Maundy Thursday

When I was around eight or so, I dropped the communion plate full of grape juice on the brand new light green carpet at my church…in the second row. Who thought that was a good idea to pass that plate around the pews FULL OF CARPET AND PEW STAINING GRAPE JUICE?

Thursday of Holy Week marked the first Last Supper. It marked the time when Jesus revealed the new covenant of living forward to the disciples. That each time we break bread, we drink that we should remember Him, that we do this as a remembrance to the body broken, the blood spilled for us.

I was diving into some commentary on the first Last Supper and found an interesting point from The Christ-Centered Exposition that defines how the Passover was the perfect time for the Last Supper, the reminder that one exodus long ago would also bring forth another, a lasting exodus freeing us from sin and enslavement to it forever. The lamb sacrificed then would be the One given of Himself for us all, so that we would take and remember it each time we ate or drank-which is every single day.

I think about the pew stains on carpet there in the church, how there’s still a hint of it almost 30 years later. And I think about the sin stain of the world, cast across the people that God loved dearly but that broke His heart. I see the eternal blood there in the wine cup, the blood of the Perfect Lamb covering us all in order to make us white. The red of Him made us white in His eyes. It took away our need to sacrifice at Passover, and replaced it with the covenant of bread-breaking, cup-bearing daily. It ushered in freedom where we were once bound by the marks of slavery, of stains cast all around us and on us.

As we greet and walk through Maundy Thursday this week, I find the Last Supper what draws me in, to see my desperate need for cleansing in Him, to be reminded of His brokenness and blood-rending that is coming tomorrow. The arrogance of Peter there, even as Christ foretells of his desertion and my own walking away at times. The need for prayer in the deepest parts, in the times where I feel alone and deserted, there’s the draw to my knees and communing with God alone.

The sacrifice for my stains awaits tomorrow.

Leptas, Perfume, and a Bag of Silver

Can I just share with y’all that this digging into Holy Week has really been such a divine interruption in my normal writing and study? That it has brought some deeper understandings of Scripture and this week for me than I had before?

download (1)Between yesterday and today we see the objects of money, offering and sacrifice come up in some pretty profound ways in the life of Christ and His followers. From the prior day’s teachings, Christ is in the temple when a “poor widow” came and put in leptas that she had to live on-a couple of pennies in today’s terms. She gave out of her poverty, while others were coming in giving out of their riches, casting in large amounts. Christ was pointing here not to the amount but the heart behind it, the giving out of sacrifice and in devotion to God. It was about the offering in the heart, not the offering in the hand.

The following day, as they stay in Bethany, a woman came as they were reclining at the table, probably following a feast. Do you ever linger at the table with friends? Leaning back from full bellies, but wanting to lean in to fill your heart? I have a feeling that’s what was going on here, gathering at the table for long discussions and listening to the heart of Christ, although we don’t know what was talked of, we do see this woman come to them. She brings in a jar of expensive perfume…this is important because it’s not oil to anoint Him with. It is that pricey bottle of Chanel No. 5, fragrant and hard to come by, expensive to everyone, and used for burial preparations specifically. She poured out this entire gift on Christ, right there before everyone. It was uninhibited devotion to Him, it was her offering of all she had to Him. While others complained of the excess, Christ saw it as her recognition of Who He was, loving Him truly with all that she had.

I love how Christ schools those around the table on this act, as the fragrance fills the room, it coating Him from the head down. In the NIV translation He states, “She did what she could.” He acknowledged her faith and her understanding, receiving her full sacrifice that cost much because she knew, her sacrifice going beyond herself and what others thought of her. She only cared about what she could do for Christ, giving all that she had for Him in His very presence.

Whoa.

How often do I take for granted that He is with me? That I am right there in His Presence? That instead of sacrificing all that I have, all that I am, I choose the way of Judas.

Yep, the verses right after the perfume are of Judas Iscariot choosing to betray Christ to the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees seeking to kill Him, for the price of a slave…thirty pieces of silver. We don’t know his reasoning for it, but we see the contrast of the costly devotion in one moment and the small price of betrayal in the next. Judas choosing his own wants over the Presence of Christ. Bob Goff put it perfectly, “For a couple silver coins, Judas traded who he was, for what he thought he wanted.” The lure of power? Authority maybe? To be in the in crowd with the Pharisees? Maybe he worried what others thought of him, his association with Christ?

I don’t know the root of it, but the betrayal was costly…it would lead to Judas taking his own life not long after Christ’s crucifixion. But we look at these two people, we see their offerings and sacrifice not from a lens of monetary reasoning but from their heart reasons, the faith reasons.

It’s a hard question to face, even in the small decisions daily. Because the big questions have been built upon the smaller sacrifices, the steps further towards Him or away from Him. The choice to sacrifice more of self or more of Him. And so on this Wednesday of Holy Week I am left asking the same question myself.

Do we sacrifice ourselves for Him or do we sacrifice Him in order to get what we want?

 

Getting Taught

My first year of college I was a double major in history and math, with a secondary education emphasis. I wanted to teach. In my high school years I was heavily influenced by math teachers and an English teacher. I fell in love with history thanks to my dad and AP History class. Even at 18 I saw how impactful teachers could be on the life of a bratty teen like myself and felt I owed them more than just an A in class, but to turn and give back myself.

On Tuesday of Holy Week, the Great Teacher went in the temple to teach. Christ, during His time here on earth, often taught through the lens of parables, illustrating an idea through story in order to bring about revelation on the hearts of those who hear. He took the harder lessons to be learned and brought them to the people who most needed to hear them.

But here we sit looking at Mark 11-13, and the hard words of Christ teaching and the Pharisees interrupting, to try to trap Him or ensnare Him. They bring lofty legalistic views, with religion carried on their shoulders rather than trusting in Christ, the God-man Himself right before them, teaching and preaching, pointing to the time of redemption.

They doubt His authority, seeking to be their own authority. I have to say, we all are alike in that vein. We prefer to use ourselves more often to rule than allowing Christ to rule in and through us. As one writer states, “We are not really interested in surrendering that rule to anyone else.” We see further on that they fear others more than they fear God, when they make decisions based upon the crowd’s opinion instead of the words of Christ before them. They chose the safe route, the expedient one rather than what was true, right.

Sounds a bit like me some days, alot of days. Choosing for myself based upon the opinion of others often instead of what Christ commands of me. When I look at this text I cannot help but ask myself, “Does what others will think of me hinder me from moving more towards Jesus?” Do the lessons He teaches me alter me in a way that moves me more towards His likeness or more towards the crowd’s opinion?

In many ways I am just as they were, questioning whether this Teacher has authority and influence in my life, whether I would allow the opinions of others to bare weight over His command. So on this Tuesday as I sit and look at the Teacher and His teachings that day thousands of years ago, I have to seek to know how much of all this is a reason to mask my own fear of what faith might cost me socially, relationally, and culturally. Whether I will be taught or continue to think I am the teacher.

Fig Trees and Flipping Tables Jesus

I have to be honest with y’all….I have never truly understood the cursing of the fig tree by Christ on the Monday of Holy Week. I jump quickly to the story of Christ flipping the tables in the temple-the image I really cannot wait to see in heaven, justice-seeking Christ full of righteous anger. But who doesn’t love that?!

fig-tree

But first that fig tree y’all…As Christ is heading back into Jerusalem from Bethany, where He’s staying with Mary, Martha and Lazarus He is hungry. Yep, we see Jesus get hungry in Scripture, which is His human side coming forth from what I tend to lean towards. He sees a fig tree off there in the distance that is in full leaf, meaning it is showing that it should be bearing fruit, whether small or large. (Fig trees in that part of the world do not fruit until June, this would have been March-April) The tree was giving all intents and purposes that it was something that it, in production, in fruit, was not.

Christ immediately curses the tree, that it may never bear fruit again.

A parable lived right out for the apostles to see and hear.

It was a testament to the state of Israel at that time, and very well the state of our lives too in the church. Israel was showing off one thing, claiming Yahweh as God but yet bore out none of the fruit of that life…instead going after their own gods, making legalism their true aim instead of holiness. They bore no fruit of a life lived in obedience. It is a show with no substance, deceiving what is presented.

“The great majority of persons who have any sort of religion at all bear leaves, but they produce no fruit.”

-Charles Spurgeon, Nothing But Leaves

We believe within our own churches we are one thing, when in fact we are bearing nothing of substance out. Jesus is very well talking to us right here, right now in our churches in America. Egyptian Christians are murdered as they attended Palm Sunday services on Sunday. Yet we sit idly by and allow our comforts to be our concern, whether the a/c is working overtime or not (the very thing I complained about this morning, I kid you not y’all) or whether so-and-so is friendly towards us, or that our service had better numbers than the other church. Instead of our hearts yearning for righteousness, for holiness and complete obedience in all things.

We’ve grown into our own hypocrisy that our Savior cursed this very day….that He pointed to and made clear that deception in bearing fruit was not worthy of life, of His blessing, but rather a curse, a death. We need Him to make us useful and fruitful, to bear it out…just as John 15 points us to, that we abide in Him and we bear much fruit. But we must be in Him, not doing of ourselves or in ourselves. It took being led into John 15 over the last couple of weeks for me to see the real point Christ is making here…if we aren’t in Him, we bear false witness of fruit, we attempt to be the vinedresser, branch and root all in one, only there is nothing of substance to us, to our churches.

The Palms

It is the start of holy week across the nation, as Christians turn their eyes to the week that marks the events leading to the cross and resurrection of Christ. When I think about Christ’s entry into Jerusalem then, I cannot help but envision the palm fronds waving in the air, people shouting “Hosanna!” just as the gospels tell us.

The picture it draws isn’t one of a great victory parade, but of a humble entry on a colt, borrowed from someone. The crowds that had followed Christ in his teachings were now crowded into the busy streets of Passover week, throwing down their blankets for his entry. We often talk about the choice of the cross, His acknowledgement of sacrifice for us, His coming to redeem us from sin and death.

Palm-Sunday-Cross-1024x429But if we take a moment, we see that decision laid out right here, right in the words of instruction to the two disciples to go into the village and find a colt tied to a post. He knew then what this would bring about, the obedience of the will of God becoming the the prevalence of the time He had. Without this entry, there wouldn’t be a crucifixion, a resurrection, Redemption come in the form of God Himself with us, Christ.

We need this week, the entry into the city with palms waving. We needed Him to come as a humble King, unexpectedly with grace and humility, not with pomp and circumstance. We needed Him to come, not for the temporary salvation that Israel was thinking but for the eternal salvation from sin, death.

Palm Sunday ushers in new life for us all, a turning in the story of Christ to the reality of our need for Him. The shouts of “Hosanna!” coming forth from us, shouts of “Save, I pray” calling from our hearts, knowing He comes not just for my momentary circumstances but for me, my heart, my redemption, every bit of it. We wave our own palms today, celebrating the entry of Christ into the city, into our hearts and lives, forever changing the landscape of life, death…ushering in Redemption and access that we would not have without it, without Him.

These palms we see in the gospels at the entry of Christ? They were there in temple as well, on the walls that King Solomon had built, that Christ would enter tomorrow…but they are also there in Revelation, in the hands of  every tribe, nation and language honoring the Lamb of Passover seated on the throne. Those palms are waved today in us, with shouts of Hosanna, Save now! For we celebrate His entry into the city, into our hearts, into salvation and redemption, into life eternal for us.

Isolating Singleness

Occasionally I talk about single life on here, after all, I am single and people say you should write on what you know. Bless ’em. When you are working on a book centered on singleness and faith it’s difficult to find new content that doesn’t go towards that instead of here on the blog.

I was thinking about the isolation of singleness recently. That we may find our calendars full of events, plans, coffee and catching up but when we are at rest, we feel some sense of isolation. Loneliness creeps in because for some, the ability to share intimate details, thoughts, dreams of life is found in relationship with a partner. I find that even as a believer, when I take these same things to God that it’s left hanging in the air. While no man or woman is greater than God, the tangible need to talk through life with a person is what this heart desires. To look across the table, sit on the couch and be at your most vulnerable in sharing a hurt that has deeply wounded, unforgiveness that lingers, a deep-seeded hope that you have been praying on for years, and even the humiliating story at the 7th grade track meet.

We were not meant to live in isolation, but for singles (and yes I know marrieds too) we find ourselves there more than we’d care to admit. Even in a crowded room, or on the church pews. I was sharing some time ago with a friend that it’s difficult the older I get to not see someone like me on the platform at church, that the isolating effects it can have to not have a single person in leadership, in the pastor role. But ministry becomes isolating as well, and I understand why so many shy away from stepping into that minefield.

I don’t have any real synopsis to this today, no cure for the isolating effects of single living because frankly, I still battle it myself. That notion of having a very full life, full calendar, but yet feeling so cordoned off from living a life fully. From being able to share all of yourself with someone that is right there in front of you, tangible and breathing…it is almost heart breaking but yet we live it out, we step into it and pray we aren’t crushed with the effects of the isolation, of the loneliness. We know God is with us, He is ever present in Spirit, yet our hearts call for that rib-sharer…

Required Reading

required

We had required reading throughout my high school days, most of which I enjoyed. Some of which I truly did not…I am looking at you Cold Sassy Tree and Watership Down. I loved exploring the different genres and literature types, even if I struggled to write the papers on them or even to finish the book prior to summer ending.

I remember being taught allegory and theme, context and metaphorical writing. The entire time I kept seeing the true point of books, the thesis of many writers not being entertainment or story but a broader commentary on life, on humanity and the way we choose to live it out. When I finally got that, I fell in deeper love with books especially my two favorites Wuthering Heights and The Great Gatsby. 

When you are able to get beyond just a story, the words on a page, line after line, to see the root and heart of the author it changes so much about the story itself and how you digest it.

The same holds true for me in Scripture. When I dig in to passages that are more poetic and allude to something other than what they state, I find the beauty of God revealed all the more. That He knew we’d be a curious lot, one that wouldn’t settle for words at face value and so He gave us beautiful imagery and metaphor to describe our need, our deprivation and His provision.

I stumbled into such a passage this morning in Isaiah (Can you tell I am in the SheReadsTruth Lent study?). Where God is telling the barren woman to sing-a hard thing to do when one struggles with infertility. But when we look back in Scripture, we see the first three mothers of the Israelite nation were all barren-Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel, and yet they bore out a nation, fulfilled a promise set forth by God to Abraham at the beginning. Y’all. How beautiful those words of Isaiah 54 become to a heart and to barrenness.

We do not insure our own survival, we never have. God does. He brought forth Isaac in Sarah so that the nation of Israel might be born. He knew they’d turn from Him to other gods, enslaving themselves to idol worship and trusting in a king rather than the King. Then another child would be born, to usher in a new kingdom. To remind them, to remind us, that we are not survivalists.

We see from the barren woman singing that we too join her, because He provides, He makes a way. He chooses the most unlikely way to remind us that we do not do this life alone, that He is the author of our story and the focus of our song.

Maybe you’re having a hard time seeing the context of your situation, circumstances just seem to be coming at face value, but let me reassure you that God has a way of working this story into a song, the circumstances into a poem of beauty and rhyme that He is authoring. We have to be willing to honor His work and not be our own authors, we weren’t made for it. Maybe our lives should be required reading every once in a while so we can see His authorship written across it all, providing the beautiful song of joy for Him.