Thankful Thursday – Maundy Thursday 2017

I did not grow up with a tradition of observing Lent but, as an adult, I have grown in appreciation for spiritual discipline in general and this season of church life specifically. God does great things when we give Him great access to our lives through disciplines that help to tune our eyes and ears to His work.

Before this Lent began I asked God: “What discipline would you have me observe to see you more clearly?” Funny (and I truly believe God IS funny this way, at least sometimes), He didn’t answer clearly. I could take on a discipline of reading the news; in these times, we all ought to read the news more broadly and more carefully. And I put on a ring my mother-in-law gifted to me; as my ‘not typical’ right-hand ring, its presence on my finger has reminded me of Jesus’ presence with me.

And then Lent took a quick left-hand turn into discipline. Situations arose that required prayer; people needed me; I needed Jesus. God knew I didn’t need more disciplined practices than the discipline He was already planning to send my way. (And oh, wowza, did I ever need that ring as a reminder of His presence…!)

Today is Maundy Thursday, which means Lent is almost over. The dark before the dawn, tonight we commemorate Jesus’ last supper with His disciples before He was betrayed. Tomorrow He was crucified. Sunday, at last!, Jesus rose from the grave.

We want to fast-forward the bad stuff to get to the good. We want to skip the pain in favor of pleasure. We don’t want bitter but sweet. In this Holy Week, God calls us to see His glory in the worst-ever scenario, trusting Him to redeem and transform it into more than all we could ask or imagine.

So what am I thankful for on this Maundy Thursday?

I am, as always, thankful for Jesus, who sacrificed Himself in love for me, for all of us, so that our lives not only exist, but matter.

I am thankful for a year, and that the situation that occupied my heart last year is no longer my concern. And I’m thankful for the hope that the situation that occupies my heart now won’t next year.

I am thankful for time, as in, time heals all wounds. The wounds of last year, but also more recent cuts and jabs that, with time, prayer, and careful tending, have already begun to heal.

I am thankful for kind and gentle human beings who willingly give of themselves to help the rest of us make peace–with ourselves, with God, with one another.

I am thankful for the continual bubbling over of last week’s Mexico trip, and the ways I see God has grown and shaped my Teen through this experience.

I am thankful for yoga, and my friends and their friends who filled a studio this morning for a laughter- and fun-filled sweaty workout, good for body and soul.

I am thankful for the rain showers earlier today, for the quail running down my fence line, for the twilight breeze rocking the tree branches outside my window. Peaceful beauty.

I have to laugh at what happens when I pull out my running shoes…

…and say “Thank you!” for what I see outside my door…

The first spring rose in my garden, a gift from a friend

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Good Gifts

As a high school senior, my favorite teacher taught Child Development, the most fun elective a baby-loving kid could take. Also our Senior Class Advisor, Teacher was wild and crazy in all the ways teens love: funny, with a huge laugh; refreshingly honest, telling us truths about which our parents only blushed; smart and engaging, she made school fun. She had a big heart and made it clear that she cared about her students even more than her subject, though she obviously loved teaching, too.

My desk sat near the front of the room and my view allowed me to often admire Teacher’s bracelet: a chunky ivory bangle with silver clasps and the most enormous topaz I’d ever seen. It came from India and I no longer remember whether she’d bought it on vacation or perhaps it had been a gift? Either way, I thought it was fantastic.

Lucky me, my dad was an airline pilot with Pan American Airlines and regularly traveled to India. India wasn’t his favorite destination and, though he complained of the oppressive heat and impassable crowds, I suspect the extreme poverty broke his heart in ways his pride couldn’t admit.bracelet

When he presented me with my own version of Teacher’s bracelet – Hooray, Hooray! – he told me that he had hired a cab driver for an entire day to shuttle him all over New Delhi as he talked with one vendor after another, examining their wares and explaining exactly what he wanted until he found just the right gift for his oldest daughter about to graduate high school.

At the time, I understood that Dad had worked hard to find the bracelet I desired. Now, however, I recognize that the bracelet came at considerable cost. I have no idea truly what dent the bracelet put in his wallet. Rather, Dad paid a personal cost: his time, effort, discomfort, his breaking heart… As an adult who shies from heat and crowds, who feels easily overwhelmed and gives up quickly on strenuous shopping requirements, I am also overwhelmed by the gift of love my dad invested into the gift of this bracelet. More than any tangible item he gave me, this bracelet represents my dad’s love for me.

We didn’t have an easy relationship. As far as I know, my dad had no easy relationships in his entire life. The only child of a dysfunctional family, he never received the love he needed that might have flowed over into others. He only learned to say, “I love you” during the last year of his life, once he knew life had grown short.

Luke 11 says that, as broken parents give good gifts, our Heavenly Father wants to do so even more. This encourages me:

That my dad loved me, and worked harder than I could know to express it in his way; and
That my Father in heaven loves me more than I’ll ever know, and He also wants to give me good gifts.

Which makes me wonder: Have I told God what I want? I described the bracelet specifically to my dad, and I think God wants us to be specific with Him, too (maybe not about bracelets, but certainly about wisdom, justice, love, peace…).

I can’t remember the last time I wore the bracelet my dad gave me. As a vegetarian-environmentalist-animal lover, wearing ivory now seems wrong. On the other wrist, so to speak, not wearing the bracelet my dad gave me, especially now that I recognize the tremendous gift of love it represents, also seems wrong. So if you see me wearing ivory and that seems incongruous, you might get an earful about my revived prayer life and the gifts of love for which I’m asking my Daddy.

Connect
Who taught you to pray? What are your earliest memories of praying?

Study
Read aloud Luke 11:1-13.
What do you learn from Jesus’ prayer in vv. 2-4 about how we should pray?
What is the main take-away from Jesus’ parable in vv. 5-8?
Verses 9-10 are often taken out of context to promote praying for an easy life. How would you explain Jesus’ meaning to someone inclined to believe in a health and wealth gospel? Does the context of vv. 11-12 shed any light on this? How?
What does Jesus mean in v. 13 – is the Holy Spirit the only good gift we can ask for or…?

Live
How is the content of Jesus’ prayer (vv. 2-4) like or unlike your current prayers? In what ways have you found praying the Lord’s Prayer helpful or unhelpful?
What might change if you asked Jesus to teach you to pray?
What do you think Jesus means by encouraging us to pray with “shameless audacity” (v. 8 NIV)?
For what are you Asking, Seeking, and Knocking in prayer? Let others join you in prayer.
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage, and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that Jesus will teach you to pray and fill you with His Holy Spirit.

Faith Training

A few sessions of childhood swim, ice skating, dance, gymnastics, and tennis lessons hardly qualify me as an athlete. I may be the only person you know who has never participated in a team/competitive sport. I once asked my parents if I could join a soccer league. My mom said no, citing scarred knees as unattractive on a girl; I’m pretty sure it had more to do with life’s chaos – me as the oldest of four kids, her job in real estate, and her travelling husband, last thing she needed was to spend hours field-side with a decidedly non-athletic kid.

I did, however, take piano lessons from age five to eighteen. Like most kids enrolled in music lessons, I didn’t love to practice but I did like to play well. The older I got, and the better I got, the more I enjoyed it. In high school and especially as I anticipated a recital date, I played for hours, working the music into my fingers, into my heart and soul. My favorite practice time (surprisingly, my parents didn’t complain – how did they not complain?) took place between 10pm and 2am, even on school nights.

The more I practiced and the better I knew a piece of music, the more the music had the power to take me out of myself, into what Madeleine L’Engle calls a kairos experience. I lost track of time, I lost my sense of self, as the music itself became all that mattered. “I am outside time, outside self, in play, in joy. When we can play with the unself-conscious concentration of a child, this is: art: prayer: love” (Circle of Quiet, p13).

I’ve heard runners talk about a similar experience, once you move past the first phase of muscle fatigue (the “I don’t like to run, I don’t want to run, I can’t take one more step” feeling, because you keep going anyway), and then, apparently, some get to a euphoric state, a runner’s endorphin high.

Faith training can have similar results, yet even better as training our faith helps us to draw near to God on high.

At the gym there are so many different pieces of equipment, each with a different purpose but all with the purpose of increased physical fitness. Similarly, there are many different ways to exercise one’s faith, all with the purpose of drawing near to our beloved Jesus.

Commonly called “spiritual disciplines,” well, that just doesn’t sound all that fun, does it? But they can be. Even when they’re strenuous, they can lead to great joy.

Today is Ash Wednesday, a day focused on repentance and identifying with Jesus in His sufferings as we begin a 40-day season of giving up or taking on spiritual disciplines. In our church staff meeting this morning, we read this:

“Even now,” declares the Lord,
    “return to me with all your heart,
    with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

Rend your heart
    and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love… Joel 2:12-13

I get that today’s focus should center on fasting, weeping, and mourning, but I’ve been thinking about and practicing to varying degrees different disciplines over the last few weeks. I have returned to the Lord, so to speak, and this morning I felt overwhelming joy. God drew my focus to His gracious, compassionate, slow-to-anger love. And the joy bubbling up in my heart. I almost giggled (inappropriately?).

Once a week or so during this Lenten season, from now til Easter, I will post a Bible study focused on one spiritual discipline; there are more disciplines than we can name, but we’ll cover fasting, solitude, prayer, simplicity, confession, and celebration. I’ll also include suggestions for practicing each discipline.

I encourage you to ask God to direct you to the exercises He’d like you to try. And don’t give up just because it’s uncomfortable at first (think sore muscles after physical exercise). You could try one exercise for all of Lent, or different ways of exercising one practice (i.e., different prayer method each day), or sample different practices throughout the season – ask God for direction and stick with it until He asks you to stop.

Here we go with an introductory study!

Connect
What practices or routines do you do to keep physically healthy?

Study
Read aloud 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.
How would you explain the metaphor of physical and spiritual training to someone who hadn’t read this passage?
What is “the prize” for spiritual runners (v. 24)?
What might “running aimlessly” look like in one’s spiritual life?
How could Paul have been “disqualified for the prize” (v. 27)?

Live
On a spectrum from aimless running/air boxing to marathon champion, which physical activity might describe your spiritual life and why?
When have you experienced a connection between physical and spiritual discipline?
Reflect on your experience with any of these practices: fasting, solitude, prayer, simplicity, confession, and celebration. Which do/don’t sound appealing to you, and why?
Which of the Week 1 Faith Training Exercises (see below) might God call you to, and why?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that God will use your spiritual training to make you fit in new ways for Christ.

Faith Training Exercises
Fasting: Skip one meal and spend time in prayer.
Solitude: Memorize Psalm 46:10 and use it as a reminder throughout the day to be still before God.
Prayer: Set aside a regular time and place to pray every day.
Simplicity: Set a timer (20 minutes or less) and clear off one cluttered space, e.g., a junk drawer or desk top.
Confession: Invite the Holy Spirit to bring to mind sins you’ve committed. Confess them to the Lord and ask for His forgiveness.
Celebration: Do at least one thing each day that brings you joy: sing loudly, dance freely, laugh heartily, live boldly.