Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Day 37 :: God on a Cross

“Messiah, is He? King of Israel?
Then let Him climb down from that cross.
We’ll all become believers then!”
Even the men crucified alongside Him
joined in the mockery.”
Mark 15:32

In the book, The Cross of Christ, author John Stott writes this descriptive reality about the cross:

I could never myself believe in God if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the one Nietzsche ridiculed as “God on the Cross.” In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world. But each time after awhile I have had to turn away. And in imagination, I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through his hands
and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in God-forsaken darkness. That is the God for me!

He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of his. There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark, the cross which symbolizes divine suffering.*

Reflection: Jesus suffered a brutal death. He was executed on a stake as a criminal. Many were they who came within spitting distance of this so-called Messiah. Somehow many of us have become numb to this scene. Perhaps, ever so slowly it has become buried under the rubble of pop culture and consumerist religion. Spend some time reflecting on these penetrating words by Alexander Whyte:

You will understand that spitting scene that night
when God lets you see your own heart.*

Prayer: Humbly ask God to reveal to you what your heart looks like without Christ. Allow this image to produce within you gratefulness today for what He’s done and how He’s begun to give you a new heart.

*John Stott, The Cross of Christ, 326-327.
*Alexander Whyte, The Best of Alexander Whyte, 76.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Day 36 of Lent :: Outside the Gate

“And they brought Him to the place Golgotha,
which is translated, Place of a Skull.”
Mark 15:22

“I want to recover the truth that Jesus was not crucified on an altar between two candlesticks,
but on a garbage heap at a crossroads of the world . . .

...where soldiers gambled and cynics talked smut.”
George McCloud

Reflection: Sit in hushed silence with God today, enjoying Him, cherishing these moments as precious gifts to you and blessings to Him. There is sorrow in the cross, but also great joy. The anticipation of joy is what enabled Jesus to endure the horror of Calvary. Read the following quote slowly, and offer it as a prayer (or give your own) to the Lord based on the joy you sense as you consider the cross today. In your own mind, stand at the top of Mount Calvary. See the crowds coming and going below. See the massive Temple and the beautiful city of Jerusalem. Hear the conversations of those who’ve come up the hill. Watch Jesus take the final steps to the
top. Imagine His emotions, thoughts, and fears.

Carefully consider the following verses:

“For the bodies of those animals whose blood is
brought into the holy place
by the high priest as an offering for sin,
are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also,
that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered
outside the gate.
So, let us go out to Him outside the camp,
bearing His reproach. “
Hebrews 13:11-13

Reflection: See Jesus suffering outside the gate of Jerusalem. Go to him, bearing (figuratively carrying) his reproach (suffering, reviling, upbraiding). This simply means to feel within and have a deep appreciation for all He endured, willing to suffer yourself, if it will further His kingdom.

After a while, write a few words expressing your thoughts and compassion to Christ.

Prayer: Lord, you who own the cattle on a thousand hills now suffer reproach on one of them. The scent of your sacrifice is a stench in the nostrils of those who do not understand, those who look the other way, those who clutch their rebellion to their blackened heart. But to me Lord, it is sweet -- sometimes too strong for my sinful soul – but sweet nonetheless. Help me to breathe deeply that your aroma of death might finally permeate my heart of hearts.*

*Prayer by Tricia McCary Rhodes in Contemplating the Cross, 98.

Day 35 of Lent :: In My Place

Read the following verse, very slowly.

"God demonstrates His own love toward us,
in that while we were yet sinners,
Christ died for us.”
Romans 5:8

How can hope be expressed in the face of senseless suffering? It began with a story that Elie Wiesel, a survivor of the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz, relates in his book Night:

“The SS hung two Jewish men and a boy before the assembled inhabitants of the camp. The men died quickly but the death of the boy lasted half an hour. ‘Where is God?’ a man behind me asked. As the boy, after a long time, was still in agony on the rope, I heard the man cry again, “Where is God now?” And I heard a voice within me answer, ‘Here He is—He is hanging here on this gallows.’”*

Reflection: Take a few moments and reflect on the above verse from 2 Corinthians combined with the image of “God hanging in the gallows.”

“As you gaze upon the cross, and long for conformity to Him,
be not weary or fearful because you cannot express in words what you seek.
Ask Him to plant the cross in your heart.
Believe in Him, the crucified and now living one,
to dwell within you, and breathe His own mind there.”

Andrew Murray

Prayer: Oh God, I hear Your victory cry, and I want to shout, too. My heart has wept with You, and now I rejoice in Your joy at going to Your Father. I see You leaving that Cross, and there stained with Your life’s blood are my own sins – a certificate of debt I could never pay – nailed to the wood with the nails that once held You there. But You are gone; You have paid it all, and I wonder how I can ever express my praise.*

*Eli Wiesel, The Night Trilogy: Night, Dawn, Day, 82.
*Prayer by Tricia McCary Rhodes in Contemplating the Cross, 149.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Fasting Focus :: Sixth Week of Lent

Sixth Week of Lent


This Holy Week, we will be reflecting on the sacrifice of Christ, where the Infinite, Eternal God stepped into time and space. As such, this week, we will be fasting our time.

Go out of your way for others this week. Fast from indulging yourself time-wise. Get up a half-hour or an hour earlier. Make it a goal this week to bless someone else through your words or actions daily; to give someone else the gift of your listening ear. Resist the urge to share your troubles, and instead focus on someone else and helping to share in theirs. Commit this week to doing something for someone else. Perhaps, help a friend move or paint, serve the poor, stop and help a stranger, especially if you are in a hurry to get somewhere.

Keep journal entries of what it’s like to spend your time on others.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Day 34 of Lent :: Thirsty

“After this, Jesus,
knowing that all things
had already been accomplished,
in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled,
‘I am thirsty.’”
John 19:28

Reflection: Does Christ still thirst? As He looks at our world, are there things that He longs to see transpire? How will you respond to His thirst? What difference will it make in your own life?

“How do you approach the thirst of Jesus?
Only one secret – the closer you come to Jesus,
the better you will
know His thirst.
Jesus thirsts even now,
in your heart and in the
He knows your weakness,

He wants only your love,
wants only the chance to love you.”
Mother Teresa

Prayer: Oh Jesus, how I long to quench Your thirst. I see You there, and I want to run with a cool glass of water from a fresh spring. For this is what You did for me when my soul dwelt in a dry and thirsty land. You came rushing in, oh River of life, and now from my innermost being flow forth springs of living water. I will quench Your thirst, dearest Savior. To a lost and dying world, I will offer a cup in Your name.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Day 33 of Lent :: When Heaven Kisses Eart

“When we look at His cross,
we understand His love.
His head is bent down to kiss us.
His hands are extended to embrace us.
His heart is wide open to receive us.”
Augustine of Hippo

Reflection: Come in deep reverence to spend time in God’s presence today. Gently open your heart -- see yourself taking off your shoes to enter the holy of holies where God will speak to your own heart.

Read the following verses as a prayer back to Christ

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth,
visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or
authorities – all things have been created through Him and for Him.
He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”
Colossians 1:15-17

Reflection: Ponder the contrast of the two images depicted here: the one by Augustine and the one by the Apostle Paul. These are both vivid images of Who Christ is.

Reflect on what great a God we have.

He holds everything together by the power of His might, yet allowed Himself to be nailed down and held lifeless on a tree.

In silence, take a few deep breaths, relax and visualize yourself before the cross looking at the image of Jesus presented by Augustine: Head bent down to kiss you, Hands extended to embrace you, Heart wide open to receive you. You may want to repeat these lines several times under your breath. Take time to simply be with Christ, receive His love and experience His embrace…

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Day 32 of Lent :: Looking Up

“The very existence of the cross,
and of the crucified Christ, forces

us to make a crucial decision:
Will we look for God somewhere else,

or will we make the cross,
and the crucified Christ,
the basis of our

thought about God?”
Alistair E. McGrath

The Psalmist poses the question:

“I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;
from where shall my help come?
Then he answers: My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.”
Psalm 121:1-2

Reflection: Quietly consider this reality. Allow your mind to reflect on the truth that the Maker of Heaven and Earth is personally concerned with the details of your life, ready to send help whenever you call upon Him.

Seek to focus solely on God who meets you here, asking him to remove mental distractions. Ask Him to write His word for you from the Cross on your heart this day.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Day 31 of Lent :: Where's the Sting?

“O Death, where is your sting?
O Hades, where is your victory?”
1 Corinthians 15:55

There is a story of an old man who used to meditate early in the morning under a big tree on the bank of the Ganges.

One morning, after he had finished his meditation, the old man opened his eyes and saw a scorpion floating helplessly in the water. As the scorpion was washed closer to the tree, the old man quickly stretched himself out on one of the long roots that branched out into the river and reached out to rescue the drowning creature. As soon as he touched it, the scorpion stung him. Instinctively the man withdrew his hand. A minute later, after he had regained his balance, he stretched himself out again on the roots to save the scorpion. This time the scorpion stung him so badly with its poisonous tail that his hand become swollen and bloody and his face contorted with pain.

At that moment, a passerby saw the old man stretched out on the roots struggling with the scorpion and shouted, “Hey, stupid old man, what’s wrong with you? Only a fool would risk his life for the sake of an ugly, evil creature. Don’t you know you could kill yourself trying to save that ungrateful scorpion?”

The old man turned his head, and looking into the stranger’s eyes he had said calmly, “My friend, just because it is the scorpion’s nature to sting, that does not change my nature to save.”

The image of the crucified Christ comes to mind, “Father, forgive them. They do not know what they are doing.” The scorpion he had tried to save finally killed him. The passerby, who sees him stretched out on the cross and shouts, “Only a madman would risk his life for the sake of an ugly, ungrateful creature,” Jesus answers, “My friend, just because it is fallen mankind’s nature to wound, that does not change My nature (love) to save.”

“At the head of the procession of life,
then, is a thorn-crowned Man,
his pains healing our pains,
his wounds answering our wounds,
his love taking our sin.”
E. Stanley Jones

Reflection: Spend some time thanking Christ for His loving sacrifice for our sins.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Day 30 of Lent :: Just Call Me Jesus

“God also has highly exalted Him and
given Him the name
which is above every name.”
Philippians 2:9

“Many of the names in the Bible,” writes Max Lucado*, “refer to our Lord are nothing less than palatial and august: Son of God, The Lamb of God, The Light of the World, The Resurrection and the Life, The Bright and Morning Star, He that Should Come, Alpha and Omega.” Lucado continues,

They are phrases that stretch the boundaries of human language in an effort to capture the uncapturable, the grandeur of God. And try as they might to draw as near as they may, they always fall short. Hearing them is somewhat like hearing a Salvation Army Christmas band on the street corner play Handel’s Messiah. Good try, but it doesn’t work. The message is too majestic for the medium.

And such it is with language. The phrase “There are no words to express. . .“ is really the only one that can honestly be applied to God. No names do him justice. But there is one name which recalls a quality of the Master that bewildered and compelled those who knew him. It reveals a side of him that, when recognized, is enough to make you fall on your face.

It is not too small, nor is it too grand. It is a name that fits like the shoe fit Cinderella’s foot. Jesus. In the Gospels it’s His most common name— used almost six hundred times. And a common name it was. Jesus is the Greek form of Joshua, Jeshua, and Jehoshua— all familiar Old Testament names. There were at least five high priests known as Jesus. The writings of the historian Josephus refer to about twenty people called Jesus. The New Testament speaks of Jesus Justus, the friend of Paul37, and the sorcerer of Paphos is called Bar-Jesus38. Some manuscripts give Jesus as the first name of Barabbas. “Which would you like me to release to you—Jesus Barabbas or Jesus called the Messiah?”

What’s the point? Jesus could have been a “Joe.” If Jesus came today, his name might have been John or Bob or Jim. Were he here today, it is doubtful he would distance himself with a lofty name like Reverend Holiness Angelic Divinity III. No, when God chose the name his son would carry, he chose a human name. He chose a name so typical that it would appear two or three times on any given class roll.

“The Word became flesh,” John said. He was touchable, approachable, reachable, and, what’s more, he was ordinary. If he were here today you probably wouldn’t notice Him as He walked through a shopping mall. He wouldn’t turn heads by the clothes He wore or the jewelry He flashed.

“Just call me Jesus,” you can almost hear Him say. He was the kind of fellow you’d invite to watch the Rams-Giants game at your house. He’d wrestle on the floor with your kids, doze on your couch, and cook steaks on your grill. He’d laugh at your jokes and tell a few of His own. And when you spoke, He’d listen to you as if He had all the time in eternity.
And one thing’s for sure, you’d invite Him back.

It is worth noting that those who knew Him best remembered Him as Jesus. The titles Jesus Christ and Lord Jesus are seen only six times. Those who walked with Him remembered Him not with a title or designation, but with a name – Jesus. Think about the implications. When God chose to reveal Himself to mankind, what medium did He use? A book? No, that was secondary A church? No. That was consequential. A moral code? No. To limit God’s revelation to a cold list of do’s and don’ts is as tragic as looking at a Colorado road map and saying that you’d seen the Rockies.

When God chose to reveal Himself, He did so (surprise of surprises) through a human body. The tongue that called forth the dead was a human one. The hand that touched the leper had dirt under its nails. The feet upon which the woman wept were callused and dusty. And His tears. . . oh, don’t miss the tears. . they came from a heart as broken as yours or mine ever has been.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses.”

So, people came to Him. My, how they came to Him! They came at night; they touched Him as He walked down the street; they followed Him around the sea; they invited Him into their homes and placed their children at His feet. Why? Because He refused to be a statue in a cathedral or a priest in an elevated pulpit. He chose instead to be Jesus.

There is not a hint of one person who was afraid to draw near Him. There were those who mocked Him. There were those who were envious of Him. There were those who misunderstood Him. There were those who revered Him. But there was not one person who considered Him too holy, too divine, or too celestial to touch. There was not one person who was reluctant to approach Him for fear of being rejected.

Remember that.

Remember that the next time you find yourself amazed at your own failures. Or the next time acidic accusations burn holes in your soul. Or the next time you see a cold cathedral or hear a lifeless liturgy. Remember. It is man who creates the distance. It is Jesus who builds the bridge.

“Just call me Jesus.”

*Max Lucado, God Came Near, 35-37.

Day 29 of Lent :: The One Who Understands

“For we do not have a High Priest
who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses,
but was in all points tempted as we are,
yet without sin.”
Hebrews 4:15

A store owner was tacking a sign above his door that read “Puppies For Sale.” Signs like that have a way of attracting small children, and sure enough, a little boy appeared under the store owner’s sign. “How much are you going to sell the puppies for?” he asked.

The store owner replied, “Anywhere from $30 to $50.”

The little boy reached in his pocket and pulled out some change. “I have $2.37,” he said. “Can I please look at them?”

The store owner smiled and whistled, and out of the kennel came Lady, who ran down the aisle of his store followed by five teeny-tiny balls of fur. One puppy was lagging considerably behind. Immediately the little boy singled out the lagging, limping puppy and said, “What’s wrong with that little dog?”

The store owner explained that the veterinarian had examined the little puppy and had discovered it didn’t have a hip socket. It would always limp. It would always be lame. The little boy became excited. “That is the little puppy that I want to buy.”

The store owner said, “No, you don’t want to buy that little dog. If you really want him, I’ll just give him to you.”
The little boy got quite upset. He looked straight into the store owner’s eyes, pointing his finger, and said, “I don’t want you to give him to me. That little dog is worth every bit as much as all the other dogs, and I’ll pay full price. In fact, I’ll give you $2.37 now, and fifty cents a month until I have him paid for.”

The store owner countered, “You really don’t want to buy this little dog. He is never going to be able to run and jump and play with you like the other puppies.”
To this, the little boy reached down and rolled up his pant leg to reveal a badly twisted, crippled left leg supported by a big metal brace. He looked up at the store owner and softly replied, “Well, I don’t run so well myself, and the little puppy will need someone who understands!”

Prayer: Write out a prayer of thanksgiving to the One who understands everything about you, and still loves you. In what ways are you like this puppy?

Action: How could you replicate the actions of the boy in this story to someone in

Fasting Focus :: Fifth Week of Lent

Fifth Week of Lent
Divine Embrace

Social Media & Internet

This week, we will be exploring the heart of Christ to connect with humanity. Therefore, we will be fasting all forms of social networking media and internet. Turn off Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and news. Check and answer work emails and nothing else. Put a Lent “Out of Office” reply on your personal email letting people know you’ll get back to them next week.

Keep journal entries of what it’s like to unplug and disconnect—to not obsessively check email, Facebook, etc. Do you feel disconnected ...or free?

Spend the time usually spent connecting with others, and intentionally spend time connecting with Christ and networking within the advancement of His kingdom here on Earth.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Day 28 of Lent :: Divine Interdependence

“I’m telling you this straight.
The Son can’t independently do a thing,
only what he sees the Father doing.
What the Father does, the Son does.”
John 5:19

Prayer requires that we stand in God’s presence with open hands, naked and vulnerable, proclaiming to ourselves and to others that without God we can do nothing. This is difficult in a climate where the predominant counsel is, “Do your best and God will do the rest.” We have turned prayer into a last resort to be used only when all our own resources are depleted. Then even the Lord has become the victim of our impatience. Discipleship does not mean to use God when we can no longer function ourselves. On the contrary, it means to recognize that we can do nothing at all, but that God can do everything through us.

Reflection: God, it truly frightens me to recognize that I am totally dependent on You. I know that my life is not my own, though I arrogantly act as if I am in control. On the contrary, it is You who determines my destiny. Ease my worries over my dependency on You, soften my impatience with Your plans for me, and help me to acknowledge that You can do all things through me.

Action: Place a bowl of water on the dining room table or somewhere else accessible. Before or after meals, or when entering or leaving the premises, each member of the household can dip a hand in the water in memory of his or her baptism in Christ.*

*Judy Bauer, Lent and Easter, 78-79

Friday, March 19, 2010

Day 27 of Lent :: Overcoming Fear

“Nicodemus came to Jesus by night.”
John 3:2

“Nicodemus admired Jesus but was afraid to lose the respect of his own colleagues,” writes Nouwen in his book, The Road to Daybreak. He adds the following reflection from his own life:

"I am becoming more and more aware of the importance of looking at these fearful sympathizers because that is the group I find myself mostly gravitating toward. I love Jesus but want to hold on to my own friends even when they do not lead me closer to Jesus. I love Jesus but want to hold on to my own independence even when that independence brings me no real freedom…I love Jesus but do not want to give up my writing plans, travel plans, and speaking plans, even when these plans are often more to my glory than to the glory of God."*

So I am like Nicodemus, who came by night, said safe things about Jesus to his colleagues, and expressed his guilt by bringing to the grave more myrrh and aloes (John 19:39) than needed or desired.

Prayer: God, help me to evaluate my motivations and actions in the light of Your purposes and not be held sway by the advice of friends and opinion makers. Let me look to You rather than to others for guidance, for in setting that priority I learn to renounce my own will and keep peace with You.

Reflection: Make a list of those things and people who most influence you; for example, friends, family, media, public opinion, and so on. Weed out one of those influences that are most unhealthy. In addition, during this Lent make it a point to stand up for one unpopular, but morally sound, point of view.

*Henri Nouwen, The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey, 147-148.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Day 26 of Lent :: Generous God

“Only one act of pure love, unsullied by any taint of ulterior motive has ever been performed in the history of the world, namely the self-giving of God in Christ on the cross of undeserving sinners. That is why, if we are looking for a definition of love, we should look not in a dictionary, but at Calvary.” John R. Stott

Reflect: Spend a few minutes quieting your heart before God.

Think of the word “passion.” It means “unfailing commitment” and is synonymous with words like ardor, fire, fervor. See Jesus with an ardent, fervent, fiery commitment to go to the Cross.

Worship Him.

Perhaps the most famous verse in the Bible is John 3:16:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son,
that whoever believes in Him shall not perish,
but have eternal life.

Reflection: Meditate on the truth of this, trying to grasp it as if you have never heard the words before.

Prayer: Write out a prayer of thanksgiving based on this verse.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Day 25 or Lent :: ReThinking the Cross

“Without Gethsemane, there would have been no Golgotha.
blood and water that flowed from His wounds on the cross
were pre
ceded by bloody sweat that poured from His pores
as He suffered the
agony of a death more painful than
the physical death on the cross,
the death of the will.”
Michael Card

At least three times in the past, Jesus had described his final fate to uncomprehending disciples, speaking with great urgency:

“And He began to teach them that
the Son of Man must suffer many things.”
Mark 8:31

Reflection: How do you think you might have felt upon hearing these things?

On one occasion Peter was so distraught, he took Jesus aside and insisted He not talk that way. Jesus rebuked Peter, then turned to the crowd and admonished them:

“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.”
Mark 8:33-34

Reflection: Read Jesus’ response again aloud. Hear Him speaking these words to you as if you were the only one left with Him that day. What is He saying about your own life? What will it mean for you to accompany Him on the rest of this painful journey?

Respond in prayer to the challenge Jesus gives here. Write it out in your prayer journal.

A Prayer
Dearest Redeemer, even now you lead the way to your execution. Will I follow as you take up Your Cross? Your strength sobers me, and I wonder how you prepared for this moment. I look at your determination to obey and weak excuses die on my lips. I want to walk with you still, though I wonder how close I can stay as you move to your death. If I turn back, remind me of this moment when you set your face like flint to the stormy seas that awaited you.*

*Tricia McCary Rhodes in Contemplating the Cross, 25

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Day 24 of Lent :: Raising the Cup

“Organized religion has domesticated the crucified Lord of glory,
turned him into a tame theological symbol. Theological symbols do
not sweat blood in the night.”*
Brennan Manning

Be still and know that God is present both within you through His Spirit. Settle yourself for a few minutes with this thought. Welcome Him in your own words. Read and/or sing the following old hymn as a prayer, preparing your heart to contemplate the Cross of Christ today.

O Love Divine, What Hast Thou Done?
Charles Wesley, 1742
O Love divine, what hast thou done!
The immortal God hath died for me!
The Father’s co-eternal Son
bore all my sins upon the tree.
Th’immortal God for me hath died:
My Lord, my Love, is crucified!
Is crucified for me and you,
to bring us rebels back to God.
Believe, believe the record true,
ye all are bought with Jesus’ blood.
Pardon for all flows from His side:
My Lord, my Love, is crucified!
Behold Him, all ye that pass by,
the bleeding Prince of life and peace!
Come, sinners, see your Savior die,
and say, “Was ever grief like His?”
Come, feel with me His blood applied:
My Lord, my Love, is crucified!

“Get up, let us be going,
behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand.”
Matthew 26:46

Reflection: What do you think went through Jesus’ mind as he spoke the words; “Arise let us be going, the one who betrays me is at hand”?

What emotions might he have been experiencing as he prepared for his own arrest?

What kinds of thoughts do you think filled his mind? Spend a few minutes considering these things.

Prayer: Dearest Savior, I find myself wanting to run from your struggle. I’d rather see you fighting battles on my behalf, waging war against demonic armies. Maybe I’m afraid of what I’ll see if I look too close at the cup you cried out against. Oh God, immerse my callous heart in the dark waters of Gethsemane. Weaken me with the weight of my unworthiness, and perhaps I will glimpse my own soul in that vile and putrid cup. May I cry out in desperation as you did: “Abba . . . Father . . .”*

Prayer: Dearest Savior, I find myself wanting to run from your struggle. I’d rather see you fighting battles on my behalf, waging war against demonic armies. Maybe I’m afraid of what I’ll see if I look too close at the cup you cried out against. Oh God, immerse my callous heart in the dark waters of Gethsemane. Weaken me with the weight of my unworthiness, and perhaps I will glimpse my own soul in that vile and putrid cup. May I cry out in desperation as you did: “Abba . . . Father . . .”*

*Brennan Manning, The Signature of Jesus, 35
*Prayer by Tricia McCary Rhodes in Contemplating the Cross, 16, 25

Monday, March 15, 2010

Day 23 of Lent :: Abandonment

“Not my will,
but yours be done.”

Luke 22:42

In the Gospel of Luke, we have a unique picture of the humanity of Christ being put to the test. Would he endeavor to follow the path of humanity toward self-preservation or would he lay down his own desires for those of God. “Father,” Jesus prayed, “If you are willing, take this cup from me…” We don’t know how long Jesus wrestled with this single prayer – an hour, two, perhaps the better part of the night. This wasn’t some flippant prayer of piety, it was ultimately a prayer of abandonment. It was a prayer of surrender to the “will” of the Father. “The test,” wrote Oswald Chambers, “is to believe that God knows what He is after.”* And, not only that, but that what He is indeed “after” is significantly better than any thing we could "hope or imagine.

I abandon myself into Your hands;
do with me what You will.
Whatever You do, I thank You;
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only Your will be done in me
and in all Your creatures.
I ask no more than this, my Lord.
Into Your hands I commend my soul;
I offer it to You all the love of my heart,
for I love You, Lord,
and so need to give myself into Your hands,
without reserve and with boundless confidence.
For You are my Father. Amen.
by Charles de Foucauld


Lent is a time when we remind ourselves that God’s will is perfect. It’s a time that we surrender again our will and declare, “Your will be done!” Today, reaffirm your commitment to follow God, wherever He may lead you.

I live each day to kill death;

I die each day to beget life,

And in this dying unto death,

I die a thousand times and

Am reborn another thousand

through that love.*

Julia Esquivel

Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest, 218.

Julia Esquivel, Threatened with Resurrection: Prayers and Poems from an Exiled Guatemalan, 67.

Fasting Focus :: Fourth Week of Lent

Fourth Week of Lent

Food and Meals
Jesus is the ultimate example of what it looks like to abandon our will to the will of the Father. Abandonment always requires surrender. So, this week we will physically be engaging abandonment and surrender by fasting food.

Pick either a type of food (like meat or carbs or even “solids”) and fast from them for the week. Or alternately, pick a meal (like breakfast or lunch) to skip on a daily basis. If you skip meals, spend that time you would have spent preparing and eating food in doing something like prayer, reading Scripture or serving others. Perhaps take these blocks of time and find a way to bless someone, even if it’s just time spent listening to them.

Keep journal entries of what it’s like to go hungry, even if it’s just for one meal. What has it been like to begin to assert some mastery over your body these past two weeks?

How does your body/mind respond to that?

If you forgo a whole category of food, consider:
  • What is it like to deny a craving? Is it easy or hard?
  • How does that craving grow the more you deny it?
  • Does it eventually become easier? Why?
For more resources on fasting: Basics, Purpose of, Frequently Asked Questions & Guidelines, Biblical Examples, Types of Fasting.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Day 22 of Lent :: Take up your Cross

“Whoever wants to be my disciple
must deny himself and take up his cross
and follow Me.”

Matthew 16:24

“There will always be many who love Christ’s heavenly kingdom, but few who will bear his cross,” wrote Thomas à Kempis in his 15th century classic, Imitation of Christ. “Jesus has many who desire consolation, but few who care for adversity. He finds many to share his table, but few who will join him in fasting. Many are eager to be happy with him; few wish to suffer anything for him. Many will follow him as far as the breaking of bread, but few will remain to drink from his passion. Many are awed by his miracles, few accept the shame of his cross.

Many love Christ as long as they encounter no hardship; many praise and bless him as long as they receive some comfort from him. But if Jesus hides himself and leaves them for a while, they either start complaining or become dejected. Those, on the contrary, who love him for his own sake and not for any comfort of their own, praise him both in trial and anguish of heart as well as in the bliss of consolation. Even if Jesus should never comfort them, they would continue to praise and thank him.

What power there is in a pure love for Jesus
– love that is free from all self-interest and self-love!

When you get to the point where, for Christ’s sake, suffering becomes sweet, consider yourself fortunate, for you have found paradise on earth. But as long as adversity irks you, as long as you try to avoid suffering, you will be discontent and ill at ease. Realize that to know Christ you must lead a dying life. The more you die to yourself, the more you will live unto God. You will never enjoy heavenly things unless you are ready to suffer hardship for Christ. Nothing is more acceptable to God, nothing more helpful for you on this earth. When there is a choice to be made, take the narrow way. This alone will make you more like Christ.”*

Action: Choose (or make) a cross to wear or carry with you during the next days of Lent. Let it be always a sign of solidarity with Jesus rather than mere decoration.

*Thomas a Kempis, Imitation of Christ.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Day 21 of Lent :: Followers

“Come, Follow Me.”

The Danish philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard, penned the following penetrating words in the 1800’s. It is well known that Christ consistently used the expression “follower.” He never asks for admirers, worshippers, or adherents. No, he calls disciples. It is not adherents of a teaching but followers of a life Christ is looking for.

What then, is the difference between an admirer and a follower? A follower is or strives to be what he admires. An admirer, however, keeps himself personally detached. He fails to see that what is admired involves a claim upon him, and thus he fails to be or strive to be what he admires.*

Refection: On a piece of paper or in your journal, make two columns. On the one side, list out words and actions that describe a “follower.” On the other side create a list depicting an “admirer.”

Prayer: Pray through your two lists. Asking God to give you the resolve to live more as a follower than admirer.

Action: Carry out some “giving” actions. Clean out your closets and donate clean and wearable clothing to a charitable organization. Do a favor for a neighbor.

“We say we want to forget the world,
but in the depths of our hearts we
do not want to be forgotten by it.”**
Francois Fenelon

*Charles E. Moore, Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard, 85.
**Francois Fenelon, The Complete Fenelon, 199.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Day 20 of Lent :: In the Vine

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.
He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit,
while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be
even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have
spoken to you. Remain in me,
as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself;
it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you
remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches.
If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart
from me you can do nothing.”
John 15:1-5

Jesus describes the intimacy that he offers as the connectedness between the vine and its branches. I long to be grafted into Jesus as a branch is grafted into the vine, so that all my life comes from the vine. In communion with Jesus, the Vine, my little life can grow and bear fruit. I know it, but I do not live it. Somehow, I keep living as if there are other sources of life that I must explore outside of Jesus. But Jesus keeps saying, “Come back to me, give me all your burdens, all your worries, fears, and anxieties. Trust that with me you will find rest.”*

Prayer: God, You are good and generous. Teach me how to celebrate life’s pains and sorrows so that I can discover in them a deeper love of you and a stronger hope in your promises. Let me see loss and failure not as setbacks, but as opportunities for a more fruitful life. May you always abide in me.

Action: Review a past sorrow and find in it one positive outcome. Discipline yourself to show gratitude throughout this day on at least several occasions. Look in the smallest corners for opportunities to nurture a thankful heart.**

*Henri Nouwen, Sabbatical Journey, 165.
**Judy Bauer, Lent and Easter, 21.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Day 19 of Lent :: The True Self

“See, I have engraved you
on the palms of my hands.”

Isaiah 49:16

Each of us has been created uniquely. This is one of God’s gift to us. However, somewhere along the way, life has taught us that the true self wasn’t welcome or safe or wanted. Before long, we became quite apt at hiding the true self. As we looked at earlier this week, the false self strives to patch-work an identity together from secondary things such as: reputation, success, status, family, jobs, health. But “an identity based on such things,” Calhoun reminds us, “is rooted in idols.”

Our truest identity can never be something we accomplish, earn or prove on our own. It is a gift we receive from Jesus. It is not something we earn through performance; it is what we are given. Scripture tells us that we are:

  • Chosen (John 15:16)
  • Beloved children of God (1 John 3:1)
  • Friends of Jesus (John 15:15)
  • The Temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16)
  • God’s work of art (Ephesians 2:10)
  • Fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14)
This is one’s truest self. In the presence of Christ we lay down the weight of having to manage an image. Francis de Sales writes in his Treatise on the Love of God, “No one can perfectly love God unless he gives up his affections for perishable things…Our free will is never so free as when it is a slave to God’s will, just as it is never so servile as when it serves our own will.” Detaching from the false self and idols of our hearts can be a painful process. But God’s Spirit of truth longs to help us detach from the lies that shape us. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit bears witness to the truth of our belovedness and our Christ-in-me-identity. ”*

Reflection: Spend some time reflecting and praying through how Scriptures defines our identity in Christ.

What are some of the phrases that have defined your false self (things that you have believed about yourself that are not true)?

In what areas is God re-defining your understanding of who you are?

Suppose next to your “name,” that is written in His hand, were other words that God uses to describe who you are. What would those “names” be? Write them down.

*Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, 89-90.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Day 18 of Lent :: Self Transformation

“Be transformed…”
Romans 12:2

Lent is a journey, a season of transformation. The tendency within humanity is to somehow begin to believe that we can, in and of ourselves, change ourselves. This often leads to one of two outcomes: pride or despair. Ultimately, we can do very little, if anything, to change ourselves. We can, however, bring our whole selves to Christ: fears, doubts, struggles, wounds, accomplishments, strengths and pride – everything.

Before Christ, we bow down and at His feet lay all our stuff, the good, the bad and the ugly. Before Him we are reminded that even though we can’t make ourselves different, He can. In fact, Jesus came to give us a new heart, a new spirit, a new mind. In His presence, as we lay down all of who we are, we find rest, we wait, and in some mysterious way, we are transformed by his love…

The Apostle Paul said,

“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
Romans 8:28-32

Action: See yourself coming before Christ. With you, bring all your stuff – everything. Imagine it all in your hands. Kneel down before Christ and place it all before Him. Give it to Him… Then, remain in that position with open hands – waiting, resting, being, worshipping…

Look for brief moments throughout your day – on break, at stop lights, in line at a store – to find yourself back in this place, before Him… with Him.

“Think often on God, by day, by night, in your business and even in your diversions. He is always near you and with you;
leave him not alone.”

Brother Lawrance

Monday, March 08, 2010

Day 17 of Lent :: The False Self

“God is at home.
It is we who have gone out for a walk.”
Meister Eckhart

“It’s easy to lose touch with who we are and become obsessed with what we are not,” writes Albert Haase, in his book, Come Home to Your True Self, he continues, We become alienated from our very selves as we develop bad habits that verge on addictions…

We become so consumed with our careers and roles that we end up defining ourselves by what we do…

In our journey away from the God-intended true self, an interdependent person living with the awareness of the Presence in the present moment, we have constructed a false self, which makes us forget who we really are and where we truly belong. The false self is obsessed with “me.” Indeed, our stuffed lives are like the bloated stomachs of starving children. They betray our hunger, not our satisfaction. And thus begins our obsession with what we have, what we do, and what people think of us. Unfortunately, it often takes us the better part of our lives to discover that things found in shopping malls, places of honor and short-lived infatuations cannot fill the hole in the heart.

The spiritual journey is a journey back to one’s true self. Coming home is about leaving the pigpen of empty attractions and avoidances and coming back to the Presence in the present moment. It is about returning to where God placed me in the very beginning.*

Reflection: Read Luke 15:11-32. Are there ways in which you are still out for “a walk” and not yet found your place “at home” in your Father’s house?

*Albert Haase, Coming Home to Your True Self: Leaving the Emptiness of False Attractions, 37, 39, 51

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Fasting Focus :: Third Week of Lent

Third Week of Lent :: Source

Sweets, Treats, and Self Indulgence

This week, our reflections will be looking at “From where we draw our source of life?”

As a fasting discipine this week, resolve to spend nothing on yourself, except that which is absolutely necessary. Buy no new clothes or gadgets, books or music. Don’t go to the movies or buy coffee or candy. Eat cheaply, save money, or give what you would have spent on coffee, treats and entertainment for the week to someone in need.

Keep journal entries of what happens inside you when you deny yourself something you’ve become accustomed to or something you really want. How does it affect you? Why?

What does this teach you about where you draw your life source?

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Day 16 of Lent :: The Gift of Friendship

“Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If they fall down, they can help each other up.
But pity those who fall
and have no one to help them up!
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

Within each of us, there remains in our hearts, things that we ourselves cannot see. We may be able to articulate our gifts and weakness, our ambitions and aspirations, our motives and drives, but large parts of ourselves remain in the shadow of consciousness. Other people, especially those who love us, can often see these areas in us better than we ourselves can. The way we are seen and understood by others is different from the way we see and understand ourselves. Nouwen called these hidden areas of our hearts “twilight zones.” It is the “twilight zones” of our hearts, he says, where true friendship is born. (Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey, 24)

Prayer: Loving God, take my poor offering of friendship and remind me every day of your invitation to journey with you to the Easter miracle of the Resurrection. Allow me to accept the weaknesses and defects that you and others see in me, but which are hidden from me. Lift me up when I fall, and always let me reach for, not reject, Your outstretched hand of welcome and forgiveness. And, keep my sins and doubts from leaching the joy out of life.

Action: Mentally bless each person you meet today and salute them with loving cheerfulness. Be quick to verbally commend the accomplishments of others just as Christ is quick to commend yours.

Friday, March 05, 2010

The Role of a Teacher

"We are not asked to teach a discipline like mathematics, physics, history or languages, but we are called to make our own faith available to others as the source of learning. To be a teacher means indeed to lay down your life for your friends, to become a 'martyr' in the original sense of witness. To be a teacher means to offer your own faith experience, your loneliness and intimacy, your doubts and hopes, your failures and successes to your students as a context in which they can struggle with their own quest for meaning. To be a teacher means to have the same boldness as Paul, who said to the Corinthians: 'Take me as a model as I take Christ' (1 Cor. 11:1). To be a teacher means to say as those who want to learn what Jesus said to his disciples: 'Come and see' (John 1:39)" - Henri J.M. Nouwen (cited in Wounded Prophet by Michael Ford, 106-107)

Day 15 of Lent :: A Time to Refocus

You open your hand and satisfy
the desires of every living thing.

Psalm 145:16

In Matthew 6, Jesus stressed the hidden life. “Whether we give alms, prayer, or fast,” writes Nouwen, “we are to do it in a hidden way, not to be praised by people but to enter into closer communion with God. Lent is a time of returning to God. It is a time to confess how we keep looking for joy, peace, and satisfaction in many people and things surrounding us, without really finding what we desire. Only God can give us what we want…Lent is a time of refocusing, of reentering the place of truth, of reclaiming our true identity.” (Henri Nouwen, Sabbatical Journey: The Diary of His Final Year, 36)

Reflection: Take a few moments and think about the past fifteen days of Lent.
  • What have you fasted?
  • What have you given up?
  • What new patterns and practices have you picked up?
  • What are some notable observations of what’s been happening within you?
Action: Find a friend and share some of the above observations.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Day 14 of Lent :: Dancing God

How is the God of the Old Testament typically depicted?

What emotions or dispositions frequently come to mind when you think of the God of the Old Testament?

How often do you relate to God (at least subconsciously)
out of this mental model?

The prophet Zephaniah gives us a vivid portrayal of the God of the Old Testament, as One who passionately encircles those in whom He finds pleasure.

“The LORD your God in your midst,
the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.”

Zephaniah 3:17

Zephaniah was trying to illustrate a stunning picture of the heart and posture of God.

Based on studies of this verse in the Hebrew, let’s look at an expanded interpretation of what this verse is literally saying,

The Lord your God, is the One who created and upholds all things by the power of His word. He is the self-existent and eternal Being, who is in covenant with you. The One and only Giver and Sustainer of life, is not far away and out of reach, rather, He is in your midst, in the very center of where you exist. He is a Mighty One, a Victorious Warrior, who is endowed with salvation and deliverance and has come to help. He does so because He delights over you with great pleasure, joy and even happiness. As He shows forth His love, you become speechless. He is lovesick for you. Because of this lovesickness, He spins around with intense emotion, leaping for joy, dancing as one intoxicated with deep emotion. Enraptured, there’s a cry that rings out from the depths of His being, a song is sung – a song that causes all of creation to tremble, as the notes of His love resonate.

Often times we misconstrue God as a wrath-filled, white-knuckled tyrant on the edge of His throne, anxiously waiting the moment of vengeance. After all, the “God of the Old Testament” is a God of wrath, isn’t He? This isn’t the image Zephaniah communicates. He speaks of a God who so loves us, He can’t stop singing about us. He is a passionate, celebrating, joy-filled Being!

How does this verse challenge some of your internal models of God’s emotional posture towards you?

How could a deep revelation of this verse change
the way you walk throughout your day?

God help me to be consciously aware of You as a passionate, love-sick, God celebrating over Your Universe and even me.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Day 13 of Lent :: Know Thy Lemon

“My sheep listen to my voice;
I know them, and they follow me.”
John 10:27

The University of Northern Iowa once offered a general art course that included a most unusual exercise. The teacher brought to class a shopping bag filled with lemons and gave a lemon to each class member. The assignment was for the student to keep his lemon with him day and night--smelling, handling, examining it. Next class period, without warning, students were told to put their lemons back in the bag. Then each was asked to find his lemon. Surprisingly, most did so without difficulty.

The groundwork of intimacy with God
is often established through
the daily disciplines we engage.

Reflection: When do you feel most intimate with Christ?

What can you do to cultivate this connection with Christ on a daily basis?

Like the lemon assignment given to the students at the University of Northern Iowa, what are some ways you can develop an awareness of Christ throughout your day?

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Day 12 of Lent :: Into-me-see

“The thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.”
Luke 2:35

Reflection: Think of a time when you felt really close to God. Take a moment as you reflect and journal about what it was like.

What was going on in your life at that time?

What was special about your time with God?

“And they were both naked, the man and his wife,
and were not ashamed.”
(Genesis 2:25)

Intimacy could be defined “in-to-me-see.” Adam and Eve, before the Fall, were both “naked” before each other and “were not ashamed.” Nakedness here wasn’t merely a physical reality, there were bare and open with all of who they were: mind, emotions, and body. They were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed. Adam could completely see-in-to Eve and vice versa. There was no pretense nor hesitation.

The same was true with their relationship with God.

After the Fall,
the human race became guarded to one another and God. We are prone to settle for relationship that exist primarily on the surface level. When we exist like this with God and others, we are not functioning as God designed us to function – intimate with Himself and others.

Reflection: What do you think about the statement,

“Our intimacy with God is only as deep
as our intimacy with others?”

Can we truly be intimate with God, while closed off to others?

On the “in-to-me-see” meter, where are you in your relationship with God and others?

Action: This week, approach your relationship with God and others with a purpose not to settle for mere superficial, surface-level interactions. Look for tangible ways to give of yourself to others.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Day 11 of Lent :: The Empty Chair

“Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom
one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved.”
John 13:23

There once was an old man dying of cancer. The old man’s daughter had asked the local priest to come and pray with her father. When the priest arrived, he found the man lying in bed with his head propped up on two pillows and an empty chair beside his bed. The priest assumed that the old fellow had been informed of his visit. “1 guess you were expecting me,” he said. “No, who are you?” “I’m the new associate at your parish,” the priest replied. “When I saw the empty chair, I figured you knew I was going to show up.”

“Oh yeah, the chair,” said the bedridden man. “Would you mind closing the door?” Puzzled, the priest shut the door. “I’ve never told anyone this, not even my daughter,” said the man, “but all my life I have never known how to pray. At the Sunday Mass I used to hear the pastor talk about prayer, but it always went right over my head. Finally I said to him one day in sheer frustration, ‘I get nothing out of your homilies on prayer.’

“’Here,’ says my pastor reaching into the bottom drawer of his desk. ‘Read this book by Hans Urs von Balthasar. He’s a Swiss theologian. It’s the best book on contemplative prayer in the twentieth century.’

“Well, Father,” says the man, “I took the book home and tried to read it. But in the first three pages I had to look up twelve words in the dictionary. I gave the book back to my pastor, thanked him, and under my breath whispered ‘for nothin’.’

“I abandoned any attempt at prayer,” he continued, “until one day about four years ago my best friend said to me, ‘Joe, prayer is just a simple matter of having a conversation with Jesus. Here’s what I suggest. Sit down on a chair, place an empty chair in front of you, and in faith see Jesus on the chair. It’s not spooky because He promised, ‘I’ll be with you all days.’ Then just speak to Him and listen in the same way you’re doing with me right now.’

“So, Padre, I tried it, and I’ve liked it so much that I do it a couple of hours every day. I’m careful though. If my daughter saw me talking to an empty chair, she’d either have a nervous breakdown or send me off to the funny farm.”

The priest was deeply moved by the story and encouraged the old guy to continue on the journey. Then he prayed with him, anointed him with oil, and returned to the rectory. Two nights later the daughter called to tell the priest that her daddy had died that afternoon.

“Did he seem to die in peace?” he asked. “Yes, when I left the house around two o’clock, he called me over to his bedside, told me one of his corny jokes, and kissed me on the cheek. When I got back from the store an hour later, I found him dead. But there was something strange, Father. In fact beyond strange, kinda weird. Apparently just before Daddy died, he leaned over and rested his head on a chair beside the bed.”
(Brennan Manning, Lion and Lamb: The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus, 129-130.)

Developing intimacy cannot be achieved without
an intentional relationship,
whereby we practice the art of tuning our ears
to hear the Unseen One in the empty chair.

Reflection: Reflect on the portrait of intimacy described in this story. Do you have a similar sense of Christ’s nearness when you pray? Perhaps you’d benefit from doing as He did. Others find a greater sense of intimacy experienced as they write out their prayers to God. This week, explore different ways of engaging God like this.

Action: What and how are you fasting this week?