Many of us give up certain things for the forty days of Lent, and doing so can be a very beneficial thing for us. This seven-week series takes that idea one step further and talking each week about things that God wants us to give up, not just for forty days, but forever.
Giving Up Control
Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7; Matthew 4:1-11
Adam and Eve disobeyed God, thinking that they knew better than him, with disastrous consequences. While being tempted in the wilderness, Jesus denied his own impulses and followed God's will. In the modern world, where we are used to having control over so many things, we often fail to seek God's will for our lives and try to call all the shots ourselves. God wants us to deny ourselves and give him the final say when we are charting out the course of our lives.
Giving Up Expectations
Genesis 12:1-4a; John 3:1-17
Abraham followed God's call to leave his homeland and travel to the place God promised his descendants, even though he didn't know how it would all work out. When Nicodemus is talking to Jesus, he has a hard time understanding what God's grace is really about because he is used to thinking in terms of religious structure. Sometimes we just can’t know what’s going on or what’s coming next. God doesn't guarantee any future circumstances or uninterrupted prosperity, but we can trust that God will be with us through whatever circumstances we face and that God will work with us to make the best result out of even the most hopeless of places.
Giving Up Superiority
Jesus broke all kinds of social conventions by speaking to a woman in public, a Samaritan no less, whose own life was such a mess that it could have really messed up Jesus' reputation as a holy man. But Jesus brought his message of grace and freedom to the woman, knowing that in her humility, she would actually hear and respond, while the religious people were too busy and self-important to hear. God doesn't care about any of the artificial lines we draw to make ourselves feel superior to others. If we let go of our status symbols and judgmental attitudes, we too can hear Jesus’ call more clearly and respond more faithfully.
Giving Up Enemies
Loving our enemies can sometimes feel like as idealistic a notion as instantaneous world peace, but Jesus showed us that caring even for those who persecute you is a real, actionable mandate that we can carry out by following Jesus’ example. Peace isn’t just a far-off fantasy. Jesus wept over Jerusalem because the people following him misunderstood his message to be about peace in Heaven instead of on Earth. We call Jesus the Prince of Peace, but do we really believe and live like peace is possible in our world today?
Giving Up Our Lives
Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 11:1-45
God creates life from death, nothingness, and hopelessness. The Bible is full of such paradoxes, as Jesus tells us that those who try to keep their lives will die, but those who give up their lives for others will live. We are used to thinking of life in terms of fixed beginnings and ends, but the story of Jesus calls us to throw away our old categories and embrace God's larger vision of eternal life that begins here and now.
Giving Up Popularity
What a welcome Jesus got as he entered Jerusalem. “Hosanna!” the people cried, hailing him as an honored king. The crowds loved Jesus on Palm Sunday, but just a few days later a different crowd was calling for his death and the release of a murderer. Popularity and acclaim in the eyes of others is fleeting, and if we put all our faith in it we will be very disappointed. Instead, God calls us to put our faith in God's unending love and grace- something that will never go away, and will sustain us through the times when others have abandoned us.
Giving Up Death
Acts 10:34-43; John 20:1-18
Jesus’ rising on Easter morning was more than a showy miracle to shock and awe his attackers and followers. When Jesus rose, he turned the entire order of the universe on its head. The Resurrection shows us that Death does not have the last word. God has the last word, and that word is Life. Suffering and Death end, but God's Kingdom lasts forever.