This first week is a short week, beginning on Ash Wednesday. Lent is a time of reflection, a time to recenter our lives. We look around, see what is necessary and what is extra. We give up some comforts and excesses. And we learn to thank God for enough. We deny ourselves and find we can see God a little more clearly. Each day brings us a little closer to the Cross. As we look at the lives of these extraordinary individuals, remember that, had they not focused on God, they wouldn’t be extraordinary. Extraordinary begins with steps outside the ordinary.
Day One: John the Baptist — Preparing the Way of the Lord
It is fitting that we begin this season of fasting with John the Baptist. Clothed in camel hair and eating locusts and honey in the wilderness, John the Baptist knew giving up worldly pleasures. John the Baptist was far from normal. His birth was foretold by angels. He was born to a barren couple. He was set aside from birth for a holy life. He was the one who prepared the way for Jesus. While still in the womb, he leapt at the presence of His Savior. He was “the voice crying in the wilderness”. Can you imagine that being the thing said about you? He preached of the coming Savior, and crowds followed him. You can read about John’s ministry in Matthew 3, Mark 1, Luke 3, and John 1. Even after John baptized Jesus, he continued to be the wild-haired desert preacher. He made some people very uncomfortable, even made some mad, but he continued to spread the word he’d been given. John the Baptist spoke the truth, and that isn’t always easy for people to hear. In Matthew 14, we read of John’s death, which was far from pleasant.
What worldly pleasures will you give up during this season of Lent as you prepare for the Lord?
What truth has God given you to share? How can your life point more toward Christ?
Day Two: Dietrich Bonhoeffer — Courage for the Sake of Others
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born February 4, 1906, in Germany. He was a pastor, theologian, and martyr. When the Nazis rose to power in Germany, Bonhoeffer spoke out against them. At the urging of friends, Bonhoeffer left his home for the United States, to escape persecution by the Nazis. However, he soon regretted his decision and decided to go back home to his people and stand with them. “I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people… Christians in Germany will have to face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose, but I cannot make that choice from security.” Bonhoeffer returned to Germany and continued to rebel against Nazi power, even helping in forming assassination attempts against Hitler.
On April 5, 1943, Bonhoeffer was arrested and imprisoned. In 1945, he was moved to a concentration camp. On April 9, 1945, two weeks before the United States liberated the camp he was in, Bonhoeffer was executed. “I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer… kneeling on the floor praying fervently to God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the few steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.” (Eberhard Bethge, witness to the execution)
Bonhoeffer could have easily stayed in America, safe from the evil on the other side of the world. Instead, he chose to stand up against evil– to stand with his people. He suffered for it, but ultimately, it was the right thing to do. He insisted, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
“Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God’s will.” (Eric Metaxas) [If you’re interested in learning more about the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I recommend reading Eric Metaxas’ biography Bonhoeffer.]
Day Three: Amy Carmichael — Showing the Love of Christ
Amy Carmichael was born in 1867 in Ireland. She was the oldest of seven children. As a teenager, Amy started a Sunday morning group for mill girls which grew to over 500 participants. Amy first became a missionary to Japan but fell ill and had to return home after 15 months. She then went to Ceylon and finally to India, where she found her life’s work. She mainly worked with girls and young women who were forced into a kind of slavery to earn money for pagan temple priests. Children in India seemed drawn to Amy; when asked why, they would often say it was because of her love. Amy started a home for children in India, saving them from bleak futures in forced pagan temple service. She rescued more than 1,000 children in India. Amy died in India at the age of 83. Instead of a headstone, the children she rescued put a bird bath over her grave and labeled it “Amma” (the Tamil word for ‘mother’).
“One can give without loving, but one cannot love without giving.”
“Give me the Love that leads the way
The Faith that nothing can dismay
The Hope no disappointments tire
The Passion that’ll burn like fire
Let me not sink to be a clod
Make me Thy fuel, Flame of God.”
How could you show others the love of God?
How have you felt the love of God through someone else?
Optional Craft: Make a bird bath. Using a terra cotta pot and a pot base (or you could use a glass bowl), paint or decorate the pot, remembering that it will be used upside down. Glue the pot base or bowl onto the bottom of the terra cotta pot. If your pot base has a hole, you’ll want to take some caulk or putty and cover the hole. Once the putty is dry, fill your bird bath with some water and put it outside for the birds to enjoy.
Day Four: Stephen — Love Your Enemies
In Acts 7, we read about Stephen, who was the first person to die for His faith in Christ after Jesus himself died. Stephen proclaimed the Gospel to those who had persecuted Jesus. He wanted them to see that the Messiah had come. They were angry with Stephen for what he said. When they drug Stephen out of the city, Stephen looked into the Heavens and saw Jesus standing next to God the Father, and he told them what he saw. The elders became even angrier, refusing to listen. Instead, they picked up stones and stoned him to death. While Stephen was dying, he prayed that God would not hold his death against those who were killing him.
We easily say, “Love your enemies,” but do you think loving his enemies was easy to do in Stephen’s case? His enemies were killing him, yet he still showed love.
How can you show love to those who wrong you?
Optional Craft: Get large river rocks and using paint or Sharpies, write on the rocks, “Love your enemies.” It will be both a reminder of the love shown by Stephen and a reminder to love those who are against us. For younger kids, you may want to write on the rocks and then let them decorate with paint, stickers, or glued on gems.