Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Ritual law vs. the law of love

From Real Simple
I can't stop thinking about Easter. How I love the celebrations of life and resurrection. Being a follower of Jesus is so hopeful, so affirming. God with us. God for us. God in us. I've been profoundly affected by God's loving sacrifice this year.

How did the Easter season affect you? Did it change you at all? Did you pause to think about the implications of someone dying for us? Did you have the chance to ponder what life would have been life, had Jesus not come?

I wish I could remember where I read the idea I'm passing along to you all. It was about the difference between a life under the law and a life of grace, as highlighted by the observance of Lent and Easter.

Lent is about law and obedience. We deny ourselves things for moral discipline. But Easter - ah, when Easter comes - it's about grace and acceptance. God has done away with religious rules by bringing us under the law of love.

Jesus said all other laws were wrapped up in these two: love God. Love others. We give ourselves to God with all our being because of his provision of life. And we love other people, knowing we are deeply loved and accepted by God.

This year, Lent was an arduous chore, day by day. I wrote all but one day, but many were reposts. (Hint: Use the search function if you want to find a topic in this blog.)

Lent dragged on and on, especially hard because our rhythms of life are changing. I missed sweets. After every meal I would crave a bite of chocolate or cookie to do away with the savory tastes in my mouth. Nope. Not allowed. I missed watching dramas, especially because Kirsten and I love to watch together. Nope. Not allowed. She left the day after Easter; how we missed our Mother-Daughter discussions about the dramas we enjoy.

Baby dedication
I immersed myself in scriptures, finishing my first read-through of the Bible and listening to the gospels a few extra times. Swimming in the Words brought me to a new shore - I have yet to see what's beyond the beach, but I trust that it will be good and life-giving.

On Easter, baby Levi was dedicated to God. What a lovely beginning for the new exploration of what God is doing.

Read more:
*You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Deuteronomy 6:5 ESV

*Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. Psalm 141:3 ESV

*for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” Romans 14:11 ESV

*The Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 2 Timothy 2:24 NIV

*We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19 ESV

Moravian Prayer: Lord God, what a gift you have given to us in your Son and his love. May we love one another just as you love us. In this, people will know we are your disciples. 

Lord, as your servants, we try to emulate your life but we often fail to live up to your examples. Cleanse our souls and renew our spirits so the words from our lips and the thoughts of our hearts may be pleasing to you. Amen.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Lent Day 40: Hope when all is lost

I wrote this three years ago, and am thinking about it again on this day between Good Friday and Easter. God is good - and trustworthy. When all we hope for is lost, He remains the same, yesterday, today, and forever...

Their tomorrows were wiped away in an evening. All their hopes, dreams, ambitions, and aspirations attached to Jesus had come to nothing. For years, they'd followed him around the countryside, eating and sleeping where they were given hospitality. It hadn't been easy, but clearly he was someone special.

The day after Jesus died, the disciples were in shock: "He said he'd come to set up a kingdom, and we expected to be elevated with him." And, "We left everything to follow him, but it's been for nothing. He's dead. Gone. We can't believe it!"

Sometimes when hope is utterly dead, God is still at work. "It's not over until it's over." In other words, the outcome is determined by God, not by our understanding.

How could the disciples expect that, just when all was lost, the unthinkable was taking place. Not only a kingdom of earth and humanity was rising, but Jesus was proclaiming dominion over evil, hell, and even death itself. Unbelievable.

Unbelievable... until Easter morning.

In retrospect, it is easier to see the power and majesty of God. When we are wading through darkness, smeared with blame and guilt, drowning in unmet goals, we forget whose resurrection we celebrate. Each day, whether it is challenging or a walk-in-the-park, Jesus who died and rose again sustains us.

Hallelujah for the cross, especially when it seems, to our finite understanding, that all is lost.

Are there things you hoped for, dreamed of, that are on hold or have been lost? How might God be at work in the secret silences between your past and your future?

Read more:
*You, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you. Psalm 86:5 ESV

*He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:3-5 ESV

*Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." Having said this, he breathed his last. Luke 23:46 ESV

*But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 1 Corinthians 15:20-22 ESV

Moravian Prayer: Lord Jesus, what a precious gift you gave to all humankind—giving up your life so that we would have eternal life. We accept your gift and pray to use our gifts and talents to bring others to know your love. Amen.

Lent Day 39: It was a Good Friday for the world

I'm posting W's thoughts about the cross and hell, a response to those who protest the "cruelty" of God in letting us choose where we spend eternity. Click the link to read more:

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Lent Day 38: Maundy Thursday

Today is Maundy Thursday, the celebration of the Last Supper (Matthew 26:20–30Mark 14:17–26Luke 22:14–20) and Jesus washing the feet of his disciples (John 13:3–20). Judas left (John 13:30) before Jesus and the others went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray and rest (John 18:1Mark 14:32).

I love communion, the celebration of the Lord's Supper. I've written before about the Long Table, the historical ritual that unites Christians.

When we lived in Cambridge UK, it was a joy to take Communion with a congregation that was over 1000 years old. After eating the wafer, we passed the old silver goblets through the rows. The picture in my mind was of Jesus and the disciples, sitting at the far end of a long table, passing the elements of the Supper to each other - and then sharing them with those who came after. Including me.

Christians from every tribe and nation have sat at that table:  the Church Fathers, believers in the Middle Ages and the Reformation, and throughout the travels, trials, and revivals of the Church. The table stretches forward into the future to those who will come after us. We believe that the broken Body of Christ and his spilled blood was and is an effective sacrifice on our behalf.

W and I talked yesterday to a former Bible professor. We observed that all religions are different: though there is room for only one God for Jews, Christians, and Muslims, each group views salvation and our part in the story differently. Most Jews and Muslims are devoted to working toward salvation. "If I do more good than bad, perhaps God will let me into his heaven - or at least, I'll be considered a good person."

In contrast, believers in Christ rely on God alone to make us whole; he alone can cover our sins and separation with his righteousness. Any other "paths"of human solutions - more morality, more sacrifices, and more efforts - fall short. Scripture says, "Only God's grace and redemption saves us." However, after accepting God's gift or reconciliation, we align our behaviors to please God, as those who have been saved from ourselves and our brokenness.

I'm relieved that we don't have to build a bridge between God and us. He's already done it. Sitting at the Long Table reminds me of his invitation to come, taste, and see that he is good.

Read more:
*Lord, you have been a refuge for the needy in their distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat. For the breath of the ruthless is like a storm. Isaiah 25:4 NIV

*Jesus said, "I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!" John 16:33 ESV

*What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Romans 8:31-32 ESV

Moravian Prayer: Lord, thank you for your presence, love, forgiveness, and peace. We so often try to live our lives in darkness but realize we cannot. Thank you, ever-present God, for bringing us from darkness to your light. Amen.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Lent Day 37: Thankful for healing

Imagine a deity that looks out for his creatures... Who provides health... Who promotes healing by giving guidelines for abundant living (and occasionally intervening with miracles)... A divine being who would oversee the welfare of his worshippers.

Imagine God, through Jesus.

Jesus took our sins and illnesses to the cross. He mends our shattered bodies, tends our broken hearts, and re-forms our emotional disabilities. Thinking of his interest in us and his care for us, isn't he worthy of praise and honor today?

How has God healed you or someone you know? Have you experienced his care recently for body, soul, or spirit?

Read more:
*I will satisfy the weary, and all who are faint I will replenish. Jeremiah 31:25 ESV

*Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him."

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. John 3:14-18 NIV ESV

After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. 1 Peter 5:10 ESV

*Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. Romans 13:8 NEV

Moravian Prayer: God of grace, you are our ever-present refuge and strength. May we constantly turn to you when we are weary so we may walk with a renewed sense of your purpose for our lives. In Christ's name.

God of all grace, as your children, we give praise and honor to you at all times. Nudge us when we begin to slide, especially during this time of Lenten reflection and repentance. Thank you for being our rock, our refuge, and our strength. Amen.

CS Lewis (Mere Christianity): 
The more we get what we now call ‘ourselves’ out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become. There is so much of Him that millions and millions of ‘little Christs’, all different, will still be too few to express Him fully. He made them all. He invented— as an author invents characters in a novel—all the different men that you and I were intended to be. In that sense our real selves are all waiting for us in Him. It is no good trying to ‘be myself’ without Him. 

The more I resist Him and try to live on my own, the more I become dominated by my own heredity and upbringing and surroundings and natural desires. In fact what I so proudly call ‘Myself’ becomes merely the meeting place for trains of events which I never started and which I cannot stop. What I call ‘My wishes’ become merely the desires thrown up by my physical organism or pumped into me by other men’s thoughts or even suggested to me by devils. Eggs and alcohol and a good night’s sleep will be the real origins of what I flatter myself by regarding as my own highly personal and discriminating decision to make love to the girl opposite to me in the railway carriage. Propaganda will be the real origin of what I regard as my own personal political ideas. 

I am not, in my natural state, nearly so much of a person as I like to believe: most of what I call ‘me’ can be very easily explained. It is when I turn to Christ, when I give myself up to His Personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Lent Day 36: Anticipation and dread

Dreaming of good things
I sometimes get the shivers when people say, "I've asked God to give me patience (a kind heart / the ability to love everyone / endurance in trials, etc.)"

Now how exactly do we expect to acquire those - or other - virtues? Is God more likely to answer through magical impartation or by guiding us through deep waters and hard times?

"The fruit of the Spirit is learned by interaction within a community, not in isolation," W said the other day. In other words, when someone frustrates us, we learn to forgive rather than retaliate. We wait rather than barging ahead. We speak kindly rather than responding in anger. Ouch ouch ouch, this process of becoming like Jesus. Sometimes it hurts.

Have you ever thought about the many selfish requests we disguise as spiritual prayers? We pray for good things, but we may just want to look good = patient, joy-filled, loving, and peaceful. However, do we expect to pay the price to achieve genuine character? "Every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of lights, in whom there is no shadow of turning." That's certain, but we forget that each gift is exercised with the darkness pressing in. Given to us where we're dancing in the shadows that swirl around humanity.

Casting off for distant shores
Here's an honest personal reflection as we prepare for a new season: when we're asked if we're excited about moving to Indonesia, I admit to mixed feelings. So many cool things await us: meeting new people, sharing the love of Jesus, and living in new surroundings. Tempering my anticipation are other realities, like the reports from every church planter we've met. (They've said it's been harder than expected. To a person, they admit that they have almost quit many times.) Also, every cross-cultural worker talks about culture shock - of feeling out of place among the unspoken rules and customs everyone else seems to understand. We'll feel the cross some times more than others.

Reality is sometimes even crueler than anticipation. This week I think about how Jesus knew he was going to the cross. He warned his disciples that he would be crucified. But he still had to sweat drops of blood, the agony of "no other way" as he wrestling with his destiny in the garden of Gethsemane. He still had to endure the whipping, the spittle, the mocking laughter of Roman guards, and the shrieks of his fellow Jews demanding his death. The weight of the cross dragged on his bloody back. The nails stamped through his hands and feet. The thud of the cross resounded as it dropped into its holder. Jesus endured hours of pain while bystanders shouted curses and his mother cried nearby.

Expected. Harder than expected.

The world is beautiful because of Him
And oh so worthwhile. The salvation of the world depended on him then. For us, he suffered through pain and sin and sorrows.

W and I are becoming part of a long tradition - people who tell the Story here and there, sharing God's hopes for reconciliation with his creatures. We are not especially adventurous or courageous. Others have been fiercer, more zealous, more ambitious. We know we join a mission already in progress, doing our part along with a host of others. We feel lucky to be called. Blessed to be going. Grateful to be giving. After all, it's God's tale of grace and inclusion that we're sharing.

But this week of the cross, oh this Holy Week that I dread each year because of Christ's suffering -- this last time we will joyfully celebrate Easter at home with family ... Ah, my heart is full and there are no more words.

Read more:
*All look to you to give them their food in due season; when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. Psalm 104:27-28

*But now, this is what the Lord says- he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire,     you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. Isaiah 43:1-3 NIV

*God has not left himself without a witness in doing good—giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, and filling you with food and your hearts with joy." Acts14:17

*And being found in human form, Jesus humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Philippians 2:7,8

*Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. 1 Corinthians 15:1, 3, 4

Do not take the word of truth utterly out of my mouth. Psalm 119:43

The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!" Matthew 21:9

Moravian Prayer: Loving Savior, your entry into Jerusalem was showered with, "Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!" May our lives continue to shower you with hosannas—you are most blessed. 

Lord, giver of every good and perfect gift, we thank you. May we be your witness for good, helping those in need, bringing joy into their lives, and filling them with your love. Amen.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Lent Day 35: Thankful for the cross

We're within a few days of Passover. In ancient Israel, the lamb has been chosen (Sunday), to be killed on Passover (Friday) in commemoration of God's rescue from oppression in Egypt. We celebrated Palm Sunday, when the perfect Lamb of God was acclaimed by his followers. This Good Friday we will remember his death for our sins, purchasing our freedom from the slavery of sin. Here's a repost from 2012:

If you could relinquish some part of your life, what would you give over to death? Would you be willing to lay on the line your health, finances, relationships, or reputation? Christians emphasize the peace of God but we know living out that peace will cost us everything.

Jesus gave everything up for us. He was not called the Man of Sorrows without reason.

I'm thinking of the horrors and benefits of dying today, after reading reports about the increasing persecution of Family members (Christian believers). Our brothers and sisters are being driven from their villages, maimed, and killed for the sake of the gospel.

Are you and I willing to forsake all for our faith in Christ? That's always been the way of the cross. Following Jesus means identification with a bloody price that reconciles us to God but alienates us from those who hate Him.

Among all the parties and candy and Easter eggs, let's not forget the awful beauty of the cross. It point to the path of denying self to love God and others beyond reason, beyond human logic––because of faith and hope in the resurrection power.

Read more:
*The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. Numbers 6:26

*And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7

*I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” Galatians 2:20-21 NIV

Moravian Prayer: May the Lord bless us and keep us, lift up his countenance upon us and give us the peace that surrounds us and emanates from our hearts. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Lent Day 34: Thankful for sorrows

Jacopo Tintoretto - The Ascent to Calvary

I'm reading the familiar passage of Jesus wounded for us. The last week of Lent is coming and I'll be reading the gospels at least once more before Easter. I am astonished again by the love of Christ, his perseverance, and his focus on his Father's pleasure. No matter how intense the pressure to get distracted, no matter how oblivious his followers to his warnings of the cross ahead ... Jesus kept moving toward the cross.

If we had no sorrows or pains to bear, would we be as grateful that He paid the debt and lifted the burden of sin and hurt from us?

A speaker at NU reported on the view of China's government officials, that the United States was blessed because it followed Christian principles. They see the decline of America as a consequence of abandoning those values.

Yet we seem blind. We are full. So sated with our perception of "the good life" that we forget the Man of Sorrows. We are surprised and angry at any grief or hardship.

Outsiders often see what a culture misses. May we return to the cross and its wealth of pain and suffering this week––with grateful hearts that love God and love others as ourselves, no matter what the circumstances.Read more:
*He is despised and rejected by men,  
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
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 53:3-5 NKJV

*Let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. Psalm 105:3

*Why do you look for the living among the dead? Luke 24:5

Moravian Prayer: Blessed Savior, hear our prayer of rejoicing for your gift of the promise of new life. Let us learn to trust in your path and lighten our hearts with joy. In Christ's name we pray. Amen. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Lent Day 32: Considering my conversations

Just one question for myself, reading scripture at the end of the day: what do we usually talk about?

Glad to have had a day of speaking about the love and work of God with friends.

Read more:
*As the Lord lives, whatever my God says, that I will speak. 2 Chronicles 18:13

*Christ says, "I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me." John 5:30

Moravian Prayer; Lord Jesus, thank you for your ministry of carrying out God's will. Grant to us the wisdom to seek the will of God for our lives. We pray that in all we do and say we may bring you praise and glory. Amen.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Lent Day 31: No hurry

If you could once make up your mind never to undertake more work... than you can carry on calmly, quietly, without hurry or flurry... and if the instant you feel yourself growing nervous and... out of breath, you would stop and take breath, you would find this common-sense rule doing for you what no prayer or tears could ever accomplish. 
- Elizabeth Prentiss 1818-1878

For the past decade, this quote has guided me as a faithful reminder to do things without worry or haste, leaving everything in God’s time. If it is true that God is in control, it is his responsibility to give us enough time for the tasks he has chosen.

Another aha moment came recently when I read Luke 11:9-10: “Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours of daylight? A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world's light. It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light." Our path is less clear and more dangerous when we extend our day beyond what God asks of us.

Sometimes we could do more by doing less. When we are exhausted, over-booked, and stressed, our lives don’t function at maximum capacity. Taking a break to think about the beauty of the world, as well as ranking task priorities, might be the key to creativity and well-being.

Many of us feel harassed by what we schedule for ourselves. But if Jesus did everything he was called to do in 12 hours, why are we putting in 16 or 18, between family, church, and jobs? Do we have more to do than he?

Websites such as and offer ideas from a secular viewpoint about slowing down to enjoy the life we have been given.

Read more:
*May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you. May He be your help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion. May He remember all your sacrifices and accept your burnt offerings.

May He give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed. We will shout for joy when you are victorious and will lift up our banners in the name of our God. May the Lord grant all your requests. Psalm 20:1-5 NIV

*I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will continually be on my lips. My soul will boast in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together. I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Psalm 34:1-4 NIV

*These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God. Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him. 1 John 5:13-15  NKJV

This post was originally written in August, 2009.