Friday, February 26, 2010

Lenten Series: Readings from the Liturgy of the Hours-Listen Up!

Please take a look at the post from 4/1/2009 to see how this blog works.

Sometimes when God speaks to his people he can be very direct. That is certainly the case in the passage we will consider today. It is taken from the gospel reading for the Second Sunday of Lent.
"This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him." Luke 9: 35

Peter, John and James had accompanied Jesus to pray with him on a mountain. While there, Jesus takes on a glorious, heavenly appearance and Moses and Elijah appear with him. The fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets is speaking to the very representatives of the Law and the Prophets. This glorious gathering overwhelms the disciples, literally, and they are dumbstruck by the whole event. But in the midst of this glimpse into the heavenly realm, while their attention is grabbed by God like never before, they are told that Jesus is God's unique Son and they are to listen to him.

Let God now have your full attention for some time now and let these words that fell on the very ears of disciples of Jesus now fall on yours. Listen and respond to the Spirit of God as he points you to Christ and directs you to listen to him.

Surely, the most unique aspect of our faith is grace. We receive the love of God and his full pardon for all of our sins out of his compassionate heart and the imputation of his righteousness. But I catch the note of urgency of our obedience in this passage. Certainly "listen to him." implies more than suggestion. It is necessary to continually do what Jesus says so that we can effectively serve him and prevent the error of listening first to ourselves. Also, God makes no mention of them paying any particular regard to the transfigured appearance of his Son, the presence of Moses and Elijah, nor the enveloping cloud of glory. No, instead God tells them, and us. the focus should remain on Jesus and on what he has to tell us. In other words, "Disciples, listen up!"

Father in Heaven, give me the determination and wisdom to pursue your Son with the ardent intent to listen to him. Make my mind sharp and my heart soft so by listening, I can be transformed to the person who pleases you by obedience and humility. Give me the grace to boldly say yes to all that you call me to do. Amen

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Lenten Series: Readings from the Liturgy of the Hours-Is My Heart Really In This?

Please take a look at the post from 4/1/2009 to see how this blog works.

In our conversations with God over his Word, it can be amazing how much we can be changed by the fewest of words. Today our passage appears during the morning hour (Lauds) and comes from the prophet Joel. It is not even one half of a verse.

Rend your hearts and not your garments. Joel 2:13a

Joel's prophecy seems to have been written just after a severe locust plague had struck Palestine. The people of God had been enjoying a high degree of prosperity and peace. but spiritually and morally they had declined greatly. Now the prosperity had been devoured and questions had emerged concerning the security of their nation and their families. It was clear that this reversal of fortune was God's way of bringing about a change of direction in the spiritual condition of the people. Whatever they had lost in the plague and whatever they feared from ambitious enemies had coalesced into a challenge to reconsider their priorities and lifestyles. They needed repentance. And so, the people put on all of the externals of repentance: fasting, mournful singing, donning sackcloth or tearing their own clothing. But apparently, this was not what God was after. In the verse just before our passage, 2:12, God is saying this has to be done with all your heart. Is this what was missing in Israel? Could this be missing in me this Lent?

This could be tough. But let's be bold at this point and speak to God through this passage and let him speak to us; our behavior and our disposition. I encourage you to take time, and let God's Spirit lead you to a heart to heart with your Father.

What an unexpected encounter for me this was. I had a vivid picture of myself rending (tearing) my shirt. It had an abrupt, almost violently destructive sense to it. Certainly an extreme element associated with the behavior. I spent the next 40-45 minutes considering what it would mean to do such a work to my heart. A torn shirt has lost its value. The fact that I did the tearing says that I have displaced its value. Perhaps God is telling me that the valuable things that fill my heart must be displaced as well. Not to say those things in and of themselves are worthless, but they become that way if they are valued ahead of my love for and obedience to God, himself. Specifically, my heart toward my loved ones, my heart toward the ministry, my many loves in the culture; the arts, athletics, academics, and so much more, all of these may be rivals for my affection rather than demonstrations of my allegiance to my Creator. And what of those lesser and darker things residing in my heart. I frequently harbor them rather than seek their displacement. And yet, I hear God's beckoning word, "...rend your heart and not your garments." When it comes to repentance, is my heart really in this?

Lord of all, even of my heart, give me the grace to return to you again and again when I displace you with a rival for my affection and attention. Teach me to abruptly and violently rip the fabric of my loves if they at all begin to displace you, the rightful First One of my heart. I ask this in the Name of your Son, Jesus.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Lenten Series: Readings from the Liturgy of the Hours-Our Value to God

Please take a look at the post from 4/1/2009 to see how this blog works.

In the hour called Lauds, there is a reading from 1Kings 8:52-53. This is the concluding part of King Solomon's prayer of dedication for the Temple he built for Israel. Here's what it says:
May your eyes be open to your servant's plea and to the plea of your people Israel, and may you listen to them whenever they cry out to you. For you singled them out from all the nations of the world to be your own inheritance."
This king, this son of David, is interceding on behalf of his people that God would see when his people are needing him as well as listen to the concerns of their hearts. Moreover the basis of Solomon's confidence that God will do this careful oversight of the people is because they are his choice and his very own inheritance. What a declaration of the value God assigns to us. We are choice and comprise the sum total of what rightfully flows to him-an inheritance.

Let's take some time now to in silence and contemplation to hear the voice of the Spirit of God in this small part of the Word of God. Read or say aloud the verses, considering each word or phrase and listen in stillness for God to you.

A couple of things have resounded in my heart. All of them relate to how care-ful the Father is toward me. It gives me courage to know that when I am in need and calling out to God, not only does he hear me, but he sees, too. He really shows up, on the scene, watching me while he is watching out for me. I am the kind of person who cares about the needs of others...most of us are. But when my own child is in need, I want to be there, get there and stay there until the crisis is over. God, the Father is the same and for the same reason...I am his child. But also, curiously, his inheritance. This sin-spoiled, self-oriented, holiness deficient rebel, who was at one time an enemy of God, i.e.,me is declared to be everything that should rightfully flow to God. Huh? What should flow to God is all honor and glory and praise. Those are rightfully his. But here he tells me that being and living as his chosen child must be an honoring, glorious and praiseworthy thing to him. So, I will seek, by his help and not by my own merit or ability, to bring him honor and glory and praise by living joyfully as his son.

Father, what seemingly inordinate value you place on me! Yet, this is just another of the wonders of you grace and full pardon. When I am in need or danger or just plain lost, I will call to you. Based on your word I believe you will not only hear me, but you will see me and visit me in my distress. Help me to, this day and tomorrow too if it is granted to me, live in a manner that will allow glory, honor and praise to flow to you. It is all yours, only yours. Amen.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lenten Series: Readings from the Liturgy of the Hours

Please take a look at the post from 4/1/09 to see how this blog works.

The next series of posts will be based on Scripture texts from The Liturgy of the Hours. For almost two years now I have made it a regular, mostly daily, practice to use this traditional prayer-book as a means of adding greater discipline to prayer in my life. Ideally, one attends to prayer at seven intervals during the day (the "hours" and not 60 minutes in length!). During each hour there are passages from the scriptures that are to be read or recited; frequently passages from the gospels, epistles, and psalms. The posts made between now and Easter will be taken from these passages.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. This liturgical season is a time of challenging confrontation with our thoughts and behaviors that are inconsistent with God's best way for us. Throughout Lent we are called to return to a right path while at the same time reminded of our inability to be righteous and do right without the grace and power of God at work in us. Ash Wednesday's reading during Vespers (the evening hour) is from Paul's letter to the Philippians, chapter 2 verses 12 and 13:
-continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

In context, Paul is urging Christ's followers to consider how Jesus was submitted to the Father as an example to us. That obedience of the Son ultimately brought to us the way to be saved from our sins and made acceptable to God. We are then commanded to walk out this work of God most seriously (with fear and trembling.) But our hope for being able to do so does not lie within us, it is in God, Himself who gives us both the heart and the help obey this command.

Take some time now to hear this word of direction for life from the Holy Spirit and converse with God about how you should respond today in your life. Listen to him give you assurances of his help, even to the point of giving you the heart to turn and obey.

The words, "it is God who works in you" remind me to look at the temptations to be less than loving, oriented toward selfishness and dismissive of others, as places where God can and will do the job in me. I am seldom able to avoid the temptation, but I can see in them a God at Work sign. Moreover this is really part of his overall plan for my life.

Father in heaven, I wait with expectancy as you go to work in me, and I yield today to your life altering plan for me. I am humbled by the realization that this work is all part of your purpose for me and for your Kingdom.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Mission: Messiah

Truth. Straight up. Nothing to dilute it. No qualifying statements, no amendments, exceptions or exclusions. Myth-busting, clarifying truth. We search the scriptures for it. And when we find it, acquire it, apply it, there is a fusion between truth and life. Sometimes we come across a verse, a passage of scripture that is so raw in the truth it expresses that we are almost jolted by it. Surprised, not because the concept is new to us, but how simply and clearly it is stated. Our verse, today, 1Tim. 1:15, is one such passage.
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am chief.

The first chapter of the apostle Paul's letter to Timothy is a reminder to his protege of his important task of bringing correction to some of the false teaching that has sprung up in the church at Ephesus. Timothy is to refute these errors by contending for the true, core teachings of the gospel. In the middle of this reminder, the Holy Spirit, through the heart of Paul, gives Timothy (and us) a clear, foundational saying regarding the mission of the Messiah: ...Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
Mission: Messiah...its object...sinners.
...its them.
Among the many things said and taught about Jesus Christ, His words and works, what must have primacy is his mission to save us, sinners. Calling us sinners is not meant to be a pejorative. "Sinner" is descriptive. It's a label appropriate to our condition. And this condition is not one that needs improvement or remedy. It's fatal and certain. From such a peril comes but one hope. We must be rescued, delivered, saved! In addition, those with whom we have contact, a relationship, some affinity. They too, are sinners and as such are in dire need of saving. Are we open to serving the Lord by reaching boldly out to family, friends and others we encounter, so they can be saved, too?

Let's set aside some time now to consider this strong, vibrant saying of Paul. Let's meditate on our state of need and how much we are beneficiaries of Mission: Messiah. Take your time...spend some time...and let God speak to you through His Word.

Throughout my time of considering this verse, I found myself wanting the full benefit of Jesus' primary mission. I want to be saved from sin. I trust in the cross of Christ having paid the penalty of my sins, but I long to be fully delivered from the blindness and selfishness that not only still exists, but at times is being cultivated by me. I long to be continually sanctified and separated from that which is not submitted to my Savior. Moreover, I want to participate in a more intentional way with the Messiah's mission. To give witness and words to those around me who need the same saving I have both received and still crave.
O Father, continually grant me the awareness of your ongoing mission, through the work of Your Son, to save sinners. Work mightily in me. And by Your grace, work mightily through me. Amen.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

How You Know the Father's Love

God loves you. A vital and life changing truth, isn't it? Do you recall the first time you believed it for yourself? None of us are the same after such a revelation. And, as good as it is to know the concept of God's love for us, don't you think it would help if we let the scriptures and God's Spirit bring some specificity, some depth to that immensely important truth? Give some attention to this passage from 1 John:
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! 1 John 3:1

1 John was written to encourage early believers who were being battered about due to all kinds of false teachers and all kinds of worldly pressure. The Apostle John was urging his friends to stand strong in their faith and to embrace a confidence that comes from a right relationship with God. In what is virtually the center of the letter, our verse appears. It reminds them (and us) that the core truth of our faith is in the great love of God. But specifically it is a Father's love. It is a love that has been lavished on us. It is a love that secures us as children of God.
Take some time now and let your Father speak to you of His great love for you...
I can imagine that what God may have spoken to your heart was personal...totally related to your life with Him and your life ahead. But I find it both amazing and comforting that when I am under pressure; when I am encountering much that is false surrounding me, I am uplifted and carried by the love of my Father and my privileged role as His child.
Share with us in the comments section what you have found by listening to God speak of His love for you.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

What's New?

The Book of Revelation is a boundless source of passages for Lectio Divina. The first couple of chapters mostly contain words of Jesus to His churches. John's depiction of heavenly worship and the songs of the angels and saints-what richness to contemplate and consider! For us in this session I have chosen Revelation 21:5a. "He who was seated on the throne said,'I am making everything new.'"

These words are the first spoken aloud by God, Himself since Rev. 4:1. Now, at the end of Revelation He is speaking again. The Book of Revelation has disclosed heavenly visions, with Christ on the throne, angels and saints adoring Him. From that same throne, judgment is meted out to the earth and its inhabitants until finally Satan, the Antichrist, and the False Prophet are overthrown by an angelic army. When this occurs, a Final Judgment is delivered to Satan and the fallen angels, along with all humans who have rejected the gospel of Jesus. They are cast into the place of the Second Death, the Lake of Fire. The righteous angels and believers are introduced into the new realm of eternal life: the New Heaven, the New Earth, and the New Jerusalem. It is at this time, on the brink of a whole new history, that God speaks of the continuity as well as the invention of his ways: "I am making everything new."

What strikes me is the amazing commitment God has to His Creation. He is not creating everything all over again. He is taking that which is fallen, feeble, and yes, even faithless, and making all of it new. This is the excellent work of Our Master-He makes us (and everything else) new. Let's take some time and quietly consider what this declaration in Revelation 21:5 speaks into our own lives...
Take some time now to walk with God's Spirit and let Him speak to you concerning this Word!
I found the encouraging promise that the "me" that God loves is being changed-made new-by the promise of His Word and the power of His Spirit. He loves the "me" that I am, but He proves that love by helping me become the "me" of His design. Throughout my redemption, I pray I will be continually open to and submitting to His plan to make in me and around me all things new