What Hurt More?

Crown of Thorns WHAT HURT MORE

What hurt more my Lord?
Having the leather whip scream through the air, repeatedly slicing open your back?
Or hearing the crowd scream to release Barabbas instead of you?

What hurt more?
Having your skull pierced with ridiculously large thorns?
Or having the soldiers ridicule and mock you saying “Hail, King of the Jews?”

What hurt more?
Falling on the rocky road with the heavy cross pinning you down?
Or people falling in line along the path to look down at you-like you were some sick form of entertainment for them?

What hurt more?
Nails being pounded into your hands and feet?
Or the pounding of your disciple’s feet as they ran away in fear and abandoned you?

Jesus’ response to all those hurts-and many more hurts-were the merciful words he spoke on the cross before dying for us…”Father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” Luke 23:34

Let us pray:
Dear Lord, I am sorry for hurting you. Thank you for your merciful forgiveness. Please help me to love like you. Amen

STRONG FINISHES for the Oops, Ouch, and Oh My!

Horizontal Strong Finish

As a track coach I preach and preach to my athletes about the importance of strong finishes. Digging down deep and giving it your all as you close in on the finish line can make a big difference. Strong finishes are about determination and courage. Perseverance and focus. Discipline and commitment.

Strong finishes of course don’t just pertain to races on the track, but to projects and commitments we make throughout life, like the finish line that is fast approaching; Yes, the end of Lent is just around the corner with Holy Week and Easter on the horizon.

Jesus arguably had the strongest finish in the history of mankind. His strong finish included temptation and suffering, which he endured for our sake. As followers of Christ, we are called to walk in his footsteps. “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” 1 Peter 2:21. Just take note: Strong finishes are momentous not because they are easy; strong finishes are remarkably significantly because they are hard!

This is a Lenten checkup with suggestions for a strong finish. No, it will not be easy to finish strong, but out of love for the Lord, I ask you to join me in taking on this challenge. If you do an honest reflection you will probably find yourself in one of these three categories: The Oops category, the Ouch category, or the Oh My category. Or, you might fall into several of them. Read and see.

  • Oops!

The Oops category is for those who may be saying, “What? It’s Lent? Oops…I am sorry to say that I haven’t done anything!” Or maybe this is you… “Yeah, I know it’s Lent – I kind of thought about it, but I’ve been overwhelmed with the business of life, and oops, I really haven’t done much to strengthen my relationship with the Lord.”

Strong Finish Suggestion: This one is obvious. You can’t have a strong finish if you’re not even up and going. It is never too late to start! So, get up and go! Don’t despair on the time you have missed, focus on the good you can still do. Make a commitment now to do something in the areas of prayer, fasting or almsgiving. Don’t spend too much time pondering the options, just pick something and get going. Here is a list of ideas to get you started.   What-to-Do-for-Lent

Scripture Meditation: Matthew 21:28-31 “What do you think? A man had two sons; and he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not.’ But afterward he repented and went. And he went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will or his father?” They said, “The first.”

Prayer: Lord, I am sorry. I really haven’t done much this Lent so far. I know there is still time. I will start today. I know I can do this with your help. Please fill me with determination and courage to finish strong.

  • Ouch!

The Ouch category is for those who may be saying, “Yes, I know it’s Lent. Yes, I made commitment to do certain things, but I have failed. My attempts to do more prayer, fasting or almsgiving have not come to fruition. I have fallen down on this spiritual journey.” Or maybe you have done OK in some of the areas you were focusing on, and not so good in others.  Remember that Jesus fell down on his journey to a strong finish. Three times!

Strong Finish Suggestion(s): Yes, it is hard to get up and try again when we have fallen. The temptation to quit is strong. Our Savior experienced that same temptation on Holy Thursday when the immensity of what laid ahead of him was so overwhelming that he pleaded in prayer, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me. Nevertheless, let our will be done, not mine.” Luke 22:4.

Note that he was in prayer. It is important that we do the same! When we have fallen and we’re on our knees, that is the perfect time to pray and ask the Father for help. He will strengthen us just as he did his son. Keep your focus on doing God’s will and get back up when you fall. Every. Single. Time.

Scripture Meditation: Psalm 118:13 I was falling, but the Lord helped me.                      Hebrews 12: 1-3 Let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.

Prayer: Lord, I offer you my failures and my attempts. I know you can give my stumbling direction. I reach out to you in my fallen state and ask for your hand to help me get up, to keep my focus on you, and to persevere for a strong finish.

  • Oh My!

The Oh My category is those who might be saying, “Yes, I know it’s Lent. Yes, I made a commitment to do certain things, and Oh My! I have done pretty good in all my commitments!!”  Maybe you picked some things that were kind of easy, or maybe the commitments you made turned out to be not as hard as you thought they might be. (Or maybe you did pick some challenging things to do and have worked really hard at keeping your Lenten promises. Good job!)

Strong Finish Suggestion(s): Keep doing what you have been doing, but now it’s time to dig down deeper for God. Ask the Lord to show you what else you can do to have a remarkably strong finish. Maybe if you gave up cheese for Lent, he might ask you to ramp it up and give up all dairy products! If you promised to pray more during this holy season, he might challenge you to now ask other people to pray with you. I don’t know what your kick-it-into-high-gear task might be, but if you examine yourself honestly, asking the Lord for direction, he will show you.

Scripture Meditation: Mark 10:17-21 And as he was setting out on his journey a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him… “You know the commandments: Do not kill, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not defraud, honor our father and mother.” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have observed from my youth.” And Jesus looking upon him, loved him, and said to him, “Go and sell all you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me.”

Prayer: Lord, I thank you for the spiritual journey of Lent in which you have traveled with me so far. Thank you for enduring temptation and suffering for me. I accept the challenge of walking in your steps. Please give me an extra outpouring of your grace to strengthen my discipline and commitment that I may finish strong for you.

 

I could finish this piece with words of a coach screaming, “Come on! Give it all you’ve got! Dig down deep! Push! Push!! Push!!!”  I could tell you about the importance of crossing the finish line with maximum intensity so you can hold your head high, knowing that you did your best. I could tell you how strong finishes can strengthen your will and fortify your character.

However….

This is not about running a foot race to earn yourself a medal. This is not about finishing a stellar project at work so you can get a promotion. And it’s not about finishing strong to raise your self-esteem. This is about finishing strong for God! This is not about finishing in 1st place…it’s about finishing with grace!

This is about dying to self. (No, it won’t be easy.) It’s about focus and discipline in doing God’s will. (No, it won’t be easy.) It’s about growing closer in your relationship with the Lord. (No, it won’t be easy.)

This is about preparing for the glorious “finish line” of Easter. But quite honestly, it’s about something much bigger than that.

It’s about life. It’s about striving to finish the race of our life in a manner that glorifies God. It’s about following in Jesus’ footsteps in a way that attracts others to join the spiritual journey. And hopefully when we cross THE final finish line into everlasting life we will hear the words, well done, good and faithful servant!

 

 

 

 

Don’t Just “Bump into” Jesus (And other things we can learn from Berenice)

Touch his tasselA large crowd followed and pressed around him. (Mark 5:24) And rightly so. Jesus had just healed a man possessed with numerous demons and was on his way to the house of a synagogue official who had begged him to heal his gravely ill daughter.

As the crowd bumped into Jesus, hoping to see his next “show stopping” miracle, a woman who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years discreetly made her way through the mass of people. She had suffered much under many physicians and had spent all that she had, and was not better but worse. (Mark 5:26)  She secretly touched Jesus’ garment and was healed. Tradition tells us that her name was Berenice.

We can learn from Berenice, especially as we prepare for the upcoming season of Lent. This desperate, penniless, physically-drained woman touched my heart as I listened to the gospel reading the other day. And I would like to present some points to ponder regarding her story:

  • Don’t Just “Bump into” Jesus

Intentionally seek Jesus out. Berenice had an intense desire to get close to Jesus. Do you want to enter into Lent with a desperate desire to get close enough to touch Jesus as Berenice did? Or will you just follow along with the crowd and bump into him periodically throughout the season?

All practicing Christians “bump into” Jesus during their lives, such as when a prayer is said before meals, or when you go to church on Sunday. Don’t get me wrong-those are good things to do. But have you ever thought that Jesus wants you to do more than just “bump into” him?

Being a tourist- a sightseer- through Lent is easy, but going on a pilgrimage, a special spiritual journey during the season is the challenge. Ask God to show you now (don’t wait till Ash Wednesday) what he would like for you to do this Lent.  Then make those plans that will help you grow closer to him during the 40 day spiritual journey.

  • Surrender and Prostrate Yourself

Berenice was considered unclean by Jewish law because of her issue with blood. She lived in constant social and religious isolation. This is why she strived to go unnoticed and came up from behind him. (Mt 9:20) She knew of her “impurity” and prostrated herself. She surrendered totally and sought out his healing.

It is not always easy to say that we need help. That we are hurting or struggling, or that we have failed in something. What are your pains? What/who are you tired of dealing with, fighting with? What exhausts you? Maybe it’s a physical aliment like Berenice. Maybe it’s a strained relationship. Maybe it’s a situation at work. Or maybe you have done things that you consider unforgivable.

We can fall into the trap of thinking we need to deal with these issues all on our own. But surrendering totally to Christ and laying our troubles at his feet, is the way to go. This Lent, God is calling you to give him all those heavy burdens. He wants you to give him everything, yes- even those “impurities” you are ashamed of. Empty yourself, and lower yourself before the Lord this Lent.  Surrender and prostrate.  He will heal you completely, just as he did Berenice.

  • Act in Faith/Pray for Faith

If only I touch his garment, I shall be made well. (Mt 9:21) Berenice believed that Jesus would heal her. She did not plead with Jesus face to face for him to touch her. She had confidence that if she only touched the tassel of his garment she would be healed. And of course she was! Then Jesus said to her, daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace. (Luke 8:48)

Having faith is obviously an important thing. And we should grow in our faith. In Luke 17: 5, the apostles ask Jesus to increase their faith. We too can struggle with the issue of faith. We might wonder, do I have enough faith? How can I increase my faith?  Faith is a spiritual gift from God. Faith can be increased by prayer and by acting in Faith (just as Berenice acted in faith by reaching for Jesus’ garment.)

One of my favorite prayers regarding faith is from the father whose son is possessed and pleads with Jesus, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus said to him, “‘If you can! Everything is possible to one who has faith.” Then the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:22-24)  This is a prayer I bring before the Lord often: God, I do believe, help my unbelief. This Lent-and beyond- God would love to increase our faith. We just need to ask him; pray and ask him to help us.

In closing:

  • Seek the Lord intentionally and purposefully this Lent. Make a plan that will help you to grow closer to him.
  • Surrender yourself totally to Christ and bow before him as your God and King.
  • And, act in faith as well as pray for the Lord to help increase your faith.

Berenice (and others in scripture) can teach us so much. Is there anything about her story that left an impression on you? How is the Lord calling you to be more like Berenice this Lent?

The Perfect Latte

heart-latteMmm….just right!” your mouth tells you as you take a sip of the perfect latte, cappuccino, coffee, hot tea or whatever you start your day with. But if there’s too much sugar, not enough cream, or the temperature is too cold or too hot, it can throw a wrench in the works.  You mumble & grumble and pour & stir until you get it just right. How do I know? Because I find myself scrupulously preparing my cup of morning brew! Continue reading