Do You Know the Way Out of the Wilderness?
Wilderness experiences are not always from the evil one. Sometimes we drive ourselves to the wilderness by ignoring God’s call, but sometimes it is God Himself who leads us to the wilderness. From a tiny infant Jesus became familiar with the wilderness. An angel told his step-father Joseph to escape to Egypt soon after he was born. Purposely exiled, the Holy family clung to each other and followed God’s direction. God led them in and out of Egypt through an angel in a dream.
Jesus’ second trip to the wilderness was also God’s idea. Matthew4:1 says that the Spirit led Him to the wilderness. Another round in the wilderness,but this time He was without food or water for 40 days. This time he had no Holyfamily to hold Him close. This time He was alone except for the Spirit to guideHim.
Wilderness experiences have purpose in God’s plan. If we walk with Himlong enough, before long He will lead us to the wilderness. He is a loving Fatherand would never do anything to hurt us. He knows there are amazing spiritualdiscoveries on a wilderness trek. There is a huge difference in being led throughthe wilderness and wandering in the wilderness.
Migrating the wilderness is never easy and the path is purposely unmarked, butthere is a way. Jesus showed us the way. He clung to the Word of God. He listenedfor the Spirit of God. He didn’t sit there and have a pity party for Himself.Instead He found the provisions offered in the wilderness. Spiritual provisionscan never be taken away. The greatest spiritual provisions we have are the Wordswe know from the Bible. These are promises with power to pump up the soul. There’snothing as nourishing for the soul as the Words of God flowing into those dark,barren, frightening experiences found on wilderness journeys. The wildernessmay still be harsh and the path difficult to maneuver, but hope bursts through.King David’s description is beautiful when he spoke, “Even thoughI walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for youare with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).
David’s comfort came from the Shepherd’s rod, which symbolizes theWord of God, and his staff, which symbolizes the Holy Spirit. The rod and staffguide. The Word of God and the stirrings of the Spirit lead you in and throughthe wilderness.
Golgatha was the last earthly wilderness journey He took. This journey down thepath of suffering was the path to which God led Him. This time the wildernesswas in a large city, crowded with people, and He was joined once again by Hismother, His beloved disciple and many women. He took each step in confidenceand assurance. He was prepared for this ultimate wilderness journey by the previousjourneys. He did not cry out to understand why He was sent to the wilderness;rather He comforted others who didn’t realize the spiritual realities thatwere taking place.
When you arrive in the wilderness, open your eyes to all the provisions hiddenthere.
Bonus Tea Time for Your Soul Lenten Section:
Jesus Was Resolute About His Cross
Tuesday, February 19
The first time I read about Jesus’ attitude concerning going to Jerusalem to face the cross, I was astonished. Luke 9:51 says, As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. The strong term “resolutely” implies no turning back. It was an onward journey. Although this passage was not referring to His last journey to Jerusalem, the idea that the time was nearing for Him to be taken to heaven makes it clear that the cross was on his mind. The way I remembered this passage in my mind was that Jesus set his mind like flint to go to Jerusalem. But after my research for this article I discovered that the phrasing is used in Isaiah 50:7 as Isaiah prepared his mind for his difficult journey to do God’s will.
Both of these Biblical Prophets have much to teach us about preparing our hearts for Easter. It starts with your mindset. You must decide that you are going there and that you will comply with the sacrifices that are asked of you. You will not evaluate God’s will, but rather choose to fulfill God’s will in your life. Giving up something for Lent is a wonderful challenge to your mindset and your will.
Through the years, I have seen God do incredible things through me. Each year I have asked the Holy Spirit to show me something I can give up for Lent. In my practice of Lent, I have not chosen things that would help me break a bad habit, but rather things that I really like that I can enjoy again on Easter Sunday. If it is chocolate, I have learned to stock up on the candies I enjoy that only come out at Easter. I eat my first one in celebration of what Jesus did for me, and in recognition that I don’t even have to give up chocolate to be saved by His blood. I have to tell you, I am rarely resolute when I am praying about my Lenten fast. Often, there is a little dialogue between God and me about the ideas I receive from Him. I just know that He wouldn’t want me to live out a Daniel fast—eating only fruits and vegetables and no fine food (desserts, fried food—all the stuff I like). Yet, I have found amazing spiritual victory as I commit to follow where He leads me.
This year in my first article I was teasing about a Lenten fast of speaking only sweet words to my husband Brian for 40 plus days. It was only to make a point of how you could make a Lenten fast either to give up something or take on something. I didn’t really mean for God to tell me that this would be a perfect way to prepare my heart for Easter this year. I tried to tell God that it would be a perfect way for me to fail, but He already knows that, too, and still He encouraged me that this should be my fast.
I have a choice to make: will I be resolute and rebellious? I guess when you think of it there is no other way to make a Lenten fast. I’m sure I will keep you informed of how this goes. I hope that you will find some way to reveal that you are resolute about knowing and doing God’s will in your life. It is good for the soul.
The Power of the Bleeding Love of God
Wednesday, February 20
“The power of the bleeding love of God” is a phrase I read in a book by N. T. Wright (Following Jesus, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994, p. 19-20). This phrase speaks so powerfully during this Lenten season. When someone is near death, bleeding and broken like Jesus was, we think of them as powerless. Yet, the period of time that Jesus spent bleeding on the cross was the most powerful time in all of human history. When God bled, the world was transformed.
The bleeding love of God—it is almost palpable when you describe it that way. The world had never known what real love was all about until then. There is no greater love and indeed no greater power. Power is love and love is power. These words dance in my mind and leave me at a loss to give further explanation for them. This phrase attempts to describe the indescribable.
I am not alone in my inability to express so great a reality. Many wiser and more spiritual people than I have been silenced by the truth of the cross. St. John Chrysostom was called Chrysostom, which means the golden mouthed one. He would preach over two hours to totally packed churches. Yet, on one particular Holy Cross Day celebration, he barely spoke during his sermon. He put out all the lights in the church and held one small alter candle illuminating first the face of Jesus, and he began to cry. Then he brought the candle to one hand and across the chest of Jesus to the other hand; by the time he got to the wound on Jesus’ side he was fallen over in heaving sobs. He held the candle at Jesus’ feet, and he had no words to speak. His emotions and his silence spoke volumes to the crowd. St. John Chrysostom understood quite well the bleeding love of God and its power to transform the world.
Paul understood this power as it relates to the cross. 1 Corinthians 1:18 says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” There never has been, and never will be, a more powerful act of God than Jesus’ dying on the cross. More powerful than the creation of the world is the power to transform sinful souls into righteous citizens of heaven. That is what happened when God bled on the cross.
The irony of God bleeding from a cross as a revelation of His greatest power may leave many to conclude that all who seek power in that are fools. I pray that your soul resonates around, above, below, behind and beneath the Cross of Christ. I pray that you know that though others see weakness, hatred and foolishness associated with the Cross of Christ, you see it as the power of God’s love that it is.
Whatever God Asks of You Will Always Be Worth the Cost
Thursday, February 21
You’ve heard the expression, You cannot out-give God. I don’t know anyone who has ever attempted this task, but it will never be accomplished. God is and will always remain the ultimate giver and His ultimate gift was given when He allowed His own heart to be broken as His only Son died on the cross for our sin.
As I am following the Easter story this Lenten Season I am realizing that there were many who gave gifts to Jesus as He traveled to Jerusalem. Perhaps the most extravagant gift giver was Mary of Bethany. She gave the gift of a jar of pure perfume that was worth a whole year’s wages. Simon the Leper gave the gift of a dinner held in Jesus’ honor, and Martha, Mary’s sister, gave the gift of her beautiful service as she made Simon’s guests comfortable. The following day Jesus traveled to Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey that was His gift for the afternoon. The disciples gave their cloaks for Jesus to sit on while on the donkey. The crowds gave their cloaks for Jesus to ride over; the palm trees offered their branches (with the help of people) for Jesus to walk over. It’s important for us to be gift givers like our extravagant God. All these people gave something of value and importance, but all received much more than they sacrificed.
What these givers to Jesus received from giving is not recorded in Scripture, but it’s something you can imagine from your own personal experiences. Have you ever, like Mary, been led and obedient in doing or giving something that did not make rational sense? Sometimes God asks me to do the peculiar. It’s only in obeying Him that I am blessed. Jesus’ words of affirmation and promise of fame to Mary were the gift of confidence that she really was hearing and obeying the voice of God. The man who gave his donkey had much to think through after his colt, which had never been ridden before, was returned. When did he make the connection between the donkey’s fur that formed the shape of a cross and the cross of Calvary? Was he the first one to make this connection, understanding the significance of why certain donkeys’ fur grew in that way? (Jerusalem donkey breeds grow fur in the shape of a cross across their backs and front legs; look for this on the next donkey you see.) What about the crowds? Though they went home with dirty cloaks that needed washing, wasn’t it worth it to them to be a part of such a spiritually significant day?
What are you giving to Jesus this Lenten Season? Have you offered to not eat certain foods to remind yourself of Jesus’ sacrifice? Have you offered speaking only kind words to your husband? (By the way I see God working through me and as expected, I have messed up a lot and experienced the beauty of mercy from my husband and my Sweet Jesus.) Have you discovered that whatever you have sacrificed has come back to you already? What benefits do you find in the gifts you have given this season?
Friday, February 22
It doesn’t matter at what age death takes a loved one from your arms, it always leaves you feeling wounded, hurt and lonely. God so wanted to protect us from death. He never intended that we should face it or any of the realities of sin that have become our daily experience on this earth. He wanted that protection for us, but perhaps He wanted it for Himself too. You see, when death became part of our reality it meant that it would become a part of His reality too.
This Lenten Season has not made my life free from the effects of death. On the anniversary of a good friend’s husband’s death, another sweet friend left this earth for heaven. Both Brian’s side and my side of the family have experienced the death of long- time close family friends. Death is all around us. Everyone we know is going to die eventually.
Death was the only aspect of sin that God detailed to Adam about the consequences of eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. God didn’t give a lecture on the reality of sin, nor did He fully explain what death meant. Without a meticulous description, the word death seemed to make a strong impression even though Adam had no real concept of its cruel reality. The word itself caused Adam to innately consider it something to be avoided at all costs. In fact, it was only when the serpent told Eve she would not die, but just be wise like God, that either of them considered eating from the tree. Satan tried to disguise death from the two in the garden. Slowly the effect of death took place in their lives, but never so poignantly as when their firstborn son was also the first person to commit murder in the death of his only brother. They knew for sure at that moment how atrocious death can be.
Death is a cruel enemy to mankind, but this Lenten season reveals that its worst assault was suffered by Jesus. On the cross Jesus stood in the middle of death’s full force against us. God warned us of death in the garden, and when we ignored His pleadings Jesus stood face to face with death so He could once and for all conquer its forces. As Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 15:54-57, “Jesus was successful in conquering death’s tight grip: When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
It doesn’t make death not hurt; but it does make death hurt a lot less. In all the deaths I mentioned earlier I know that these folks are in heaven. I know that though they experienced an earthly death, they now enjoy life eternal, and the most complete kind of death, the death that Jesus faced, will never be able to touch them.
I still cry at funerals; I still feel the pain, hurt, loss and loneliness of death on this earth, but this Lenten season reminds me that ultimately death has been conquered in my life.
Saturday, February 23
If there is one thing the Lenten Season will do it is to bring to our consciousness the horrific reality of sin. The corruption of sin is more deeply felt; the devastation brought on by sin becomes more obvious; the cost of sin is more fully recognized.
In the practice of giving up something for Lent, one comes to experience one’s humanness in a drastic way. Whether it’s chocolate or diet drinks (or even taking on speaking only kind words), you are left to face your own inability to conquer the effects of sin in your life. Even if you do find the strength to follow through on your Lenten commitment, you are left to face the reality that this small sacrifice does not even come close to paying the debt that your sin has created.
Sin is enormous. Sin’s affect on this world is devastating. Sin’s dreadful reality is all around us in the world. It leaves us humans hopeless and helpless, stripped of possible solutions of our own. I sense this reality in the lives of my friends as they deal with cancer in their eleven-month-old daughter. The cancer is a result of sin. It’s not her sin or her parent’s sin. It is the reality of how living in a sin-filled world has stolen this time in this young couple’s lives when they would like to be making all the necessary preparations to celebrate their precious daughter’s first birthday party. Instead they are helpless to stop the effect of rebellious cells creating a malignant mass in the small body of their baby girl. They can do what they can do to get her treatment. They can follow all the doctor’s orders. They cannot take away this effect of sin from their daughter’s life. Even though they would gladly give their own lives to save hers that is not an option for them.
Sin is a fierce enemy to the human soul. The more we challenge the sin in our lives the more we face the facts that we are limited in ourselves to conquer sin. There is only one way to deal with sin. Sin has only one cure. There is one hope. That hope is found at Easter.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus came face to face with the true cost of sin. Mark 14:35-36 describes what happened: “Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. Abba, Father, he said, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” This statement reveals how horrifying dealing with sin was for God. In spite of the cost, Jesus faced sin head on for us. There is little we can do on our own to deal with the problem of our sin. Because of what Jesus did through His death, burial and resurrection, the most devastating effect of sin has been eliminated for all who call on the name of Jesus. During the Lenten season and beyond, we face our sins in the power of the cross. We claim a strength beyond ourselves and we walk away from sin for the glory of our Father.
Sunday, February 24
Jesus described what Mary did when she anointed Him with an entire bottle of costly perfume as a beautiful thing. “Aware of this, Jesus said to them, Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me.”” (Matthew 26:10).
Have you ever done something that Jesus could describe as a beautiful thing? In that same passage (Matthew 26:1-13) we find two other groups of people responding to Jesus and it is clear that their behavior could not be described as beautiful.
The chief priests and the elders assembled together to talk about a sly way to get rid of Jesus. What they were doing was the opposite of beautiful—it was purely hateful.
Jesus’ closest friends only saw the waste in Mary’s expression of love and devotion. Regrettably, they missed the beauty that was happening before their very eyes.
What does it take to do a beautiful thing for Jesus? I see three messages from this passage.
First, you must submit to God’s righteousness (Romans 10:3). You can’t do a beautiful thing for Jesus unless you fully comprehend what Jesus has done for you. Mary felt so moved by Jesus’ extravagant act of loving her that a drop of perfume (the normal amount for an anointing) was not enough. She was moved to give all of it. She gave what had been costly to her.
Second, you must not get caught up in what others think. Obviously the spiritual leaders and friends of Jesus were not at all pleased by this irrational act on the part of Mary. Mary didn’t seem to let their practical opinions hinder her from doing this beautiful thing. Sometimes other people do not understand why we are giving ourselves to God the way we do. You cannot let the fear of man keep you from following God’s leading.
Third, you need to be sensitive to God’s voice. Why did Mary give this gift? I don’t know if she fully understood. Jesus knew that she was anointing Him for burial. Did she really comprehend what would happen to Jesus at the end of the week? I’m not sure about that, but I’m sure that since this act was so beautiful it did not come from Mary’s heart alone (Phil. 2:13). I believe that she was moved by the Holy Spirit with the idea of taking her precious jar of perfume and breaking the whole bottle open over the head of Jesus. I believe she was led by the Holy Spirit to do this beautiful thing.
Jesus has many beautiful things that we can do for Him. They won’t make sense to others, they will cost us something, but in the end, when you do a beautiful thing for Jesus, it is a thing you never regret.
Third Sunday in Lent
Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
February 24, Feast of Saint Matthias
Almighty God, who in the place of Judas chose your faithful servant Matthias to be numbered among the Twelve: grant that your Church, being delivered from false apostles, may always be guided and governed by faithful and true pastors; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.