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)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Day 17

Q. 23. What offices does Christ execute as our Redeemer?

A. Christ, as our Redeemer, executes the offices of a prophet, of a priest, and of a king, both in his estate of humiliation and exaltation.

“Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb. 4:14-15)

The prophet was an individual who said No to his society, condemning its habits and assumptions, its complacency, waywardness, and syncretism. He was often compelled to proclaim the very opposite of what his heart expected. His fundamental objective was to reconcile man and God. Why do the two need reconciliation? Perhaps it is due to man’s false sense of sovereignty, to his abuse of freedom, to his aggressive, sprawling pride, resenting God’s involvement in history. - Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets

WordBecameFlesh  Mike Horton of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals says, We're raising our children to become atheists by turning Christ into little more than a football coach. ... I think it competes with His role as Savior if this is the primary message that people are getting. I don't think that Christianity is preventative. Christ has His three offices, prophet, priest and king. And certainly a prophet tells us how we should live as well as being a priest who lives in that place and fulfills the obedience that we couldn't deliver on. And a king rules us, but that's very different from simply giving us helpful hints on how we might be able to live a more fulfilling life. - Jamie Lee Rake, Door Interview: Mike Horton, The Door, March-April 1999, 20.

  “An enduring contribution is Calvin’s treatment of the work of Christ as mediator between God and humanity as expressed in a threefold office of prophet, priest and king. This tied the work of Christ to the covenant history of Israel in that prophets, priests, and kings in ancient Israel were all “anointed.” Christ as “prophet” is the teacher of perfect doctrine who conveys “perfect wisdom” to us. As king, Christ reigns over the church and enables us to pass through the miseries of the world with the assurance that “our King will never leave us destitute, but will provide for our needs until, our warfare ended, we are called to triumph.” As priest, Jesus Christ is our “everlasting intercessor” who through his death has “washed away our sins, sanctifies us and obtains for us that grace from which the uncleanness of our transgressions and vices debars us.” Jesus’ sacrifice was a willing self-sacrifice – not the demand of a wrathful or vengeful “Father-figure.” Jesus Christ was both “priest and sacrifice.” Jesus Christ was both “priest and sacrifice.” These biblical roles of prophet, priest, and king are ways of understanding what Jesus Christ has done. They link his work with God’s work in ancient Israel.” – Donald K. McKim, “Introducing the Reformed Faith”, p. 94.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Third Sunday in Lent

Q. 22. How did Christ, being the Son of God, become man?

A. Christ, the Son of God, became man, by taking to himself a true body and a reasonable soul, being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and born of her, yet without sin.

“the Word became flesh and lived among us and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

The angel says, "Oh, God, please don't send me back to Earth again. It's terrible. What can I do with these people? Please don't make me go back again, please!...What? I don't have to go? You mean it? I don't have to go? Oh, thank you, God, thank you! What? What? You mean-you're going?!" -Madeleine L'Engle, Penguins & Golden Calves: Icons and Idols (Wheaton, Ill.:H. Shaw, 1996), 106.

WordFlesh  The affirmation that everybody is made in the image of God is supplemented in Christianity by the belief that God was somehow fully present in a particular human body that lived in a particular time and place, the body of Jesus of Nazareth. The church has used the word incarnation to describe the conviction that God was incarnate, enfleshed in a body that ate and drank, slept and woke, touched and received touch. This body also suffered a death as painful and degrading as any human beings have devised. Early Christian testimony that this body also lived again after death shapes a profound Christian hope that undergirds the practice of honoring the body. Whatever else it means, the resurrection of Jesus suggests that bodies matter to God. And they ought to matter to us, too. — Stephanie Paulsell, Honoring the Body

  There was a Benedictine Monastic community where no one came to visit. As the monks grew old, they became more and more disheartened because they couldn't understand why their community was not attractive to other people. Now in the woods outside the monastery there lived an old rabbi. People came from all over to talk to him about the presence of Yahweh in creation. Years went by and finally the abbot himself went into the woods, leaving word with his monks, "I have gone out to speak to the rabbi." (It was of course considered humiliating that a Christian community had to go back to the synagogue to find out what was wrong with them.)

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Day 16

Q. 21. Who is the Redeemer of God’s elect?

A. The only Redeemer of God’s elect is the Lord Jesus Christ, who, being the eternal Son of God, became man, and so was, and continues to be, God and man, in two distinct natures, and one Person forever.

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.” (Gal. 4:4-5)

“For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all —this was attested at the right time.” (1 Timothy 2:5-6, 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).

  Pastor and author Max Lucado describes some of the weak views people have about Christ: For some, Jesus is a good luck charm. The "Rabbit's Foot Redeemer." Pocket-sized. Handy. Easily packaged. Easily understood. Easily diagramed. You can put his picture on your wall or you can stick it in your wallet as insurance. You can frame him. Dangle him from your rear view mirror or glue him to your dashboard.

galatians-4  His specialty? Getting you out of a jam. Need a parking place? Rub the redeemer. Need help on a quiz? Pull out the rabbit's foot. No need to have a relationship with him. No need to love him. Just keep him in your pocket next to your four-leaf clover.

  For many he's an "Aladdin's Lamp Redeemer." New jobs. Pink Cadillacs. New and improved spouses. Your wish is his command. And what's more, he conveniently reenters the lamp when you don't want him around.

  For others, Jesus is a "Monty Hall Redeemer." "All right, Jesus, let's make a deal. For 52 Sundays a year, I'll put on a costume - coat and tie, hat and hose - and I'll endure any sermon you throw at me. In exchange, you give me the grace behind pearly gate number three."

  The Rabbit's Foot Redeemer. The Aladdin's Lamp Redeemer. The Monty Hall Redeemer. Few demands, no challenges. No need for sacrifice. No need for commitment.

  Sightless and heartless redeemers. Redeemers without power. That's not the Redeemer of the New Testament. - Max Lucado, Six Hours One Friday (W. Publishing, 2004), pp. 89 & 90.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Day 15

Q. 20. Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?

A. God, having out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace, to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer.

“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.” (Titus 3:4-5)

"God doesn't lose heart! Beginning with creation God keeps coming up with creative, imaginative ways to respond to our destruction, our refusals, our ignorance and stubbornness and sin. God comes after us and will never stop. Jesus keeps saying this: that he has come to search out what is lost, to find and heal the broken-hearted, to bring good news to the poor. That is what Jesus is here for - unconditional love. God just keeps devising more and more mysterious and humble and spirit-filled ways to get us to be human and love back." - Megan McKenna, from "Parables"

Midway along the journey of our life
   I woke to find myself in a dark wood.
   for I had wandered off from the straight path.
How hard it is to tell what it was like.
   this wood of wilderness, savage and stubborn
   (the thought of it brings back all of my old fears).
A bitter place! Death could scarce be bitterer.
   But if I would show the good that came of it
   I must talk about things other than the good.
How I entered there I cannot truly say.
   I had become so sleepy at the moment
   when I first strayed, leaving the path of truth...” - Dante, The Inferno, I. 1-12, p. 76

Titus34  “Before we were born, God knew us. He knew that some of us would rebel against his love and his mercy, and that others would love him from the moment that they could love anything, and never change that love. He knew that there would be joy in heaven among the angels of his house for the conversion of some of us ....

  In one sense, we are always traveling, and traveling as if we did not know where we were going. In another sense, we have already arrived. We cannot arrive at the perfect possession of God in this life, and that is why we are traveling and in darkness. But we already possess him by grace, and therefore, in that sense we have arrived and are dwelling in the light.” - Thomas Merton in Mornings With Thomas Merton, cited in Christianity Today, July 13, 1998, 72.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Day 14

Q. 19. What is the misery of that estate where into man fell?

A. All mankind, by their fall, lost communion with God, are under his wrath and curse, and so made liable to all miseries of this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell forever.

“They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden …., and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.” (Gen. 3:8)

“He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.” (Genesis 3:24)

"G. K. Chesterton once likened this world to the desert island site of a shipwreck. A sailor awakes from a deep sleep and discovers treasure strewn about, relics from a civilization he can barely remember. One by one he picks up the relics - gold coins, a compass, fine clothing - and tries to discern their meaning. According to Chesterton, fallen humanity is in such a state. Good things on earth still bear traces of their original purpose, but each is also subject to misinterpretation or abuse because of fallen, 'amnesiac' human nature." - Sins of the Body: Ministry in a Sexual Society, ed. Terry Muck (Carol Stream, Ill.: Christianity Today; Dallas: Word, 1989), p. 63.

Lent_2012_02_WEB  “We don’t actually break God’s laws. They are still standing whether we obey them or not. To try to break God’s law would be like trying to break the law of gravity. If you try it, you’ll discover the law always wins. But when we violate God’s law, it breaks us. That is what guilt and shame is all about. Until we know we are forgiven, we will never walk again. We will certainly never make it home.” - Searching for Home: Spirituality for Restless Souls, M. Craig Barnes, p. 90

  “The real home for which we yearn isn’t the place where we grew up or the new place we’re hoping to build, but the place where we were created to live. Paradise. When Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden, we are told that God placed an angel with a flaming sword at the eastern gate. It is the Bible’s way of saying that all of life is now spent east of Eden. In other words, as the saying goes, we can’t go home again. Paradise has been lost. The yearning for it is the only trace that remains.” - Searching for Home: Spirituality for Restless Souls, M. Craig Barnes, p. 90

  “We weren’t created to roam about the earth lost and confused. We were created to live at home with God, which is what defines paradise. Like Adam and Eve, we didn’t realize that at the time because there was something forbidden in the middle of the garden that we couldn’t have.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Day 13

Q. 15. What was the sin whereby our first parents fell from the estate wherein they were created?

A. The sin whereby our first parents fell from the estate wherein they were created was their eating the forbidden fruit.

“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, ... she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.” (Gen. 3:6)

Free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. The happiness which God designs for his higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they must be free. - C. S. Lewis

  A student once asked Dr. Carlyle Marney, "Dr. Marney, where was the Garden of Eden?" Marney answered, "215 South Elm Street in Knoxville, Tennessee."

  "Ah, c'mon, you're kidding me," said the student. "It's supposed to be somewhere in the Middle East, isn't it?"

  "Well, you couldn't prove it by me," Marney replied. "For it was there on Elm Street, when I was a boy, that I stole a quarter out of my Mama's purse and went down to the store and bought some candy and ate it, and then I was so ashamed that I came back home and hid in the closet. It was there that Mama found me and asked, 'Why are you hiding? What have you done?'"

Romans8-28  Each of us has our own Eden where we first betrayed our highest principles and purposes, discovered that there was a shadow-side within us and tried to hide from the reality of our deception. What happened to Adam and Eve is the story of all of us ...."

  Today the serpent still whispers in our ears that “we have a right.” This phrase has become one of our favorite words in contemporary society, “I have a right to live without loneliness”, and “I have a right to happiness,” without realizing we need to make the life giving choices. The lie tells us we don’t need to make the right choices, we simply have the right. The lie always appeals to our deepest anxiety and it’s too appealing to resist.

  Actually, we could have resisted, but we didn’t so now we can’t. Which is what John Calvin was trying to say in his doctrine of human depravity. We’ve become junkies to the serpent’s lie, and we keep believing that the next thing we reach for will make everything just right. It never does.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Day Twelve

Q. 14. What is sin?

A. Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.

“But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 3:21-24, NRSV)

Sin is a breach of nature, a death of the soul, a disquiet of the heart, a weakening of power, a blindness of the sense, a sorrow of the spirit, a death of grace, a death of virtue, a death of good works, an aberration of the spirit, a fellowship with the devil, an expulsion of Christianity, a dungeon of hell, a banquet of hell, an eternity of hell. - Meister Eckhart 

  We are too Christian really to enjoy sinning, and too fond of sinning really to enjoy Christianity. Most of us know perfectly well what we ought to do; our trouble is that we do not want to do it. - Peter Marshall

Lent-40Days  What is wrong with the human race? Scripture tells us our basic problem is sin. The human condition is characterized by attitudes, actions, emotions, and human character which distort the image of God in which we are created. Therefore, as humans, we fail to live in the ways God desires, we treat God and others in ways that are not loving and just, and we hold attitudes in which our own self-interests are primary. We have lost, distorted, perverted, or broken the “image of God.” We do not now reflect God in our lives. We no reflect the image of God to others through our lives. We have taken hold of our own agendas and we live with our primary intention being to go our own ways instead of seeking God’s ways for our lives.

  In the New Testament, the writings of Paul conveys the picture of humans as sinners. For Paul, the power of sin is very real. It affects every person “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). It relates to the origins of the human race, “sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin” (Rom. 5:12), brings alienation and estrangement from God (Eph. 4:18), and leads ultimately to death, “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). The power of sin is so strong that it is ultimately only God’s actions in Jesus Christ that can overcome it and break its effects, Therefore just as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man's act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all” (Rom. 5:18).

  The bad news about sin is that “all have sinned” and all are guilty (Rom. 3:23, 5:12). The worse news is that it leads to death (Rom. 6:23). Yet this is not the final biblical word. There is hope. For “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 6:23) and “in hope we were saved.” (Rom. 8:24)

Monday, March 17, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Day Eleven

Q. 13. Did our first parents continue in the estate wherein they were created?

A. Our first parents, being left to the freedom of their own will, fell from the estate wherein they were created, by sinning against God.

“They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden …., and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.” (Gen. 3:8)

Original sin is in us, like the beard. We are shaved today and look clean, and have a smooth chin; tomorrow our beard has grown again, nor does it cease growing while we remain on earth. – Martin Luther

Genesis3  Michael R. Nichols writes: "I myself am a Presbyterian, and we do believe in original sin. I've always thought that if you are going to sin, you ought to be original about it."

  He tells the story of driving home to see his mother, and passing on the highway a great big church with a lighted board out front, on which they put slogans and sayings for the edification of the saints and sojourners. "That week the motto was, 'If you're done with sin, come on in.' I got a little closer, and someone had written in lipstick, 'But if you're not quite through, call 272-0200." - Nichols, "Finding Your Own Lake Wobegon: The Healing Power of Humor," Hometown Humor, USA, ed. Loyal Jones and Billy Edd Wheeler (Little Rock, Ark.: August House Publishers, 1991), 209-10.

  Dallas Willard writes about a 2½ year old girl in her backyard who one day discovered the secret to making mud (which she called "warm chocolate"). Her grandmother had been reading and was facing away from the action, but after cleaning up what was to her a mess, she told little Larissa not to make any more chocolate and turned her chair around so as to be facing her granddaughter.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Second Sunday in Lent

Q. 12. What special act of providence did God exercise towards man, in the estate wherein he was created?

A. When God created man, he entered into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of perfect obedience; forbidding him to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, upon the pain of death.

“The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.  And the LORD God commanded the man, "You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die." (Genesis 2:15-17, NRSV)

There is nothing wrong with letting God know what we want, as long as we do not mistake our list for the covenant. The covenant has no conditions. The covenant is no deal. It is God's promise to be our God, which contains within it the promise that we shall be God's people -- not by our consent, but by our creation. - Barbara Brown Taylor, Gospel Medicine, as quoted in Christianity Today, April 27, 1998.

  The really important thing in life is not the avoidance of mistakes, but the obedience of faith. By obedience, the man is led step by step to correct his errors, whereas nothing will ever happen to him if he doesn’t get going. - Paul Tournier

second_6350c  The term obey would be better expressed by the word use. For instance, a scientist uses the laws of nature; that is, he more than obeys them, he causes them to fulfill their destiny in his work. That is exactly what happens in the saint’s life. He uses the commands of the Lord, and they fulfill God’s destiny in his life.

  It is not what we do that matters, but what a sovereign God chooses to do through us. God doesn’t want our success; he wants us. He doesn’t demand our achievements; he demands our obedience. It is only by obedience that we understand the teaching of God. - Oswald Chambers (1874–1917)

  Jesus tells a story about two sons. Jesus describes the father whose expectations are clear. "Go work in the field," he says with authority. The first son refuses outright, yet after reflection, thinks better of his rebellion and goes out to the vineyard. Despite his initial resistance, he obeys his father.

  The second son is more devious. He puts on a good face and immediately agrees with his father's request; however, his actions do not measure up to his words. He ignores his father's wishes and never appears in the vineyard. Jesus asks the critical question, "Which of the two did the will of his father?"

  It's not the first son's words that are important to Jesus, but his actions. Jesus allows room for complaining and verbal resistance. The first son, despite his original reluctance and outward show of rebellion, soon chooses obedience. He follows the will of his father and does the work to which he is called. The second son, however, only talks a good game. He promises much and produces nothing of value.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Day Ten

Q. 11. What are God’s works of providence?

A. God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.

“The LORD is just in all his ways, and kind in all his doings.” (Psalm 145:17, NRSV)

And yet you are never alone. Let yourself be plumbed to the depths, and you will realize that everyone is created for a presence. There, in your heart of hearts, in that place where no two people are alike, Christ is waiting for you. And there the unexpected happens. — Brother Roger of Taizé, Parable of Community

  I saw full surely in this and in all, that ere God made us he loved us; which love never slackened, nor ever shall be. And in this love he hath done all his works; and in this love he hath made all things profitable to us; and in this love our life is everlasting. In our making we had beginning; but the love wherein he made us was in him from without beginning; in which love we have our beginning. And all this shall we see in God, without end. - Juliana of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love

Listen my people, mark each word.
I begin with a story, I speak of mysteries
welling up from ancient depths,
heard and known from our elders.
We must not hide this story from our children
but tell the mighty works and all the wonders of God.
      - Psalm 78:1-4, version unknown

cross2  “Providence” comes from the Latin meaning “to provide for” or “to foresee.” Most broadly, it refers to God’s divine plan through which the whole creation will eventually come to God’s ultimate goal. It describes God’s working within human history, sustaining creation, and accomplishing God’s purposes in and through history. This understanding of God’s work is perceived by faith, as events within the lives of believers are seen as expressions of God’s guidance and direction.

  God preserves the creation. God’s care for the world is to preserve that which has been created as it has been created and to sustain all things so that they can continue to exist. God’s providence also governs or guides the creation, God is at work within it. God works in the world, in human history, and in individual lives to guide all things to God’s final ends or purposes. God’s purposes are being carried out through all God’s activities. These purposes are for the whole world as well as for those who believe in God and have faith in Jesus Christ.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Day Nine

Q. 10. How did God create man?

A. God created man male and female, after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, with dominion over the creatures.

“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Gen. 1:27)

Annie Dillard once summed up a day like this: “All day long I feel created.” (Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm, New York: Harper & Row, 1977, p. 25)

  Ronald Patterson tells this story about his early training in pastoral care: "One day many years ago, as part of my training, I worked at Boston City Hospital as a chaplain's assistant. I was assigned to a prison ward, and one of the prisoners there was a big-time drug dealer. It was my duty to visit him because he was very ill. Well, with the half-hearted pseudo-compassion of the typical do-gooder, I did my duty. Later, I confessed this to the Roman Catholic nun who was my supervisor. I said, 'How can I go and pray with this man who is ruining the life of this city? He deserves his illness and a whole lot more.' Do you know what she said to me?

NewCreation  'Patterson, who died and elected you God? Somewhere deep within that man, covered by the layers of pain and denial and every rotten thing he has ever done, there is the kernel of God's image. Your only job is to see that spark; and the only way you can ever see it is to forget everything else about whatever anyone else has told you about right and wrong and believe with your whole heart that the spark is there. He, too, just as much as anyone you will ever meet, is a child of God's love."' - Recalled and preached by Dr. Ronald M. Patterson, Shiloh Church, Dayton, Ohio

  We sometimes forget God created all of us, even though some individuals in our society behavior less than human. As scripture reminds us God created us “very good” and both the confession and scripture tells us God created us “after his own image.” God intended far more for us within his creation than we often expect from ourselves. Later, the Shorter Catechism will deal with the question about sin, which not only forces us to live east of Eden separated from Paradise, but separates us from the love of God and his creation.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Day Eight

Q. 9. What is the work of creation?

A. The work of creation is God’s making all things of nothing, by the word of his power, in the space of six days, and all very good.

“By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.” (Heb. 11:3)

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.

  Words, words, words. Our society is full of words: on billboards, on television screens, in newspapers and books. Words whispered, shouted and sung. Words that move, dance and change in size and color. Words that say, "Taste me, smell me, eat me, drink me, sleep with me," but most of all, "buy me." With so many words around us, we quickly say: "Well, they're just words." Thus, words have lost much of their power.

character-of-god  In our world words have lost their power to create much other than confusion and frustration, but in scripture and in our answer today for question #9, God’s word has the power to create.

  Still, the word has the power to create. When God speaks, God creates. When God says, "Let there be light" (Genesis 1:3), light is. God speaks light. For God, speaking and creating are the same. It is this creative power of the word we need to reclaim. What we say is very important. When we say, "I love you," and say it from the heart, we can give another person new life, new hope, new courage. When we say, "I hate you," we can destroy another person. Let's watch our words. - Henri J.M. Nouwen, Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith (HarperCollins: 2006), 11.

  In a Time magazine article called "What was God thinking?" (November 14, 2005), Eric Cornell says, "Let me pose you a question, not about God but about the heavens: 'Why is the sky blue?' I offer two answers: 1) The sky is blue because of the wavelength dependence of Rayleigh scattering; 2) the sky is blue because blue is the color God wants it to be. My scientific research has been in areas connected to optical phenomena, and I can tell you a lot about the Rayleigh-scattering answer. Neither I nor any other scientist, however, has anything scientific to say about answer No. 2, the God answer. Not to say that the God answer is unscientific, just that the methods of science don't speak to that answer.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Day Seven

Q. 8. How does God execute his decrees?

A. God executes his decrees in the works of creation and providence.

"But ask the animals, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you; ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this?  In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being.” (Job 12:7-1, NRSV)

I am convinced one of the joys of heaven will be discovering the hidden ways that God, in his sovereignty, acted in our lives on earth to protect us and guide us so as to bring glory to his name, in spite of our frailty. As I look back over the years, however, I know that my deepest feeling is one of overwhelming gratitude.

I cannot take credit for whatever God had chosen to accomplish through us and our ministry; only God deserves the glory, and we can never thank him enough for the great things he has done. - Billy Graham, "God's Hand on My Life," Newsweek, March 29, 1999, 65.

  Holiness comes wrapped in the ordinary. There are burning bushes all around you. Every tree is full of angels. Hidden beauty is waiting in every crumb. Life wants to lead you from crumbs to angels, but this can happen only if you are willing to unwrap the ordinary by staying with it long enough to harvest its treasure. - Macrina Wiederkehr, O.S.B, "A Tree Full of Angels"

Lent 2013 Journey  Both the Old and New Testaments show us a God who is thoroughly involved in creation. God sustains the physical creation, the universe and all within it. The book of Psalms is rich source of praise to the God who has created and who continues to care for the world. God also sustains humans within the creation. Yet, God not only sustains and upholds, God also guides. God guides both individuals and, in the Old Testament particularly, the nation of Israel.

  The story of Joseph is a prime example. After facing the hatred of his brothers and slavery in Egypt, Joseph rose to a position of prominence. When he met his brothers after his father’s death, he was able to say: “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good” (Gen. 50:20) Joseph was conscious of God’s guiding and directing his life to carry out God’s purposes.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Day Six

Q. 7. What are the decrees of God?

A. The decrees of God are his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.

  “In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will,” (Eph. 1:11, NRSV)

“We seldom realize fully that we are sent to fulfill God-given tasks. We act as if we were simply dropped down in creation and have to decide to entertain ourselves until we die. But we were sent into the world by God, just as Jesus was. Once we start living our lives with that conviction, we will soon know what we were sent to do.” - Henri J. M. Nouwen

  You belong to God, and he takes it seriously. He gave his Son so you could be his. Don't make the mistake of thinking that God's commitment to you is only as strong as your commitment to him! You may fail from time to time, you may have a hard time keeping your promises, some days your heart may be cold and your faith may be weak. The good news is that God doesn't change his mind about us as often as we change our minds about him. As far as he is concerned, you belong to him, and nothing will change that.

10ephesians1_1112-vi  Paul in his writings to the early church piles up words to address God’s eternal purpose addressed in our question today: “predestined,” “purpose,” “counsel,” and “will.” Paul believed and emphasized God’s plan for His creation and that God is capable of fulfilling His plan. One such statement Paul made in Ephesians, “He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will,” (1:5) Paul means that God chose us to obtain an inheritance in Christ. But, Paul’s point is that everything we have in Christ is due to God’s eternal purpose to save us.

  Paul says that the reason we have been chosen to receive an inheritance in Christ is that God predestined us according to His purpose; and, He is the God who accomplishes all things after the counsel of His will. In eternity, before He created the world of space and time, God freely determined His purpose and plan, which is all for His glory. As stated in the first answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism our chief end is “to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever” and how to accomplish this purpose is further defined in each subsequent question and answer.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Day Five

Q. 6. How many Persons are there in the Godhead?

A. There are three Persons in the Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.

“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,” (Matthew 28:19, NRSV)

Mystery and meaning are not opposites. Rather, a mystery is something that has more meaning than we can comprehend. - Kirk Kilpatrick, as quoted by Dennis Covington, “What Do Coincidences Really Mean?" Redbook, August 1995, 44.

  At the very heart of Christian spirituality there is a notion called "the Trinity." It's so central that one of the great theologians of the 20th century, Karl Barth, said, "Trinity is the Christian name for God."

  “What too many Christians do not understand is that before the Trinity was ever a doctrine or a theology about God, it was an experience of God rooted in a relationship with God. The problem today is that because we have lost our Trinitarian grounding, we don’t know what to do with Trinitarian experiences. In fact, we can be afraid of the full range of Trinitarian spiritual experiences, and so we end up in a limited relationship with God. What is a Trinitarian spiritual experience? It is an experience of God that is open to God as God fully is, not necessarily as we want God to be.” - N. Graham Standish, “Discovering the Narrow Path: A Guide to Spiritual Balance”, p. 70.

Romans814  “… exploration of the Trinity is a spiritual, relational, and experiential exploration, and not a purely theological one.” - N. Graham Standish, “Discovering the Narrow Path: A Guide to Spiritual Balance”, p. 70.

  In Romans 8, Paul doesn’t try to line out a systematic theology of how God works. He uses Trinitarian terms interchangeably — the Spirit, Father, Christ — but doesn’t try to make it a treatise on metaphysics. Rather, Paul sees God at work in a uniquely relational way, both within God’s own nature and with humans.

  After admonishing his Roman readers in verses 12-13 to discern the difference between living in the flesh (focusing on the self-oriented life) and the Spirit (focusing on the God-oriented life), Paul then shifts the language to relationships — “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:14-17) Whatever the Trinity is in being, the purpose of God, the three-in-one/one-in-three, is to bring humans back into relationship with God, rescuing us from having to try to define ourselves through self-destructive pursuits.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Lenten Devotional – First Sunday in Lent

Q. 5. Are there more Gods than one?

A. There is but one only, the living and true God.

“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. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 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. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, NRSV)

The first and foremost duty of Israel, even before monotheistic devotion and striving to love God, is to listen. "Hear, O Israel.”

  God is one—we are not bi-theists or tri-theists. Therefore, we join with our Jewish friends in the great prayer called the Shema: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." (Deut. 6:4–5). Known as the Shema - the Hebrew for the first word of this imperative command: "Hear."

shema-barbara-rhodes  Just as we find ourselves at times, the people of ancient civilizations were fearful of being alone in a wild and unpredictable world. These men and women created a host of gods who could be safely located in available shrines and temples. It was important that these gods have both faces and voices. Temples were decorated with elaborate statuary and pictures of what the god looked like.

  It is hard for us today to realize just how radical Israel's call to monotheism was. Its rejection of idols was scandalous in the ancient world. The people of Israel could not have had a more counter-cultural message. The primary text of Israel, recited twice every day, was called the shema from its first word: "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength."

  As John Ortberg stated about monotheism, “The text did not read, "O Israel, think for yourselves. Go with your gut. Maximize your bliss. You are the autonomous center of the universe." - John Ortberg, “Who Is This Man?” The tragedy of life and of the world is not that people do not know God; the tragedy is that, knowing Him, they still insist on going their own way. - William Barclay, The Revelation of John, v. II. How do you "insist on going your own way?" What part of your life are you holding back from God?

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Day Four

Q. 4. What is God?

A. God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.

“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24)

  All that which we call the attributes of God are only so many human ways of our conceiving that abyssal All which can neither be spoken nor conceived by us. And this way of thinking and speaking of God is suitable to our capacities, has its good use, and helps to express our adoration of him and his perfections. . . Omnipotent love, inconceivable goodness, is that unity of God which we can neither conceive, as it is in itself, nor divide into this or that. William Law (1686–1761)

  Augustine once said, "One can know what God is not; one cannot know what he is." “Since it is God we are speaking of, you do not understand it. If you could understand it, it would not be God.” Augustine, Sermons

GodIsSpirit  Do we want to contemplate his power? We see it in the immensity of the creation. Do we want to contemplate his wisdom? We see it in the unchangeable order by which the incomprehensible whole is governed. Do we want to contemplate his munificence? We see it in the abundance with which he fills the earth. Do we want to contemplate his mercy? We see it in his not withholding that abundance even from the unthankful. - Thomas Paine (1737–1809)

  Barbara Brown Taylor says: "The power of God is now and has always been the power to raise us from the dead. Period. It is not about us. It is about God." - "Easter Sunday," Christianity Today, April 3, 2000, 72.

  The attributes of God, though intelligible to us on their surface yet, for the very reason that they are infinite, transcend our comprehension, when they are dwelt upon, when they are followed out, and can only be received by faith. - Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801–1890)

  C.S. Lewis, once said, "Everyone has warned me… 'The ordinary reader does not want theology; give him plain, practical religion.' I have rejected their advice. I do not think the ordinary reader is such a fool. Theology means 'the science of God,' and I think anyone who wants to think about God at all would like to have the clearest and most accurate ideas about him which are available."

Friday, March 7, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Day Three

Q. 3. What do the Scriptures principally teach?

A. The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.

“But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31)

“the Old Testament book of Psalms gives great power for faith and life. This is simply because it preserves a conceptually rich language about God and our relationships to him. If you bury yourself in Psalms, you emerge knowing God and understanding life. – Dallas Willard, “The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering our Hidden Life in God.” , p. 65

Micah68  As important the content of the Bible is, the Presbyterian catechisms, creeds, and confession refuse to limit the Bible to being a textbook full of true ideas about God and life. The Bible is also a meeting place, a place of encounter. As we go to the Bible, God comes to us and speaks to us, becoming for us a living presence.

  In his book Experiments with Bible Study, Hans-Reudi Weber tells a story from an East African village:

A simple woman always walked around with a bulky Bible. Never would she part from it. Soon the villagers began to tease her: “Why always the Bible? There are so many books you could read!” Yet the woman kept on living with her Bible, neither disturbed nor angered by all the teasing. Finally, one day she knelt down in the midst of those who laughed at her. Holding the Bible high above her head, she said with a big smile: “Yes, of course there are many books which I could read. But there is only one book which reads me!”

  E. Dixon Junkin, former Associate for Discipleship and Spirituality in the Presbyterian Church (USA), reminds us that "our commitment is not to 'study' Scripture but to 'listen' to it. It is not as if Scripture were a subject like mathematics, a useful tool that we learn, nor is our goal to analyze Scripture as if it were any other piece of literature. We are not out to learn Scripture as we would various historical facts. The point of our reading is less to master the words of the Bible than to offer ourselves to be mastered by the Word to whom they point." - As quoted in The Gospel and Our Culture 5 (June 1993), 7.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Day Two

Q. 2. What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?

A. The Word of God which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.

“and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” (2 Tim. 3:15-17)

“The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me.” – Martin Luther

  In the Westminster Shorter Catechism each question and answer builds upon the previous question and answer, giving us a picture of how we are to understand and practice our faith as disciples of Jesus Christ. In sum, the first answer tells us that we are at our most human when we glorify and enjoy God, and the second answer informs us that we need the scriptures contained in the Old and New Testaments to know how to glorify and enjoy God.

lent-cross-2012  Dwight L. Moody, in his Edinburgh crusade, spoke to a large congregation of very young boys and girls. Moody began his sermon with a question: "What is prayer?"

  He wasn't expecting an answer, but the words were no sooner out of his mouth than hands raised all over the hall. The evangelist, stunned into departing from his script, asked one boy for his answer. The young child immediately said this: "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." Moody, recognizing that the words were from the Shorter Catechism, declared: "Thank God, my boy, that you were born in Scotland."

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Lenten Devotional – Ash Wednesday

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?

A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31)

Honor and glory are indeed due to God and to Him alone, but He will accept neither of them if they be not preserved in the honey of love. Love is sufficient of itself; it pleases by itself and on its own account. Love seeks no cause beyond itself and no fruit. It is its own fruit, its own enjoyment. - Bernard of Clairvaux

  A person walks up to an information counter and asks the clerk, “What’s the meaning of life?”  This joke has appeared in many forms over the years. The comic line is that no clerk could possibly give an adequate response to such an impossible question. We would all find ourselves scratching our heads attempting to give a suitable answer. However, the very first question asked in the Westminster Shorter Catechism comes close to posing a similar question, what is the “chief end” of humanity? In other words, what were we chiefly given to do here upon this earth? What is the meaning of life?

lentDust  To glorify and enjoy God – what a compelling and beautiful answer to our chief end in life. For a while, we rest quiet and in awe of the statement and then we discover ourselves saying, “Wait a minute – how? How can human beings glorify and enjoy God?”

  Something, similar is at work in the opening line of the Scots Confession, which uses four verbs to describe our relationship to God. “We confess and acknowledge one God alone, to whom alone we must cleave, whom alone we must serve, whom only we must worship, and in whom alone we put our trust.” (Scots 3.01) The Westminster Shorter Catechism makes the same point when it describes “the chief end of man” as “to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever” (7.001). Unfortunately, there is little in our society that prepares us to find joy in service or subordination. When we do manage to take pleasure in the glory of another, more often than not it is a misplaced fascination with the rich and famous, film stars and sports heroes. The Reformers remind us that only God is worthy of such glorification.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Introduction to Lenten Devotionals

“GOD IS ALWAYS calling us! But there are distinctive moments in this call, moments which leave a permanent mark on us — moments which we never forget.” - Carlo Carretto, Letters from the Desert

AJourneyThroughLent  About the time, I was in seminary in the mid 1970’s, I discovered for myself the significance of the Lenten season. Lent opened up for me a vigorous period of spiritual growth and formation. A time when I could journey to the cross and join together with the whole church, past and present, in being a witness to Jesus’ resurrection. In the late 90’s, I started to share this journey with the congregations I served by developing a Lenten Prayer and Devotional Guide. (Early editions were hard copy printed booklets and have now evolved into an internet based edition, i.e., blog and e-mail)

  This year I decided to base the Daily Lenten Devotionals on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. A hallmark of Presbyterian heritage has been educational ministries and the Book of Confessions (particularly the catechism) were created to instruction us. We need instruction in the faith, because faith is not just a matter of the heart and soul; it is also a concern of the mind. "Speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ" (Ephesians 4:15).

  The Second Helvetic Confession states that "the pastors of the churches act most wisely when they early and carefully catechize the youth, laying the first grounds of faith, and faithfully teaching the rudiments of our religion by expounding the Ten Commandments, the Apostles' Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the doctrine of the sacraments, with other such principles and chief heads of our religion." (Book of Confessions, 5.233)

  The catechisms in our Book of Confessions (the Heidelberg and the Westminster Shorter and Larger Catechisms) were written, in part, as teaching tools. The question-and-answer format helps students to learn the common elements of faith according to the Reformed tradition. When I was a youth in the Tower Presbyterian Church in Grove City where I grew up, we studied and memorized the 107 questions and answers of the Westminster Shorter Catechism during Sunday school. Many Presbyterians over the age of 50 can still cite at least the first question: "What is the chief end of man?

  Lent seems an appropriate time for us to remind ourselves of our basic beliefs, as disciples of Christ within the reformed tradition. I have selected 47 of 107 questions and answers of the catechism in this devotional. My hope is that you will take some time to read some of the other confessions and catechisms of the church. You can download a PDF file of the Book of Confessions from the Presbyterian Church, (U.S.A.) web site.

  This Lent I want to challenge you take the time to dedicate yourselves to experiencing the spiritual enrichment of the entire Lenten journey. To stir-up our desire for a relationship with God, we need to begin by listening as God tells us, "You are precious in my eyes and I love you." [Isaiah 43:4] Through these Daily Lenten Devotionals, I hope you will be stimulated to think about the church, our traditions and beliefs, your involvement, your prayers and our desire to discern God’s will as the body of Christ.

  Also don’t keep what you read, pray, think and experience a secret (at least not all of it). Share your thoughts and ideas about the daily selections with others and pray for the future ministry and mission of our church and our life together as the Body of Christ. Use this time of Lent to give God the opportunity to speak to your heart and life in some unique and surprising ways.

NOTE: Each daily devotional has a list of Lectionary Readings for the day, but these scripture readings are not directly related to the subject of the daily devotional text.

Suggestions for Using these Devotions

1. Set aside time each day to read the selection for the day, time to think about it and time to pray.

2. Give yourself time to sit quietly and simply rest in the presence of God. Give God the opportunity to speak to your heart. Listen for God’s still small voice within your prayers.

3. We all know at least five individuals who do not know Christ and/or have no church home of their own. Write those names on a note card and make a point to pray for these individuals daily. Consider sharing with them a link to this blog in an e-mail message and invite them to attend worship with you. Pray that God might use you as a witness in their lives. 

4. Pray for all those you know who are sick, ill, injured, lost or having any problems in their lives.

5. Keep a prayer journal and record all the people and things, which have been the subject of your prayers and record God’s response to those prayers.

6. Pray for the all ruling elders on the Session, whom we have selected to lead this congregation. Pray that God will empower them as spiritual leaders for this congregation. Pray that God will give them vision, knowledge and purpose as they do their work for the mission and ministry of the church in the twenty-first century.

7. And lastly pray for the pastor, I sure could use them. Pray that God will make me a better preacher, a better teacher, and better pastor to all I meet, giving Glory to God in all that I do.

Scripture quotes used in this year’s 2014 Daily Lenten Devotionals are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, unless otherwise stated. "New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved."