Passion Week - A Blessed Celebration

Ann - 10 April 2009 - Good Friday


I had full intention of spending this Lent season, leading up to Easter this year in pursuit of a daily focus of the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ.  Most of my childhood/teen years were spent in a liturgical church.  I have come to appreciate that heritage more and more lately and miss unique parts that they use in worship.


Celebrating the seasons of the church year is one of the things I miss.  We can get caught up in -religiosity- that is just ritual and without true, life-changing meaning.  But it's been my experience that evangelicals are just as susceptible as the more formal, liturgical believers.  I guess I fit in both categories.


Grace is grace and legalism is legalism and I think there will always be a battle for our allegiance.  Just being aware of that seems to help me seek a relationship with the Christ, rather than being 'religious'.  In my opinion - one is life-giving, the other is life-sucking and daily we have a decision in which way we will walk, treat others, view are world and our God.  He truly does give us a free will.


So, my desire this Easter was to choose to focus on Jesus and what He did for me and you by going to the cross.  To spend concentrated time during my quiet times to focus on that part of the Scriptures that tells the familiar yet powerful story of the last days of Jesus' life here on earth.  The fact that we went to Israel last fall with the East-West Russian staff seem to make it all the more real.


We walked where Jesus walked.  We sat under the olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane.  We worshiped and had communion very close to where is believed to be Calvary where our Lord hung on the cross and died.  We stood in either the actual or very near to the emptytomb.


My quest to observe Lent started off well.  When I think back almost 40 days ago to when this desire was birthed it was as I was finishing John Eldredge's, Walking With God.  (I am now going back for a second read.)


He talked about when he was in a church where he learned something of the observance of Lent, -that forty-day period of personal preparation leading to the celebration of Easter.  A time when many people choose to go without something, such as coffee or CNN, just as Christ fasted for forty days in the wilderness.  When this is approached in the spirit of making extra room for God in your life --- as opposed to just cutting out caffeine or television --- it can be very meaniningful.?


Then he goes on to tell the story of how he was challenged by a co-worker to have their staff ask Christ what He?d have them give up for Lent.  The answer John received eventually was to 'give up self and take up His love.'


John is a gifted writer, vulnerable and authentic, and he tells his story much better than I could ever paraphrase.  But that little section starting on page 196 got me going on my journey.


And then in a weird set of circumstances (weird at first to me) my best friend, who is fairly new to a liturgical church, shared with me about this neat Bible study she was starting with her church to do during Lent!  Hmmmm-coincidence or a God-nudge?


My friend scanned a couple of pages in her book to whet my appetite and it did.  I don't even have the title of the book to be able to give the author credit but several things in those chapters she sent jumped out at me:


It seemed to me that this author was getting the same message as Eldredge.  He talks about how 'lent is the season for the Spirit of truth, who drove Jesus into the wilderness to initiate Him into the truth that sets us free.' 


The truth of that verse - freedom is a result of the Spirit's work in my life has helped me with my not so 'disciplined' pursuit of the passion of Christ during this period of 6 weeks.  I am pretty consistent with my quiet times; I have learned and experienced what a life-line they are for me in getting through my days here in Russia.  But my focus in those times has been all over the map and you know what, that's okay.  God is so good to speak to us in all kinds of ways, through all kinds of means, if we will just stop and take the time to listen.  I am glad I have learned that lesson.


And this morning as I picked up John Piper's book, The Passion of the Christ, and randomly flipped to the chapter entitled, 'To Create a People Passionate for Good Works' on page 90, I had to smile.  God is weaving for me His own Bible study, tailor made for where I am right now, in this particular season of Lent.  He is so good at lesson plans and class and home assignments that help reinforce what He wants us to learn.


So, for any of you that have gotten this far in this long journal entry, I will close with quoting this 2 page chapter 36 of Piper's book.  In Texas today, where many of my loved ones are, it is Good Friday.  So my Easter prayer and gift for you this season is the truth of what Piper says so well . . .


'He gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works.'  Titus 2:14

'At the heart of Christianity is the truth that we are forgiven and accepted by God, not because we have done good works, but to make us able and zealous to do them.  The Bible says, 'God saved us . . . not because of our works (2 Timothy 1:9).  Good deeds are not the foundation of our acceptance, but the fruit of it.  Christ suffered and died not because we presented to Him good works, but he died 'to purify for Himself a people . . . zealous for good works.'  (Titus 2:14).


This is the meaning of grace.  We cannot obtain a right standing with God because of our works.  It must be a free gift.  We can only receive it by faith, cherishing it as our great treasure.  This is why the Bible says, 'By grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast' (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Christ suffered and died so that good works would be the effect, not the cause of our acceptance.


Not surprisingly, then, the next sentence says, 'For we are . . . created in Christ Jesus for good works' (Ephesians 2:10).  That is, we are saved for good works, not by good works.  And the aim of Christ is not the mere ability to do them, but passion to do them.  That?s why the Bible uses the word 'zealous'.  Christ died to make us 'zealous for good works.'  Zeal means passion.  Christ did not die to make good works merely possible or to produce a half-hearted pursuit.  He died to produce in us a passion for good deeds.  Christian purity is not the mere avoidance of evil, but the pursuit of good.


There are reasons why Jesus paid the infinite price to produce our passion for good deeds.  He gave the main reason in these words:  'Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven' (Matthew 5:16).  God is shown to be glorious by the deeds of Christians.  For that glory Christ suffered and died.


When God's forgiveness and acceptance have freed us from fear and pride and greed, we are filled with a zeal to love others the way we have been loved.  We risk our possessions and our lives since we are secure in Christ.  When we love others like this, our behavior is contrary to human self-enhancement and self-preservation.  Attention is thus drawn to our life-transforming Treasure and Security, namely God.


And what are these 'good works?'  Without limiting their scope, the Bible means mainly helping people in urgent need, especially those who possess least and suffer most.  For example, the Bible says, 'Let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need.' (Titus 3:14).  Christ died to make us this kind of people - passionate to help the poor and the perishing.  It is the best life, no matter what it costs us in this world:  They get help, we get joy, God gets glory.'

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