St. Matthias, Tuesday, February 20

St. Matthias, Tuesday, February 20

Psalm 25:1-10 (ESV)

1 To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust;
let me not be put to shame;
let not my enemies exult over me.
Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame;
they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all the day long.

Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!

Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
10 All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.

Lent is a season of repentance.  A season to reflect on the condition of our hearts and turn from what needs it.  But what should we repent of?

It’s easy to list obvious sins—drunkenness, lust, and the like.  Or sins that “aren’t a big deal”—using Facebook addictively or over-eating.  But the opening lines of Psalm 25 hint at something else to ponder: shame.

Shame.  Feeling I don’t measure up, like you wouldn’t embrace me if you really knew my thoughts and doubts and struggles.  We don’t consciously think of shame as something to turn from.  Yet sociologists classify whole cultures as “shame-based”—and shame burdens many of us.  It keeps us from being really honest about our struggles, motivates spending to shape public image, motivates “little” lies to protect how others see me, motivates even “good” behaviors to keep others from seeing my brokenness.

The psalmist invites us to let God lead us into his truth.  Truth about ourselves is a struggle if shame controls us.  And shame gets in the way of our seeing the goodness of God that this passage speaks of. His mercy and steadfast love, which have been of old, are there in spite of the sins of our youth and our current transgressions.  We want to be healed of our sins, of course.  But we must begin with truth about ourselves; the pretending that shame inspires gets in the way.

What are you ashamed to reveal about yourself, your doubts, your fears?  Who could you begin to trust to open your shame to?

Merciful Father, who frees us by your truth, free us from shame so we can come to you and to one another in reality and truth and so be truly healed, through Jesus Christ our redeemer.

Monday, February 19

Monday, February 19

Genesis 9:12-17 (ESV)

12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.  14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh.  And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.  16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”  17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

Many of us struggle with “the God” of the Old Testament.  This may stem from the genesis of Jesus at Christmas, which can lead to confusing God with Santa Claus.  After all, Santa keeps a list that distinguishes between naughty and nice, i.e. goats and sheep.  But, really, who ever received coal in their stocking?

Actually, someone did.  But he received it on Good Friday rather than Christmas morning, even though his list had no entries whatsoever in the “naughty” column; and his “nice” column is infinitely long.  Of course, we don’t think of these things during the Christmas season when we think of God.  To do so seems inappropriate.

But now we are in Lent, a time when it is most appropriate to think about Good Friday, our ultimate Christmas Gift.  A more contemporary notion helps us here and may even help our struggle with “the God” of the Old Testament:  no pain, no gain.

God is not a type of Santa Claus—God is far, far better.  He is more like our Olympic Coach, guiding us toward greatness through a combination of harshness and encouragement.  He knows what it takes to “win the gold,” and he is committed to our success.  In fact, he has insured it.

Still, we have work to do.  One of the most common New Year’s resolutions (gift wishes that follow soon on the heels of Christmas) is to lose weight.  Losing weight is not a gift; rather, it is an outcome.

God is coaching us into eternal life with him—his gift, but our outcome.  We train for a single event:  repentance.  His regimen can be severe; but it is always successful.  We shall eat and be full.

Lord, help me today to turn from the sin you have shown in me this Lent.

First Sunday, February 18

First Sunday, February 18

Genesis 9:8-11 (ESV)

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth.  11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 

After the Great Flood, God told Noah, “I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

What was God doing?  And what is a covenant?

In biblical times, covenants signified a new relationship between the parties involved.  Generally, each party bound themselves to perform specific duties or services for the other.  Covenants were unalterable and permanent.

Throughout the Old Testament, God made covenants with his people.  Besides Noah, God made covenants with Abraham, Moses, and David.

Space limits discussion of these divine covenants.  However, each succeeding one revealed something new about God and his relationship with his people.  Moreover, each one foreshadowed more clearly the saving work that God would accomplish through Jesus.

In the covenant with Noah, we see the grace and long-suffering nature of God… and his commitment to his creation.  God would never again send a consuming flood.  Instead, God would find a different way to deal with human sin.

And so…

(Jesus) took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.”  And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:19-21)

The body and blood of Jesus.  These were how God dealt with human sin for all time.  On the cross, my sin, your sin, the sin of all his followers, was crammed into Jesus.  He was made dirty.  We were made clean.  He died.  We live.

We celebrate this New Covenant every week in bread and wine.

Thank you, Jesus.

Saturday, February 17

Saturday, February 17

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 (ESV)

1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others.  Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.  And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites.  For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others.  Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret.  And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

16 And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others.  Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret.  And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

19 Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

So, have you started a Lenten practice this year?  Like giving up chocolate, social media, or something like that?  We tend to shout to the roof tops and Facebook what we are giving up.  We usually talk about how awful it is and how far away the end date is.  It is so hard!  But, half the time, we are done on day 4, and then keep up the charade until the end.

Now here is a crazy, out-there question: what if we took joy in it?  Jesus talks about fasting as a joyful experience, as a reward.  It is to be done in secret, one made between you and the Father.  It is a way for us to intimately reflect on God.  It is a time to turn away from all the distractions and just spend that quality time with Him, like we would with family member or a spouse.

Except we can choose to spend this time with the creator of all that is, with the redeemer of all humankind.  It can be a holy and precious time for us believers.  Lent is an invitation for us to see clearly our human brokenness, and for God to heal us of it, if we really want to be healed.

So how are you going to approach this Lenten season?  Are you just going to be stuck in your old ways of doing it?  Are you going to take joy in it?  Are you going to take time away from others to pursue Him?

I challenge you to make this season so much more.

God help me to deepen our relationship.  Help to stay strong and consistent with you.  Give me strength and wisdom to follow you.  Help me to pursue you God.  Amen

Friday, February 16

Friday, February 16

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10 (ESV)

We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

1 Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.  For he says,

“In a favorable time I listened to you,
and in a day of salvation I have helped you.”

Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.  We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry,but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way:  by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left;through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise.  We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.

Paul calls for us to be reconciled to God, for God has reconciled the world to Himself through the work of Christ on the cross.  Christ, who was without sin, took on our sin and the punishment that rightfully belongs to us.  Thus, Paul urges us to receive this grace from God so that we can be God’s ambassadors to the world.  And, as His ambassadors, we are to show the world the grace and love God has shown to us.

So, what does it mean to be an ambassador?  It means we endure regardless of what comes our way because we know that suffering is only temporary.  It means we choose purity, patience, and kindness, things that do not come naturally to us.  But now, we can show the world these things because of the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us.  The Holy Spirit helps us choose purity when our desires are less than pure.  He empowers us with patience when we feel frustrated and shows us how to be kind when others are not kind to us.

Thus, we are to submit to the Holy Spirit and His guidance, and then show the world the love and grace of God.  God loves us so much that He sacrificed His only Son, making us righteous through the death and resurrection of Christ.  And it is because of our love for Christ that we are willing to submit to His will and His desires rather than our own.

Gracious Father, show us where we are falling short in our representation of you to the world.  Where have we not endured with grace?  Who have we shown frustration to rather than patience?  Who do we need to show kindness to today?  Empower us to be powerful ambassadors for you, Lord.

Thursday, February 15

Thursday, February 15

Psalm 103:8-14 (ESV)

The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
13 As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
14 For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.

I recently had a conversation about anger with a Jewish friend.  The conversation started off about her young teenage son having some anger issues.  As we discussed anger further, I told her, “You know, God is slow to anger.”  She looked at me quizzically, so I continued, “When He revealed Himself to Moses, He said, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.’  It’s in the book of Exodus” (34:6).

With a smile on her face, she said, “Oh, I should know that.”  Indeed, she should.  We all should.  I wrote that verse on a piece of paper and gave it to her.  She put it in a place where she sees it every day and is reminded daily of the steadfast love of the Lord.

The season of Lent is, likewise, an opportunity for us to remind ourselves of the steadfast love of the Lord.  It is a season of penitence and fasting, designed to draw us closer to God as we recall His tremendous mercy and His forgiveness of our sins.  All our sins.

When we confess our sins to God our Father, He does not repay us as we deserve; rather He removes them from us as far as the east is from the west—symbolic language representing His tremendous mercy toward us, removing our sins completely from us.  God forgives and forgets.  The slate is wiped clean for He loves us so.

Such is the compassion and faithfulness of our Lord.

Faithful Father, Thank You for removing my transgressions from me and not repaying me according to my iniquities.  From the depths of my heart and with everything I have and all that I am, I praise You for Your steadfast love and faithfulness.  Amen.

Ash Wednesday, February 14 

Ash Wednesday, February 14 

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 (ESV)

1 Blow a trumpet in Zion;
sound an alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
for the day of the Lord is coming; it is near,
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness!
Like blackness there is spread upon the mountains
a great and powerful people;
their like has never been before,
nor will be again after them
through the years of all generations.

12 “Yet even now,” declares the Lord,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
13     and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
and he relents over disaster.
14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent,
and leave a blessing behind him,
a grain offering and a drink offering
for the Lord your God?

15 Blow the trumpet in Zion;
consecrate a fast;
call a solemn assembly;
16     gather the people.
Consecrate the congregation;
assemble the elders;
gather the children,
even nursing infants.
Let the bridegroom leave his room,
and the bride her chamber.

17 Between the vestibule and the altar
let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep
and say, “Spare your people, O Lord,
and make not your heritage a reproach,
a byword among the nations.
Why should they say among the peoples,
‘Where is their God?’”

There is more to the first day of Lent than experiencing guilt.  Even Judas repented the betrayal of his lord in the garden.  Remember his end?  A “mere sorrow avails nothing unless it leads to change of mind and life,” observed New Testament scholar A.T. Robertson.

The season lays before us the possibility of major changes in our hearts.  Such changes are merely betokened by abstinence from minor pleasures over the 40 days.  We should not confuse the means with the ends.

Note above the consequences ensuing from a plague of locusts.  Joel, a temple prophet, underscores that God is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

With gentleness, God makes our way back to him a homecoming.  Beyond forgiveness, his pity changes our lostness and shame into an opportunity for transfiguring our brains, opening before us a new life.

Now such a change of perception, replete with all of its behavioral fruit, empowers us to leave behind worldly thoughts and actions beyond Lent into an awakened life.  Image life beyond our besetting sins, one where we recognize the Savior’s face in all those we encounter on the given day, perceiving yourself as part of his mighty body extended through time.

The real life, the true life, the Christ life is one of reconstruction.  It is one of conversion, where Jesus shares a little more of his cross for the journey we make back to him, encouraging stragglers also in route to a heavenly home.

Strengthen me to confess today my worst, Lord, that I may, with a clean heart, avail myself of thy best, for aye and ever more.  Amen.