“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” Mark 8:34-35
What does God call of you? Is it something simple or complex? Is God calling you to drop everything or just a few things?
Do you know?
Perhaps the cross you thought you were picking up is not it. Maybe what you carried before is no longer what God calls you to carry today. Maybe you are carrying someone else’s cross – and need to put it down so they can take it up. Or maybe someone else needs help carrying theirs, and you are like Simon the Cyrene (Mt. 27:32), compelled to pick it up for them.
Lent is a time to slow down and focus on what God is calling us to do. If we take advantage of the Lenten season, we can spend more time with God and perhaps discern our crosses.
At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. Mark 1:12-13
Mark’s gospel is short and sweet. Some scholars believe Mark was frantically trying to write down all Peter taught while Rome was destroying Jerusalem in 70 AD, so Mark did not add a lot of the information you can read in Matthew or Luke’s gospel.
While Mark uses few words, the ones he chooses are important. In the original Greek, the Spirit does not send or lead Jesus to the wilderness, the Spirit casts him – the Greek word ekballo (to cast out) is the same words used to describe the exorcism of an evil spirit. The Holy Spirit forcefully sent Jesus into that wilderness.
Who among us would want to voluntarily go into the wilderness to face the devil?
Who among us wanted to enter into this crazy world of masks, shutdowns, limitations, distancing, online learning and Covid?
Yet here we are.
But notice another thing that Mark tells us. Jesus was not alone. The angels attended him.
One of God’s promises is that we are never alone. The promise through the prophets was for Emmanuel, God with us. And Jesus himself promises both the Comforter (the Holy Spirit) to reside with us and that He would be with us to the end of days.
Besides this, God also has sent ministering spirits called angels. They surround us.
As we continue along our current wilderness experience, as we continue our Lenten journey, remember you are not alone.
Ash Wednesday falls on, February 17th this year and we will have a special on-line service uploaded to YouTube.
Lent is one of those seasons of the church that can give us a great opportunity. For some, it is a time of denial – a time to give up something we like as a sacrifice to God. For others, it might be a time of repentance and renewal – searching our hearts as we strive to follow God’s way. And for others, Lent becomes something mentioned by the pastor, but not followed at home.
But the Lenten season is a great opportunity to grow closer to God. The liturgy of the worship services are centered around the theme of repentance. The sermons usually have a theme of change. And the act of giving up something we love can be quite fulfilling. Another option is to start a new (godly) habit. This could be opening our bibles and studying the word or beginning a new spiritual practice (see my latest video series on Becoming a Disciple).
May this Lenten season can be one of great spiritual growth for you.
46They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” 52Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. Mark 10:46-52
“What do you want me to do for you?” It is a straightforward question from Jesus, and one that Bartimaeus can answer.
Sometimes I find it easy and other times hard to ask specifically for something, especially during these confusing times. Do we pray for the complete eradication of the virus? Or do we pray for immunity? If a loved on is suffering from a disease and they are approaching their death, do we pray for healing or for release?
Often our prayers do get confusing, especially when things are not as simple. Bartimaeus wanted his sight back. What is it we want?
This Wednesday is the beginning of the season of Lent. Perhaps during Lent this year we could spend more time in prayer asking for wisdom – asking God to reveal what we should be praying for.
38John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40Whoever is not against us is for us. 41For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.”
Will the real Christian please stand up!
During the Protestant Reformation of the 15th and 16th centuries, there was a lot of controversy over who was a “real Christian.” For the Catholic Church, it remained clear – you had to remain loyal to the Pope and the teaching of the Church. For Protestants, there were a number of new church expressions – and some included all who proclaim Christ as Lord, while others had specifics that you had to believe in order to be “included.”
We seem to have a similar situation today. Can you be a Christian and vote for (fill in the blank)? Can you be a Christian and believe (again, fill in the blank)? All of this depends on who you ask.
And this is one instance that Jesus encounters – and refutes. In fact, Jesus also said “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd… (John 10:16-17).
And yet, even though Jesus preaches a message of inclusivity, we continue to put up barriers to His grace – and often based upon our own beliefs.
Maybe we should pay attention to Jesus and what He says.
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10
God never ceases to amaze me.
It was a typical Tuesday morning as I drove to the office. Except for two things. The weather was pretty bad with a mixture of snow and freezing rain. As I turned into the driveway there was a young man sitting in front of the door. It was obvious that he was in need and probably homeless.
I parked the car and went up to him. He apologized for sitting in the breezeway but wanted to get out of the bad weather. I brought him into the building for warmth and talked with him. Asking what he needed, all he wanted was water.
Fortunately, we have bottles of water available, as well as food from the Shepherd’s Pantry. I was able to give him some things he could take with him. But that is not all.
Somebody donated a hooded jacket. Now when that donation arrived, I was not, shall we say, thrilled because we are not set up for a clothing ministry. But I put it to the side to figure out later on. Tuesday was that “later on” as this young man needed it. He also needed some gloves, so I grabbed what I had in my car for him.
Before you ask, I did offer to call some shelters and agencies for him, but he declined. After some time to warm up and use our facilities, this young man headed out towards his destination – going with our prayers.
We continue to minister to our community. Maybe not the way we want, maybe not according to anyone’s expectations, but God has created good works for us – and we respond.
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. Psalm 139:13-14
Good morning. Did you know you are wonderfully made? Yes, you reading this right now. The Creator of the Entire Universe has made you, and you are wonderfully made.
Have you ever just stopped to think about this? Have you ever pondered that fact that you are not only a creation of God, but a wonderfully made creation of God?
The Psalmist did and reflects on that in Psalm 139 (and others). So sometime today take a moment and reflect. Maybe as you meditate upon this fact, you could write something about yourself that reflects God’s creation. Perhaps you could write a song, or a poem, or just a few lines. Then give thanks to God for God’s wonderful creation…you.
39Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41And many more believed because of his word. 42They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.” John 4:39-42
This passage comes from the story of the woman at the well. A Samaritan woman.
When Jesus meets with her alone, it could be considered scandalous – for Jewish men would not meet with an unrelated woman alone, nor would they associate with Samaritans.
But Jesus breaks those rules – they are not of God, rather were barriers placed by humans, and when He breaks them, look what happens. The woman returns to her village to proclaim the messiah, they invite Jesus to come and they learn from Him. This village of Samaritans become followers of Jesus – because Jesus chose to reach out to them.
On this day we set aside to honor the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as well as the civil rights struggle, we should remember what Jesus did, and always does. Jesus reaches out to those others deem different. Jesus reaches out to those others deem unclean, or unworthy, or any other negative connotation. Jesus loves.
On this Monday of inauguration week, let us look to Jesus as our model.