Lent – Day 20 – Jesus Questions

“Doesn’t life consist of more than food and clothing?” (Matthew 6:25)

Welcome to the halfway mark of Lent. If you’d like to create some extra space for God in your life through prayer and fasting, why not jump into a half-Lent experience? You could start today. If you’ve been on this journey already for the past 20 days, I hope you have found joy and spiritual meaning in this season of special attentiveness and focus.

Food and ClothingGrowing up, somehow I came to believe that people needed the Gospel far more than they needed food and shelter. Consequently, I criticized the “social Gospel” for its attention to physical well-being and neglect of spiritual assurance. After all, the body is temporal but the soul is eternal. Let God worry about feeding and clothing people; we’ll preach to them.

Then, in College I learned about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Long before we get to self-actualization we must address our most fundamental needs: physiological and safety needs. That made sense and made me stop and think afresh. Perhaps it’s not either this or that, but both this and that.

I could construe today’s Jesus Question as support for my earlier views. Forget about material needs, and focus instead on the soul-needs of people. But this conclusion would misconstrue Jesus’ intent.

“Doesn’t life consist of more than food and clothing?”

Indeed it does. But in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus does not pit the material against the spiritual. He simply addresses our tendency to worry about everything, even the lesser things.

Since Lent ideally incorporates the idea of generosity, I wonder if today we might be part of the solution to someone else’s prayer; someone who has physical needs? What might happen if all of God’s people in all places would resolve to care for the physical needs of each other and the least of these? Can you imagine? Might we then begin to see less worry and more faith in the lives of those around us?

Some people may push back on any call to such generosity. “Let people retain their dignity by providing for themselves!” some might say. “Don’t demean someone else by suggesting that their circumstances need your help,” others will opine.

Yes, life is more than food and clothing, but perhaps most of us can only truly attend to our spiritual lives once we have addressed these most basic physical needs. After all, “What use is it to say to someone ‘Go in peace, be warm, and be filled’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body?” (James 2:16)

Today, look for someone to bless with the basic needs. Faith does that, and faith flows from that.

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Lent – Day 19 – Jesus Questions

“Why do you people keep demanding a miraculous sign?” (Mark 8:12)

Okay. So what is it with Mark 8? We have over 90 questions of Jesus in the Gospels, but I keep pulling questions from Mark 8. This is the fifth one! For a moment I considered slipping this one back into the cup and drawing another. But I’m trusting the Lord’s leading in this process. Apparently there’s more to learn from Mark 8. 🙂

“Why do you people keep demanding a miraculous sign?”

MiraclesRecently I watched a video from a church that has “glory clouds, floating gold dust, and falling feathers” appear in their services. Spectacular stuff, but it’s not new. Similar things happened in Toronto, Canada and Pensacola, Florida in the past. I’m not assessing the validity of the claims, but these phenomena sure draw a crowd.

People continue to crave the extraordinary. We want proof of the supernatural. We’re easily wowed by the wonderful. I can be that way, too. The crowd around Jesus certainly hoped for something special, but all they got that day was this odd question.

“Why do you people keep demanding a miraculous sign?”

Why not just  knock their socks off with a miracle, sign, or wonder? It would confirm Jesus’ credentials, draw others to follow Him, and further His Kingdom. Surely. But wait just a moment. Years ago, a pastor/mentor of mine told me that “What you win people with, is what you win people to” and I’ve found that to be consistently true.

If people come because of the miracle, they will only stay for a miracle. We’re funny that way. We can form an expectation in a heart-beat, and Jesus seemed to know it. He had no interest in a celebrity ministry. Popularity did not matter to Him. Indeed, quite the opposite, He knew full well that He would call His disciples to lives of surrender, submission, and obedience. He understood that His followers must be ready to live contentedly with little or nothing.

Pumping out miracles on demand may impress people, but it does not really prepare people to “share in the sufferings of Christ.”

Nothing has changed. Human nature remains the same. I am as vulnerable as the next person to want the amazing manifestations of God. But if I need this, or even regularly seek it, my attention may shift from the Giver to the gift and I’ll begin to pursue the experience not the Person.

“Why do you people keep demanding a miraculous sign?”

Lent can easily become a season of seeking the spectacular. We fast; God kicks into gear. Or so we hope. On this 19th day of Lent, let’s long for His Presence rather than His performance.

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Lent – Day 18 – Jesus Questions

“Won’t you ever learn or understand?” (Mark 8:17)

Jesus had just a touch of irritation in His voice. I’m sure of it. This Jesus Question was the second of six questions that He asked in rapid succession. He even drew two of His questions from the Old Testament. He pulled out the big guns!

ForgetfulnessI could understand Jesus’ exasperation if He was speaking to the religious elite of His day. They seemed a peculiarly dull group, mostly blind to who He was and resistant to what God was doing through Him. But He addressed these questions, fired like bullets, to His disciples.

Jesus had good cause.

Having just watched Jesus miraculously feed a huge crowd, the disciples had a brain-freeze. They seemed to forget as fast as it happened. His grace touched their lives but then promptly slipped their minds.

Forgetfulness. It doesn’t get better with age, but I’m seeing it afflict both young and old alike.

We forget for a myriad of reasons, I’m sure. It doesn’t help that I’m busy trying to multi-task all the time. If I’m not paying close attention, then those tidbits of information fly in…and back out…without me noticing! It’s a chronic part of the human condition, and that’s what made Jesus (apparently) a little terse with His disciples.

We can be grateful that Jesus instituted what we call the “Lord’s Supper” (or Eucharist, Communion) to address our penchant for forgetfulness. “Do this in remembrance of Me.” The bread and the cup keep before us the death and resurrection of Christ. At the very least, the elements provide a consistent object lesson, lest we forget.

Yet, how quickly we forget Christ when we get busy, stressed, tired, or irritated.

His work in our lives yesterday can be quickly lost in the craziness and concerns of today. So, on this 18th day of Lent, faced with a rather pointed Jesus Question, perhaps we could take a few minutes and specifically list (in our minds or on paper) the many evidences of His grace in our lives.

Let’s remind ourselves of His power to save and transform. Let’s recall His promises and reliability. Let’s remember His mercy and sovereignty. Let’s reflect on His provision and Presence.

“Won’t you ever learn or understand?” (Mark 8:17). At times, I imagine Jesus might ask us the same question. We are slow to learn when we fail to look back. We fail to understand when we don’t remember. And these failures isolate us from Him and stagnate our spiritual Journey.

Today, take time (even a minute or two right now) to ponder and pray. His track record lays the groundwork for our faith and hope.

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Lent – Day 17 – Jesus Questions

“What do you want Me to do for you?” (Mark 10:36; NASB)

James and John had come to Jesus with an extraordinary, presumptuous request: “Teacher, we want you to do whatever we ask of you.”

What Can I Do For YouIt boggles the mind! These two brothers have the temerity to expect Jesus to do whatever they ask. This is what kids might do. But grown men? Disciples of Jesus? Who would put Jesus in such a position? Who would assume that they could make such a demand of the Son of God? Was Jesus just their puppet-on-a-string?

What a marvelous opportunity for Jesus to straighten them out. What a powerful teachable moment, when He could rebuke them and put them in their place. After their breath-taking and brazen request, we hold our breath to hear how Jesus will respond.

And He responds not with criticism or anger, but with a question: “What do you want Me to do for you?”

As I’ve pondered that moment, I’ve felt some indignation. I’m a little shocked by the rudeness and self-centeredness of those two brothers. But as I’ve shaken my head in disbelief, it occurs to me that we frequently do the same ourselves. How often have we prescribed what action Jesus should take? How often have we laid it out for Him, and asked Him to “do whatever we ask of you”?

Perhaps more often than we’d like to admit.

Much of our prayer, even during Lent, can sound like shopping-list stuff. “Here’s so-and-so; please fix their need or problem. And here’s something that we need, please step in and supply…quickly. And don’t forget to help with such-and-such.” And so it goes.

Some have called this a form of moralistic therapeutic deism; the belief among many of us that if we live decent lives, then God should step in and solve our problems. He lives on standby awaiting our instructions, ready to jump into action as soon as we call on Him. Be good, and He’ll do good…on call.

This heretical worldview places humanity at the center of the universe and God serves no real function other than cosmic handyman. The biblical narrative describes a vastly different reality. It places Father/Son/Holy Spirit (not us) at the center of the universe. We exist for His glory and His purposes.

This Jesus Question makes us stop a little. At one level it looks like an invitation to get our way: “What do you want me to do for you?” But perhaps a deeper reflection leads us to understand that we ought to be turning the question back to Jesus: “What would you like us to do for You, today?” A good prayer for this Monday.

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Lent – Day 16 – Jesus Questions

“Were you looking for a prophet?” (Matthew 11:9)

John the Baptist had been arrested and imprisoned and Jesus, who had a deep affection for his pious cousin, began to ask the crowd who had once gone out to hear John preach, “Were you looking for a prophet?”

When crowds gather, there’s always a reason…or multiple reasons. We’re all looking for something. Today or tomorrow, for example, many of us will gather with other people in church services around the world. What are we each looking for?

Looking for Christ.jpgSome of us may want to experience God. Others may want to see friends. Others may want to maintain a habit (for the sake of conscience or appearance). Others may simply enjoy the fun and entertainment of the production. Perhaps it would be good if, from time to time, we clarified and declared (as honestly as possible and at least to ourselves) what we are looking for. It might help re-align our hearts and re-focus our purposes.

But I also wonder what we’re looking for when we seek Jesus. I wonder what I’m looking for? It seems to change in different seasons of my life.

Sometimes I have looked for Him because I needed a Savior; someone to deliver me from my sin and myself. Other times I have looked for a Teacher; someone to provide wisdom and advice on how to live a flourishing life. Yet other times, I have looked for a Healer; someone to step in and physically or emotionally restore me or someone with me. Still other times, I have looked for a Provider; someone to pop that unexpected check in the mail when the bills were due and the bank balance had bottomed out.

Remarkably, graciously, He plays all of these roles in my life at different times. He assures me, comforts me, convicts me, empowers me, restrains me, humbles me, encourages me, restores me. I imagine (and hope) He has done much the same for you. But today I’m intrigued by His question to that ancient crowd: “Were you looking for a prophet?”

The question speaks not only to purpose but also motive. Once I know what I am looking for in Jesus, perhaps it would be helpful to explore why I am looking for that. Might we look for certain things from Him because of fear, guilt, or shame? Might we look for other things from Him because it makes Him manageable and comfortable? Might we not really be looking for Him at all (!), but like the benefits of being with people who are?

On this third Saturday of Lent, let’s take a few minutes to prayerfully consider what we’re really looking for in the Church and in Christ.

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Lent – Day 15 – Jesus Questions

“If you do good only to those who do good to you, is that so wonderful? Even sinners do that much!” (Luke 6:33)

Tolerance is not enough.

Culture has spat in our eye for a long while, accusing Christians of intolerance and bigotry. At times, sadly, the accusations have been true and fair.

Do GoodThe secular message has declared: “Everyone should be entitled to live and act as they like, without judgment.” Unfortunately, this core cultural value (birthed from the situation ethics of Joseph Fletcher in the 1960s) divides us just as much as intolerance and bigotry. It demands my silence and requires that I let you make self-destructive choices without interference. It insists that I approve whatever lifestyle you prefer. We must tolerate everything except intolerance. It’s a circular mess.

Jesus cut straight past this limited and harmful paradigm. Nobody would accuse Him of intolerance. He treated women, children, slaves, the poor, and the afflicted far better than anyone else in His day. He showed supreme compassion, even while He called them to a new way of living; the Kingdom of God way of living.

The issue was neither tolerance nor intolerance, with Jesus. Instead, He modeled a better and higher way. Do good to those who do not do good to you!

He will not let us sit satisfied with the passivity of tolerance. Jesus won’t approve of His followers simply watching the world self-destruct. Disengagement is not an option. The passivity of tolerance has no place in the Kingdom.

Instead, Jesus calls us to live differently. He paints a contrasting picture. Do good to those who do not do good to you. Don’t avoid them. Don’t merely tolerate them. Actively reach out to them. Do good to them and for them.

This message permeates so much of what Jesus taught. A Samaritan reaches out across hard and fast ethnic lines to help and heal someone (Luke 10:25-37). A father throws a party for a son who broke up the family inheritance (Luke 15:11-32). On the Cross itself, Jesus blesses those who revile Him (Luke 23:34).

Do good to those who do not do good to you.

Conflict comes regularly to us all. Hurt feelings. Harsh words. Thoughtless or selfish actions. Criticism. Broken relationships. Today’s Jesus Question invites us to respond differently; not to withdraw but to do good instead; not to justify our position but to honor the other person; not to defend ourselves but to lift others up.

It’s mind-boggling to consider but life-changing to practice. Marriages, families, and workplaces would never be the same.

May Christ grant us the capacity to extend such grace today. Tolerance is not enough.

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Lent – Day 14 – Jesus Questions

“Are you going to leave, too?” (John 6:67)

We periodically face transition points in our lives; moments when we have to decide to go or stay. That can happen in a local church or the workplace. Some people face the decision in a marriage or a family.

LeavingSome decisions are relatively clear, though rarely easy. We identify toxicity, heresy, immorality, or some other glaringly untenable element — something we just cannot live with — and just know we need to leave.

Other times, it’s not nearly so straightforward. We face convoluted factors in an environment that mixes both joy and stress. The decision to move on or move away is agonizingly difficult to assess.

And yet other times, we just know that God is specifically calling us to another season and another place, as Abraham experienced (Genesis 12). These moments, if clearly guided by the Spirit of God, don’t confuse or confound us.

Are you facing a transition decision right now? How can we best navigate moments like these? This has been on my mind the last few days.

  1. Is there physical danger or threat of harm? None of us should physically endanger ourselves or others, if we can leave the situation.
  2. Engage the insights and wisdom of others. I’m inclined to either understate or sensationalize my own circumstances. A “community” can help me weigh the issues more accurately and objectively. Who do you turn to as your confidante and counselor?
  3. Distinguish between preferences and principles. Sometimes I want to leave a place because it’s less than perfect and falls short of my preferences. Are there important principles (or core values) that I’m being forced to compromise? Sometimes my irritation or frustration makes my preferences feel like principles, when they are not.
  4. Pray. Give serious attention to God in this process. He usually gets too little time in these decisions. Of course, He may remain silent, and we might reasonably assume (after we have practiced steps 1-3) that His silence equates to permission. But look for Him to speak in Scripture, in circumstances, in the community, and in Person. He shows up more than we imagine.
  5. Wait, don’t rush. Impulsivity generally does not achieve the purposes of God.

“Are you going to leave, too?” (John 6:67)

Today I spent time with a friend assessing this very question in his own life. We concluded “yes” and then grappled together with the next set of questions — When, and how?

This Jesus Question, first posed to the twelve disciples when other disciples were abandoning Jesus, remains important in so many ways. If you’re struggling in a church, a workplace, a marriage, or a family, I encourage you to pause, ponder, and pray with a partner.

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