Devotional Thought of the Day:
7 Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? 8 If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. Psalm 139:7-8 (NKJV)
Now when people have learned and become aware
Once upon a time, I was a non-denominational pastor. As such, I looked at Lent and Ash Wednesday with a negative eye. I thought it was all a bunch of hype, some innovative way to subject people, and steal from them the meager joys they have earned.
I had grown up Roman Catholic, and I had some good mentors in the faith. Fr. Alex and Sister Ursula made sure we understood why we did things, not just hearing that we had to do so. But even with that, I thought to take 40 days out to weep and grieve over our sins and my sins was a bit overkill. And to wear an ash cross on my forehead for a day? (Well at least that would stop an aunt or two from kissing my forehead!)
Yet, the older I get, the more experienced I get with my own guilt and shame, the more I need to spend that time, examining myself. Not to beat me down, or just to endure discomfort as if that can bribe God to keep me out of hell.
I need these forty days. I need to process the way I am when I set God aside.
Again, not to dwell in grief or shame indefinitely, but to remember what the psalmist said, You are there!
I can’t get away from the God who loves me, who loves me even “THERE.”
I need to know that even there I can go to Him, confess that I’ve sinned, that I’ve depended on other “gods”, that
I need to know that even in the midst of sin, God is there to bring healing and hope into my darkness. And let’s be honest, just because I am a Christian and a pastor doesn’t mean I still don’t struggle with the darkness of sin in my life.
Lent, and especially Ash Wednesday, is an awesome time. We can stop playing the hypocrite, we can stop pretending our sin is justifiable, we can grieve what we’ve
Luther, M. (2007). Luther’s Spirituality. (P. D. W. Krey, B. McGinn, & P. D. S. Krey, Eds., P. D. S. Krey & P. D. W. Krey, Trans.) (p. 74). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.
Prayers answer in Christ’s Wounds: Make Me Yours! ( The first sermon in a Lenten series at Concordia)
Prayers answered in Christ’s Wounds
Make Me Yours
† I.H.S. †
The Mark you bear….the passion it represents
A moment ago, you had some palm tree ash put on your forehead. Ash, the dirt that comes from burning something that was once alive, but now is dead and is burnt because the option is to let it take up room while it rots and smells up the place.
Fire leaves behind what’s left, what can’t decay, what can’t be broken down anymore.
As we go through Lent, we are going to look at some of the deepest prayers of our souls, the prayers that we should be aware were answered completely, even if that answer remains partly hidden. We can learn that it is answered, we can begin to see that revelation, and know that in time, we will see it completely answered.
Those prayers are seen, in part, in the hymn, O Sacred Head Now Wounded, and each week we will add a verse, as we see the prayer that is answered in Jesus wounds….
The prayer tonight? It is found in the last line of the first verse, “I joy to call Thee mine.”
An appropriate prayer, considering it is Valentine’s day… a prayer to God, “be mine”, a prayer to God as well, “make me yours!”
An answer that we see in the mark, the brand you are wearing tonight. A mark that symbolizes not only our grief and brokenness but a mark that shows us that God has made us His.
The Mark of Brokenness, of grief and shame of the cross
Ashes, all that is left after all that can rot and stink has been taken away… Little better than carbon-based dust…something that can be blown away, even by a gentle breeze.
Ashes have been used as a sigh of grief for a long time, and though we also see them as a sign of repentance, they are first a sign of grief, a recognition that without Christ, our lives, so dominated by sin, are but the ashes and dust we come from, and the ashes and dust we will return to someday.
We often see them as a sign of repentance, but repentance comes as a gift from God and develops out of a sorrow for our sin, a realization of our brokenness. To realize the effect and impact of our individual sin, of the havoc that sin wracks in our lives.
And so we wear the ash, in sorrow and grief and shame.
The grief and shame that wears down the head of Jesus, wounded for us, to answer our prayers, Be mine, make me yours!
The Mark of Bliss
As we journey through this life with Jesus, as we journey with Him from the cross, we begin to see that the ashes leave the same mark as our baptism.
The sign of the cross, the place where Jesus was bruised and battered, the place Isaiah described so clearly in our reading tonight,
10 But it was the LORD’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the LORD’s good plan will prosper in his hands. 11 When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins. Isaiah 53:10-11 (NLT)
It is tempting to see in this God the Father crushing Jesus, the accomplishment of anguish. The idea that all this required anguish, the anguish of the weight of our sin which He bears. All that is necessary for a time. But it is not where it ends. What we need to see, what will rescue us from the appropriate grief is this,
The Good plan,
The having many descendants,
The accomplishment ( in Greek this would be the same as “it is finished!”
the fact that many, including us, will be counted righteous.
In lent we need a both and, a time to grieve our sin, and a time to dance over the fact we are forgiven, hence the ashes in the sign of the cross…
Make Me thine
And in that cross, we hear those words, that we are found righteous, that it has been accomplished, that we have become His, for He has given us life.
He has made us His own.
We can rejoice, for we know the joy of calling Him ours, and we can say with the bluntest honest the words of the psalm, “I joy to call the mine!”
Love Is; Jesus is; We are
Patient and Kind
† In Jesus Name †
As you experience the grace and mercy of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ may you see God enabling you to really love Him and others!
During this season of Lent, many people think we are to beat ourselves up for our sin. That we give up something in order to atone for our continued sin, to show God how sorry for what we’ve done, and what we’ve failed to do.
That’s not completely accurate, though it moves us to where we need to be.
The goal of Lent is to stop us, to help us realize we aren’t who we should be, as the children of God. Not to beat us up, but to encourage us to have a life that is more like Jesus’ life. The goal is to build in us a desire to imitate Christ, and to live like Paul, who could say, “imitate me as I imitate Christ”.
So this Lent, we are looking at one of the best descriptions of Jesus we can find, one we hear more often at weddings. We’ll take a couple of the descriptions each week, and this week we are looking at these two.
Love is patient and Love is kind.
The Message translation gives us another perspective:
Love never gives up.
Love cares for others more than for self.
Can you imagine if we were so patient we never gave up? Or if everyone was more interested in what was good for others rather than just being self-centered?
Not just within families and churches, but if everyone loved everyone. This is who we are supposed to be!
This is not just a nice idea, it is what God commands us to do, to love Him, to love our neighbors, to love those who hate us. We know this, but I wonder if we desire it, if this is truly who we want to be.
It should be
As we look at love being described by St Paul, we have to realize how it describes Jesus Christ, who was the perfect, sinless man. If we evaluated how he loved by these words, we see it perfectly.
Not just with his patience and not giving up on the Apostles, especially Peter. But Jesus doesn’t give up on us, He isn’t even tempted to do so.
And we see his kindness, His putting others first as He ministered to those around them, having compassion on the crowds who followed them, always being able to find the people who needed His care. Being there for those who would give up, or struggle with their sin, and don’t know how to break it.
This is what the Apostle John meant when he said God is love, for in Jesus, they found out what that really means…we see this amazing level of patience, that God will embrace suffering a long time, for His goal is bring everyone to repentance, to transform everyone so that their lives are a picture of Christ’s love. That is the ultimate example of kindness,
So we know this description of love should describe our life as well. We know it doesn’t, at least as we struggle with it, so how can we desire to grow in our ability to love?
The answer is on all of your minds. Look, you can see it on those around you.
The cross, the place where Jesus gave His life for you. We could put a blob on your forehead, but we put a cross. To remind you that while you have sinned, you really aren’t sinners anymore.
You have been united to Christ, and the ashes that mark you, mark you as His, just as the cross made over your head and heart at baptism did. His sacrifice, His body and blood broken and given for you provides the answer.
It is what we need to spend contemplating. As we think about this great love, a love that cleanses us from sin, and leaves us holy, set apart to God, set apart for God to dwell with. The more we spend time talking to God, exploring the breadth and width, the height and depth of His love, the more the Holy Spirit transforms us, causing and enabling us to love as He does…. For we are with Him.
As the song we will sing in a moment says, where You are Lord, I am free….
Free to love.. to be patient, to be kind, to be like Christ who not only sets you free, but makes you Holy.
The Repentant: Lives Changed So Much Heaven Rejoices
Israel and King Josiah 2 Kings 22:3-13, 23:24-25
† I.H.S. †
May you realize the blessing and great joy of hearing God’s loving, benevolent call to repentance, even as you struggle with the fact you need it!
You Lost What?
At first, I cannot even imagine how the priests in the Temple, the King and all the people of God could have gotten to this place.
I mean, I’ve heard of people losing a lot of things, and I’ve heard of a person or two losing their Bibles. But can you imagine coming to church here, and in the sanctuary, in the office and in all of the classrooms there was not a Bible to be found?
It was worse, they didn’t even know they had lost it….
Imagine Chuck coming up to Christ and Al and I saying, “Hey look what I found out in the trailer in back, and handing us a Bible, and it taking a moment or two for us to realize what it was….”
Doesn’t that sound bizarre?
Especially in the Old Testament with all the rituals, the covenants, the readings?
They didn’t know what they were missing.
And they were missing the word of God. The promises of God, the incredible blessings that were to be passed down to everyone.
They lost it….
Seems inconceivable that the word of God was nowhere to be found. And no one noticed the difference…
It is inconceivable because we can’t imagine it happening here.
We can’t imagine losing the Bible, yet we can lose it, even while it is in plain sight. We can lose it because we are concentrating and focused on the things that surround us. They can be good things or evil things. Israel forgot God and worshiped a Bronze calf, but they also forgot God when the worshiped the bronze serpent that God had them fashion to facilitate their repentance and healing.
We lose the gospel when our lives are a struggle. When finances, or marital issues, or work challenges are so overwhelming, we don’t have the answers. When our health issues are so devastating.
Or maybe it is simply sinning that is distracting us, when our idolatry, rebellion, anger, lust, desire, gossip, and jealousy have blinded us to God’s presence, to His mercy and to His love.
Then we’ve lost scripture, and as Israel and the King, we don’t know that we lost the gospel, or that we’ve forgotten our loving, merciful God.
It is, therefore, a blessing that we have a service like Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent. A time to spend to reflect on our need for repentance, and our need for transformation. A time where we are conformed to the image of Jesus.
We need to take the time for what is called being penitent, to be reminded to reflect on our lives, and ask God to cleanse us.
So where are your sins… I gave you a list earlier, but in case, your weren’t listening have you….
Set up something in the place of God? Do you trust in something more than you trust in Him? If so, as we come to our time to confess, bring that up…
Have you misused His name? Or as a Christian, have your actions brought it an honor and praise? If so, as we come to our time to confess, bring that up…
Do you take the time to spend with Him, to know His word? If so, as we come to our time to confess, bring that up…
Do you honor those God has given responsibility for you, including parents, elders, and public officials? If so, as we come to our time to confess, bring that up…
What about your anger, and thoughts about people where you want to strike out, If so, as we come to our time to confess, bring that up…
What about lust and improper desire for those you aren’t married to, whether its just a thought, word or if you have acted on it? Or gossip, Or just desiring what others have….we need to repent…
And as I stand here, and I call us all to a time of repentance… just as the King ordered all Israel to repent, to see them rid of the sin which affected their lives… (CLICK)
(from the liturgy on screen) The Holy Spirit moves us to confess our sins to God, and to accept His mercy, the gift which is ours in and through His Son Jesus Christ, and to receive His forgiveness. Take a moment to contemplate your sins of this day and past days, confessing them to your Lord.
(after the time of confession, all are invited to be marked with a ash cross to symbolize their desire for God to forgive their sin, and transform them into the image of Christ)
( The sermon will be completed after the reading fo the Gospel Luke 15:3-7 and the confession of our trust in Christ – aka the Creed)
The story of King Josiah and the people of Israel is an incredible lesson, a lesson that doesn’t end with a simple cleaning house.
Listen to how scripture describes him, as one who “served the LORD with all his heart, mind and strength” obeying (treasuring) this covenant relationship we have with God.
It is no wonder our gospel reading for this season talks of the joy of heaven, as Jesus brings us lost sinners home.
You see, repentance isn’t just about feeling bad for the sins you have committed in your thought, words or actions. Repentance is a transformation of our hearts and minds. It is not something we can do by our own reason and strength, the Holy Spirit does this work in us, as God promised when Ezekiel said that God will remove our hearts of stone and replace them with His heart, a heart of flesh.
Repentance is a miracle, it is the miracle that Jesus came to make true. And as Josiah and all of Israel, as Naaman the Syrian general, as Gomer the prostitute as corrupter government leaders like Zaccheus and church leaders like Peter are granted repentance, are transformed by God, we find the same promise, the same hope, the same peace…as He carries us home on His shoulders….for He bore all our sin, as He was crucified….and He gives us life in Him. God has granted to you and me repentance, and the feast for us prodigals, Christ’s feast awaits_ that will cause us to dwell in His peace. AMEN?
Devotional Thought of the Day:
19 And I will give them singleness of heart and put a new spirit within them. I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart, 20 so they will obey my decrees and regulations. Then they will truly be my people, and I will be their God. Ezekiel 11:19-20 (NLT)
933 Jesus, may my poor heart be filled from the ocean of your Love, with such big waves that can cleanse me and expel from me all my wretchedness. Pour those most pure and ardent waters of your Heart into mine, until my desires for loving you are fully satisfied and I can no longer hold back my response to your divine ardour. My heart shall surely break then, dying for Love, and pour out that Love of yours which, in irresistible and most fertile, life-giving torrents, will reach other hearts that will beat through contact with these living waters, with the pulsating force of Faith and Charity. (1)
At all times and in every race God has given welcome to whosoever fears Him and does what is right. God, however, does not make men holy and save them merely as individuals, without bond or link between one another. Rather has it pleased Him to bring men together as one people, a people which acknowledges Him in truth and serves Him in holiness. He therefore chose the race of Israel as a people unto Himself. (2)
For many of us, this is the last day before the beginning of Lent.
I’ve already seen people posting on FaceBook and Twitter the things they are going to give up. The usual list appears, chocolate, sugar, alcohol, they’ll read the Bible where they used to watch their favorite television shows, they’ll give up going to the movies, using the money to help those in homeless shelters. Even some have dared say they will give up FB, or Instagram, ( maybe this explains snapchat invitations rising?
People are willing to give up things that do them damage, to attempt to control the cravings that so easily entice them, To enter into a time of discipline, to make sacrifices. Those that have been at it for a while also know they need to replace these things with better habits. If they do not the temptation will rise, and failure will happen like it did with our New Year’s resolutions.
I have a suggestion if you are still looking for something. Even if you have already decided on something, consider this as well. It will be tough; it will be challenging. It will cost you something you are not that willing to give up.
Give up your isolation, your individuality. Give up your defensive walls that have been so carefully erected and protect your pride and self-esteem. Get involved in people’s lives! Let them into your life. Even those with whom you struggle to get along. Talk to them, invite them to sit next to you at church, or go and sit near them. Find ways to let them into your life, and love them.
This isn’t easy, yet for those who trust in Jesus, it is His nature. It will take faith, not in your strength, not in the hope they will change, but in trusting in Jesus promise. Remembering God is with you, right there in those moments, you can depend on His promise, that all will work for good. He knows your love, He chose you, He will take care of you.
It is God’s design, it is how we are to live, not just loving God but loving His people, and all the people whom He would call His own. The words from Vatican II struck me this morning, as did St. Josemaria Escriva’s. The nature of being transformed by God’s love gives us a new heart, a heart from which His love pours out, to those around us.
So go and get involved in that Bible Study, even encourage someone to join you. Take a step of faith and take on a new ministry at church. Buy that homeless guy lunch; talk to that lady sitting by herself at the table next to you as you eat dinner with your family at a restaurant. (Even invite her to join you!)
Trust in God’s love! Know He is with you! See Him in each of those you meet! Then this sacrifice of you, will not seem like a sacrifice at all. It will be a great joy!
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 3294-3298). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
(1) Catholic Church. (2011). Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: Lumen Gentium. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.
Treasuring God’s Gifts:
Results in Living Content with What He Provides!
Exodus 20:17, Eph 2;!0
† IHS †
My friends, my desire for us for this Lenten Season is this, that from us is removed all that hides that we are the Masterpiece of Christ. For that is what God’s grace and mercy does, leaving us in His peace.
From now until Easter Sunday morning, we find ourselves in the time of the year know as Lent. Some think it is a time to sacrifice, to give up something, to embrace some suffering, and doing without, to help us realize what it costs to give up pleasure, to suffer. So they give up candy, or caffeine, or some have even suggested giving up all things electronic!
As I look at it, its not about sacrificing that which is good, or even that which we treasure in order to suffer. It’s about seeing our idols sacrificed, the things we give control over our lives, a time of testing them. Because if it is a god, it can be killed off and rise again, without our help, without our desire.
Lent is about purifying ourselves from our self-centeredness, not because we have to, but because we know these things have power over us, they take our attention off of God. In doing so, they rob us of remembering God’s grace, of remembering our access of Him.
As we journey through this particular year of Lent, it is going to be a journey where we begin to treasure God’s gifts to us more, to treasure the promises, and the life He has created us to live, the work of our lives that with Him are glorious.
The works that sin would mar, that self-centeredness would hide from us…
That is why we hear in Luke, that the life God commissions for us, the masterpiece He’s designed can be summarized in two statements.
Love those He brings into our lives.
All of them.
We are going to look at the 10 commandments, in a way that we don’t often talk about them. To see them as God’s blessing of our lives, as the Old Testament version of the Beatitudes. We are going through them backward, seeing them confront our lives, not to condemn or judge us, but to free us, in order to love each other, in order to love each other, and those who so desperately need the freedom we rejoice in.
So let’s get at it.
The Challenge of Contentment
In the ninth and tenth commandment, the issue is described as not coveting, not desiring that which others have been given, the blessings and curses with which they have to live. That’s one of the odder things, we often desire what those who have them consider great burdens!
The opposite of coveting, of desiring what others have, is knowing contentment.
Be satisfied with what you have, not letting some thing or someone so consume you, that your thoughts are consumed, and eventually your heart and mind by possessing it, by getting their affection. To believe that your life will only complete if you get that car, or can live in that kind of house, or get that next promotion, or if can have a relationship like the ones you have with others. Or simply have their life, or their health.
Contentment, a hard thing to have, its completely contrary to the environment we live in, that we’ve been raised in. Today it might be having the Benz, or the BMW, or going to that school, or on that vacation, or having a spouse that looks like, acts like, etc.
The Real Challenge – Will We Trust God Completely?
Do We Believe His promise?
As we will see with every single commandment, there is a challenge that is far deeper than the challenge we see. The “rules”, the shall nots and shalls, are often misunderstood as regulations, even as we often see religion and relationship with God somehow divided.
But the basis of the commandments, or the Decalogue as it used to be called, is not a list of impossible commands, it is the life that God described through the apostle Paul.
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago!
The commandments, the Decalogue is about trusting God has made our lives into that masterpiece, into something where we can do the good things that He has planned, to live our lives in His presence, to love Him with all we are, and to love those around us fully, and with abandon.
TO live content is nothing less, than to see God’s blessing of each of us, and to realize He knows what He is doing. That if one person has more, or less, then God has given them a burden. It is there in contentment we find the healing that comes when we give up the desires that dominate and oppress us. The desires that somehow turn into what we deserve, what we have a right too, will slowly disappear as we see Christ, and the cross, and His gifts to us.
Contentment is about trusting God’s wisdom, trusting what He given us, from our talents and abilities, to the blessings of our homes and all in them, to the blessings of the relationships He has called us into, professionally, our family and friends, even our romantic relationships.
As we realize these treasures, given to us by the One we treasure above all, we find ourselves trying to help others realize how they are blessed, more than we chase what they have. More than we let desire consume us, we can help them, and they us, enjoy our blessings, the different things God gives us.
You see, the masterpiece God has commissioned, like a rich person commissioning an sculpture, or a painting, or a musical, is not about restricting us from fun, or living the good life. These commandments are about living a full and abundant life.
Lent is realizing that we need His presence to live this way, to have Him fix the times we fail to, to bring healing to the times we ignore His presence.
We can’t live this way, without Him, we don’t have the strength, or the power, or the ability to. But as we journey to the cross, as we realize His care and His design, and His desire to see us this way….
We find ourselves treasuring His ways, because we treasure Him. Because we know His love, and His work transforming us, and we trust Him because of it.
and there we find peace….
Let us pray..
Realizing and Revealing that “The LORD is with You!”
Judges 2, John 1:1014
† In His Name †
As you realize that the Lord is with you, may you realize what that means, that you can trust His promises, that you have received His gift of mercy, that you dwell in His loving presence… and may you life reveal that to all you encounter!
As we enter lent, as we like Isaiah mourn that we are people of unclean lips and lives, living among a world that is equally marred by sin; it is not difficult to realize our times are not so different than those described in the book of judges.
The stories this week, from the 12 year old giving birth in Mexico, to the story of the war veteran/former police officer who snapped and turned on those he once protected. As we hear all the hatred that has been spewed out at the church as a whole, to broken families; there is a sense of despair building, not unlike the times where Israel would finally mourn and weep. It’s enough for a man of God to want to retire…and find some nice peaceful place to spend his days.
It is the reason why our foreheads and hands are marked with ashes this day, it causes us to face our sin, even as they did, and hopefully, like they did in the time of the judges, we will learn to cry out to God, finding our hope.
As we travel through Lent this year – our journey will be alongside Israel as they see over and over God’s faithfulness, even as God is not exactly happy with their sin. As we see Him leave them to the consequences for a time, but then the moment they remember His presence, the moment they call out for help – He raises up His judge, the one who leads and shepherds Israel, returning them to their place as the children of God.
It’s a journey that we have an advantage they didn’t have.
An incredible advantage.
A Complex Problem a Simple Solution
Hear again the description of the situation
18 Whenever the LORD raised up a judge over Israel, he was with that judge and rescued the people from their enemies throughout the judge’s lifetime. For the LORD took pity on his people, who were burdened by oppression and suffering. 19 But when the judge died, the people returned to their corrupt ways, behaving worse than those who had lived before them. They went after other gods, serving and worshiping them. And they refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.
Let’s think about this – Israel was slow, so unable to stop sinning on their own, that the only when they had a strong judge, someone who could lead them to God, would they live as God’s people would. They were so weak, that left on their own, they would simply revert to the sinful nature they had, before they knew of God’s love, of God’s desire to be present among them.
When the leader died, they fell apart.
I was once told that the larger and more complex the problem is, the simpler the solution would be.
It’s pretty simple this time – they need a judge who will not die. One who would live with them – reminding them of God’s glory, of realizing His love.
Pretty simply – get a judge who will not die – the people who aren’t strong enough – will still be led to God.
Pretty simple – find Someone who will live in the midst of the people of God… and be there for them….
And that is where we have an advantage – if we, only took the time to realize it.
That’s what this time is… the time to realize that the judge is with us… or as more commonly said around here.
“The LORD is with you!”
Our gospel said it this way:
4 The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.
14 So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.
Even as we struggle in this world, even as we spend these 40 days (except Sunday) looking at our need for Good Friday, our need for Easter, our need for Pentecost we know it is coming. Nothing can stop God’s work in rescuing His people, in delivering them from the dark times.
For He has raised up His judge, and nailed Him to the cross.
Because we needed it.
Because our world needs it. They need to know this very thing we realize, the thing that the judges knew – the thing that enabled them to minister to the people of God.
They need to have it revealed to them as well. This very special truth, that it is realized, when it is revealed, brings God’s mercy and peace and love to the forefront of our lives.
Hear it again….
The Lord is with you!