Saturday, March 30, 2013

 

Easter: What Exactly Did We Expect?

The week before Easter is commonly called "Holy Week" by Christians. During this week we celebrate (is that the right word?) the last week of Jesus' life on earth. People will make pilgrimages to Israel and retrace Jesus' final steps, they will pause at the "rock of agony" and cry where Jesus cried out to God in Gethsemane, they will go to the pit where Jesus was interrogated, they will pause where Jesus supposedly stumbled under the load of his cross, they will visit and contemplate Golgotha, they will visit the empty tomb, and they will weep and cry and mourn.

Rightfully so . . . this was THE WEEK for which Jesus lived his entire human life, and it was a rough one for him. On Sunday before his crucifixion he entered Jerusalem with cheers ringing in his ears. The (usually fickle) populace embraced him for all the great miracles he performed, and they hailed his coming as though a conquering warrior had entered the city. Like paparazzi following a Hollywood star, they trailed behind this carpenter from Nazareth and looked for ways to become part of his entourage or to at least get a "piece of the action" as Jesus came to town.

Some of these same folks will yell "Crucify him!" in just a few days, by the way.

When Jesus offered them something tangible to grab, they wanted to be a team player, they wanted the fishes and loaves, the healings, the wonders, the mighty signs.

How soon their tune would change . . . how quickly they would turn on the one who was innocent of any sin except the failure to live up to THEIR expectations.

How like them we are today . . .

When things are going our way, we look to heaven and sing God's praises. We celebrate and sing and run to join the band as God rides triumphantly over all our "enemies." But as soon as Jesus fails to live up to OUR expectations, what do we do?

I know the spiritual answer--"though he slay me yet I will praise him."

Do we really? Will we? Will I?

I'm struck with how Jesus routinely challenged the popular expectations of the crowds who showed up hoping for another demonstration of heavenly power and flash. In John 12, just after the people have celebrated his "triumphal entry," Jesus tells them that the way to jump on his bandwagon is for his followers to hate their lives in this world. Just think how that must have sounded to the celebrants rejoicing in the coming of their conquering hero!

"You want to be a part of my movement, of my thing?" Jesus asks, "Then you will have to regard your life in this world as a dead man would. You have to become the least, the slave, the dead one, in order to get in on my movement."

Come and die.

What an invitation!

Of course, Jesus knew that in just six days he would literally fulfill that invitation. The innocent would die for the unquestionably guilty . . . and he would die horribly.

I can just imagine how this conversation must have put a damper on the celebration in Jerusalem. Jesus took a party and turned it into a wake. The next thing we know he is engaged in theological discussions with the people and with the Jewish leaders. He created a controversy that caused folks to take sides. All he had to do was accept the adulation and promise to "win the war that must be won," but Jesus decided to go against expectations again. He decided to allow God to get the glory through humility and death.

Hasn't this happened to us? Just when we think we have God's agenda all spelled out like it ought to be, He throws us a curve ball that reminds us we aren't in charge! We have a hard time "boxing Jesus" into a neat package.

What's the point then? The point is that we should reverse the procedure. Instead of putting expectations on God, we should look for HIS expectations for us. What has He required of us? What does He want? How should we respond to His voice?

The week of Easter we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus. In the process maybe we should participate in a funeral of our own. Maybe we should let die our selfish expectations about how God "ought" to act towards us. Bury them, and let God resurrect them in His image.

As we contemplate the price of our salvation, let us willingly become slaves to the one who has paid such a price to purchase our freedom. Like Jesus, let our prayer be "Father glorify your name." Remember, if a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it will yield much fruit. It is, however, pretty useless in a bag with other seeds. Let's allow God to plant us where he wants so that our service can produce fruit for his glory. Let's follow our crucified Lord by living cruciform lives.

What would the world look like if we did?

I'd really like to find out!

Thanks for reading!

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Sunday, March 17, 2013

 

The Ministry of Staying Put

Hello all:

Today I read the entry for March 17 in my old copy of Streams in the Desert and marveled at the message (especially the poem) contained there.  I've been thinking a lot lately about the ministry of "staying put" and patiently waiting on the Lord's direction.  I remember living in Waco, TX when I encountered a bit of trouble and seriously considered leaving the church I attended at the time.  As my wife and I prayed about our situation, I kept returning to Psalm 37.  Verse 3 of that Psalm says, "Trust in the LORD and do good; Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness."  As I read this Psalm from David, I was reminded that sometimes the best thing I can do is simply wait before the Lord. I have learned that sometimes I simply need to "be still, and know that God is Lord."   

We are often tempted to take what I call an "American" approach to ministry:   We "work" our way up the ladder and progress from a "smaller" ministry to a "larger" one.  We try sometimes to "help" God out by making our own opportunities instead of working diligently at the work God has placed in front of us.  I'm not saying it is wrong to leave one work from another, I am simply stating that sometimes we need to "stay put" until we know God wants us to move to the next thing.  We are full of anxiety, and we want to "make our mark."  

Sometimes, however, that requires patience and humble waiting on marching orders from God.  Others may move on to "bigger" and "better" things, but God sees fit to keep us in the "small" thing or in the "unknown" ministry.  It is a hard word, but one that we need to hear.  Sometimes the ministry in front of us, the ministry of "today" is best for the moment.  Being faithful in the little things sows seeds for faithfulness in the larger endeavors.  The goal is to find where God wants you, then stay there until he releases you to a new opportunity.  Remain faithful, and let God lead.

If you are in this "waiting period" at the moment, I want to share the March 17 devotional with you.    I hope it is a blessing to you. It is entitled "Patience in the Routine." 


"Remain there until I tell you."  (Matthew 2:13)
"I'll stay where You've put me;
I will, dear Lord, Though I wanted so badly to go;
I was eager to march with the 'rank and file,'
Yes, I wanted to lead them, You know.
I planned to keep step to the music loud,
To cheer when the banner unfurled,
To stand in the midst of the fight straight and proud,
But I'll stay where You've put me.
 
"I'll stay where You've put me; I'll work, dear Lord,
Though the field be narrow and small,
And the ground be fallow, and the stones lie thick,
And there seems to be no life at all.
The field is Thine own, only give me the seed,
I'll sow it with never a fear;
I'll till the dry soil while I wait for the rain,
And rejoice when the green blades appear;
I'll work where You've put me.
 
"I'll stay where You've put me; I will, dear Lord;
I'll bear the day's burden and heat,
Always trusting Thee fully; when even has come
I'll lay heavy sheaves at Thy feet.
And then, when my earth work is ended and done,
In the light of eternity's glow,
Life's record all closed, I surely shall find
It was better to stay than to go;
I'll stay where You've put me."
 
Oh restless heart, that beat against your prison bars of circumstances, yearning for a wider sphere of usefulness, leave God to order all your days. Patience and trust, in the dullness of the routine of life, will be the best preparation for a courageous bearing of the tug and strain of the larger opportunity which God may some time send you.
 Thanks for reading!  

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