Lent – Saturday, Day 4

“Anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Heb. 11:6

Introduction

The Psalms express the full range of human emotions: from deepest depression to highest exaltation and praise.  It was the hymn book of Jewish worship, transposed to the Christian church after the first century.   Music is the language of the soul; the Psalms give words to the music of the heart.

Scripture

Ps.30:4,5

“Sing to the Lord, you saint of his; raise his holy name [for his anger lasts only a moment], weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.  “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent.”

Ps.32:7

“You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.”

Ps.42:5

“Why are you downcast, O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God.  For I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”

Reflection

A conversation overhead between two young mothers:  “When my child cried as a newborn, I knew it was one of three things: he was tired, hungry or uncomfortable.  Now that he’s older, we’ve identified at least seventeen different things that make him cry.  It’s becoming more and more difficult to satisfy his needs.”

Identifying the source of discontent is a life long process.  We often don’t understand our own longings.  Early on we identify temporary fixes:  food, entertainment, friends, rest, a change of scenery.  But after a while, the effectiveness and novelty wear off and we look for a new prescription for happiness.

Scripture indicates that our true thirst or longing is for God, himself, placed in us at creation, as a homing device for his Spirit.  Synthetic substitutes may suffice, but they are superficial and short-lived.  Ultimate satisfaction is only found in unity with God.  “Those who come to him must believe that he is and he rewards those who seek him.”

God is like the final piece in a jigsaw puzzle.  If it is missing, you either find it or pretend it doesn’t really matter.  One piece is the difference between complete satisfaction and frustration.

jigsaw

 

Prayer

Lord, we were created to be in a relationship with you.  We confess that we look for substitutes for our longings until we are broken by the circumstances of life.  Help us find words to express our needs and regrets so that we can experience true and lasting joy.  Amen

Lent – Friday, Day 3

“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people” Titus 2:11

Introduction

Today’s readings challenge us to be self-controlled, upright and godly as we live in God’s grace.  The Old Testament readings carry the promise of health, prosperity and blessings.  Determination to live a righteous life is open to criticism as our actions are scrutinized for inconsistencies and our failures can overshadow our successes.

 

Scripture

Deut. 7:12-  If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the Lord your God will keep his covenant of love with you, as he swore to your ancestors.

Titus 2:11-13 – “11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”

Ps. 35:15-7 – “But when I stumbled, they gathered in glee; attackers gathered against me when I was unaware.  They slandered me without ceasing. Like the ungodly they maliciously mocked, they gnashed their teeth at me.  O Lord, how long will you look on? Rescue my life from their ravages, my precious life from these lions.”

Reflection

“You think you’re so great!” is often heard on the playground at recess.  Children love to criticize, especially if they have been put down or humiliated by others.  A dropped ball, a missed shot, a stumble on a response to a question, a failure on a test, being publicly called out by someone in a place of authority—these are all open to scrutiny.  “Who cares!” the child retorts in anger as he walks away from the game, throwing down his glove in disgust, refusing to ever play again.

Our scriptures encourage us to be self-controlled and live upright and godly lives.  But, this seems impossible, like maintaining a diet or exercise routine for longer than a week.  We have excuses: I’m too busy, I don’t want to, I have ADHD, I tried and it didn’t work.  Yet godliness is not an option for the people of God, it is the outcome of a relationship founded on grace.

We will stumble and fall, but we call upon the Lord to deal with our critics, including our own self-doubt.  He is our co-conspirator against embarrassment as he continues to forgive and walk beside us in our quest for a victorious life.

Prayer

Lord, it’s easier to give up than persist, especially when we feel judged when we fail.  We know that we have no righteousness in ourselves, but we long to be better than we are.  It takes persistence, discipline and courage to overcome bad habits or negative attitudes.  Rather than walking away from the challenge, give us an appetite to carry on. Amen

Lent – Thursday, Day 2

“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” Jn. 1:29

Introduction

Today’s readings have a warning to those who corrupt God’s commandments, replacing them with meaningless talk and deception.  A relationship with God depends on our acknowledgement of the need for redemption from sin and acceptance of Jesus as the sacrificial lamb of God for all peoples.

Scripture

Deut.7:6-11

[God affirms that he has chosen the people of Abraham because of his love and promise to their ancestors; but it comes with a warning.]

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. . . The Lord did not set his affection on you because you were more numerous. . . but it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors. . . . Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.  But those who hate him he will repay to their face by destruction.”

Titus 1:1-16

[Paul warns against those who are full of meaningless talk, offering an alternate way to truth that does not include God]

 “For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception.. . Pay no attention to the merely human commands of those who reject the truth.  To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure.  In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted.”

Jn. 1:29-34

“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! . . I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”

Reflection

A college professor once told me, “Heresies are always so convincing because you can make them up as you go.  There is no need to base the argument in fact.”  The hard truth of the gospel starts with our need for a sacrificial lamb to atone for our sins.  If we have no sin, there is no need for atonement.

okIt is not hard to eliminate our sinfulness.  Years ago we were inundated with “I’m OK, You’re OK.”—implying that “there are no bad people, only bad choices.”  This was especially evident in our education system.  All comments were to be worded in the positive.  Children were taught to assess themselves.  Deficits in learning or performance were replaced with “I can” statements or “not yet.” While this created a generation of children with positive self-esteem, at times, it often lowered the bar to mediocrity and being satisfied with work that simply “good enough.”

Unfortunately, this philosophy dominates our culture to the point where “sin” is an antiquated word with no meaning.  We created our own standards whereby, if “it feels good, do it.”  “I” am at the center of the universe and “I” determine what is right or wrong for me.  In this world, there is no accountability to God.  The sacrificial lamb is not needed.  We are all OK.

The Apostle Paul warns against those with deceptive arguments: “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him.  They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.” (Titus 1:16).  This is radically counter-cultural.  It is a hard saying,  but it is the first step towards change.

sin

Prayer

Lord, we hide our sinfulness from ourselves, convinced that we are “trying our best”.  We like Jesus until it gets personal.  Give us eyes to see God’s truth so that we can confess our sins and receive atonement through Christ’s sacrifice.  Without this, forgiveness is impossible.  Amen

Lent – Wednesday, Day 1

“For Dust You Are and to Dust You will Return” – Genesis 3:19

Introduction

The scripture readings emphasize the need for repentance and humility before we can receive God’s righteousness and peace.  As we enter into Lent, we are reminded that in God’s eyes, we are dust.  Yet, He is “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” to those who fear Him.

Scripture

Jonah 3:1 – 4:11

[Jonah warned the people of Ninevah to repent or they would be destroyed.]

“Let everyone call urgently on God.  Let them give up their evil ways and their violence.  Who knows?  God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”

[When the people repented, Jonah was angry.  He wanted them to be punished for their sins; instead they were forgiven.  This was his response to God’s mercy]

“I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.  Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

Luke 18:9-14

[The Pharisee saw himself as righteous before God; he used the corrupt, unholy tax collector as a source of comparison.  Yet Jesus looked into the heart and saw the tax collector as redeemable because of his humility]

 “God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” (the tax collector prayed).

“I tell you,” (said Jesus), “that this man, rather than the [Pharisee], went home justified before God.  For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Hebrews 12:5-6

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

Reflection

Scripture tells us that “those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Lk.18:14).  This has little or no meaning in the corporate culture. Confidence and humility may seem mutually exclusive, but a proper understanding of who we are before God is an essential step towards reconciliation and growth.  Before the infinite God, we are dust.

Lent is the time for humility, not pretense.  It is not bravado or boasting that the Lord listens to, but a humble, repentant heart that cries out, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” (Luke18:13)  Self-criticism is false humility; acknowledging your giftedness and subjecting yourself to God’s leading is true humility.  We are clay pots holding the treasure of His spirit. (2 Corinthians 4).

humility-med-800x400

Prayer

Lord, we acknowledge that we are dust and to dust we will return.  Yet, we know that you are slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love towards those who call upon you in humility.  We confess that we fall short of your holiness and ask for forgiveness and mercy as we truly examine our lives in this season of Lent.

 

The Lenten Journey

The Meaning

lenten-journey
Image by Samuel Anand

Lent, meaning lengthening days, begins 7 Wednesdays (40 days, excluding Sundays) before Easter Sunday. It is a 40 day time for reflection and penance in preparation for Easter. The 40 days represent the time Jesus fasted in the wilderness before he began his ministry. In centuries past, fasting was a part of the Christian tradition, however, this has been replaced by abstinence or “giving up” a vice or habit during the season, such as chocolate, you tube, or morning coffee.  It is a test of self-discipline and a reminder of the sacrifice Jesus made for us.

The first Christians were Jewish.  They celebrated the Jewish Passover at the same time as Good Friday.  The last supper was the Jewish Seder, when Jesus became the Passover lamb.

what-is-pascha

“For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.  Therefore, let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.” (I Cor. 5:7-8)

Passover is a set date on the Jewish calendar;  Easter is a moveable feast (related to the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox).  The two dates do not always coincide.  Both Easter and Passover occur in spring, symbolizing new life and resurrection:  for the Jewish nation, it was deliverance from Egypt; for the Christians, it was deliverance from sin and death.

The Journey

Shrove Tuesday – the day before Ash Wednesday (Mardi Gras – fat Tuesday), sometimes referred to as “pancake day.” It gets its name from “shriving” meaning confession and absolution. Shrove Tuesday was the last chance to use up the foods that weren’t allowed in Lent, such as oil, cream and sugar, hence the pancakes.  It also why the Mardi Gras celebrations are a bit decadent—the last chance to indulge before repentance.

ash wednesdayAsh Wednesday – The beginning of Lent is often marked by special services. Worshippers are marked on the forehead with ashes as a symbol of death and sorrow for sins. The minister or priest says, “Remember, you are dust and to dust you will return” as he places the mark on the forehead.

133Palm Sunday – The Sunday before Easter celebrates Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey.  It is the beginning of Holy week, often marked by palm branches and a processional into the church.

 

131Maundy Thursday – “The word Maundy is derived from the Latin mandatum, which means commandment. It refers to when Jesus, in the Upper Room during the Last Supper, said to the disciples: ‘A new commandment I give you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.’ (John 13:34).” It includes communion and foot europe 2009 632washing—the symbol of servant leadership.

Good Friday – The day of Christ’s crucifixion and death.  It is marked by services that commemorate the way of the cross and the last words of Jesus.

Easter Sunday – Resurrection Sunday.  The holiest day on the Christian calendar.  The day of new beginnings and hope.

The Invitation

Dear Lord,

As we enter into the season of Lent, give us an open heart and humility to listen to what you may be saying to us.  As we follow Jesus through the passion and crucifixion, may the contrast with Easter become a beacon of hope and joy in the darkness.

Amen