Journey to the Cross

Today marks the beginning of the season of Lent, and the beginning of our six-week journey to the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. As we begin our journey together, we are asking all who are able to pray and fast during the day. We will break our fast together as Eastbrook Church with Communion on Wednesday night at the Journey to the Cross service from 7-8 pm in the Worship Hall.

Fasting is one way of telling God that we want Him alone and we are willing to abstain from things we love and/or need (food in this case). Through fasting, we acknowledge that we love and need God more than anything; He is our life. Let tomorrow be a time to confess and rededicate yourself to Jesus, asking Him to remove any “dirt” from your life and cleanse you with His precious blood.

Tomorrow also marks the beginning of the “Crossroads” Lenten Devotional. Find ways to access the devotional below:

Read the “Crossroads” Devotional in 1 of 5 Formats:

  1. Online—Visit eastbrook.org/crossroadsdevotional each day for the reading, or connect with the online version through Eastbrook’s social media channels.
  2. Daily Email—Sign up for a special email list that will send you each day’s devotional at 4 am each morning. Sign up here.
  3. Mobile App—Download the Eastbrook Church mobile app and use the “Devo” tab to read each day. The devotionals will be published each morning at 4 am.
  4. Printed Book—A limited run of free devotional books are available at Eastbrook Church (5385 N. Green Bay Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53209).
  5. Digital Download—Download the PDF of the book for us with your tablet or to print out at home here.

This day is traditionally known as Ash Wednesday. For a look at what Ash Wednesday is all about, read “What is it?: Ash Wednesday and Lent?

Jesus’ Harsh Words: The Grace of Rebuke

9c6910d2f7ce2a11ce06b1cea8dd5477Jesus rebukes the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law in Luke 11. These leaders were those who not only had the Word of God but held authority for the Word of God in the lives of others. This should stop us in our tracks as pastors, ministry leaders, elders, or anyone who has some role of authority in the lives of others.

There are certain things about us – things we do and things inside of us – that are distasteful to Jesus. We must hear this side of Jesus’ teaching. We must reconsider whether we only take in Jesus’ loving, gentle words or whether we hear the comprehensive breadth of Jesus’ words. We must open our ears and hear even the words of rebuke as if they were spoken to us.

If our first response to the rebuking words of Jesus is to think of how they apply to another, then we are likely avoiding the word that Christ is speaking directly to us. We must receive the rebuking words of Christ with radical humility and openness to correction for our thorough transformation. The spotlight is upon us and we should not be quick to retrain it upon another.

The piercing sword of rebuke is a grace and we need to remember that fact. The first step toward healing is an accurate diagnosis. Jesus’ rebuke is the difficult diagnosis that leads to the Soul-physician’s surgical grace in removing sickness from us in order to make our souls whole.

Jesus rebukes the Pharisees first of all because there is a different type of cleanness than what concerns them. They are concerned about external (superficial) cleanliness but not the internal (deeper) cleanliness. They are concealing deeper uncleanness of soul under the cover of superficial cleanness; like whitewashed graves that are clean outside but hold death.

The cure is found through Jesus the Life-giver who points the way through generosity to the poor (Luke 11:41), attention to justice, and practicing the love of God (11:42). Is this a salvation by works? No, it is the fruit of repentance as we turn from self-seeking religion and hypocrisy. It is the healing pathway out of soul-sickness.

Jesus secondly rebukes the experts in the Law because they have kept life from others. They weigh people down with religious burdens, locking the door to life by their mishandling of God’s Law. The Word intended to bring life – in fact, which brought us to life at Creation – is wielded in such a way that life is snuffed out through incorrect usage.

The anger of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law reflects the reality that Jesus has touched upon a nerve with His rebuke. Do we feel angry or uncomfortable with the words of Jesus? Do we attempt to turn the attention of the difficult diagnosis toward someone else? Is it too painful to hear?

Linger in it. Do not flinch. Open your heart and mind to the rebuke of Jesus. Inside the rebuke is a grace of a loving and healing God.

Learning the Dance of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is one of the most freeing and challenging practices we encounter in life. We all know we need it from others and should give it to others, yet learning the way of forgiveness can feel unnatural and confusing. This feeling may grow stronger when we read the strong words of the Apostle Paul:

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13)

forgiving-as-weve-been-forgivenAs I prepare for an upcoming trip to Rwanda (a country I haven’t visited since 2000), a friend recommended the book Forgiving as We’ve Been Forgiven by L. Gregory Jones and Célestin Musekura. As I began the book and Musekura shared his own journey through the pain of the 1994 Rwandan genocide and beyond, I was thrust back into the trauma-filled stories I had heard there when visiting in 1999 and 2000 as a staff member of World Relief. Musekura’s own journey into forgiveness and the work he has done with African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries (ALARM) brought him to this powerful realization:

If forgiveness is the heart of the gospel, it is the center of the church’s mission as well.

Jones puts legs to this, using the metaphor of the dance of forgiveness. Comparing the work of forgiveness to learning how to dance, Jones offers six steps of forgiveness that I found incredibly helpful as we seek to grow in the grace of forgiveness. I wanted to share them here as we reflect on our own lives and the divided society around us:

Step 1: Truth Telling: We become willing to speak the truthfully and patiently  about the conflicts that have arisen. “We need not only honesty but also patience…[to] discern more clearly what is going on….We must, rather, take the time to talk to one another about the things that divide us” (46-47).

Step 2: Acknowledging Anger: We acknowledge both the existence of anger and bitterness, and a desire to overcome them. “Whether these emotions are our own or belong to others who are mad at us, it does no good to deny them….We learn to overcome bitterness as we begin to live differently through practices that transform hatred into love” (48-49).

Step 3: Concern for the Other: We summon up a concern for the well-being of the other as a child of God. “Seeing as children of God the ones on whom our bitterness focuses challenges our tendency to perceive them simply as enemies, rivals or threats. Now they are potential friends of God” (49-50).

Step 4: Recognizing, Remembering, RepentingWe recognize our own complicity in conflict, remember that we have been forgiven in the past and take the step of repentance. “People need to be held accountable for their actions…we also need to recognize and resist our temptation to blame others while exonerating ourselves….Repentance breaks the cycle of violence and creates space for God to do something new” (51).

Step 5: Commitment to ChangeWe make a commitment to struggle to change whatever caused and continues to perpetuate our conflicts. “Forgiveness out to usher in repentance and change. It ought to inspire prophetic protest wherever people’s lives are being diminished and destroyed. Forgiveness and justice are closely related” (53).

Step 6: Hope for the FutureWe confess our yearning for the possibility of reconciliation. “Continuing to maintain reconciliation as the goal – even if this is ‘hoping against hope’ for reconciliation in this life – is important because it reminds us that God promises to make all things new….Every concrete act – every prayer prayed, every apology offered, every meal shared across dividing lines – is a sign that our history and habits of sin have been definitively interrupted by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ” (55).

Reflecting on Jones’ dance steps of forgiveness, I couldn’t help but reflect on numerous situations I’ve experienced in my own life or in walking with others as a pastor. Some of these steps come naturally, while others take great selflessness and humility. Still, I see them as helpful guides into the pathways of forgiveness.

If, as Célestin Musekura writes, “forgiveness is the heart of the gospel” and “the center of the church’s mission,” then it may be time for some dance lessons! What do you think?

Four More Quotations on Prayer

CBR001323Last week, I shared four quotations on prayer from my message “Making Space for Prayer.” Here are four more quotations from my message, “Praying Like a Master,” which is the second  part of our series “The Art of Prayer” at Eastbrook Church.

“The Lord’s prayer is the essence of prayer. The essence and limit of all the disciples’ praying may be found in it.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, vol. 4 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2001), 155.

“The major preoccupation of children who come into their Father’s presence in prayer is not that we may receive what we need but that He may receive what He deserves – which is honor to His name, the spread of His kingdom, the doing of His will.” – John R. W. Stott, Sermon: “Growth in the Prayer Life,” 20 August 1989.

“All of the strength that comes in prayer comes from the goodness of God, for he is the goodness of everything.” – Julian of Norwich in Devotional Classics, revised edition, edited by Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith (San Francisco, CA: Harper, 2005), 77.

“Christ hath put it [the power of prayer] into the hands of men, and the prayers of men have saved cities and kingdom from ruin; prayer hath raised dead men to life, hath stopped the violence of fire, shut the mouths of wild beasts, altered the course of nature, caused rain in Egypt and drought in the sea. Prayer rules over all gods; it arrests the sun in its course and stays the chariot wheels of the moon; it reconciles our suffering and weak faculties with the violence of torment and the violence of persecution; it pleases God and supplies all our need.” – Jeremy Taylor, The Rules and Exercises of Holy Living, quoted in Ronald Dunn, Don’t Just Stand There, Pray Something (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1992), 113.

Four Quotations on Prayer

CBR001323This past weekend in my message “Making Space for Prayer,” the first part of our series “The Art of Prayer” at Eastbrook Church, I shared four quotations on prayer that many people asked me about later. Here they are for your edification.

“The truth is that we only learn to pray all the time everywhere after we have set about praying some of the time somewhere.” – Richard Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home (San Francisco: Harper, 1992), 74.

“One of the main reasons so many of God’s children don’t have a significant life of prayer is not so much that we don’t want to, but that we don’t plan to. . . . We get up day after day and realize that significant times of prayer should be a part of our life, but nothing’s ever ready. . . . And we all know that the opposite of planning is not a wonderful flow of deep, spontaneous experiences in prayer. The opposite of planning is the rut.” – John Piper, Desiring God (Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1986), 150-1.

“Work, work from early till late. In fact, I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” – Martin Luther, quoted in J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), 86.

“One thing I know for sure about prayer these days is that we do not know how to pray. It is only the young in Christ who think they know how to pray; the rest of us know we are just beginners. So let’s try to begin together, which is really all we can do.” – Ruth Haley Barton, “Prayer,” in Sacred Rhythms (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 63.