Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my
follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you
try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake
and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you
gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your
soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful
days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of
his Father with the holy angels.” Mark 8:34-38 (NLT)

I’ve been stuck on this passage, trying to figure out why Jesus told his disciples to
take up their crosses. Looking at the larger context of the passage, we can see that
Jesus is describing just how much it costs to follow Him. It costs everything–your
way, your life. But why the cross reference? Over the years I’ve thought that the
cross was meant to represent my burdens or my baggage. And that taking it up and
following Jesus would be a surrendering of my will and dropping all the junk in my
life I insist on dragging around with me. But I’m not sure that interpretation is what
Jesus meant when he spoke those words to his disciples.

At that time, the cross was a symbol of a guilty verdict, a death sentence, public
suffering, and shame. I have trouble believing all those in the crowd pictured
themselves dying on a cross. What is Jesus suggesting here? Our guilt and need for
forgiveness? Or is this a foreshadowing of his own death? During this Lenten Season,
as I consider Jesus’s journey to the cross, with and on the cross, I wrestle with what
he meant when he spoke of our crosses. Is my cross something I might be holding
back when he asks for all of my life?

–julie dahlberg

What matters most to you?  What is the most important thing you could receive right now?  Maybe this is the “genie’s 3 wishes” question, or the “if you won the lottery” question.  If you could ask for anything, what would your request be?

As Jesus turns toward Jerusalem for the last time, he meets along the way a blind man (or two in the Gospel of Matthew).  This blind man, Bartimaeus by name, cries out for mercy, and the disciples rebuke him.  But in the face of rebuke, he just cries all the louder for mercy.  Jesus calls him over and asks a very important question, “What do you want me to do for you?”

When you are asked what you want by someone who can give you anything, you ask for that which matters most to you.  “Rabbi, I want to see,” the blind man says.  And Jesus grants his request.

Jesus is not a genie, nor a great “vending machine in the sky” where you deposit good works and get back answered prayers.  But there are times when Jesus, for our own good, asks us, “What do you want me to do for you?”  This question reveals our true desires.

So, what would you ask Jesus for in response to this question?  What really IS the most important thing for you right now?

Lent, the season of repentance.  And we as a nation have much for which to repent these days.

I have made it my practice to get involved in politics to the same extent that Jesus did, which is not much at all.  But the political debate in Flint, MI last night was the final straw for me.  Federal law requires that I not endorse any candidate, which is just fine because I couldn’t endorse a single one this year anyway.

Listening to a radio show with guest Neil Degrasse Tyson, he failed 2 of the 3 questions posed to him.  When asked whether he was disappointed in this, he said, “Had I answered all three correctly, I would have simply proven what I know and learned nothing new.  Since I failed twice, I learned two new things, and isn’t that what life is really all about?”  As I listened to this, I imagined hearing it from the mouth of any of our presidential candidates, and I simply couldn’t.  Vulnerability, honesty, humility… these three things are completely missing from the political rhetoric, and I for one am feeling rather defeated by this.

But I can’t blame this ridiculous circus of a campaign cycle on the candidates alone.  We as a people have caused this, turning off any serious policy debate and tuning in only when these people act like 3rd graders on the playground.  I have been ashamed at the name-calling, the puerile innuendos, and the lack of any honest discussion of who these people are.  The truth is irrelevant so they can say one thing at one gathering if it tickles their ears, and then say the opposite to the next crowd all the while denying any inconsistency.  I have been ashamed of both parties, but more so of myself for the part I’ve played in it.  When was the last honest policy debate that I watched with as much interest as these playground fights we see today?  How have I sided with the underdog, or the overlord, and allowed myself to be emotionally manipulated to support or vilify any candidate?  When have I stood for civility, decency, humility, honesty, or absolutely anything redeeming in this race?

Well, repentance is to turn away from the wrong and back to the right, back to God.  So today I stand against the hatred, racism, classism, sexism, immaturity, dishonesty and unGodliness of this presidential race.  Today I stand for truth, honesty, humility, decency, civility, and Godliness in not only our candidates but in how I talk about them.  Today, I want to do anything I can to bring God into this situation (not that He isn’t already there) and more importantly, into my mouth as I speak about it.  Each plan, each policy, each candidate has good in him or her, and I choose to work to expand that rather than cry out against (and thereby spread) the vitriol we’re hearing.

So, please vote, but first please pray.  Ask God openly who He would have you vote for, and ask Him why.  Then obey.  And always remember, whoever leads our country in the next years, God is still upon His throne and his plan bows to no one.

Here are some verses that I think are vital to our Christian thought about this current presidential race, and our Lenten prayers this year…

Phil. 2:1-11
Phil. 4:8
Gal. 5:19-26
1 Tim. 2:1-2
Phil 1:27a
Phil. 3:20-21

How real do you allow  yourself to be with, well, yourself?  How well do you know yourself?

Too often we are afraid of what we’ll find when we truly get to know ourselves.  We’re afraid of the weakness and fear, the doubt and worry, the anger and hurt.  So we hide it behind a mask which we display to everyone else.  But behind that mask, we often have a deeper mask that even we can’t see behind.

Taking the time to really sit with ourselves, to journal about our feelings, to talk with someone else about the reality of our reality, takes more courage than most of us have.  And so we decide that it is not just hard, but bad to truly delve our own depths.  We call it “naval gazing” or label it as too New Age.  And then we sit content with learning about the bible, and working on committees at church, and serving others all the while oblivious to our own internal workings.

It has always interested me that at the same time as we proclaim loudly that we are “filled with the Holy Spirit”, that we have “Jesus in our hearts” and that God lives within us, most of us pray to a God who is “out there”.  Because if God lives within us, the the journey to God must involved a journey inward.  We can’t get to God in a truly authentic manner without acknowledging all that is going on inside of us.  And that’s how God designed it!

God isn’t madly in love with the mask we portray to others.  He isn’t head-over-heals in love with the me I pretend to be, even to myself.  God loves the real you.  God knows the real  you, even better than you do.  And God wants us to bring the real us into our relationship with Him.

This Lent, what if you spend 15 minutes each day journaling about your emotions, truly allowing your own inner mask down for a few minutes and looking with courage and faith at the True You inside.  This is the You that God loves, and this is the You that God wants to redeem, grow, and help to flourish.

For the first part of Steve’s story, click the “Pastor’s Blog” link under “Categories” at the lower right of your screen and see the March 1 entry.

Since elementary school, I had heard about the older kids going to “CHIC” and though I didn’t know what it was, I knew they returned from it changed.  We heard stories in church about it, and when my sister went in ’84, I knew my turn to go was coming.  So, in the summer of ’88, my friends and I boarded a bus in Farmington Hills, MI and headed for the University of Colorado for CHIC.  This youth conference drew a few thousand high school students from Covenant churches all over the world for a week of worship, fun, lessons and time together.

Arriving at the school, my friends were all paired up as roommates, but with an odd number, I wound up with Mike, the “odd one” from another church.  We got along, might even have become friends, but I was still not with my friends.  And for the rest of the week, that was my experience.  My friends headed for a seminar I wasn’t interested in, so I went to another.  Free times were sometimes spent wandering the grounds alone.  It seemed my CHIC experience was ruined.

But in those wanderings, in attending sessions which taught me what I wanted (or what God needed me to learn?), I met with God in ways I hadn’t before, though I couldn’t have said that at the time.  In the bus ride home, at 2am driving across Nebraska, watching thunderstorms rage in the distance, I reflected and thought about the week.

We arrived home late on Saturday night, and my folks wanted to know all about it, so the night got later.  But being Larson’s we were still up for church the next morning!  And sitting in the church service that next day, I received God’s call to ministry.  During the prayer, just an average, ordinary pastoral prayer, God spoke to me and told me that His plan was that I be a minster in His church.  I was a bit stunned, figuring a call like this was supposed to come at CHIC, not at my boring old home church.  Driving home with my dad that morning (Mom was working to pay for college for my sister and me), he noticed me troubled and asked about it.  “I think I have to be a pastor,” I told him with no enthusiasm whatsoever.  And without missing a beat, my dad replied, “Then, Steve, you be the best pastor you can be.”  And that was that.  The next 9 years were training for ministry, and the rest were the long, slow walk with God through this world we call Pastoral Ministry.

God doesn’t always call us when we’re ready, or when we think He should.  So this Lent, as you’re fasting, praying, reflecting, always keep listening.  You never know what He might say to you, or when.