Sunday, April 20, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Easter Sunday

Q. 100. What doth the preface of the Lord’s Prayer teach us?

A. The preface of the Lord’s Prayer, which is, “Our Father which art in heaven,” teaches us to draw near to God with all holy reverence and confidence, as children to a father, able and ready to help us; and that we should pray with and for others.

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)

“The difference with this prayer is that its ending tells us more about God than it does about us. It's a conclusion that voices confidence in the present and the future because it understands who is in charge and in whose presence we live all our lives.” - William J. Carl III, The Lord's Prayer for Today, President of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

  Dr. Kenneth Bailey is a marvelous Middle Eastern scholar who lives in New Wilmington, PA and lived in the Middle East for many years to better understand the cultural background from which the New Testament was written. Dr. Bailey who had the brilliant idea of going around in these remote villages, and there he would tell them the parables of Jesus and get their reactions.

lords-prayer  One day Kenneth Bailey was sitting around with some sheep herders and farmers and he spun the tale of the prodigal son. He got to the part where the son goes to the father to ask for his share of the inheritance, and these men who were sitting around just doubled over with laughter. They thought that was the funniest thing they ever heard. They said, "In our village, that would never happen. The father would conk that boy on the head." Then the son goes away, sows his wild oats and comes back, and Kenneth Bailey told how the father, seeing him at a distance, ran to his son. The sense of the Scripture here is that the father sprinted to his son. It was here that the men became furious and even disgusted. They said, "This man had no dignity! For a man to run through the streets, his robe would kick up around his thighs; his legs would be exposed to the children. That would be shameful. He would be the laughingstock of his village. No father would run to his son. It would never happen." But, my friend, I'm here to tell you it happens every day whenever we pray, "Our Father who art in heaven." God comes running. God, the Father as described to us by Jesus does what no earthly father would do for us. God was willing to come in the flesh to reach out to us and tell how much he loves us, so we might have a restored relationship and enter into the Kingdom of God.

  What we call The Lord's Prayer is more properly called The Disciples' Prayer. Have you ever noticed that the perpendicular pronoun is missing from The Disciples' Prayer?

You cannot pray the Lord's Prayer and even once say "I."
You cannot pray the Lord's Prayer and even once say "My."

Nor can you pray the Lord's Prayer and not pray for one another,
And when you ask for daily bread, you must include your brother.

For others are included ... in each and every plea,
From the beginning to the end of it, it does not once say "Me."

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Day 40

Q. 99. What rule hath God given for our direction in prayer?

A. The whole Word of God is of use to direct us in prayer; but the special rule of direction is that form of prayer which Christ taught his disciples, commonly called “the Lord’s Prayer.”

“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. “Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” (Matt. 6:7-9)

Those who have prayed the Lord's Prayer with an open heart, as an act of humble discipleship, know that the prayer is powerful and even dangerous. In praying the Lord's Prayer we ask God to lead us down some risky and unfamiliar paths. Praying the Lord's Prayer compromises the sense of security we fumble to maintain within our own power. - Victoria Rebeck, The Christian Ministry, Jan-Feb 1995, 2.

  "Lord, teach us to pray!" So spoke the disciples to Jesus. In making this request, they confessed that they were not able to pray on their own, that they had to learn to pray. The phrase "learning to pray" sounds strange to us. If the heart does not overflow and begin to pray by itself, we say, it will never "learn" to pray. But it is a dangerous error, surely very widespread among Christians, to think that the heart can pray by itself.

0e282407_prayer-sermon  For then we confuse wishes, hopes, sighs, laments, rejoicings - all of which the heart can do by itself - with prayer. And we confuse earth and heaven, man and God. Prayer does not mean simply to pour out one's heart. It means rather to find the way to God and to speak with him, whether the heart is full or empty. No man can do that by himself. For that he needs Jesus Christ. - James Burtness, Shaping The Future: The Ethics of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Christianity Today, Vol. 30, no. 9.

  The archbishop of Canterbury wants kids to be taught the Lord's Prayer in school. In the U.S. at least, constitutional issues render that unlikely, at least as part of the official curriculum. But we don't need to wait, and, for our own kids at least, we don't need to leave it to the schools. Centuries ago, God told Israel, "Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might." He then told the Israelite adults to not only "keep these words" themselves, but also to "Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise" (Deuteronomy 6:4-7). As Christians, we can do the same with the Lord's Prayer.

  Let's not overstate the case. Helping our kids know the Lord's Prayer isn't likely to turn the world around spiritually or be the start of a worldwide religious revival. But let's not understate the case either. The Lord's Prayer is a spiritual starting point, a way to reach out toward God when we're too numb, too much in pain, too blind, too angry, even too tired to do much else. Our kids and we will benefit from it, and God hears us when we pray it.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Good Friday

Q. 98. What is prayer?

A. Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.

“Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.” (Psalm 62:8)

Prayer is not "going to God" (he's already in you), or "seeking God" (he's already found you), or "opening yourself to God" (you couldn't keep him out if you tried), or "becoming spiritual" (he's already sent you the Spirit -- who would rather show you Jesus than help you display your spiritual prowess). And it's certainly not buttering God up with abject apologies for your existence - because in his Beloved Son, he already thinks you're dandy. Prayer is just talking with Someone who's already talking to you. - Robert Farrar Capon, The Foolishness of Preaching (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1998), 68.

lord-keep-me-in-a-spirit-of-prayer  Our problem is that we assume prayer is something to master the way we master algebra or auto mechanics. That puts us in the "on-top" position, where we are competent and in control. But when praying, we come "underneath," where we calmly and deliberately surrender control and become incompetent... The truth of the matter is, we all come to prayer with a tangled mass of motives altruistic and selfish, merciful and hateful, loving and bitter. Frankly, this side of eternity we will never unravel the good from the bad, the pure from the impure. God is big enough to receive us with all our mixture. That is what grace means, and not only are we saved by it, we live by it as well. And we pray by it. - Richard J. Foster

  Prayer is not a way of making use of God; prayer is a way of offering ourselves to God in order that He should be able to make use of us. It may be that one of our great faults in prayer is that we talk too much and listen too little. When prayer is at its highest we wait in silence for God's voice to us; we linger in His presence for His peace and His power to flow over us and around us; we lean back in His everlasting arms and feel the serenity of perfect security in Him. - William Barclay, The Plain Man's Book of Prayers

  We all pray whether we think of it as praying or not. The odd silence we fall into when something very beautiful is happening, or something very good or very bad. The "Ah-h-h-h!" that sometimes floats up out of us as out of a Fourth of July crowd when the skyrocket bursts over the water. The stammer of pain at somebody else's pain. The stammer of joy at somebody else's joy. Whatever words or sounds we use for sighing with over our own lives. These are all prayers in their way. These are all spoken not just to ourselves, but to something even more familiar than ourselves and even more strange than the world.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Maundy Thursday

Q. 96. What is the Lord’s Supper?

A. The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament, wherein by giving and receiving bread and wine, according to Christ’s appointment, his death is showed forth; and the worthy receivers are, not after a corporal and carnal manner, but by faith, made partakers of his body and blood, with all his benefits, to their spiritual nourishment and growth in grace.

“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Cor. 11:26)

"The fellowship of the table teaches Christians that here they still eat the perishable bread of the earthly pilgrimage. But if they share this bread with one another, they shall also one day receive the imperishable bread together in the Father's house." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1954), 66.

  The simple act of sitting down around a table is something a lot of people don't find particularly important - but for Christians, the shared supper is a vital aspect of spiritual life. The Scriptures speak of three kinds of table fellowship that Jesus keeps with his own: daily fellowship at table, the table fellowship of the Lord's Supper, and the final table fellowship in the kingdom of God. But in all three, the one thing that counts is that “their eyes were opened, and they knew him.” (Luke 23:31)

maundy_3766c  This meal is provided, not because we have earned the right to eat and drink with Jesus, but simply as an act of divine love. For Presbyterians this divinely initiated meal is one of two sacraments of the church, instituted by God and commended by Christ. We are following in the tradition of the early church when we affirm three primal material elements of life - water, bread and wine - as the primary symbols of offering life to God. Being washed with the water of baptism, we receive new life in Christ. In eating the bread and drinking the cup offered by God, our memory of the promises are made present by the Holy Spirit.

  “The Lord's Supper is a sacrament of continuous growth, nourishment and new life. In our Reformed tradition participation in this sacrament should follow the sacrament of baptism. Just as humans need food and drink for nurture and sustenance, Calvin wrote that the Holy Meal is God's way of providing for our maintenance during the whole course of our lives after we have been received into God's family. Both sacraments provide a visible, in fact a graphic, way of presenting God's promises.” - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The Fellowship of the Table” Life Together, p. 66-69

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Day 37

Q. 95. To whom is Baptism to be administered?

A. Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible Church, till they profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him; but the infants of such as are members of the visible Church are to be baptized.

“Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” (Acts 2:38-39)

“In the Waters of baptism we are reminded that we are not born in a vacuum, nor do we journey entirely alone (although loneliness is often part of the burden). Being reborn, being made alive, involves being born into a community. So there are strings attached to this adventure.” - Alan W. Jones, Journey into Christ

  The apostle Paul writes in Colossians 1:13, “He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son.” It’s an interesting verse to look at because of its language.

community  There’s movement here. People who are being saved leave one place and journey to another. Only, according to Paul’s language, it isn’t the travelers who make the arrangements and undertake the journey. Someone else, God, picks the travelers up and drops them down in their new location, the Kingdom of God which God has prepared for them now and into eternity. It’s all about crossing a border, but it isn’t like any other border crossing we’ve ever experienced. The difference is that, in the case of God’s border crossing, the traveler has little to do with it. It’s God’s initiative, from beginning to end.

  We could never make the journey on our own. We depend on the good offices of others to bring us there. When Presbyterians speak of baptism as a covenant, we emphasize the multiple commitments involved. First and most basic, there is God's commitment to us. Then there are the commitments the community of faith makes to us. Finally, are the commitments we make to God, to our children, and to the church. That is why we echo Calvin's own two-sided treatment of baptism's gracious character when it says:

  Baptism enacts and seals what the Word proclaims: God's redeeming grace offered to all people. Baptism is God's gift of grace and also God's summons to respond to that grace. Baptism calls to repentance, to faithfulness, and to discipleship. Baptism gives the church its identity and commissions the church for ministry to the world.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Day 36

Q. 94. What is Baptism?

A. Baptism is a sacrament, wherein the washing with water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, does signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace and our engagement to be the Lord’s.

“As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” (Gal. 3:27)

  Whenever the church baptizes anyone, it is a radical and controversial thing we do. There is an ancient tradition that goes, "When you save the life of a person, when you rescue them from drowning or death, you are bound to them forever." That is what we do in baptism: we have saved this person's life; we have claimed the person for Christ. Now, we have a relationship with that person that can be neglected or abused, but never broken. In moments of despair and doubt and desolation, Martin Luther would say to himself as a reminder, "I was baptized."

water-baptism  Baptism is neither a ticket to heaven nor a magic charm to keep us out of harm’s way. Rather, we called to work at sustaining our identity as the baptized becoming the sons and daughters of God. The Westminster Larger Catechism speaks of “the needful but much neglected duty of improving our Baptism… all our lifelong” (7.277). As John Calvin put it, “baptism is the sign of the initiation by which we are received into the society of the church, in order that, engrafted in Christ, we may be reckoned among God’s children.” The power of baptism is lifelong.

  Baptism, as a sacrament, is an outward visible “sign” that attests to God’s gracious goodwill toward us. Calvin indicates that sacraments are “testimonies of grace and salvation from the Lord.” The principalities and powers have suffered ultimate defeat through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but they are still at work in the world. Baptism plunges believers into a situation where the old has passed away “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Cor. 5:17), although the old can still afflict, perplex, persecute, or strike down (2 Cor. 4:7-18). The present reality of alienation, brokenness, and injustice demonstrates the gap and tension between our world and the fullness of the reign of God.

  Baptism links believers with the death as well as the resurrection of Jesus Christ, disciples of Jesus Christ and the faith communities where they participate share in his suffering and self-giving ministry (cf. Phil. 3:10). They are called to live into their baptism, to learn daily how to die and thus how to live. As such, baptism goes far beyond the private salvation of the individual soul or the isolated moment of baptism. It forms a new humanity by incorporating believers into the body of Jesus Christ and beginning their formation as a missionary people. We are not simply a single, lone individual claimed by God in baptism we are the body of Christ who are the baptized together as a covenant people working together as a missional people.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Day 35

Q. 93. Which are the sacraments of the New Testament?

A. The sacraments of the New Testament are Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

“For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread,” (1 Cor. 11:23)

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (Matt. 28:19)

Tradition becomes the initial and fundamental source of Christian theology – not in competition with Scripture, but as Scripture’s spiritual context. . . . The church, as Eucharistic community, existed before the New Testament books were written, and these books were themselves composed in and for concrete local churches. Their written text is meant to be read and understood by baptized, committed people gathered in the name of the lord. Theology, therefore, is not simply a science, using Scripture as initial data; it also presupposes living in communion with God and people, in Christ and in the Spirit, within the community of the church. — John Meyendorff, “Theology in an Eastern Orthodox Perspective”

  To better understand the Westminster Short Catechism it is often helpful to look to the other confessions to view their perspective on the question being asked. The Scots Confession speaks to the is question, “As the fathers under the Law, besides the reality of the sacrifices, had two chief sacraments, that is, circumcision and the passover, and those who rejected these were not reckoned among God’s people; so do we acknowledge and confess that now in the time of the gospel we have two chief sacraments, which alone were instituted by the Lord Jesus and commanded to be used by all who will be counted members of his body, that is, Baptism and the Supper or Table of the Lord Jesus, also called the Communion of His Body and Blood. These sacraments, both of the Old Testament and of the New, were instituted by God not only to make a visible distinction between his people and those who were without the Covenant, but also to exercise the faith of his children and, by participation of these sacraments, to seal in their hearts the assurance of his promise, and of that most blessed conjunction, union, and society, which the chosen have with their Head, Christ Jesus.” (The Scots Confession, 3.21)

  Dietrich Bonhoeffer speaks to the importance of the sacraments within the life of the church-community, “the body of Christ takes on visible form not only in the preaching of the word but also in baptism and the Lord’s Supper, both of which emanate from the true humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ. In both, Christ encounters us bodily and makes us participants in the community of his body. Both sacraments must be accompanied by the proclamation of the Word. In baptism as well as in the Lord’s Supper the content of that proclamation is the death of Christ for us (Rom. 6:3ff.; 1 Cor. 11:26). The gift we receive in both sacraments is the body of Christ. In baptism we are made members of Christ’s body. In the Lord’s Supper we receive the gift of bodily community with the body of the Lord, and through it bodily community with the members of this body. In receiving the gifts of Christ’s body, we become, thereby, one body with him. Neither the gift of baptism nor the gift of the Lord’s Supper is fully understood if we interpret them only in terms of the forgiveness of sin. The gift of the body conferred in the sacraments presents us with the Lord in bodily form dwelling in his church-community. Forgiveness of sin is indeed a part of this gift of the body of Christ as church-community… Baptism and the Lord’s Supper belong solely to the community of the body of Christ. Whereas the word of proclamation is addressed to believers and unbelievers alike, the sacraments have been given solely to the church-community. The Christian community is thus essentially the community gathered to celebrate baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and only then is it the community gathered in hear the word proclaimed.” - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, First Fortress Press paperback edition, 2003, pp. 228-29.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Palm Sunday

Q. 92. What is a sacrament?

A. A sacrament is a holy ordinance instituted by Christ, wherein, by sensible signs, Christ and the benefits of the new covenant are represented, sealed, and applied to believers.

“While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matt. 26:26-28)

The congregation is the basic locale for telling and celebrating the Christian story. Here is the place where, in season and out, the Word is preached and the sacraments administered, and by the grace of God, rightly so. For all its manifest flaws, this assembly is the basic bearer of the promises of God to this people of God. — Gabriel Fackre, “The Congregation and the Unity of the Church”

  The terms “sign” and “seal” have been important in Reformed thought to indicate the nature of what occurs in Christian baptism and the Lord’s Supper. A sacrament is, as Augustine put it, an “outward sign of an inward grace.” It is an outward expression of a spiritual reality. Sacraments are called a “means of grace,” an “instrument” God uses to convey the gospel of Jesus Christ. Through the sacraments God seals believers in redemption, God renews our identity as God marks us for service. But participation is a corporate act rather than an act between an individual and God.

palm_4575c  God’s promise of grace precedes any human decision to be baptized. For adults as well as children, baptism is a sign of grace and a means of grace. Baptism is a sign that God’s grace is being received. The outward action of baptism is an act of God, given by God.

  For John Calvin, God has ordained the Lord’s Supper, as a sacrament, as a means by which Jesus Christ with the benefits of Christ’s death are imparted to those who receive the Supper in faith. The sacrament is given for your, so you can remember Jesus Christ who gave his body for your and shed his blood for you.

  In 1977 Oscar Romero, a quiet, traditional cleric, was consecrated Archbishop of San Salvador. Deemed a safe bet by government authorities, his installation service was even used as an excuse for more government- sanctioned murders. The killings radicalized Romero, prompting him to agree with the sentiment circulated by the priests aligned with the poor people of the country: The church is where it always should have been: with the people, surrounded by wolves.

  The martyrdom of a rural priest furthered Romero's radicalism. Against official policies Romero began to support new liturgies and worship services more relevant to the poor and oppressed. He called for the church to become the voice of those whose voices were stopped up. Romero became more and more of a thorn in the government's side.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Day 34

Q. 88. What are the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption?

A. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are his ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer, all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.

“So those who welcomed his message were baptized, ... They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:41-42)

“...sacraments are more plainly designated, as when they are called the pillars of our faith. For just as a building stands and leans on its foundation, and yet is rendered more stable when supported by pillars, so faith leans on the word of God as its proper foundation, and yet when sacraments are added leans more firmly, as if resting on pillars. Or we may call them mirrors, in which we may contemplate the riches of the grace which God bestows upon us. For then, as has been said, he manifests himself to us in as far as our dullness can enable us to recognize him, and testifies his love and kindness to us more expressly than by word. - Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin, Book 4, Chap. 14, Sec. 6

  They “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). The word “devoted” is a rather long, compound Greek word. It means to “be strong toward.” The early Christians were “strong toward” certain things, namely, the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking bread and prayer.” In other words, they were people of the Word and people of Community.

obrc3a1zok1  Notice that the apostles and the new Christians spent a lot of time in prayer. In prayer we’re able to express our longing for a deeper walk with God. We’re able to “picture” what kind of experience we want and hope for during the day ahead. Morning prayer helps us set the tone for the entire day. Evening prayer allows us to express thanks, review the day, to look for the surprises God has left us to teach, instruct and lead us to His Holy Presence.

  The apostles as disciples in the gospels were not really known for their clarity of thought and the richness of their vision. They didn’t get it most of the time. They seldom had ears to hear what the Spirit was saying to them. But the resurrection and Pentecost changed all that. Now they taught with authority. The pieces had all come together. And the early Christians couldn’t get enough of what they had to share. They were people of the Word — unabashedly and without apology.

  And they were also people of Community. They hung out together, which no doubt was a source of strength, courage and support. They ate in each other’s homes. They sold their possessions and shared with each other. How strong is that! They knew that to find their way in the world, they needed support from the community. So they ate together, prayed together, studied together, and no doubt began to observe the sacraments together.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Day 33

Q. 87. What is repentance unto life?

A. Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.

“Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)

“Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement; he is a rebel who must lay down his arms . . . This process of surrender—this movement full speed astern—is what Christians call repentance. Now repentance is no fun at all. It is something much harder than merely eating humble pie. It means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years. It means killing part of yourself, undergoing a kind of death. - C. S. Lewis

  Repentance demands change — a change of heart and way of life. God's word is life-giving and it saves us from destruction — the destruction of soul as well as body. Jesus' anger is directed toward sin and everything which hinders us from doing the will of God and receiving his blessing. In love he calls us to walk in his way of truth and freedom, grace and mercy, justice and holiness. Do you receive his word with faith and submission or with doubt and indifference? - Gospel Meditation, by Don Schwager

BoldlyGrace  In the opening verses of Psalm 51, we hear David crying out for relief from his own sin. He says, "Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!" (Psalm 51:1-2). David, after being called out for hooking up with Bathsheba and arranging the murder of her husband Uriah, is desperate for relief from the crushing weight of what he's done. David knows that if left to bear the burden of his brokenness much longer, it will without question kill him. He's desperate for relief from his burden.

  The season of Lent is a time of confession and repentance. It's a season when, like David, we take inventory of our brokenness, the sin which weights us down, the scars and the shame, the issues and the idolatry slung over our shoulders, held under our arms and being rolled behind us. It's a season when we are invited to repent.

  Recovery describes what happens to us after an illness or infection has left our bodies. It's also employed to describe a person's journey back from addiction. There's a huge and largely silent community out there, a subculture, known as the recovery movement: addicts helping addicts to stay clean and sober. This also best describes our relationship with sin. We have an addiction to sin, an attachment to behaviors and attitudes we are all too fond of continuing. We need repentance for our recovery to begin.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Day 32

Q. 86. What is faith in Jesus Christ?

A. Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel.

“But we are not among those who shrink back and so are lost, but among those who have faith and so are saved.” (Heb. 10:39)

Faith comes not from intellectual conviction, but from an open, trusting "yes" to God’s invitation to loving unity. Of course, without intellectual conviction, the mind will not instruct the will to say yes. Even so, faith opens one to realms that the mind cannot know. - Nuggets from the Stream of Life from "Caring for the Self, Caring for the Soul," by Philip St. Romain.

  Practice is the best evidence of faith. Because Abraham had faith in God, he left his own country. Because Moses had faith in God, he refused to stay in the luxury of Pharaoh's palace, choosing instead to suffer with God's people (Hebrews 11:25-26). Because others had faith in God, they were stoned, sawn in two, executed by the sword, mocked and tortured, thrown in prison, and forced to wander about in animal skins, poverty and torment (Hebrews 11:32-38). — Gerald R. McDermott, Seeing God: Twelve Reliable Signs of True Spirituality (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1995), 221.

hebrews-10-39  A businessman was asked to tell what his personal faith meant to him. He reached back to his boyhood experience. He recalled walking with his father one day, having to reach up to hold on to his hand. After a while he said, "I can't hold on any longer, and you'll have to hold on to me for a while." And he remembered the moment when he felt his father's hand take over. That, he said, was the way it felt to him to have faith in God. And that was precisely an act of grace.

  It is important that Christians not let grace become a universal principle or ideology. It is the grace of God of which the Bible speaks. Not the grace of some abstract principle of justice or love or acceptance. As God's grace, and not some principle of grace, God is the one who determines what it will be and where it will go. "God ... called us with a holy calling, not according to our work, but according to his own purpose and grace" (2 Tim. 1:9 NRSV). "But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ's gift" (Eph.4:7 NRSV).

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Day 31

Q. 84. What does every sin deserve?

A. Every sin deserves God’s wrath and curse, both in this life and that which is to come.

“For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law.” (Gal. 3:10)

Fear the judgments of God! Dread the wrath of the Almighty! Do not discuss the works of the Most High, but examine your sins - in what serious things you have offended and how many good things you have neglected. - The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis, Book 3, Chapter 4

  Anyone who honestly examines our relationship with God and the many ways we employ in our lives to avoid God’s presence in our lives, we must come to the conclusion that we don’t desire much from God expect wrath and curse. Fortunately, for us God does not see it the same way. I have discovered that sin has its own punishment built into it. When we separate ourselves from the will and presence of God, this separate on its own inflicts injury, hurt and suffering in our lives. What we might call the wrath of God, is only our own sin catching up with us and is all self-inflict. We would rather live under the delusion we are good and upright, even though the evidence shows otherwise.

sin2  In the early part of this century, a novelist researching a book about life in a certain New England town visited the local cemetery as part of his investigations. The writer noted with interest that nearly every tombstone from that era bore a final epitaph. Unfailingly, these were words of praise for the departed with references such as "kind,"  "generous,"  "upstanding," loving" and "faithful" appearing again and again.
This prompted the researcher to ask, "I wonder where they buried the sinners?"

  Former Yale chaplain and seminary president John W. Vannorsdall writes: “In spite of the fact that God must watch his whales die, and our submarines increase, God comes to us with the message of love, not wrath. That's why it seems so remarkable to me that when God comes to speak God's Word to us, that Word becomes a child. A child announced by singing, not by thunder. A child born by lamplight in silent night, rather than a Word which shakes the mountains, pouring rivers of unstoppable fire down every side. The Word becomes a child, which can be received and cannot hurt us: a Word which does not make us afraid. I am prepared for the anger of God, and believe that God has a right to wrath. What is so amazing is that when God comes among us, whatever God's hurt and indignation, God comes not with violence but with love, even as a child vulnerable to our further hurt.” - He Came to His Own Home, 24 December 1978, The Lutheran Series of the Protestant Hour

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Day 30

Q. 82. Is any man able perfectly to keep the commandments of God?

A. No mere man, since the Fall, is able, in this life, perfectly to keep the commandments of God, but does daily break them, in thought, word, and deed.

“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8)

Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made. - Philosopher Immanuel Kant

SinForgive  During the Watergate scandal, Leon Jaworski was the special prosecutor. Jaworski a Presbyterian elder, one Sunday he found himself at the New York Ave. Presbyterian Church, the historic D.C. church where Peter Marshall had been pastor. As he sat in worship, he noted the Lincoln pew, which is set aside for presidents to sit in when they visit there for worship, and it's the pew in which Lincoln sat during the Civil War years when he came to church. Suddenly there was a hush in the congregation, and down the aisle walked Mr. Nixon with an usher who seated him in the Lincoln pew. Leon Jaworski, sitting several pews behind that pew, recollected in his mind all that he knew from having listened to the Nixon tapes. He knew that the president could be indicted for criminal activity beyond any shadow of doubt. There he sat in worship. He wondered in his own mind what would happen if the president suddenly stood up and said to the pastor of the church, who was Dr. George M. Docherty at the time, "Dr. Docherty, I would like a moment of special privilege," and then would turn to the congregation and say:

  "I want to say today that, as president of the United States, I have sinned before God and I have lied to you. I have asked his forgiveness and I now ask yours. I have come to this church today to make full disclosure of who and what I am and what I have become. I promise you from this day forward I'm going to do better."

  Leon Jaworski said if he had done that as he had turned it in his mind, we would have probably gathered the president up and put him on our shoulders and carried him back to the White House. It is a thought worth thinking about for all of us to acknowledge our sins. - Dr. W. Frank Harrington, "Does the Oval Office Reflect Who We Are?" Peachtree Presbyterian Pulpit, 1998.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Day 29

Q. 44. What does the preface to the Ten Commandments teach us?

A. The preface to the Ten Commandments teaches us that because God is the Lord, and our God and Redeemer, therefore we are bound to keep all his commandments.

When I think of your ways,
I turn my feet to your decrees;
I hurry and do not delay to keep your commandments.
Though the cords of the wicked ensnare me,
I do not forget your law.
At midnight I rise to praise you,
   because of your righteous ordinances.
I am a companion of all who fear you,
of those who keep your precepts.
The earth, O LORD, is full of your steadfast love;
teach me your statutes. (Psalm 119:59-64)

The truth is, of course, that the curtness of the Ten Commandments is an evidence, not of the gloom and narrowness of a religion, but, on the contrary, of its liberality and humanity. It is shorter to state the things forbidden than the things permitted: precisely because most things are permitted, and only a few things are forbidden. - Gilbert Keith G. K. Chesterton

psalm-119-32  NASA had high hopes for their Mars orbiter - it would make possible some exciting new research into the Red Planet. They were stunned when suddenly, without warning, they lost the Mars orbiter in deep space. After the initial shock, NASA tried to determine what went wrong. The answer was almost as alarming as losing the orbiter itself. The fatal malfunction was the result of a tragic error in calculations - bad math doomed the Mars craft. One set of engineers had worked with English measurements - while another set of engineers did their calculations by the metric system! ...

  A costly failure was the result of measuring by two different standards ... . You can't keep vacillating; commuting back and forth between what the world around you says is right and what your Lord says is right. You can't just go God's way when it's convenient and doesn't cost you much. In God's words, you have to "choose this day whom you will serve." When you do, life is a whole lot less confusing. - Ron Hutchcraft, "The measurement mess," Ron Hutchcraft Ministries, December 1999.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Fifth Sunday in Lent

Q. 42. What is the sum of the Ten Commandments?

A. The sum of the Ten Commandments is: to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and with all our mind; and our neighbor as ourselves.

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matt. 22:36-40)

Reverence and respect for God's commandments teach us the way of love - love of God and love of neighbor. What is impossible to individuals is possible to God and those who have faith in God. God gives us the grace to love as he loves, to forgive as he forgives, to think as he thinks, and to act as he acts. - Gospel Meditation by Don Schwager

  These commandments have not changed for the past 3,400 years. Why? Because human nature has not changed. During the past 3,400 years, there have been all kinds of changes in the lives of human beings. Civilizations have changed. Knowledge has changed. Medicine has changed. Science and technology has changed. Politics and political systems have changed. Nations have changed. Government has changed. Perpetual change is the mark of the human experience during the past 3,400 years of history.

Lent_2012_02_WEB  Meanwhile, while all these changes have been going on for 3,400 years, human nature has not changed. Today, people still worship various gods in their lives. Today, people still swear and cure. Today, people still don’t find time to worship. Today, people still have problems honoring their parents. Today, people still murder, still commit adultery, still steal, still lie, still covet other peoples’ spouses or property. Change is all around us human beings, but human nature has not changed. People still need the Ten Commandments, for our human community as much today are people did 3,400 years ago.

  With the arrival of Jesus in human history, how does Jesus handle the Ten Commandments.? In the first five books of the Bible, which are called the Law, there are more than 600 laws, rules and regulations for human society. Jesus seems less concerned with all of these 600 laws, rules and regulations. Instead, Jesus highlights two commandments in a special and sacred way. Jesus says that the whole Old Testament rested on two commandments and everything else depended.

  The first commandment was this, quoting from Deuteronomy 5. “You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” In this commandment, Jesus invites us to love, not only our husband or wife or children or grandchildren or family or friends or neighbors. More than that, Jesus invites us to love God, who is the source of all life. And we are invited to love God, not just a little bit, but with all our heart, soul, and mind. For Jesus, this is the first and greatest commandment.

  And the second is like it for Jesus. Jesus quotes from Leviticus 19:18, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” That is, just as you look after your own self-interest and life, so you are to work for the benefit of your neighbor as you would work for the benefit of your own life. Jesus said, “Do these, and you shall live. Do these, and you will understand what it means to discover your life. Joy in life consists of loving both God and your fellow human beings.”

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Day 28

Q. 41. Where is the moral law summarily comprehended?

A. The moral law is summarily comprehended in the Ten Commandments.

“And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” (Matt. 19:17)

A businessman notorious for his ruthlessness, announced to Samuel Clemens, aka, Mark Twain, "Before I die, I mean to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I will climb Mount Sinai and read the Ten Commandments aloud at the top."
"I have a better idea," said Clemens, "You could stay home in Boston and keep them."
- Clifton Fadiman, ed., The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1985), 483.

  Many states have passed laws requiring each motor vehicle licensed in the state must have an inspection sticker generally on the driver’s side of the windshield. States made these laws because some of us are careless about keeping our cars in safe operating condition. The law is for the good of the owner of the vehicle and for the others who might be jeopardized by its operation. So the law is for the good of all concerned.

CommantmentsOne  Suppose the legislators in your state passed another law requiring a green star sticker on the passenger side of the windshield. They explain the purpose of this law: “We made this law just to let you know that we have the authority to legislate. We want you to get this sticker because we can simply make you are get it.” That would be an arbitrary, tyrannical law. During the next election, the electorate may be inclined to see some new faces in the legislature!

  Law must originate from authority in order to have validity; yet just laws are not arbitrary expressions of authority, just because one have this authority. The Ten Commandments lose their authority if you don’t embrace the author. Simply having the Commandments posted on the wall without a relationship with the creator produces little compliance.

  The Ten Commandments, for instance, were not arbitrary laws, but were based on principles, which have proven themselves for centuries among humans. In it, God is saying, “Remember your spiritual relationship with me, and remember the dignity and purpose of man.”

  Theologian Douglas Alan Walrath reminds us that "God's love includes not only a sustaining center but protective boundaries." Indeed, by dishonoring the boundaries, we diminish the power of what he calls "God's endless, bounded love." Boundaries like the Ten Commandments "protect us from jeopardizing our relationship with God, from violating other humans and from destroying ourselves." Or, as he ends his treatment of this theme, "We become the persons God created us to be as we are blessed with God's soul power. That godliness continues in our lives as we embrace God's endless love and honor the boundaries set by God's commandments." - Walrath, Counterpoints: The Dynamics of Believing Today (New York: Pilgrim Press, 1991), 60, 61, 63.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Day 27

Q. 39. What is the duty which God requires of man?

A. The duty which God requires of man is obedience to his revealed will.

“And Samuel said, “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obedience to the voice of the LORD? Surely, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.” (1 Sam. 15:22)

Obedience to God's will does not mean everything will go smoothly, that the wind will always be at our backs and that the journey will be easy. Jesus told his disciples to cross to the other side of the lake, even though he knew the wind would be working against them. Despite the wind's contrariness, they struggled on because they knew they were doing his will. -Shawn Craig in Between Sundays, cited in Christianity Today, February 8, 1999, 72.

  There is an old Jewish joke about a child who hates kreplach dumplings. His mother tries to reassure him and one evening brings him into the kitchen, standing him next to her as she prepares dinner. "Look," she says, "here's the dough. First you flatten it and shape it." The boy nods happily. "Then you take the filling and lay it across the dough.” The boy nods once more, happy as can be. "Finally, you fold the dough over the filling and you have ... "Kreplach!" The boy screams and runs sobbing from the room.

obediencehard  In many ways, when it comes to the word "obedience" and the theme of "trust and obey," we are in the same position as the boy in the story. Each step of the Christian faith suits us fine. We applaud faith. We rejoice when there is talk of love and hope. But then we see what all this has been leading up to; and, like the boy who hated kreplach, we scream, "Oh, no, obedience.”

  It goes without saying that the life of obedient discipleship does not promise to be easy. Trusting and obeying would hardly be such difficult traits to master if we were privy to all the plans and plots intertwined around our lives. Discipleship means not knowing where we are going, but finding joy and contentment in knowing that we go there with God.

  In an article entitled "God Lite," theologian James R. Edwards traces how "The more we obey God, the more real God becomes to us and the greater our love grows. And the more we love God, the more we become like God.”

  "It is like a good marriage: People who love their spouses want to please them; and if they do not want to please their spouses, they can hardly talk of loving them." Edwards then shows the way in which "obedience is not a penalty levied on faith. It is the strength of faith. The Bible absolutely will not separate faith and obedience, as though obedience were some kind of inheritance tax that God levies on the free gift of salvation. God cannot separate them and still offer salvation. There is something about love that is no longer love apart from obedience. Dietrich Bonhoeffer kept saying this in The Cost of Discipleship: 'Only those who obey can believe, and only those who believe can obey."' - Christianity Today, April 29, 1991, p. 30.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Day 26

Q. 38. What benefits do believers receive from Christ at the resurrection?

A. At the resurrection, believers, being raised up in glory, shall be openly acknowledged and acquitted in the Day of Judgment, and made perfectly blessed in the full enjoying of God to all eternity.

“So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.” (1 Cor. 15:42-43)

Please God, don't let me be behind Mother Teresa at Judgment Day. - T-shirt seen at Chautauqua Institution

  God in Jesus Christ assures us that the final victory will be God’s and the establishment of God’s Kingdom into eternity will also include judgment. The Westminster Confession indicates that “God hath appointed a day, wherein he will judge the world in righteousness by Jesus Christ, to whom all power and judgment is given of the Father.” All will be judged to “appear before the tribunal of Christ, to give an account of their thoughts, words, and deed; and to receive according to what they have done in the body, whether good or evil.” The comfort of the disciple of Christ is the recognition that judgment will be carried out by Jesus Christ who is also our savior.

WellDone  20th Century theologian Karl Barth comments on this comfort by saying: “This future comforts the church in all affliction and persecution because it knows the Judge… The Judge is one who was judged for us. Through him we have been acquitted and from him we can now look forward to joy and glory.” - Karl Barth, The Heidelberg Catechism for Today, Richmond, John Knox Press, 1964, p. 82.

  “Jesus said, ‘God is not the God of the dead but of the living’” (Luke 20:38). His meaning was that those who love and are loved by God are not allowed to cease to exist, because they are God’s treasures. He delights in them and intends to hold onto them. He has even prepared for them an individualized eternal work in his vast universe.”...

  “On the day he (Jesus) died, he covenanted with another man being killed along with him to meet that very day in a place he called paradise. This term carries the suggestion of a lovely gardenlike area.”

  “Anyone who realizes that reality is God’s, and has seen a little bit of what God has already done, will understand that such a “Paradise” would be no problem at all. And there God will preserve every one of his treasured friends in the wholeness of their personal existence precisely because he treasures them in that form. Could he enjoy their fellowship, could they serve him, if they were “dead”?” - Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, p. 84-85

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Day 25

Q. 37. What benefits do believers receive from Christ at death?

A. The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves till the resurrection.

“So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor. 5:6-7)

To a world ruled by fate and the whims of capricious gods, Christianity brought the promise of everlasting life. At the core of the Christian faith was the assertion that the crucified Jesus was resurrected by God and present in the church as "the body of Christ." The message was clear: By submitting to death, Jesus had destroyed its power, thereby making eternal life available to everyone. This Christian affirmation radically changed the relationship between the living and the dead as Greeks and Romans understood it. For them, only the gods were immortal - that's what made them gods. Philosophers might achieve immortality of the soul, as Plato taught, but the view from the street was that human consciousness survived in the dim and affectless underworld of Hades. "The Resurrection is an enormous answer to the problem of death," says Notre Dame theologian John Dunne. "The idea is that the Christian goes with Christ through death to everlasting life. Death becomes an event, like birth, that is lived through." - Kenneth L. Woodward, "2000 Years of Jesus," Newsweek, March 29, 1999, 55.

  "Souls are like wax waiting for a seal. By themselves they have no special identity. Their destiny is to be softened and prepared in this life, by God's will, to receive, at their death, the seal of their own degree of likeness to God in Christ. And this is what it means, among other things, to be judged by Christ." -Thomas Merton, "New Seeds of Contemplation"

FaithNotSight  The transition from “earthly” life to “heavenly” life is part of the Kingdom of God and is a reality that all persons face. Reformed faith takes death seriously. While physical death is associated with sin, death is also part of the natural biological processes. For the disciple of Christ the processes of justification, adoption, and sanctification is complete and made perfect in holiness.

  The Christian hope of eternal life includes the “resurrection of the body” and the resurrection of the dead as we affirm when we join together in worship and declare our faith in the Apostles’ Creed. This hope emerges from the resurrection of Jesus Christ in his act of defeating death on the cross. God redeems the whole person, not just the “immortal soul,” but the whole existence. Paul asserts that “we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Rom. 6:5)

  This resurrection is the new life that emerges from the physical death of this earthly existence, it is God’s act for us. (1 Cor. 15:42ff). Our resurrection bodies will be “ours” in that in some mysterious way, our own selves will be raised from the dead, our own bodies not another human being, but we are the ones who will be “changed” (1 Cor. 15:51-52).

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Day 24

Q. 36. What are the benefits which in this life do accompany or flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification?

A. The benefits which in this life do accompany or flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification are: assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, increase of grace, and perseverance therein to the end.

“For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Rom. 14:17)

“There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for the long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.” -Eugene Peterson

  A parishioner complained about the pastor's constant harping on the theme of drawing nigh unto God. She confessed that I don't want to get close to God. I just want to get over in a corner and sneak into heaven quietly. I don't want to be a saint. I just don't want to go to hell.

progressive-sanctification  I cannot believe what I'm hearing! I exclaimed.

  I can explain it easily, she said calmly. When I started the ninth grade I set my heart on finishing high school with straight C's. And I did. You see, if you fail you have to repeat, and I wanted out. But if you start making A's people begin to expect things of you.

  It's exactly like that with God, she continued. If you're too bad you'll go to hell, and I don't want that. But if you're too good, he'll send you to India, and I don't want that either.

  Rutland provides a marvelous commentary of how his parishioner is not an isolated story, but part of a pattern of belief that reaches out to choke the lives of millions of sincere, but sincerely confused Christians. Quite apart from the obvious theology of works, her theory of C-class Christianity betrayed a pathetically distorted understanding of the character and nature of God. Her confusion, far more serious than the merely epidural misjudgment of 'how God acts,' sprang from her twisted concept of 'who God is.' - Mark Rutland's The Finger of God: Reuniting Power and Holiness in the Church (Wilmore, KY: Bristol Books, 1988), 16-17.

  Good works and obedience to God’s law are part of our response to justification, adoption and sanctification. They emerge as a response of gratitude to the salvation and redemption we experience in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

  We live in a society which wants and some ways demands instant results. We don’t want to wait, we dislike things which require patience, we want it all now, but it can’t be ours in an instant. Discipleship requires following Jesus for as long as it takes and gaining the benefits of justification, adoption and sanctification can take a long time. However long it takes, it is worth it and the benefits revealed to us will be “assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, increase of grace, and perseverance therein to the end.” Disciples of Christ who achieve these benefits discover a rejoicing which fills the soul and brings the full expression of joy in their lives. The goal is not to get into heaven, the goal is to do the will of God by taking into our lives the full benefits of God’s saving act in Jesus Christ.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Day 23

Q. 35. What is sanctification?

A. Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin and live unto righteousness.

“But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” (2 Thess. 2:13)

“I remember a classmate of mine, a Lebanese Presbyterian, who threw a theological temper tantrum during his first semester in seminary. ‘All you Americans care about is justification!’ he howled. ‘You love sinning and being forgiven, sinning and being forgiven, but no one seems to want off that hamster wheel. Have you ever heard of sanctification? Is anyone interested in learning to sin a little less?’- Barbara Brown Taylor, book “Speaking of Sin”

mcculley-growth  We are all broken in some way, both sinful and sinned against. Because none of us has escaped the results of sin, we suffer spiritual and emotional damage. We won't let others love us. We can't say no. We don't know how to connect with people. We're unable to be firm in our convictions. We need help to be disciplined, to accept our weaknesses, to stand against those who would abuse us. The broken, damaged, immature parts of our character need to be fixed.

  And doing this repair, many wrongly believe, is God acting alone, by himself, unaided by anyone or anything. All we really need, they insist, is to do what the Bible says. Yet the Bible says over and over again that we should find people to help us return to spiritual and emotional health. Faith must grow. Faith is linked with love and hope. Faith is one of the “fruits of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22-23), bestowed by God as a gift. Our spiritual formation as a disciple is about growth in faith and faith is growth in holiness, called “sanctification” in the New Testament.

  The act of healing our brokenness and the process of our recovery is the work of sanctification. God is always striving toward redeeming those lost parts of our souls that are injured and broken by sin. God’s ongoing activity in our lives is bringing those parts into the light of his grace and truth.

  Jesus bears witness in his own person and in the mighty works which he performed that God's deliverance has truly come to those who accept him as Savior of Israel and Redeemer of humankind. Jesus did not leave us alone, but left us the Holy Spirit as our guide, advocate and counselor to strengthen us in holiness and service. The Holy Spirit not only purifies our hearts and minds, but transforms our lives through God’s saving love and mercy. Our necessary task is allowing the light of God's truth and love to shine in our heart and mind?

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Fourth Sunday in Lent

Q. 34. What is adoption?

A. Adoption is an act of God’s free grace, whereby we are received into the number, and have a right to all the privileges, of the sons of God.

“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” (1 Jn 3:1)

God’s decree is the very pillar and basis on which the saints’ perseverance depends. That decree ties the knot of adoption so fast, that neither sin, death, nor hell, can break it asunder. - Thomas Watson (c. 1557–1592)

  There is no limit on the number of children in the family of God. The apostle John says, "See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God" (1 John 3:1). Then he goes on to say something to the effect of, "Yet that is precisely what we are - children of God!" The astonishing thing is that God receives us - just as we are - and embraces us as family! But God's capacity to love and care for us is inexhaustible. The NIV uses the word "lavish" in its translation: "See what great love the Father has lavished upon us ...."  God's love is lavish love.

fourth_6420c  We may stumble, choose a path that is more crooked than straight and narrow, or at times be deeply disappointing to God. But when we search for God and call on God for forgiveness and new life, God's door is open. There's always a welcome waiting. Jesus emphasized this when he said, "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).

  Even though the Bible uses the word “adopt” only about four times, it refers to the concept of adoption surprisingly often. And when it does, the Bible always presents adoption as a positive, gracious act that is part of God’s plan.

  Moses, for example, was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter (Exodus 2:1-10). His adoption, though sad for his Israelite parents, was part of God’s overall plan for the deliverance of Israel from Egypt.

  Esther was also an adoptee. We are told that when her parents died, Mordecai, her cousin, took her as his own daughter and adopted her (Esther 2:15). This adoption also led to a wonderful deliverance of the people of God!

  And in a way, wasn’t Jesus an adoptee? Joseph, who raised Jesus as his own, was not his biological father. Adopting parents can learn a great deal from Joseph! This man of God was truly unselfish; he was willing to rearrange his whole life in obedience to God. Joseph gladly accepted Jesus, providing him with all the love, encouragement and guidance that a son needs from a father.

  But the best and most important biblical adoption story of all is that there is only one way for us to enter the kingdom of God — we must become God’s adopted children through Jesus Christ. — Kay Green, “Does God believe in adoption?”, 2004.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Day 22

Q. 33. What is justification?

A. Justification is an act of God’s free grace, where he pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.

“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.” (Rom. 5:1-2)

“It was not the justification of sin, but the justification of the sinner that drove Luther from the cloister back into the world. The grace he had received was costly grace. It was grace, for it was like water on parched ground, comfort in tribulation, freedom from the bondage of a self-chosen way and forgiveness of all his sins. And it was costly, for, so far from dispensing him from good works, it meant that he must take the call to the discipleship more seriously than ever before. It was grace because it cost so much, and it cost so much because it was grace. That was the secret of the gospel of the Reformation — the justification of the sinner.” - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship

  The life of discipleship involves the application of a threefold understanding of our spiritual formation through justification, adoption and sanctification. These three are the focus of the next four questions of the Shorter Catechism. They all belong together, if we embrace one to the exclusion of the other two, we cut ourselves off from the full understanding of our faith and impend our spiritual formation.

Romans-5-1-2  Roy Gustafson tells the story of a man in England who put his Rolls-Royce on a boat and went across to the Continent to go on a holiday. While he was driving around Europe, something happened to the motor of his car. He cabled the Rolls-Royce people back in England and asked, “I’m having trouble with my car; what do you suggest I do?”

  Well, the Rolls-Royce people flew a mechanic over! The mechanic repaired the car and flew back to England and left the man to continue his holiday.

  The poor bloke wondered: “How much is this going to cost me?” So when he got back to England, he wrote the people a letter and asked how much he owed them. He received a letter from the office that read: “Dear Sir: There is no record anywhere in our files that anything ever went wrong with a Rolls-Royce.” That’s justification.

  Reformed theology insists that when justification and sanctification are not kept properly distinct, God’s once-for-all gifts of faith (i.e., salvation) and our continual struggle for holiness become confused. To begin with, the classical Protestant affirmation of the nature of justification is necessary to affirm, namely that in Jesus Christ God has once and for all forgiven us. This is our justification through the faith that is God’s gift. However, we need to make a second point, to affirm that in Jesus Christ we must continually strive to live the holy life that we undertake with the advocacy and power of the Holy Spirit. The emphasis in justification is on what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. The emphasis in sanctification is on what we must do for God with the aid of God’s Holy Spirit, although here too we emphasize that this striving also is in and through Jesus Christ. - Andrew Purves & Charles Partee, Encountering God: Christian Faith in Turbulent Times, p. 88-89.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Day 21

Q. 32. What benefits do they that are effectually called partake of in this life?

A. They that are effectually called do in this life partake of justification, adoption, sanctification, and the several benefits which, in this life, do either accompany or flow from them.

“He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord." (1 Corinthians 1:30-31, NRSV)

“In printers' language to "justify" means to set type in such a way that all full lines are of equal length and are flush both left and right; in other words to put the printed lines in the right relationship with the page they're printed on and with each other. The religious sense of the word is very close to that. Being justified means being brought into right relation.” - Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking (Harper & Row, 1973), 48.

mercies-new-pp  One day an individual asked a church elder, if he was a Christian. He replied, “In spots.” All of us find ourselves faced with making a similar confession. God graciously came to us in Jesus Christ, called us, gave us faith, and the gift of grace, yet we often find our faith “spotty.” We have moments of steadfast faithfulness and others where we come up short and sometimes very short of the glory of God.

  One of the mistakes many of us make is that we keep trying to have a better past. Life does not work that way. Your past is never going to improve, but your future can improve if you turn loose of the past. The greatest battle in our lives, however, is not with these forces that lie beyond our control, as frightening as they may be. Our greatest battle is with ourselves. Most of our defeats come because we have not learned to fight effectively against the enemy within.

  Remember the scene at the end of Saving Private Ryan? When Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) is dying, he says to Private Ryan to make it worth it. Earlier, he had said, "He better be worth it. He better go home and cure a disease, or invent a longer-lasting light bulb."
  When the old Ryan stands before the grave of Miller, he asks his wife if he was a good man. "Tell me I have led a good life," he says.
  His wife responds: "What?"
  "Tell me I'm a good man."
  "You are," she says. Ryan, even in his old age, was not sure he had lived a life of meaning, a life that meant something - especially in light of the fact that someone had died so that he might live.

  Many of us were raised with the idea that in order to please God we have to try to be good and hope at the end our good stuff outweighs the bad. Sound familiar? Trouble is, we're never really sure how "good" good really is. Is God just sitting and watching from the heavens waiting to give us a big whack in the back of the head at the end? How do I know God is pleased with me?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Day 20

Q. 31. What is effectual calling?

A. Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he does persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.

“Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,” (2 Timothy 1:8-9, NRSV)

“Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13, NRSV)

Christ walks through the centuries alongside each generation, alongside every generation, alongside every person. He walks alongside each person as a friend. An important day in a young person's life is the day on which he becomes convinced that this is the only Friend who will not disappoint him, on whom he can always count. - Pope John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope (New York: Knopf, 1994).

Philippians2_13  The homeward journey of the human spirit, then, may be thought of as due to the push of a divine life within, answering to the pull of a divine life without. God wants to free us from the power of sin and make us whole. But he will not force our hand against our will. The first essential step towards growth and healing is the desire for change. If we are content to stay as we are, then no amount of coaxing will change us. The Lord manifests his power and saving grace towards those who desire transformation of life in Christ. The Lord approaches each of us with the same probing question: "Do you really want to be changed, to be set free from the power of sin, and to be transformed in my holiness?"

  When God acts to save us he graciously fills us with his Holy Spirit and makes our faith to come alive. Each and every day the Lord is ready to renew us in faith, hope, and love. God wants to fill us with his glory all the days of our lives, from birth through death. Renew the offering of your life to God and give him thanks for his mercy and favor towards you. Do you allow the Holy Spirit free reign in your life that he may set you free from the grip of sin and set you ablaze with the fire of God's love?

  Every call from God is a personal call. God's call comes to us person-to-person. It is not a conference call. Some of us respond by putting God on hold. Others of us use call-waiting and take other calls first. Then there are those of us who try to return the call collect - making God pay for calling us.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Lenten Devotional–Day 19

Q. 30. How does the Spirit apply to us the redemption purchased by Christ?

A. The Spirit applies to us the redemption purchased by Christ by working faith in us, and thereby uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—“ (Eph. 2:8)

“I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5, NRSV)

If I had the wisdom of Solomon, the patience of John, the meekness of Moses, the strength of Samson, the obedience of Abraham, the compassion of Joseph, the tears of Jeremiah, the poetic skill of David, the prophetic voice of Elijah, the courage of Daniel, the greatness of John the Baptist, the endurance and love of Paul, I would still need redemption through Christ’s blood, the forgiveness of sin. - R. L. Wheeler

  After a 20-year struggle with drugs and a backslidden faith, this Hollywood bad boy is now squeaky clean. With a penchant for gospel music and a new lease on life, good guy Gary [Busey] is on the road back to God ....

  Baptized at the age of 12, Busey grew up as a believer, but stardom drew him to the world of drugs. In 1979, Gary received a rock of cocaine from a man who called himself "the devil," beginning the downward spiral of cocaine abuse. So bad was his addiction, Busey was charged with a $10,000 felony and a five-year jail sentence.

Ephesians2_8  Now Busey is walking the straight line, thanks to his renewed faith in Jesus Christ. "I rededicated my life to Christ, to the Promise Keepers, four years ago at Los Angeles Coliseum," says Busey.

  After experiencing a series of nosebleeds, last May Gary found out he had sinovial cell sarcoma maximal sinus cancer. The fact that his cancer was malignant could have caused Gary to waver dramatically in his faith. But Gary says faith in God was what pulled him through.

  Gary took comfort in his communion with God. "My prayer was, 'Dear Lord, I'm filled with fear at this time,' and a voice came through the back of my head - it always comes from the right and into the back - the voice said, 'Replace the word fear with faith.' So I did. And everything got okay." Gary did not exactly know what having faith meant at that time, but he knew enough to believe he would come out a winner either way. - "Gary Busey: Hollywood 'Bad Boy' turns to the gospel,"

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Day 18

Q. 29. How are we made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ?

A. We are made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ by the effectual application of it to us by his Holy Spirit.

“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7, NRSV)

The gospel life isn't something we learn ABOUT and then put together with instructions from the manufacturer; it's something we BECOME as God does his work of creation and salvation in us and as we accustom ourselves to a life of belief and obedience and prayer. - Eugene Peterson in Leap Over a Wall, quoted in Christianity Today, March 1, 1999, 64.

have-holy-spirit  Are you worried because you find it so hard to believe? No one should be surprised at the difficulty of faith, if there is some part of his life where he is consciously resisting or disobeying the commandments of Jesus. Is there some part of your life which you are refusing to surrender at his behest? Some sinful passion, maybe, or some animosity, some hope, perhaps your ambition or your reason? If so, you must not be surprised that you have not received the Holy Spirit, that prayer is difficult, or that your request for faith remains unanswered. Go, rather, and be reconciled with your brother, renounce the sin which holds you fast - and then you will recover your faith! If you dismiss the word of God's command, you will not receive his word of grace. How can you hope to enter into communion with him when at some point in your life you are running away from him? The man who disobeys cannot believe, for only he who obeys can believe. —Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1963), 72-73.

  Faith is both a free gift of God and the free assent of our will to the whole truth that God has revealed. To live, grow, and persevere in the faith to the end, we must nourish it with the word of God. The Lord gives us his Holy Spirit to enlighten our minds that we may grow in his truth and in the knowledge of his great love for each of us. For the apostle Paul, there is an intimate connection between the Spirit and the historic/risen Jesus who is the exalted Lord. For Paul, there is no experience of Jesus apart from the Spirit. The Spirit is the “Spirit of Jesus Christ” for Paul (Phil. 1:19) for “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3)