Just recently a friend and I were talking about Lent and she said, “I just don’t get this Lent thing.”
I’ll be honest. I can’t always explain with words what I feel God calling me to do in my heart. There are times it takes walking it out for a while before I have the language to explain it. This Lenten season is a walking season. As I reflect on each name I realize Lent’s focus in not confession or crucifixion, but the man who made a way for me to be in God’s presence. I’m paying close attention to the One who hung on the cross, and settled the score, took the penalty for me. Lent is the story of a courtroom where I deserve judgment and instead receive grace upon grace.
The legal definition of mediator is “one that works to effect reconciliation, settlement, or compromise between two parties” (Merriam Webster).
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.–1 Timothy 2:5-6
This is my testimony plain and true. Perhaps today is the proper time to share it.
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
Christ died for my sin, for the world’s sin so that I might be brought back to God. He paid sin’s ransom, and I became the “righteousness of God in Christ Jesus”. No amount of good works, or fasting, or spiritual disciplines will make me more righteous, more suitable to be in God’s presence. Observing Lent doesn’t make me less sinful or clean me up.
Instead it reminds me Jesus, the Mediator, completed what I will never be able to complete on my own. His death and resurrection reconciles me, makes me right, brings me back into relationship with the Holy. This is the Good News, the hope of the gospel that dwells in me.
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.–Colossians 1: 19-23
I have a confession to make. I love to come to the end of a busy Saturday with nothing to do and watch the newest episode of my favorite reality show. Its a show about a rural veterinarian and the animals he treats. I especially love to watch the lambs. They’re just so darn cute and cuddly I can’t help but want one of my own.
Sadly, my hubby says no to adding sheep to this little country place. He won’t let me have alpacas either, and my rancher brother strongly opposes my desire for mini-cows. It is just as well, for lambs are completely defenseless and would probably become the sacrificial meal for sneaky coyotes around here.
Cute. Cuddly. Defenseless. These are not words I think about when it comes to Jesus. Frankly it is hard to wrap my mind around the idea of Jesus, the Lamb of God. Oh I get it. I understand the symbolism of the name. God sent Jesus to be the sacrifice for sin. His death finally accomplished what thousands of bleating lambs could not.
My fondness for lambs gives me reason to pause as I consider what it might feel like to take the life of a defenseless lamb and exchange it for my sin. I imagine it making its final soft bleat, and I have to stop right there. I can’t go any further with this sacrificial lamb thing.
Most days I avoid it because it feels so much better to think about the happy moments of Jesus’ life, but the empty tomb doesn’t exist without the horror of crucifixion. Sacrifice is a bloody mess, and Lent calls me to reflect on the pain and sacrifice Jesus endured even if it makes me uncomfortable.
Jesus, the Lamb of God, became defenseless for me. He took the nails. He endured the pain, prayed his last prayer, and took his final breath for me. I may not like it, but sometimes uncomfortable is right where I need to be.
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!–John 1:29
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. Genesis 1:1-3 (ESV)
Light. The first thing created. Not the earth or foliage or crawling critters. Light. All creation began with light.
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”–John 8:12
Jesus is the light. The light of creation. The Light of the World.
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:17 (ESV)
Light creates both visible and invisible. Light holds all things together.
I sit and ponder light in the predawn hours. Dark shadow trees catch my attention and I imagine light in them. If only I could see it.
Broken eyes make it hard to see the spiritual, but in this moment I imagine it. I imagine the light I can’t see flowing through tree branches and blades of grass. Flickers of light in moth wings and sleeping squirrels.
This thought tags along with me throughout the day. Glimpses of light in the one who walks down the street, the stranger in the grocery line, and the fit throwing toddler in her mama’s arms. Noticing light brings pep to my step and a smile to my face.
The broken is still there, but it doesn’t win. Not by a long shot, and today I have no feelings of dismay.
Do not be dismayed by the brokeness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is in you.
L. R. Knost
Maybe broken isn’t the issue at all. Maybe it is my eyesight, my spiritual eyesight. Maybe I am looking at the wrong things and forgetting how to really see.
Is it possible faith is looking for the Light of the World in all things? Could it be when I love intentionally, over the top with no conditions the Light of the World shines brighter than the broken?
Yes! Yes! YES! Jesus is the Light of the World, and that very light lives in me. Light is what the broken needs, and I want to shine.
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. Let it shine. Let it shine. Let it shine.
A redeemer redeems.
According to Merriam Webster’s it means
…to buy back, free from distress or captivity.
…to help overcome something.
…to release from blame, change for the better.
…to remove the obligation of pay, exchange something of value.
… to offset the bad effect.
… to make worthwhile.
The Redeemer buys us back, frees us from ourselves, helps us overcome. He releases our blame, changes for the better, and removes any obligation we have to pay the debt back. He exchanges the invaluable for great value, offsets the bad effects of all our wrong, and makes us worthwhile.
There’s no better news than this.
Newell’s words capture my attention.
Redemption, therefore, can be understood in terms of a setting free, a releasing of what we essentially are. For Pelagius, the redemption that Christ brings is such a liberation, a freeing of the good that is in us, indeed at the very heart of life.
J. Philip Newell, Listening for the Hearbeat of God
Redemption is not the world’s way. Debts must be repaid. Value is something earned. Bad decisions come with bad effects. Yet the very name Redeemer turns this way of thinking and living upside down.
Let me ask you… what redeeming work are you needing? Are you all tied up trying to exact redemption in your own power?
Oh friends, me too. Today, if only for a moment, why don’t we leave the redeeming to the Redeemer and allow who we are to unfold. Let’s free the Holy Spirit good in us to move and be in a world desperate for redemption. Let’s show the world those who the Son sets free, are free indeed!
And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.–Luke 1:35 (ESV)
Everything was about to change for Mary. As the angelic message settled over her and the initial shock wore off, did she wonder how in the world a mere mortal would raise the Son of God? I mean think about it. Mary was entrusted with God’s Son. Not just the labor and delivery, but his entire growing up years. She was the one who rocked him to sleep and bandaged his knees. She probably shed a few tears when he lost his first tooth or reached some milestone. Not to mention mothering through puberty and the teen years.
I believe Mary was holy, set apart to do God’s work, but she was wholly human. Like most mothers, she probably had seasons of doubt. As she watched her son hang on the cross I imagine her mind was reeling as she considered what might have prevented the horror. Was there some part of her that felt like a failure as she laid him in the grave?
Just yesterday as my friend and I discussed the struggles of my youngest son I said, “I wonder if I’m failing?”And I meant more than just wonder.
The truth is at times I wonder why in the world God trusted me to raise children. This middleaged, almost empty nest thing is a sheer battle of the mind. The attack of the should’ve, would’ve, could’ve syndrome rears its head like no other time. If I’m not on guard before I know it, I’m all covered in guilt and shame over past mistakes and missteps. There’s a thought I’ve even voiced out loud, I wonder what I did to screw them up. What wound do they carry I inflicted?
In worship I hear the story of Jesus’ temptation. The enemy’s words sound like a dare. “If you are the Son of God….”
I remember the taunting of Jesus as he hung on the cross. “Come down from the cross if you are the Son of God.”
Jesus didn’t take the dare. He had no need to prove he was the Son of God. He knew exactly who he was and whose he was. No circumstance or taunting had the power to change his story.
It doesn’t have the power to change mine either. In the face of the should’ve, would’ve, could’ve enemy I simply must remember who it is I worship, and who I belong to. I worship the all-powerful, all-knowing God. The One who set this planet in its orbit, and holds all things together. The plan maker, game-changer, mistake fixer, water walker, death defier.
Nothing can change who I am nor whose I am.
No mistake or misstep.
Not. One. Thing.
He’s a baby floating in a basket, an orphan plucked from the river’s current. He’s an Egyptian prince who lost his crown. A murderer. A man on the run. A shepherd in the dry desert land.
But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
He’s not forgotten his failure, his crime. There is no hiding who he really is.
And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”
It’s not much of a sign really. I mean how does someone take a huge step of faith and only know it was God when it is all said and done? This is risky. Facing failure, taking responsibility for the crime, risking life and limb to face authority and power like none other. And how will he know? He’ll know when he stands on this very same place with thousands of free slaves worshipping. It seems an impossible task, a pipe dream, and the only way to be completely sure if this is God is when it’s all over.
Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”
This isn’t just about God’s name. We must remember Moses didn’t grow up in the faith of his people. He’s not familiar with the history or prayers, and his question revealed his desire to know who this bush burning God is.
God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”
Jesus claims this name in the Gospel of John. I AM the Light of the World… I AM the Bread of Life… I AM the Gate… the Good Shepherd… the Resurrection and Life. I AM the Vine… I AM the Way, the Truth, the Life.
I’m like Moses in so many ways. I too have forgotten who I am at times. I allow failure and sin to define me. I make excuses. I focus on my inabilities. I allow fear to distract me.
Like Moses I wonder, Who are you God? What are you really like? Who do I say sent me?
I turn Jesus’ I AM statements into my own words:
I AM light in all your dark places.
I AM your provision. I provide food, time, energy, and money for all that you need.
I AM taking care of you.
I AM sacrificing for you, making a way for you to live freely.
I AM present in you and around you.
I AM your right direction.
I AM your harvest.
In the face of all my am not-s I realize something. It doesn’t matter who I say that I am. It only matters that God is capable of being all I’m not. Jesus can when I can’t, makes the impossible possible, and the ordinary extraordinary.
Jesus is the Great I AM.
(Now it’s your turn if you feel so led. How might you write Jesus’ I AM statements in a way that speaks to you? If you’re willing I would love to hear your inspiration in the comments.)
Lent begins. A season of reflection and renewal. Forty days like stones on a path leading me to the moment I hold high above all others.
Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen…
News of resurrection is coming.
It won’t be long now.
Who is this man that defies death and lives again? I am familiar with his stories. I can recite many of his words and tell you all about him. Dare I say to the best of my ability I know him personally. But not enough, I never know enough of him. Is that safe to admit here on the blog where not enough is not a good thing?
Honestly I’m not quite sure, but today I’m o.k. with it. If some not enough must exist in me this one I embrace with open arms. Because Resurrection Day is not a one-time event, but a daily occurrence in my heart. I want infinitely more relationship, and I believe he is an infinite God. So there’s that.
This stepping stone path of Lent will have signs along the way. Words to describe this fully human, fully Godman I serve. Words I plan to share here on the blog. Names others call him, describing names, proper names, names I struggle with and names I love.
You’re invited to come along. We’ll take each step together and read the signs along the way. As always I would love to hear from you, maybe you’ll have a sign of your own to share with me as we take it step by step.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Ahh… my all-time favorite scripture. I serve a God willing to leave glory and power behind to put on flesh, to wear skin like mine. I serve a God who limited his infinite everything to become like me. I serve a God of his Word.
No single word can describe, nor give the full picture. I read and realize this conversation is my conversation.
“If you had one word to describe Jesus what would it be?”
Words for Jesus started running through my mind and out my mouth: Love.. Compassion… Holy… Lord… Teacher… Risen… Healer… (These are all good words to describe Jesus.)
As he often did in my conversations with him, Dallas waited quietly for me to keep thinking. He was unhurried. I was drawn into his silent prayer.
Finally, I asked, “Dallas, what’s your word for Jesus?”
He smiled, “Relaxed.”
–Bill Gaultiere, Ph.D., Your Best Life In Jesus’ Easy Yoke
I wonder if it’s true. I scroll through the stories of Jesus in my mind. Is there any angst, any anxiety, any sign of a hurried and harried demeanor? To my knowledge, the answer is no. No worry, no anxious brooding, no quick-stepping or fast driving to the next place.
I hear Spirit’s whisper, Stacy… relax.
Scripture words come to mind.
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.
Matthew 11: 28-30, The Message
Yes, I am tired at times, worn out, burned up. I often run to the next thing and force myself into rhythms that don’t fit. Life gets heavy and these shoes are tight. I want to put my feet up and relax every day not just on vacation days. Some call it lazy, others may wonder if there is one bit of ambition in me. For now, for this Lenten season I’ll not be concerned with all that.
Instead, Lent is my getaway. A stone path to relax and live the natural rhythms of grace. I’ll stop along the way, sit and ponder the signs, smell the roses, embrace the beauty of rest.
And there it is, the word I chose for this year.
Jesus, the Word, is the way to real rest.
“I’m twelve years old and I can’t read. No really. I can’t!” she exclaimed to the group in her matter of fact way. My heart skipped a beat, compassion swept over me like a tidal wave. At that moment I wanted to somehow give her what I repeatedly take for granted. As if my skill of reading could be gathered up in a beautifully wrapped box and handed to her.
She’s brave you know. Most of us spend a lifetime hiding our “I can’t-s” from the world. We pretend. We cover them up. We hope no one will figure us out. Not our family or our friends. Not the neighbor next door or the stranger on the street. Somehow we believe it might even be possible to hide it from God.
So we go to church, read scripture words, and attempt to follow Jesus the “right” way hoping to keep up the facade. It’s no surprise really. The world teaches us if we set our minds to something then we can do it. Or my favorite “can’t never could do anything.”
Some of it I get. Attempting to do the thing we’ve never done before requires some encouragement, a push in the right direction. We love a good overcomer story that melts our hearts and inspires us to move forward.
Yet I think my little friend may hold the key to the words Paul wrote from his jail cell.
Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
I want to be more like my little friend. Brave enough to stand tall and say, “I can’t.” I want courage that eagerly expects and hopes I will in no way be ashamed.
It’s Ash Wednesday.
A call of repentance resounds throughout the church.
Ash crosses speak ancient words.
…from dust you came and from dust you will return.
Later, when I hand her money for my fast food supper she finds it hard to keep from looking at my dusty forehead. When curiosity reaches it’s limit she asks, “What is the deal with this sign? I’ve seen others with it today?” I smile and reply, “Today is Ash Wednesday. It’s the beginning of Lent. A time to remember the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross, and to prepare for Easter.”
She nods, “Oh yea! Now I remember.”
I think about our conversation. How I’ve been wearing a clean face for most of the new year and no one has asked me a single question about my faith. But this ash on my forehead draws others, opens doors for conversation, maybe even plants a faith seed. It’s a visible reminder of all the I can’t in me.
Honestly, I want to run quickly to the bathroom and scrub my face. Questioning stares are uncomfortable at best. Still I resist the urge to clean myself up. Because maybe standing like my little friend and bravely announcing to the world, “I’m forty-nine and I can’t!” is what it takes to be unashamed. Maybe wearing the ash cross of I can’t is a dying in order to gain what hiding never will.
In this tough unfolding I hear a melody and begin to sing… for I am crucified with Christ, and yet I live. Not I but Christ who lives within me. His cross will never ask for more than I can give. For it’s not my strength but His. There’s no greater sacrifice, for I am crucified with Christ.
And yet I live.
Want to hear the song singing in me this Ash Wednesday? Click on the link below.
I spent the entire drive home rolling it over and over in my mind. Down right angry at the way the world works. Because if I were in control I would grab the broken system by its shoulders and give it a shake. I would look it straight in the eye and demand change. Surely there’s something to be done, some fix to this mess, somebody out there who knows a better way.
I put the car in park and sit in the driveway all tied up in knots. This is a big broken mess. It leaves me feeling helpless and my heart literally aches. What to do… what to do. Is there anything I can do?
Yes Lord, I heard her mention we should pray about it. I doesn’t feel like that’s enough.
As I open the door my eyes drift to the sacred space.
Scripture words float across my mind. I am the vine. You are the branches. Abide in me.
Oh my. How in the world did I go from teaching the young ones about God’s name I AM to this? Just thirty minutes ago I had them write I AM ___________________ and fill the blank in a way that points to God in their struggle. Some word to remind them of who God is in the midst of the hard. It’s so easy to teach, much harder to live especially when the issue is big, and there’s nothing I can do to control or change it.
I take my own medicine, heed my own teaching words and fill in the blank.
I AM working, saving, protecting.
I AM WHO I AM.
I AM the vine, you are the branch. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
Please don’t misunderstand. These are not words to be taken out of context. Nor are they coins to slide into some heavenly slot machine. No, these are reminder words. For truth is I am in control of very little, and I waste much energy attempting to fix things I’m not called to fix.
My friend was right. When the issue is too big and it feels there’s not much we can do, we pray. We write words in I Am blanks and abide. For prayer has the enormous power to change the world and its systems.
And at the same time it unfolds enough in me.
“Aunt Stac, do you have a word for this year?” my spunky niece questioned with eyebrows raised. I shared my word and she responded, “That was your word last year!”
Oh, I know sweet one. Last year’s word still has work to do. I would like to say I’m moving on to a different word, but I’m not. New year, new decade, same word. Ugh. With a little chagrin I carry last year’s word into 2020.
The word… rest.
Lord knows I need focus. I’m bent to dream and imagine and conjure up all kinds of things. I gather much energy when I think of a new year and its possibilities. I’m the staff member who actually enjoys the visioning meetings.
What can I say? I love, love, love new beginnings. Dr. Suess’ Oh The Places You’ll Go is my theme book.
My word for the 2020 sparks little excitement. I’ve made no plans as to what the year will hold, what this word will mean for me. Each time my thoughts wander to the planning of some great scheme, those four letters drift across my mind.
As I put away most holiday decorations I create space for my early morning devotions. Inspiration becksons me to leave the tree up a little longer. A reminder Christ is born in me each and every day. By the time I finish my sacred space is clean, organized, and inviting.
It’s three days into the new year when I look over as my fisherman spreads his stuff out to prepare for the next day’s trip. No big deal, he’ll finish the job shortly right? Wrong! Eight days into the New Year and it’s still there. My sacred space, my place of rest looks like a tackle box.
Here… take a look.
Sun’s first light makes its way over trees as I reach through a maze of fishing rods to light the candle. I pour coffee and ponder. I’ll take my stuff to another room. Maybe I should just carefully set the stuff aside and clear the space. I could throw it in the yard. No… no that’s not helpful.
In the end I find a clear corner and watch night become day. I pray for those who float through my mind and turn thoughts heavenward. Right in the middle of the mess I rest. No cleaning it up, no pushing it aside, no hiding it in drawers or baskets. Though I want to. Oh, how I want to.
This resting business is a wrestling match of sorts. And the condition of my devotional space paints a picture of what’s happening on the inside of me.
Where did I get the idea rest only happens in clean and tidy spaces? Some part of me must believe God won’t show up in this mess.
I know this is an upside down approach, but what if rest is the thing to do smack dab in the middle of messy? Before the cleaning, the organizing, the purging. Rest might be the thing to do before the day begins, before the cleaning begins.
I remember holy words, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”
This morning I imagine Jesus turning holy words my direction.
“Come to me in the middle of the mess. Leave it be. Let it go. You, daughter of mine, are called to rest. Let me turn it right side up for you. Rest is not about a job well done. Nor is it lazy or irresponsible. I was born to inhabit your mess. We’ll clean it up together. Rest assured I will show up. No matter what.