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echoes from the mountainside 2018

a lenten study of the beatitudes

Dr. John McKellar & Dr. Todd Renner

ECHOES FROM THE MOUNTAINSIDE: A Lenten Study of the Beatitudes (Lenten Devotional 2018)

White’s Chapel Media 185 S. White Chapel Boulevard Southlake, TX 76092 ©2018 by Dr. John E. McKellar and Dr. Todd Renner Published in the United States of America by White’s Chapel Media. All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without written permission from White’s Chapel Media. White’s Chapel Media is a publishing and communication division of White’s Chapel United Methodist Church. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version® (NSRV®) Design: Alec Hanson Layout: Susanna Cunningham Printed in the United States of America.

Contents Introduction............................................................................. 7 Day One.............................................................................. 11 Day Two.............................................................................. 13 Day Three............................................................................ 15 Day Four.............................................................................. 17 Day Five............................................................................... 20 Day Six................................................................................ 23 Day Seven............................................................................ 25 Day Eight............................................................................ 27 Day Nine............................................................................. 29 Day Ten............................................................................... 31 Day 11................................................................................. 35 Day 12................................................................................. 37 Day 13................................................................................. 39 Day 14................................................................................. 41 Day 15................................................................................. 43 Day 16................................................................................. 45 Day 17................................................................................. 49 Day 18................................................................................. 51 Day 19................................................................................. 53 Day 20................................................................................. 55 Day 21................................................................................ 57 Day 22................................................................................. 59 Day 23................................................................................. 63 Day 24................................................................................. 66 Day 25................................................................................. 68 Day 26................................................................................. 70 Day 27................................................................................. 73 Day 28................................................................................. 75 Day 29................................................................................. 80

Contents Day 30..... .......................................................................... Day 31................................................................................ Day 32................................................................................ Day 33................................................................................ Day 34................................................................................ Day 35................................................................................ Day 36................................................................................ Day 37................................................................................ Day 38................................................................................ Day 39................................................................................ Day 40................................................................................

83 86 88 91 94 98 100 102 105 108 111

Introduction to Lent From the earliest days of the Church, Christians have held with great reverence the forty days of Lent. It is an annual invitation to a time of reflection; it is a time for self-examination and for penitence. It is a season of honest evaluation as we confess who we are and who we are yet to be. These 40 days ask us to go on a journey; they invite us to travel through the darkness of Calvary’s pain that we might celebrate the joy and love of Easter morning in new light and in new life. To do this though, we must prepare ourselves. Lent, then, is a time for prayer and fasting. It is a time for silence and for the studying of God’s holy word. It is truly a time when we are to take seriously the call of the spiritual disciplines. More though, it is a time for us to be mindful, a time for us to be honest about what keeps us from the life of Jesus Christ.

Introduction to this year’s series... Nearly 270 years ago, beginning in 1748, John Wesley would begin preaching a series of sermons on Jesus’



Sermon on the Mount. He would go on to preach 13 sermons in that series over the course of two years. In his first set of sermons, Wesley unpacked the Beatitudes. More than mere moralistic teaching, what Wesley saw in our Lord’s words was revolutionary. He saw a plan. He saw a path of discipleship: one Beatitude leading to the next, one verse building upon another. Over the next seven weeks, we will follow this path: unpacking each step’s significance, meaning, and application for today’s life of faith. As always, our purpose is simple: to elicit a response. It is for us to be inspired, to be challenged, and to be changed. Our purpose and hope is that all our hearts will be “strangely warmed,” as we reflect upon the echoes of Jesus’ teachings that still call from the mountainside…and that we will respond in trust and in faithful surrender.

Dr. John McKellar Dr. Todd Renner 2018

WEEK ONE: Poverty

“Then He began to speak, and taught them, saying: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’” – Matthew 5:2-3 –

As Wesley read Jesus’ words, he recognized that the starting place for all our spiritual journeys has to be the awareness of our own poverty: our own spiritual neediness. We cannot hear nor will we accept that which we do not believe we need.

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Day One // February 14 // Self-Awareness “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” – Reinhold Niebuhr –

Jesus begins these Beatitudes with a harsh reality: God comforts those who mourn. The Greek word used relates to the bitterest sorrow that life can bring. It is in this place that we realize our inadequacy and helplessness; for it is only then that we can reach out for help. There is a sense in which, when we think we are in charge and can handle life on our own, that we can never really comprehend the grace of God. God begins our journey with the reality that we are incomplete and need help. In the mid-1920’s, there was a successful, young, stockbroker who made it big on Wall Street. He had it all, materially speaking: money, country club memberships, wealthy friends. He also drank excessively. When the crash hit in 1929, he lost everything except his bottle of



gin. His wife had to go to work only to come home day after day exhausted to find her husband passed out on the couch again. He tried many times to stop drinking but couldn’t until, with the help of a friend who had himself overcome the bottle with strong spiritual guidance, this young stockbroker, Bill, began a process known today as the 12-step approach. Today, millions have found sobriety through this organization co-founded by Bill, known as Alcoholics Anonymous. This great program is rooted in the spirit of the Beatitudes. Step one begins the process by admitting that one is powerless over alcohol and that God is our only strength. This first step is critical, and it is one of the most difficult. What a person is admitting is that alcohol has taken control of their life, and they cannot fix this problem by themselves. This principle applies to all of life. The self-content and self-satisfied will never experience God’s comfort. The journey of faith begins with an admission: “I can’t.” “We can.” “We” is God, ourselves, and a greater community of faith. “I” can’t grow in my faith without the self-awareness to grasp this truth. On this foundation, our spiritual house will be built.

Day Two // February 15 // Self-Honesty & Self-Deception “This above all: to thine own self be true And it must follow, as the night the day Thou canst not then be false to any man.” – William Shakespeare –

It is a line that has been quoted so often that many believe it to be from scripture, and it does sound like biblical wisdom. But here, in the opening act of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, it is Polonius who offers this sage advice to his son: be true to who you really are. That’s hard, though. In this world of masks and façades, it’s hard to be true to ourselves. With so many “perfect” people towering around us, it’s hard to be real; it’s hard to be vulnerable, to be authentically us. In fact, I’ll go one step further: it’s hard for us to be “us” because too many of us have actually forgotten who we really are. Maybe we want to forget. Maybe it’s easier to ignore the brokenness and the pain; maybe it’s easier to shield our gaping insecurities with a tall hedge of over-confidence. For whatever reason, many of us have used our days to buy



into all the lies that we’ve told the world. We’ve come to believe that we really are all those mythic ideals that we’ve put on. Like an actor forgetting that the cape is only a costume, we’ve tried to hoist the world on our shoulders; and only after faltering underneath its weight, do we realize that we’re not the superheroes that we’ve always claimed to be. This holy season of Lent is an invitation, though. It bids us to peel back all those layers of defenses and personalities with which we’ve insulated ourselves and to remember who we really are, to reconnect with the person God created us to be – holy, beautiful, true. These days place a mirror in front of us – a mirror into which we won’t want to look, a mirror that we’ll dodge. But if we are courageous enough to open our eyes, we will see nothing but God lovingly staring back, like a Father seeing his precious sons and daughters again for the very first time.

Day Three // February 16 // Neediness & Spiritual Poverty “Surrender your own poverty and acknowledge your nothingness to the Lord. Whether you understand it or not, God loves you, is present in you, lives in you, dwells in you, calls you, saves you, and offers you an understanding and compassion which are like nothing you have ever found in a book or heard in a sermon.” – Thomas Merton –

At the heart of the Beatitudes is the stunning necessity of our own poverty; for in Jesus’ economy, it is a blessed thing to be poor. Now, in our world, it sounds like utter nonsense; but to those who heard those words first preached, it was manna. It was hope to the hopeless; it was encouragement to the downtrodden. It was the righteous promise that they needed to hear. And we need to hear it, too. The truth is that many of us have everything that we want...and nothing that we need. We surround ourselves with the things life tells us we’re supposed to want and with the stuff life tells us we’re supposed to have. It tells us that success, the “good life,” looks



like money in the bank and trophies on the mantle. So we engulf ourselves with the objects that we hope will distract us from the agonizing truth: that our poverty has overtaken us, that we have settled for empty items, for empty relationships...and for an even emptier life. The truth Jesus preached was that nothing that money can buy will ever be a substitute for all the things that it can’t. The man who has houses and cars and jets, without joy, is poor. The woman with titles and jewels and pearls, without meaning, is poor. The wealthy without God is poor, for money can’t buy peace. It can’t purchase hope or meaning. There’s no price tag on a clean conscience or a good night’s sleep. In fact, all our riches and all our stuff simply get in the way of our spiritual journey. It’s the story of the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-27): for we can go only as deep in our spiritual life as we are aware of our own neediness. We will not accept a Savior until we truly realize that we need one. We cannot accept a Lord until we realize that we can’t thrive without one. Once we finally surrender to this overwhelming and liberating reality, we discover that, suddenly, we have all that we’ve ever wanted and cherished. Once we accept – and even celebrate – our poverty, we will have all we’ve ever needed...for only then will Christ be able to fill all the voids of our own hidden emptiness.

Day Four // February 17 // Being A Kingdom People “I want to take my rightful share of life by force, I want to give lavishly, I want love to flow from my heart, to ripen and bear fruit. There are many horizons that must be visited, fruit that must be plucked, books read, and white pages in the scrolls of life to be inscribed with vivid sentences in a bold hand.” – Tayeb Salih –

Jesus taught that the kingdom of God was not just a future reality, but that it was equally present in the lives of his followers. This means that followers of Christ have dual citizenship: in this world and in God’s. To those who are “poor in spirit,” God’s kingdom has a power and a draw that directs their lives. Success is defined in different terms. They will take risks others cannot understand. They literally march to the drumbeat of heaven. In 1996, the Ku Klux Klan held a rally in the unlikely town of Ann Arbor, Michigan, where they found themselves opposed by an equal but opposite force of protesters. Although police in riot gear did an



outstanding job of keeping the two sides apart, one man bedecked in SS tattoos and Confederate flags strolled through the wrong side of the crowd. He was brutally attacked. In the confusion of the fighting, something amazing happened. A young 18-year-old African American woman threw herself atop the man to protect him from the rampaging crowd. The protesters, moved by the sight of this lady protecting a man with whom she did not agree with at all, backed off. She never saw the man again; but months later, she was approached by another man – this one offering thanks. When she asked what for, the young man replied, “That was my dad.” That is what kingdom people do. They move beyond rancor and hostility to see the world through the eyes of Jesus. Kingdom people do not ask, “What’s in it for me,” but instead their great motivating desire is to further God’s mission. Lent beckons us to live with that awareness, with the reality that we already heirs of the Kingdom – a realm that is currently around us. Is it fulfilled yet? Of course not. But it grows closer and closer every time we cast off our earthly entanglements to become more concerned with pleasing God rather than pleasing others. It nears as we dare to stop chasing happiness in the futility of earthly pursuits, and find ourselves basking in the work of the Kingdom’s joys.


Mourning & Meekness “‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” – Matthew 5:4-5 –

Having realized our own poverty and the insufficiency of the world that we have trusted, the soul mourns. We are filled with grief as we acknowledge and confess our sins. And we are humbled. It is the echo of his grace, though, that draws us nearer to the side of the Savior.

Day Five // February 19 // Repentance “Repentance means you change your mind so deeply that it changes you.” – Bruce Wilkinson –

Blessed are those who mourn. It is a stunning, bitter thought. And as is typical with Jesus’ teaching, there is a depth to this truth that oftentimes we fail to measure. Here, our Lord is not simply speaking to those who are grieving the death of a loved one; He’s not even aiming his words at those who’ve lost hopes or dreams. At their deepest, most spiritual level, Jesus’ words are speaking to all the “poor in spirit” – those who’ve grappled with the poverty of their own soul, those who’ve acknowledged and confessed their own dire neediness. It’s that loss of identity and worldliness that the Savior addresses. We are the faithful mourners who have heard Jesus’ words and been convicted of our sinful nature. And it strikes us with Lent’s eternal question: Who are we? Are we the men and women that come to

21 church dressed in our finest – donned in our finest clothes and vested with our finest attitudes? Or are we the cads and gossips and impatient drivers that we are on every other day of the week? If we’re honest, we have to admit that we’re both. We are saints. We are sinners. We are individuals who strive to be the people we want to be, yet who struggle to see that glimmer of faith and goodness grow to consume us. We struggle with our fleshly natures, always knowing that there’s more: more that we should do, more that we should be. Like the faint memory of a place that we’ve once been, we’ve a notion of what it means to follow Jesus; but in our daily comings and goings, we forget the way to that place. We remember its flavor, but we forget its taste. We remember how it felt, but we forget how it feels. It is a strange truth to be sure, but the only way for us to go forward into that life that God has for us is to go backwards, to return to a place of simplicity and honesty, to return to a place of goodness for Goodness’ sake. In the language of the faith, this act of turning is called repentance. It is not the wistful and impotent pangs of regret that leave us sorry but unchanged; rather, repentance is the willful determination of the faithful to turn (or better, to re-turn) to those people we were created to be: God-centered instead of selfcentered, others-serving rather than self-serving. For, it is not the fear of getting caught that drives us; it is



our disgust of sin and our love for God and our desire to please Him that compels our repentance – the training of our minds, bodies, and souls to surrender all that we want for all that we need. When I was growing up, we’d run and play until the street lamps started coming on. There, trees were the masts of ships and pine thickets were the dragon’s lair. The world was sweet and unstained (and I guess I was, too). But as the sun slowly sank behind the horizon and the last pink ribbon of day faded into black, my mom would come to the porch and call that it was time to come home. Repentance is that call. It is the call of heaven for us to stop pretending and to return home, for us to remember and to be those people God asks – commands – us to be.

Day Six // February 20 // Empathy “When you sing with a group of people, you learn how to subsume yourself into a group consciousness because acapella singing is all about the immersion of the self into the community. That’s one of the great feelings – to stop being me for a little while and to become us. That way lies empathy, the great social virtue.” – Brian Eno –

Jesus had the ability to engage people with a deep compassion born of an understanding of their circumstances. Tenderly and gently, He befriended those society scorned. To the woman caught in adultery, He entered into her shame and embarrassment with a word of hope. To the tax collector Zacchaeus, despised and mocked by the community, He invited himself over for dinner. His followers were an eclectic group of fishermen, political zealots, tax collectors, and those considered unimportant by society. He saw not just the outside of a person, but the inner heart. Those who follow Him are called to live with His heart, to love those He loved. The second Beatitude



says, “Blessed are those who mourn.” This does not just mean a personal suffering; it also means to identify with the hurts of others. Romans 12:15 implores us: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” In fact, the most profound ministry is born out of personal pain. Recently, a 15 year old was stricken with Bell’s Palsy, a nerve disorder of the face. As if the teen years weren’t hard enough, this young lady also had to deal with the physical side effects and altered appearance that are hallmarks of her disease. But she refused to let her troubles affect her attitude. She wrote an open letter to her peers. In that letter she vowed to profit from her condition. “I am going to gain a powerful weapon,” she wrote, “Empathy. Empathy for all the disfigured people in the world. Empathy for anyone who has had a stroke...God has handpicked me to bestow this blessing upon, and I believe when God bestows a blessing, the entire world changes.” Every day, people cross our paths carrying heavy burdens. Can we lay aside our agendas to notice? Can we move from apathy to engagement? Can we not get so overwhelmed by the large global suffering of the world to see that, for most of us, our calling is to help the person right in front of us? To be a friend who listens. To be a person who gets in the ditch with the broken. To go into all the places that Jesus, Himself, would like to go. Those who mourn like that, who enter the pain of the world; they are the ones who will be comforted!

Day Seven // February 21 // Accepting Divine Comfort “Until we can receive with an open heart, we’re never really giving with an open heart. When we attach judgment to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgment to giving help.” – Brené Brown –

Our focus tends to be on our response to the world. But we never begin there. We can’t give until we realize how much we have been given. In 1 John 4:19, the Apostle reminds us “we love because He first loved us.” God’s comfort takes many forms. It can come through worship, through a certainty that we are not alone in our pain. It can come through a memory of a loved one that makes us smile. But so often it comes through friends who share the deepest parts of our lives. The challenge for us is this: Can we be vulnerable and open to letting people in? It is tempting to live on the surface of our pain, to build an impenetrable wall around our hearts. We have to be open and available to receive God’s comfort.



Rabbi Harold Kushner, in When Bad Things Happen to Good People, tells of families asking him if they had to observe Shiva, which is the memorial week after death when family and friends come to be with those who have lost a loved one. It is similar to visitation at a funeral home or a wake. “Do we really need to sit Shiva, to have all these people crowding into our home?” they ask. “Couldn’t we just ask them to leave us alone?” Kushner writes, “Letting people into your home, into your grief, is exactly what you need now. You need to share with them, to talk to them, to let them comfort you. You need to be reminded that you are still alive, and part of a world of life.” Notice the order. We realize that we are broken, flawed people who need a Savior. We receive God’s consolation and comfort; and then we start to notice other people who need help. We receive in order to give. We are loved in order to love. And that cycle of the Kingdom brings Christ’s love into all the world.

Day Eight // February 22 // Humility “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” – Ernest Hemingway –

The scripture is full of examples of people, filled with pride, who thought they were pleasing God, but in the process, missed the point entirely. The pompous Pharisee pounding his chest, thanking God he was not like the sinners and rabble around him. The arrogant rich young ruler who sarcastically questioned Jesus by bragging on his resume. To prideful people, Jesus responded, “I hope you are pleasing others with your virtue, because you are not pleasing God.” Over and over again, Jesus admonishes us to remember that those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be lifted up. But we can’t always see how our pride trips us up. Years ago, England’s Prince Philip was toasted at a banquet with two lines from the poet John Dryden:



“A man so various that he seem’d to be, Not one, but all mankind’s epitome.” The prince was so moved by the tribute, that he decided to look up the rest of the poem: “Stiff in opinions, always in the wrong; Was everything by starts, and nothing long: But, in the course of one revolving moon, Was chemist, fiddler, statesman, and buffoon.” Talk about a humbling moment! We all need moments like that to remind us that we have not arrived, that we are all still students of Jesus who have much to learn. Humility, then, is a hallmark of living as a disciple. In fact, the first step of life-long learning is to realize how much we don’t know. Quintilian, the great Roman teacher of oratory, said of some in his class, “They would no doubt be excellent students, if they were not already convinced of their own knowledge.” It is amazing how history shows that the great people, those who inherit the earth, are those that practice self-control. They are acutely aware of their own limitations. Do you remember Moses? From a humble birth, he would become the great leader who confronted Pharaoh and who, at Sinai, would give the Law that spelled out the moral code that has guided the world ever since. Numbers 12:3 defines his character: “Now the man Moses was very humble, more so than anyone else on the face of the earth.” “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” And the proud will never know what they have missed!

Day Nine // February 23 // Anger Anybody can become angry - that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way - that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.” – Aristotle –

“Good Christians aren’t angry,” the contemptible old lie contends. For years, I fought against that flimsy excuse – in as much as a “good Christian” could fight. It was like a blanket that was too small: at one point covering my shoulders but not my feet, and at others covering my feet but not my shoulders. I could never make it fit. One day, though, I was given permission to be upset; I was allowed to be angry. And it was so freeing. Yes, there are times when “good Christians” need to be angry – angry with a righteous fury. In fact, there are times when it is sinful not to be so. When we see injustice, when we see needless hunger and spiteful cruelty, it should so disturb us that we speak; it should



move us to act. Anger is one of the most powerful emotions that God gives his children. It is capable of righting tragic wrongs; but we know, too, how often is can be used to amplify the “wrongs,” themselves. It is this selfish anger, this self-serving, self-centered anger that scripture condemns. Righteous anger, on the other hand, that anger that advances the purposes of God, is lauded: even Jesus was angry as He strode into the Temple to overturn the tables of the moneychangers. A hatred of our own sins, the abhorrence of our own immorality – it is this holy ire that the faithful must develop in order to live into the good promises of God. And Lent (just as a starting place) asks for even the pettiest of infractions to disturb us: the little fib here, the little fudge there; for it is with these smallest of deviations from holiness that the devil claims his prize – the soul for which Christ died to save.

Day Ten // February 24 // Inheriting the Earth “Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” – Saint Augustine –

When my grandfather passed away, my brother and I received his treasures: the pistol he had had taken into war, the flag that draped his casket, and the Bible he had preached from all the years in between. These precious items linked us to him: when the recollection of all his stories began to fade, we could look on the mantle and remember the man he was. The faithful, too, are offered a sublime inheritance: the very earth. More than just the terrestrial ball upon which we now exist, Jesus was promising a far surpassing spiritual reality: one devoid of the distraughtness and angst that are so prevalent these days. Jesus was promising the meek that they would reign forever with the King who would come to bring all things into order: oppression, addiction, anxiety, fear, guilt, shame – all



gone forever. The meek would receive as their reward the earth that they had fought to create. This fight to bring heaven to earth is at the very core of Lent’s journey. It is a struggle that must begin within each of us. More than losing ourselves in a furor of religious activity, these days beg us to find ourselves in the simple truth of God’s love for us. It’s not about having one season of deep, spiritual connection that we hope will see us through all the other of life’s seasons. These days ask us to commit ourselves to a new way of living – intentionally and unapologetically for Jesus Christ. For, as with any inheritance, the reward for such a life is something for which we have not worked and something we cannot earn. It is a timeless treasure that connects us to something, to Someone long past this world’s veil: the Savior who calls us kin.

WEEK THREE: Hunger & Thirst

“‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.’” – Matthew 5:6 –

Once we identify our own spiritual poverty and dare to enter into the suffering of the world, our priorities change. We begin to desire God’s righteousness the way a starving person craves bread. In that place, we find our fulfillment can only be discovered in the purposes of the Divine.

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Day 11 // February 26 // Righteousness “You have to expect spiritual warfare whenever you stand up for righteousness or call attention to basic values. It’s just a matter of light battling the darkness. But the light wins every time. You can’t throw enough darkness on light to put it out.” – Thomas Kinkade –

Jesus challenges us to hunger and thirst for righteousness. Righteousness is a standard that commands us to follow God’s laws. It is not just a matter of outer actions, but more importantly, it’s one of inner intent. We do the right things, at the right time, for the right reasons. Most people have an instinctive desire to be good. But Jesus calls us to go beyond that. We should desire righteousness the way a starving person craves food and a person dying of thirst wants water. The pursuit of righteousness should be the driving goal of our lives. But how often have we settled for a vague and amorphous desire to be good, rather than pursuing



a sharp, intense plan of action that guides our lives? Dr. Haddon W. Robinson tells a story that captures this distinction. He said, “My wife teaches children piano, and I usually sit in my study listening to them. I am amazed at what she is able to do. I am also astounded at the difference between a person who plays the piano and a musician. Some folks play notes, and they hit the right keys for Chopin’s “Fantasy Impromptu;” but they don’t really play Chopin. Another kind of musician catches the spirit of Chopin. Something goes on inside the performer; and when he or she plays, people pay money to hear the glorious notes. The pianist has captured the spirit of Chopin. One does not suggest to the spirited player that he or she forget the notes. Notes matter, but hitting the notes isn’t what it means to be a musician. Somehow the musician has to have spirit; without it the notes do very little. “ That is the heart of the fourth Beatitude. It is not enough to hit a note or two of goodness. Jesus desires that we crave to live in His spirit, to want a life of goodness and holiness that honors God. This desire changes everything about how we order our lives.

Day 12 // February 27 // Worldliness “When we walk without the cross, when we build without the cross and when we proclaim Christ without the cross, we are not disciples of the Lord. We are worldly. We may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, all of this, but we are not disciples of the Lord.” – Pope Francis –

We go to church. We read our Bibles. We pray and fast and wait. We go through our lists, doing our best to do those things we’ve been taught to do. But what if that’s not enough? What if all those outer trappings of the faith are only mere echoes of a deeper, truer longing that begs to be filled? Oh, yes, we may know all about God, but do we really, truly know Him? Born into the world that He came to save, into a world that would soon turn on Him and reject Him and kill Him, Jesus came to offer us a different way. He came to invite us into a new way of experiencing the Almighty – personally, quietly, intimately. But these are not the ways of our world.



Speed is the way of our world. Haste is the way of our world. Shallowness and selfishness and shortcuts – these are the ways of our world. And money is its language. Even for the Christian – especially for the Christian – there is an insidious temptation to dabble. There is a sneaky seduction with which the world lures us in: “Just try it,” it whispers; “It won’t hurt.” “God won’t care.” “God will forgive,” the world says. But if Christians won’t forgo the wily charms of worldliness, then who on earth will? It is a tragic thing for us to cover ourselves with the goodness of the cross but to forget its power. It’s a tragic thing for us to claim its salvation but to forget its demands, to claim its hope but to forget its horror. The way of Jesus Christ is one of grace and mercy and love, yes; but it is also one that insists upon sacrifice. It commands us to lay aside all that is in our hands, all that is in our hearts, and to follow... to follow Him to Golgotha’s craggy hill. There, the world – once our ally and friend – will turn on us. It will beat us and mock us and do its best to silence us; it will try its best to get us to change our minds (again). But it is only there, on that holy ground that we meet and fall in love with the Savior. It is only there, in that place of death, that the echoes of His Gospel, the tender truth of love and life, forever change us.nothing could be further than the Biblical witness that shows that sinners and tax collectors, those despised

Day 13 // February 28 // Self-Satisfaction “Sin happens whenever we refuse to keep growing.” – Richard Rohr –

In his seminars, Jim Rohn, a speaker and success philosopher (if that’s really a thing), asks the question, “How big will a tree grow?” The answer is that a tree will grow to be as big as it can. It will put down as many roots as it can; it will grow as many branches as it can; it will put out as many leaves as it can; and it will produce as much fruit as it possibly can. In fact, everything in nature grows to its maximum potential. That is, everything except for people. Why? Because only people have the ability to choose. Sadly, they can choose to be less than they have the ability to be. However, there is great news in this powerful truth. If we have the ability to choose to be less than we can be, we also have the ability to choose to be all we can be.



Choice. It’s a scary word. With it, wars are fought and marriages ended. With it, paths are taken and paths ignored. At the same time however, choice empowers us with the sublime opportunity to overcome: to overcome all our weaknesses, to overcome all our limitations, to overcome all our fears. It gives us the chance, the choice, to fight the darkness with the Light; it gives us the chance to fight evil with good. It gives us the chance, the choice, and the power to fight our greatest enemy: ourselves. Deep within us, lurking in the heart of every believer is a lie: it is the lie of “good enough.” Do just enough to get by. Say just enough to slip through. Believe just enough to get in. And we settle. We settle for lesser dreams. We settle for lesser miracles. We settle for a lesser life, mistakenly believing that we could ever be satisfied with “good enough” – that God would ever be satisfied with “almost.” The great healing for this terrible plight, though, is found in Jesus’ words: blessed are those who hunger and thirst. Blessed are those who, though content, are never complacent. Blessed are those who, though at peace, never rest. You are not yet who you were created to be...nor am I. And though we may be tempted to settle for a lesser notion of faith and God, God never settles for a lesser version of us.

Day 14 // March 1 // Apathy “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” – Elie Wiesel –

In the Greek religion, the gods were characterized by one word, “apathy.” The good life in ancient Greece was one that was detached. An ideal life was one that avoided the extremes of passion because passion, feeling, loving, caring, reaching out to other people, always led to disappointment and to pain...and eventually to sorrow. You love somebody, and someday you may get hurt. So the Greeks said, don’t get involved. Christianity has a radically different approach. The one word that characterizes the Christian revelation is “incarnation.” The Christian God revealed to us is a God who gets involved with humanity. The motivation for God’s involvement with human life was sacrificial love. Therefore, the good life for the Christian is a life of involvement. A life devoted to loving other people with the kind of love with which God loved us.



How many of us approach life more like the Greeks than like Jesus? Don’t get involved; it might get messy. Don’t volunteer because it might ask more than we want to give. Don’t be honest, because the person we share with may betray our trust. And we build walls of apathy that keep us from seeking God’s righteousness. Mother Teresa’s classic poem ”Anyway” shows us how to live in the spirit of Jesus: “People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered; Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; Be kind anyway. If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies; Succeed anyway. If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you; Be honest and frank anyway. What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight; Build anyway. If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous; Be happy anyway. The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow; Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough; Give the world the best you’ve got anyway. You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God; It was never between you and them anyway.”

Day 15 // March 2 // Cultivating True Hunger Wanting something is not enough. You must hunger for it. Your motivation must be absolutely compelling in order to overcome the obstacles that will invariably come your way. – Les Brown –

Have you ever really, truly been hungry? Now, the question isn’t, ”Have you ever wanted something to nibble on?” It’s not, “Does your stomach growl?” The question is, “Have you ever been so desperate, so empty, so starved that you would eat anything?” This question may, in fact, be unfair to a people like most of us. In our context, food is kind of a given – if anything is. It’s everywhere. And maybe that’s our problem. We have so many opportunities. We have so many options. Whole food. Fast food. Junk food. There are so many ways for our appetites to be sated, and few of us truly really know what it means to be hungry. And the same can be said of our spiritual diets, as well.



In a world of lonely, tired, desperate people, our souls are all craving something. We yearn for meaning. We yearn for connection. We yearn for intimacy and affection and love. And our problems occur when we try to fill those spiritual voids with the things of earth, with existential junk food that will never fill us for long. Like trying to grasp sand, the tighter and tighter we squeeze, the quicker it escapes from our hands. We were never intended to be filled by this world. We were never programmed to be stuffed on its diet of stuff – with all its empty words and shallow relationships. Instead, God’s design was and is that our deepest longings would be totally consumed in Him. So how do we nurture this healthy soul feast? How do we train our hunger for God? Fasting. One of the lesser-liked disciplines of Lent, fasting is more than just a season of sacred dieting. It is the intentional choice to forgo something meaningful; it is a spiritual sacrifice that is meant to remind us of our neediness and wantonness. Maybe all that is necessary for us to cultivate that deep longing and hunger for God is for us to stop filling up on other things. Maybe all that’s necessary is for us to recognize that all our snacking on the world’s “appetizers” kills our appetite for what we really need: the main course of God’s holiness and righteousness and divine love.

Day 16 // March 3 // Filled “Happiness is not a’s a by-product of a life well lived.” – Eleanor Roosevelt –

Jesus’ promise to a life spent in passionate pursuit of righteousness is the pearl of great price that people seek. They will be filled. They will find contentment. They will find peace at the center of their lives. Stories abound about a family that had a beloved saying. As they said goodbye they would always say, “I wish you enough.” It was based on a little poem they had memorized that became the creed of their lives together: “I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright. I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun more. I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive. I wish you enough pain so that the smallest joys in life appear much bigger. I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting.



I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess. I wish you enough hellos to get you through the final goodbye.” That is what our hearts desire. Enough. We can spend a lifetime chasing more. More money. More experiences. More relationships. Jesus says “enough” is not something you can chase or buy or earn. It is God’s gift to a life that seeks righteousness. It is not about frenetic activity; it is the calmness that comes from knowing we have done our best. When we learn this lesson, we will stop the endless pursuit of happiness and focus on living Jesus’ way. His teachings will not just be doctrine to be argued and debated; they will become a lifestyle that leads to contentment. William Barclay wrote, “This fourth Beatitude says that it is not enough to be satisfied with partial goodness. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for the goodness that is total. Neither an icy faultlessness nor a faulty warm-heartedness is enough.” This lifestyle will move the phrase “What Would Jesus Do” from a cliché to a blueprint for a well-lived life. And the reward: Enough!


“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” – Matthew 5:7 –

Hungry for a new way of doing life, the faithful believer sets off in a new direction. No longer content to play the world’s games, we are stirred by the echoes of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on Calvary to pursue the virtues that He lived: grace and mercy and love.

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Day 17 // March 5 // Mercy & Grace “I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.” – Abraham Lincoln –

There is a uniform teaching that runs through the New Testament: we receive back what we give. If we forgive, we will be forgiven. If we love, we will experience love. This fifth Beatitude reinforces this truth: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” Mercy is intertwined with that beautiful word “grace.” Justice is when we get what we deserve. Mercy is when we don’t get what we deserve. Grace is when we get what we don’t deserve. Mercy and grace are amazing gifts. God only has one requirement: that we extend that mercy and grace back to others. Grace is the Church’s great distinctive. It is the one thing the world cannot duplicate and that it craves above all else. Only grace can bring hope. Only grace can change our world that becomes increasingly more cynical and filled with distrust. But to fully grasp this fifth Beatitude, we must grasp the depths of what grace really means.



Grace is Jesus hanging on the cross, bearing our sins, suffering that humiliation and pain, looking down at his accusers and mockers saying, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” That is why Phillip Yancey called grace “the last, best word.” The way to fully understand grace is to remember moments where we received it. Years ago, we had just bought a little lake cabin. Our August schedule had been intense, and I had not been down to mow the grass. A month had gone by and the only spot on the schedule was a Sunday afternoon. We drove down after church, and I was dreading mowing. It was more than 100 degrees, and I was bone tired after preaching four times that weekend. But it had to be done. Never was I more surprised to find that our neighbors had mowed the grass for us. Rather than sweating and straining, I ended up taking a nap under ice-cold air conditioning while “watching” a golf tournament. That was grace. Unmerited favor. We know God gives us grace and offers us mercy. But how often do we offer them to others? How often do we forgive rather than standing up for our rights? How often do we give that little hand up to someone down who’s on their luck? How often do we bless someone who doesn’t deserve it? Maybe that little taste of grace will plow the field to grow an awareness of God’s amazing grace. Maybe in extending grace, our awareness of God’s grace will become more intense in our own lives!

Day 18 // March 6 // Pettiness & Score-Keeping “Isn’t it kind of silly to think that tearing someone else down builds you up?” – Sean Covey –

The opposites of mercy are pettiness and score keeping. We have our opinions and dislike those who differ. We keep score of our successes and others’ failings. We want mercy for ourselves but justice for others. And too often, the things that bother us most are the things that matter the least. Churches split over the color of carpet, style of pews, and location of the altar table. Friends fall out over an unkind word spoken in haste. We do well to remember Todd’s adage: “Every hill’s not Calvary.” Too often, we do not heed Jesus’ indictment of the Pharisees: “You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23:24)



The great irony is that it is religious people who most fall prey to pettiness. We have our own pet issues and agendas; we nurture our own priorities. And, much of the time, we forget that we should be dealing with the eternal, holy things that make a life and death difference in the lives of others. Leslie Weatherhead was once asked, “Can Christians dance?” He responded, “Some can and some can’t.” The key to battling pettiness is brutal honesty with ourselves. The Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:7 captures this critical truth: “But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” You and I are clay jars, and we are blessed to share and to hold the treasure of the ministry of Jesus Christ in our hands. We are not the treasure. We are sinners, saved by grace. Any time we start to get annoyed or bothered by someone or something, we need to ask a basic question: Is this hill Calvary? Is this issue something for which Jesus gave his life? If not, we need to “Let Go and Let God.”

Day 19 // March 7 // Meanness “I have great hope for a wicked man, slender hope for a mean one. A wicked man may be converted and become a prominent saint. A mean man ought to be converted six or seven times, one right after the other, to give him a fair start and put him on an equality with a bold, wicked man.” – Henry Ward Beecher –

It’s almost unavoidable these days: the meanness spewing from the world. Merciless and petty, appealing to the lowest common denominator of our basest natures, we turn on the television or go online, and the poison of vicious and hardhearted attacks bombards us. And, like a frog stewing in its own pot, we begin to change – slowly, unnoticed, unchecked. We begin to accept the gall and the vitriol. It’s just the way the world is now. But must it be? Slowly we begin to change as we find ourselves tempted to stoop to the levels of



the world: fighting fire with fire – never realizing that, in that scorching warfare, everyone gets burned. Grown from the seeds of mistrust and opposition, do we not know that the meanness we see in our news, in our schools, and in our homes threatens the very fabric of who we are? It threatens us as a nation and, more, as a Church. Lost in a hell of our own making, we duck and hide. We try to cover our ears. We try to cover our eyes. We try to shield our souls. Don’t let the darkness in. But perhaps the answer isn’t found in keeping the dark from getting in; perhaps the answer is found in letting the Light get out, for that is the only way to fight darkness. In a world such as ours, it is only truth that can overcome deceit. It is only love that can overcome spite. It is only courageous generosity that can overcome the fear that feeds the malice all around. It is only Jesus, the gracious and everlasting Lord, who can and who has won this battle. For even there, on Calvary’s rugged hill, Jesus absorbed the hate and anger and cruelty of the masses, and He transformed them. He turned the ugliness of their searing animosity into something beautiful: hope and goodness and love. From death, He brought forth life. It remains, though, for us as his followers, to do the same: to love mercy, to act justly, and to walk humbly with our God who came to end – once and for all – the warring madness of our meanness.indictment of the Pharisees: “You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23:24)

Day 20 // March 8 // Intolerance “We build too many walls and not enough bridges.” – Isaac Newton –

One of the worst examples of leadership in the Bible is that of Herod the Great. He was the ruler of Judea during the birth of Jesus. He inherited his throne from his father who had been appointed by the Romans to keep a tight rein on the contentious people called the Jews. Herod was a lackluster tyrant and a petty man. He was about 73 years old when the news came to him of the impending birth of a new king – the King of the Jews. Three astrologers from the East had come to his court to see what they might learn about a mysterious star they had been following. Herod flew into a rage that someone would dare claim his title of king. His anger resulted in the slaughter of all the boys in Bethlehem who were two years old and under. Herod was an insecure, rigid and intolerant man. All he knew was the rule of force. He was a bully, a dictator, a man with an iron hand.



The great tragedy is that the leadership style of Herod has continued through the centuries. There are people who, in their insecurity, seek to control and dominate. They cannot see that their way is not the only way, that their opinion is not the only opinion. They cannot see that their intolerant ways drive people away from them and away from God. Years ago, two employees of an electrical cable plant in New Jersey donned red Santa Claus hats and wore them to work. It was a harmless enough act, a simple gesture of Christmas spirit. However, a plant manager noticed the hats and called for them to be removed. They were “inappropriate for the workplace,” he said. The next day, in what became a symbolic show of support, 100 coworkers of the two original hat-bearers arrived at work wearing red Santa hats. Not to be outwitted, the manager suspended all the employees. What followed was chaos. It involved lawyers and unions, judges and arbitrators to sort through the mess. Enormous amounts of money and energy were consumed. An expert in workplace behavior commented on the plant manager: “This is a tale of rigidity run amok, a tale of a control freak with too much authority and too little comfort with self or others.” We need a good dose of honest self-awareness. Can we tell when a little bit of King Herod rises up in us? Do we have people in our lives who can tell us what we do not want to hear? Can we allow others to have a different opinion and still respect their integrity? Jesus’ words still hold: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”

Day 21 // March 9 // Remembering Poorly “Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.” – Marcel Proust –

Each of us has the remarkable ability to color our memories. We can saturate them with warmth and love – “remembering up”...or we can “remember down.” We shape our very realities by the way we choose to remember: the days, the moments that we let define us. In fact, you can tell much about a person by the things they choose to recollect and by the way they choose to recollect them. Throughout the Bible, we are instructed to remember: to remember God’s provision, to remember God’s power. We are told, time and time again, to remember the many ways that God has showed up just when we needed Him most. The same holds true for



mercy. The life that has experienced forgiveness, and the soul that has been shaped by compassion, is more apt to extend that mercy and grace to others. The obstacle in that equation though, is that we by and large, are not prone to remembering those times when we’ve needed forgiveness. We are not programmed to enjoy remembering our failures and mistakes. We don’t want to recall the hearts we’ve broken or the lives we’ve destroyed. We don’t want to think about our brokenness. We don’t want to think about our sin. In fact, it’s counterintuitive. We’d much rather all those shadows be locked away. Yes, the pain of those moments has marked us, but it’s too deep to see. We can only feel those deep wounds and try to ignore, medicate, or deny them. Instead of denying it though, might we be better off defying it? Defy the embarrassment. Defy the fear. Defy the pangs of wistful longing which make us wish we had done better, and had been better. Defy the flesh that bids us keep all our “lesser moments” hidden, and use them to change. From our own moments of brokenness, we can become whole. From our own moments of weakness, we can become strong. For it is the promise of almighty God: from all those moments of mercy remembered, we too can become merciful – what was once “down” now, strangely, is bounding up.

Day 22 // March 10 // The Reflexive Nature of Mercy “Teach me to feel another’s woe, To hide the fault I see, That mercy I to others show, That mercy show to me.” – Alexander Pope –

The measure that we give will be the measure that we get. More than just a natural law of the universe, this Biblical principle is at the heart of Jesus’ teachings. It is an economy of reciprocity – an economy without bargains or sales or discounts. If we want to find love, we must love. If we want to experience peace, we must offer peace. This same notion holds true for friendship and gratitude and grace. And it holds true for mercy, too: if we want to receive mercy, we must be willing to extend mercy. There’s no other way to find it. There’s no bartering. There’s no haggling. It is an “As Is” agreement. Take it or leave it. And, I fear, that too many of us choose the latter.



We leave mercy on the table and settle for “being right.” We leave mercy on the table and trade it for righteous indignation. We leave mercy on the table and consign ourselves to a lonely existence of annoyed resentment...and all because we refuse to take the first step. Unwilling to budge from our position of matterof-fact correctness (or by simply picking at the scabs of our own wounded feelings), we refuse to plant the first seeds of mercy that would heal us. We fear taking that first step: to forgive, to overlook, to excuse others’ wrongs. We fear risking the hurt that might come if our overtures of peace might not be returned. We fear looking foolish or weak. So we dig in our heels, and we fortify our positions. And mercy slips away – another needless casualty in another needless war. Little do we realize in those moments though, that we are the ones we’re hurting. We are the ones missing out, for it is only the brave soul that dares to plant the seed of mercy that will reap its crop. It is only the merciful that will rejoice in its fruit: the promise of freedom and joy and kindness and peace.


“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” – Matthew 5:8 –

As we pursue an ever-deepening self-awareness and identity in and with suffering, we are lead to that blessed state where God’s heart – more and more – lives in us. We start chasing righteousness; we rejoice in extending mercy. As we fill our lives with the Holy Spirit, the world starts to lose its hold on us and our desire becomes one for authenticity.

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Day 23 // March 12 // Purity & Hypocrisy “As for reputation, though it be a glorious instrument of advancing our Master’s service, yet there is a better than that: a clean heart, a single eye, and a soul full of God. A fair exchange if, by the loss of reputation, we can purchase the lowest degree of purity of heart.” – John Wesley –

The sixth Beatitude requires the most stringent form of honesty. It asks us to frankly assess our motives. The Greek word for pure is katharos, and it has a number of meanings: Clean: Soiled clothing that has been washed clean. Winnowed: Wheat and the chaff have been separated. Unadulterated: Milk or wine not mixed with water. The pure in heart serve without agenda, love without expectation, and give with no regard for recognition. We must admit that this is extraordinarily difficult, particularly for those trying to diligently practice their faith. For example, Jesus warned of the mixed agendas of the Pharisees. They were hungry for recognition.



They wanted the seats of honor at banquets. They wore ornate robes and long prayer tassels so that they would be recognized as holy. Jesus shook his head as he observed them; their motives were mixed. In their feeble attempts to please God, they were more interested in what others thought of them. Purity of the heart means that we love and serve God in every part of life without ulterior motive. It means the practice of our faith becomes more about who we are than what we do. It means our faith is not locked up in the church to be taken out to impress others with our piety. Instead, who we are and what we believe converge into one reality. Several years ago, Dr. Jim Moore was invited to participate in a “Career Day on Campus” at one of the colleges in the southwest. He was asked to be part of a panel discussion. Panelists were to discuss, “How Faith Influences Your Choice of a Career.” First, panelists were asked to introduce themselves and mention their particular vocations. It was all rather routine. One woman gave her name and said, “I’m an attorney.” A man gave his name and said, “I’m in business. I own a computer company.” A woman gave her name and said, “I’m in real estate.” When it was Dr. Moore’s turn he said, “I’m a minister.” The person seated next to him was a doctor. The doctor’s statement changed that mundane situation into a special and sacred moment. The doctor addressed the students, “We are here today

65 to talk about vocation.” He told them that the word vocation actually meant “calling.” “Well,” the doctor told them, “my calling is to be a Christian...and one of the ways to do that is through the practice of medicine.” Moore reflected afterward, “That doctor wasn’t being pompous or arrogant. He was a humble man who had a strong sense of partnership with God.” Lent calls us to go through a process of winnowing. We must purify our service so that it is all about Jesus and not about ourselves, not about reward or recognition. If we serve for what we get, we will always be disappointed; but if our motives are pure, we will see God!

Day 24 // March 13 // Cultivating Pure Intentions “If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.” – Albert Einstein –

Years ago in a high school philosophy class, I had to give a 10-minute speech on a single word: why. As a clean-shaven 18 year old, I took to the podium and expounded on the virtues of why. I unpacked its ontological significance and applied it to the meaning of life. I grappled with what the great minds of the ages had said, and I proudly offered my own opinions as well. It amuses me to think of how little I knew back then... and how often I proved it. Perhaps more important than any other word in our language, “why,” still stands at the crossroads of our every decision. Why do we do what we do? Why do we say what we say? Why do we believe? Why do we follow? Faith is not an easy path, so why take it?

67 Those three little letters, W-H-Y, speak volumes. Our intentions, our “why’s,” divulge who we are. They say more about what is important – and who is important – than any other measure in existence. Sure, we can play the game. Like the Pharisees, we can approach faith as something to be leveraged rather than something to be lived. We can live on the surface of religion without ever truly going deeper into the heart of Christ. Many do. But that is not the faith to which the Spirit summons us; it is just a mere shadow, a faint echo of the real thing. What we must remember is that, more than our “what’s” and “how’s,” God will judge our “why’s.” Far beyond the lip service that so easily passes as true faith these days, God requires his children to examine themselves, to purify themselves: mind, body, and soul. The Almighty demands that our hearts align with his, for only in that way will our actions ever align. For it is there, where the purposes of heaven collide with the readiness of earth, that God’s will is actually, finally fulfilled.

Day 25 // March 14 // Cultivating Pure Actions All the beautiful sentiments in the world weigh less than a single lovely action. – James Russell Lowell –

Having cultivated a purity of intent, the faithful disciple must then embark upon a new journey: one of resolved action. The Christian life is not one to be lived in ivied towers or bejeweled cathedrals. It is not to be reserved only for the holy places; it is to be lived in the market places and in town halls. It is to be lived in the streets and offices and schools and parks that surround us. It is not just an exercise for the soul. It is an all-consuming lifestyle that requires our hands and feet and voices. It asks nothing of us except for everything, and it will be satisfied with nothing less. Too often though, we let opportunities pass us by. Maybe we’re too busy for them. Maybe we’re too

69 scared of them. Maybe we’re just too blind to see them. For whatever reason (and we’ve all got plenty of “good” excuses of our own), we put off for some other time that good which we know we should do today. We disregard the homeless man. We ignore the downtrodden friend. We look past the son needing encouragement and the daughter needing a hug. Tomorrow we will act. Today we just need to focus. But focus on what? A project? A sales pitch? Some other distraction that would silence the goodness that God expects from us? And we all know the list. We know those acts that God forbids: the lurid debaucheries, the deceptive, sinful depravities. We all know the “biggies” on God’s “Thou Shalt Not Do” list. But what about the others? What about those times when we fail to honor his “Thou Shalt Do” list? What about those times we keep silent when we ought to speak up? What about all those moments when we keep still when we should act? Purity of action is not simply about restraining ourselves from doing those things that we know we shouldn’t; it’s equally about compelling ourselves to do those things that we know that we should.

Day 26 // March 15 // Cultivating Pure Relationships “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” – Maya Angelou –

Christianity is not a “lone ranger” religion. It is lived in community. God’s will is discerned through deep, authentic relationships. The challenge is that we live in a culture that does not promote pure intimacy. We live far away from extended family. We are starved for time. Conversations tend to be shallow. In this environment, how can pure relationships grow? Be clear of our priorities. Our lives are cluttered with lists of urgent, immediate demands. We must be crystal clear of the difference between the urgent and the important. We need a handful of relationships that are so important that we adjust our schedules and drop some

71 “immediate things” to make time for the imperative. Psychologists tell us that we can only maintain a few of these relationships at any one time. Do we know who they are, and do they get enough of our attention? Practice being a good listener. When our relationships are pure, we do not have to busy ourselves trying to be heard or understood. We want to hear; we want to know the other. One of our greatest gifts to those around us is to really listen. We need to focus, refrain from interrupting, and fight the temptation to give advice or bring the topic back to our opinion or ourselves. Be vulnerable. Pure relationships allow another to get to know what is really going on inside of us. We are free to share our hopes, dreams, fears, feelings, and desires. To do that requires that we invest in people that we trust and who will trust us. Say the last 10 percent. Too often we live behind a veneer of politeness; we don’t let people know what we are really thinking. If a relationship is going to be pure, we have to be honest; we have to say what we mean and mean what we say. People aren’t mind readers. Instead of expecting others to guess what we are thinking, we need to tell them. That means including the most important and final 10 percent: the bit so many shy away from expressing. Take responsibility. When relationships go wrong, it can be tempting to blame the other person and focus on all the ways that they need to change. The truth is, we cannot make another person change; but we can



alter our own reactions and behavior. It only takes one to change the dynamic in a relationship. Pure relationships provide a healthy check-andbalance on our motives. Out of trust, we will experience connections that will deepen our walk with Christ!

Day 27 // March 16 // Cultivating Pure Worship Worship is a way of seeing the world in the light of God. – Abraham Joshua Heschel –

Simply put, worship is not about us. It’s not about us getting our needs met. It’s not about hearing our favorite song. It’s not about us. Worship is about – it’s only about – God. And it is to the simplicity and purity of that truth that we must return. We come together in worship not for what we get, but for what we give – not from our wallets, but from our hearts. It is about offering our “sacrifice of praise.” It’s about giving all that we have. If it’s sorrow, then offer that. If it’s brokenness, then offer that. If it’s anger or fear or doubt, then offer that. Worship is simply, purely about pouring ourselves out with the expectation that God will fill us back up.



Now, we don’t worship for the purpose of being filled; it is just a natural byproduct of our holy surrender. It is God’s perfect plan: the less we are filled with ourselves, the more room we have for Him. Our times with the Almighty, then, should fill us with such hope and with such energy that we engage life with a new passion and vigor. We should dance like a dervish. Our spirits should sing and stomp and shout. We should scurry forth wanting to change the world…or at least wanting to change ourselves. And that is not just true of our collective times of formal worship together; it must be a true and regular part of our daily lives, as well. For only in that consistent interaction with God will we find the humility and discipline and sincere patience to truly pursue holiness. Only in that holy exchange will we find the strength to truly change. It is only there, where humanity encounters divinity, where the sacred and the secular meet in hallowed embrace that our souls’ deepest needs are met. In that place, we discover a blessed and joyous contentedness that transcends our every want, and it’s there that we begin to see the mission field of the world in the purifying light of its Creator.

Day 28 // March 17 // Seeing God “What we do see depends mainly on what we look for...In the same field the farmer will notice the crop, the geologists the fossils, botanists the flowers, artists the coloring, sports enthusiasts the cover for the game. Though we may all look at the same things, it does not all follow that we should see them.” – John Lubbock –

The promise for a pure heart is profound: the ability to see God. We believe that God is everywhere, but only the pure in heart can see. One of the truths of life is that we can only see what our hearts have prepared to see. The astronomer can call planets and stars by name while the untrained eyes see only tiny specks of light. An ordinary person can travel down a road and see weeds and wild flowers. A trained botanist can identify each by name and identify their growing season. The same principle applies to seeing God. Living with a pure heart opens our eyes to see and to experience what others miss.



J.C. Penney, the founder of the stores that bear his name, began his life with great success. In 1898, he founded the Golden Rule store, with low prices and a commitment to practice the highest moral standards in dealing with customers. He was a bundle of energy, in perpetual motion with big dreams. Things were going well until a series of struggles rocked his life. In 1910, his wife died. He grieved intensely and felt abandoned by God. In 1919, he remarried and enjoyed a great deal of prosperity. But in 1923, his second wife died; this again shook him. He grieved by pouring himself even more into his work; and by 1929, he was worth 40 million dollars. Then the great crash of the Depression came, and he was totally wiped out financially. He lost his money, his reputation as a businessman, and he crashed personally. He ended up in a mental hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan. He was broken emotionally and physically. In fact, he reached the point that he was near death; he was not expected to make it through the next day. Early that morning in his room, he heard a familiar hymn from the chapel. From his weakened state he asked God to help him, and in a remarkable transformation, he felt his burdens start to lift. In that moment of pure honesty, he saw God. That moment of insight changed him and soon he walked out of that institution a new man. He started a new company and by the late 1930s, he was again prosperous. He represented the JC Penney stores around the country


well into his 90s. He vigorously spoke out for values, morality, and a reliance on God. At the lowest moment of his life, he saw God. He had trained himself to look, and God spoke through an old, familiar hymn. That is what a pure heart does: it opens our eyes to the divine all. We prepare; we train; we cultivate a discerning heart. All for that most important goal: to see God!

WEEK SIX: Peacemaking

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. – Matthew 5:9 –

The purity of the sixth Beatitude leads us to the seventh: becoming women and men of peace. A foreign word to most in our modern world, peace is one of the hallmark virtues that crown the disciple’s journey. Even as Jesus drew nearer and nearer to the cross, echoes of peace rung in His words...and in the life that He would soon lay down for us: making peace between God and his creation through the sacrifice of his own precious blood.

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Day 29 // March 19 // Peace-Makers & Peace-Lovers “Anyone can love peace, but Jesus didn’t say, ‘Blessed are the peace-lovers.’ He says ‘peacemakers.’ He is referring to a life vocation, not a hobby on the sidelines of life.” – Jim Wallis –

I had a seventh-grade science teacher who was not a naturally gifted educator. She could not maintain order in the classroom or hold the attention of the students for long. She would get so frustrated that she would yell and scream. There were times she’d even jumped on her desk to get our attention. The assistant principal continually had to be summoned to restore order. As a rule-follower, I was embarrassed about the discomfort my classmates caused this teacher, and I felt genuine sympathy for her. Her real problem was that she was a peace lover. She wanted peace and order so that she could impart the lesson. Her problem was that she did

81 not know the “things that made for peace.” She had not learned how to be a peacemaker. There is a fine art to being a peacemaker in a seventh-grade classroom. It requires equal measures of discipline and compassion. It requires a spirit that is not easily shocked and awareness that “every hill is not Calvary.” A strong sense of humor is a plus, too. But there is one essential ingredient for being a peacemaker in the classroom: you have to love seventh graders! That is a lesson not just for schoolteachers; it’s a lesson for all of us. Our calling in life is to be peacemakers wherever we go. That is not the job only for diplomats. It is our vocation as ambassadors of Jesus Christ. Every day we have a choice. We can build up, or we can tear down. We can promote healing, or we can fan the flames of division. A wise scholar once pointed out: “There are people who are always storm-centers of trouble and bitterness and strife. Wherever they are, they are either involved in quarrels themselves or the cause of quarrels between others. They are troublemakers. There are people like that in almost every society...and such people are doing the devil’s own work. On the other hand, thank God, there are people in whose presence bitterness cannot live, people who bridge the gulfs, and heal the breaches, and sweeten the bitterness. Such people are doing a God-like work, for it is the great purpose of God to bring peace between people and Himself and also person to person. The one who divides people is doing the work



of evil; the one who unites people is doing God’s work.” Every day, the choice is ours. It’s not enough to long for peace and dream of peace. Will we answer the call to be about Jesus’ work of making peace? Will we be peacemakers or merely just peace-lovers?

Day 30 // March 20 // Forging Forgiveness Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it. – Mark Twain –

Deep in the heart of the Beatitudes is a constant encouragement to become: to become more, to become better, to become the men and women God created us to become. They, like Lent, remind us that faith is not about arriving at any one destination and stopping. It’s a process, a life-long journey that leads us through arid plains and across vast deserts. Faith always bids us onward, forward. What we instinctively know though is that, many times, it is impossible to move forward until we are brave enough to move backwards. It doesn’t make sense; but we know, somehow, that it’s true. We cannot move forward into the sweet promises, the perfect will, or the full blessings of the Almighty



until we have made peace with our past. “Blessed are the peacemakers:” it’s not merely an admonition about the way we treat others; it’s about the way we treat ourselves, too. And perhaps one of the most vexing disciplines for the Christian to achieve is that of forgiveness. In fact, forgiving a wrong done to us is sometimes more painful than the wrong itself. We hold onto our secret hurts. We cling to our hidden pains. We nurse them and pamper them. Instead of lancing the blister that has grown atop our weary souls, we coddle it. We feed the grudge. We let it dictate our attitude. And, in the end, we let it control our life. This is not the way of Christ. This is not the way of faith. This is the way of the world – lost, pining, sinking. And it thwarts the freedom in which we’re invited to revel in Jesus. It’s been said a thousand times: “To forgive is to set a prisoner free only to discover that the prisoner was you.” We don’t forgive for the sake of the other; we forgive for ourselves. It is, truly, one of the most blessedly selfish things that we can do. But we can’t do it on our own. We don’t have the power (nor, honestly, the willingness) to forgive those who have hurt us. We can only forgive to the extent that we’re aware that we’ve been forgiven. It requires the courage of a totally surrendered life and the power of the Holy Spirit to enable us to move beyond what has, for years, held us back. Only God can move us onward. The story is told of a Turkish soldier who had beaten a Christian soldier until

85 he was half-conscious. While he kicked him, he asked, “What can your Christ do for you now?” The Christian calmly replied, “He can give me strength to forgive you.” Strength. Perspective. Power. Looking back in order to move forward – these are the painful, plodding steps in the journey of making peace.has

Day 31 // March 21 // Hating Hate “I shall allow no man to belittle my soul by making me hate him.” – Booker T. Washington –

Like the timeless, unmoving mountains upon which those early disciples sat, all of us possess a hardness, an intractable corner of our souls into which light struggles to shine. There, we tend our own little vineyard of bitter grapes: wrath, anger, hate. There, we feed all those desires and emotions that we’ve been taught to keep at bay, all those thoughts we dare not speak. But in its own subtle way, that venomous hatred leeches out to poison relationships and dreams. It poisons marriages and perspectives. It changes us from the inside out, slowly killing us one unspoken word, one silent thought at a time. In fact, the old proverb says, “The person who pursues hate should dig two graves.”

87 In our hatred of others, we cede the control of our lives to someone other than God. It is to this reality that Jesus speaks: “Love your enemies. Do good to those that persecute you.” Do good to those that hurt you. Do good to those that have cheated you. Do good to those that got your promotion. Do good to those that snicker and gossip and lie about you. Cling to what is good. Hate what is evil. Hate hate. Oh, yes, the Christian is allowed to hate. Like anger, our disgust is a powerful, God-given emotion that can change the world. Hate injustice. Hate corruption. But do not hate the unjust. Do not hate the corrupt – for they are sinners for whom Jesus died, too. They are our brothers. They are our sisters – with common hopes and common needs. They are family of a shared humanity. Maybe it is only in building those sorts of bridges to those with whom we disagree that we will finally, blessedly find the courage to tear down the walls that have, for too long, separated us. Maybe, blessedly, that is God’s plan to end our “warring madness.”

Day 32 // March 22 // Loving Love “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.” – Jimi Hendrix –

Several years ago there was a famous Peanuts cartoon in which Schroeder, the piano-loving intellectual, was interrupted as he often was by his infatuated admirer, Lucy. Lucy asked, “Schroeder, do you know what love is?” Schroeder abruptly stopped his playing, stood to his feet and said precisely, “Love: noun, to be fond of, a strong affection for or an attachment or devotion to a person or persons.” Then he sat back down and resumed playing his piano. Lucy sat there stunned and then murmured sarcastically, “On paper, he’s great.”

89 That is so often our problem with love. On paper, we know what we should do and how we should act. But peacemakers move beyond theory to practice. They love through their words, attention, and determination to bless. The Hebrew word for peace, shalom, means everything that makes for a person’s highest good. It is not a passive thought, but a call to action. It is a call to build up, a call to get involved in the messes of life. Most of all, it is a call to not look away from the pain of the world. Jesus’ life demonstrated this active, vibrant love. With critics watching, He went to the houses of tax collectors and sinners to share meals. With the religious elite in the shadows, He healed on the Sabbath. He refused to conform or back down. His love brought peace into individual lives. Does our love bring peace? During World War I, a prayer was found that was attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. This familiar prayer shows us what peacemaking love is all about: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace: Where there is hatred, let me sow love; Where there is injury, pardon; Where there is doubt, faith; Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light; Where there is sadness, joy. O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek To be consoled as to console,



To be understood as to understand, To be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, It is in pardoning that we are pardoned, And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.�

Day 33 // March 23 // Baby Steps in A World Gone Mad “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Do not be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Do not let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And, most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” – Steve Jobs –

If we are to answer the call to be peacemakers, the place we must begin is with ourselves. The earliest Christian scholars interpreted the seventh Beatitude as personal in nature. They believed that it meant, “Blessed are they who make peace in their own hearts and souls.” They recognized that within every person is a battle raging: a war between good and evil. We are tugged in many different directions, filled with competing desires. The one who finds the Lord’s peace and joy is the one who has won the inner battle, and his or her whole heart is given over to God.



The journey of Lent is one that is intensely personal. In the quietness of our souls, we must renew God’s call. We must hear with fresh hearts that God does not just love the world; He loves you and me. We are precious in His sight. In my first two appointments in the north Fort Worth area, there was a beloved hymn that people delighted in singing. They would light up and beam! It was a hymn that I had never heard before, and it seems to be unfamiliar to many Methodists. It was a hymn in the old Cokesbury Hymnal (#513) written by C. Austin Miles: “’Twas Love that gave at greatest cost A Life, that mine should not be lost The Love that died in deep despair My debt fully satisfied there Refrain: It was love that took my place On the cross of Calvary It was grace, redeeming grace That paid my ransom full and free Over sin, without, within, I have the victory Thro’ grace, marvelous grace That lives in me” As I have reflected, I’ve wondered: what was it in this hymn that struck such a cord? Certainly it was the lively pace with which it was sung. But I think there was something deeper going on. This hymn made God’s love, mercy, and grace deeply personal. As people sang,

93 they were reminded of the truth of the cross. It was not merely a moment in history. On the cross, Jesus satisfied my debt. He died so that my life would not be lost. Grace paid my ransom full and free. That marvelous grace now lives in me. That reality is the beginning of peace. The scriptures tell us “we love because He first loved us.� We cannot share what we do not have. The ability to be a peacemaker starts with that inner peace that only Jesus can give!

Day 34 // March 24 // Children of God “Adults are obsolete children.” – Dr. Seuss –

There was once a spot underneath my desk where my children had marked their hands. Brown paint upon tan, their little fingers spread, I – and I, alone – could see it. It was our little secret. And on those inevitable hard days, I’d get down on my knees and look at their tiny hands, and I’d be reminded of what’s really important, of what’s really real. There was something innocent about their mark, something beautiful. And it happened totally by mistake. We had been painting; and, unoccupied, the boys got bored and decided to help. Their accidental blunder became one of my greatest joys.

95 And I wonder if that’s the way God sees us, His children. Does God look at us and marvel at our curiosity? Does He smile at our innocent mistakes – knowing that, if we allow Him, He can forge a masterpiece from our messes? It is a wonderful and fearsome thing to be called the children of God. Ripe with the love and tender mercy of the Lord, we must also remember that, like any loving father, God will not allow his children to stray. He cannot allow it. He cannot allow our fitful tempers to bend Him. He cannot allow our tantrums to persuade Him. He must stay true to who He is, for that is the only way for us to become true to who we’re supposed to be. And while He may understand our innocent mistakes, God will not support our willful ones. There is too much at stake, so He disciplines the children that He loves (Hebrew 12:6). God disciplines us for our own good; He corrects us so that we might learn, so that we might grow to become the good, mature women and men He knows we can be. And it’s not the moneymakers who make the cut. It’s not the record-breakers or the earth-shakers. It’s only the peacemakers who are called God’s kin – those who, with grubby hands and wide eyes, pursue the holiness that wields the peace of heaven on earth.

WEEK SEVEN: Persecution

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Matthew 5:10-12 –

All eight Beatitudes converge in the events displayed in Holy Week. The Kingdom of God will be ushered in with the persecution and death of God’s Son. This week leads us through the profound irony: that great joy flows from great suffering. There can be no resurrection without traveling the agonizing road of Calvary’s hill. During these somber days of Holy Week, may the echoes of God’s love move you and stir you; may it awaken you to the reality that Jesus endured all this for you...and may you find yourself entirely changed by the love that Calvary proclaims.

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Day 35 // March 26 // Lives Worthy of Persecution “Our wretched species is so made that those who walk on the well-trodden path always throw stones at those who are showing a new road.” – Voltaire –

Jesus began the Monday of Holy Week by marching into the Temple and overturning the tables of the moneychangers. His indictment still echoes forth from history, “My house shall be called a house of prayer; but you are making it a den of thieves” (Matthew 21:13). He directly confronted the abuses of power that kept people from worshipping God. It was a bold, direct condemnation of what the sacrificial system had become. Greed and self-interest had made the holy tawdry. Jesus’ charge would cross again the line that would lead to the crucifixion. This week begins with overwhelming courage. Holy Week is not just a time to remember history. It is a call for courage to confront the evils of our day. In American history, Christians have worked tirelessly to abolish slavery, to battle alcoholism, and to ensure civil rights. Courage forged a new road in the face of

99 persecution and abuse. As Christians, we cannot retreat behind the walls of the church and bemoan the state of the world. The saints’ call echoes through the ages: “Will you lead lives worth persecution?” In fact, a Christian rapper raises this haunting question: “Some nights I stay up cashing in my bad luck Some nights I call it a draw Some nights I wish that my lips could build a castle Some nights I wish they’d just fall off But I still wake up, I still see your ghost Oh, Lord, I’m still not sure what I stand for, oh What do I stand for? What do I stand for? Most nights I don’t know anymore...” Since the beginning of the Christian movement, there has been an intense debate. What is at the heart of the Good News of Jesus? Is it simply about our personal salvation? Or do Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection offer Good News for the salvation of all the relationships in God’s creation. Does Jesus expect us to care about the rest of creation? Does He expect us to work for peace and justice for families, different ethnic groups, and governmental systems? The choice is ours. We can travel the well-trodden road and play it safe, or we can follow Jesus’ example. On Holy Monday, He marched into the Temple with great courage and upset the apple cart of the entrenched powerful elite. Will we dare to do the same – reaping the blessed anointing of the world’s persecutions?

Day 36 // March 27 // The Cost of True Discipleship “The reward for work well done is the opportunity to do more.” – Jonas Salk –

One day, Jesus told a parable: “‘Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’” (Luke 17:7-10) Such is the life of the disciple. There are no parades, no statues. People will not cheer or applaud for us as we go about our daily lives of ordinary holiness. Nor

101 should we want them to, for our obedience is solely for an audience of One. We do not pursue this life for the acclaim of others; we choose it for the glory of God alone. We do what we’re supposed to do, not for merit or praise or recognition; we, humble servants, do what we’re supposed to do because we’ve been ordered to do it. And our reward? The opportunity to serve more. The opportunity to give more. The opportunity to suffer more. It’s that faithful, selfless, unflagging, unwavering obedience to which the true life of faith calls us. That is the price of discipleship: laying down whatever is in our hands and picking up a cross. Every moment of everyday, we must choose the harder path; we must choose the more rugged road. And the world will not understand. It’s incapable of understanding. And it will mock and heckle us; it will try its best to distract us – to lure us away from climbing Golgotha’s hill. It’s a tempting offer, to be sure. Avoid the pain. Avoid the ugliness. Take the easy way: forgiveness without repentance, conversion without confession, and discipleship without discipline. It’s seductive, yes; but it’s all a lie. There is no shortcut to this all-consuming, all-fulfilling life with God. It is only forged in the fiercest refining fires of self-examination and confession: us confessing both our sinfulness and God’s faithfulness. That’s how disciples are made. For inasmuch as grace is free, it costs us everything.

Day 37 // March 28 // Treading Where the Saints Have Trod “A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.” – St. Basil –

In some traditions, Holy Wednesday is known as “Spy Wednesday” because of the intrigue and deceit of one of the twelve, Judas. At the same time Judas was conspiring to betray Jesus to the religious elite, another event was taking place: Jesus was having dinner at the home of Simon the Leper in Bethany. During this time of fellowship, the astounding took place. A woman approached our Lord with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment and poured it on his head. Immediately Jesus’ inner circle was upset. “Jesus,” they shouted out, “why don’t you rebuke her? What a waste! What squandered assets! Think of all the poor you could feed with that money.” Jesus was touched by her kindness and annoyed by their hypocrisy. He responded, “Why

103 do you trouble the woman? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her” (Matthew 26:10-13). Jesus was acutely aware that his earthly hours were running out, and this woman’s kindness would fortify Him for the coming trial. The disciples, on the other hand, were so consumed with their agendas and speculation of political intrigue, that they could not see the uniqueness of that moment. That’s our problem: we believe in kindness, but we rush by opportunities to show it. Kindness is one of those words that we use generically without really understanding what it means. We can’t define it, but we know it when we experience it. Mark Twain once said, “Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” Kindness literally means, “that which is good, helpful and suitable. “ Paul defined kindness in Ephesians 4:32 when he wrote, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you.” To be kind means to treat others the way that God has treated us. Kindness is all about noticing. It is reading a book to a child when we have important things on our minds. It is taking the time to visit that elderly person; it’s visiting over a cup of coffee. It is waving in that person in the other lane when traffic is backed up. Kindness is simple



acts offered with great heart. It is the way of saints in a beleaguered world. After the Civil War, Robert E. Lee became President of Washington College in Virginia. One day a new student came into his office and asked for a copy of the school’s rules and regulations. Lee looked at him and said, “Son, we don’t have any rules and regulations in print.” The young man said, “You mean this school has no rules?” Lee replied, “Yes, we have only one.” He said, “What is it?” Lee replied, “Our only rule is kindness.”

Day 38 // March 29 // Serving (Maundy Thursday) “Experience proves that, in this life, peace and satisfaction are had, not by the listless but by those who are fervent in God’s service. And rightly so. For in their effort to overcome themselves and to rid themselves of self-love, they rid themselves of the roots of all unrest.” – Saint Ignatius –

We are not born unto ourselves. We are not men and women who are endowed to move freely from one whim to the next without regard for those around us – to say nothing of God or of creation, itself. We are but one patch in the cosmic tapestry woven by the hand of the Almighty. We are joined to each other, united in our common humanity – in our mutual need for love and joy, in our shared need for justice and mercy. Like ones holy wed, we are forever connected to each other’s welfare and wellbeing. This is the picture of the very Kingdom that’s promised to those who endure.



We hold dual nationality. We are residents of this world but citizens of the next – sons and daughters of God, heirs of the King, who are temporarily assigned to our place on earth. But Jesus shows us what it is to live out our sacred identity as He shared his last earthly meal with his disciples. Wrapping a towel around his waist, He knelt to wash muddied feet – the Savior serving sinners. Stooped at their feet, He said, ”A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34). When He was done, He blessed ordinary bread and poured ordinary wine; and He said the extraordinary: He said that it is in being broken that we are made whole, that it is in being poured out that we are filled. He said that it is in accepting the very acts of pain that we long to avoid that we find our meaning and healing and joy. And after the supper was over, after the betrayer would steal away to fulfill his sinister scheme, Jesus would kneel in a garden. There, amidst the snarled olive groves of Gethsemane, He prayed. Like the branches of those ageless trees, He was knotted and conflicted. His humanity fought against his divinity. “Let this cup pass from me,” He prayed, “but not my will, but Yours be done.” For on that night when Jesus would be rejected by a traitor’s kiss, on that night when our Savior would willingly give himself up for us, He showed us what it is to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth. He

107 showed us how to live out our sacred call: with one foot on holy ground and the other in the world’s common mud. In this prayer, in this act of selfless obedience, and in this moment of pure, persecuted surrender, Jesus showed us that it is in the stooping selflessness of the believer that God’s glory dwells. It is there that his will for us is accomplished. It is there – where master becomes servant and enemy becomes friend – that Jesus becomes Lord.

Day 39 // March 30 // Suffering (Good Friday) “Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.” – Paulo Coelho –

We miss the point of the Beatitudes if we do not see that they are the blueprints of Jesus’ life. He was not merely a great teacher bringing a radical new truth. He lived the truth. He showed us the complete extent of what a person could be. He said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” He ushered in God’s new Kingdom through his agony and suffering on the cross. All eight Beatitudes were on display during his fateful hours on Calvary’s mount. He emptied his God-given powers to submit to the humiliation and pain. He did not respond to those mocking and cursing him, except

109 to offer mercy. He offered peace to the soldiers carrying out the awful deed. In the purity of his sacrifice, we see God. How can we ever grasp Christianity without experiencing the depths of this day? How can we ever face our own trials without a piercing awareness of our Savior’s suffering? The traditional Good Friday service begins with a silent procession and the presider prostrating before the altar. In this dramatic act, the worshippers are saying, “We have killed God’s son.” And we are all guilty. We have all killed that divine spark in one another – through a callous word, a harsh condemnation, or a heavy hand. We are all guilty of killing the Hope of the world. As the service continues, Psalm 22 is read: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?” With these verses, we remember Jesus’ words from the cross, and we witness the full humanity of Christ. In this moment, He descended to the depths of human exile. And yet, that was not the end of the story. Biblical scholar Kathy McGovern offers a fascinating interpretation of this passage. She writes, “After Jesus, in agony, calls out the beginning verse: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’, some women ‘standing at a distance’ respond in synagogue-style to his introduction by reciting the rest of it – all 31 verses, including the triumphant end, when the Suffering One proclaims that ‘All will proclaim the Lord to generations still to come, his righteousness to a people yet unborn.’ Jesus relied



on ‘those standing at a distance’ to finish the psalm for him.” And He still does. At his lowest moment, Jesus knew that, ultimately, it all ends well, as God had planned. That certainty is what we hold on to. When the hour of persecution comes, when we are reviled and attacked, when our worlds come undone, we know and we worship the God who has been there – a God who will finish our prayers for us!

Day 40 // March 31 // Waiting (Holy Saturday) “I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope, For hope would be hope for the wrong thing.” – T. S. Eliot –

“Blessed are the persecuted,” He had said. But where was the blessing? Where was the blessing in the shame? Where was the blessing in the scorn? Where was the blessing in the agony and torment and pain? He had promised more. He had promised goodness, but there was only pain. He had promised joy, but there was only sorrow. He had promised life, but there was only the fetid, rotten stink of Roman death that remained. And, with that, it was over. It was finished. Love was dead. Hope was gone. Light extinguished by darkness. But hope is born in darkness. Hope is revealed in pain. Hope is found when waiting gives way to sacred reign.



And so, they waited – one excruciating moment bleeding into the next. They waited, and they remembered. They remembered how they’d slept whilst Jesus prayed. They remembered how they’d hidden while He was led away, how they had left him alone, forsaken, and abandoned. They couldn’t shake the thoughts. They remembered the crowds, the whips, the nails. They remembered the cries, the quake, the veil. They remembered the echoes of who He was and of who they still needed Him to be. There, in the shadow of his death, the disciples strained against their fearful numbness to remember the Savior’s life. They strained to remember his words. They strained to remember his power, to remember his smile and his loving, healing touch. Together, they remembered the world they once felt so close to – lessons He never had the chance to teach and miracles He never had the chance to perform. They remembered a better vision of their world and a better version of themselves. They remembered moments that all seemed like distant, fading memories. The Promise had been betrayed by cruel lies. And it was over. All they could do was wait. And hope. They could only hope for another miracle, hope for another chance, hope for a Hope that was greater than any they could imagine. In the dark silence of that day, all they could do was to wait and to hope that the sunrise would bring an echo of Life, a Blessing that not even death could not deny.

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Over the next seven weeks, we will follow this path: unpacking each step’s significance, meaning, and application for today’s life of faith. As always, our purpose is simple: to elicit a response. It is for us to be inspired, to be challenged, and to be changed. Our purpose and hope is that all our hearts will be “strangely warmed,” as we reflect upon the echoes of Jesus’ teachings that still call from the mountainside…and that we will respond in trust and in faithful surrender.

2018 Lenten Devotional  

Journey through the season of Lent with us online this year. Here is the version of our devotional - digitally!

2018 Lenten Devotional  

Journey through the season of Lent with us online this year. Here is the version of our devotional - digitally!