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The Intention of Agony

Father, these moments of remembrance, the pauses in prayer, the pleas from Jesus for support from His friends, even today we can feel the tension & difficulty of the moment rising, time closing in & the plan of redemption bearing down in the fullness of its weight & urgency. This was not a desperation of confusion, but a desperation for Your glory & for the saving of many, many souls. The garden was pregnant with intention & Your preparation that night, Father. Jesus was not ignorant of what was coming, even if it was heavy beyond reckoning from a human perspective. Betrayal happened in darkness, but darkness cannot overcome You. May our hearts be reminded of Your great love, patience & design as we walk through Holy Week with You. May we keep watch with Christ in anticipation of Your good grace. We pray in His Name, amen.

Luke 22:39-53
39 And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. 40 And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” 41 And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42 saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” 43 And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. 44 And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. 45 And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, 46 and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

47 While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, 48 but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” 49 And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. 51 But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. 52 Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? 53 When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”

This makes me uncomfortable.
This passage begins the portion of the Passion that is easier to read through quickly than to stop, slow down & be intentional about meditating & praying through. The agony of Christ in the garden that night was & still is, an agony that I have contributed to, personally. The suffering that began its work, pressing sweat & blood through His skin came from what I have done, will probably do today & haven’t yet done tomorrow. My brokenness, my sin, my intentional, willful disobedience & my momentary transgressions that I am tempted to pass off as if they are nothing all combine here. They press upon the heart of the Lord of Heaven, the Lamb of Glory, perfect & pure, & my struggles become His struggles. This is hard to think about. This is hard to come to terms with every time I read it. The reality of my shame & the unbearable weight of the separation it has caused between my heart & the heart of God comes crashing down in this moment, & Jesus steps in to take that weight, that blow, so that I, so that we, are not utterly destroyed.

This should make me uncomfortable. This should bring me face to face with my brokenness & my absolutely desperate need for Jesus & the grace of God. I would be lost, crushed & dead before I made it to my own cross if I had to begin to wrestle with the wrath of God for my sin. The suffering I would endure would be beyond comprehension, beyond weighing out & I would be utterly spent from the first moment, destroyed. But Jesus begins this struggle, wrestling with the brokenness of man & the glory of God, here in the garden. This isn’t the moment of redemption, but the doors are closing on the first leg of the human journey to sanctification by grace & the weight of the Law, & opening to the relief of grace by faith & the new rhythms it would bring. Relief is on the way, but this struggle cannot pass if it is to come. This cup must be drained to the dregs & Jesus alone can carry it, lift it to His lips & drink the fullness of it all.

And so we find ourselves, here in the darkness of the garden that most of us will never visit in person, but where our hearts remain present with Christ, keeping watch with Him, as His disciples sleep for grief. We count the hours, we see the suffering beginning & we account for every drop of blood that presses its way through His precious forehead. We want to take our portion from Him, but that is not ours to decide & we know we cannot bear it. And so we watch, & we wait with Him & We pray that we may not fall into temptation. We do not rush through this moment, but we keep watch with Him. We thank Him & we are brought to that place of repentance again, knowing our part in this scene. He bore it because we cannot.

Precious Jesus…our Wonderful Redeemer, we watch & pray & praise Your blessed Name.

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Pray like Jesus

the-lords-prayer

Cyprian wrote, “The Lord has given us a pattern of prayer, instructing us on how we are to pray. He has made it easy for us to be heard as we pray to the Father in the words taught us by the Son. What prayer could be more a prayer in the truth than the one spoken by the lips of the Son, who is truth Himself? To ask the Father in the words His Son has given us, to let Him hear the prayer of Christ ringing in His ears, is to make our prayer one of friendship, a family prayer. Let the Father recognize the words of His Son.”

Matthew 6:7-15
“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread,
12 and forgive us our debts/trespasses/sins,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors/trespassers/those who sin against us.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from evil.

14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

This prayer come from my heart and passes through my lips at least three times a day. I enjoy praying it on Sundays with my church family. It is a reminder, a comfort, something we can do in complete unity and in submission to God. In some places it is called “The Lord’s Prayer” in others “The Model Prayer” and in still others the “Our Father.” All of those titles are fine and good. What matters most is the heart that speaks the prayer, and the intent behind it all.

I do believe that a regular reminder of the heart and intent of Christ is important for us all experience. An undistorted view of His example to us, meant to draw our hearts in reverent worship, honor, thanksgiving and supplication to God is immensely valuable as we struggle against sin and the difficulties of life in a broken world.

And so we return to the words of Christ. We know that if we have nothing else to say, we can at least say this. If we cannot find the words, we can always come back here. This is a way station for our heart, a place to gain confidence and to listen to the words of our Savior over and over again. When we gather as a church body, we can pray this simple prayer together to center our hearts and minds together, to draw from a piece of common ground, a familiar setting.

I’ve had people tell me that it feels very ‘Catholic’ to pray the Lord’s Prayer out loud every week. I can’t argue with their feeling, but what I can do is point them to the words of Christ who said, “Pray then like this…” Corporate prayer does not belong to any singular denomination or group within Christendom. Comments like that show a misunderstanding of the life of the church together, and of prayer. If you pray the prayer every week, and you don’t mean what you pray, then yes, it will feel hollow and repetitious. But if you address God from your heart, thinking through what you are saying, what those words mean, if you are expressing thoughts and ideas from your own heart as you repeat the words of Christ, then yes, it will have meaning and it will be a point of comfort and it will be an encouragement to both you and to those around you.

If this is one of the very few things that Jesus specifically gave us to do together, because, remember, when He was speaking these words as an example to us for the very first time, it was in a group teaching scenario: The Sermon on the Mount. It wasn’t in a one-on-one teaching time. He never instructed us to keep this one to ourselves. This was meant to be shared in together, and returned to on our own. It is a reminder of community when we pray it on our own, and it is a reinforcement for later use when we pray it together.

And when we want to pray, and speak to God in a free form fashion, we return to this example of prayer from Christ Himself and we can build our prayers on His example: Worship, Confession/Repentance & Requesting.

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

It is the heart that matters, the intent behind the prayer. Praying to be heard by men “that they may be seen” is hollow and ultimately empty. Hollow prayers also come from unengaged hearts, from people who are just going through the motions. Praying together with other people is a joining together in unity, and encouragement of the presence of God among you. Praying alongside people that you share life with is a deepening of that bond you share in Christ.

So, pray like Jesus, whether corporately or in your private prayer closet, think about your words, mean what you say and engage your heart with the heart of Christ.

Acts 23:11-22 // Have Courage!

“11 The following night, the Lord stood by him and said, ‘Have courage! For as you have testified about Me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.’ 

12 When it was day, the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves under a curse: neither to eat nor to drink until they had killed Paul. 13 There were more than 40 who had formed this plot. 14 These men went to the chief priests and elders and said, ‘We have bound ourselves under a solemn curse that we wont eat anything until we have killed Paul. 15 So now you, along with the Sanhedrin, make a request to the commander that he bring him down to you as if you were going to investigate his case more thoroughly. However, before he gets near, we are ready to kill him.’

16 But the son of Paul’s sister, hearing about their ambush, came and entered the barracks and reported it to Paul. 17 Then Paul called one of the centurions and said, ‘Take this young man to the commander, because he has something to report to him.’

18 So he took him, brought him to the commander, and said, ‘The prisoner Paul called me and asked me to bring this young man to you, because he has something to tell you.’

19 Then the commander took him by the hand, led him aside, and inquired privately, ‘What is it you have to report to me?’

20 ‘The Jews,’ he said, ‘have agreed to ask you to bring Paul down to the Sanhedrin tomorrow, as though they are going to hold a somewhat more careful inquiry about him. 21 Don’t let them persuade you, because there are more than 40 of them arranging to ambush him, men who have bound themselves under a curse not to eat or drink until they kill him. Now they are ready, waiting for a commitment from you.’

22 So the commander dismissed the young man and instructed him, ‘Don’t tell anyone that you have informed me about this.'”

Acts 23:11-22

==

I have been in situations before where I was the only Christian in a workplace, and all some of my co-workers wanted was to see me fall apart, to drop my guard and to do something that they wanted to do. Whether it was through a confrontation or temptation to stray from the path, they simply wanted to see me fail. And the reasons behind this varied. Some of them were people that fell away from the faith and thought  they ‘knew better’ now and they were trying to do me a service by pulling me away from Christ. Others never had anything to do with God or His church and simply wanted my behavior to match theirs. I was pressed on my beliefs, I was mocked, I was run through an inquisition over the course of many shifts. I was offered drugs, alcohol & the promise of sexual encounters with loose women if I would just go along with them, be like them, and do what they did for ‘fun.’

But I was always able to stand firm in my beliefs because I knew that Christ was there with me in those moments. God gave me the strength to stand my ground, to say ‘no’ and to still maintain my integrity. Was there temptation to fold, to cave in and just run with what seemed easy? Honestly, many of the things people offered were so vulgar and against my character that it wasn’t difficult to refuse them. (This is the credit of the Holy Spirit working in me.) But other times, it would seem easier to just run with the attitudes of the world and to act like they were acting, to maybe joke like they were joking, to be a part of their conversation to ‘fit in.’ And we’ve all encountered these situations, arguments and debates in the workplace, school and out in the world if we’ve been living our faith in Christ. 

Because a life lived publicly for Christ is going to draw attention. It’s going to make some people angry, some people uncomfortable and we must be prepared to stand firm no matter what that may bring. Paul was certain he was doing what was right, there was no question. But it would have been easier to just be quiet about Jesus once he had arrived in Jerusalem. There may not have been temptation to live like a Roman, but there may have been temptation to look like Saul the Pharisee again. There may have been temptation to live that old life, or to at least compromise a little, in order to get people to like him, trust him or even just leave him alone. But Paul knew that a life lived for Christ, a life where you GoLove others rather than just seek to protect yourself, was going to be a life that required sacrifice. And in this sacrifice, he would find resistance from others who were still living for self or in a way that acquiesced to public opinion. 

In all these instances, Christ promised to strengthen us, to give us courage and even that the Holy Spirit would give us the proper words to say as we stand before those who would accuse us of wrong doing  or wrong thinking. For those who ridicule us because we are ‘narrow’ or ‘closed’ minded, we can stand against their arguments & ridicule. For those who are morally loose, we can resist the temptation to live like them. For those who encounter us with anger in their hearts, we can still respond with love because of what Jesus Christ is doing in us as we are being daily sanctified for God’s glory. Our witness matters, the courage we have in Christ speaks directly to His goodness, His mercy, His grace and His Lordship over us. If our life just looks like the life around us in the world, then what good does Christ do? If we choose to live like everyone else, why on earth would there be anything compelling about a Christian walk? We haven’t been called to cave, but to conquer sin through the power of God’s Holy Spirit at work in us! The old life in us is dead and gone, and in Christ we stand victorious! There is something more, something better, something of eternal significance when we will leave behind that old dead life and be renewed in our heart and mind, as Paul was, and pursue the life that God offers to us in Christ Jesus.

“When we walk with the Lord/ in the light of His Word/ what a glory He sheds on our way./ While we do His good will/ He abides with us still./ Never fear, only trust and obey./ Trust and obey/ for there is no better way/ to be happy in Jesus/ but to trust and obey.”

Numbers 20 // Trusting God’s Way

“7 The Lord spoke to Moses, 8 ‘Take the staff and assemble the community. You and your brother Aaron are to speak to the rock while they watch, and it will yield its water. You will bring out water for them from the rock and provide drink for the community and their livestock.’
9 So Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence just as He had commanded him. 10 Moses and Aaron summoned the assembly in front of the rock, and Moses said to them, ‘Listen, you rebels! Must we bring water out of this rock for you?’ 11 Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff, so that a great amount of water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.
12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not trust Me to show My holiness in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this assembly into the land I have given them.’ 13 These are the waters of Meribah, where the Israelites quarreled with the Lord, and He showed His holiness to them.”
Numbers 20:7-13

Frustration is a corrosive force. It eats holes in our defense, it undermines our intentions and creates weak points in our witness. It can degrade the best of people into behavior that they normally would never participate in, and can cause a torrent of ugliness to spring up in an otherwise beautiful, God-ordained moment, as we see here with Moses and Aaron.

Sometimes, people in leadership succumb to the base attitudes that they are most bothered by in those they are supposed to be examples for when tensions are high. No one is perfect, and as James says, we all stumble in many ways (3:2). And even paragons like Moses and Aaron were subject to sin and stumbling, as we all are, but there is no excuse for directly disobeying God, no matter who you are. God does not allow for sin. He doesn’t look at us in a fallen moment and say, “Don’t sweat it, I understand.” He doesn’t. He does not sin. He does not find it acceptable. In fact, He tells us that He will always provide a way out of it (1 Corinthians 10:13) if we will be faithful and trust what He promises.

Moses and Aaron were in one of those all too familiar ‘last straw’ moments with the Israelite people. Surely, they thought that the people would have seen enough and understood enough that they would know that God wasn’t going to just let them all die out there in the wilderness. Those who rebelled and wouldn’t go into the promised land? Yes, but most of them were gone at this point. But those who remained were still stirring up dissent, and Moses had had enough. So, rather than trusting God and doing things His way, Moses seized a holy moment and focused it on his own anger and frustration rather than on the faithfulness of God, and he reduced himself down to the level of a show-boating, pagan magician.

Moses could have entered the Promised Land with the people if he had simply let God lead in that moment, but the seizure of the moment and the distraction from God, combined with his direct disobedience, led to punishment and a great disappointment. Moses could have crossed the Jordan and felt the sweet relief that comes with a fulfilled promise and a deep trust in God, but his anger and frustration ruled the moment rather than God’s will, and so consequences shifted to the negative rather than being a joyful thing.

As we GoLove the world in the Name of Christ, we must trust in God’s plan, God’s way and God’s timing. We aren’t allowed to just make it up as we go along, and let our ‘gut’ guide us. Our ‘gut’ is a misguided agent, led by sin. And frustration is a corrosive that allows that sin nature a greater influence over what could be a beatiful, God-ordained moment. We must pause, breathe, and ask God to lead and make Himself known through us in those moments, rather than degrading into sin and that selfish desire to say ‘I told you so.’ We all stumble in many ways, but that doesn’t mean that we just go on sinning so that grace may increase (Romans 6:1.) Instead, we give that moment over to God and let Him shine over and beyond our frustration, so that His witness in us remains intact, and so that hearts and minds are drawn to His holiness rather than our sin.

Life is not about you. Consider your impact. // Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinth church // chapter 8

“However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.
For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.”
1 Corinthians 8:7-13 ESV

Okay, so the issue of the day was was obviously something that doesn’t directly apply to us today. When I go to the grocery to buy food, there isn’t a sign over the meat case saying ‘These cows were offered up to Zeus.’ Or ‘These chickens were sacrificed to Baal.’ And so this ‘meat sacrificed to idols’ issue doesn’t really come up.

But the application for us today should be pretty obvious. If there is something you can simply not do and in the process you can save your brother or sister from temptation, why not just give it up? If your brother in Christ struggles with gluttony, why insist on going to your favorite buffet for lunch every week? If your sister in Christ has a problem with drinking, don’t sit across the table from her with a cocktail or a glass of wine. You and I going without something that we don’t really need to have is a much better option than causing someone else to stumble and sin.

We cannot feel so entitled to do whatever we want that we place another living human being underneath a simple desire, acting as thought they are of less value than an impulse.

How many people whine and complain, even as adults, when they don’t get what they want? How many people spend life focused on what they get to do or want to do over their own family members. Personal desire becomes a greater drive than the welfare of another person, and that is no mysterious condition.

It is simply pride.

Paul, the Spirit speaking through him, is encouraging us to consider others as more important than ourselves. That we would do to them as we would want them to do to us. It is not a new teaching, not even a radical idea within the scope of the Kingdom. It is love. So, if giving up meat, or buffets, or alcohol, or a gossipy environment, or secular music (or whatever may come up) will help my brother or sister live more securely in Christ…then why not do it? A want can be put on hold or dismissed. The need for righteousness cannot be ignored.

GoLove by putting others and their needs first.

beyond the boy scout motto…

(unmarked journal entry, presumably from matthew 4:1-11)

the temptation of Jesus...he's been there, too.

we have to be prepared.

when in the course of human events, we run into great temptation, we have to be prepared. temptation is inevitable. it happens daily, and leads to compromises and downfalls. the Word of God is a great shield and sword for us when we find ourselves faced with these daily struggles for our souls.

the devil knows just where to strike & why. he knows the impulses that breed in the darkness of our hearts, and we must be ready to do battle when these times come. when he swings with pride, we must answer back with humility in our hearts. when he strikes with selfish motives, we return the blow with generosity. when he strikes with fear and doubt, we parry back with comfort and reassurance.

but again, if we are to make these return blows, we must be prepared. the Word of God must drip from our mouths. it must fly effortlessly from our lips. we have to be prepared by being familiar, intimately familiar with the greatest love letter ever written. we must have the Word of the LORD in our hearts so we do not sin against God.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

(sidebar)

be prepared!

the boy scout motto is ‘be prepared.’ which makes sense, because they are probably going out into situations where a lack of preparedness can get you hurt or harmed. their tasks of gathering resources, ‘roughing it,’ and helping others are going to lead them down many different paths, each with their own obstacles. but a good boy scout knows that these tasks can be accomplished if they have the right tools and resources available…so  they need to ‘be prepared.’

our Christian walks involve so much more than carrying around a pocket knife and having an extra length of rope handy for the trusty sheep shank knot. there is no set of skills that we can develop on our own to help us get through the tasks God lays out before us. there are no qualities that we can bring to the fight that supplant the need for God’s hand to be at work.

we have not been entrusted with tasks and duties that we can accomplish on our own, and if we are trying to just push through by the power that we have within ourselves to accomplish something, then that something will either fail, stall out or become corrupted by our own bad and selfish motives.

we don’t just trust God to set a task before us. we also trust Him to help us complete the task. we run according to his strength and His power and His Will, so that nothing we do is born of our own efforts. we are seeking glory for God here, not ourselves. and i, for one, don’t want to live a life that has been planned out and powered by my own efforts. what a boring existence that would be…

but rather, in your hearts, set aside Christ Jesus as LORD, so that the temptations of the evil one do not overcome you, relying on the power of God to bring you through to the completion of the task set before you.

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