Philippians 2: 5-11
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (NRSV).”
Every time a new person comes to celebrate their faith in Jesus Christ, using various words or phrases according to their church affiliation, they are taught to essentially say that they place their faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Usually, we don’t have a problem focusing on Jesus as our Savior because we have many issues, struggles, hurts, habits, and hang-ups that we know we need saving from! But acknowledging Jesus as Lord is nothing short of relinquishing our right to be in charge of our own lives! It is nothing less than yielding our entire lives to the service of our new King!
Adam Hamilton in the book 24 Hours That Changed The World: 40 Days of Reflection (pg. 46) does a great job tying together the fact that Jesus went from the Upper Room in Jerusalem, where he celebrated the Last Supper, all of the way across the Kidron Valley and back up to the Mount of Olives to pray in the garden in order to connect his life and death to his role as the King, the Savior and Lord, that was prophesied about in Zechariah!
In America, we don’t have Kings. We get to vote people out of office if we don’t like their policies! When it comes to our relationship to God, we don’t get to vote! Jesus simply is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And what a strange King he is! He is a King whose greatest display of power is not a massive bombing campaign or reign of military terror but the greatest display of self-sacrificial, servant love for the world he created!
The only adequate response we can have to Jesus Christ as our King, is to bend our hearts, minds, bodies, and souls to his Lordship over us in gratitude for his great love. A great prayer to pray often in developing our relationship to Jesus this lent is a simple one: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Try repeating this throughout the day today and see how God honors this prayer in your life!
Psalm 118: 29, Romans 8:37
“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.”
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”
Adam Hamilton points out in his book 24 Hours That Changed The World that Jesus and the disciples probably sang Psalm 118 at the end of the Passover meal before heading to the Garden of Gesthemane. He also writes, “Singing praise to God in the face of adversity is an act of defiance toward evil. It is also an act of trust in God, one that gives strength, peace, and hope (pg. 42, 24 Hours That Changed The World, 40 Days Of Reflection).” It takes tremendous courage and faith to believe in what we cannot see at the moment when that belief costs us pain, loss, and even death. Jesus “for the joy set before him, endured the suffering of the cross.” Christians through the ages have endured tremendous suffering and death while loving their enemies, loving their neighbors, and serving the poor in the name of Jesus . They kept going because they had faith that the Kingdom of God would one day rule over all creation again.
This part of Jesus’ story reminds me of the story of Father Maximillian Kolbe who offered himself to the Nazis for torture and death in a concentration camp to spare another man who had children to look after. He, along with others, were sent to the starvation bunker to slowly, painfully waste away. The Nazis fully expected the prisoners to begin crying out, to begin fighting, and even to begin eating one another as had happened to many others in that bunker. Instead, each day they heard praying, the recitation of Scripture, and singing until all of them died. There is great power when God is praised in the face of death!
We know that suffering of some sort is inevitable. For Christians, the choice we have to make is whether we will face it with faith in the resurrection power of Jesus or not. Do we believe that the living Christ will bring the fullness of the Kingdom on earth, in our lives as it is in heaven? Do we believe in his promise that when he returns “death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more (Rev. 21)?” Do we believe that “nothing can separate us from the love of Christ (Romans 8)?”
When it is our turn, may God give us the grace to spit in the face of death with great confidence in Jesus’ resurrection power to bring eternal life! And as we work with others who suffer, may God give us grace to share this faith, hope, and love with them!
John 15: 5, 8-13
5“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing…8This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
9“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.10If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.11I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.12My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.13Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (NIV).”
Jesus uses the image of a vine, its branches, and its fruit to describe how a life lived in him works. The branches depend completely on the vine for daily nourishment of nutrients and water. The very life of the branches depends on the vine, just as the life of any follower of Jesus depends completely upon the gifts God gives us. In the same way, the grapes or tomatoes that grow on the branches of a vine are dependent on two things, the nourishment coming from the vine and the ability of the branches to thoroughly allow that nourishment to pass through to the growing fruit.
This picture of life in Jesus reminds us that the fruit of our lives-the relationships we have, the good work we do, the hard but right choices we must make, the ways we care for the poor, the creative and beautiful things we make, the families we raise-is less a result of our personal efforts and more a result of being so connected to God in a relationship of love expressed in obedience that we don’t get in the way of the good life that flows from our heavenly Father.
Lent is a good time to assess how we, the branches, may be constricting the flow of God’s gracious love to the people around us. Do we allow our worries and fears to dominate our relationships? Do we hurry so much that everything feels like a “have to” instead of an “I get to?” Do we block love and acceptance with a critical attitude? These are ways we squeeze down our branches, cutting off the flow of God’s life giving love. We don’t assess ourselves this way to feel badly. We do this in order to ask God to heal us so that his love flows more freely through us. Then the fruit of our lives grows sweeter and more nourishing for others.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many dwelling places. IF it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”
On a recent fishing trip my son was making a “pit stop” on the shore of a river while my friend and I stayed in his boat. The wind and current pulled the boat off the shore, setting us adrift because we had turned the motor off. A little voice called from behind the bushes, “Hey! You aren’t going to leave me here are you?” Of course we wouldn’t! After a brief moment restarting the engine, my friend and I idled up to the shore so my son could get back in.
Imagine the disciples’ concerns about Jesus telling them he was going to go away from them in a little while! “Where are you going? Why can’t we come? What will happen to us when you are gone? Will we see you again?” Jesus reassures them that his presence and power will be with them in the Holy Spirit while he is no longer visibly present and that he will return to bring them into his Father’s house, his Kingdom when he returns.
One of the cool images hidden in this passage is that of a groom telling his bride that he is going to leave her with her family for a short time so that he can go build an addition on to his father’s house so that their new family will have a place to start their new lives. Though living with our in-laws for the early years of our marriages may seem repugnant to us, it was common practice then. So Jesus not only assures the disciples of his presence and return, he assures them of his deep love and affection for them. Jesus’ followers are not just co-workers or missionaries or servants, we are people he loves dearly. In our prayer, worship, study, fasting, and service this Lent, how can we become more aware of Christ’s deep love for us?
Matthew 26: 14-16
“Then on of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What will you give me if I betray him to you?’ They paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him (NIV).”
Why Is It Always About The Money?
People of faith have such an uneasy relationship with money. I suppose it’s for the same reason Bilbo Baggins, the hobbit in the movie “Lord of the Rings” who is chosen to bear the ring of power over the earth, wavers between feeling love, protective violence, and hatred for the ring! Money in our world is power; power to fund great good or evil. Enough money can even tempt us to believe we have so much power that we don’t need God for anything.
Judas reminds us of such dangers. He hands Jesus over to his killers for 6 weeks of pay, roughly $6,000 for today’s worker earning $48,000 per year. Though there are several other potential motives for Judas to turn Jesus in, the gospels clearly focus on money, and money, as we learn from Jesus, reveals what the heart loves.
Money is not evil in and of itself. It is only paper and metal! The use of the power money symbolizes is what is good or bad, and that use is determined by what the human heart worships. If we worship the power of money there will never be enough. The love of money will become a black hole which will suck goodness, joy, and beauty out of life. When our hearts worship God, money will be gratefully directed to daily needs of loved ones and others in true need, and our decisions will be life giving.
How is our use of money an act of worship to God this Lent?
“And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me (Mark 14:18).’”
I won’t forget when a good friend of mine turned away from me. It was 4th grade, and several classes were assembled for a presentation. We had been warned not to talk or we would receive detentions. I was a good rule follower and had never been punished for anything so I was terrified of getting a dreaded detention. My Peter sat next to me at the assembly and began whispering to me. I turned to him to tell him to be quiet at the exact time that my teacher, Mr. Denny, bore his eyes into my skull. I turned to see him pull out his detention slip and fill in my name. Later I tried to explain what had happened, but my friend did not come to my aid lest he became implicated in the crime as well! I was punished while my friend Peter didn’t even get a warning!
Today, we see Jesus begin to acknowledge that he foresees that all of his closest friends and followers will turn away from him in his time of greatest need. It is striking to see them all fall away as the stakes are raised. Yet are we really that different from them? Faced with cruel torture, humiliation, and death, are our bonds to Jesus strong enough to hold us to him? The stakes don’t even have to be that high. Whenever we don’t do something for others we know we should do, we turn away from Jesus (Matthew 25: 31-41). Whenever we give other activities priority over spending time with God in worship, prayer, or study, we turn away from Jesus.
Thankfully, the most amazing part of the story is how Jesus ends up restoring his wayward followers and uses them in mighty ways to spread the goodness of his Kingdom. Is the power of God’s grace even able to restore those who have fallen away from him? Thank God, it appears as though the answer is “yes!”