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“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rustdestroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:19-21, ESV)

 

The journey starts here...

Chad Karger

Oh, restore us. (Psalm 60:1)

Most scholars believe that Christians have been observing Lent since the fourth century. Some have it dating even further back in church history. Whatever the case, what begins today, on Ash Wednesday, is part of a rich tradition of Christians preparing to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday.

Growing up Baptist, I was not familiar with Lent. It wasn’t until much later in my early adult life that I read a book by Merold Westphal, Suspicion and Faith, when I began exploring how Lent could be used by God to draw me closer to His Son, Jesus. That was about twenty years ago! Since then, there are two facets of this season that I have come to really appreciate. 

First, the Lenten fast is a time to take inventory. It is a time to turn away from distractions that begin cluttering our view of Jesus. The writer of Hebrews says “Faith is assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” (11:1, ESV). For the next 40 days, we return to the basis of our hope, which is the gospel (Romans 1:16; Ephesians 2:8-10). It is a time to ruthlessly take inventory of that on which I have focused my heart. Moreover, it is time to refocus on that which I cannot see but that is no less true! This is more than what we see with our eyes; this has to do with that which has captured our imagination.

Whether you abstain from certain things or decide to engage in certain spiritual disciplines (or some combination of both -- which I recommend), remember these efforts work on you, not God! As someone once pointed out, the stars don't need the darkness to shine! I need the darkness in order to see the shinning stars! The fast, then, is like turning down the lights so that we can see what has been shinning for all of eternity! To be sure, sitting in the darkness of your fast won't earn you pat on the back at Easter. These are acts of faith, total dependence upon God, through which God mercifully pours out His grace. We aren’t fasting in order to get closer to God; we are close to God in Christ and therefore we reach for Him in our fasting.

Secondly, Lent is a communal journey. Followers of Christ all over the world are taking part in this journey leading to the empty tomb from whence Jesus rose! More importantly, it is essential to find a group of Christ’s followers locally who are on this journey and praying for each other along the way. This isn’t a time to brag or complain about your fast! Instead, it is a time to pray for one another and to encourage one another. It is always true, and no less so during Lent, we are not meant to take steps of faith in isolation. We thrive as members of the Body of Christ!

So, here’s the question I’m going to be asking myself during Lent: 

What must I continue to die to in order that I might live more fully in Christ? 

I want this question to lead me to Calvary so that I can join my resurrected Lord in the garden! I want this question to lead me beyond Lent and to the abundant life secured for me in Jesus. For, as the Apostle Paul says:

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me,” (Galatians 2:20, ESV).

Glory to God!

Trust

Chad Karger

When members of the church place too much trust in government leaders, what happens next is what we have seen happening in the United States the last 8 years. The disdain that is expressed for a political rival sounds like hatred. Conversely, the affection for political allies sounds like worship. Whatever the response, what seems to come through is the fact that faith and trust in God through Jesus is second place to one’s political affiliations and convictions. This happens because followers of Christ are discipled in political-social-economic realities more than we are discipled and trained in living out of a radical faith centered on Christ and rooted in Scripture.

The collection of songs and meditations in the middle of the Bible gives us a glimpse into what it sounds like and looks like when someone believes that their life and well-being ultimately rests in God’s grace, not a government leader’s policies. It doesn’t disengage us from the culture; it leads to faithful engagement with the culture with hope in God.

Psalm 20 is a great example. Right off the top, in the very first verse, David encourages the worshipper:

“May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble!
May the name of the God of Jacob protect you!”

The Lord (Yahweh) was, for the Hebrews, the one, true sovereign, holy, and creative God. This is the transcendent God, who is without compassion and eludes our final comprehension! Of all the people you might think you want nearby when trouble comes, the LORD is the one you better hope answers you. That’s still true today!

When Moses needed a name for who was sending him to confront the power structures of Egypt, the burning bush answered him, “Tell them I AM has sent me to you,” (Exodus 3:14).  The transcendent LORD confronts us in our trouble. Instead of speaking from a burning bush, He speaks through a Jewish carpenter. Jesus is I AM in the flesh of man who has come to save us and all of creation from trouble.

Then, David calls forth a different image of God. Whereas Yahweh represents the transcendent whose power is without equal in the midst of their trouble, David reassures the people that the “Name of the God of Jacob [will] protect you!” 

God is not only transcendent. The God of the Bible is immanent. He is not only above us, God is also closer than we dare imagine… just ask Jacob! The patriarch’s story is one long wrestling match with God. In fact, Jacob literally wrestles with God, or God’s messenger, all night long on the side of a river (Genesis 32:22-32). This spiritual and physical struggle into the next morning changes Jacob’s name to Israel and prepares him to confront his long held fear, Esau, his brother. That was Jacob’s trouble and God met him in the mud to prepare him to face the trouble.

As the United States of America begins a new chapter with our 45th president, Donald J. Trump,  all of God’s true worshippers ought to seek the LORD and pray for our country and her leaders. We can do this because in Christ we have full access to God the Father. Return to the confession of of Psalm 20, and others like them: 

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, 
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God,”
(7).

This doesn’t those who trust in God disengage from our Western culture and hide away in our bunkers awaiting for King Jesus to return. NO! We wait eagerly for His return as we faithfully engage our culture with the truth of God’s trustworthiness and goodness.

Searching

Chad Karger

Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. (Isaiah 61:1).

Herod reclined on his throne. Maybe it was like any other day for a Roman tyrant. His hold on Jerusalem and the Jewish people as strong as it every had been. Then, from the east, men arrive in Jerusalem looking for the one who was “…born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him,” (Matthew 2:2). There’s no mention of how many men came looking for Jesus. Given Herod’s response, I tend to think it was quite an entourage! Or, if they were few in number, they must have been a pretty impressive that day. 

Whatever their number, Herod was none too pleased — tyrants are pretty stingy with their power. Matthew says that news of this “king of the Jews” caused acute emotional distress for Herod. Except, our English translations say that he was “greatly troubled” (or something like that) which doesn’t quite capture the storm of emotions and rage that Herod felt. He was livid. Hiding all of that emotion, he calmly says, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him,” (2:8).

“When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy,” (Matthew 2:10). Educated, respected, wealthy, and influential, these men “fell down and worshipped him… they offered him gifts,” (2:11). The appearance of Jesus, for magi and for every single man since then, brings us to our knees or evokes rage and rebellion. When the Light shines and the “glory of the Lord” rises on the earth, there’s no middle ground!

Welcome to Epiphany, a season of bright lights and liberation for all the earth! 

“The Lord has heard my plea; the Lord accepts my prayer,” (Psalm 6:9).