ambassadors of peace and ministers of reconciliation. Let’s pray for those who are grieving deeply today over the loss of lives and weep with them. Let’s pray that we will respond to God as we reach out in grace to others – even those who are different and see the world differently than we do. Let’s pray for our brothers and sisters who are living in fear because of the color of their skin. Let’s pray for our police officers and other first responders who are serving faithfully during days of intense scrutiny and pressure. Let’s pray for the Lord to give wisdom to our governing authorities as they lead our country, “so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:2).

Instruct your own heart and mind through clear teaching of God’s Word under the direction of the Holy Spirit. We must recognize that the misinterpretation of the Bible has been utilized as a tool of prejudice and the misuse of Scripture as weapon of racism throughout American history, so we must approach Him in humility to learn from the Lord rather than reinforce our anger, justify our distrust, or rationalize our sinfulness. Let’s read more of the Bible to feed our souls with God’s heavenly perspective (could I suggest Ephesians?) than refreshing your newsfeed on social media which is filled with the vitriolic bias of humanity’s limited viewpoints.

Interact with others who are different. Let’s build intentional relationships (friendships), with neighbors, coworkers, classmates, and, especially, fellow members of God’s family who are different ethnically or racially. Let’s be those who are quick to listen to others who view the world differently because of their culture or their experiences, slow to speak our mind and share our opinions, and slow to become angry with those who are different than us. This starts with believing the best rather than assuming the worst of others who like us, bear God’s image. Verbally acknowledge the hurts and fears of others and seek reconciliation in Christ.

Reconciliation 5I confess, the outlook of this ongoing racial conflict which has been embedded in our nation since its beginnings and within our sinful hearts since the Garden (Genesis 3) looks hopeless. But, with God, nothing is impossible (Genesis 18:14; Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:27; Luke 1:37, 18:27).

Please, Lord Jesus, hear our prayers, transform our hearts, and reconcile our relationships.

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.