Thursday, March 29, 2012

Lenten Lesson March 29

Today's Scriptures: Genesis 17:3-9; John 8:51-59

Abraham was a hero to the Jewish people. He was the man whom God promised everything: land, prosperity, to be the father of the nation of Israel. We see this promise in the Genesis passage.

Now, here comes Jesus claiming that He can offer even more than was given to Abraham. Not only that, but Jesus claims that Abraham looked up to Him. He goes as far as to refer to Himself by God's own name, "I AM." The people who heard Him thought he was a blasphemer. They even prepared to stone Him as the Law prescribed.

We, on the other hand, KNOW that Jesus was God. We take Him at His word. He is the ultimate fulfillment of God's promises to Abraham.

These passages help us to understand why Jesus ended up on the cross. And they call us to renew our hearts and minds at the deepest level of our relationship with God--the level of faith. everything we are and do is determined by how we stand with Christ. These last days of Lent are a great time to renew our determination to be true to Him and to His word!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Lenten Lesson March 28

Today's Scriptures: Daniel 3:14-30; John 8:31-42

Today we look at liberation. In Daniel, three men are cast into a fiery furnace by the most powerful king on earth and nothing could save them...nothing that is, except God. God rescues them.

In the John passage Jesus tells his listeners (and us!) that the Truth will set us free. Jesus also tells us in this gospel that He is the Way, the Life, and the TRUTH. It is Jesus who is the great liberator. Now Jesus' audience didn't feel like they needed any liberation because they were descendants of Abraham. They had a promise from God through Abraham that no political oppression could take away from them. Jesus lets them know that they are slaves to sin no matter who their father is. The people then claim that only God is their Father and Jesus simply replies that God can't possibly be their Father if they don't accept the One (Jesus) that God has sent to free them.

Jesus still liberates us today. It's not just that Jesus forgives our sins (even though He does that.) But Jesus down so much more, He offers us new values, new goals, new purpose, new energy in our life. We are no longer subject to earthly powers. He frees us form that. You see, we no longer live just our own life anymore, but His life, which will never end.

That doesn't make everything easy. We still have to struggle with our chains. But our struggle is not to achieve liberation, only to accept it. Jesus has chosen and saved us and therefore nothing can enslave us.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Back to Lenten Lessons!

Today's Scriptures: Numbers 21:4-9; John 8:21-30

In today's gospel passage Jesus says that he really belongs to another world. He calls himself by God's Name, I AM, and then compares himself to the bronze snake that Moses lifted up to cure the people of their wounds. He will be the source of salvation because He comes from the Father.

Most of us haven't been bitten by snakes, but we are wounded nonetheless. We are wounded by the sinfulness we have in our lives. We are wounded by the pain our own sinfulness has inflicted on us. There is only one cure. Jesus, who forgives and heals with the power of God. Today, we need to look up to Christ, lifted up on the cross, and acknowledge our sinfulness and renew our trust and hope in Him.

Lent is almost over. As we continue to work on changing our hearts, it is time to ask ourselves how far have we come and what do we still have left to accomplish? Are you prepared for Easter? If not, there is still time to get ready!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Sorry :(

Well, this has been a week and it is only Thursday! I apologize for not keeping up with the Lenten Lessons this week but life has intervened.

Monday morning I conducted a funeral for a 3 month old boy who was accidentally killed by his own father. Tough. I am still waiting to see if I will be invited to visit with the dad who is currently in the Sussex County correctional facility. The loss of one so young is hard enough without the added troubles brought about due to the circumstances. Please pray for this family--you don't need to know their names--God knows who you are praying for in this situation.

Dealing with loss is always hard, but this has been very hard for me. As a father (and now a grandfather) it is so difficult to imagine life without a child (or grandchild.) These are wounds that will scar for a lifetime.

If you are a parent or a grandparent, please take time to tell your kids (and grand-kids) that you love them and more than that SHOW them! We live in a fallen world and therefore we will always have pain and suffering to show for it. make it your goal, your passion, to make the part of the world you live in a better, more loving place.

So, I will try to get back on track with the Lessons, but please realize that sometimes, life interrupts, and does it in a most unpleasant way.

Grace and peace to you all and may the God of Love guide you!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Lenten Lessons -- Day 23

Today's Scriptures: Jeremiah 7:23-28; Luke 11:14-23

Jeremiah rebukes the people because they won't listen to God--Jesus deals with people who refuse to believe that His miracles are from God and instead say He is in a partnership with the Devil!

Most of us don't deliberately reject what God wants us to hear. As children of God, we strive to understand and respond to what the Lord tells us in His Word. But sometimes are attention level is not what it ought to be.

There are lots of distractions in this world: families, jobs, worries--even all the background noise that our culture provides for us. On top of all of that is the fear that if we pay too much attention to the Lord, we may hear Him saying things we might not want to hear; an invitation to be less dependent on what the world provides, a call to come to grips with the fact we aren't perfect, or a reminder that we have some more forgiveness to dole out.

This is why we pray. More than just words, prayer is a quiet attentiveness to the Lord. It is where we let God in our lives to work through us. A renewed sense of the necessity of prayer is a big part of the Lenten discipline. God is speaking--are you listening?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Lenten Lessons -- Day 22

Today's Scriptures: Deuteronomy 4:1, 5-9; Matthew 5:17-19

Today's lesson is simple. Obey the commandments! Jesus doesn't remove this system, He takes it to another level.

The Commandments are a gift, not a burden. They are simply a way for God to test us to see if we are faithful. They are directions from God on how to live most productively with how we were created. If we follow them, we are wise. If we don't, well, we aren't wise!

But then Jesus takes it to a whole new level. We are to live as an extension of God's love for all. Nor only do we avoid murder, we avoid the hateful thoughts that lead to murder. Not only do we not commit adultery, we avoid the lustful thoughts that lead to adultery.

The questions for today are simple: How well do I observe the Commandments? and Why do I observe them at all?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Lenten Lessons -- Day 21

Today's Scriptures: Daniel 3:25-28; Matthew 18:21-35

In the Daniel passage we see how a miraculous intervention on God's part leads Nebuchadnezzar to a change of heart. In the Matthew passage we see that God's mercy is always available, but only to those what themselves are merciful and forgiving.

Forgiveness is hard. It involves loving other people in spite of any wrongs they have done against us. When we forgive, we don't deny the hurt we have received. We don't deny that it was wrong. We don't pretend nothing happened. But we do acknowledge that there is more to the offender than the offense. We love them in spite of the offense.

Why forgive them? Because God has forgiven us and God has created us in His own image. If God forgives (and we are created in His image) it is necessary for us to forgive as well. We are called to love and forgive. Not once, not twice, but as many times as it takes! This is not easy, but it IS what we are called to be and to do. Who do you need to forgive today?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Lenten Lessons -- Day 20

Today's Scriptures: 2 Kings 5:1-15; Luke 4:24-30

Jesus mentions that "no prophet is welcome in the prophet’s hometown." People had heard about His miracles and wanted a show. Jesus wasn't and isn't a showman; he had His own agenda. Just like Elijah and Elisha, Jesus' agenda was wider than the local people expected.

In 2 Kings we read the story of Naaman. Jesus Mentions Naaman in the Luke passage. We see here that Jesus met hostility from the very beginning of His ministry. Even so, we see God's mercy is unconditional and universal. God cares even for "outsiders."

The point for us is that God's forgiveness and mercy are offered to us not because we desire it, but because God is God. None of us deserve it. We are all sinners and as such we are all "outsiders" when it comes to being what God wants us to be. yet God loves us anyway. During this Lenten season, it is important to remember that and share that with all we come into contact. You see, we all fall short and needs God's mercy. And yes, God's grace is there for EVERYONE!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Lenten Lessons -- Day 16

Today's Scriptures: Jeremiah 17:5-10; Luke 16:19-31

What do we trust in? Jeremiah says that if our trust is in anything other than God we will end up like a barren bush in the desert. Jesus says that if we find our consolation only in what we have here and now we will end up in torment.

It wasn't that the rich man was completely bad. he was just shortsighted. He didn't see Lazarus just outside his gate. The rich man enjoyed all the good things of life and then discovered too late that he was the one (not Lazarus) that had been in misery.

Lent is a good time for us to look inside ourselves to see what is truly important to us. What are our priorities? What are we willing to give up and for what? How do we make our decisions? Are we willing to suffer? What are we willing to sacrifice for?

It is not easy, not is it always pleasant to look at our own value system. We can easily deceive ourselves. That's why we need to ask God for courage, honesty and even perseverance when we come to grips with who we are. We need to know our hearts in order to change what needs to be changed. Let us learn from this miserable rich man, so that we can avoid making the same mistakes he made. Let us use this Lenten season to change our hearts for the better!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Lenten Lessons -- Day 15

Today's Scriptures: Jeremiah 18:18-20; Matthew 20:17-28

The Passion theme fills today as we read of the lament of the suffering Jeremiah and Jesus telling his followers about the cup of sorrow that he has to drink. But we can find ourselves in here too. These passages remind us that following Jesus can involve suffering.

It isn't always easy to carry out what God asks of us. It's painful to get rid of our bad habits and self-serving attitudes. Sometimes it hurts to give up those things that we have become quite attached to.

There is also the suffering of being different. As followers of Christ we are becoming increasingly outsiders in this world. If you don't believe that, just watch a few hours of prime time TV and see if those shows reflect Christian values.

We can also suffer from being rejected or ignored. Even our best efforts are either misunderstood or misinterpreted. They are often taken for granted. Sometimes they are resented or not even noticed!

We involve ourselves in a change of heart during Lent because we know that it is a good thing to be involved with Christ. We shouldn't be surprised then when the cross is involved.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Lenten Lessons -- Day 14

Today's Scriptures: Isaiah 1:10, 16-20; Matthew 23:1-12

Humility. A tough subject for many people, but that is what today's passages are all about. Isaiah tells us that no matter how bad we have been, God will still forgive us if we are willing to admit out sins and turn back to God. In Matthew, Jesus tells us that greatness doesn't lie in special clothing or titles; it lies in our willingness to serve others.

Humility is all about being realistic about ourselves. Understanding that what the world thinks is important is not all that important to God. Humility is all about admitting that no matter how great our human achievements are, they are full of sinfulness and not all that great anyway. That doesn't mean we are worthless. We are important to God, not for what we have done or what we can give, but for what we have received.

And just what have we received? The call and the ability to look out for our brothers and sisters as ministers of the loving God. Everything else is secondary at best and self-destructive at worst. Greatness lies in service and humility is that willingness to serve. Nothing else matters.

Today God call us to be realistic about our limitations and sinfulness, but also realistic about the potential for good that is in us from the gift of God. If anyone wants to become what God has intended for them to be, let them humbly serve others, especially the "least of these."

Monday, March 5, 2012

Lenten Lessons --Day 13

Today's Scriptures Daniel 9:4-10; Luke 6:36-38

The Scriptures for today both deal with retribution. Daniel points out that the sufferings of his people are because they have been inattentive to God. In the Luke passage, Jesus points out that we can't expect compassion and forgiveness from God if we aren't compassionate and forgiving ourselves. I we are generous in our loving, God will be generous with us. If we are not generous with our loving, God will treat us as we have treated others.

You see, it is our own actions that determines our ability to receive what God wants to give us. If we are forgiving, we won't be able to recognize forgiveness from the Lord. If we are cruel and judgmental toward others, God's generosity to us won't make sense. We probably won't even realize that it is there!

The Lenten change of heart is not an attempt to change God's heart. it is an attempt to change our own hearts so that we are able to receive what God wants us to have!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Lenten Lessons--Day 11

Today's Scriptures: Deuteronomy 26:16-19; Matthew 5:43-48

What does God expect of us? If our Lenten changes of heart were fully successful, what would we be like?

In the Deuteronomy passage Moses tells the people that they are to carry out all the commands that God has given them with commitment and care so that they can become God's own people, a people sacred to the Lord.

The Matthew passage is even more demanding. Jesus tells us that God expects more of us than just being kind to those people that are kind to us. We are supposed to take after our heavenly Father, whose kindness know no bounds. we are to love as God loves. Nothing else is enough!

That is a pretty high expectation. It would be downright frightening if we had to do it by ourselves. But we don't have to do it by ourselves. God has promised to help us. God is going to provide what we need in order to love as He loves. As Christians we have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit so we are no longer limited to our own individual gifts and strength.

That doesn't make it all easy, but as Christians we know that we have what we need in order to live up to God's expectations. A change of heart doesn't mean becoming something new, but becoming more effectively what we already are.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Lenten Lessons--Day 10

Today's Scriptures: Ezekiel 18:21-28; Matthew 5:20-26

Responsibility. We are each responsible for what we do or don't do. Earlier in Ezekiel 18 we see the people complaining that there situation was dealt to them by the sins of their fathers. Ezekiel tells them that isn't the case. Each of us is affected by our own virtue or sinfulness. God is not unfair. He punishes the sinner because each of us is responsible for our own actions.

In the Matthew passage Jesus carries on with that same thing. But then Jesus takes it even further. Not only are we not to murder, but we are not to be angry with our brother or sister. It is wrong not to reconcile with those who have injured us, as real as the injury may be. We are even to settle disputes differently--quickly make friends with your opponents. you see, we bear some sort of responsibility for every aspect of our relationship with others.

Responsibility is heavy. That is why we must come to grips with it during this season of Lent. God is not trying to lay a guilt trip on us, instead God wants us to remember how seriously He takes our freedom and how much He wants from us. But what God wants from us can only come as a divine gift.

We need to change our heart. A change of heart doesn't mean that we should beat ourselves up with anxiety and guilt, instead we should become ever more aware the we can't carry our responsibilities without His help!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Lenten Lessons--Day 9

Today's Scriptures: Esther chapter 12 and chapters 14-16; Matthew 7:7-12

In the Esther passages we see Queen Esther going to see the king to accuse the prime minister of a conspiracy. Her life is in jeopardy and she is praying as hard as she can. She knows that she needs the Lord's help.

In the Matthew passage Jesus tells us that prayer is something we have to be persistent in doing. A very literal translation from the Greek would be, "Keep asking. Keep seeking. Keep knocking." Prayer isn't something we do occasionally. prayer is (or should be!) a part of our everyday life. We pray hard, not because we can change God's mind or convince him what we are asking for is really needed (since He already knows what we need.) We pray so that we never lose sight of the fact that we depend on God's goodness and how vulnerable we are without it. We pray hard because if we don't, we run the risk of forgetting who and whose we are.