Living in a Post-Denominational World - thanks again Karl!

Oh!yeah!I didn't write this article but I'm glad I read it and can pass it on.  I couldn't agree more with essential premise, that we live in a post-denominational world.  There isn't a week that goes by where I don't have some conversation with someone about the significance or insignificance of denominational Christianity.  As a "denominational" Christian I can agree with Karl (below) that we have very valuable contributions to our understanding of faith due to denominational emphases.  So, to trash denominations would be to deny the reality that God has used the to be "care-takers" of aspects of the faith journey that the entire Body of Christ needs to embrace.  For every Lutheran Christian who has a deep understanding of grace and sacramental theology, our more "experiential" brothers and sisters reveal the transformational nature of the Spirit's inhabitation in our hearts.  My Roman Catholic friends have opened my eyes to a rich tradition of prayer and contemplation and my Wesleyan pals (at Azusa Pacific University where I am honored to be a part of the faculty) have expanded my understanding of spiritual authority by introducing me to the Wesleyan Quadrilateral (yep, look it up!).  So, don't misunderstand me (or the author for that matter).  Yet...or even so, I believe that the Spirit of God is up to a number of things in the 21st century and one of the MOST powerful is the traditional boundaries that have not only separated Christians and robbed them from experiencing a "fuller faith," but also knocking down the "white noise" of denominationalism in a culture and world that "doesn't care" about differentiations and has actually led to mockery, confusion and ridicule of the "unity" of the Church.  As Karl says below, DISCIPLESHIP is the key to ministry in the 21st century.  Pointing to Jesus? Doesn't that seem like a NO-Brainer?

Jesus Called Us to Make Disciples, Not Baptists (or Catholics, or Lutherans, or...by Karl Vaters March 2, 2016

The world doesn’t need more Episcopalians.

No one wakes up with a hunger to be a Methodist.

No child says "I want to be Assemblies of God when I grow up."

We live in a post-denominational world. The day of being Presbyterian because we grew up Presbyterian is ending. Actually, it’s already ended. Some of us just haven’t caught up with it yet.

People who don't go to church aren't longing to wear any of the labels church people wear so proudly and fight about so angrily. And they shouldn’t.

People who don't go to church aren't longing to wear any of the labels church people wear so proudly.

Our neighbors and co-workers have no desire to be Calvinist or Arminian, Pentecostal or Cessationist, Evangelical or Orthodox. They probably don’t know what most of those words even mean.

And they certainly don’t want to be pew-warmers, giving units, or a target demographic. In fact, when they discover that church leaders sometimes refer to them that way, they’re appalled. And rightly so.

But they all have an ache to draw closer to Jesus. Even if they don't realize it. Yet.

Keep Pointing to Jesus

When believers emphasize our differences and our labels, we add another level of distance between Jesus and the people he loves.

It’s not that denominations and theological identifiers are wrong. I wear several myself. But I only use them with other Christians, and only as a conversational shortcut. Never with unbelievers, and never to create distance between myself and other believers.

What to Do With Denominations

I don't want to blow up our denominations. And I don’t think we need to water down our distinctives. In fact, I work with a lot of denominations and I love the variety they bring to the kingdom of God.

To the degree that denominations draw people to Jesus, they deserve to exist – and they will thrive. To the degree they fail to do that, they don't deserve to exist – and they will die.

The moment our desire to convince people to join our denomination (or non-denominational church) becomes more important than making disciples, we have failed.

As long as our goal is making disciples, God can still use the resources, relationships and history of our denominations, movements and independent churches to do his will.

So join a denomination if that works for you. And support it enthusiastically. Or not.

Just keep Jesus first.

(For more on this topic, check out Are We More Invested In Bringing People to Church? Or to Jesus?)


Don't be afraid of The Young Messiah movie...

1messiah_1sht_3k_rgbYes, the Young Messiah film opens this week and YES, it includes material that is NOT in the gospels of the bible.  As many of you know, we actually have very little material in the four gospels regarding Jesus' growing up years.  We see him in Matthew and Luke...we see the birth, Magi visitation, shepherds surrounding the scene as well as Jesus in the temple at age 12.  THEN, we have this ONE VERSE in Luke that simply says, "Jesus grew up" (Luke 2:52).  The Young Messiah film is based upon Anne Rice's WONDERFULLY written and lovingly treated story of Jesus' childhood years entitled, Christ the Lord.  Truthfully, I loved that book.  In addition, Anne takes the reader through HER process of attaining the information on which she based her NOVEL.  Remember that...this is a NOVEL.  It does NOT claim to the scripture...it is a story that has been taken from traditions that have been passed down to us primarily through the gospels that did NOT get included in the New Testament canon.  You an read about what many call, "The Gnostic gospels" or the New Testament Apocrypha here.   You can also read what one biblical scholar says about those gospels HERE (article published in response to the Da Vinci code book/movie by Ben Witherington).  

My goal in this short post is NOT to give you a summary of the source material for this movie.  Rather, it is a simple request (for those of you who are Jesus followers) to NOT be afraid to see this movie and enjoy it.  I haven't seen it yet but, like I said above, it is based on a book that I very much enjoyed.  The stories of Jesus' early life are diverse...based upon oral traditions, post 1st century writings, as well as speculation or imaginative readings of the texts we do possess.  The point is this - no one really knows how Jesus became "self aware"...in other words, when did he really know (and begin acting) on his divinity?  When did he know that he was different than other children and begin the "wrestling" or emotional/psychological processing of his "dual nature?"  Do you know that it took centuries for Christians to come to some agreement on the dual nature of Jesus.  THAT story is a story that would be fun to explore in and of itself.  Phillip Jenkins wrote a fascinating book on that...check that out here!   No one had ever tried to not only understand and comprehend but also communicate what Jesus' essential nature was all about...orthodox Jesus followers believe Jesus was 100% human and 100% divine.  How Christians embraced that conclusion is a "wild and wooly" chapter in history that would be worth your while to research.

In the meantime, DO NOT be afraid of The Young Messiah.  I have heard it captures first century living accurately.  I have heard that it handles the subject of Jesus as a child sensitively and reverently.  I have heard that even those who might be seen to be on the more "conservative" spectrum of biblical analysis enjoyed it.  So, enter the film with an open mind.  Remember, this is a story that explores what a chapter of Jesus' life in which we have little information.  It poses questions that will, most likely, get your thinking.  One more thing I've heard...is that people who have seen the movie emerged from the experience with more joy and peace than they brought into the theater.  As one person who recently viewed the RISEN movie twice, if that is the case, then see this movie!  There is nothing better than walking out of a theater with praise and thanksgiving in your heart and a surge of curiosity that will take you back to the Bible for further reading of the one you follow and love!  


"Risen"...yep, surprise, surprise...I liked it!

1maxresdefaultI’m going to admit at the outset of this post – I have a UNHEALTHY bias against movies with a biblical theme.  I, like many of you, enter theaters at the peak of expectation attempting to discover moments where the passions and imaginations of my heart come to life.  And, yes, I have transformed into a “mild” (at least in my mind) cynic over the years.  In fact, it wasn’t too long ago that I encouraged some of my closest friends, blog “followers, Twitter and Facebook friends to acquiesce to the reality that NO BIBLICAL movie can ever match the drama and power of the real story.  If you want to read that post (which, I must admit, would be worth your while), click HERE.

So, I entered the theater tonight to see the film, RISEN, with a bit of skepticism.  Would they ruin the story that shapes my life?  Most of the time over the years, I’ve taken my seat in the theater (handfuls of either popcorn or caramel nips), and I start to pray, seriously, I pray: “don’t let them screw this up!”  This is my life…my heart…my vision…my purpose…the love of my heart.  Yes, I acknowledge the fact that artists (which filmmakers are) can and do take liberty with stories in order to make a point.  Every artist enters into their medium with a specific “goal” or objective in mind…to capture a truth, to communicate reality as they see, to persuade and convince of a specific worldview.  You remember the Noah movie with Russell Crow? I actually liked that film!  I appreciated the filmmaker’s creativity with the story, BUT I enjoyed it because I had NO (or little) expectation that they would be faithful to the text.  You see, I don’t expect “Hollywood” to be faithful to the text of the Bible.  For one reason, the Bible may at times read like a drama, in fact, a good majority of the text of the Bible is filled with drama and story.  Even so, the story has “holes”…the authors of the Bible were NOT writing a screenplay.  They never expected the reality that they experienced in God to be captured or harnessed for somebody’s (of some movie producer) whim or profit ambition. 

Well, without getting too technical or too wordy (which I am apt to do), my purpose in this post is NOT to give you an extensive review.  But what I can do is say, “BRAVO” for the film, “Risen.”  Many of you know that I have not only dedicated my life to living and sharing this story, but I also dabble in the academic environment posing myself as a scholar of the text.  Yes, I have a couple degrees, and I know some things…in many respects, so what!  It all comes down to truth, doesn’t it?  It all comes down the life transforming POWER of the One who is the inspiration and protagonist of the sweeping and untamed nature of the text.  All of us who love and follow this God-story have our own imaginations, hopes, and dreams shaped by the realities communicated in ancient words.  Through imagery, poetry, prose and genres not often experienced in other literature, the Bible delivers more than can even be summarized less extrapolated out of its context and put on to the screen.  All this to say, my expectations were low for the film.  They were “messing around” with Jesus and that aspect of the biblical narrative that is the core of my being.  I’m not embarrassed to say that Jesus is my passion and I love and follow Him.  So, in many respects, I walk into ANY film (or watch it on television) with a bit of a chip on my heart saying, “you better not mess with my Jesus!” 

Friends, “Risen” was fascinating and captivating.  The story, in my humble opinion, was fresh.  It was well acted, the scenery was what we, in biblical circles, would call “faithfully” contextualized, and (a very big surprise) Jesus actually LOOKED Jewish!  The story of Jesus was the backdrop for a journey of a Roman tribune and his experience with the crucifixion, burial, resurrection, post-resurrection appearances, and ascension of Jesus.  There were just one or two places where I wish the filmmakers would have maybe backed off a bit…but after a bit of thought, I tell you this, they respectfully took their best shot at trying to encapsulate in film the realm of the miraculous.  I’m not going to get more specific than that…”Risen” was a movie I not only enjoyed but actually was one where I walked out of the theater smiling…I laughed out loud with delight in various parts of the movie when Jesus and his disciples did what the gospels say they did because the film did its best to do it right.  If you go, don’t expect perfection.  Our faith community is having a “movie night” this week and, by all means, I could find ways to place unrealistic expectations on this movie.  But in actuality, I liked it and found myself, literally, at the edge of my seat anticipating the next scene where Jesus was on screen.  Joseph Fiennes does a great job at reenacting the brutality and subsequent despair of a man whose life dream is to live for ONE DAY without death.  The plot is engaging because of the fact that that we are witnessing onscreen the real life journey of a person, who is not simply a skeptic, but a person who is outright antagonistic towards the supernatural realities of the Jesus story and the experiences through which he is living.  This Tribune does not want to believe…and, the one thing I did like about the film, is that it did NOT feel contrived or manipulative as if you knew where this whole thing would lead.  Put it this way, the Tribune does not become Peter’s or Paul’s right-hand man at the end of the story.  So, the film did not attempt to complete or close your imagination to predetermined, Christianized and sanitized ending.  Likened to many of Jesus’ parables, this story leaves some things open for us to to be sufficiently challenged but to “complete” the story as the Spirit leads.

I promised at the beginning of this post that I would “keep it simple and short” (you can fill in the final word of that cliché). Hence I will end it here.  I’m not going to tell you to “run out and see the film”…that would be presumptuous and feel a bit phony in my mind.  I can tell you truthfully that it is one of the most “faithful” to the textual context of the gospels…the land looks like ancient Judea, the Romans act like Romans, the Sanhedrin are truly self-righteous, and Jesus is actually a Jew!  All I can tell you is that I smiled and was delighted with the film.  I discovered in my experience not a moment of frustration and a bit of anger because the filmmakers “messed with Jesus” but rather I left the theater MORE passionate about Jesus than before.  I said to myself, “I could follow that Jesus!”  I said to myself, “I’d like to live with that band of brothers.”  AND, to my surprise, I was for several moments able to say I understood how Clavius felt.  This is a truly unbelievable story!  But yes, it is a story of faith and transformation which truly is the ONLY WAY to experience the presence of Jesus.  So, take this as an honest encouragement to see the film.  As I said above, I’m looking forward to seeing it this coming week with some fellow Jesus followers in our community.  Beyond that, all I can say is that I can’t wait to see Jesus in the film again if only to smile and say, “yes Lord, it is You I love and follow.” 

I


Heaven - a great podcast to listen to - Luke and Dr. Scot McKnight

516ylP7Td9L._SX346_BO1,204,203,200_I don't know Luke, but I love his podcast.  I can say that I know Dr. Scot McKnight and have exchanged emails, thoughts on the Bible as well as the fact that I have been a FAN of Scot's for many years.  I'm also a regular reader of the Jesus Creed blog (which is Scot's FINE blog that you should subscribe too NOW).  

I listened to this podcast with interest.  As is said in the first few moments of the podcast, this book gives the reader a bit of a summary of NT Wright's classic book on the Resurrection, but what is excellent is Scot's own "take" on this vital subject.  His writing style has "hooked" many a reader in that Scot brings theological sophistication as well as a biblically robust analysis to bear with any of the subjects that he addresses. HERE is a link to Scot's Amazon page...peruse it and get any or all of his books (email me rdugall@apu.edu for specific suggestions if you like.) Since this is the Lenten season, confession is not only timely but good for the soul.  SO, dear Jesus, I confess that I haven't read the book YET!  But it is on my desk staring at me!  The podcast has given me that friendly "nudge" to get on with it!  Trust me, though, I have ALL Scot's books and HIGHLY recommend them (as well as use them in my undergrad courses and adult leadership training seminars).  For now, I DO recommend that you listen to this podcast!  AND - DO buy the book!

Click ON THE IMAGE on the podcast to listen to Luke's interview!  I would encourage you that if you enjoy it, SUBSCRIBE to the podcast, I certainly do!  Click on the BOOK image to buy Scot's great book!  

NWNLogoMay2015


The Season of Lent Begins!

The Season of Lent begins!
 a desert planet by sue wallace 
 
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.  
 
A desert planet....  
Once we stood by the clear waters,  knowing who we were, who the church was and where we were going....  
...now we're in the desert....  
...uncharted territory.  .
..severe and bleak.  .
..but full of Eastern promise. 
...the rules are different.  
The old ways don't work.  
...it is  a lonely place,  and dangerous.   
There are snakes and scorpions.  
Alien creatures.  
we have been stripped of our illusions  
of growth...  
of plenty...  
and we are in the desert.  
waiting...  
for God to speak.  
 
Turn these stones into bread.  
the instant solution.  
the quick fix. If we just..if we just...  
change our chairs, change our prayers, fix the roof.  
Then everything will be lovely.  
Won't it?  
 
The tempter said. Go on. Turn these stones into bread  
bread. like the bread used to be, in the old days...  
in a warm hearth in Nazareth.  
It was so good then. I can almost smell the yeast.  
A quick-fix and they'll all come back.  
 
But it is written. You can't live by bread alone.  
We need more than that. In this desert planet.  
 
Every word that comes from the mouth of God.  
Living God, we need you here, to tell us what to do.  
Feed us with your words, we are hungry!  
Show us the next step. How to be your church in this  undiscovered world.  
As we sit in the sand and try to hear you.  
 
And the tempter said. Look. Here are all the kingdoms of the world. I'll give you all of this. If you just worship me.  
Yes. Maybe that would be easier.  
Maybe we should give up. And join the others.  
Worship at Ikea, religiously.  
Or Kylie, or Microsoft, or Visa,  
I believe in the Holy Catalog Church.  
You can have it all. Worship me.  
Everything we've ever wanted.  At a price. But that price would be too high.  
 
Worship the Lord your God, and serve only Him.  
Who else can we turn to.  
You're the one who gives us life.  
And though we may we walking in the wilderness.  
You are here with us.  
Let us glimpse a burning bush somewhere on the way.  
This is a lonely planet.  
 
He will command his angels. They'll protect you. You needn't even stub your toes.  
Our attendance is plummeting but we needn't fear  
the angels will catch us.  
Someone else will fix it. 
We'll leave it up to them.  An evangelist with a funny name, or the parish next-door.  This desert is too difficult. So maybe I'll just sleep.  
 
Jesus answered the tempter. Do not put the Lord your God to the test.  
Jesus Help us.  
Its hard to find the energy. When the sand pushes against us.  
When we stumble in the wilderness. When we can't see the way.  
When the old signposts have disappeared  
And all we have are sand-dunes.  
But we know...  
We can't do a quick-fix  
We can't give up  
We can't leave it to someone else.  
 
Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit returned.  The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.  Because he has anointed me.  To bring good news to the poor.  
Good news came from out of the desert.   
There is good news.  
God has brought us here to hear it.  
And God will lead us the Promised Land.

 


This is so good - God is ALL IN!

What can I say...you have to read this!  Thanks to Greg for this amazingly great post!  

Jesus is All In - Greg Albrecht

God-And-Devil-Playing-Cards

The story world painted in the first chapter of the book of Job speaks of Satan showing up at God’s house for a visit. Details are not provided, but we get the idea that Lucifer did not bring flowers.

It didn’t take long before the Prince of Darkness started to condemn Job, one of God’s servants. Reading this story the other day, I was thinking of another way we might imagine the Evil One visiting our heavenly Father—but this visit wound up on the cutting room floor when the final version of the Bible was edited. You may remember comedian Bob Newhart, who often set up hilarious scenes he imagined happening with the phrase “it might have gone something like this.” I think that Satan visited God one day and the discussion went something like this:

Satan: “You know, you talk a good fight, but I don’t see how you could really love the men and women you have created. Why don’t you put up or shut up?”

God: “What exactly do you have in mind?

Pulling out a deck of cards The Adversary gets down to business: “Let’s talk about it over a hand of poker. We’ll put all our chips on the table—winner takes all.”

God: “You really don’t want to play with me!”

Never known for humility, Beelzebub blustered: “Let’s get it on. Do you mind if I deal?”

God: “Deal whenever you want—I AM ready."

Talking trash, Satan begins to deal the cards. God hasn’t even picked his hand off the table before the fast-talking Devil boasts: “When push comes to shove, you will never gamble all that you are and all that you have on those sorry little people on earth who are such miserable wretches. I am going to force you to admit that your so-called love for them has its limits.”

With steely-eyed resolve, looking like Clint Eastwood facing down one of his adversaries, God calls Satan’s bluff by pushing all of his chips into the middle of the table without even taking a look at the cards he had been dealt.

“I’m all in. All I AM and all I have is on the table. No matter what I’m holding, no matter what you’re holding. No matter what cards are left in the deck. No matter what, I’m all in. I AM all in with the ones you call ‘sorry little people.’”

Satan was taken aback, and replied: “What do you mean you’re all in? How do you propose to prove your love for your creation?”

God: “I’m going to go and be one of them. I’m going to live with them just as they live. Wherever they are, and whatever challenges they face, I’m going to pursue them. I will do whatever it takes. My entire creation, you included Lucifer, will be left with absolutely no doubt about my love. What about you—are you all in?”

If he had learned anything, Satan had learned never to doubt God. He picked up his chips and started to walk away, and then he turned and sneered: “Surely you don’t think they’re going to love you back, do you? You don’t think your little story is going to wind up with everyone living happily ever after, do you? You know how hateful and violent those sorry people are—they’ll probably kill you.”

God: “No probably about it. I know them. I created them. I’m going down there, and I will kiss them and hug them and love them. Of course, in the end, they will do what humans do. In return for good, they will give me grief. They will hate me because of my unlimited love. They will kill me, but that’s part of my mission. My love is not based on their acceptance. I’m going anyway. I AM all in. I love them because that’s who I AM.”

Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881) masterfully conveys the loving pursuit of Jesus in The Brothers Karamazov. Dostoevsky describes the institutional church 1500 years after the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The institution had long since turned its back on the freedom and simplicity of Jesus, choosing instead to reject Jesus in favor of the survival of big business religion. Dostoevsky portrays a surprise visit by Jesus during the time of the religious inquisitions in Spain (lasting several centuries after first being established in 1478).

Dostoevsky pictures Jesus coming to the afflicted, abused—to Spaniards overwhelmed by institutionalized religion, just as he had come to the Jews in the first century.

“The Grand Inquisitor” is a tale within the novel about the rejection of Jesus by organized religion, whether the first-century religion of Judaism or of 16th-century religion posing as Christianity.

Dostoevsky says it went something like this: The day after a hundred heretics were burned alive by order of the Inquisition Jesus walked by the cathedral in Seville as a funeral procession with a little white coffin was leaving. The grief-stricken mother of the little girl who had just died appealed to Jesus, and Jesus resurrected the little girl.

At that moment the Grand Inquisitor arrived on the scene, described by Dostoevsky:

“He is an old man, almost ninety, tall and erect, with a withered face and sunken eyes, in which there is still a gleam of light. He is not dressed in his gorgeous cardinal’s robes, as he was the day before, when he was burning the enemies of the

Roman church ... at this moment he is wearing his coarse, old, monk’s cassock.”

True to the knee-jerk response toward those who dare to challenge Christ-less religion, the Grand Inquisitor ordered Jesus to be thrown into prison for upsetting the religious status quo. Later, having seemingly recognized the actual identity of Jesus, the old man-Grand Inquisitor asks Jesus “Why have you come to disturb us?”

Ironically, 1500 years after Jesus, the established religion that did its business in Jesus’ name was so disturbed and threatened by Jesus’ presence that it responded by throwing him into prison.

Still standing outside Jesus’ prison cell, the Grand Inquisitor audaciously reviled Jesus and then paused to give Jesus an opportunity to answer.

“He [Jesus] suddenly approached the old man in silence and kissed him on his bloodless aged lips. That was His answer.”

When all the implications of Jesus’ arrival are considered, Christ-less religion is still disturbed by Jesus Christ-less religion still denies and rejects the intimate embrace and kiss that Jesus offers. Many within modern Christendom trivialize, diminish and devalue the Incarnation, diminishing it to a birthday celebration and sugar-laced fantasyland. It has little to do with the endless love God offers to us in the midst of the desperately evil places in which we find ourselves. Sugarplum fairies and toy soldiers and gingerbread houses aside, the marvel of the Incarnation is that our Savior comes to us.

He is here and he is after us. Jesus is pursuing us. Rather than opting for the safety and security of a fantasyland castle, Jesus has come to live with and be one of us. It seems for many, Jesus is little more than a harmless plastic front-yard decoration made in China, purchased at Wal-Mart, stored in the attic for most of the year and exhumed and displayed for a few weeks in December.

But Jesus isn’t plastic, and he can’t be stored in your attic. Jesus is alive—he doesn’t fit into the plastic molds our culture shapes for him. The risen Lord is here and he’s pursuing us year round. He wants to be a part of our lives—he offers us an embrace and a kiss.

If we are to truly celebrate Jesus, we will surrender all our religion, bowing before him, from the cradle to cross and beyond. The good news is that while all the tinsel and ornaments are now boxed up and Christmas puddings and concerts have paused until next December, none of these add up to even one small fraction of the enormity and totality of who God is. No matter how wonderful our attempts might be to honor and revere him, the fact remains that the love of God is always greater than we are able to conceive or celebrate.

The message of the Incarnation is, in its totality, a mystery—it’s always far beyond the grasp of our abilities to earn or deserve it.  The message of the Incarnation is in his kiss and in his embrace—and his never ending pursuit. He’s all in.


The Season of Lent is coming - some encouragement

Lent2014It is not about “giving up” as much as “giving in”

The Season of Lent "What did you give up for Lent?"

I grew up in a neighborhood in Michigan that had two predominant types of Christian experiences and “church” allegiances – Roman Catholic and Lutheran. It was not surprising that we regularly engaged in conversation about “churchy” things…especially when Fridays rolled around (and many of my Catholic friends ate fish…by the way, I didn’t) or when Vacation Bible School, Roller Skating events and Softball leagues at our congregation occurred because everyone in the neighborhood got involved in those activities despite their religious “orientation.” When it came to be late winter and early spring, inevitably somebody talked about the Lenten Season. The season of Lent was talked about, commemorated, and was something that had a significant place in the life of the entire neighborhood. There was a problem though…although I was part of that tradition, I had no clue about it. The Pastor wore purple stoles and there were purple banners hung around the church building…many of my Catholic pals talked about what they were having to “give up” during the season (usually things they didn’t want to give up)…and then, before I knew it, it was Good Friday (something I did “get” even as a kid) and the awesome day of Easter (something of which I still have vivid and wonderful memories). Even so, why we did what we did during Lent and what it was actually all about didn’t really become real to me until years later. Now, that shouldn’t come as a huge surprise especially because Christians often throw words and phrases around that we either misunderstand or assume everyone knows. So, this is what I did…when I got a bit older, I took it upon myself to do a bit of research about the season of Lent…permit me to share a bit of what I learned. 

Lent is one of the oldest seasons or times of observation/commemoration on the calendar that has guided Christ-followers through the life of faith and the ministry of Jesus for centuries. Like all days and holidays that are considered “holy” (i.e. set apart, different), there have been changes over the centuries on how it is observed, but its purpose has always stayed essentially the same: Lent is a season of self-examination and penitence (repentance, contrition, reflection on our essential brokenness) demonstrated by self-denial, in preparation for Easter. A significant leader in the early Jesus movement, Irenaus of Lyons (c.130-c.200), wrote of such a season…but in his time, Lent only lasted two or three days, not the 40 days that we observe today. In 325 AD, the Council of Nicea (yep, the SAME group of people that wrote the Nicene Creed) discussed a 40-day Lenten season of fasting and self-examination that should be observed by Christ-followers. It's not perfectly clear on whether its original intent was JUST for new Christians to prepare for Baptism (which usually occurred on Easter day) or if it was supposed to be a season held dear by the entire Church. Even so, since that time, Lent has become an annual ritual, a healing and powerful time observed by believers throughout the centuries as a time dedicated to self-denial, sacrifice, spiritual formation, spiritual discipline and prayer. In many traditions, fasting plays a huge role. In history, people were regularly encouraged to fast daily (eating only one meal a day). In other traditions, prayer and confession were the primary focus on the 40-day Lenten journey. Though Lent is still devoutly observed in some mainline Protestant denominations (most notably Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, etc.), others hardly mention it at all. However, it is interesting to that there seems to be a rise in the significance of and enthusiasm for the Lenten season. Frankly, there cannot be a better emphasis than for all of us to focus on our relationship with Jesus. Lent is a time to get in touch with that part of us that is broken and needs healing. It is a season to be able to openly acknowledge our deep desire for transformation and Christlikeness. It is a time that is best summarized in some of Jesus’ actual words in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) where He says that we are “blessed” when we are poor in spirit, meek and when we mourn. That’s really what Lent is about. Take Lent seriously this year…continue your One Year Bible reading…make a worship experience or two during the season (starting with Ash Wednesday worship)…read a Lenten devotional book or look for something that can encourage you in your walk with Jesus (or see more ideas below). That’s my encouragement…and tell you the truth, that’s exactly what I’m doing! As you read the following Lenten prayer, make it a part of your inner desire to be more like Jesus.

Lighter of lights – illumine us 

Fire of fires – thaw us 

Power of powers – strengthen us

Lover of lovers – warm us 

Teller of tales – encourage us 

Destroyer of darkness – save us 

Touchstone of truth – examine us 

Summoner of stars – amaze us 

Wellspring of wisdom – weather us 

Water of life – refresh us 

Dancer of days – delight in us

Breath of the universe – bless us

I encourage you this year to join the Lenten commemoration. In other words, why not set aside the next 40 days to do that which brings you daily into the knowledge of your own brokenness, yearning for healing, desire for transformation, and humility/dependence upon Jesus.  As a part of being in this order, you might want to: Read the Psalms during the next forty days.  Read 4 Psalms a day and you’ll have time to spare! Keep a journal that gets specific in the areas of confession and your need for forgiveness. Not that you want to hammer yourself…but picking up on the A.C.T.S. method, Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication will keep your heart and mind focused in your prayer time. Fast at least one day per week up until Easter. Daily take 10 to 15 minutes simply to reflect on the areas of your life that need transformation.  In other words, what will make you a more faithful Christ-follower?  What are those areas in your life that “get in the way” of you being who Jesus wants you to be? Continue or start the habit of reading the One Year Bible – yes, you can start now.  No problem! Last but not least, take some time each week to confess to another person.  That is powerful!  James 5:16 says, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed”.  Take a risk!

 

 


Jesus, the One we Follow and Serve

Jesus - The One we Follow and Serve

A couple of weeks ago, I was "assailed" by this devotion. It actually took my breath
away when I read it because of its simplicity and profundity. Friends, we make our
relationship with God so complex. We attempt to organize, strategize, "get busy"
for God...we plan, write purpose statements, form ministry teams and small groups.
We get together for worship experiences and bible studies. We DO all sorts of
things supposedly FOR Jesus when Jesus all along needs to be the sole target of
our affection, trust and day-to-day living. Jesus defined a Kingdom of God lifestyle
for his followers very simply - love God, love others, live for Jesus, make disciples.
In some way I wish I could "take back" all the times I encouraged people to "join the
church" thinking that religious activity would be the key to their understanding and
lifestyle in Jesus when Jesus is all we need. NOW, don't take this wrong...there is
much to be said about the importance of spiritual community, relationships in the
Body of Christ and the vital nature of the encouragement that we receive as we are
faithful to God's call to walk this journey with others. But MAKE NO MISTAKE
ABOUT IT our lives, lifestyle, mission, calling and passion needs to be focused on
who and what Jesus defined it to be. My encouragement today is for you to read
the following slowly. Let the Spirit of God wash over you with a growing passion
for Jesus. Trust me, as you follow Jesus...keep your eyes on Jesus...have Jesus be
the focal point of your love, life and the affections of your heart, then we will see
together the mission of Jesus accomplished in our midst. I like that this devotional
was originally posted in the "Simple Church" Journal...actually, that's really what
"Church" should be - simple - simply Jesus!


Jesus
Jesus
Jesus
Make disciples who are followers of ... Jesus.
Not followers of doctrines, opinions, or church visions.
Not reciters of creeds or religious points of view.
But followers of the One.
Followers who follow because they know Him. They have tasted, touched, and
encountered Him and now they want to continue to develop that closeness,
intimacy, and relationship with Him. They know no greater joy.
They are not turned into members of denominations, attenders of services, or
clones of the latest way to do Christianity or church.
They remain His and they pursue Him and they follow Him and obey Him out of a
loyalty and passion that comes from deeply knowing Him.
They learn His voice because they love Him.
They lay down their own, personal agenda because they value Him.
They take up His vision to see the restoration of His Kingdom come to all people
because they experience His everyday encounters that restore and free their own
soul and they are driven to see this love transform others.
They know Him, they have found life, and they continue to find life through Him.
And because they know Him, they love Him.
And because they love Him, they follow Him...
Jesus