GENEROSITY IN COURAGEOUS CONVERSING

a-modest-proposal-for-peaceA number of years ago, I saw this poster in our school dining hall.  While I was not from an Anabaptist background, I recognized the sentiment as being true to the words and desire of Jesus that his people be one and be willing to extend grace generously to each other.

I mentioned in a previous blog that a group in our community wanted to explore courageous conversation, where people coming from different and often opposing views learn to have a good and civil conversation over hard issues.  A group of us met today to start that process and it is clear that we are all feeling our way forward.  There is a real sense that this just has not been done and we really do not know what we are doing!

But I guess that is part of the process in these polarized times.  We are trying to do something that is not done or done well in our experience.  We are trying to do it in the midst of bitter social and political discourse.  We even wonder if we can do it and if it will be of any value or have any good outcome.

As we spoke today about getting this off the ground, the word that kept going through my mind was generosity.  If this is going to work, there will need to be a spirit of generosity among those who partake.  This is not the generosity of finance or material goods.  It is a generosity of grace towards one another, even as we disagree.

This seems to be the hardest thing to find in conversations.  Strong and emotional opinions seem to justify communicating, “I am right and you are wrong.”  I do believe removing emotion only blunts arguments and turns them into philosophical trysts.  The emotion we feel is part of the package of our understanding.  The emotions express the feeling of the matter that the words alone cannot carry.

Leading with emotions, however, brings an open justification to stand the ground.  Emotions lead us to see the other person as the argument we disagree with rather than one who holds a different opinion or point of view.  If the person is the argument and I disagree with the argument, then I can treat the person with less grace.

And so even devoted followers of Jesus stop seeing brothers and sisters in each other and see someone who is somehow less deserving of grace, maybe even an enemy.

In the least, Jesus was very clear that we needed to love our enemies.  Is our conversation representing Christ or our own inner desire to be heard?  To further this, Paul reminded the Colossian believers to bear with each other and forgive one another even as God in Christ had forgiven them. Does our current crisis of civility give us the opening to set aside the words of Christ that are to live in us so that we can say what we want and speak as we will?

To speak with those with whom I disagree – and who disagree with me – takes generosity of spirit and grace.  It means I see the person in front of me and believe that this person also wants what is good and right even if we do not see all issues or outcomes the same.  To seek to be generous is to extend graciousness in my words and tone and measure, knowing my limits and owning my emotions as part of the conversation while not putting the listener on the defensive.

Our work is just getting started here in Pennsylvania.  I believe what we are doing in my home area is learning to practice grace, the first grace being that we are willing to know each other and tackle hard issues together in generous grace.  As it moves along, I trust I will be as generous towards others as I desire for them to be generous towards me.

 

GRATEFUL IN THE MIDST OF IT ALL

It has been a rough week, but I am grateful in the midst of it all.

grateful-rock

Personally, things are well, which is a huge reason to be grateful.

But we have friends who are struggling, who are hurting, who endure loss, grief, and pain.  We have friends who are ready to give up, who are struggling to hold on, and some who are too far away to hug. 

Their burdens are our burdens and we bear them together.  So we are feeling that grief and pain and confusion along with them.  

In the midst of all this, I am grateful.

  • I am grateful that we have friends.
  • I am grateful that we have friends who have carried burdens with us and whose burdens we can help shoulder.
  • I am grateful that we can offer comfort and companionship.
  • I am grateful that there are rays of hope for some and they are on the way back.
  • I am grateful that these seasons do not last forever.

I am grateful that, in the midst of it all, I know a source of life that is a person, Jesus Christ.  As Isaiah described him, 

He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
    He was despised, and we did not care. (Isaiah 53:3, NLT)

I am grateful that Jesus knows first hand the hardship of being the only good and perfect person to walk the earth and still endure hardship and pain, even to the pain of the cross.  

Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered.  In this way, God qualified him as a perfect High Priest, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him. (Hebrews 5:8-9)

And now we have this same call, to comfort others as we have been comforted.  We gratefully stand with those who are hurting.  

He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. (2 Corinthians 1:4)

I grieve with my friends and ache for them. Yet I remain grateful in the midst of the hurt and pain.  This is a season that will come and go.  In this season, I am grateful for the many friends who stood with me over the years.  I am grateful that I can now stand with others who need comfort.

I pray you are able to be grateful today in the midst of your life.

INVITED TO COURAGEOUS CONVERSATION

What do you think would happen if a group of believers in Jesus of divergent political and social persuasion sat down in a room and talked?

people_talking_over_coffeeThe ministers of our area gather once a month to build relationships and work out our role and impact in the community.  At one such meeting, an invitation was made by one of the churches to consider gathering a group of people of diverse political leanings for a courageous conversation.

Given the hostility that appears to have seized most of the political conversations before and since the 2016 elections, it was no wonder there was a bit of shifting in the seats.  Would such conversation really serve any purpose?

The gentleman who sent the proposal was very aware of these dynamics.  He was also aware that his own congregation was made up of one type of voice and that they had not learned to listen to any voices that differed from their own.  He wondered if there was any way to build a conversation that would be meaningful and helpful to all.

So I joined the effort to bring about this group.  At one point, we thought we might try to do this among a larger group, but realized that a mustard-seed approach would be better.  We will start with a small group of interested parties and see if we build helpful and healthy dialogue.  

I must admit I have some apprehension about this.  I have a moderately right-leaning perspective, one that finds a home in my congregation, but not seemingly welcome in other circles.  

What gives me hope here is that the gentleman who proposed this sincerely wants to listen.  He wants to know what voices other than his are saying and what minds other than the ones with which he is at home are thinking.  I feel less defensive knowing that I will likely be heard.  

His desire to listen has awakened that same desire in me.  This is not a conversation to decide who is right or wrong, but to understand and discover common ground.  Just as I believe I will be heard, I want to have the posture of listening.

Now, what follows is truly what is most important to me.  We are a group that all claim to follow the Lord Jesus.  If there is any group that should be able to do this, it is a group of believers who follow the same Lord and have the same Spirit moving among them.  I am sure some would question whether these assumptions are true.  I suppose the fruit of these conversations will let us know what or who is truly at work.

What is true is that we will never know for certain unless we are courageous enough to sit with one another and hear each other speak.  We might not even speak at first about matters on which we differ.  We might just share our stories, finding that we have commonalities that we had not considered since our differences created barriers.

My oldest daughter shared with me after her graduation about the importance of sitting with another person and hearing his or her story.  The discipline of sticking with another’s story is a grace we offer people.  Their story made be true or it may be rooted in a fantasy.  But if we are willing to hear them before questioning the validity of the story, we get a sense of the being and desires of the other person.  I believe this will be at the heart of our courageous conversation as we pursue this over the next few months.  I hope to share more as the story unfolds.

 

EASTER IS NEVER OVER

The new day has dawned!  He is RISEN!  So now we put away the Easter eggs and the fake grass and look to the new season of life.  Unlike Christmas, there is no big, celebratory build up to Easter Sunday.  Lent is more of a time of introspection and confession, not the stuff of parties and decorations.  We get to Easter, we celebrate and that is it.  Or is it?IMG_0070

This Sunday, I will start a new preaching series at Perkiomenville Mennonite Church on what it means to thrive.  The one thing I hope people get is the power of the resurrection goes on after Easter.  As Paul would tell the Ephesian believers, the same power that raised Christ from the dead is at work in us.  It is continually at work in us.  Every day is an opportunity to celebrate Easter because Jesus’ life and power are at work in us.

Sometimes it feels that the best stories about God’s power at work in people come from places other than the church gathered.  So that leads me to another hope.  I hope that we will hear more stories of God’s Easter power at work in the lives of my congregation and the larger church because we are living and moving together in the same power that raised Jesus from the dead.

Easter is never over because God is still raising the dead to life – dead souls, dead hopes, dead gifts, dead dreams, and dead ends.  While we may have been dead without Christ, we are now alive in Christ.  I certainly want to be more than alive.  I want to thrive in Christ.  I hope you do as well.

 

LENT IS ABOUT HOPE

Final blog on why I believe Lent is a useful season for followers of Jesus.

holy-saturday

When we ended our Thursday night worship, the worship center was dark, black as the inside of…well, a closed tomb.  And that was on purpose.  The last words were, “sealed in the tomb, seemingly forever, the body of Jesus.”

Now we wait…

Sunday cannot get here fast enough for us.  We know that we await the resurrection.  The whole earth awaits the renewal of all things.  Can’t Easter Morning come any more quickly?  We wait with the assurance that a new day will dawn.

Those that followed Jesus did not live with that assurance.  It’s not that they did not receive it.  Jesus had told them he would be crucified and buried, but that he would rise again.  But they never comprehended it.  They didn’t get it.  They held on to their understanding of Jesus Messiah King rather than grasp the promise of a Suffering Servant.  So the disciples are not waiting for anything but the pain to ebb, the grief to subside.  There is only one thing left to do – anoint his body when the Sabbath is over, then go back to the places from whence they came.

But we know the story takes a turn, so we anticipate the resurrection.  For us, it is a done deal.  It has happened.  We wait through Friday and Saturday because the church calendar prescribes it for us.  Learn to wait for the celebration because there is no victory until death is tasted.

Can we admit for a moment that it is not our way?  We do not like to wait.  Victory must come with speed if it is to be victory at all.  If God is going to act, he must act NOW!

But the Lord has a timetable we know nothing about.  His timing works on the scale of eternity, my friend Scott reminded me.  If I am concerned that I hear from God immediately or else I will not trust him, then I am the one trying to control the universe and its various intricacies.  I have forgotten what hope in the Lord really us because I want everything now.

Lent teaches me to hope even at the most hopeless times.  I learn to hope because God has not failed in the past; His track record is 100 percent.  He has not let down his people, even when his people do not have the whole picture and take to dictating their desires.

Lent teaches me to hope even at the most hopeless times.  I learn to hope because God is trustworthy today, knowing who is who and what is what.  None of the details have taken him by surprise or escaped his attention.  Across the grand scope of the universe, he is aware of tiny sparrows, drying grass, falling tears, and muted spirits.

Lent teaches me to hope even at the most hopeless times.  I learn to hope because God has already written the next chapter before we live the last word of this one.  He invites us to put our full confidence in him regardless of the very real circumstances we see and experience around us.

At the end of the day, Lent is a choice to live through the darkest part of life and death and allow God to resurrect life at the time of his choosing because he knows when best to call forth life and push back the darkness.  This is not the hope of wishful thinking, such as, “I kinda hope that God will show up sometime and do a little of what I want.”  This is the hope that says, “I am confident that I WILL see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” (Psalm 27:13)  Once again, “Those who HOPE in the Lord will gain new strength.  They will run and not get winded; they will walk and not get tired.”  (Isaiah 40:31)  And finally, “Faith is the SUBSTANCE of things of hoped for (the things we are confident of), and the EVIDENCE of things not seen (but are more real than the screen you are looking at and the chair you are sitting in). (Hebrews 11:1)

Lent is good for us – in it, we lament our sin, the sin we name and of which we take ownership; in it, we turn from our sin and surrender our very lives to the will and care of the Father; in it, we gain perspective on what real life is and anticipate the final glorious end of all things.  And we hope.  Even when hope seems foolish and absurd and a royal waste of time, we hope.  For God will not leave us to fend for ourselves.  He is working to restore everything and we will see the resurrection to new and full life.  God has staked his name to it and he is going to come through.

Amen!

LENT IS ABOUT ANTICIPATION

Sixth of a series of blogs on why I believe Lent is a useful season for followers of Jesus.

waiting

On the day I wrote this blog, I was waiting.  I was looking forward to joining some men on a retreat where the goal was to have a heart open to the Lord and what he would say to us as individuals and a community.  As I write these sentences, the reality of that retreat is still future.  It is something I am looking forward to.

In Lent, we move through the season lamenting sin, naming sin, turning from sin, surrendering to the Lord, and putting life into perspective.  It all feels so “here-and-now.”  Is all of this leading somewhere?  And should we even worry about any of these things? After all, Jesus has already taken care of sin and death.  The cross is the sur sign of this and his resurrection is our hope as well.  Why all this “work” for something that has been won?

First, all of this is leading to somewhere.  In Lent, we move into the darkness that was our sin and recognize that we could do nothing to remove it.  We need a savior.  So we anticipate the work of Jesus on the Cross.  We look forward to the great and glorious freedom that comes from placing full confidence in Jesus.

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner. Free me from the bondage to sin through your cross.

Second, Jesus does have the final word over sin, hell, and death through his death and resurrection.  Through this, he has freed us from the law of sin and death.  These have no power over us, nor do their penalties follow us.  In spite of this freedom, we stumble into and repeat our sins.  We may try our best, but we do not find that we have been freed from “sinning” per se.  I still act willfully.  I blow it.  But the cross tells me that this is not the final word on me.  We anticipate the work of Jesus to put sin and death in its place, and to be slow to anger and abounding in love with us.

Third, when we do mess up, how dark we feel.  We may boast of moving on, but I know how it goes with me.  I feel a part of me dying when I speak forcefully to my wife, becomes perturbed with a friend, or assert my will for my own gain.  It is a darkness that I feel.  But in Lent, I can anticipate being raised to life and that sin does not hold final sway over my life.  As Jesus was raised to life, so I am being renewed to follow him.

In this season, we deal with the darkness that still clings to us, but anticipate in Christ’ triumph that we belong to him and nothing in the whole creation can snatch us from him.  When Easter Sunday dawns, we again remember that Jesus is not in the tomb…he is alive!!

In this sense, every Sunday is Easter Sunday, even at Christmas time.  Each Sunday we gather to worship a risen Lord and Savior.  Even as we walk through the week as witnesses of the Lord Jesus, we anticipate each week gathering in the name of the Lord and having him present and alive through the Holy Spirit.  We anticipate and remember the Lord is ALIVE!!

Right now, darkness hangs around us and even creeps into our hearts. But we anticipate light and life.  We anticipate hope.  As the old preacher was heard to say, “It’s Friday…but Sunday’s a’comin’!”

The Scriptures bear witness that the apostles did not anticipate the resurrection.  They thought it was over at the tomb.  We know they could not have been more wrong.  Since we have the record, we always get to look ahead to the end of the story.  But sometimes we live as if the resurrection is a metaphor or a motif in the biblical record.  We act like it is something we wish for, not something of which we are confident.

Lent reminds us and encourages us to recognize the darkness in us and around us, but not to take it as the final word.  Jesus has the final word.  He had it in death, he has it in life. John reminds us that Jesus anticipated the moments of his passion.  He knew they were coming.

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. (John 13:1-4a)

Jesus knew the end from the beginning.  He anticipated the darkness, but also the light that followed.  He knew there was shame to come, but anticipated the joy beyond it. (Hebrews 12:2)

We see the darkness.  We anticipate the light.
We see our sin.  We anticipate the freedom.
We see Jesus die.  We anticipate his resurrection.

We have so much to look forward to!

 

LENT IS ABOUT PERSPECTIVE

Fifth of a series of blogs on why I believe Lent is a useful season for followers of Jesus.

early-morning-mist-on-the-mountain

I like to think that the time I invest in different pursuits amounts to something.  I want to believe that it matters when I teach, preach, blog, act, comfort, serve, etc. Then I read Ecclesiastes and I wonder if it really matters.

These are the words of the Teacher, King David’s son, who ruled in Jerusalem. “Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “completely meaningless!” (Ecclesiastes 1:1-2)

Is life really meaningless if it is God’s good creation?  This verse seems to deny or defy us to look at life as good.  That is, of course, if we take meaningless to mean devoid of any value or definition, as our English word would suggest.

Thanks to a friend, I was given some perspective on the original word that we translate “meaningless” or “vanity” in the book of the Teacher.  That word, hebel, means vapor or breath.  The verse reads a little differently if I put “vapor” in where “meaningless” now sits.

These are the words of the Teacher, King David’s son, who ruled in Jerusalem. “Everything is vapor,” says the Teacher, “complete vapor!”
(Ecclesiastes 1:1-2)

 So everything is vapor, here today and gone tomorrow.  At least vapor is something.  It has substance, at least for a time.  It does something – even if something is to provide an interesting element to a nature photo.

misty-mountains

What is the Teacher getting at?  Probably what the prophet knew when looking at humanity:

A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it;
    surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.
(Isaiah 40:6-8)

Nothing in all creation lasts, not even us.  It is all a vapor.  But if God says it, it will remain.  Nothing stands apart from God’s sustaining word.  Even the vapor can last if God says, “Keeping being vapor!”  If the Lord says it, it will be.

So what is the perspective in all this?  It starts with knowing that our lives will not last forever here.  And in the great scheme of time, our lives amount to vapor on a sunny spring day.  It springs up, it shimmers, and is gone.  While I certainly matter to some people, my contributions here will fade with time.  And that is okay.

However, the mist that is you and me is of inestimable value to the Lord.  Though we do not last long in creation, Jesus found us to be of such value that he did not esteem his place in the heavens, but became vapor with us to restore us to the Father, to give our current vapor value, and to give us hope beyond this vapor for life that would not evaporate with the rising sun.

At Lent, we remember that we mattered to God so much that His Son took on himself our pain, our guilt, our suffering, and our shame.  Through Jesus, we stand free, forgiven, and unashamed.  We do well to remember that it was all purchased at a great cost, a king’s ransom, if you will.  

At Lent we get perspective – our life is vapor, a vapor that matters to God.  I live at his word and I am invited to live for his glory.  When it is time to evaporate, I do not have to worry.  I can confidently fade knowing God remembers me and will take me into glory.

So I will continue to teach, preach, blog, act, comfort, serve, etc.  As long as someone is encouraged or challenged, it will have some value.  I will continue to use my vapor to honor the Lord who served me with such great love.  And in honor of him, I will encourage others to see their lives in humble clarity – it will be here today, gone tomorrow, but not forgotten by the One who sustains all things by his word and who calls us by name to live with him forever.

LENT IS ABOUT SURRENDER

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Fourth of a series of blogs on why I believe Lent is a useful season for followers of Jesus.

It’s all about you, Jesus.
And all this is for you, for your glory and your fame.
It’s not about me, as if you should do things my way.
You alone are God and I surrender to your will.

Jesus, Lover Of My Soul (It’s All About You) by Paul Oakley, c.1995 Thank You Music

I have enjoyed writing about Lent because…well, I enjoy writing and expressing my thoughts about following Jesus and life with him.

What I enjoy less in entering the struggle of living the lamenting, naming, and turning.

Each step on this journey brings me closer to Jesus.  That is always a good thing.  But in the journey, I become aware that I am not always aligned heart and soul with his agenda.    There is what I desire to do for myself and what I desire to do for him.  These are at times mutually exclusive.

Only one of us can be Lord.  One of us has to surrender to the other.

That reminds me of something one of my pastors of days gone by said.  He told me that God is a gentleman and will not force his will on me.  In a way, the Lord will surrender to my will when I assert myself.  Maybe it is better said that the Lord will surrender me to my will when I insist on having things my way.  Either way, God is not in the habit of forcing us to do his will and live his way.

I can hear somebody saying, “Yes, but there are consequences to living by our own will.”  Yes, certainly there is.  For a time, we get what we want.  I gain a sense of satisfaction knowing that I was in control. It feels good to grab life by the reins.

But then, what do I lose?   I gradually lose the sound of his voice in the breeze of my self-decisions.  I choose my direction and lose the ability to distinguish “true north” in the maze I create from my actions.  Without surrender, I storm off into the world and find that it seems I can dominate it, but soon I feel the weight of it dominating me.

Before I am crushed or even before I go down that road, I have the opportunity to say, “Jesus, you are Lord and I am not.  I surrender.”  This road seems so opposite of the former way.  Surrender starts with a struggle as I release my agenda and pick up his.  I find myself wanting the benefits of living in God’s reign, but still sneaking in a part of my agenda.  Maybe I even bargain with God for a couple of planks in the party platform.  

However, as Neal Maxwell says so well in the quote above, “Coming to Jesus is not a negotiation, but a surrender.”

Where I have chosen surrender, I struggled to let go of my own ways, be it the will to live as I chose or the will of how I participate in his Kingdom work.  It seems that I must daily choose surrender, that I must again affirm that it will be his way and not mine.

I keep finding that where I continually choose surrender, I also eventually find great joy and true life.  Rather than forgo the struggle, I enter it and daily choose for the Lord’s way.  Only here does life move from struggle to peace.

I have found myself “between jobs” more often than I desire.  Each time, I struggled to understand the next step or the next move.  At first, the struggle was to accept that the Lord could provide for our family as we moved into a time of wandering.  Each time, we saw provision come our way.  When I experienced another break in the journey last year, I also felt an uncommon peace.  I could rest and lay down my worry because God’s track record of provision was perfect.  Life was not always easy, but we were not destitute.  

Lent is about surrender to the Lord, whether in areas of ethical and moral living, or in areas of trust and delight in his ability to do more than we hope or imagine.  It is in only in surrender that we find the true life and joy the Lord has for us. Anything else may seem sweet to begin with, but will eventually sour as we seek to maintain our control.

I surrender all, I surrender all. All to Thee, my blessed Savior. I surrender all.

LENT IS ABOUT TURNING

Third of a series of blogs on why I believe Lent is a useful season for followers of Jesus.

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There are many ways to turn – turn away, turn against, turn towards, return, turn up, turn down.  We can turn just about anywhere.  Turning is something we do…often.

Do you ever struggle to turn down that piece of pie or the last cookie on the plate?  You know you have already eaten too much, but how can you turn it down.  It looks so good and you already know it tastes good.  That’s what makes temptation so insidious.  It looks so beautiful and makes me feel good.  I can’t turn it down.

In the season of Lent, we learn to LAMENT our sin, the sin that we NAME.  We know what drags us away from full devotion to the Lord.  We deal with it constantly.  But it is so beautiful to look at, so delicious to enjoy.  Can’t I have a little bit?

Did you ever see The Help?  In one scene, Minny Jackson (one of the help) serves socialite Hilly Holbrook a pie as a peace-offering after Hilly got her fired.  There was one special, secret ingredient in the pie – Minny’s poo.  The pie was so good that Hilly could not help but have two slices!  It may have been a good tasting pie, but it still had poo in it.

Just a little leaven works its way into the whole batch of dough, said Jesus.  Just a little bit and we are hooked into something that does not please the Lord.  When we name and lament our sin, it is time to turn away from it.  It is time to face the temptation and say, “No.”

When we say no is when we realize that there is a spot that needs filling.  It is the reason we were tempted in the first place.  We felt we needed that cookie, that image, or that rush.  It promised to fulfill something in us.  Now that it has been told, “No,” the space needs filling.

So we turn towards something else.  We can turn to something less sinful. We can turn to something we think in morally neutral.  Sometimes we simply turn from one addiction to another.

Or we can turn to someone who promises to fill our hearts and empty spaces with himself.  He promises to fill us in ways that we could never dream possible.  Temptation fulfilled leads to a deadening of the soul, while turning to the Lord leads to life.

“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live,” (Deuteronomy 30:15, 19)

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)”

The Lord God calls to us to choose life, to turn from our own plan and pathway and choose him.  He alone is able to give us what we need.  As our Creator, he understands us inside and out – literally!  As the ultimate Lover, he calls us and desires to fill us with his good delights.  These are things we cannot enjoy when we are holding on to those sins and entertaining those temptations that separate us from knowing and sensing his presence at work.

So the Lord invites us to turn.  We turn from that which seems to feed us but only leaves us more hungry.  We turn to the One who is the Bread of Life and find we do not hunger; the same One is the Water of Life who causes us not to thirst.

Certainly you have experienced a time when your whole being was facing towards the Lord and you knew the pleasure of His presence.  You just knew that He was pleased to be with you and you with him.  Nothing else in the world mattered at that moment.  Nothing else was close to being like the Lord.

But then life happens and temptation makes its presence known.  We try to avert our eyes and for a moment forget where to look.  In this season of Lent, we are invited to look into the eyes of the Suffering Savior whose life and death was an act of love to save us and capture our attention so we might turn and be healed.  

Today, if you can hear His voice, turn away from those things you have named and lamented.  Turn to the Lord who gives life.  Turn and see that the Lord is present and has much more to offer than anything from which you are turning.

LENT IS ABOUT NAMING

Second of a series of blogs on why I believe Lent is a useful season for followers of Jesus.

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Every so often, I will be recounting an event and try to remember the name of someone in the story.  One of the humorous ways I go about deflecting my forgetfulness is to create a generalized description of some person, “You know that guy, with the face?  And he had hair – I think.  Pretty sure he had two eyes and a nose as well…”  It’s one way to playfully dodge the fact that I have forgotten the person’s name.

During Lent, we can lament our sin.  Knowing and owning with sorrow that we have sinned against the Lord and his commands moves us towards him.

At one level, I can confess, “I have sinned in my body, my thoughts, and my words; in the deeds that I have done and what I have failed to do.”  I can keep my confession pretty general.  In this way, I say something that is true for all of us.  I confess that I, like all other people, have chosen my own way.  I can also play off that there is specific sin that I need to name.

Now let’s go to another level.  What specifically am I doing or holding onto that creates barriers between all the Lord wants to do in and through me and my receiving those things?  What sins have a grip and must be named?

I believe we all know the power of words.  It is not the word itself that has the power.  The power lies in the use of the word either or against someone, and by whom it is being used.  We can use words to draw people close to us or keep them at arm’s length.  I can use words to embrace or confess who I am or to deny and reject a claim against me.  Thus, when I name something – such as a wrong attitude or ongoing action that displeases the Lord – I own it.  Thus, I enable repentance and open my heart to forgiveness.

In the season of Lent, I have the opportunity to lay my heart open before the Lord – if I dare.  I am never quick to do this, it seems.  Maybe if I ignore it, it will go away.  Certainly no one else notices these things, right?  I can keep it under wraps and no one will get hurt – right?

You have searched me, Lordand you know me.
(Psalm 139:1)

Naming and owning our specific sins does not surprise God.  Confession is about agreeing with God about what he already knows.  In a sense, confession cuts two ways – we can use it to express our faith in and agreement with God, as well as lay out the places where we have disagreed – and by no fault of God in those matters.

Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
(Psalm 51:6)

 When I name my sin, I say, “You know this, Lord, and I agree that this (action, thought pattern, attitude, etc.) is not like you.  I am not letting you form your love and grace in me by replacing this (action, thought pattern, attitude, etc.) with your nature and your will for me.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
(Psalm 139:23-24)

So while I am lamenting my sin, I also have the opportunity to name it.  I have the ability to make it real and then release it to take up what the Lord desires in me.  Naming my sin opens the way for me to turn away from it and move towards what the Lord wants for me and in me as his beloved child.  At the season of Lent, we lament and we name so we might release the sin from which the Lord has freed us with his death, and move on to walk in newness of life.