Scheduled Readings: Jer 31:31-34; Ps 51:1-12; Heb 5:5-10; John 12:20-33
First, a devotional reflection from Ps 51:7-8 — seeing my sin in its Godward dimension isn’t always easy. But what God thinks of my sin is most important because he is the rightful judge of it, the one who tells the full truth about it. And, most importantly, he is the only one who can cleanse it. He must wash me, and I must submit to his kind, holy, sovereign work in my life.
Now, a related tangent — This connects to a theme that has been running through a number of conversations I’ve had recently along the lines of “strength,” particularly what it means to act in God’s strength instead of my own. In fact, for some time now I’ve been suspicious of the concept of doing something “in my own strength,” and Lent gives me an ideal opportunity to ponder it biblically (with thanks to a few Facebook friends who commented on this, my Cornerstone gospel community, and my sister in Christ, Emilie, who beat me to the punch on her blog). Continue reading
If it were not for Brian, this place would be cold and dark indeed. My thanks to him for bravely forging ahead while I’ve been consumed with ministry and classroom needs, and while Alvin has been dealing with a fried computer and all the time-consuming frustration that entails. Meanwhile, Lent continues…
Scheduled Readings: Num 21:4-9; Ps 107: 1-3, 17-22; Eph 2:1-10; John 3:14-21
This week’s readings focus on Jesus’ giving of himself for sinners who were helpless, and on the new life that comes to us as a result. The story of the serpent in the wilderness (Num 21) is a stark picture of the redeeming work of Christ: people who were as good as dead, helpless to save themselves, needed only to fix their eyes on the bronze image of the serpent in order to be rescued. Jesus himself drew this connection in his conversation with Nicodemus in John 3, foreshadowing his own death for the sake of sinners. Continue reading
Scheduled Readings: Gen 9:8-17; Ps 25; 1 Pet 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15
This is the first Sunday of Lent, a season when we have the opportunity to focus on our sinfulness and engage in a concentrated effort to see it rightly and repent of it, particularly as preparation for celebrating the crucifixion and resurrection at Easter.
It has struck me this year how the scheduled readings from the Revised Common Lectionary seem so appropriately chosen here at the beginning of Lent: on Ash Wednesday there is the caution from Matt 6 to not display our religious practices in order to be seen by other people. Today, as we enter into the first Sunday of the Lenten season, we are reminded that when focusing on repentance, we must also remember mercy. Continue reading
Yesterday was Transfiguration Sunday, which is always the Sunday just prior to Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of Lent. Tomorrow is Fat Tuesday (a.k.a. Mardi Gras), a traditional day of preparation for fasting by eating up all the delicious things in your house. Today is President’s Day, which has nothing to do with any of this.
So let’s begin with Transfiguration Sunday. We have been celebrating the season of Epiphany, the manifesting of Jesus as the Son of God and Messiah. We began with “firsts”: the worship of the Magi, the wedding at Cana. Along the way we have seen the various ways Jesus made himself known as the powerful, righteous, loving Savior. This season culminates with the Transfiguration, when the Father briefly lifted the veil and allowed the blazing glory of the Son of God to shine through. In this story (Mark 9, Matt 17, Luke 9) we see Jesus as the glorious Son of God who is doing the will of his Father, who is the culmination of the Law and Prophets (hence the presence of Moses & Elijah). There can be no doubt that this is the Promised One, the Servant of YHWH, the Savior of Israel. And it is shortly after this incident that Jesus begins his determined journey to Jerusalem and the cross (Luke 9:51).
And so the church calendar now turns our attention to what the Son of God came to accomplish: the restoration of sinners to fellowship with God. Continue reading
Scheduled Readings: 2 Kings 5:1–14; Psalm 30; 1 Corinthians 9:24–27; Mark 1:40–45
This is the first week of the year without football. As much as I enjoy watching the game, I always feel a sense of relief on the Sunday after the Super Bowl. For the next 7-8 months I will have a few more hours per week. Speaking of football, have you ever watched an athlete compete for the first time after recovering from an injury? There’s a fresh spring in his or her step, an enthusiasm that arises from the joy of releasing all that pent-up desire to exert, compete, and win.
This image occurs to me as I read Paul’s words in 1 Cor 9 in light of the stories of Naaman the Syrian in 2 Kings 5 and the leper in Mark 1. Continue reading
Scheduled Readings: Isaiah 40:21–31; Psalm 147; 1 Cor 9:16–23; Mark 1:29–39.
Some experiences contain moments that are so vivid they create a snapshot in your memory, a picture that just sticks there permanently. Like most people, I have a few of those still lodged in my brain. Some are trivial, like the image of meeting a new friend named Patrick on the first day of kindergarten. I have no idea why I remember that moment so well.
But most of these snapshots in my brain record moments that deeply affected my life. At the top of the list: early one morning at age 15, seeing my father slumped over sideways on the couch as if he had just fallen asleep while reading, yet somehow knowing he had already woken up in the presence of Jesus. He died of a heart attack. Others, of course, are more cheering: the day I met the incredibly gorgeous girl who would become my wife—it was the first rehearsal of our college music group, and I can still see her sitting on that piano bench in the fall of 1985, looking around the room with those eyes. Wow, those eyes. Continue reading
Scheduled Readings: Deut 18:15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Cor 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28
I have been blogging my way through the liturgical calendar since the beginning of Advent a couple months ago. You can go back there and find out why I’m doing this if you’re just joining me. And you can read all the posts on this topic by clicking on the tag “church year.”
This is the first week where the book that I have been recommending (Living the Christian Year by Bobby Gross) departs completely from the readings scheduled in the Revised Common Lectionary. This is not a bad thing, and the material he presents is quite good. But since I’ve followed the book in the last two years, I’m going with the RCL this time around (as a reminder, we’re in Year B of the three year, A-B-C cycle).
About 6 years ago John Piper published a book called What Jesus Demands from the World. I used it as a devotional aid that year, and I recommend it highly. Continue reading
This week has been more than full: coordinating and hosting our winter intensive class with John Feinberg, and my 18-year-old daughter had her second (and last, we hope) hip surgery in 3 months. And getting ready for the new semester, and keeping up with other commitments. And now the NFL playoffs. There’s just a lot happening here. I have about a dozen blog posts in various stages of development, but I haven’t made the time to finish any one of them. So before the day gets away from me…
Scheduled Readings: 1 Samuel 3:1–10 (11–20); Psalm 139:1–6, 13–18; 1 Corinthians 6:12–20; John 1:43–51
Epiphany is a season for us to focus on the various ways that Jesus was manifested as the Messiah. We began with the Magi, then we meditated on the event of Jesus’ baptism. This week we spend some time on Jesus’ first reported miracle: changing water to wine at the wedding in Cana.
I’ve always been intrigued by this story. First, it shows us the humanity of Christ pretty clearly: Jesus was a man who was part of a community, part of a social circle. From the clues we get during the accounts of his later ministry, we have to assume that he was a friendly, enjoyable person. Except for the hypocritical contingent among the religious leaders, people apparently liked hanging around him—even those who were known by all to be sinners. So Jesus and his mother were attendees at a wedding feast. Continue reading
Scheduled Readings: Genesis 1:1–5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1–7; Mark 1:4–11
The first Sunday in Epiphany emphasizes the baptism of Jesus. The theme of Light continues in the reading of the creation account in Genesis 1 where we see that God himself is the source of all light. I’m not crazy about the use of Ps 29 in this thematic context; I think it’s an interpretive stretch to associate the idiom of water in Ps 29 with baptism (and this is an example of how the use of the Revised Common Lectionary requires ongoing attention and discernment).
But the major theme of this day is Christ’s baptism. And this brings up the question (among others), why did Jesus submit himself to baptism? All four Gospel writers include some mention of this event that inaugurates Jesus’ public ministry, and Matthew gives us a clue when he recounts the conversation between John and Jesus before the former baptized the latter. Jesus said “let it be so for now, for it is appropriate for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt 3:15).
Jesus came to be baptized with John’s baptism because it is what righteous people were doing: they were coming from all around in response to the powerful preaching of John the Baptizer. He called them to repentance and to Messiah-watchfulness, and they were responding in droves. John’s baptism—which was unique although not entirely unprecedented in view of the practice of Jewish proselyte baptism—was a mark of those who desired righteousness. Jesus joined them because he embodied that righteousness and because he identified with the people who needed that righteousness. In his baptism, Jesus demonstrates that he has become one of us. Years later, Paul would say it this way: God sent “his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as a sin offering” (Rom 8:3). In submitting to John’s baptism, Jesus is publicly embracing this reality.
Now, our baptism—Christian baptism, which is in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit—is different from John’s baptism. This is clear in the reading of Acts 19 scheduled for this week. But there is also a similarity. Our baptism in water is in a way our response to Jesus’ baptism and all it portends: in the latter, he identifies with us; in the former, we publicly identify with him.
As I ponder the baptism of Jesus this morning, I am humbled by his willingness to “fulfill all righteousness” in this way and identify with me, a sinner. His submission to John’s baptism of repentance was a deeply self-humbling act, for in it he affirmed that he is “one of us.” And I am greatly encouraged, because as he identifies with his people in this way we see him as our substitute: the only one who is truly, infinitely, perfectly righteous and therefore able to pay the penalty of sin and bring us back to God.
So Christmas break is nearly over. Yeah, when I take a break, it applies to nearly everything, often including blogging. But I still celebrated all twelve days of Christmas. We took down the tree and decorations on the eleventh day, but I left the outside lights up (and on) right through the twelfth day (yesterday, Jan. 5). My sweet and perceptive wife said that it looked kinda redneck for ours to be the only house on the street with lights still up. But it just seemed so right.
Well, today is the Feast of Epiphany, the day which turns the page from the celebration of the birth of Christ to his manifestation as the Messiah, the Son of God. The Light has dawned, and now He shines forth for all to see. In keeping with the theme of light, the color remains either white or gold for now (it will change to green this Sunday until the beginning of Lent). While it has sometimes been celebrated only as a day, Epiphany is usually celebrated as a season among Protestant churches that follow the church calendar. Depending on the date of Easter, Epiphany can be from five to nine weeks (this year it’s five Sundays). Continue reading