Lent 2020: See What We Can Do

“Look!…See what we can do with our very own hands!” They were quite pleased with themselves.
But God wasn’t pleased with them…. They were trying to live without him, but God knew that wouldn’t make them happy or safe or anything.

God gave us bright brains and capable hands and put us in groups to accomplish life together. And we need to remember that He is the source of all good things, including all of our creative abilities.

We may not be building the Tower of Babel, but we do stuff all day long. Lots of intricate, complicated, amazing things. Have we lost sight of God in the process? Better question: How do we keep sight of God in the process?

When people got cocky and tried to build a tower to heaven, a tower that would speak volumes about their abilities rather than God’s provision, God gave them the gift of languages. Quite a gift, and also a confusing problem, especially in the beginning.

Communication still gets confusing. We often communicate ineffectively, and it gets in the way of our ability to accomplish things.

However, when we look to God for His plans. When we seek to honor Him rather than ourselves. When we honor one another and the beautiful gifts they are to us and to the world. Then, I believe, God will make clear our communication and we will work together to do all the amazing things He has dreamed for us.

 

During Lent 2020, I’m reading and reflecting on The Jesus Storybook Bible. If you don’t already have it, I highly recommend it. You can purchase it here. Please note: as an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.

Hot & Bothered

How do you feel when you are engaged in a surprising and passionate conversation?

Recently, I had an epic, hours-long, meandering and caffeinated conversation with some young women I absolutely adore. For a time, the chatter turned passionate…not at all bad, just intense. In reflection, I felt heard, loving and loved, supported, and I think they did too; walking through the chilly winter evening to my car, I realized I also felt a little bit sweaty.

Mark 9 records that Jesus had a miraculous, mountaintop conversation with two historic figures: Moses and Elijah. Interestingly, Jesus physically changed just before their arrival. Not just transformed, which could mean changing His clothes or mood or facial expression, but “transfigured,” shining bright like a diamond; “transfigured” implies spiritual transformation; something way beyond normal human experience is going on.

We can only imagine the content of their conversation since no one recorded it. Why Moses and Elijah? Both biblical action heroes, Moses led God’s people out of Egypt, through the wilderness for 40 years, and right up to the edge of the Promised Land, while Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal and called God’s heart-wandering people back to worship the One True God.

What would they say to Jesus, soon to take up His cross and die? Surely they couldn’t give the Son of God advice, which leads me to wonder if they were there for two reasons: to encourage Jesus with emotional strength for the grueling journey ahead; and for the sake of Peter, James, and John quivering nearby.

Talk about hot and bothered, the disciples were terrified! Only Peter musters up the courage (stupidity?) to speak, and he offers up their brute strength to build three shelters for their honored guests. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to build one, a meeting house of sorts for this divinely-appointed exchange? Does he expect they’ll all be moving to the mountaintop for the foreseeable future, in which case, the disciples might also need shelter?

Peter’s suggestion demonstrates his terror, for sure, but also his joint desires to serve and to tame the untameable. He’s desperately trying to make sense of a scene so startling he could never have imagined it in his wildest dreams.

To add to the intensity, God speaks, saying much the same thing He said at Jesus’ baptism, except this time addressing our small, tremulous crowd: Listen to my beloved Son, Jesus. The heroes of old vanish as suddenly as they appeared, and first thing Jesus tells His buddies to keep mum about what they just witnessed. James and John might have been stunned silent, but bumbling Peter might have had just a wee bit of trouble keeping his trap shut with the rest of the gang.

These poor guys witnessed a mind-blowing event, and they can’t even begin to grasp what Jesus means by “rising from the dead.” He can’t die, their glowing Friend to whom God sends friends from long-ago; despite having just now seen people who haven’t been alive for forever, they can’t wrap their brains around life after death.

It’s too much, way too much. Thank God He doesn’t disqualify us for not understanding His ways!

When was the last time Jesus blew your mind, surprised or terrified you, left you hot and bothered? Have you been watching, listening? Have you tried to tame the untameable? What journey are you on with Him now, and what might He say to you along the way?

Dig deeper…

Connect
If you could have a conversation with any historical figure, who would you choose and why?

Study
Read aloud Mark 9:2-13.
Describe the scene in vv2-8. Who is present and what happens?
Merriam-Webster defines “transfigured” as “to give a new and typically exalted or spiritual appearance to; transform.” Discuss in this context.
What do you remember from Scripture about Moses and Elijah? Why is their presence with Jesus significant?
Besides fear, what motivates Peter’s response to the situation (vv5-6)?
Compare Mark 1:11 with Mark 9:7.
God’s voice commands the disciples to listen to Jesus (v7). What does Jesus tell them (v9) and why?
Read Malachi 4:1-6. Explain the conversation in Mark 9:11-13.
What impact do you imagine this event had on Peter, James and John?

Live
How has Jesus recently surprised or awed you?
Why do people want to “tame” Jesus? How do they try to tame Him?
What helps you retain a sense of God’s glory and keeps you from getting too lackadaisical?
How have you recently been listening to God? What have you heard?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Thank God for revealing His glory in Jesus Christ.

Family Share Questions
Use these questions to reflect on Mark 9:2-8 individually and with your family.
When have you recently been surprised?
How does Jesus surprise His disciples? What does that tell us about Him?
Thank God that Jesus is more surprising than anyone we know.

 

Featured image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Two Words

What’s your most spectacular New Year’s resolution fail?

To get healthy, eat clean, lose ## pounds? To stop swearing, or drinking? To fall in love, or find a new job you love?

I gave up on resolutions years ago. Why set myself up for failure…again and again, year after year? If I’m going to set goals, I can do that any ol’ time, and not just at the turn of a new year (although, admittedly, there is something about January 1, or the start of a new school year, that I find motivating). Not surprisingly, 80% of people who make New Year’s resolutions break them, and most resolutions get trampled in the rain-soggy February mud.

Five years ago, I joined the ranks of the One Word movement, where people choose a word to inspire their actions and decisions over a year. My first foray, 2015, was my most successful, interestingly not because I chose a word but because I chose a phrase: Put yourself in the way of beauty.

Beauty was my word, but the phrase required dynamic action. It motivated me to get out of the car to play in the cold, wet snow with my kids. So I shivered, but I also hiked up a hill (exercise!), took a picture of vivid red berries contrasted against the white snow, threw a few snowballs, and saw some train tracks that inspired moments of wonder.

You can read more about my one word experience over the last few years here, where I share why one word just wouldn’t be enough for 2019.

Honestly, at the dawn of 2019, I didn’t realize how unhappy I was. I had, little by little, painstakingly over years, folded into myself until I no longer resembled my best self, who I am or want to be. My origami life wasn’t a unicorn or a crane; it held no magical reflection of the beauty within me. I had unwittingly entered myself as “paper” in a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors and, in this version, rock and scissors beat paper every time.

Last New Year’s Eve, I didn’t know if or how or when I would make the changes necessary to love myself back into three-dimensional wholeness. Thank God for His guidance and strength, and the renewed health I’m enjoying now.

Having braved up also freed up time to invest in a project with my favorite creative collaborator, Nancy. Together we created a set of devotional cards: To Do Cards//take two. Each card has a two-word invitation from Jesus, found in Mark’s gospel, beautifully hand lettered by Nancy. On the reverse, you’ll find the corresponding Scripture from Mark and a prayer written by me.

If you’ve been around my blog this month, you’ve seen them. Nancy and I used and promoted them as an Advent calendar. There are 25 cards in this set, and they worked nicely as a way to daily check in with Jesus in a season that can get more than a little hectic, even among the twinkly lights and festive gatherings.

The set definitely has a life beyond Advent, however, and they are still available for free download. We recommend you print them double-sided on card stock for best results.

I’m looking forward to steeping 2020 in these two-word invitations from Jesus. And, as it turns out, I have a two-word response that will be my prayer throughout this year: Transform Me.two words

Advent 1: Follow Me (2019)

Come, follow me…and I will send you out to fish for people. Mark 1:17

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the church season in which we remember our longing for the arrival of the Messiah. My friend The Creative Resource and I have created a set of devotional cards you can use in any order all year long, or you can use them in order during Advent as an Advent calendar. This set of cards all feature two words spoken by Jesus as found in Mark’s gospel; you’ll find Nancy’s artwork on one side, and the corresponding Scripture and a prayer written by me on the reverse.

FREE download, available here.

Also during Advent, I will post a longer meditation on Sundays using the words on that day’s card. We’re not following the traditional themes—love, joy, peace, and hope, or the characters of Jesus’ birth narrative—but the way the two word themes of Jesus play out chronologically in Mark’s Gospel.

The First Sunday of Advent: Follow Me

Jesus met people where they were: the seashore, the tax collector’s booth, in a tree, caught in sin. He went to them, gracefully interrupting their lives in progress. He didn’t expect them to clean themselves up before they came to Him, holy and ready. Truly, He loved but didn’t much like those who considered themselves holy; those were the ones who thought their own goodness could save them; they didn’t need a Savior.

Sinners who recognized their need for a Savior, that’s who Jesus looked for. And Scripture shows us so many beautiful scenes of sinners recognizing their Savior Jesus when He arrived.

Simon and Andrew, James and John, fisherman at work casting and preparing their nets, Jesus called them first. Was it a crisis? Did they wonder at this stranger who walked up with an unlikely invitation to follow Him? Though they did, at once and without delay. Maybe they had heard of Him, this One who had strolled their town, Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God: God’s kingdom has come near. Repent and believe!

Maybe they were intrigued by His words: I will sent you out to fish for people. Fishing for fish, they knew; what could it mean to fish for people?

We still think we have to get cleaned up for God. We gussy up for church, out of respect, perhaps, but also to fit in. We wouldn’t want anyone to look askance. Would they, would we, look askance if we knew the truth of one another’s lives?

The first disciples must have reeked of fish. They didn’t shower and change before following Jesus, before He put them to work fishing for people. He accepted and loved them just as they were, and began immediately to show them what God’s kingdom looks like: healing, teaching, praying, loving: restoration.

That’s the journey Jesus still invites us on. Wherever we are today, this moment, Jesus appears to us if we have eyes to see Him. He wants us, just as we are, to follow Him. To learn from Him what His kingdom looks like. What love looks like.

Jesus, thank you for inviting me on the adventure of loving others. Amen.