The Lenten season began last week. Lent leads up to Easter in a similar way that Advent leads to Christmas only with a different perspective. The idea around advent is an Expectation of the coming of Jesus on Christmas day. Lent however is a time of self-assessment and surrender to prepare our hearts for the death and resurrection of the King of Kings
There is a reason why Lent begins with ash Wednesday. The ashes that are put on a persons head are a symbolic representation of mourning our sin, a reminder of our mortality, and is usually in the shape of a cross showing we are marked by jesus and share in his resurrection.
We know that Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, but starting lent with an understanding of lament and mourning of our sin is critical. We need to begin this lenten season recognizing that we are dust that God breathed life into. We are little mud men and women who have been given the opportunity of having eternal life because of God’s mercy, kindness and sacrifice.. And in the same way we were formed out of dust we will eventually return to dust. Life is short and Ash Wednesday reminds us of that.
I love the way the NLT says it in:
James 4:14 New Living Translation
How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog–it’s here a little while, then it’s gone
What we do with our short time on this earth matters. What or who we devote our days to shapes who we are.
Last week 21 Coptic Orthodox Christians were martyred or in other words killed because they were followers of Jesus. It is noted that some of their last words before they died was “Lord Jesus Christ, Jesus, Help me”.
My heart was heavy when I heard this news. It is important to note I want you to know that this kind of thing happens ALL the time. Since Jesus walked this earth Followers of Jesus have been persecuted. If you go to Voice of the Martyrs you can read about men and women who are Marked by Jesus and are persecuted or even killed for their faith. I am not saying this to get anybody down or cause any fear. I am saying it because with every great move of the church there is Great prayer and Great persecution. I am so thankful we have not been persecuted or threatened like these followers of Jesus.
Our blessings have also made us comfortable about our faith. Because we aren’t concerned for our lives, we feel that God doesn’t need the full control.
Lets now look at Genesis 2:15-17 (ESV)
15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat[a] of it you shall surely die.”
God gave Adam simple instructions… you guys get everything here, but you should not eat from this tree..
Genesis 3:1-7 (ESV)
3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You[a] shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise,[b] she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
So in this scripture a few things happen that lead all of humanity towards a need of reconciliation with God. Adam and Eve not only disobey God but they are tempted and succumb to the temptations of Pride and control. They were told that if they ate of this tree they would be able to see what God could see and they didn’t trust the Creator.
Adam and Eve were given a choice to surrender their control. God says “You shall not” which means it is their choice. He doesn’t say “you can’t”. In those beginning statements We see God’s desire for us to not be robots but to have free will. And we see His grace because not only did they not die after they ate it, but God had a plan to fix this mess by sending Jesus.
We are given this same choice that adam and eve were given every day.
The question is: Will you surrender control to God?
The idea of giving up our control is scary and in our core we love the idea of having control of everything. We equate the idea of surrender as an admission of defeat. We think we need to raise our white flag in failure. Surrendering control to God is not like that though.
C.S. Lewis said, “The more we let God take us over, the more truly ourselves we become- because he made us.”
The last words of the Coptic martyrs was a call out to “LORD Jesus” .
I have heard over the years many people preach the idea that to be a mature Christian you need to make Jesus Lord of your life. I always think of the knights of the round table. There were Lords of the castle and they had serfs. A serf was a person bound in service to their land and in return he would get protection. It is pretty interesting that Paul in Romans 1:1 opens the letter with “Paul, a bond-servant of Christ jesus…” the word bond-servant is also another word for a serf.
Can a serf make the Knight their Lord?
No Can Paul make Jesus lord? No
God’s authority isn’t dependent on us.
We do not make Jesus Lord. JESUS IS LORD. What we are supposed to do is submit to His Lordship.
When Jesus was in the wilderness he was tempted by satan to take back the control from the Father. When Jesus was on the cross he was mocked and told to release his submission to God and free himself.
Jesus lived a life of surrender. It was a selfless life and He only did what the Father did.
Jesus’ surrender of control to the father was an example of how we should live. Like adam and eve we are not being forced to give our life to the Lord. We are given that choice.
So how do we begin to give up our control? how do we surrender ourselves to the Lordship of God? It starts with a recognition that we are but dust and helpless without God.
If we look at Paul’s life we see a man who started off as a terrorist named Saul who approved the killing of Christians. He stood over the crowd as they killed the first Christian martyr named stephen. The bible says in acts that Stephen’s face shined bright like an angel. I’m sure Paul remembered that.
Then in Acts 7:59-60 it says “59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
Do you see that Stephen asks for these people who are stoning him to be forgiven and calls out to his LORD. I’m sure Paul remembered this as well because he saw a man in complete surrender to his Lord.
Acts 9 1 But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. 4 And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8 Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
Here is Paul.. He was literally knocked off his high horse. Broken, blind, and his life was a wreck. Did you notice that as he responded to God he also called him Lord. He spends 3 days fasting from food and waiting until God tells him what to do. Ananias listened to the voice of the Lord and went to him.
Acts 9: 17 “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight.
Paul was a broken mess. He hit rock bottom and was left with a choice to believe that the one he called Lord is a good God and he can trust Him with control over his life. He took the rubble of his life and as he submitted to the control of the Lord he found healing, Love, grace, and purpose. His life was transformed.
Psalm 115:1 Not to us, O LORD, not to us, But to Your name give glory (NON NOBIS DOMINE)
I actually have this on my guitar as a reminder that my gifts are from the Lord. It is a reminder that maturity in my Christian walk has nothing to do about knowledge. It has nothing to do with a certain number of steps of enlightenment or stages of faith. Maturity in a Christians walk has everything to do with how much I am willing to release control of in submission to the Lord.
A few years ago I had planned the ultimate Men’s retreat in the woods of New Hampshire. We had a great speaker and I even flew in a bunch of my friends to lead worship. Everything was set. We showed up with a few car loads of gear excited to get started. When I arrived the owner of the facility told me that due to the weather we had no power. I was pretty upset. We ended up praying and God reminded us that He was in control. We stood in a room with about 40 men. It was pitch black and we had 2 flash lights. Myself and another guy had acoustic guitars and we stood in the middle of the room and started singing the song “open the eyes of my heart”.
Sometimes we are like Saul before his conversion and we are blind spiritually and trying to figure out how to do everything our way and then We decide to release control and let our Lord take over. The scales come off our eyes and we are able to see Jesus and encounter the presence of God in a way we could not before. That night as we sang “open the eyes of my heart” for what seemed like an hour our eyes and hearts were opened because we let God take over. Every man that was there last night still speaks of that day as a defining moment in their walk because When God takes over and you experience his presence your life is transformed. You don’t have to understand it, but you know you can’t argue with it.
Lent is not about giving up food. Lent is about the recognition that we are entangled by sin and we can’t get ourselves out of it. Lent is the recognition that we are worn and broken and we can’t heal ourselves. Lent is the recognition that submission begins with repentance. Lent is the recognition that we crave so much and we let everything define who we are, but there is one who created us to be something greater than we can imagine. Lent is the recognition that God doesn’t want to enable our current situation. He wants to heal us and we need to let God be God.
When we surrender control to God his ways become our ways, his heart becomes our heart. Lent is about returning to a God that loves us with all our scars, all our crap, all our baggage… then asking Him to search our hearts to take anything out that is not pleasing to him. Then as we come into Good friday we can lay all of that garbage at the cross and ask Jesus to take it. We lift our hands in surrender and give Him the control.. and then on easter we can rejoice that our Lord is alive and we can share in His resurrection because of His great mercy!
Return to the Lord
12 “Yet even now,” declares the Lord,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
13 and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
and he relents over disaster.
– Joel 2:12-13