Lent Week Two

[Above: First Presbyterian Church, Virginia City, Nevada, Stained Glass Cross Window—Tim Mossholder on Unsplash ]

Second Sunday

And Abraham believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness. 

(Genesis 15:6)

For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 

(Mark 8:35–37)

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 

John 3:16–17)

Monday, Second Week of Lent

The world in which you move, the place of your living and loving and labour, not the church you go to on your holiday, is the place of divine service. Serve your neighbour, and you serve him.

—George MacDonald (1824–1905), “Righteousness,” Unspoken Sermons, Third Series

I wear a number of hats. On Sunday morning I’m a pastor’s wife; on Monday morning I’m a homeschooling mother and magazine editor. Monday evening I’m the cook and, later, if I get everything else done, I’m an author. 

Your hats are probably just as varied as mine. In the shuffle of constantly exchanging one hat for the other, it’s easy to forget that these roles we play are not the most important things about us. We are not only parent, employee, or even congregant or church member. We are, above all else, followers of the triune God: his worshipers, his heirs, his servants. And that does not end when we step out of those church doors and take off our Sunday hats. 

Indeed, as George MacDonald notes, we follow Christ in the spheres in which we operate each day. Do we tell the gospel with our lives and words? Do we serve and love our neighbor in our homes, in our errands, in our workplaces? 

Remember, Christian: how you walk, how you love, and how you serve from Monday to Saturday is a reflection of who and how you truly worship. Yesterday God blessed you with a “holiday” in his presence. Even as you hang one hat on the hook and pick up another, allow that refreshment to equip you to divinely serve others today. —by Kaylena Radcliff

Tuesday, Second Week of Lent

The King of glory hath told thee, that he that will save his life shall lose it.

—John Bunyan (1628–1688), The Pilgrim’s Progress

Who wants to lose their life? Not most heathy people! Yet John Bunyan understood the teaching of Jesus well—that the only way to save our lives is to give them away. To die to self in service to Jesus is completely counterintuitive. Bunyan’s life is a remarkable example of dying to self. Bunyan spent decades in prison, at great cost to him personally and to his family, for preaching the gospel. All Bunyan had to do was agree to stop his “illegal” preaching and he could have gone home and been with his family. Bunyan chose instead to die to himself and to his desire for comfort and home, and to remain faithful to God’s call to preach the good news of Jesus.

During Bunyan’s years in prison, he wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress. It is an allegory that teaches about the spiritual journey and spiritual battles we all face. Bunyan’s willingness to die to himself allowed him to receive The Pilgrim’s Progress as a direct gift from the Holy Spirit. It became the second best-selling book after the Bible. The Pilgrim’s Progress has helped millions of people understand we live the Christian life on a battleground, not a playground, with the enemy seeking to distract, confuse, and frustrate us in our efforts to live out our faith in Jesus—as my wife, Linda, reminds me. 

Though this concept of dying to self can be hard to wrap our minds around, I find Randy Kilgore’s advice helpful for making sense of Jesus’s teaching: “We glorify and enjoy God best when our thoughts, our actions, and our sacrifices are focused on Jesus, and not on how they make us feel about ourselves.” May you, like Bunyan, grow in focusing your thoughts, actions, and sacrifices on Jesus in this season of Lent.—by Bill Curtis

Wednesday, Second Week of Lent

Many lose the witness out of the heart by withholding their testimony from their friends and neighbors of the power of God to save. They run well for a season, but the tempter whispers “not now”—and by and by the soul becomes barren and unfruitful. May God help the young converts to “Watch,” and tell . . . what a dear Saviour they have found.

—Jarena Lee (1783–1864), Religious Experience and Journal of Mrs. Jarena Lee

Do you find it easy to tell your friends and neighbors about God’s work in your life? I confess I often don’t. When I’m not actively in the habit of testifying to where I’m seeing God, Lee’s words can be true of me. 

One season that I “ran well,” as Lee puts it, was during a three-year period when I was part of a weekly intercessory prayer group. It was a very small group, usually 3 to 5 and never larger than 10. We gathered once a week to pray for our community, for the world, and for each other. I found that group became a place where I practiced giving testimony week after week. My companions remembered what we had been praying for over the course of weeks and months, even when I sometimes forgot, and they helped me to look back and see how God was answering our prayers. 

Recently one of my friends from that prayer group came as a guest preacher to the church where I am now a pastor. She shared with my congregation how the group had prayed for God to guide me for years—and rejoiced in how this congregation is God’s good answer to those many prayers. She reminded me yet again that God has indeed answered our prayers at a time when I was focused on the new requests of my here and now. 

For me it takes good companions and the habit of praying and sharing about God’s work in our lives to keep up the good practice of testifying to God’s saving power and everyday faithfulness. What helps you to resist the tempter’s whisper of “not now” and to be bold in speaking about God’s power in your life?—by Michelle Curtis

Thursday, Second Week of Lent

Learn hence, the exceeding preciousness of souls, and at what a high-rate God values them that he will give his Son, his only Son out of his bosom, as a ransom for them.

—John Flavel (1627–1691), Sermon 4 from The Fountain of Life

Jesus didn’t pronounce the prominent and powerful verse we know as John 3:16 in the famous Sermon on the Mount, or while teaching at a crowded synagogue, but spoke it to one man who sought him out one evening to ask questions. John 3 introduces us to a Pharisee and Jewish religious leader named Nicodemus. 

Nicodemus always struck me as a serious thinker who never shut down his curiosity, but I used to read him as a minor character, easily forgotten in the bigger picture of Jesus’s ministry. The depiction of Nicodemus in The Chosen series completely changed my perspective on this story. He appears in the very first episode after he attempts to confront an evil spirit living in Mary Magdalene. The evil spirit’s power shocks Nicodemus, and he cannot cast it out. He wrestles with that frightening experience, asking those around him in the rabbinical school what they know about such things; just when it seems he will never find answers, he hears about a man called Jesus. 

I imagine Jesus and Nicodemus sitting with heads together outside of a restaurant or beside a fire. It is in this conversation that Jesus states one of the most quoted Bible verses of all time. Nicodemus was so precious to God that he offered him true life and hope through a personal conversation! This story serves as a beautiful reminder to turn to Jesus with my questions, doubts, and fears this season of Lent. How he blesses those who faithfully seek his face!—by Kellie Mitchell

Friday, Second Week of Lent

So strange, so boundless was the love 
That pitied dying men,
The Father sent his equal Son
To give them life again.

—Isaac Watts (1674–1748), Hymn 103, Psalms and Hymns of Isaac Watts

Isaac Watts has always been one of my favorite hymn writers. His “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” was the processional hymn at Edwin’s and my wedding, and “Joy to the World” is one of the Christmas hymns I love the most (though, ironically, Watts wrote it about Jesus’s second coming.) Watts was an English Congregational pastor and theologian responsible for many hymns that have enriched worship for generations: “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” “Come Ye That Love the Lord,” “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need,” and others worth meditating on.

This particular hymn was new to me, though, when CHI began work on this devotional; I was seeking quotes responding to John 3:16–17, one of the Scriptures for this week. John 3:16 is justifiably famous, but John 3:17 is if anything more meaningful to me: “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

Of all Christian doctrines, the one that I struggle with the most is that God loves me. My own perfectionism and my sense of God’s awe and majesty make it hard for me to feel his love, though I believe the testimony of Scripture and the church that it is so. 

John 3:17 speaks to my heart as it tells me that Christ does not condemn me, but seeks to give me life again; and Watts’s verses joyfully call me to approach a God who will love and forgive. That is a message it is always good for me to hear and at no better time than in this season. —by Jennifer Woodruff Tait

Saturday, Second Week of Lent

As we be punished here with sorrow and with penance, we shall be rewarded in heaven by the courteous love of our Lord God Almighty, who will that none who comes there lose his travail in any degree.

—Julian of Norwich (c. 1342–c. 1416), Showings

In the flourishing late medieval town of Norwich, England, a small room known as an anchorite’s cell is built onto the parish church of St. Julian. A number of medieval churches had such cells. The anchorites living in them had vowed to spend their lives in solitude and prayer; but, living in the heart of the community, they became centers of pilgrimage and sources of spiritual advice. 

The anchorite at St. Julian’s succeeded in obliterating her original identity so completely that we know her only as Julian of Norwich. Yet she was not only a famous spiritual advisor in her own day—people traveled miles to see her—but is counted among the greatest spiritual writers in Christian history. 

Julian’s visions, like many others in the late Middle Ages, graphically portray Christ’s physical sufferings. But what makes Julian so remarkable is the vivid, radical way she draws out the implications of Jesus’s sacrificial love. At one point, tempted by a “friendly suggestion” in her heart to look away from the cross in her vision, she responds by saying to the crucified Jesus, “You are my heaven.”

I first encountered Julian’s writings in a college class, and they have powerfully influenced me ever since. Her rich, imaginative, and profoundly orthodox presentation of the Christian faith compels me all the more because it is so thoroughly medieval, even while it radically transcends the flaws and limitations of much medieval popular piety. 

When modern progressives tell me that God is all love, they are saying what their culture requires them to say if they are to be respectable believers at all. But when a medieval ascetic, shut up in a tiny cell attached to a stone church, has lurid visions of the discolored body of Christ on the cross and on the basis of those visions tells me that the self-giving, all-forgiving love of Jesus is the ultimate truth about the universe, then I dare to believe that it just might be true.—by Edwin Woodruff Tait

By CHI Staff and Associates

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #143+ in 2022]

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