Theology

A Lenten Devotional

Lent

Here’s a short Lenten devotional I was honored to write for our Student Ministries devotional for Lent. Regardless of your views on evangelicals and lent, I find it a helpful practice to use the season to reflect on our Savior and prepare our hearts, minds, and lives to identify with his suffering, death, and resurrection. If you’d like to subscribe the university’s Student Ministries devotional, subscribe here.

My prayer through this is that God would be glorified, my joy would be multiplied, and you would be invited into that worship and delight.

Devotional

When Jesus calls us, we follow him.
When we follow Jesus’s calling, our story becomes joined with his story.
When we follow Jesus, we do more than consider the cost of following him, we pay the cost.
When we follow Jesus, persecution is sure to come.

Recently, twenty-one of our Coptic brothers were ushered out of this life and into the presence of Jesus by the hands of persecution, costing them their lives. Their story became his story. They were counted worthy to lose their life, only to find it in Jesus.

What is the cost of following Jesus? Or maybe a better question is: Do we think there is a cost to following Jesus? Matthew 10-12 highlights the costs for us, we can’t just ignore these chapters, we must read them.

And if I’m being honest, reflecting any amount of time on the cost of being a follower of Jesus Christ of Nazareth terrifies me. Thoughts plague my mind: What will I do when persecution comes? How will I respond to hostile actions? Will I denounce and recant my faith? Will I be ashamed of the gospel? In that moment of my flesh-filled despair, the Spirit overwhelms me with grace through these words of Jesus, “…do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour” (Matthew 10:19ff).

The call of Jesus is one of trial, hardship, and persecution. The call is one to share in his sufferings (Philippians 3:7ff) and not to fear the killing of our bodies (Matthew 10:28). Still, I wrestle with how can I not be fearful? How can I lose my life for Christ’s sake, only to find it in him?

The beautiful cost of following Jesus is that our story isn’t just supplemented by his story, by the gospel, by Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection–it is completely re-written by his story. Re-written with his suffering and victory.

We have no hope of finding rest outside of Christ’s suffering and victory.
We have no assurance of meaning in life, temporal or eternal, outside of Christ’s suffering and victory.
We have no expectation that we will be left bruised and unbroken or smoldering and not extinguished outside of Christ’s suffering and victory.
We have no thing, nothing, outside of Christ’s suffering and victory.

This is the cost of the call to be a disciple of Jesus: to count our lives and everything in the world as insignificant and to consider our affliction unworthy of comparison to the surpassing weight of glory which is ours in Christ, in identifying with him, his cross, and his suffering.

Only by allowing the author and finisher of our faith to re-write our story to be one of abiding, yoking, and resting in him, can we too stand before the world and cry:

To live is Christ. To die is gain. I share in his suffering, in his sweet victory.

Additional Resources

If you’re interested in more resources, here’s some that I’ve found helpful:

My journey to a heart of worship.

A few weeks ago I auditioned on the guitar to play on the worship band at my church. It went really well (I guess I “passed”) because I was invited to play for the two services that Sunday. I was thrilled, I hadn’t lead worship (or really played guitar) for four years. Four years. Why is that?

Depressed in Cherokee

I started playing guitar at age 13. I wanted to play the violin but never got around to lessons. During this time my dad was buying and selling guitars on the side so we always seemed to have an extra guitar around that I could fiddle around with. I loved it. I learned quickly. And I was good. Pretty soon I was competent enough to lead worship for my dad’s small group (back then we called them home fellowships). During this time I was even in and out of a few bands. Even though I loved worship, and leading worship (I felt God strongly urging me to continue to play guitar and lead others in worship) I preferred running the soundboard, or anything really besides being in front of people. And then…

Playing Blondie, writing a song for my baby sister…we moved to from San Diego, CA to Cherokee, IA six years ago. Now there’s nothing wrong with Cherokee, but at age 17 there’s a lot of things that can lead to depression when leaving Southern California for the Midwest. But the God was faithful, and my guitar, Blondie, was my lifeline, my way of communication, with God. I didn’t lead worship at first in Cherokee, but I played 30+ hours a week. It was glorious, yet painful.

Through all that pain however, God shaped within me a heart of worship–at least more than I had ever had before. A heart where it wasn’t about how a song was played or how talented the musician was, a heart about bowing before the Most High glorious God in complete adoration and submission. I would lead worship at the fellowship my dad was pastoring at the time (Calvary Chapel of Cherokee), and those were some of the most blessed and intimate worship services I ever participated in.

But it was downhill from there. I got good. Really good. And I knew it. And it didn’t help that I was blessed with the best guitar ever. And pretty quick my times of leading worship shifted from having an appropriate attitude of my heart to having the best flow, medley, song arrangement, key, vocals, guitar licks, emotion, and me. Lots of me. I went to college not far from home, so I was able to continue in this pattern of selfish worship–not just at church but in groups at college too.

You should see that it was no surprise that leading worship, and even playing guitar, became shallow and empty. God pulled out a mirror through some close friends and mentors to show me how ugly I appeared to him during these times of “worship”. I was conceited, my heart was furthest from being right, and it was absolutely repulsive. My family moved again two years after arriving in Cherokee to Florida and I stayed behind this time to finish college. And I stopped playing guitar Fall of 2007. Completely. I played twice: one week in Israel Spring 2008 and for a friends wedding in June 2010. I’m pretty sure I can count on one hand the times I opened my guitar case from Fall of 2007 to May 2010.

3.5 years later I play guitar once a week. Sometimes for Julia. Sometimes to goof around. And almost always to remember the Lord’s faithfulness to me. To change my heart. In those three and a half years the Lord did a work in me and my view of worship. I had skewed it and polluted it with my flesh back in ’06-’07. He needed to rip me out of the picture. There is no room in worship for God and self. Not even God and. Just God.

I fought back hard. I liked me in the picture. I liked the praise of men, the attention, the accolades. After a year of active battle, I resigned, I became apathetic. I didn’t go to church, and when I did I’m pretty sure I mouthed the words. Someone challenged me to read the Psalms. I dutifully read the Psalms for 2 years (and still read them). Through reading those psalms, those honest pleas, those sincere cries, I began desiring to play guitar again. And it’s been glorious, simply glorious.

I would love to continue to play but I’m so hesitant that history will repeat itself. But it’s not about me, it’s about bringing God the glory due his name. But God’s grace is enough, and He will provide and lead. I do have a few brothers who keep me accountable, and I have/will have them do this as well, I do not pretend that I can keep my head on straight by myself anymore (this walk is not a solo journey after all).

Why share all this? To make much of Christ. To be real. Honest. To point specifically how Christ has been faithful in my life and walk, and hopefully encourage (or caution) you.

So I ask, what constitutes a heart of worship to you? How do you prepare yourself to worship the almighty God, Creator of heaven and earth? I encourage you to watch the video below. It has refreshed and renewed my soul many a days, and it’s from Psalm 62, an influential Psalm in my life the past three years.

Fish and chips

On Tuesday we went to Brit’s Pub in downtown Minneapolis with our group of friends, famous for their Fish and Chips I’d recommend it definitely.

(This is the second question of the week that I have pondered…the post below is the first…)

Not only was the food great, but the conversations and questions were far superior to the food and drink.  It is hard for me to encapsulate the question we tossed around for 1.5 hours.  Essentially it was, “How do we take American-culture-influenced-Christianity and combine it harmoniously with other culturally-influenced-Christianity?”  I clumsily stabbed at it with proposing it was a matter of finding the foundational, biblical truths that would be at the root of each (more than two cultural/ethnic Christianities) and from there be able to distinguish what is cultural, and what is necessary for the gospel and salvation.  It breaks down when trying to identify these elemental truths; these running themes foundational to the Christian faith.  Who decides these truths? Does culture influence what an American identifies as to what an African identifies? Or a Mulsim or Jew?  Probably to some degree.

But both don’t answer how can these be combined.  My mind has travelled to and fro regarding this question.  What if there is no combining necessary?  What if your truth is true, but mine is true?  A member of the conversation is a dear brother in Christ living in Jerusalem.  Heralds himself as a Seminary dropout–my kind of guy.  His stance, although it is hard to methodically and scientifically reconcile with the notion of combining these different Christianities, it is widens the approach of the topic.  Think of Christianity as like the emotion of love, love that a young man is smitten with a young lady [note, it is not love, not where we’re going with this].  We each can “feel” and “understand” this love, but we express this love in very different ways.  I might write a poem and love letter, you might write a song on your guitar, and he might altogether be dull and buy flowers.  We each love, we each show love, it is just expressed differently.  We value different principles, truths, or cultural influences.  Maybe we know what salvation is (the redemptive work of God-as-Christ on the cross, from our sins), it is expressed, emphasized, and explicitly defined differently.

Maybe a better question would be, “How can I rid simplify my faith, and eradicate my cultural influences from my version of Christianity when I reach to those outside of my culture?”

and then my scientific brain tells me, keep searching, you haven’t concluded the results qualitatively yet.  There is the P.O.E.T. model: Phenomenological, Ontological, Evaluative, and finally Transformational.  The apostle Paul was the greatest biblical example of a missionary constantly removing his Jewish culture in order to reach more and more gentiles.  And he pioneered this method of trialouge.  Brilliant.  And it must start with a wholistic view of the Bible.  huh, there are pre-defined, timeless, and necessary biblical truths to faith in Christ.

Responsibility vs. Right

Questions. Within questions I often lose myself finding I enjoy questions.  My scientific education tells me to methodically search for an answer.  Solve the problem.  Measure the result.  Define with complicated equations and numbers.  The only question unanswered is one too complicated for a time, or one too quickly abandoned.  My philosophical side asks, “What is wrong with an unanswered question?”  Not an answer, just another, better, more thought-provoking question.  Questions.  I love questions.  I have been working through two questions lately.  I’ll cover the first here, and the second later…

In our Sunday School class, we are discussing the principle of marriage found in Ephesians 5, namely, husband love your wife, and see that the wife respects her husband.  Love & Respect.  A man thrives on respect; a woman love.  Different, not inherently wrong.  Our culture in America today is overdosed on love.  It’s everywhere.  Hallmark “I love you” cards.  Songs, “All you need is love” (Beatles).  Movies, like The Princess Bride, where you have true love.  We have made ourselves into a culture of love.  Not my problem this week.

The first question was “What is the difference between right and responsibility?”  A man thrives on respect.  From the respect given to him, he carries responsibility.  At the workplace his responsibility is to perform well, deliver results, grow the company, etc.  In the home it is to provide financially, lead spiritually, invest in his wife and in his children, etc.  A species of this responsibility is patriotic in nature, almost matyr-like.  A man has such a strong sense of responsibility, associated with his respect which is deep within his God-designed nature, that he will die for his loved ones, for his beliefs, for his country, for his God.  It is a responsibility…not his right.  I feel that our culture can view this sense (and related species) of this responsibility as a right.  Voting–it is a men’s right and it should be a woman’s right.  Agreed.  It’s a men’s right to pastor, it should be a woman’s right too. Not agreed.  A man protecting his wife by standing in the line of gunshot, so that his wife can live–responsibility, not a right.  The man doesn’t stop to ask his wife, “Honey, what do you think here?  Since we split leadership of our family, decisions, and marriage 50/50, who should be killed here and who should live?  Who’s right is it?”  Hogwash.  It is my firm belief that the man will, and is culturally expected to, take the bullet.

But men have abused their sense of responsibility for centuries I acknowledge that…no wonder our society is backlashing today.  The question I have chewed on this week is, “Where is that line of responsibility?”  What is my role, specifically within my covenantal marriage with Julia, and how is it best, biblically balanced, with respect to the strengths we individual bring into the marriage?  I don’t know.  But God is increasingly faithful to illuminate different facets that shine and sparkle and make me feel less dumb.