what have you witnessed?

A walk of faith, a pilgrimage, requires two things. It requires looking to someone or something as our pattern so we move closer towards a desired destination. This destination can be a physical, spiritual or emotional place. The second requirement is that we actually move. A pilgrimage is not a passive act. Over Lent, Jesus is our pattern and our destination is closeness with him. Speaking with God is the force of our movement. In the end, we become witnesses to all we have seen and experienced along the way.

Over the last 40 days following Jesus through the wilderness brought us to first understand that God is with us there. We have a choice to invite the Holy Spirit to lead us through or to make our own way. The primary temptation we face in wilderness places is to not trust God’s love for us. The more we come to realize and accept his love, repenting for the times we don’t, the more we are able to follow Jesus fully and our lives resemble his. Repenting about other things becomes easier when we know that we are loved no matter what. His truth can be difficult to believe and along the way we are tempted to fall for the twisted truths and false promises that other things are more important and powerful than God. But following Jesus through the wilderness means to have an almost irrational belief that he will come through in the end! Evil will not win. Not only that, we will also be able to rest in the presence of our God as he leads us out of the wilderness and into lives that are witnesses to his goodness, to his faithfulness and to his kingdom come on earth.

The wilderness was the start of Jesus’ ministry years. Over three more years he would forgive sins, heal the sick, bring justice for the oppressed and live as God with us. When we want to see what God looks like, we need to look at Jesus. He didn’t just come to show us though, he came to take away all that doesn’t belong in heaven and deal with it so we wouldn’t have to. On Good Friday we remember how he took our sin and our disbelief on himself and died with it so we wouldn’t have to. On Easter Sunday we celebrate how he defeated death and got rid of everything that separates us from God, once and for all. Before he left earth he promised that the Holy Spirit would stay with us. We would be witnesses to who he is.

I don’t know what kind of wilderness you have been in this past month and whether it was one you chose or not. Many major aspects of my life hit extreme turbulence, very unexpectedly. At the same time, I saw people’s lives change from love. I saw pieces of heaven come to earth and restoration take place all around me. Following the Holy Spirit and trusting him has not left me disappointed. Instead, I have seen him work in ways that I couldn’t have even imagined half a year ago. I have seen him. I have witnessed who he is, not 2000 years ago but here and now.

This is where our pilgrimage leads us – to becoming witnesses. Over the last few days of this season, look for him and the things he has done. Ask him to show you. Wait for the Holy Spirit and become a witness to the things you see him do in your life and in the lives of people around you.

“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my (Jesus) Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit … you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:4-5, 8

the spring rains come

“Let us acknowledge the Lord
let us press on to acknowledge him. 
As surely as the sun rises, 
he will appear; 
he will come to us like the winter rains, 
like the spring rains that water the earth.”
Hosea 6:3

Great movements of water forked out over the desert just in time for the tired and thirsty animals arriving for their yearly reprieve from draught and dust. Watching the Kalahari desert flood and life begin to flourish on BBC’s Planet Earth is truly breathtaking. As with so many desert stories, it began with animals trying to find their way back to their life source and ends with them joyfully paddling through flooded land green with vitality. It was a place the veteran’s knew would be there in just the right season. They could survive the desert journey because of the promise of what was on the other side.

Jesus could survive temptation and wilderness because he knew what was on the other side. On the other side of the wilderness he would begin to heal the sick, bring forgiveness into people’s lives, give dignity to those that society deemed undignified. He knew that he would be betrayed and killed, taking everything that we do that doesn’t look like God’s home and died with it so that we wouldn’t have to. He knew that death wouldn’t keep him and he would live. At end of the wilderness, the devil left him alone …

“When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.” ~ Luke 4:13

I crave those things – streets where people feel like the burdens of their lives are lifted right off them, where unworthiness falls away like a snake shedding skin and a life lived from love is revealed underneath. I want to do what Jesus did … heal the sick, bring forgiveness into people’s lives, give dignity to those that society deems undignified. I want to live in God’s home where love is unquestioned. This life is on the other side of temptation. More than anything else, the temptation to not believe that God loves us, that his truth makes us into more loving people and that he knows the way to heal the streets of our cities. If this is your first time taking this journey, make sure you follow someone who is a witness to these things.

When the devil finishes all his tempting, he leaves until an opportune time. Don’t give up in the wilderness and temptation. There will be relief.

This week we will be looking at resting in God’s presence. In the meantime, ask God to give you strength to trust his truth today.

the view from here is bleak but the future is bright

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written: 
“ ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ ” 
Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’  ” ~ Luke 4:9-12

At 70 meters in height, Church of Saints Augustine and John (John’s Lane Church) on Thomas Street is the tallest church in Dublin. If this had been the peak that Jesus would have stood on when hungry and tired, what would he have seen? Street markets, Guinness, Mannings Bakery, St. Catherine’s Church, the Digital Hub, the flats, NCAD, the Liffey, Smithfield Square, the Four Courts … a city that stretches north, west, east and south from there. Who would he have seen? And the building dedicated to his name, would it feel like his home? Or would he feel like a stranger passing through with the impossible responsibility of restoring all of creation to God who wants to speak peace over it, speak love, speak life.

What did he see from the heights of the temple? Did it already make him sick that people were using that very building for their own gain instead of to come near to God, who planned for all people to find worth and wholeness in him? He knew he was there to die and defeat death. Wouldn’t a practice run be good? Jump just to make sure that his Father would catch him. Then the next few years wouldn’t be so bad. He wouldn’t end up in excruciating inner turmoil right before he would be arrested and crucified. He could go boldly and confidently into the plans for his life. Test God, test his identity and then decide to continue or not.

The more I speak with God, the more I see how incredibly full of grace and mercy he is – loving all people equally and filled with nothing but good intentions for them. When he shows me this city and world from the top, there are people and places that stand out to me and I see how far they are from the experience of heaven. When we follow him through the wilderness we see how different we are from who he is. We see how different our communities are from an ideal that can’t be bought. “Give me proof!” we might challenge God, “That a life lived for you will be worth it in the end.”

Walking with Jesus through the wilderness means learning to have an almost irrational faith in God that he will come through in the end and that he is who he says he is in spite of all we see and experience, even in the buildings and structures that are dedicated to him. Today, talk to God about the faith or lack of faith you have in him and his goodness that lasts and lasts and lasts.

This week we will be looking at all that God dreams for our world and the promises of heaven, both now and for eternity.

twisted truths and false promises

Luke 4:5-8 The devil led him (Jesus) up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’ 

I received a phone call from my internet provider this past week. The man on the other end of the line promised me that he would offer me deal that would really benefit me. Before he could continue I asked him if it would save me money. He ignored my question and kept saying that he wanted to ask me a few things first. I pestered him enough until he told me “yes.” So, I listened to a long explanation about how much faster my internet would be and how many more international minutes I’d have for calling. Unfortunately, in order for me to save money on my internet bill I would have to take their deal for a tv package too. Sometimes advertisers twist their truths and give false promises so that we think we need what they are selling us.

A second temptation that Jesus faced in the wilderness was something similar … with much bigger consequences. Jesus knew his purpose was to bring restoration between God and us again. He knew it would cost him. The devil caught him out when he was exhausted, both mentally and physically. “I’ve got a great deal for you!” he says, “It will really benefit you.” Jesus wouldn’t have to go through the next three years that we call his ministry years. He wouldn’t have to travel from town to town while putting up with a bunch of moaning people following him. He wouldn’t have to have the responsibility of saving the world. He could just coast his way through life. All he would have to do was one simple and seemingly harmless thing – worship the devil, just once. For one moment, take a look at the destruction that Satan has caused on the earth and say he is the greatest. It’s twisted. It’s false. To us, it’s obvious.

Recognizing the twisted truths and false promises in our own lives is far more difficult. What do we believe that is so close to truth that we don’t even see it? What gets in the way of worshiping God and serving him only? Who or what do we think is more powerful and great than God? The easy answer is: “Nothing.” But what about our fear? What about our boss? What about our hunger? What about our suffering? What about our pride? What about our money? What about our hobbies? What about our religious beliefs, or lack thereof? What about our work ethic? What about our jealousy? What about our hatred? It is easily done … and so obvious when we are looking back at it. Seeing God as bigger and more worthy of our thoughts just because of who he is, is tough.

Walking with Jesus through the wilderness means worshiping God alone and recognizing false advertisements that come our way. Adam and Eve missed it the first time around. They took the devil up on his boasts about the benefit of knowing good and evil. Jesus didn’t. We don’t have to either.

Talk to God about the things that have become more important and powerful in your life than him. Ask him to show you his truth about those things. When you are done, take a minute of silence and think about the greatness of God.

This week of Lent will be dedicated to learning what it is to worship God and serve him only.

you are loved. believe it so you act like it’s true

No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is … You find out the strength of the wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later … Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means – the only complete realist. ~ C. S. Lewis

The alarm jars me awake in the morning and the snooze button is just too handy. I hardly have to do anything, just tap the screen and I get nearly 10 more minutes to myself before it’s time to open the curtains and get out of bed. What harm would it be to hit snooze just one more time after that too? The temptation is just too much … I don’t think this sort of temptation is what C. S. Lewis was talking about and yet it is easier to talk about and admit than temptations that affect how I interact with God and the people around me.

Looking at Jesus doesn’t always help because he can make us a little insecure with all his perfection. And yet, he lived here as God with us, showing us what heaven looks like, what a world with him would be instead of this pain-filled existence we see all around us. Jesus didn’t enter the wilderness to be tempted by little luxuries in life – “No Facebook for 40 days, Jesus.” He was tempted to the core of who he was. He was tempted to cheat, to take short cuts, to be entitled, to be comfortable, to give up his position.

The tempter came to him (Jesus) and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” ~ Matthew 4:3-4

It’s not like Jesus couldn’t have done this. I mean, really, wouldn’t it have been just as easy to say: “Yes, devil, I am pretty sure I am the Son of God and to prove it I will show you that I can do the same miracle that he did. I will make food out of nothing in the wilderness like my Father did for the Israelites all those years ago.” He could have eased his hunger while making a point. But right before Jesus went into the wilderness God declared, “This (Jesus) is my Son.” Jesus knew his existence and identity didn’t hinge on what he could do but on what his Father said about him.

To follow Jesus into the wilderness is to stand against temptation. One of those temptations is to not believe what God says about us, starting with the fact that God so loved the world that he gave his Son. God loved us.

Nothing can separate us from the love of God. We don’t have to earn it by working for it. We don’t have to do anything to prove it to anyone. We are loved. What would life look like if you really believed that he sees everything … and I mean everything and still loves you. No choice you’ve made or trauma you’ve experienced could change that. He created you in his image. He knit you together in your mother’s womb. He doesn’t just love you, he wants you.

This week of Lent we will be looking at temptation and repentance. Temptation isn’t wrong, acting on it is.  We cannot change what we do not acknowledge. While we follow Jesus through the wilderness we have an opportunity to acknowledge how our responses to temptation are different than his and begin to change them with his help. We already know he walks with us and makes a way.

Today, tell God about the times that you have tried to work for his love. Ask his forgiveness for when you have acted as if he didn’t create you, know you and love you. Take a minute to be silent when you are done.

God is with you in the wilderness

Luke 4:1-2 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

 

Temptation and wilderness places are not soothing topics. Everything about an over-indulged culture says that those are actually not natural and can be re-framed with a more positive outlook. Temptation is just your body telling you what you need. There is a cure if you are in the wilderness places. We can fix the discomfort. We should fix the discomfort.

During Lent we choose discomfort. Even shifting our routines to include a short conversation with God is enough to send our whole sense of normalcy out of order, sort of like someone coming into a room and rearranging everything by 10cm. It feels off, not quite comfortable anymore. Giving silent space for God to speak with us is even more disconcerting. What if he says something that will make me feel bad? What if he says something that I don’t want to hear? Even worse, what if he says nothing at all? Giving up something that you are used to having on a daily basis can be torture. Adding something or subtracting something from life might be a good thing for our health but it can never truly be a spiritual discipline if there isn’t time when we look to God. When we invite him into our physical and mental disciplines, we engage our whole being and will often find ourselves facing off with some of our biggest fears and insecurities.

That’s what Jesus did when he entered the wilderness. He didn’t go into the desert and fast because he wanted to lose a bit of weight. He went because he was led by the Spirit. He was filled by the Spirit. By following in his footsteps, we choose to feel uncomfortable because he chose to be uncomfortable; we choose to speak with the Father because he chose to speak with the Father; we give opportunity for temptation because he gave opportunity for temptation; we can make it through because he made it through.

Sometimes we also find ourselves in wilderness that we never expected or invited. Something in our life that we have relied on has shifted outside of our control and it feels like we are drowning in quicksand as it consumes us. The temptation is not to go back because we can never reach out our hands and grasp onto what was there before. The temptation comes as our identity is challenged and options to numb the pain are within reach. I don’t believe that God pre-determines the pain-filled situations we face. However, I do believe that he is able to lead us through those wilderness places. Our desperation is not too deep for him.

Whether we are in a self-imposed wilderness or one not of our choosing right now, we can follow Jesus through to the other side where there is fresh hope and sense of purpose in our lives.

As we follow in Jesus’ footsteps towards Easter, let’s be as honest with God as he is with us. Let’s sit in silence as we wait for him to respond. Let’s think about what he has done as we go about our day. During this week of The Lenten Way, we’ll be focussing on being stuck in the wilderness places (self-chosen or not) and trusting the Holy Spirit to lead us through.

Today, talk to God about your wilderness. Ask him to show you what it was like for him to be there. Take a minute of silence when you are done.

You can follow along with the Way Marker at the side of the blog each day or sign up  to receive these conversation starters in an email each morning.

Consider The Lenten Way

40 days expand out from here. Everything that is known stands behind and waves an enthusiastic “Bon Voyage!” In front is a canyon worn down into the barren earth from pilgrim feet following in the footsteps of the first one who walked this wilderness path. Prayer was his food. Repentance would become his message … heaven his promise. But first, hunger, thirst, temptation.

Only fools take up this journey imitating him, remembering him. We strap on our boots and bring plasters for the inevitable blisters it will cost us, all for the promise of a spirit that is full. The only sustenance we can carry on our backs are truthful words, silence and a personalized invitation addressed to the Holy Spirit. He is the original guide through this desert and only costs us our pride. The road doesn’t need to be walked alone. The valleys are littered with bones of people who got lost in their prideful wanderings. Don’t go near them, they are full of disease.

But, if you are tired of the stomach aches gluttony has given you. If you need to slow down and learn how to breathe again, taking in the world around you and seeing it as if for the first time. If you need an outlet for your grief and new vision for the future. Consider the Lenten Way. If you can’t get out of bed, can’t leave your job for a month, can’t pass the kids off to someone else while you travel over over the path of a real mountain pilgrimage – consider the Lenten Way. It is a pilgrimage of the heart that will take you through suffering to joy. Not all who wander this road are lost.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God ~ Psalm 42:2

There is always a reason to go on a 40 day journey. Tell God what you want to get out of it. Take half a minute and be silent when you are done.

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