20170303

The Mindfulness of Lent

Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.

—C.S. Lewis

Lenten Reflection: The Mindfulness of Lent
By Steven Dilla

“What would happen,” asks Harvard psychologist Ellen J. Langer, “if everyone were equally respected and encouraged to be mindful?” Langer’s work explores the ways mindfulness could enhance our health, success, and overall quality of life.

Living in a broken world demands a certain level of mindlessness as a compensatory mechanism. On the grand scale, the realities of unfettered consumerism, poverty, and genocide are difficult to face each morning—not thinking about them is easier.

A recent web documentary series chronicles three Norwegian teens’ journey to the workers who manufacture their discount clothing. “What kind of life is this?” one of the young women asks through tears after a day in a Cambodian sweat shop. “When you start to interview a person you realize she is worth just as much as you.”

In the same way we are necessarily mindless to the brokenness of the world, we do our best to suppress the regrets of our personal sin. We have awareness we have distanced God and hurt others—but who can bear to dwell on such things?

Dr. Langer teaches that the transition from mindlessness to mindfulness begins when we realize that “at some point the behavior that made sense now doesn’t.” It is an epiphany—new realities have bearing on past events.

Awareness of sin is a dreadful experience—and without Christ it makes sense to suffer under the weight of our own brokenness. In light of the gospel, this suffering no longer makes sense. The apostle Paul, who regretted his violent past, said Christ’s resurrection reoriented his life: “one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.”

The Christian season of Lent is an invitation into this kind of mindfulness. Typically thought of as a season to be sorrowful over sins, Lent cannot be observed outside the reality of the gospel. It is not the work of fasting that refreshes our souls, but the renewal of our hope in Christ’s work to restore the brokenness of our life and world.

Kierkegaard’s words are the tuning pitch for why observing Lent and celebrating Easter are so powerful in the lives of believers: “You rest in the forgiveness of sins when the thought of God does not remind you of the sin, but that it is forgiven; when the past is not a memory of how much you trespassed, but of how much you have been forgiven.”

Prayer: The Request for Presence

Satisfy us by your loving-kindness in the morning; so shall we rejoice and be glad all the days of our life. — Psalm 90.14

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Exodus 14 (Listen – 4:46)
Luke 17 (Listen – 4:22)

Today’s Reading
Exodus 15 (Listen – 4:11) Luke 18 (Listen – 5:27)
Exodus 16 (Listen – 5:02) Luke 19 (Listen – 5:29)

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20170302

The Root of Faithfulness

Don’t aim at success—the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.

—Victor Frankl

Lenten Reflection: The Root of Faithfulness
By Steven Dilla

Every temptation Christ faced was rooted in something which he was within his rights to claim. Jesus was tempted to claim his rights by his own power, on his own timeline, and apart from his Heavenly Father. The temptation account is not a lesson inspiring the faithful to live stronger lives, instead Christ demonstrates what is possible when a person’s identity is firmly rooted in God.

In the sum of his life, Christ’s success was antithetical to worldly success. He restored man’s broken relationship with God, defeated evil, and rose to the right hand of his Father. To accomplish this he became impoverished, homeless, rejected, scorned, beaten, and executed.

There are contemporary versions of Christianity that pray for all opposition to be removed—they are effectively praying they fail at following Christ. In Jesus’ own words:

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?

In meditating on the story of Christ’s obedience in temptation, we must focus our attention to how and why he was steadfast. Donald Hagner, a theologian at Fuller in southern California, writes,

The goal of obedience to the Father is accomplished, not by triumphant self-assertion, not by the exercise of power and authority, but paradoxically by the way of humility, service, and suffering. Therein lies true greatness. In fulfilling his commission by obedience to the will of the Father, Jesus demonstrates the rightness of the great commandment as well as his own submission to it.

Prayer: The Small Verse

My soul thirsts for the strong, living God and all that is within me cries out to him.

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Exodus 13 (Listen – 3:30)
Luke 16 (Listen – 4:27)

 

20170301

The Nature of Temptation

Most of the ethical principles or rules in the Bible are not simply codes of behavior for individuals to follow; they are descriptions of a new community that bears the spiritual fruit of love and holiness.

― Timothy Keller

Lenten Reflection: The Nature of Temptation 

By Steven Dilla

The heart of Christianity isn’t morality, so the nature of temptation isn’t a draw toward immorality. As we enter in to the first day of Lent—a season of fasting and servicemindfulness, and community—we take time to reflect on the temptation of Christ. In the brutality of the wilderness we see that the heart of temptation is to convince us that life is better without God.

Divine sonship for Jesus meant far more than the power to do miracles. Jesus’ intimacy with the Father reoriented every aspect of his life. Therefore, when he faced temptation, this holy relationship was hit hardest. It is no different today. Temptation strikes at the core of our identity. N.T. Wright observes:

The first two temptations play on the very strength he has just received. ‘You are my son, my beloved one!’, God had said to him. Very well, whispers the demonic voice; if you really are God’s son, surely he can’t want you to go hungry when you have the power to get food for yourself?

In the wilderness the offer is made: quench your material longings by your own ability. Jesus’ reply? In the end, that wouldn’t satisfy my deepest longings. We have so many appetites—find a way to feed them all on your own and you’ll still be hungry.

Theologian Don Garlington reflects,

The impact of Satan’s temptation is that Jesus, like Adam first and Israel later, had a justifiable grievance against God and therefore ought to voice his complaint by ‘murmuring’ (compare Exodus and Numbers) and ought to provide for himself the basic necessity of life, namely, bread.

Satan, in other words, sought to make Jesus groundlessly anxious about his physical needs and thus to provoke him to demand the food he craved.

The invitation of Christ is an invitation to have our deepest needs met in someone whose very nature is love. In the embrace of his mercy and grace we find the resting place for our identity. We experience in Christ’s forgiveness of us the freedom to forgive others. We find in Christ’s power all we need to flourish in the wilderness of our world.

Prayer

Your way, O God, is holy; who is as great as our God? — Psalm 77:13

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Exodus 12.22-51 (Listen – 7:31)
Luke 15 (Listen – 4:19)

 

20170228

The Glory of Fasting

No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great. — John Chrysostom

Reflection: The Glory of Fasting
By Steven Dilla

Faith, like generosity, grows as a person transfers focus outside of them self. When generosity and faith combine a person experiences the glory of the two greatest commandments: to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself.

The season of Lent, which begins tomorrow, is marked by fasting. “In Scripture, we see that fasting is a sign of sorrow over sin, a sign of repentance, and an aid to prayer,” observes Kevin P. Emmert. Yet if these were the only reasons to fast it would not have made sense for Jesus to fast 40 days before beginning his ministry—Christ had no sins for which to be sorrowful or repentant and lived his life in direct communion with the Father.

In his article—titled as a call to action—A Lent That’s Not For Your Spiritual Improvement, Emmert writes,

The truth is Christ didn’t forego privileges and battle for humanity for only 40 days.… Christ made himself nothing by becoming a servant. He did not use his divinity to his own advantage, as Paul put it, but largely to walk a life-long path of self-sacrifice.

The ancient Jews expected the Messiah to grow in power and control—instead Jesus grew in wisdom and favor with God and man. They expected him to conquer and overthrow—instead he sacrificed and served. Emmert continues, “If we want to imitate his life and his fast to the degree we can, then we should consider fasting on behalf of others—that is, for their benefit and blessing.”

The glory of fasting is found in what it does for others. Maybe we fast from meat or coffee and donate the money we would have spent to organizations who feed the poor. Maybe we give up plastic for the benefit of the environment and those most harmed by its decay. Maybe we abstain from time-wasters like online video-streaming or non-essential iPhone apps to invest in relationships we don’t normally have margin for. Regardless of the steps we take by God’s grace, Emmert reflects,

Lent is not just about personal holiness. Nor is it about pursuing simplicity of life for its own sake. Lent also has a remarkable social dimension. As pastor and columnist Chuck B. Colson said, “Lent gives us the opportunity to move towards our neighbor in charity” because it “emphasizes simplicity for the sake of others.”

The Call to Prayer

Search for the Lord and his strength; continually seek his face. — Psalm 105:4

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Exodus 11-12.21 (Listen – 9:08)
Luke 14 (Listen – 4:36)

20170227

The Wasted Years

The worldling blesses God while he gives him plenty, but the Christian… trusts him where he cannot trace him, looks up to him in the darkest hour, and believes that all is well.

― Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Scripture: Exodus 10.3-4

Moses and Aaron went in to Pharaoh and said, “Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, ‘How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? … For if you refuse to let my people go, behold, tomorrow I will bring locusts into your country.’”

Reflection: The Wasted Years
By Steven Dilla

A swarm of locusts was like a stock market crash for an agrarian society. The swarms descend in an instant—destroying wealth and spiraling entire economies into what could turn out to be a sustained downturn.

Even today, the devastation from just one attack can mar swaths of land. The largest locust swarm on record devoured 198,000 square miles (17% larger than the state of California) and contained 12.5 trillion insects.

In Scripture, the long term destruction from locusts is referred to as “wasted years.” Months of preparing, planting, and cultivating were laid waste. For Egypt it was a direct result of their hardheartedness, and an attack on their god Isis, who was believed to protect from such plagues.

For Israel, who faced their own locust attacks, the locusts were believed to be tangible reminders of the devastation caused by sin. Years lost to disobedience, brokenness, and rebellion.

God’s character is revealed in how he responds to wasted years. If he were spiteful his response would be callous—a cosmic, “I told you so.” If he were overbearing he would make the  devastation worse.

Instead, and in the face of all that is lost, God is graceful. “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten,” God promises through the prophet Joel.  It’s a promise that requires divine intervention—for what man can restore what is lost in his darkest hour?

“It is a great wonder; but he is a God of wonders, and in the kingdom of his grace miracles are common things,” Charles Spurgeon told his London congregation in 1886.

In some ways the joy, hope, and renewal found in Christ result in a restoration here and now. Faith in Christ results in a tangible change to the way we engage in the world. In other ways we await the full restoration of all that has been lost. For then our tears will be wiped away, our pain relieved, our brokenness restored, our hearts made whole again.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons

May you be blessed by the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
Exodus 10 (Listen – 4:44)
Luke 13 (Listen – 5:02)