Thursday, March 31, 2011

Day 20 of Lent :: Accepting the Cross

“A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, 

was passing by on his way in from the country, 

and they forced him to carry the cross.” 

(Mark 15:21)

We can only imagine the awful weight of the cross Jesus carried.  It was not just the weight of beams of wood that pressed down upon Him. It was also the weight of the burden He carried for those whom He loved.  He came to offer them life, and they returned death.

Jesus fell from the crushing weight of pain and grief; how many times He fell, we do not know.  We do know His physical strength was failing because the soldiers recognized it and forced a man from the crowd to help Him carry the cross to the place where He would be crucified.  Perhaps the soldiers were afraid that He would die before reaching the top of the hill.  Simon, the man of Cyrene who picked up Jesus’ cross, was just a bystander who paused on his way into town, but without hesitation, he took the weight of the cross to save Christ’s strength.

Reflection: I would like to think that had I been there, I would have rushed from the crowd and volunteered to carry that cross for You.  But, would I have had the courage to face the Roman soldiers and risk being forced to join You on a cross?   Would I have really been so eager to share Your cross if it meant that I might have to die on one as well?  

Would I have been willing to risk everything to ease Your suffering for a few moments, letting You know that You were not alone?  Or would I stayed away because “I have my own crosses already.  I have as much as I can bear without taking on the added burdens of others.”  Too, what would people think of me, if I were seen consorting with criminals and enemies of Rome in such a public spectacle? 
So instead of offering to help, would I have tried to become invisible in the crowd?  When the soldiers were looking around for someone to press into service, would I have looked away and pretended not to notice what was happening?

It is easy to pretend not to see the needs, the grief, and the suffering around me every day.  It is easy to pretend not to hear the cries for help that come in many forms from those among whom I walk every day.   It is easy to convince myself that I am too busy, too tired, or have too much on my plate already to get involved in the lives of others.  There are simply too many who need too much.

And yet I remember something You said, something about taking up my cross and following You.  You said something about becoming a servant of all and putting myself last and others first. 
Is this what it means to be a servant?  Jesus, are You showing me what it means to be that kind of servant?  Is this man from Cyrene modeling for me the path of discipleship?

Must Jesus bear the cross alone,

And all the world go free?

No, there's a cross for everyone,

And there's a cross for me.

(Sam Cooke)

Prayer: “Lord, forgive me for becoming so preoccupied with myself that I have become deaf and blind to the grief and suffering of those around me.  Forgive me for my indifference.  Forgive me for covering my eyes and looking away from the needs of others.  Heal my callousness that has caused me to become numb to others’ pain and hurts.

“Constantly remind me, Lord, that I cannot love You without loving others as well.  Help me always remember that to be a follower of Yours means that I share in the burdens of others.  Help me see these burdens and begin to extend my hands to help.  Lord, show me someone whose cross I can help carry.”

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Day 19 of Lent :: Embracing the Cross

Then He (Jesus) said to them all:
“Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and
take up their cross daily and follow Me.”

(Luke 9:23 TNIV)

Then He told them what they could expect for themselves: 

“Anyone who intends to come with Me has to let Me lead.  

You’re not in the driver’s seat—I am. 
Don’t run from suffering; embrace it.  

Follow Me and I’ll show you how.” 

(Luke 9:23 MSG)

We all have a cross to bear is a phrase used by different people in various ways, mostly as pseudo-comfort to someone who is whining about some circumstance or situation.   Jesus, however, did have a cross to bear.  His cross purchased forgiveness of sins for all who receive it.  It was an act of surrender and selfless sacrifice.  Through Christ’s bearing His cross, a means for sins to be forgiven is extended to all humanity.  While our small sacrifices will not result in the forgiveness of sins, they do often serve to reach the world around us.  As we daily learn the art of surrender and discover what it means to take up my cross and follow Christ, we take on the very nature of Christ.

Carrying one’s cross has nothing to do with a contrived self-mutilation or submission to difficulty or misfortune.  It is not about going through life with an apathetic que será será, whatever will be, will be, resignation to the challenges of life. On the contrary, carrying one’s cross has everything to do with an active, attentive, joy-filled abandonment to doing the will of Christ.  Denying one’s self is not self-abasement, but rather a radical reorientation of one’s priorities in life.  To fulfill Christ’s will does, however, mean placing the concerns of God’s Kingdom before the pursuit of our own personal kingdoms that are built on our own security, possessions, status, and power.  The world in which we live looks at a Christ-follower lifestyle as ridiculous, but to lean solely on Christ is the apex of wisdom.  The world sees the way of the cross as ultimate weakness, but it is the greatest source of strength.

Prayer: “Father God, I want to be a person who has the courage to trust Christ with everything that I am and ever hope to be.  As I go through my day(s), show me any area where I am trusting in my own accomplishments, intellect, education, status, position, or perceived importance to find my security, rather than in You alone. I am grateful for all that You have given me in this life, but may these things not be what define me.  May I truly learn what it means to deny myself, take up my cross daily and follow You.”

“The cross is laid on every Christian. 

The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience

is the call to abandon the attachments of this world.”[i] 

(Dietrick Bonhoeffer)

[i] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 89.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Day 18 of Lent :: A Different Kind of King

“They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on His head. They put a staff in His right hand as a scepter. Then they knelt in front of Him and mocked Him.
‘Hail, king of the Jews!’ they said.”
(Matthew 27:28-29)
Reflection: Jesus, I cringe at the pain of the thorns, but I am wounded far more deeply by the humiliation and degradation You suffered.  The very thing You came to offer us as a gift, Your Kingship, became a thing of ridicule by the Roman soldiers.  The crowds thought of a King in terms of power.  You came to be a King Who shepherds His people, Who takes responsibility for their well-being, Whose principles are faithfulness, justice, and righteousness.  And yet, people are not always ready for that kind of King.
I would like to think that I am ready to follow You, Who offer a Kingdom of peace and love.  But am I?  Am I willing to yield my ideas of what the Kingdom should be and accept the role of a servant?  Am I willing to give up my human preoccupation with power and control, and then accept a crown that is different from what I was expecting?
You accepted the Cross in the midst of mockery; You could have refused it.  What more could they have done to You?  You began this journey knowing full well where it would lead, yet I hear no words of complaint, no protestations of innocence, no cursing the injustice.    You accepted Your cross without self-pity.[i] 
In contrast, I am so prone to complain and whine about the most trivial things.  Other times, the things I face in my life are more than trivial; troubles bear down upon me, and I easily slip into self-pity.  Too often, I assume that I am the only one who bears a cross, or that my cross is larger and heavier than any others.  This is not true.  People around me often bear far more than I must bear.
Prayer: Lord, forgive me for forgetting that in my weakness I am driven to trust You, and in that trust I become strong: ‘Your power is made perfect in my weakness.’ (2 Corinthians 12:9) Forgive my attitude of self-pity that makes me more repulsive than lovable.  I do not ask for crosses to bear, but when they come, give me the strength to bear them as I follow Your example.”

[i] The devotional thought for Day 18 & 20 were inspired by Dr. Dennis Bratcher.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Day 17 of Lent :: The Procession

But they shouted, “Take Him away!
Take Him away! Crucify Him!

(John 19:15)

Prior to being murdered by crucifixion, Jesus spent the last few hours of His life in several places around Jerusalem.  His evening began in the southwestern part of Jerusalem in the Upper Room.  Here at the Last Supper, He told the disciples that His body and His blood were to be given for them. The intensity of His emotional experience at that table is unfathomable.  In contrast, the disciples seemed to be more occupied with who would sit in the seat of greatness once Jesus was gone. 

Next, Jesus went outside the city to the Garden of Gethsemane and asked the disciples to pray with Him as He poured out His heart in agony to the Father.  The Bible says He was in “anguish” and “agony,” which could be translated “engaged in combat.”  The Gospel writer, Luke, who was also a Physician, adds a significant detail, “His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:44)  While the phenomenon of sweating blood is rare, it is actually a medical condition known as hematidrosis.  When an individual experiences extreme stress or seismic shock to his system, the tiny capillaries around the sweat pores become fragile and begin to leak blood into the sweat.  As difficult as the prayer time was for Jesus, it was only the beginning of what was going to be a long night, then a day of walking, intense pressure, abuse, and mockery—all without food or water.

When the angry mob entered the garden, they arrested Jesus and took Him to the palace of the High Priest.  Annas, a former High Priest, and Caiaphas, Annas’ son in law, questioned Him.  Jesus was then tried by the Sanhedrin, accused of blasphemy because He proclaimed Himself the Son of God.  He was sentenced to death.  Since only the Romans were allowed to execute criminals, Jesus was sent to Pontius Pilate.  When Pilate found nothing criminal in His actions, he sent Jesus on to King Herod, who sent Him back to Pilate.  Submitting to the pressure of the crowd, Pilate ordered Jesus to be flogged, then crucified outside the city walls.

Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium
and gathered the whole company of soldiers around Him.  They spit on Him, and took the staff and struck Him on the head again and again.  After they had mocked Him, they took off the robe and put His own clothes on Him. Then they led Him away to crucify Him.
(Matthew 27:27,30-31)

Reflection: The events of the evening seemed so brutal, almost out of control. Political and religious powers seemed to be slapping Jesus around like a helpless rag doll.  But things are never as they seem. Considering the events that have transpired since we first began journeying with Jesus from the Upper Room, reflect on the following statement by Jesus.

“No one takes it (My life) from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord.  I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. 
This command I received from My Father.”

(John 10:18)

Prayer: “Jesus, no one forced You to take up the cross, nor lay down Your life.  You willingly surrendered to the will of the Father and laid down Your heavenly rights as sin-stained evildoers mocked You, tortured You, and laid the cross beam on Your bloody back.  You willingly laid down Your life for me.  So often, I pack my bags when the going gets tough, throw in the towel when the heat gets turned up, and simply quit when I become tired and discouraged.  Help me to see that following You, is about You.  It is not about me.”

Fasting Focus :: Week Three of Lent :: Embracing the Cross

Third Week of Lent
Embracing the Cross

Sweets, Treats, and Self Indulgence

Jesus said, “Deny yourself, take your cross daily and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23) As a fasting discipline for this week, resolve to spend nothing on yourself except that which is absolutely necessary.  Such a form of fasting quickly reveals from where we draw our source of life.  This will be an appropriate focus for fasting as we reflect on Jesus’ taking up His cross.

This week, buy no new clothes or gadgets, books or music, and eat cheaply.  Don’t go to the movies or buy coffee or candy.  Save the money, or give to someone in need what you would have spent on coffee, treats and entertainment.

Keep journal entries of what happens inside you when you deny yourself something you really want or something to which you have become accustomed.  How does it affect you?  Why?  What does this teach you about the source of your life?

“Life is not defined by what you have,
even when you have a lot.”

(Luke 12:15 MSG)  

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking,
but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

(Romans 14:17 TNIV)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Day 16 of Lent :: Breaking Silence

There is a time to be silent
and a time to speak.”
(Ecclesiastes 3:7)
The wisdom writer of the book of Ecclesiastes said “there is a time for everything.”  There is a time to remain silent, just as Jesus did before Pilate, and steadfastly trust in God to be our shield and our defense.  There are also times to break the barriers of silence when God asks us to be the shield and defense for others.  On these occasions, we must speak up.

Few people relish conflict.  Sometimes it is easier to pretend not to hear what co-workers are saying than it is to confront them.  Although we may not be participating in the negativity or adding to the gossip or contributing to the juicy rumors, our silence does not free us from our guilt.  Although we may internally disapprove as we quietly sit listening, our silence may very well be interpreted as agreement. 

The New Testament writer, James, was writing to a group of people who had become accustomed to overlooking the less fortunate.  They had slowly been numbed by the familiarity of those in need around them.  Simply put, they responded with ignorance, silence, or worse yet, by saying “God bless and good luck,” to those in need, then quickly went on about their day.  James wrote, “if you know the good you ought to do and don’t do it, you sin.” (James 4:17)

Reflection: Are there conversations you have listened to in “silent agreement”?  Why haven’t you spoken up?  What would it be like to either remove yourself from the conversation or to lovingly speak up?  Ask God to forgive you for the occasions of “silent agreement” and to make you aware of them in the future.  There is a time to be silent, and there is a time to speak.  May we have the wisdom, discernment, and grace to not confuse the two.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Day 15 of Lent :: Helping the Helpless

“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit
(Psalm 34:18)

Today, may our attention be drawn to some of those in the world who could use a voice speaking on their behalf.  May our awareness first turn us to prayer, and then, perhaps, to action.  There are many in the world who need a voice. Let us consider one large population that often goes unnoticed.

According to the United Nations, twenty-seven million individuals are held as slaves throughout the world.  Of those who are trafficked across international borders, it is estimated that seventy-percent of them are women and young girls who are being sold into prostitution.  One million of these are children who are brutally exploited by the global sex trade.  This is not a new reality.  According[i] to the organization, Unite for Children (UNICEF), these numbers have been consistent for the past thirty years.  This means that two children have been sold, raped, and resold, every minute of every day for the past thirty years.  Thirty million children lost to the villainy of injustice is no small number to ignore, nor is the thirty-two billion dollars accumulated annually from human trafficking.

"If we respect the image of God in other persons,” writes Ron Sider, “we must give them what is their due.”[ii] If we are truly "ambassadors" for God, then the Gospel should, in some way, compel us toward prayer and action. (2 Corinthians 5:14-21)

Prayer: The realties of injustice in the world are astounding, and God’s heart breaks for such atrocities.  Christ died to bring healing to the broken, and the Church has a responsibility to extend this healing to the world.  Spend time praying for those who have no voice raised in their defense.

Learn more: Visit the website of International Justice Mission ( to learn more about what is happening in the world and what others are doing to become voices for justice.

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this:
to look after orphans and widows in their distress
and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
~James 1:27

[ii] Ronald Sider, Justice, Human rights, and Government, 164

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Day 14 of Lent :: Becoming a Voice

“What is that to us?”
(Matthew 27:4)
Silently Jesus stood before Pilate, choosing not to speak or offer a defense for Himself.  Although Pilate could find no fault in Him, no one rushed to offer testimony on Jesus’ behalf.  None defended Him. 
There have been times in our own lives, when things did not go our way.  We have known the unfairness of life.  We too, have had situations where we wished someone had spoken up when we were being treated unfairly.  
Reflection: Perhaps I, too, have treated others unfairly.  Have there been times when I should have spoken up for others when they needed a voice?  When people around me have been treated unjustly, have I had the courage to come to their defense?  When people around me have felt alone and abandoned, have I been there for them? 

Lord, forgive me for not always being who I should be.

It is easy for me to condemn the moral cowardice of Pilate.  But have I ever given into pressure from others to take the easy path rather than the right path?  Have I ever deliberately chosen the easy path over the right path?

Prayer: “Jesus, in Your silence there is a quiet strength that reveals a peace and a resolve.  God, help me deal with the unfairness of life without becoming critical of others.  Help me be sensitive to the pain and feelings of others.  Give me the courage to do what is right without being swayed by the demands of others.  Give me eyes to see those in need.  Give me a voice to speak up on their behalf.  Let me be Your Voice.”

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Day 13 of Lent :: Life's not Fair

Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. (Mark 14:61)
Jesus, I wish You would speak!  I wish You would tell them Who You are.  I wish You would confront the angry, doubt-filled crowds and the arrogant cowardice of those in power.  There must be someone who will speak up for You!  Where are the lepers who were healed?  Where are the blind who can now see?  Where are all the people who ate the bread and fish on the hillside?  Where are those who followed You so readily when they thought You would become King of the Jews?  No one speaks.  No voice in the crowd comes to Your defense.  On this day, You stand alone.

You stand before Pilate, the power of Rome: seeming weakness standing before world power.  And yet, Pilate, the ruthless enforcer for the Empire, has lost control: he cannot force You to confess; he cannot make the crowds be quiet.  With all his power, he cannot find the courage to do what is right.  Power does not always rest in the hands of Empires.  Thrones and judgment seats are not always filled with the courageous and strong.  Pilate plays it safe, giving in to the crowds for the sake of order. 

Innocent of all charges, You stood before Pilate, yet he condemned You to death.  You were silent, but so was everyone who could have spoken on Your behalf.  In some small way, we understand what You experienced.  At times, we have felt alone, been treated unfairly, seen others misuse power entrusted to them.  We have been falsely accused, and no one spoke up for us. 

Reflection: Do I respond like You did?  Or, am I prone to squeal and whine, seeking to make my case and offer my own defense?  How do I respond when life seems unfair?  Do I complain?  Do I seek the easy way out?  Do I, in my own strength, rally others to my aid?  What do I do when I do not get my way?

Prayer: “Jesus, help me to respond the way You did.  I know there is a time to speak up, but more often than not, I’ve spoken up out of fear, doubt and self-defense when I should have simply trusted my loving Father God.  Help me to see beneath the surface of my own desires and preferences to the unseen hand of God that is present in every area of my life.  God, help me to believe what Romans 8:28 says, ‘You are working all things together for my good.’”

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Day 12 of Lent :: Unwavering Trust

 They…handed Him (Jesus) over to Pilate the governor.
(Matthew 27:2)
During the time of Jesus, Israel was under the control of her enemy, Rome, with an occupying force that the Jews despised. These were difficult times for the Jews.  Rome not only levied heavy taxes on the people, but also forced the Roman language and culture on them, bringing into Jewish society the influence of Rome’s pagan ways of worshipping false gods.  Because of the political turmoil in Israel, Rome established local governors to handle judicial matters and to ensure civil peace. Roman governors, including Pilate, would spare no cost to safeguard their control.  First-century Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, noted that Pilate was ruthless and unsympathetic toward the Jews.  Yet, he walked a thin line between pushing his agenda and playing politics with the Jewish leaders and legal officials at the supreme council of ancient Jerusalem, known as the Sanhedrin. 

 The Sanhedrin knew exactly how to manipulate Pilate as their pawn, while allowing him to be in charge.  Ultimate legal power remained in the hands of Pilate; however, his unkind mannerisms and ruthless style of ruling had caused an unusually high number of complaints against him to be filed in Rome.  The Sanhedrin knew that at just the right time, the threat of additional complaints could serve to manipulate Pilate into doing their bidding.  Regardless of the deceptive political intricacies of the moment, one thing was true—Jesus was being set up.  Each side was trying to pit the other against Jesus.  It is amazing how enemies can become friends in such situations.  Luke’s Gospel tells us “that day Herod and Pilate became friends – before this they had been enemies.” (Luke 23:12)  It seems that every oppressive and evil force of the day united for one purpose – to end the life of Christ.  In history, no court has ever seen a more unfair trial.  

Read: Matthew 27:11-14

How did Jesus respond to Pilate’s interrogations?  Luke says, “He gave no answer” or “made no reply, not even to a single charge.”  Matthew’s Gospel records that Pilate stood in “great amazement” that Jesus refrained from offering a personal defense.

The ruthless Pontius Pilate had the earthly power to spare one’s life or bring immediate death.  Who wouldn’t beg for mercy, or, at the very least, offer some rationale for the apparent misunderstanding?  Jesus did not. Pilate was dumbfounded by Jesus’ silence.  Roman law permitted prisoners three opportunities to defend themselves.  If a prisoner didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to speak in his own defense, he was automatically charged as guilty.[i]  In Matthew 27:11, Jesus passed up His first opportunity.  In verse 12, He passed on His second.  Then, in verse 14, He passed on His final chance to defend Himself.

Why do you think Jesus chose not to respond? 
Why did He not defend Himself?

On the surface, it seems the corrupted powers of the day were getting what they wanted – Jesus crucified.  To the natural eye, Jesus did not have a chance.  Jesus stood before them silent, but He was not helpless.  He offered no defense, but He was still in control.  He was sentenced to suffer a brutal death, but He was not powerless in the matter.

Love restrained Him from speaking because the roar of judgment for sin had to be silenced.  He offered no defense for His own actions; He was taking on Himself the guilt of all humanity.  Jesus knew that regardless of the injustices of the moment, He was fulfilling the perfect will of God. Against all human reasoning, Jesus simply leaned on the strong arm of His loving Father and demonstrated unwavering trust.

Reflection: As you go about your day, think about the silent strength of Jesus as He stood before Pilate.  Allow God to remind you that Jesus did this for you…  

[i] Rick Renner, Sparkling Gems from the Greek, 244.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Day 11 of Lent :: Like a Sheep

“Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death. 
They bound Him, led Him away and handed Him over to Pilate the governor
(Matthew 27:1-2)
On the surface, everything seemed peaceful and calm as Jesus finished praying with His disciples.  Under the surface, souls raged with intense emotions.  Everything was about to change.  Armed with clubs and swords, an angry mob was coming up the side of the hill on a mission.  Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest, has ordered them to seize the One called Jesus.  What a sight it must have been: a jumble of humanity with shaking fists, upraised clubs, and irate voices.  For what?  Were they expecting to encounter an army of militia or a gang of revolutionary insurrectionists?  There were none of those.  They came face-to-face with Jesus who stood before them calmly, ruled by the essence of peace itself, as He quietly asked, “Who is it you want?” (John 18:4)  With powerful arms and hands of iron, they seized Him.  This was an arrest like none other.

Jesus wasn’t gagged and dragged down the street behind some horse like other revolutionaries who had put up a fight, resisting arrest.  No, the Bible says they “led Him away.”  The Gospel writer, Matthew, chose the most interesting Greek words to describe the events, using a series of agricultural terms.  Matthew says they “bound Him.”  This wasn’t so much a violent binding, but rather it was the skillful binding or tying that one would do when securing an animal.  The next phrase, “led Him away,” carries this image further.  “Led Him away,” is the word picture of a shepherd who ties a rope around the neck of a sheep, then leads it down the path to its destination.  These soldiers simply slipped a rope about Jesus’ neck and walked Him, like a sheep, away from Gethsemane to Caiaphas, the high priest.  Later that same night, his accusers would, in the same manner, lead Him to the governor, Pontius Pilate.   Jesus went silently, willingly.

Reflection: Keeping the description from Matthew 26:1-2 in mind, read what Isaiah prophesied hundreds-of-years earlier about Jesus, the Messiah.

6We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost. We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way.
And GOD has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong, on Him, on Him.” 
7He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”
(Isaiah 53:6-7)[i]

Prayer: Jesus, no one forced You. You willingly let them lead You away. Like a sheep, You were silent.  You knew what was before You, yet You went anyway. I know the truth. It wasn’t the brute force of angry men with clenched fists and large clubs that compelled You to leave with them.  No, You were led away from that place by love alone.  Love for humanity.  Love for me.  Jesus, thank You!”

[i] Isaiah 53:6 from the Message. Isaiah 53:7 from the TNIV.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Second Week of Lent :: Before Pilate

Second Week of Lent
Before Pilate

As Jesus finished praying with His disciples at Gethsemane, they were met with a hostel mob “armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people.” (Matthew 26:47)  Jesus was betrayed with a kiss by one of His closest companions, Judas. (Matthew 26:49-50)  Almost all the disciples fled in fear as Jesus was taken before the Jewish high priest where He was interrogated with a series of accusing questions. Finally, wanting to put an end to Jesus’ life, his enemies proposed a plan that they hoped would prove successful in pressuring the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, to execute Him.

This week, we will observe Jesus as He was brought before Pontius Pilate who played a key role in the sentencing process of His crucifixion.  We will reflect on how these interactions can apply to our own lives and the world in which we live

Even so, with the meekest of gestures,
has the war for the world been engaged
with a kiss. And the kiss has a tooth.
And the snake that struck the Lord
has a back of fire and a body of human opinion.
Walter Wangerin

[i] Walter Wangerin, Reliving the Passion: meditations on the suffering, death, and resurrection, 70.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Day 10 of Lent :: Breath of Life

Jesus knelt down and prayer, “Father…”
Many often approach God with a list of needs or requests. Certainly, our loving God desires to hear requests and tend to our needs, but that is not the best place to start.  When Jesus came before God, His soul was in deep turmoil, yet the first words He expressed weren’t so much related to what He wanted and needed, but rather to Whom He was speaking – Father.  True prayer begins when we become deeply aware of the Person with Whom we are talking. The ancient Jews believed that prayer began with an intentional awareness of God’s presence: know “before whom you are standing.”[i]  The deep, tear-filled prayers of Jesus flowed from the brokenness of His soul to a loving, listening and caring Father.

Reflection: Take time to be still in God's presence.  Slow your breathing through the following exercise:

Inhale: Breathe in the peace of Christ. Exhale: Breathe out anxiety of the day. Inhale: Breathe in the gentleness of Christ. Exhale: Breathe out mental clutter and distraction. Inhale: Breathe in freedom in Christ. Exhale: Breathe out that which binds you. Inhale: Breathe in the joy of Christ. Exhale: Breathe out discouragement. Inhale: Breathe in the love of Christ. Exhale: Breathe out selfishness, and personal agendas.[ii]

Continue doing this until you feel ready to meet God according to His plan.  Another great practice to help us remember to Whom we are praying is to address God by various names given to us in the Bible.  Today, as you offer yourself to Him for His purposes, talk to God, using the simple phrases below.  May you become more and more aware of the God’s nearness in your day. The following are some examples to use throughout lent.


Inhale: Breathe in, “Father God,”  Exhale: Breathe out, “I belong to you.”
Inhale: Breathe in, “Healer.”
Exhale: Breathe out, “speak the Word, and I shall be healed.”
Inhale: Breathe in, “Shepherd.” Exhale: Breathe out, “bring home my lost son.”
Inhale: Breathe in “Holy One.”
Exhale: Breathe out, “keep me true.” Inhale: Breathe in “Lord.”
Exhale: Breathe out, “here I am.” Inhale: Breathe in “Jesus.”
Exhale: Breathe out, “have mercy on me.”

[i] Berakhot 28b.
[ii] Reflection exercise by Tricia McCary Rhodes in Contemplating the Cross, 13.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Day 9 of Lent :: Open Hands

Then the LORD said,
“What is that in your hand?”

(Exodus 4:2)
In the Bible, true faith was always accompanied by demonstration and actions. One’s spirituality cannot be separated from one’s physicality.  As noted yesterday, worship was never merely words sung.  Prayer was always more than words expressed. Particular body parts and physiological movements became associated with various attitudes of the heart.  For instance, it is with our hands that we physically hold onto things. Hands are faculties for giving or receiving, extending or withholding.  Many early believers folded their hands during prayer—a physical statement that they would not “hold onto anything else” while praying. It was a way of saying to God, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done in my life.”
The following is a prayer exercise using both the body and heart. It can be done while standing, sitting or kneeling, whichever is most comfortable for you. Begin by placing your palms down. This is a symbol of your desire to give to God any concerns you have.
Inwardly, you may pray, “Lord, I give You my anger toward _____. I release my fear of _______ today. I surrender my anxiety over not having enough money to pay the bills this month. I release my frustration over trying to find a baby-sitter for tonight…”
Whatever it is that weighs on your mind or is a concern to you, just say, “palms down.”  Release it.  You may even feel a certain sense of release in your hands.  After several moments of surrender, turn your palms up as a symbol of your desire to receive from the Lord.  Perhaps you will pray silently: “Lord, I would like to receive Your divine love for ______, Your peace about the ________ today, Your patience, Your joy…”
Whatever you need, you say, “palms up.” Finally, spend the remaining moments in complete silence.  Do not ask for anything.  Allow the Lord to commune with you, to love you.[i]
Throughout your day—while sitting at a stoplight, on break at work, or resting in the evening—take a few minutes to physically pray by opening your palms/hands up before God.
This simple act can sometimes express submission in ways in which words fall short, “God, I surrender to You.  I choose to handle the things of this world with a loose grip and open hand.  I trust You with all that I am and ever hope to be…”

[i] Prayer exercise from Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual  Growth, 30-31.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Day 8 of Lent :: Learning to Kneel

He (Jesus) withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them,
knelt down and prayed.
(Luke 22:41)
Jesus “knelt and prayed.”  Prayer is more than words, much more.  The very act of kneeling was an integral part of Jesus’ praying.  For in the kneeling, He was praying.  Throughout the Bible, faith and body were always closely connected to one another. Worship was never merely words sung.  Prayer was always more than words expressed. For example, one custom was to kneel and bow one’s head while extending the hands outward with the palms up.  This practice was known as “giving the hand.” One would do this when approaching a king to make a request.  The subject puts herself/himself at the mercy of the King by exposing her/his neck—an act that shows her/his complete vulnerability to the Sovereign’s power.[i]  As Jesus knelt and prayed, He said, “Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
Is there an area of your life that you have struggled to surrender to the Father? 
Do you trust that His will is perfect and that He is faithful in all His ways?
Find a quiet place where you can get alone with God. If you are able, physically kneel down, head bowed, neck exposed and arms outstretched with your palms upward.  The focus of this time of prayer is not so much to say something with your mouth, but rather to let your body do the talking.  When you have physically knelt down, pay attention to what you are feeling in your body and emotions.  Does the very act of kneeling better posture your heart and mind to surrender to God?
Prayer: (While on your knees, whisper the following prayer to God.)

I am a humble, lowly servant. take me… all of me.
Add anything, take anything away. at any cost. with any price.
Make me yours completely… wholly.
May I not be remembered for the way I wear my hair, or the shape of
my face, or the people I know or the crowds I’ve addressed.
may I be known for loving You… for carrying a dream…
for building bridges to the hurt and broken and lost in the world.
Make me what You would be if You lived in person where I do.
May everything accomplished through my simple life bring honor and glory to You. Take my human flaws and failures and use them to remind those who know me that only You are God and
I will always just be fill-in-your-name.
Prayer of Surrender – Author Unknown

[i] Todd Farley, Prophetic Gestures, 4 and Doug Pagitt, BodyPrayer, 4.