Lent: Sacrifice? Or Surrender?

Three days into Lent, I’d failed at my self-imposed Lenten discipline of rising extra-early for prayer. I got up late three days in a row. Getting up early is difficult for me but that’s what Lent is about, right? Suffering and sacrifice?

I was wrong. Lent is about submission to God’s will.

It’s a dreadful temptation to think that salvation comes only through pain. Salvation comes through surrender to God. Yes, suffering is often involved, but it’s not the point.

The Lord calls us to walk in love, shown through obedience to God. Obedience often requires sacrifice, but sacrifice is only godly if it is offered in loving obedience.

Hosea 6:6 (ESV) says, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” Now, for Lent, I’m focusing on loving and knowing God more each day, instead of simply giving up something. Will you join me?

Whispered Prayers

It’s a sad thing to pray only when we’re in trouble. But it’s even sadder when we’re in trouble and choose not to pray, for whatever reason. The prodigal son, when he came to his senses, looked around and said, “Why should I sit here until I die? I will arise and go to my father.”

If you are anxious today, or in need, or afraid, or bone-weary, go to God in prayer. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been neglecting the Lord who loves you: God still yearns to hear from you. Isaiah wrote about people who, in their distress, “poured out whispered prayers” (Isaiah 26:16, ESV). If all you can do is whisper a prayer, or groan one, or even think one, do it. Don’t wait.

We never deserve the privilege of prayer, but we always have access to it. Any time, anywhere.

Hieronymus Bosch, The Prodigal Son.

So, What’s Ahead?

We’re about to turn the page on a tumultuous year. I hear folks talking about putting 2020 behind us, speaking about 2021 with great anticipation, and I cringe. Because, really, no one knows what’s ahead. We’re all hoping for better days, of course. But many of the problems that plagued our country last year are still not fixed. The change in political leadership will help, but it won’t be an automatic cure-all. A lot of work lies ahead, along with a lot more heartache, pain, and turmoil.

Yet we must soldier on. And we can be strong with the confidence that our faith, indeed our hope, does not lie in any organization or person. No, our faith and hope must only be placed in God. We can securely trust in the promises that guarantee God’s presence with each of us. There are no universal promises of ease, health, wealth, or physical safety; but there are many utterly reliable promises of God’s mercy, love, attention, and companionship. Here’s a link to a gospel classic, “I Know Who Holds Tomorrow.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B3rIzgXJBX0

May we trust Divine Love, and go into 2021 without fear.

Snoopy was wrong…

…Or at least only partly correct. In this year’s Christmas Day Peanuts cartoon (https://www.gocomics.com/peanuts/2020/12/25) Snoopy tells Woodstock, “Christmas is for the innocent.” I think Christmas is more for those of us who are not innocent: who are dogged by regrets, battered by the results of unwise choices, hindered by habits that we can’t seem to break. Emanuel — God is here to offer us mercy, pardon, restoration. Jesus was born so we can all have access to fellowship and union with Divine Love. Whoever we are, and whatever we’ve done or left undone.

Let us turn our minds to the ongoing miracle and meaning of Christmas. Yes, it’s personal.

Francesco di Giorgio Martini, Nativity

Good Fruit

Late Saturday night, I finally checked texts and saw one that was sent hours earlier: “Satsuma Santa just hung fruit in gray plastic bag on gate.” Sure enough, there was beautiful citrus hanging on my fence, much prettier than I could find at Winn Dixie. They were from a tree that I planted in a friend’s yard years ago, just a small sapling at the time but now clearly big enough to bear.

The satsumas were sweet, and the reminder was strong: Good work bears good fruit.

Please be assured that work you’ve done in the past, large or small, is bearing fruit. And within that produce is the possibility for more. You may never see the result of a kind word that you offered, a helping hand, a good deed, or a prayer. But it’s bearing fruit. It’s making a difference. Don’t look back, trying to tally up your impact. Just know that fruit is growing. Look forward and carry on, doing more good work with joy and confidence.

My satsumas.

Gift-Giving to God

Isn’t it fun to give a special gift to someone you love? Something that makes his eyes light up, something that gets her to say “Oh! Wow!”?

We can give presents like that to the Lord every day. No shopping required, just an earnest desire to give a meaningful gift to the One who has given us so much.

What can you give God today? Think about that, then make your gift cheerfully. Not grudgingly, not out of desperation or obligation, but with loving joy.

There’s a certain situation in my life, beyond my control, that makes me angry. I think I’ll offer that up, lift it as a glad gift, every time I think of it today. All day long.

(Common license photo, from Pxfuel)

Reading God’s Palms

It’s easy to feel forgotten, alone, cast aside. Especially now with so much isolation and distancing, so many regular routines shelved and gathering dust. Where are the connections? Where is the affection? Who can be depended upon to reliably care about us?

If you could read God’s palm, you’d find the answer. The Bible says that our names are engraved, tattooed, on God’s palms.

Take a moment right now to look at your own hand. Use the fingers of your other hand to trace lines in your palm. That’s how near you are to Divine Love, all the time.

Now place your hand over your heart and whisper a prayer of thanks. This closeness will never change. God will never forget about you, never forsake you.

Believing Before Comprehending

“Blessed are those who have not seen,” Jesus told Thomas, “and yet believed.”

I’ve always thought that meant physical sight: blessed are those who don’t see the answers, healings, miracles, and believe anyway. But what if “seen” also means “understood”?

“Blessed are those who have not understood, comprehended, figured it out…and yet believed.”

As humans, one of our greatest gifts and greatest hindrances is the ability to think. We yearn for things to make sense. If we don’t have reasons, we often make them up. If we can’t understand concepts, we often reject them. But sometimes we are called to believe God’s promises without understanding them, called to question honestly and then walk in faith when we don’t comprehend God’s plan and process.

Divine Love gives promises that are reliable. God’s care for us is steadfast; God’s presence with us is eternal; God’s desire to bless, and give us all that is best, will never change.

Let us strive to believe, even when we can’t figure it out.

Caravaggio, The Incredulity of Saint Thomas

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Our Daily Choice

We’re hearing a lot about making good choices: political, social, environmental, physical. These are all important, of course, but the most important choice—one that we make on at least a daily basis, if not more often—is whether or not to serve God.

When Joshua was an old man, he urged the Israelites to be faithful by saying, “If it seems evil to you to serve God…” (Joshua 24:14). I think it very rarely seems evil to serve God, and to do right. It often seems inconvenient, or scary, or embarrassing, or downright weird. But rarely evil.

So if we look at it honestly, and say “I’m going to disobey because I’m tired,” or “…because I’m nervous,” or “…because no one else is obeying,” perhaps it’ll be easier to obey. Because it’s never evil to serve God. And, in the end, it’s always in our best interests.

Joshua in his old age (artist unknown)

Darkness

I don’t like being in the dark, literally or figuratively. I like to see what’s happening, to know what’s going on. Light, and knowledge, offer the illusion that I can do something about it.

And yet we all must go through times of darkness. No one is guaranteed light, or illumination, all the time. So when darkness comes, let’s not be surprised or disappointed. And let’s continue to seek God, even in the gloom.

Because the Lord is still there with us, and the darkness is not dark to God (Psalm 139:12). This scripture is not helpful if my faith is in myself, but is tremendously comforting if my faith is in Divine Love.

Darkness