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
I am about to begin one of the busiest 2-week periods of the year, but I just wanted to stop for a moment and post this brief reflection on yesterday’s worship:
“I’ll never know how much it cost to see my sin upon that cross.”
One of the interesting effects of celebrating the church calendar is that it creates a mindset through which we filter much that happens in life. Perhaps most profoundly, it enriches the experience of corporate worship. As I focus on the observance of Lent and seek to assume its basic posture of humbling repentance, this affects the way I hear the songs we sing. Yesterday as we gathered together to worship God, we sang the song, “Here I Am to Worship.” It’s a good song, and it has always led me to worship.
But yesterday, coming in with the attitude of extra sensitivity toward my sinfulness, this one line arrested my attention and held it for much of the day. Paul’s words in Romans 6:2 are still echoing in my heart: “how can we who died to sin still live in it?” We are redeemed at the cost of the life of the Son of God. We cannot fathom what it was like for the Father to pour out the penalty of sin on his own Son, or what it was like for the Son to experience such a horror. We can only imagine what it was like to see our sins nailed to the cross in the person of Jesus Christ.
But by God’s grace his death is our death, and his resurrection life is our life. The preciousness of this fact should drive us to holiness of life, and to the heart attitude of the song:
“You’re altogether lovely, altogether worthy, altogether wonderful to me.”
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
Ash Wednesday Readings: Joel 2:1–2, 12–17 or Isa 58:1–12; Ps 51:1–17; 2Cor 5:20b–6:10; Matt 6:1–6, 16–21
So many stereotypes surround the tradition of Lent. It’s meaningless ritual; it’s an outward display of religiosity; it’s part of a works-salvation system; etc. But I am determined to simply pursue the heart of Lent: taking the sin in me seriously; finding that sin by seeking the face of the one, true, holy, triune God; looking to Jesus, his cross, and his empty tomb as the solution.
I’m not following a traditional Roman Catholic pattern for celebrating Lent. I’m not even sure what all that might involve. But I’m not going anywhere this morning for the imposition of ashes (the smudge on the forehead that you wear around all day). Continue reading
Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Yesterday I talked briefly about why Lent is a good idea for evangelicals. Today I want to develop this a little more along the lines of fasting: why do we fast during Lent?
Near the beginning of his book on fasting John Piper challenges the assumption that it is better to be full than hungry. When I read this a few years ago, I was struck down. It was largely as a result of this single sentence that I began to realize that I was a skinny glutton. Why do we assume it’s better to be full than hungry? Simple: it’s more comfortable. It’s easy. But this is a far-reaching assumption, and if we leave it unexamined, we can easily slide into a host of sins. 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