Lent

40 Days of Decrease

 

As Lent draws to a close, I thought I would share some highlights from the guide I used this years that was recommended by a new friend, Jessica - “40 Days of Decrease - A different kind of hunger. A different kind of fast  by Alicia Britt Chole (pronounced show-lee). Each features a themed reflection about Jesus' journey "cross-ward," a fast and a reading from John's gospel.  Unusual, refreshing, intriguing, and sobering.  


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Days 34 & 35: Seven distinct groups surrounded Jesus at His crucifixion:

1) passersby who hurled insults;
2) unnamed disciples who observed from a distance;
3) watchers who occasionally taunted;
4) rulers - chief priests, teachers of the law and elders;
5) named disciples - his mother, mother's sister, and Mary Magdalene and the apostle John;
6) the two thieves crucified beside him and
7) the soldiers for whom Jesus was their job, not their God.

That five of the seven groups incessantly mocked and taunted Jesus prompted this caution by the author, "Though occasionally accomplished constructively, criticism is often a cowardly act. Criticism knows a little, assumes a lot and airs judgments with conviction."

Today, fast criticism. "Seek to know more, assume less, and air prayers" instead of judgments. (pages 177-180)

Day 33:  To fast willful sin is not a simplistic call to stop sinning. No, this is a sincere call for us to start loving Jesus to a degree that compels us to walk away from sin where we can and get help where we cannot....Savior, am I caressing anything you were crucified for? If so, I repent: forgive me, heal me, send help to me, and strengthen my love for You. When I am tempted, may I see Your cross, remember Your cost, and let love "bind my wandering heart" to You. (page 175)

Day 30: Earthquakes reveal faultlines that were previously unknown. We think we know our strengths and weaknesses but even though we don't, Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves - like how we predicted Judas' and Peter's betrayals. But to falter when you think or even pledge we won't is HUMAN. So when the ground shakes and 'we fall into our own disillusionment, we need to remember to get back up, receive forgiveness and call upon our newly acquired humility to strengthen others.' Today's fast: self confidence. (from pages 154-155)

Day 27: Recall the Last Supper scene described in Matthew’s gospel when Jesus mentioned that one the apostles would betray Him.  

“Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?” Judas inquired.  To which Jesus replied, “You have said so.” (Matthew 26:21, 25)

Judas’ betrayal was a manifestation of satanic opposition. We expect satanic opposition from the world. But when it comes from around the table, it takes our breath away.” (page 136)

Having been on the business end of betrayal from around the table on a few occasions, the weight of her remark settled in my chest. I can testify that not only does it take your breath away but getting back to breathing normally again can take a long, long while.

That Jesus forgave, readily and unconditionally paved the way for me to do likewise.

Day 25: "Is there another way?" asked Jesus of his Father, God, praying, deeply distressed that fateful night in Gethsemane.  Along with, "If so, I want to take it."  Three times he asked. (See Matthew 26: 39, 42, 44)

Indeed, "Is there another way for mankind to be reconciled to God?" queried  Chole.

"Within our global culture, it sounds enlightened and egalitarian to believe in many ways to God, which makes wrestling with this text all the more critical."

We moderns who revisit this moment on the other side of it know how the question was answered.

"Clearly, by the events that follow, Father's answer was 'no' - another way did not exist.  Jesus was and is 'The Way' (John 14:6)."

Fortunately, the Father's "no" was Jesus' "yes.".

Day 21:  "Obedience is not a moment: it is a process connected by countless moments."

This remark regarded Jesus stating his heart was "troubled" as he shared deep thoughts about his "hour" that was soon to arrive. Although troubled, he was nevertheless obedient to see the redemptive plan to its earth-shaking conclusion.(See John 12:20-28) ...[from pages 104-105]

From Day 17 - Twice, Jesus cleared the temple of merchants and moneychangers. "Jesus no doubt witnessed many injustices during His life on earth, but He did not turn over many tables....Taking action because there is a need is a very different motivation than taking action because there is a God. In addition to being exhausting, the former is led by what our eyes see and what our hearts feel. The latter is led by loving listening and dependence-inspired discipline...Said Dr. Beth Grant, friend of the author, 'Choose carefully what you are willing to die for because you can only die once.'" [from pages 79-82]

From Day 13: I am challenged by today's fast: Stinginess. "...seek an opportunity to be irrationally lavish toward someone who cannot possibly return the favor."

Day 8: Today's fast, Fixing it is for life's many miscarried miracles, the "this could only be from God" openings that later close leaving us to wonder, "What gives, Lord?"

Lazarus, raised from the dead, later died again; a long-awaited pregnancy that ends in miscarriage; fired from a promising job....We panic, search for explanations and "scurry clumsily about to prop up God's sagging reputation." (page 34)

Day 9: Fast rationalism - the belief that reason is king.  Our lack of understanding cannot sabbotage the power or the purpose of His voice.  It is not possible to prove with the mind what is born in the Spirit. (pages 38-39)

Day 1: Fast Lent As Project.  Instead, consider Lent as less a project and more a sojourn. A sojourn is a 'temporary stay at a place,' And a 'stay' is about presence, not productivity. For the next forty days, fast measuring your "success" statistically... Instead, invest your energy in seeking to remain present to the sacred history of Jesus' walk to the cross....enter Lent as experience.  (page 3)

Prayer: Lord, you are truly amazing, unpredictable, striking, scary and so very attractive.  Thank you for coming to rescue me and opening life and eternity for me and all who truly seek you.


Notes:

Banner Photo by Mario Calvo on Unsplash

Betrayal ... Redeemed

Holy Week.  The annual Lenten journey descends to the darkest of all moments before culminating next Sunday in the most ascended moment ever.

This Lent, I’ve followed along a book by Alicia Britt Chole, “40 Days of Decrease.” Each day, Chole (pronounced show-lee) offers a reflection, reading, and fast.  Although adaptable for times other than Lent, she dedicates about a half-page at the end of each chapter/day to the history of Lenten practice.

The word “different” in the book subtitle, “A different kind of hunger. A different kind of fast” understates how different a journey Chole offers.  Consider the fasts:

Day one: Lent as a project
Day two: Regrets
Day three: Collecting praise
Day four: Artificial light…

I found her reflections unusual, refreshing, intriguing, and for Day 27, sobering.  The focus was betrayal by Judas, the apostle who made a deal with the Jewish leaders leading to Jesus’ arrest and execution. Recall the Last Supper scene described in Matthew’s gospel when Jesus mentioned that one among them would betray Him.  

“Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?” Judas inquired.  To which Jesus replied, “You have said so.” (Matthew 26:21, 25)

Judas’s “betrayal was a manifestation of satanic opposition,” Chole remarked.  “We expect satanic opposition from the world. But when it comes from around the table, it takes our breath away.” (page 136)

Chole then pressed into this betrayal by depicting Jesus and Judas’s final interaction during the arrest sequence that ended, she wrote, “with some name-calling.”

“The last name Judas called Jesus was Rabbi.  The last thing Jesus called Judas was friend.”

That word rendered as “friend” is the Greek hetairos, “used culturally to refer to a colleague, comrade, fellow worker, or friend. It appears only three times in the New Testament, exclusively in the gospel of Matthew.* In biblical context, ‘the implication [is] of a distinct relationship in which there is generosity on the one part and abuse on the other.’ To the point: a co-worker’s betrayal.” (page 137)

So this particular betrayal “from around the table” is betrayal by someone close, someone we trust, who we let our guard down with, who we never even slightly suspect would betray us.  

Having been on the business end of betrayal “from around the table” on a few occasions, the weight of her remark settled in my chest. I can testify that not only does it take your breath away but getting back to breathing normally again can take a long, long while.

That I still feel so raw about my own experiences of having been betrayed took me by surprise. Then came a dawning of how others in my life must feel and still feel raw about due to betrayal by a spouse, a niece, a grandchild, a brother, a buddy, a colleague, a neighbor….

Here is yet another iteration of the depth and detail of Jesus’ humanity.  While this particular betrayal factors hugely in Jesus’ story, what is most said about Him is that and how He redeemed betrayal and all the dismissal, rejection and injustice heaped onto His huge shoulders.

But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,

And by His stripes we are healed.
— Isaiah 53:5, NKJV

Sobering. Indeed. We must really matter to Him.

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Referenced pages from “40 Days of Decrease - A different kind of hunger. A different kind of fast” by Alicia Britt Chole


 

If You Had Only Known

Are you tracking destiny in this season of life?  Solidly connecting with the Lord each day of life?  Is his word and calling your primary guidance source?

I am asking myself questions like these this Lent.  A friend recommended a daily Lenten study that is drawing me into Jesus’ journey to the cross.  

Day 16 shadows Jesus’ emotions and actions following his “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem that we now mark as Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. Luke captures Jesus’ sobering words as he processes on a colt into Jerusalem.

“If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace--but now it is hidden from your eyes.”  (Luke 19:42, NIV)

Then, a chilling prophecy about the fate of the holy city that would be fulfilled just 50 or so years later.

“The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (Luke 19: 43-44, NIV)

The passage riveted me.  Whereas I generally read this as a modern observer of past history, not this time.

“If you … had only known what would bring you peace….”

You, as in me!  My first thought, “Do I know what brings me peace?”  

Peace from living up, syncing in my giftedness, purposeful, relationally strong, nurturing others in my life and who cross my path, in tune with my Lord, resisting temptation and keeping short accounts when I falter.

Some of that is going on but way too often I’m skidding right by the sweet spots.  Overly focused on myself, I am often disappointed, even angry, when things do not go my way. Instead of automatically taking my doubts and questions to the Lord, too often I cheat by soothing myself with escapism which only leaves me feeling guilty and crippled.  

I, I, I, me, me, me.  See the pattern?  Searching for peace where it cannot be found.

When I repent, doubt often lingers as I wonder how much longer the Lord will tolerate me. How long until his offer of peace is withdrawn, no longer available - “hidden from my eyes?”

Here is where regular reading, studying and meditating on Scripture pays off. One of many promise rises from my memory.

“persecuted but not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:9, NIV)

My take is that Jesus’ frightening warning regards those who refuse his redemption invitation.  Many years ago, the Lord’s persistent pursuit of me FINALLY broke through my hard heartedness.  Now I pray for others to also let the Lord in. I believe the invitation extends through our mortal lifetimes.

So if not from God, the discouragement and fear comes from elsewhere.  Scripture instructs that its hold on us continues until we resolve to deploy the tools God puts into the hands of every believer - his word, obedience, and faith.

Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6: 11-12)

I love that about the Christian faith - lots of mind, body and soul engagement.  Nothing mamby pamby about it.

From Day 15 of the study: “Actions reveal beliefs because beliefs inspire actions.”  

To give myself over to sin is to reveal diminished belief in God.  Fortunately, God only sees me only through the lens of Jesus so while my grip on him may be feeble at times, his hold on me is not.

True peace in this life is ONLY found in the Lord.

You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on you,
because he trusts in you.
— Isaiah 26:3, ESV

We trust and he holds  How very peaceful.

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Notes:

Lent study: “40 Days of Decrease” by Alicia Britt Chole

Meanwhile, Lent

Photo by  Ihor Malytskyi  on  Unsplash

Seems I disappeared awhile. Did you miss me?

Truth is, I’m sorting some things out and rethinking about when best to write and about what.  I am still sorting.  Meanwhile, Lent has arrived and I am following the practice of a book recommended to me by a new acquaintance, Jessica.

“40 Days of Decrease” by Alicia Britt Chole is the book name.  Subtitle: “A different kind of hunger: a different kind of fast."

40 chapters, one for each day of Lent.  Sundays excluded, of course. To follow along, I made a table to sync the chapters with the actual dates of Lent 2018 and a little space to write a reflection each day.  

The fasts are unusual:

  • Day one: Lent as a project
  • Day two: Regrets
  • Day three: collecting praise
  • Day four: artificial light
  • Day seven: a meal

Here, from Day two:

At least since the Council of Nicea in AD 325, Lent has been a forty day, communal focus upon the most disillusioning season of the first disciples’ lives.  Jesus, having confessed to be the Messiah, prophecies His soon-coming death.  Jesus, who commands winds and waves, allows Himself arrested.  Jesus, who bests the brightest Pharisees and Sadducees, refuses to defend Himself when falsely accused.  Jesus, who raised others from the dead, chooses not to save Himself.

In Jesus’ journey cross-ward, the disciples’ illusions of what Jesus could and should do with His power were shattered by the reality of what Jesus actually did with His power, and their personal illusions of commitment-unto-death were shattered by the reality of fear-inspired self protection.  Meditating on Jesus’ suffering and the disciples’ disillusionment creates a framework within which we can spiritually process our own loss of illusions and gaining of realities.  This is critical, because… reality is where we meet God.

In Jesus’ journey cross-ward, the disciples’ illusions of what Jesus could and should do ... were shattered by the reality of what Jesus actually did
— Alicia Britt Chole, 40 Days of Decrease

 

This is always the case with God.  We typically attempt to pull Him into our lives only to find that nothing about Him syncs with anything that we are or desire to be in our own intellect. The only way to overcome the constant crisis of that misfit is to yield, to submit to His incessant but loving tension to be drawn, pulled into His life, manner and ways.  

Painfully we learn and as/if we choose in faith to continue, we yield to how God works transformation in us - through crisis, friction, discomfort, stretching, chopping out, suffering and, yes, death.  

These are the only ways to the new life God offers in grace through Christ.

So here I continue, sorting and being shaped. You?

 

Sinking at Lent?

Hearkening to my Catholic roots, I observe Lent most years.  March 24 marked Lent’s halfway point with 20 days of observance ahead before Easter (23 calendar days).

O.K. so I’ve taken my eyes off Jesus with regard to my Lent resolutions.  At the halfway point, I’m essentially like Peter in Matthew’s account of Jesus walking on water - sinking!

That’s the story our pastor chose to open our monthly church board meeting last week, from Matthew 14:22-32. The disciples ran into a storm while crossing the Sea of Galilee when Jesus approached their boat, walking on the water.  Peter asks the Lord to command him to come, also atop the raging sea. When Jesus agrees, Peter climbs from the boat and heads Jesus’ way.

“But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” (v 30)

Our conversation generally regarded how Peter sank when he allowed the storm all around and underfoot to draw his attention away from Jesus. Hard not to empathize with Peter because we do that too in our own lives as believers.  

Me? I’m not bold like Peter.  Pretty sure I would have remained in the boat, I am most drawn to how Jesus rescued Peter as he sank.

“Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him.” (v 31a)

“Immediately,” sounds good to me, as in without hesitation or any qualifying questions or cross examination. Sure, Jesus chided Peter for doubting but only after he rescued him.  

Rescue first, lesson later.  That’s God’s pattern.  Generally, if not always, God leads, initiates, calls something into being, invites, appears, reveals, or rescues before making any requests or demands or commands.  

No problem finding other stories like this in the Bible - Adam, Abraham, Job, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Elijah, Jonah, and on into Jesus’ time with Peter, Zacchaeus, and Paul.  Invariably, God establishes himself with whoever he draws into his story before he makes his “requirements” known - to honor, respect and acknowledge him.

Too often we anchor faith on what we do while the key to faith is what God does before he asks us to do anything.  Painstakingly, patiently God is showing me how my doing is actually responding to him, his presence, what he has done for me - drawing, restoring, redeeming.

At the board meeting, fellow Elders offered several thoughts about how walking the often rough waters of life while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus plays out practically. Someone offered that  Jesus often counsels us to relax, be quick to repent, and to not be so hard on ourselves.  Didn’t he also readily acknowledge that we would have trouble in this life but to take heart because he has overcome the world?  (see Matthew 11: 28-30; John 3:17 and 16:33)

For the balance of Lent, I’m taking Peter’s lead, following him out of the boat, challenging myself to do better in the next 20 days before Easter. Not so much to satisfy a Lenten duty or requirement for holy living or prove anything to myself but in response to what the Lord has done for me and to honor who he is.

I’m not planning to falter but if I do, I am assured that Jesus’ hand will be there to rescue me.