We are now entering the sixth week of Lent, commonly known as Holy Week. The week began with Palm Sunday yesterday, a day where Jesus’ welcome into Jerusalem is an invitation for us to invite Him into our hearts. The crowd cried “Hosanna” as Jesus rode His donkey through the city, a word that in Hebrew indicates praise and highest adoration. It seems almost ironic that within such a short time, Jesus would be persecuted, humiliated and sentenced to death.
“Hosanna” also has another meaning beyond praise and joy. It is related closely to the Aramaic word “Oshana” meaning “save” or “rescue.” In scripture, the word is also used as a cry for divine help. It can change the way we think about the journey into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday; their cries were both in celebration of Jesus and in desperation to be saved. It must have been a powerful and sobering moment for Jesus, who knew the cost of salvation, and knew the time for his sacrifice was coming soon.
This week’s solemn and heartbreaking station of the cross is in stark contrast to Palm Sunday; mockery and pain in the place of awe and admiration. Yet when we consider the latter meaning of the word “Hosanna” – save or rescue – we see that Jesus has finally delivered the salvation for which we have pleaded.
The soldiers gave Jesus wine mixed with bitter gall, but when he had tasted it, he refused to drink it. After they had nailed him to the cross, the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice.Then they sat around and kept guard as he hung there. A sign was fastened above Jesus’ head, announcing the charge against him. It read: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” (Matthew 27:34-37 NLT)
This is the moment upon which our faith hinges. We have all been born into sin, we are deeply flawed. We are the people who would have celebrated and worshiped Jesus in Jerusalem and we are those who would have advocated for his execution. None of us can earn salvation without the sacrifice that Jesus made for all of us. Jesus came to us knowing the price it would cost–knowing that the same people who would celebrate him would also turn on him–but his love for us all allowed him to persevere until the end. Jesus even refused wine which could have dulled the pain. He was determined to sacrifice everything so we could be saved.
Over the last four weeks I have tried to gently and gradually introduce a variety of ideas and resources to integrate spiritually formative activities into your life. Below is an example of the spiritual disciplines that have been handed down through the ages. As you peruse them, I would encourage you to have these questions in your mind:
Which disciplines do you already have experience with?
Which disciplines are you curious about?
Which disciplines would you like to try out?
Here are some principal disciplines of engagement which have proven helpful to Christ followers over the centuries, as offered by Dallas Willard. This Spiritual Disciplines List features some primary disciplines for life in Christ with concise definitions for each. You will notice disciplines of engagement here. (In last week’s blog I presented disciplines of abstinence).
Disciplines of Engagement (Christ in Community)
These are ways of connecting with God and other people, conversing honestly with them in order to love and be loved.
Bible Reading: Trusting the Holy Spirit-inspired words of Scripture as our guide, wisdom, and strength for life. (Related disciplines include Bible study, Scripture meditation, and praying God’s Word.)
Worship: Praising God’s greatness, goodness, and beauty in words, music, ritual, or silence. (We can worship God privately or in community.)
Prayer: Conversing with God about what we’re experiencing and doing together. (As we see in the Lord’s Prayer the main thing we do in prayer is to make requests or intercessions to our Father for one another.)
Soul Friendship: Engaging fellow disciples of Jesus in prayerful conversation or other spiritual practices. (Related spiritual disciplines or practices include small groups, spiritual direction, and mentoring relationships.)
Personal Reflection: Paying attention to our inner self in order to grow in love for God, others, and self. (The Psalms in the Bible model this.)
Service: Humbly serving God by overflowing with his love and compassion to others, especially those in need. (Also tithing and giving.)
The beauty of the spiritual disciplines is that they help us connect, listen and discern the voice of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The more diligent I have become at exercising my spiritual discernment “muscle,” the stronger I’ve become at discerning His voice. Here is a passage that depicts how Jesus partnered with the Father, which came from his time alone with God and Jesus’ ability to discern His activity in the world.
“So Jesus explained, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he is doing. In fact, the Father will show him how to do even greater works than healing this man. Then you will truly be astonished.” (John 5:19-20)
Questions for reflection:
How has the story of Jesus’s sacrifice changed for you over the years?
What sticks out to you this year?
How does this station of the cross inspire you to be a better disciple?
How do you want to approach the final week of Lent?
What do you need to make this week spiritually meaningful?
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I chose the seventh station of the cross to look at during this fifth week of Lent. This is the moment in Jesus’ journey where he falls for the second time. Despite help from Simon of Cyrene, despite the presence of his mother, and despite the compassion shown by the stranger, Veronica, Jesus’ strength, both mentally and physically, was beginning to falter.
Though it may not seem unique, there is a difference between Jesus’s first fall (which we examined a few weeks ago), and his second. Most of us, especially in leadership positions, have become adept at overcoming frequent difficulties. We expect obstacles and setbacks in our work; in fact, they feel familiar. We’ve learned to cope with normal difficulties and disappointments in our lives.
However, there are moments where we are pushed past what we cope with. Life-altering changes like the death of a loved one, the separation from a partner, the loss of a job, are not merely obstacles to overcome–they are seasons of life. They can feel like a long trudge up a slippery hill, where we feel like we are sliding backwards more than pushing forward. There will be moments we believe we can’t go on, maybe even weeks or months of waking up feeling like it’s impossible to keep fighting. It is in these moments we can resonate most with Jesus’ second fall and the perseverance that our Savior had to keep on going.
More work needs to be done in the area of crisis prevention. Imagine if we could impact a critical dilemma in our society, like divorce. Roughly 50% of marriages in the U.S. end in divorce; sadly, that statistic is about the same within the church. With all the energy that goes into recovery ministries like Celebrate Recovery (addictive behavior is a major player behind the disintegration of marriage), divorce statistics have remained about the same over the last several decades. What if churches began to work more on the preventive end? What if more and more energy were focused on new and creative solutions to address the high percentage of marriages that end in divorce? If the church continues to do the same thing, expecting different results, the church must realize change is necessary.
One ancient-future suggestion is to help Jesus followers do the deep work of following Jesus before a crisis develops. The deep work of following Jesus is a lot like dealing with the root issues of a plant. This might require a larger pot, or watering it less frequently, or using a different fertilizer to enrich the soil (I once over-fertilized a beautiful Strawberry Tree that I literally burned from the inside out). The cause isn’t always immediately clear, and the solution isn’t always a quick fix.
Over the last four blogs I’ve gradually introduced various ideas and resources to integrate spiritually formative activities into your life. Below is an example of a few of the spiritual disciplines that have been handed down through the ages:
Here are some main disciplines of abstinence helpful to Christ-followers over the centuries as offered by Dallas Willard. This Spiritual Disciplines List features some main disciplines for life in Christ with concise definitions for each. You will notice disciplines of abstinence here and next blog, disciplines of engagement.
Disciplines of Abstinence (Self-Denial)
These are ways of denying ourselves something we want or need in order to make space to focus on and connect with God.
Solitude: Refraining from interacting with other people in order to be alone with God and be found by him. (Solitude is completed by silence.)
Silence: Not speaking in a quiet place in order to quiet our whole self and attend to God’s presence. Also, not speaking so that we can listen to others and bless them.
Fasting: Going without food (or something else like media) for a period of intensive prayer — the fast may be complete or partial.
Sabbath: Doing no work to rest in God’s person and provision; praying and playing with God and others. (God designed this for one day a week. We can practice it for shorter periods too.)
Secrecy: Not making our good deeds or qualities known to let God or others receive attention and to find our sufficiency in God alone (e.g., see Matthew 6).
Submission: Not asserting ourselves in order to come under the authority, wisdom, and power of Jesus Christ as our Lord, King, and Master. (If you think of this as submitting to a person as unto Christ, that is a discipline of engagement.)
Which disciplines do you already have experience with?
Which disciplines are you curious about?
Which disciplines would you like to try-out?
To develop the ability to discern God’s voice in your life you must exercise your discernment muscle much like you must exercise your physical muscles. And just like having a buddy when you exercise, having a spiritual director or a wise companion to come alongside you is beneficial. Take a moment right now and think who might be a good companion for you during this season.
Demonstrating perseverance means that, despite being pushed down again and again, we are choosing each time to get back up. It’s hard work, and nearly impossible to do without a deep, meaningful drive. Jesus knew that our eternal souls relied on his choice to get back on his feet. He knew it was his mission to endure this pain and humiliation, and to sacrifice himself for us. That was his drive.
“I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” (Philippians 3:12-14)
I’ll close with a quote from Theophan the Recluse (1815-1894):
“When you retreat into yourself, you should stand before the Lord and remain in His presence, not letting the eyes of the mind turn away from the Lord. This is the true wilderness —to stand face to face with the Lord.”
Questions for reflection:
Think back to the most difficult times in your life:
What led to this situation?
How did you feel in the midst of it?
Where did you feel God in these times?
Where did you struggle spiritually?
What drove you to keep persevering through these difficult moments? (It may be the same drive, or several different ones.)
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We are now over halfway through Lent. Before jumping into the sixth station of the cross–our focus for this week–I want to check in.
Has your experience of Lent this year been what you expected?
How has Lent been different this year in comparison to past years?
Have you found it easier or more difficult than past years?
What feelings or ideas have you found recurring as you’ve gone through the stations?
What are you hoping to gain from the final three weeks of Lent?
Discerning Resistance, Consolation, and Desolation in your spiritual formation
Lent is a solemn season. It is meant to give us the space and time for genuine reflection on our faith, ourselves and our relationships. Becoming aware of what is happening inside your soul at pivotal times throughout the day is the work of discernment. According to Larry Warner in Journey with Jesus,
Ignatius provided key insights for discernment for those who journey through the Exercises. He referred to this section as “rules for perceiving and knowing insome manner the different movements which are caused in the soul.”
Reflection can be painful; it can open our eyes to aspects of ourselves or our lives that we have been avoiding – points of resistance to the work of God in our lives. It can also be hopeful and beautiful as the quiet provides intentional time to be still, helps us make sense of the world around us, and reminds us of God’s love – moments of consolation where God is drawing near. And then those times where we feel isolated and alone – times that we’ve all experienced – are experiences of desolation.
What is missing?
When I reflect on my spiritual formation I find that it has been full of both rich and dry seasons. About 18 months ago I began studying, practicing and experiencing spiritual development in a cohort of doctoral students from Fuller Theological Seminary. I’ve shared bits and pieces from my journey during this Lenten blog series. One of the big discoveries I’ve had is that the pathways I was exposed to in my early spiritual formation were not sufficient.
Have you discovered that for yourself as well?
I think one thing the Protestant Reformation got wrong was throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. Thus we–the evangelical stream of the Christian church–have been left wanting. As a result, some have reintroduced, revisited or reinvigorated various aspects of the ancient church into the current church context, such as symbols, creeds, liturgy, Lent (Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday) to provide anchors for our Faith. Embracing those practices have offered some encouragement, others a foundation, and still others frustration, or worse, ambivalence.
There is still more that Christians of the past have done that we can learn from. One major takeaway for me has been the language that people like Ignatius use. It gives me a way to articulate and identify with what is stirring in my soul. Paying attention to that stirring, and then discerning what the Lord is communicating to me, becomes more practical when I have language to articulate it.
The important point here is to remain open, curious and committed to learning with the aim of drawing closer to Jesus, engaging more in what it means to follow Him, and serving with greater clarity of what He wants to do in and through me. He gives the invitation to engage. What is your response?
Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus
The sixth station of the cross is where Veronica wipes the face of Jesus. If you are not familiar with this part of the story, as Jesus carries his cross towards his execution site, tormented by the crowd, a stranger steps into his path and wipes the blood and sweat from his face. She can’t do much more than this, but she does what she can to ease Jesus’ suffering.
The story of Veronica is not one that can be found in the Bible. Like many of the Stations of the Cross, the story is based on legend and speculation along with what can be gathered from other historical texts. There have been accounts passed down through the ages that claim a stranger did offer Jesus this kindness. Whether or not this story is true, it is the truth we wish to see in ourselves. It is what we long to be able to do for Jesus while reflecting on the story of his journey toward death.
The Easter story is about Jesus’ compassion for all of us. He loved us so much that he took compassion on us, even in the midst of our sin, and sacrificed his own life. At this station, Veronica can represent us, Jesus’ people, reflecting the compassion that God has shown us since our creation. We can also reflect on how Jesus may have felt, the compassion, how it may have given him strength to keep going. We can all remember a time when a little compassion given to us at a difficult time felt like a lifeline to hope.
I’ll close with a quote from 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NLT)
“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.“
Questions for reflection:
Think about a time in your past when you were shown compassion and how it helped reinvigorate you.
Who in your life could use compassion right now?
What are some small ways you could show greater compassion this week?
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*As we continue through this Lent season, we will be posting our blogs on Wednesdays at 5:30am instead of Mondays at 5:30am. Monday posting will resume after Lent.
On this third week of Lent, as we journey through the stations of the cross, we’re focusing on Jesus encountering his mother as he carries the cross. The moment where Jesus’ path crosses his mother’s is one of the most evocative moments of the Easter story. We feel the pain on both sides. We feel Mary’s pain as she watches her son endure something so horrific, knowing he was about to die. No parent should have to watch their child suffer. We feel Jesus’ pain in seeing his mother–the one who comforted him as a boy, kissed his skinned knees and wiped his tears away–knowing there was nothing she could do to help him.
A concept I’m learning in my own spiritual work is indifference. For Ignatius, indifference (or detachment) was for the purpose of spiritual freedom. According to Meister Eckhart (1260-1328), detachment:
“…enkindles the heart, awakens the spirit, stimulates our longings, and shows uswhere God is.”
We can imagine what Jesus might have felt as he saw his mother. Did he wish he could stop and talk with her? Or that they could comfort each other for just a moment? He knew he had to put all his energy into the formidable task he had been sent to do. So instead, Jesus chose indifference. He had to.
Aside from Jesus, Mary probably knew better than anyone else what her son was meant to do. From the moment of the Annunciation, when Gabriel came to tell Mary she would bear the son of God, she knew Jesus had a special mission…and she knew it would require sacrifice. In Luke chapter 2, just after Jesus is born, the prophet Simeon shares his vision of Jesus’s future with Mary:
34 Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. 35 As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.”(Luke 2:34-35 (NLT))
The moment Jesus and Mary came face to face as Jesus carried His cross served as a parting of ways for the two of them. Both knew that God had a plan bigger than this pain, but they were also mother and son–deeply bonded, and in that moment, deeply agonized. Jesus had to choose indifference to complete the work He had come to do.
What does healthy indifference look like?
Reflecting on indifference, or as Ignatius (1491-1556) refers to it, “detachment”, Gerald May writes:
Detachment is the word used in spiritual traditions to describe freedom of desire. Not freedom from desire, but freedom of desire… An authentic spiritual understanding of detachment devalues neither desire nor the objects of desire. Instead, it “aims at correcting one’s own anxious grasping in order to free one’s self for committed relationship to God.”
Conversely, disordered attachments lead us down a very different path. We grasp at, overreach, and attempt to take control. In reality, you and I have no power or control over what happens in this world, no matter how we may try to convince ourselves we do!
What does indifference look like in your life?
A parting of the ways is something that we are often called to as Jesus followers. There will be moments where our response to an invitation from the Lord will require everything from us. While very few of us have been called to make a sacrifice as arduous as Jesus’, we all will be challenged to trust Him during difficult times. Counting the cost of following Jesus in life and ministry will, at some point, prove difficult.
Questions for reflection:
How do disordered attachments manifest themselves in your life or ministry?
What does healthy indifference look like in your life/ministry?
How are you practicing indifference in your life/ministry?
What invitation is Jesus offering you to practice indifference?
How are you doing at maintaining healthy indifference?
I’ll close with a quote from the mystic, Thomas Merton (1915-1968):
“We cannot see things in perspective until we cease to hug them to our own bosom.”
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