Saturday, February 28, 2009

Lent - Day 4, Saturday

Today's scripture readings from the Book of Common Prayer were interesting: Psalm 30, 32, 42, 43; Deuteronomy 7:17-26; Titus 3:1-15; and John 1:43-51.
A sample of a few verses that stood out to me:

Psalm 30:7-12 (NRSV)
7 By your favor, O LORD, you had established me as a strong mountain; you hid your face; I was dismayed.
8 To you, O LORD, I cried, and to the LORD I made supplication:
9 "What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?
10 Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me! O LORD, be my helper!"
11 You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
12 so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever.

Psalm 32:6-7 (NRSV)
6 Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them.
7 You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. Selah

Psalm 42:5-7 (NRSV)
5 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him...

Psalm 43:3 (NRSV)

3 O send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling.

Deuteronomy 7:17-19 (NRSV)
17 If you say to yourself, "These nations are more numerous than I; how can I dispossess them?"
18 do not be afraid of them. Just remember what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt,
19 the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs and wonders, the mighty hand and the outstretched arm by which the LORD your God brought you out. The LORD your God will do the same to all the peoples of whom you are afraid.

Titus 3:3-7 (NRSV)
3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another.
4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared,
5 he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.
6 This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,
7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

John 1:43-45 (NRSV)
43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, "Follow me."
44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.
45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth."

The common thread through today's readings is the vulnerability and weakness of our own soul and the power of God -- displayed in its fullness in Jesus Christ's finished work delivered to each of us through his grace by the Holy Spirit.

Why is it so hard for me, possibly us, to embrace weakness? God's statement to the Israelites is that in taking the land that he is giving them, they should in no allusion assume that they can/will do this in the energy of their own will (flesh). The Psalmist cries out to God simply because he comes to end after end of himself and feels the loneliness and vulnerability that can only find comfort and solace in God. Paul writes to Titus to remind him that once we lived in the weakness and lostness of our own selfishness...without even realizing what we were doing...but God broke through into that selfishness with the saving grace of Christ Jesus' work. Jesus comes to each of us and simply says, "follow me".

Give up the right, the presumption, that I/we can make it through this life in the energy, intellect, will and hope of our own strength and power, and embrace the weakness that comes in knowing Christ Jesus as savior and victor.

As we prepare for the first Sunday in Lent tomorrow, let's pray:

"Father of mercy and might, save us/me from myself. Bring me over and over again to that place of childlike dependence upon you. You are good, your mercies endure forever; your faithfulness reaches to the skies, and your wisdom and strength are what I trust in. Expose to me the follies of my own selfish assumptions and keep saying to me over and over again, 'come follow me'. Amen"

Friday, February 27, 2009

Lent - Day 3

Coming to God involves living the tension of His Holiness and His Grace. God has been misrepresented in our times. He is either spoken about as a stern finger pointing judge or as the type of loving God who will overlook the sin, never judge, and always forgives whether repentance is actually embraced or not.
I do not claim to know totally the character of God's grace, mercy, holiness and judgements. What I do know is that there is a tension that we must live within. We worship God as God...the loving, merciful God who is Holy and hates sin...ours included. Read out loud the words of the Psalmist:

Psalm 95:1-11 (NRSV)
1 O come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
3 For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods.
4 In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also.
5 The sea is his, for he made it, and the dry land, which his hands have formed.
6 O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!
7 For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. O that today you would listen to his voice!
8 Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
9 when your ancestors tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
10 For forty years I loathed that generation and said, "They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they do not regard my ways."
11 Therefore in my anger I swore, "They shall not enter my rest."


It was Martin Luther who wrote "semper simul peccator et justus" -- which translated means "Always at the same time sinners and justified". Lent reminds me that I live in this state...in awe of the character of God's grace, while mindful that He is Holy and I must listen to His voice while I travel through this world.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Lent - Day 2


This morning in my time to read I read from Psalm 37, Deut 7:6-11, Titus 1:1-16, and John 1:29-34. I was struck by God's reminder that while evil may surround us, we can do something about it. For example, note this Reading:
Psalm 37:1-8 (NRSV)
1 Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers,
2 for they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb.
3 Trust in the LORD, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.
4 Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
5 Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act.
6 He will make your vindication shine like the light, and the justice of your cause like the noonday.
7 Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices.
8 Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret--it leads only to evil.

Later on in the readings, I came to John 1:29 (NRSV)
29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, "Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

What do we make of this all?
One of the things we must, of necessity, keep central in our faith (I'd rather say "theology", but it scares some people with the idea that I'm about to say something that won't be understandable!)...one of the things must keep central to faith is that there's a cosmic warfare that exists between real beings -- God beings and Beings controlled by the evil one, Satan. I think most of us would admit that it's been a long time since the words hell, Satan have been part of our thinking. Yet, here is the scripture...saying evil is around us, do we realize it? And, that Jesus Christ is the lamb of God (indicating his sacrificial calling) that comes to deal with that evil as manifested in sin. In and through Christ Jesus, evil is defeated, is overcome. This is NOT through our efforts, although we do cooperate by faith in the finished work of Christ.
Marva Dawn says in her book, "...it is crucial for our times that Christ's victory over evil must be realized not only by Christians in isolation (that is, she means as an individual in their own private world), but especially by communities of believers. That is why the New Testament is so concerned that churches remain an alternative society, not fostering the parasitic growth of the powers of evil but maintaining purity and freedom."
HOW? We must continue to proclaim the Gospel as hope and freedom -- not just on Sunday morning during church, but also within our own minds, within our fellowship with one another, and our homes, to our kids, spouse, and family. Evil is real and there are real forces behind that evil...it is the reason why Christ Jesus went to the cross -- that this evil be defeated, and that is where we stand.

A Prayer:
"Father of mercy...By your son's death and resurrection demolish our pretensions of strength, and on the ruins build a temple worthy of your name, so that all the world may know the glory of your transforming power, shown in Jesus Christ our Lord."
(from For All The Saints, 633

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday - 1st Day of Lent

Lent is the season of 40 days that precedes Easter. Unfortunately, it has fallen on hard times in my Evangelical and Charismatic circles largely because it is usually associated with High Church Liturgy (e.g. Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran, etc...).

Lent actually began in the early church as a season of preparation for new believers to be baptised. This was an intense season of prayerful preparation, study and reflections on the death of Christ as the new believer became a part of the Christian community. Gradually the celebration of Lent took on it's own ethos as it meant a time for all believers to reflect and prepare for the celebration of the death of Christ (Good Friday) and the resurrection of Christ (Easter). There's significance, biblically, in the number 40 -- 40 days and nights of the Flood in Genesis, 40 days and nights for Moses on Sinai, and 40 days of wilderness temptations for Jesus at the onset of his public ministry -- all of which invite us to a season of reflection on sin, temptation, and the state of our own soul; and all of which ultimately drive us to the cross of Christ Jesus.

Unfortunately, most of Lent has become nothing more than a season for singular deprivations... i.e., "what are you giving up for Lent?" Granted, Lent has historically been a time for prayer and fasting, but I'm concerned that we soothe the religious spirit without understanding the real nature of this season of reflections on the journey of Christ Jesus to the cross.

There's much more to be learned about the Lenten season than I care to write in here. There's an excellent background article available at http://www.cresourcei.org/cylent.html

During this season I am reading a new book (for me that is, it was published in 2001). The book is entitled "Powers, Weakness, and the Tabernacling of God", and it is written by Marva Dawn -- a professor and author, who several years ago, I had the opportunity to hear in a series of lectures in Madison. Also, from the beginning of the year, I've been taking my daily bible readings from the "Book of Common Prayer" for year 1, and so my readings/reflections on scripture are coming directly from that lectionary schedule.

As in my Advent Meditations, I am going to write a series of reflections during the Advent season. These are often quotes from her, or reflections on passages of scripture she refers to, or quotes/reflections from others that I have read because of her writing. It's my way of admitting upfront that a lot of my thoughts are not original with myself, but prodded by the writing of someone else. At present I'm about 1/3 of the way through the book, so I have a head start with meditations, thinking, etc... Come along if you'd like, I'd love to have others journeying in this season with me.

ASH WEDNESDAY


A scripture reading for today:

Luke 18:9-14 (NASB)
9 And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt:
10 "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
11 "The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: 'God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.
12 'I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.'
13 "But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, the sinner!'
14 "I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."

The following comes from Francois de Fenelon whose little book "Christian Perfection" will drive us to our knees:

"I make myself nothing with thee, Lord. I make Thee the entire sacrifice of my pride, of the vanity which has possessed me up to the present. Help my weak beginning. Keep me from the occasions of my falling. 'Turn my eyes that I not see vanity.' that I only see Thee, and that I see myself before Thee. It will be then that I shall know what I am and who Thou art. Jesus Christ was born in a stable. He has to flee to Egypt. He passes thirty years of his life in a craftsman's shop. He suffers hunger, thirst, weariness. He is poor, scorned, and misunderstood. He teaches the doctrines of the Kingdom and nobody listens to Him. All the great and the wise pursue Him, take Him, and make Him suffer frightful torments. They treat Him like a slave, make Him die between two thieves, after having preferred a thief to Him. That was the life that Jesus Christ chose, and we, we have a horror of the slightest humiliation. Let us compare our life to that of Jesus Christ. Let us remember that He is the master, and we are the slaves...Can we with justice feel contempt for others and dwell on their faults, when we are full of them ourselves? Let us commence to walk on the road which Jesus Christ has marked for us, since it is the only one which can lead us to Him."

A Prayer:


"O Lord, because without you we cannot please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit would in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen."

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

An Awesome Video

Among the many things that the Kingdom of God is about is JUSTICE.
It's an interesting word and even more wonderful idea. The difficulties are that many evangelical western Christians don't have much of biblical grid for how God perceives issues of Justice. The theme appears over and over again in the Prophets, which makes me sad that we don't think about it often enough.
One thing I encouraged about is the number of Young Adults today who have put the biblical idea of Justice front and center in their practical theology. May their tribe increase.
Here's a video of a place that is practicing Kingdom justice ministry. It's worth the ten minute watch;
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wB6YOpGLCzI

Thanks

Elliott