Living in Faith, Scripture verses

Ash Wednesday: Sacrifices and social media

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the day that begins the season of Lent leading to Easter. It’s a holy day that wasn’t commanded in the Bible, but Christians have observed it for well over ten centuries.

Early Christians would sometimes have ashes sprinkled on their bodies as a public symbol that they needed to repent from sin. According to historians, all Christians began to show their need for repentance by having ashes placed on their foreheads in the shape of a cross.

We do the same during Ash Wednesday services today as a reminder that we’re all sinful and stand guilty before God. No matter how good we try to be, no matter how often we go to church or help others or pray, we still can’t save ourselves from our sin.

That’s why God sent Jesus – to be our Savior.

Lent is a time for us to think about this, to acknowledge anew that we’re sinful and mortal. Jesus saved us from certain death and separation from God because of our sin, but it wasn’t without a cost.

He took our place and accepted the punishment for all our sins even though He had none Himself. He knew what was coming – including being shunned, tortured, crucified, and separated from God – and He did it for us anyway.

We’re encouraged to use the weeks of Lent to remind ourselves of what God gave to us in Jesus and what Jesus gave to us in Himself. That can take different forms, depending on who we are and where we are in our faith at that point.

Some people will give up something as a tangible sacrifice to God. Whether it’s fasting, breaking a habit like smoking, or giving up chocolate, the idea is that we’re giving up something we enjoy as a way of showing our commitment to God and our desire to put Him first.

Other people will add something to their life during Lent that is designed to help them grow spiritually. We might commit to having more prayer time, to read through at least one of the Gospels in smaller chunks so we can really meditate on it, or volunteer in the community.

I’ve taken both approaches, depending on the year. And while giving up Diet Coke wasn’t nearly as serious as what some people do, it was a pretty big deal for a college girl who popped the tab on at least four cans of it a day.

The point is that we’re finding a way to mark this season, to think about what Jesus went through in the days and weeks leading to His crucifixion. To think about the gift He was willing to give us, despite what it cost Him during His time here on earth. To thank Him for that gift even though we’re so unworthy of it.

This year I’ll be doing a couple of things, one of which will be posting a Bible verse on social media each day that relates to this season of waiting and preparation. If we haven’t already connected there, I hope you’ll find me wherever you like to hang out and follow along (Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook).

Your turn: I also hope you’ll consider finding a way to observe Lent for yourself and strengthen your relationship with God. If you do, I’d love to know what you choose. Leave a comment and let’s start a conversation.

Living in Faith, Scripture verses

MLK, presidents, and me

This is a week of importance for Americans.

Yesterday marked the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, when we’re encouraged to think about the issues he fought for. Tomorrow is Presidential inauguration day, ushering in a time of new leadership and whatever may come with that.

I felt like today’s blog post, sandwiched between these two national observances, should be insightful or meaningful or profound. Well, not necessarily profound – because I don’t consider most of what I say or write to fall in that category. That’s for people who are much deeper thinkers than me.

Bible verse love one anotherBut I still have quite a few thoughts related to these two events tumbling in my mind, so I’ll share a few with you.

I was raised in a time and place when many people didn’t necessarily embrace the issues raised by Dr. King. That sounds harsh, especially in today’s culture, but it was my reality. He was assassinated only a few years before I was born, which meant events were still fresh on people’s minds. Changing laws or perspectives or hearts is difficult, tedious work. It takes time. More time, for some, than what had passed by the late 60s and early 70s of my childhood.

Grappling with that realization as I grew old enough to be aware of it and understand what it meant was tough. To be honest, some days it still is.

I also was raised in a family that believed voting was a privilege to be exercised, but that politics were personal. My parents voted every time an election came around. In those days you stepped up to an available voting machine and pulled the curtain closed around you so that no one else in the room saw anything but your calves and shoes. There was just enough space for me to stand at their elbow as they flipped the levers for the candidates they voted for. The clicks and thunks of the levers carried such finality, sounded so official. Standing in that little closed-in space felt magical and secretive and special – and private.

I’m sure my parents could have discussed candidates and issues, but they never had those conversations in front of me. Maybe it stemmed from how they were raised themselves, but you truly let your vote be your voice instead of vocalizing your opinions on candidates to anyone who cared to listen. Talking politics was seen as tacky.

Wow, have we moved past that mindset as a society.

Talking politics still isn’t high on my list of favorite conversational topics. I research candidates and make my choices and believe that everyone else should be allowed to do the same. It’s one of our rights as American citizens.

Do we have to agree on who to vote for? No. Do we need to be respectful of each other’s opinions and find ways to move forward together despite those differences? I believe so.

Bible verse love one anotherAs I wrestle with these issues on a personal level, the words from John’s letters to other believers (1 John, 2 John, 3 John) keep rising above the muck: Love one another.

It’s a recurring message in John’s letters, but echoes what Jesus Himself taught: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12 ESV) and “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35 ESV).

John walked with Jesus and was part of His inner circle. He was part of some events such as the Transfiguration that only a handful of people experienced (Matthew 17; Mark 9; Luke 9). He stood at the cross during the Crucifixion and was given the responsibility of caring for Jesus’ mother Mary (John 19). He was one of the first disciples to see that Jesus was no longer in the tomb (John 20).

He was gifted with a vision and was told to write it down in what we know as the book of Revelation.

Yet after seeing all these things, after experiencing face-to-face life with Jesus, the message John shared again and again was to love each other.

Everything of importance comes back to love.

I’m trying to remember that for myself. I’m trying to get better at putting it into practice myself.

As tired as I am of anything related to this election season, as bruised/battered/frustrated/angry as I felt at different times during the past year, it all comes back to loving each other and loving God.

It doesn’t matter which candidates you supported. It doesn’t matter which candidates won.

What matters is that God is in control. He is on the throne.

My job is to love God and to love other people, no matter who they are or what they believe. God will take it from there.

That’s what I hold to, especially in crazy or uncertain times (read my other post, Faithful Despite the Fear). I pray we reach a place someday where we’re able to do that together – as Americans, as Christians, as children of God.

Scripture Saturday, Scripture verses

Scripture Saturday: Matthew 1:21

For many people, Christmas 2020 looked different than in years past. Thankfully, no matter how things around us might change, nothing changes the reason for the season: God sent Jesus to walk among us on earth so that He could save us from our sins.

I hope you all have a blessed Christmas season and healthy, hope-filled New Year.

Matthew 1 21

Living in Faith, Scripture verses

Being big enough to humble ourselves

Those who humble themselves will be exalted Matthew 23:12Years ago, one of our former pastors would invite people in the congregation to help write an Advent devotional book that we could use together as a church family. He mapped out the Scripture readings and let us write whatever came to mind. Entries were written by teenagers, retirees, and everyone in between.

I found a couple of these booklets while cleaning out some things in my office. Flipping through and seeing the names of those who shared their thoughts was a sweet walk down memory lane.

She was one of “my girls” in youth group and now she’s married and a mom herself. They moved away so I haven’t seen them in years, but we keep up with each other on Facebook. She was such a beautiful example of what a Christian woman should be; now she’s singing with the angels in heaven.

With Christmas only a few days away, here’s the devotional I wrote for one of those booklets.

Scripture reading: Matthew 23: 1-12 (NIV)

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

 

image of woman prayingThis story is one of several when Jesus “called out” church leaders or other supposedly important people on their hypocrisy and lack of understanding. The Pharisees and teachers of the law were highly educated men who didn’t have a clue. I’m sure their cheeks burned and their indignation ran high at Jesus’ words.

The Pharisees not be called instructors? Servants were the greatest of all? They needed to humble themselves in order to be great?

Didn’t Jesus realize who He was talking to? Who He was talking about?

Of course He did. Jesus was talking to the Pharisees and teachers of the law then, but to each of us now.

Being humbled isn’t any more fun for us than it was the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, though we’ve all been there. The situation that puts us in our place often takes us by surprise and leaves us scratching our heads until we realize just what happened – and why. Once we think about it, we may realize that we deserved to be humbled, whether we want to admit it or not.

The only man who never deserved to be humbled was Jesus, yet He was willing to be humbled enough for all mankind. He left His throne beside God to become one of us, to humble Himself to the point of becoming fully human and surrounding Himself with the sins of the earth.

The last verse of today’s Scripture passage says that “those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Jesus was certainly exalted after His time of humility on earth, when He returned to His rightful place in heaven with God. Because of the sacrifice He made – beginning on that quiet night of His birth we’re preparing to celebrate – we too can be exalted with Him someday.

And that’s the best gift of all during Christmas.

Thank you, Lord, for sending Jesus to live among us so we could learn more about you and know that someday we’ll be with you in heaven. As we celebrate Christmas this year, give us a new appreciation for how great a sacrifice Jesus made to be part of your plan. Amen.