Monthly Archives: February 2015

2nd Sunday in Lent, March 1, 2015

Second Sunday in Lent (Year B)

Scripture Readings*: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16, Psalm 22:22-30, Romans 4:13-25, Mark 8:31-38

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16Jan_Provoost_-_Abraham,_Sarah,_and_the_Angel_-_WGA18441

Once more the Lord affirmed His covenant intentions. Abraham would be the father of nations (17:1–8), but the nations would be born of Sarah, not Hagar (17:16). Abram means: “father,” while Abraham means “father of a multitude.” What faith it must have taken for the aged Abram, parent of a single child, to announce that change of name! Faith is like this. It enables us to act as if the “not yet” were “now,” in full assurance that it soon will be!

Romans 4:13-25

If salvation depended in any way on us, we would certainly be lost. However, since our salvation depends on God keeping His promise to those who believe, we have can be assured of His promise.

In history God’s promise, whatever that promise might be, was the object of a believer’s faith. Despite their advanced age, Abraham believed God’s promise that he and Sarah would have a child. Today, however, the basis of salvation and the object of faith are one: Jesus Christ. All God’s promises are focused in and through Him. It is faith in Jesus, and faith in Him alone, that saves today.

Mark 8:31-38

Peter was not happy with Jesus’ discussion concerning Christ’s pending death. Jesus’ rebuke is a summons to faith. You cannot affirm Jesus as Christ and then challenge His choices! He is either God, and we submit to Him, or He is not, and we may go our own way. When a person makes a decision to “deny”, it means that they “reject.” However, when a person has a strong personal faith in Jesus, to “deny” denotes unfaithfulness… an act of abandoning the relationship.

To deny “yourself” means to decisively reject the motives and desires prompted by our sin nature. We choose instead to follow Jesus completely. When we take daily steps of obedience we gradually become the new person that Christ died for us to become.

But God

Today’s readings are meaningful for any of us who have made our plans and ordered our lives. I’ll get married and have children. I’ll raise a family. Be involved in my church. Serve my community. Live my life in such a way that goodness, truth, and beauty shine a light. And then we fail. Or life blindsides us with difficulty. Disappointment. Detours. We find ourselves sitting in the midst of failure and destruction, wondering how we could have failed so miserably.

But God… What comfort and strength in those words! When it looks like our dreams are dashed and our hope is helpless, we see Him. He shows up. Picks us up. Heals. Redeems. Rekindles hope. Reveals a future only possible through the miracle of faith. He gives a child to an old, barren woman. He creates a nation out of an old man. He builds a Church out of a disciple who rebukes Jesus as He’s speaking.

Finances may dwindle. Health may deteriorate. Dreams may die. Life may derail. Faith may grow faint. But God… Take comfort in the God who turns the end of our story into a beginning point for His.

Prayer for Second Sunday in Lent – God of mercy, give me a steadfast faith and heart, empowering me to hold fast to Your unchanging Word; through Jesus Christ, Amen.

*Readings are from the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B

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1st Sunday in Lent, February 22, 2015

First Sunday in Lent (Year B)

Scripture Readings*: Genesis 9:8-17, I Peter 3:18-22, Mark 1:9-15, Psalm 25:1-9

Genesis 9:8-17

God establishes a covenant to give Noah and his sons, assuring them of the prosperous continuance of the human race. To remind them and their descendants of this covenant, God gives them a visible sign in the form of a rainbow.

1024px-Joseph_Anton_Koch_006Signs remind participants in a covenant to keep the required stipulations. Today, whenever we see a rainbow, it is a reminder of the covenant God made to Noah (and us) that He would never again destroy this world by a flood.

1 Peter 3:18-22

Peter reminds us that when we find ourselves being mistreated for doing good, we are to remember that this happened to Jesus, too. By pointing to the suffering Jesus, Peter reminds us that His sorrow brings us to God and makes possible the cleansing and salvation that baptism symbolizes. Christ’s mistreatment did not keep Him in the grave or prevent Him from being raised to the pre-eminent position of power and glory. The suffering of Jesus was not pointless… nor is ours!

Mark 1:9-15

Mark shows how Jesus was approved. He received the approval of John, known far and wide as God’s prophet. To this was added the approval of John’s baptism. Then came the certification of God himself, at the time of the baptism. The voice of the Father and the presence of the Spirit as a dove both acknowledged the deity of the Servant.

Jesus was not baptized because He was a repentant sinner, since He is the sinless Son of God. His baptism in water was a picture of His baptism of suffering on the cross (Luke 12:50) when the “waves and billows” of God’s judgment went over Him (Ps. 42:7; Jonah 2:3). Christ “fulfilled all righteousness” through His death, burial, and resurrection (Matt. 3:15).

Mighty to Save

We most often view temptation as an action – something to do, somewhere to go, something to experience. The real temptation, however, is to look away. We don’t want to look at ourselves. We don’t want to examine what’s inside. Instead, we close our eyes – put our proverbial fingers in our ears. We distract ourselves with the noise and activity of life so we are not left in silence with ourselves.

But Lent challenges us to gaze inward. If we dare to look long enough, we see God moving toward – not away – from our chaos. Like Noah, we experience His ark of protection and provision, even when the waves threaten to overwhelm us. Like Peter, we encounter Him in the midst of our suffering. Finally, we see Jesus, submerging Himself into the abyss of our own lives – only to raise us up by His own power.

Don’t look away. See yourself fully as you are – and see Jesus your Savior, mighty to save.

Prayer for First Sunday in Lent – God of salvation, as I look at my weakness and myself, help me see You, mighty to save, through Your Son’s death, burial, and resurrection; through Jesus Christ, Amen.

*Readings are from the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B

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Ash Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday (Year B)

Scripture Readings*: Isaiah 58:1-12, 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21, Psalm 103:8-14

Isaiah 58:1-12

As God’s spokesperson, Isaiah confronts the Israelites, reminding them that their fasting is in the wrong spirit. Although they look sincere and eager, they are really seeking to manipulate God (58:2–3). Going without food is supposed to make them humble before God; but it makes them bad-tempered and violent towards each other (58:4–5).

God’s idea of a fast is very different. True fasting means putting ourselves out to serve others: releasing people from injustice and oppression; sharing our food and home and clothes; and helping our relatives (58:6–7). When we do these things, God’s blessing is upon us and he answers our prayers (58:8–9).

2 Corinthians 5:20b – 6: 1-10

Because of God’s grace, followers of Christ are “new creations.” We have the potential of living truly righteous lives. The Corinthians’ hardness made such grace of no practical, transforming value to them (vv. 1-2).

As God’s servant, Paul has done all he can to encourage and help the Corinthians (vv. 3-4). Through physical suffering (vv. 5-6); emotional abuse (vv. 7-8); and constant misunderstanding (vv. 9-10), Paul’s own life becomes a testimony of the faithfulness of God’s transforming grace.

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Jesus reminds us that a relationship with God is to be personal. Our acts of righteousness, gifts of loving concern, and our prayers of devotion are to be done “in secret” to please Him, not to win a reputation of piety with others.

It is this intimate, private and personal relationship we have with God that ultimately transforms our attitude toward others. As we embrace this intimacy with God, we are empowered to lay aside all hypocrisy and freed to enjoy heavenly treasures.

It’s Not Personal. Or is it?

It’s not personal. We hear this phrase a lot. Employers justifying pink slips and corporations explaining hostile takeovers frequently use this phrase. So do we. And this attitude of absolution from personal responsibility infiltrates the way we view and excuse our own behaviors and attitudes. There’s only one problem: God wants it to be personal.

Today’s readings call us back to the personal, intimate relationship He longs to have with us. You can almost hear the pleading in Isaiah’s words… I don’t care about what you wear or eat; I care about you. I want your heart! And Jesus’ own words drive home this point… “…do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing… and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

640px-CrossofashesLent reminds us that it’s personal. All of it. What we think. Do. Don’t do. Justify. Excuse. Ignore. It’s an invitation to look inside – into the secret places of our hearts. And it’s an opportunity to get personal with God, sharing with Him all the stuff we try to hide from others and ourselves.

Lent is personal. It’s supposed to be. God wouldn’t have it any other way.

Prayer for Ash Wednesday – God of holiness, as I look at my sin and myself, help me also see You and Your mercy and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ, Amen.

*Readings are from the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B

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Last Sunday After Epiphany, February 15, 2015

Last Sunday After Epiphany (Year B)

Scripture Readings*: 2 Kings 2:1-12, 2 Corinthians 4:3-6, Mark 9:2-9, Psalm 50:1-6

2 Kings 2:1-12

When Elijah was taken into heaven alive, Elisha begged to “inherit a double portion of [Elijah’s] spirit” (2 Kings 2:9). The request reflects Old Testament inheritance law: the oldest son and successor of his father was given a double portion. Elisha was asking to succeed Elijah as leading prophet in the land. Interestingly, the Bible also reports twice as many miracles of Elisha as Elijah (14 compared to 7).

2 Corinthians 4:3-6

While the good news remains veiled (3:13) to some, Christ is the complete revelation of God’s glory (cf. 3:18).

Paul uses the image of a hired servant. Jesus has lent him to the Corinthians to serve them on Christ’s behalf. Moral teachers like Paul would always have to be ready to refute the charge leveled against some philosophers that they proclaimed themselves, a charge that Paul seems to refute here.

God spoke light into being at the first creation (Gen 1:3). Now, the light of Christ’s glory will shine in the hearts of those who trust him.

Mark 9:2-9transfiguration-of-Jesus

Taking Peter, James, and John up a mountain… Jesus is transfigured in their presence. His appearance becomes white with a supernatural brightness.

The transfiguration has deep and rich theological implications. This scene included Moses representing the law; Elijah representing the prophets; and Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of both. Both Moses and Elijah had triumphant departures. The exodus of Jesus would be a greater triumph than either of the others.

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

Dorothy, Scare Crow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion knew it… just follow the yellow brick road. So they walked. And walked. And walked some more until – finally – they reached the Emerald City. And when they arrived, eager to ask for their heart’s most fervent desire, they discovered they had possessed it all along. It simply took the journey to reveal it.

Today’s readings give us the same perspective on our spiritual desires. We want to see Jesus more fully revealed in our lives. But it takes a journey to see His glory fully manifested and our lives transformed. Elisha walked with his mentor and God’s chosen leader until both men finally saw the chariot of fire. Elijah was taken to heaven where God was fully revealed. But the journey had prepared Elisha for a deeper, fuller revelation of God’s Spirit and power.

Peter, James, and John had walked with Jesus for some time before making the trek up the mountain. Their journeys with Jesus had prepared them to see the revelation of Christ as Messiah on the mountain. And this revelation prepared them for the continuing journey of seeing Christ died and risen and their role in establishing the Church of Christ here on earth.

We’re on a journey as well. Day by day, step-by-step, we get a little closer to seeing Jesus. And at the end of our own “yellow brick road,” we discover He’s been with us all along. It simply takes the journey to fully reveal His presence and our resulting transformation.

Prayer for Epiphany – “Almighty God, open my eyes to see the glory of Your presence illuminating my life and lighting my steps. Blessed be God forever. Amen.”

*Readings are from the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B

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5th Sunday After Epiphany, February 8, 2015

Fifth Sunday After Epiphany (Year B)

Scripture Readings*: Isaiah 40:21-31, 1 Corinthians 9:16-23, Mark 1:29-39, Psalm 147:1-12c

Isaiah 40:21-31

Unlike pagan idols, God who created everything is eternal. He never grows weary. He gives strength to those who are weary or weak (vv. 29-31). Among Isaiah’s original readers, those who hoped in the Lord were believers who remained faithful to God. They were the ones who would be restored. For his readers in captivity, Isaiah was probably speaking of a national refreshing when the captives would be released and would return to their land. Even though in captivity they were weary the Lord would help them endure and soar … like eagles, to be uplifted emotionally and spiritually.

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

Although Paul had the authority (right) to receive material support, he balanced his authority with discipline. He did not have the right to give up his liberty in Christ, but he did have the liberty to give up his rights. This helps us understand why he wrote as he did: he gave the Corinthian believers a living example of the very principles he was writing about.

Should not the stronger believers in the church be able to set aside their rights for the sake of the weaker saints? Was eating meat more important than edifying the church? Paul was talking about priorities, the things that are really important to us in our lives. It is unfortunate that some Christians have their personal priorities confused and, as a result, are hindering the work of Christ.

Mark 1:29-39John_Bridges_Christ_Healing_The_Mother_Of_Simon_Peter_700

Peter’s house became a place of healing for the whole city! How important it is for us to “take Jesus home with us” after we have worshiped. The Lord met the need in the home and then used the home to meet the needs of others. The crowds did not come until the Sabbath had ended because religious tradition said that healing was work that must not be done on the Sabbath. But Jesus had deliberately broken that tradition already (1:21–28) and would do it again (3:1–5; John 5; John 9). Mark made a distinction between those who were diseased and those who were demon-possessed (1:32). While some physical affliction may be caused by demons (Luke 13:10–17), not every disease is demonic in origin.

There’s No Place Like Hope!

For centuries, Epiphany has traditionally been a time of house blessings. Each year, the head of the household would take holy water from the church and sprinkle it on the doorway while the entire family prayed. This annual dedication of the home was a visible reminder to welcome Christ into the heart of daily life.

Today’s readings show us the importance of this principle. Paul’s words to the church in Corinth get into the nitty gritty of life. His admonitions weren’t about “pie in the sky” religion – they hit the everyday issues of priorities and how we treat people. Are we going to be right or will we choose to be reconciled with our brother and sister?

Jesus’ lodging at the home of Simon and Andrew demonstrates his active involvement in the everyday lives of his followers. A mom was sick, in need of healing. Jesus met her at the point of her need so that the rhythm and routine of the home could continue and become a blessing to the entire community.

In our homes, faith meets function. When Jesus is welcomed to live with us, our homes become places of hope – for us and for those whose lives are closely linked with ours.

Prayer for Epiphany – “Merciful God, create in me a heart that welcomes You into everyday spaces, making Your abundant life known to those around me. Blessed be God forever. Amen.”

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*Readings are from the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B