Archive for February, 2013

Celebrating Lent?

From the beginning Christians have used the calendar to remember the mighty acts of God and to be renewed in their faith and trust in him. Since ancient times lent has comprised the 40 days preceding Easter (beginning with Ash Wednesday). As spring is coming Christians turn from the longing of winter and look to Jesus and the new life he brings.

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The days of lent are to be spent in preparation for the redeeming work of Jesus at the cross and in welcoming the joy of the resurrection. Christians prepare in prayer and repentance. The purpose of lent is to deepen your hunger for God by seeing your own brokenness and seeking filling in Christ.

You may hear someone speak about “giving up” something for lent. Lenten practice in the beginning focused on fasting because physical hunger can reveal deep spiritual need. When you are hungry you know your weakness. So the goal is to increase your longing for Christ and his kingdom. Today someone might “give up” rich food or sweets for he same reason. The goal is not to gain anything from God but that you might yearn for Christ.

How can we benefit from lent today? First, be mindful of the calendar, that it was this time that Jesus turned his face toward Jerusalem to go to the cross for you. Second, use these days to read the gospel accounts of this time in the life of Jesus. (Matthew chs. 19-27, Mark chs. 10-15, Luke 13:31-23:56, and John 11-20.). This will help you focus on Jesus and walk with him as he approaches the cross. Third, commit yourself to prayer, longing for Jesus and his rule in your life. Lay anything aside during this time that can deepen your awareness of your need for him. (Note: We do not fast to gain anything from God, but because he has already loved us and we want to know our deep need of him.). “Giving up” anything for lent only has value to the extent that it aids your prayers by making clearer to you the depth of your need for grace. Finally, focus your attention forward during lent to the cross of Jesus and his resurrection.

May God bless you this Lenten season with his grace by renewing in you the joy of your salvation.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. Matthew 5:6

Separated?

Separateness seems to be an indelible and universal part of human existence.  In Israel during the time of Jesus, Jews and Gentiles lives in separate communities.  They refused to enter each other’s homes and made an effort to limit social contact as much as possible.  They weren’t the only ones.  The Romans thought nothing of enslaving people different than themselves.  Indeed, slaves were mere chattel. Women didn’t fare well in the ancient world either.  In Israel the rights of women were limited, and in the Roman Empire women were often taken advantage of in the worst sort of ways.

BBC- What Jesus might have looked like.

BBC- What Jesus might have looked like.

Jesus, in his earthly ministry, challenged this universal separateness.  He took women into his cadre of disciples. He spoke to women in public social situations (a cultural no-no for the Jewish people).  He healed Jews and Gentiles alike.  He and his gospel challenge us to take down the walls between people. How?  First, look at Jesus.  He did not resemble a man of European descent.  I for one like the BBC rendering of what Jesus might have looked like.  Our western artwork of Jesus does not do him justice.  He was middle-eastern in appearance, looking more like a desert Arab than a white Caucasian.  What category would we place him in? He came to break the categories—or, better, to create one new category.

Second, his teachings and his gospel remind us that every race and ethnic group is both glorious and fallen and in need of redemption.   Not only Gentile outsiders need to be saved. His people, Israel, had no hope without redemption.  The good news was that racial background didn’t condemn or save anyone, only his grace could.  And because our place with God is the gift of his grace, anyone can receive it. Paul’s declaration of this was scandalous to the Jewish people:

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3

This doesn’t leave much room for pride in your ethnicity, your sex, or your spiritual background.  Jesus says none of that really matters as you stand before God. Only his gracious love does.

Now making this practical for me….I grew up with immense racial stereotypes.  Miami remains awash in them. Our city continues to reflect the separateness to which our sinful nature gravitates. It has only been the grace of Jesus that has changed my heart, the ability to see that I had nothing to bring before God, and that Jesus has given all for me.  Grace and my own brokenness continue to give me the ability to identify with everyone, Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, and this grace has created a community of beautiful diversity in our church that is a gift of God’s grace that I cherish and enjoy every day.

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)—remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2