2021 Lenten Devotional (7 Day)

Lenten   Devotions  continued...

DAY 7  FEBRUARY 24, 2021

Reading: Matthew 4:1-11

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

 

Jesus certainly proved his readiness for the road ahead!  In this reading, He rises above each of the devil’s temptations and teaches us three very important lessons: a. there is more to life than creature comforts; b. God will always protect us, so there’s no need to test Him; and c. why chase after the useless things of this world when God wants to give us all the better things of the next. 

 

My first reaction when reading these verses was: Lord, I wish I were as well-equipped as Jesus proved to be.  I wish I had the strength and stamina to keep fighting. But then I realized that I actually do, simply because He did. Jesus showed us exactly how to do it: through knowledge of Scripture, and through trust in our loving Father and the certainty that Satan is no match for Him.

 

Jesus goes ahead of us into all of the wildernesses of our lives.  Jesus has felt every human emotion we feel.  There is nothing – no temptation, no trial, no struggle, no pain, no fear – that we will ever go through that Jesus hasn’t experienced and already defeated, and He yearns to give His strength to anyone who asks for it with a trusting heart.

 

We must never forget that Jesus himself is inside us.  We can do this, because He already did!

DAY 8

FEBRUARY 25, 2021

Reading: Psalm 22:23-31

23 You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;  stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! 24 For he did not despise or abhor
   the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him. 25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him. 26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord. May your hearts live forever! 27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations  shall worship before him. 28 For dominion belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations. 29 To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him. 30 Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, 31 and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
  saying that he has done it.

 

            “…future generations will be told about the Lord and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn…”  Those words hit me hard when I read them this morning.  When I was a child, my mother raised me in the church, and I grew up with a strong foundation of faith.  Although I strayed, as many do, when I became an adult, and spent much of my life closed off from God, I still had that strong foundation to fall back on years later when I was born again.  Unfortunately, my children grew up during my wandering years, and I never gave them the spiritual foundation my Mom gave me.  It is one of the greatest regrets of my life, as I watch some of them struggle to believe, and some of them not even try to at all.

 

            I pray that you will not make the same mistake I did.  It is so important to keep our children in the center of our relationship with Jesus, so that they know how to turn to Him for all of their needs.  Make this season of Lent a family journey.  As you walk through these 40 days, include your children in some way.  Help them to build a strong spiritual foundation.  Tell them about the Lord, so that someday, with God’s grace, they will “proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn”.

 

Day 9

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 26, 2021

Reading: Romans 4:1-12

 

What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. 5 But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness. 6 So also David speaks of the blessedness of those to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works: 7 “Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; 8 blessed is the one against whom the Lord will not reckon sin.” 9 Is this blessedness, then, pronounced only on the circumcised, or also on the uncircumcised? We say, “Faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness.” 10 How then was it reckoned to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the ancestor of all who believe without being circumcised and who thus have righteousness reckoned to them, 12 and likewise the ancestor of the circumcised who are not only circumcised but who also follow the example of the faith that our ancestor Abraham had before he was circumcised.

 

“…Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the one against whom the Lord will not reckon sin.”  These words from Paul couldn’t possibly strike home with more accuracy, could they?  I don’t know about you, but on a scale of 1 to 10, as a child of God, I spend a lot of time in negative numbers.  I really do try to be righteous, but it always seems to be way out of my reach.  More times than not, I can picture God rolling his eyes and shaking his head at my feeble attempts to do the right thing.  I’m sure all of us need to spend lots of time thanking Him for his unwarranted gifts of mercy and forgiveness.

As we walk with our Savior through these 40 days of Lent, and contemplate what He went through, let us not forget for a moment that everything He suffered was for you and me, so that our sins would not be reckoned against us.  Let us use this season to fully appreciate the kind of love that does that, and maybe practice giving some of that same love to others. 

Where in the world would we be if Jesus wasn’t the Savior He is?  Where in the world would we be if our salvation was left to us to earn?

DAY 10 – FEBRUARY 27, 2021

Mark 8:27-30

27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.”  30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

 

“…who do you say that I am?” 

No one is just one thing.  We are created to be multi-faceted, and who we are depends on each individual relationship.  Who you are to your child is not who you are to your spouse.  Who I am to a good friend is not who I am to a stranger.  Perhaps this is God’s way of helping us meet the individual needs of those in our lives.  Jesus is no different.

At this time in Jesus’ ministry, He is seen by the crowds as unique, but at somewhat of a distance.  What they knew of Jesus was limited to what they had seen and heard.  The disciples, however, had experienced an intimate relationship with Jesus.  They had spoken directly with Him, had shared quality time learning from Him, and had witnessed first-hand both man and God in Him.  So much so that Peter could confidently say, “You are the Messiah.”

            Jesus is accessible to us in the very same way.  We too can build an intimate relationship, by seeking to discover who He is to us, and who we are to Him.  Jesus’ most amazing quality is the ability to fill the holes in us.  He will be whatever you need at whatever moment you reach for Him. He’ll be strength in your weakness; joy, in your sorrow; courage, when you’re afraid; love, when you feel unlovable; and mercy, when you’re in need of forgiveness.  He’ll even give you a thump on the head when you’re going off track! Each of us has different holes in us, and Jesus will fill them all.

 

What is your relationship with Jesus? Who do you say Jesus is? During this Lenten season, I encourage you to spend quality time with Him - in prayer, reading his teachings, and meditating.  What are your deepest holes?  I guarantee that He will fill them all.

DAY 11 – MARCH 1, 2021

Hebrews 1:8-12

8 But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom.
9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” 10 And, “In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands; 11 they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like clothing; 12 like a cloak you will roll them up, and like clothing they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will never end.”

 

“…Lord, you founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands; 11 they will perish, but you remain…”

Infinity has always been a challenging concept for my little brain to fathom.  How can there be no “before” and no “after”? I’m not sure I will ever get it.  But though it is hard to understand, if we want any one thing to be unchangeable and to last forever, it’s certainly God! 

 

There are many disturbing things going on in our world today.  There are fears of Covid 19, and the resulting economic destruction, unemployment, and food insecurity.  There is unprecedented political strife, conspiracy theories, and Constitutional crises.  There is hatred between competing groups of people, and vehement distrust of those who are “unlike us” (whatever that even means).  It can feel like our whole world is going crazy, and that no matter how bad things get, there’s something even worse around the corner.  These are immensely unsettling times!

 

But we are told in this reading that all of this will perish, and that our God will remain.  He is all powerful, against everything this world could ever throw at Him. In a world that changes by the minute, He will never change.  And He will always be in our corner, ready to give us all the comfort, courage and strength we will ever need.

 

This world may be a scary place to be right now, but our God has created a Kingdom that can never be defeated. And through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, we have inherited life in that Kingdom, both now and for all time. What an indescribable gift that is!

DAY 12 – MARCH 2, 2021

Hebrews 11:1-3, 13-19

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3 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 … 13 All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14 for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them. 17 By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac. He who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son, 18 of whom he had been told, “It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you.” 19 He considered the fact that God is able even to raise someone from the dead—and figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.

 

            “All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them.”

            When I was a child, I wanted a pony more than anything in the world.  (It never occurred to me to consider where I would even keep a pony in the middle of Trenton…)  But every Christmas morning, I would get halfway down the stairs and stick my little head through the railing to see if he was under the tree. No pony.

            Throughout the Bible, we see God promise that if we have an abiding faith in Him, He will give us unimaginable gifts.  God is who He says He is and will do the things He says He will do, but it is not up to us when He will do them, and that’s the hard part.  Our flesh wants what we want, how and when we want it, and God doesn’t operate that way.

            This reading reminds us that Abraham, who believed unfailingly in God’s promises and served Him without question until the day he died, never saw those promises while he was alive. That’s hard to read.  But verse 13 tells us that Abraham, and other faithful servants like him, knew that they “were strangers and foreigners on the earth”.

            We are reminded that this is not our home.  We are only here for a short time.   We have yearnings that this world cannot satisfy.  Life will bring its share of disappointments, and we may not see all of the things we yearn for now. God does things in His time, not ours.  He sees our whole picture; we just see one small corner of it.  If we had everything we ever wanted, right now, we wouldn’t get all of the lessons God wants us to have, because we wouldn’t be needy enough to learn them.

            If you are reading this, and you are yearning for promises you haven’t yet seen, remember that this life is just a dress-rehearsal. Like Abraham, you will someday see those promises from a distance.  Trust in your loving Father.  He wants only what is best for you.

DAY 12 – MARCH 2, 2021

Hebrews 11:1-3, 13-19

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3 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 … 13 All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14 for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them. 17 By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac. He who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son, 18 of whom he had been told, “It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you.” 19 He considered the fact that God is able even to raise someone from the dead—and figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.

 

            “All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them.”

            When I was a child, I wanted a pony more than anything in the world.  (It never occurred to me to consider where I would even keep a pony in the middle of Trenton…)  But every Christmas morning, I would get halfway down the stairs and stick my little head through the railing to see if he was under the tree. No pony.

            Throughout the Bible, we see God promise that if we have an abiding faith in Him, He will give us unimaginable gifts.  God is who He says He is and will do the things He says He will do, but it is not up to us when He will do them, and that’s the hard part.  Our flesh wants what we want, how and when we want it, and God doesn’t operate that way.

            This reading reminds us that Abraham, who believed unfailingly in God’s promises and served Him without question until the day he died, never saw those promises while he was alive. That’s hard to read.  But verse 13 tells us that Abraham, and other faithful servants like him, knew that they “were strangers and foreigners on the earth”.

            We are reminded that this is not our home.  We are only here for a short time.   We have yearnings that this world cannot satisfy.  Life will bring its share of disappointments, and we may not see all of the things we yearn for now. God does things in His time, not ours.  He sees our whole picture; we just see one small corner of it.  If we had everything we ever wanted, right now, we wouldn’t get all of the lessons God wants us to have, because we wouldn’t be needy enough to learn them.

            If you are reading this, and you are yearning for promises you haven’t yet seen, remember that this life is just a dress-rehearsal. Like Abraham, you will someday see those promises from a distance.  Trust in your loving Father.  He wants only what is best for you.

Day 13- March 3rd

John 2:13-22

13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

We are a people familiar with political and social unrest. We continue to witness the pursuit of justice in new forms that join a long history of prophetic responses to oppression. For many, there is a deep desire to dismantle the racial and economic systems tearing apart our nation and our neighborhoods. Yet, it is quite controversial in the church to suggest how we ought to respond to these calls for justice.

It can feel uncomfortable to try to navigate a world of chaos and division. Afraid that we might create even more division, we sometimes cling to the familiar. When we turn to this story of Jesus overturning tables in the temple, we see that our God does not shy away from the uncomfortable or controversial.

During the season of Passover, Jesus entered the temple to find people selling cattle, sheep, and doves. In order for people to make the necessary sacrifices, there needed to be an exchange of goods. For the travelers coming from afar to celebrate in Jerusalem, they could purchase their sacrificial animals conveniently upon arrival. This might seem reasonable to us, but Jesus’ reaction is to pour out all their money, turn over tables, and order those selling animals: “stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”

In the Gospel of John, Jesus does not focus in on individual greed, but he seems to critique and order a dismantling of the entire system. This system of the marketplace is not necessary, and he makes no promise to rebuild it. Instead, Jesus turns the disciples’ attention to his own physical body. It is not the physical temple that will be resurrected after three days—it is the person of Jesus who will continue to draw near to offer life even after death.

In this season of Lent, we practice releasing our clenched fists that cling to what is familiar. This is not an easy or passive task; it requires our constant attention to untangle ourselves from systems that seek to dehumanize and to profit off the soul of humanity.

As we engage in this work, this passage reminds us where our God may be found. God is not idly strolling through the marketplace. No, the God we follow breaks through division to bring about justice. We find our God sitting at the well with the Samaritan woman. We find our God sharing the table with those deemed outcasts by religious leaders. We find God not in the foundation of unjust systems, but in the person of Jesus—the one who overturns tables, transgresses boundaries, and continues to draw near.

Prayer

God of Justice, continue to draw near to us, for we know the journey is not always convenient or comfortable. When we find ourselves in seasons of despair, give us perseverance to continue on the journey, wisdom to untangle ourselves from systems of injustice, and courage to be enactors of justice. May we seek your comfort not in the systems that are familiar, but in the one who draws near. Amen.

Day 14- March 4

Psalm 27

Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!

 

I have seen and felt fear bubble to the surface these past months. Family members, colleagues, friends, and I have all shown signs of anxiety or stress due to global, national, and personal circumstances. At times, the fear has been palpable and courage elusive.

When fear overwhelms me and my own faith is shaken, I take comfort in the testimony to God’s strength and faithfulness found in the words of Psalm 27. I have found that when I lose my own footing, the faith of others steadies me for the road ahead. Psalm 27 declares, “The Lord is my light and my salvation! Whom shall I fear?” That confident declaration of the steadfastness of God reminds me that God will also “lead me on a level path.” Sometimes fear isn’t overcome by our own might or will but by having the goodness of God brought to mind by the faithful witness of another.

In this Lenten season, may we find courage together as we wait for the Lord.

Day 15- March 5

John 5:30-47

I can do nothing on my own.

“I can do nothing on my own.” Stunning words from the savior. It takes a certain kind of vulnerability and, dare I say, courage to make such a bold proclamation. I think for most of us it’s easy to say, yes, I cannot do things on my own, yet we often find ourselves trying to carry many burdens on our shoulders. The reason Jesus can so readily admit that he can do nothing on his own is because Jesus knows his life is about doing God’s will. His life is wrapped up in a purpose that stems from the calling God has on his life, which means that he is absolutely incapable of doing anything without God. This is freeing for Jesus. It’s freeing because he can courageously walk in his purpose without the pressure of trying to meet the world’s standards and expectations. Because the world does not define his purpose, only God does.

Jesus sets an example for us to courageously admit our limitations. He shows us that when we do this, it allows God to come into our lives and use us, just like God used Jesus. To transform and change lives for the better. Now go!

DAY 16 – MARCH 6, 2021

Psalm 19

“The heavens are telling the glory of God;
   and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours forth speech,
   and night to night declares knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words;
   their voice is not heard;
4 yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
   and their words to the end of the world.”     

 

Every piece of art contains a personal message; it reveals what was in the heart of the artist who created it.  So it is with God, the ultimate artist of all time.  God began revealing Himself the very first moment of creation, when He started painting this beautiful world just for us. These verses from Psalm 19 remind us of the awesome work of God’s hands, specifically the heavens and the firmament.  God proclaimed His love for us in the splendor of the sun, the moon and the stars, and the infinite vastness of it all.  Why else would He invest so much attention to their beauty, complexity and permanence?  Isn’t a picture worth a thousand words?

God could have made a black and white, shapeless, random world. But instead He gave us clear blue skies, the warmth of the sun, the splendor of a starry night, the beauty of sunbeams breaking through clouds, the power of thunder and lightning, and sunsets painted in colors no one else could ever have imagined!  God could have tossed the planets into space with no plan at all, but instead He timed them with a complex mathematical formula only He could envision.  And it will never change.  Every single morning, the sun comes up in the eastern sky and every single night it sets in the western sky.  It’s been true since the day God created it, it’s true today, and it’ll be true until the end of time.  And it has no limits; there are millions of stars that we haven’t even found yet!

The sky is preaching every day.  With all the nations of the world and all our different languages, the heavens speak in silent words of glory and love that we can all understand.  When I look up at the moon on any given night, I know that in 12 hours, a precious little girl in Taiwan can look up at the same moon and feel her Grand-mom standing next to her.  God loves mankind enough to give us that connection when everything else seems so unconnected.

How can you experience God during this Lenten season?  Look up.  Open your eyes and take in his creation.  Marvel at this magnificent work of art and its divine Artist.  Then praise Him!

DAY 17 – MARCH 8, 2021

1 Corinthians 3:10-23

 

“According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it.  For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done.”

 

 

            When Saul met Jesus on the road to Damascus that fateful day, little did he know that he would be renamed Paul, his heart and soul would be transformed in an instant, and he would be one of the blessed few who would establish the Christian church itself.  And what a master builder he would turn out to be!

 

God chose Paul to introduce Christ and the gospel to the people of Corinth.  With Jesus in his heart, he began the work of building the church and provided a stable “starting point” for everything that was to come after.  In the verses above, Paul reminds the infant church in Corinth, and us, exactly how he did it – by trusting in God’s grace, and building with what he was given: Christ himself, his crucifixion and his resurrection.

 

            As fellow disciples with Paul, we too are builders of the church.  God calls each of us, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, to use the specific gifts He gives us to fulfill that calling.  The same way Paul laid the foundation, we too must be careful to add only bricks that reflect Jesus: bricks made of love and truth, peace and generosity; bricks made of patience, forgiveness, tolerance, and service to others.  Those are the only bricks that will hold together.

There are many useless bricks all around us: bricks made of hatred, judgment and self-interest; bricks made of contention, jealousy, and pride; bricks made from false teaching.  No church, no community of faith, and no ministry built with those bricks will ever stand.

You and I are called to continue building on the foundation Paul laid so many years ago.  How we do that work together will make all the difference.  “…It will be revealed in fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done.”  I am honored to be working alongside of you.  Together, let us do as worthy a job as we can!

DAY 18 – MARCH 9, 2021

Hebrews 9:23-28

 

“[Jesus] has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”

 

            I don’t know about you, but I’ve made a truckload of mistakes in my life. I’ve done so many things I’m not proud of, including turning my back on God for years and years, and more years.  I ask myself over and over again, especially during Lent, why in the world God would see fit to rescue the likes of me.  And why would Jesus give up his throne and leave behind a glorious place like heaven, to come down here into all this sin and darkness?  Why would the Blameless One willingly die for sin that was never his to begin with?  I’ll never, at least not in this life, be able to answer those questions. 

 

But perhaps we aren’t meant to have all the answers. Perhaps we’re just supposed to accept it as truth: Christ was offered, once and for all time, and it is finished!  We can stop beating ourselves up about sins that are already forgiven. We can stop trying to control our destiny by earning our own salvation.  We can stop trying to attain a worthiness we can never attain.  Otherwise, it’s as if God has given us a gift and we haven’t even unwrapped it.  It’s time, once and for all, to accept the freedom Jesus has given us, even though we didn’t earn it and can never pay it back.   

 

It isn’t rocket science -- We will never be good enough.  That’s the whole point of what Jesus did for us.  He knew that we could never measure up, so He measured up for us.  He took on our sin, our pain, our shame, and our condemnation, and while His Father agonizingly turned His face away, Jesus died for us, and rose again.  He wiped us clean, once and for all. It is finished!  The least we can do with such a gift is unwrap it and believe it; the best we can do is share it!

DAY 19 – MARCH 10, 2021

Mark 11:15-19

 

“Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?  But you have made it a den of robbers.”  

 

            So much for “business as usual”!  We don’t often see Jesus overturning tables, yelling and driving people away.  But we do here, when the “business as usual” wasn’t worthy of a “house of prayer”.  The temple was supposed to be the one place where people could go to encounter God, and it had been filled with so much busyness and noise that a visitor couldn’t even think, let alone experience the solemn presence of God.

 

            Sometimes I wonder if we don’t do the same thing.  During the season of Lent, it is especially important for us to experience quiet, uninterrupted time with God.  We can’t do that when we’ve filled our lives with the hustle and bustle of unimportant activities and unnecessary “noise”.

 

            Have you set aside a “temple”, somewhere in your Covid-isolated surroundings, where you can go to fully experience the presence of God? Where you can quietly examine your soul, identify what may be wrong there, and talk to Him about how to make it right?

 

            God wants all of us to have a “house of prayer”.  We may not be able to visit our churches right now, but God doesn’t exist in a building.  Jesus changed that when He became the very temple of God!  You can spend quality time with God wherever Jesus is, and he is right there in your heart.  You just need to turn down the volume!

 

DAY 20 – MARCH 11, 2021

Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22

 

1 O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
   for his steadfast love endures forever.
2 Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
   those he redeemed from trouble
3 and gathered in from the lands,
   from the east and from the west,
   from the north and from the south.

17 Some were sick through their sinful ways,
   and because of their iniquities endured affliction;
18 they loathed any kind of food,
   and they drew near to the gates of death.
19 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
   and he saved them from their distress;
20 he sent out his word and healed them,
   and delivered them from destruction.
21 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
   for his wonderful works to humankind.
22 And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices,
   and tell of his deeds with songs of joy.

 

            In trouble.  Sick from sin.  Enduring affliction.  In distress.  Nearing destruction.   These are all places I’ve been in my life.  How about you?  When I think of where God found me and where He brought me to, I do give thanks for His goodness and His steadfast love.  I do thank Him every day for my blessings, and I’m sure you do too.

 

            But it appears that’s only half of what we’re called to do; it ignores the whole last line of this reading!  I’m sure God is happy that we’re thankful that we’re saved, but if we only share our story with Him, we’re leaving out all of the other people described above, who need so desperately to hear it.  Verse 20 says that God “sent out his word”.  Isn’t there a good chance He often does that through someone who has already been saved?

 

            Evangelizing (that scary word) doesn’t necessarily mean preaching on a street corner, and it doesn’t require knowing how to quote chapter and verse from the Bible.  It can simply mean telling someone that is lost, how you were found. Telling someone that needs to cry out to God, how and when you did, and what happened next.  It simply means telling your story -- where you once were, and how a leap of faith brought you to where you are now.

 

            No one in this world knows your story better than you do.  No one has a better understanding of the difference God has made in your life.  So why not be watchful for the moments and the people God sends you, and then “tell of His deeds with songs of joy”!

Day 21 MARCH 12

Psalm 130

Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD.

 

Crying out from the depths is a real downer. We don’t cry out from the depths until things have gone seriously wrong. I’ve never cried out from the depths because Grubhub screwed up my order. I’ve never cried out because I was stuck in traffic. That’s a different kind of “crying out,” more like acting out.

No, we cry out when the bottom drops out, when death seems inevitable, when it looks like nothing will ever be the same again, when our world is completely shattered. In these moments hope sounds like utter nonsense.

Songwriter Andrew Bird says it well in his song The New Saint Jude, “Ever since I gave up hope I’ve been feeling so much better.” These lyrics are superficially comforting and may provide a chuckle; however, choosing to hope in God’s steadfast love when things have gone seriously wrong takes serious courage. The wisdom of the psalmist is to simply wait. We are often told, “don’t just sit there; do something.” But the more courageous task is “don’t just do something; sit there.” May you have the courage to hope and wait when life goes seriously wrong.

Day 22 - March 13

Psalm 143

Let me hear of your steadfast love in the morning,
for in you I put my trust.
Teach me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.

 

The past season has been tough. Like the ocean during a storm, it has felt like the waves have been huge and unrelenting as they piled on one after another, before the prior one receded out to sea. The stability of my footing has been challenged by a strong undercurrent. The waves are far bigger than me. They overwhelm my ability to see the shore sometimes. But I know it’s there. I count on it being there.

I have chosen on many occasions to wade into rough waters, as a presence and voice in support of justice, equity, peace, and my brothers and sisters. Yet I repent for my own insufficiency. We are all capable of so much better.

Like David who longed to hear the LORD’s voice of loving kindness, I pray to God.
“Let me hear of your steadfast love in the morning.” Mornings have always felt like new beginnings, offering hope and possibility in my life. I walk every morning, lifting my soul to God, finding strength and feeling God's loving presence. I seek direction for my feet. God is my shepherd and shelter. God's love promises new beginnings. I count on that and will continue to pray unceasingly even through the storms that rage on.

Day 23- March 15

Psalm 145 & John 6

The Lord upholds all who are falling... And You offer them bread at the proper time. [ 145:14a, 15b]

 

The invitation came  to consider Psalm 145 and John 6 “through the lens of courage...in this season of my life.” The irony was risible. Stumbling, starving, I was a whimpering mutt, with tail tucked between its legs.

I still am.

My own hope remains in the LORD, whose majesty is equaled by goodness that watches with pity over all. Jesus is the prism through whom I most clearly see divine compassion focused on the famished, fed to their hearts’ content.

In none of the Gospels is Jesus a coward. Unreservedly obedient to his heavenly Father, he is astonishingly free, unshackled from fear, independent of others’ estimates. Well- wishers cannot crown him. Only through voluntary crucifixion does Jesus reign.

Christian disciples point to that Messiah. What this world despises as pusillanimity is in truth God’s redemptive audacity. All other courage is an illusion.

DAY 24 – MARCH 16, 2021

1 Corinthians 10:6-13

 

6 Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. 7 Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.” 8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. 10 And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 11 These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. 12 So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. 13 No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

 

            When it comes to resisting temptation, I don’t set the world on fire.  When God was giving out willpower and self-control, I think I must have gotten in line twice for pigheadedness. Because these verses were definitely written with me in mind.  So it’s good to hear that I’m not alone.  This reading assures us that idolatry, sexual immorality, putting Christ to the test, complaining, and other temptations have been common to people throughout history.  There’s a good chance that certain temptations are more challenging for some of us, and different ones are more challenging for others.  However, we all run up against those things we know we shouldn’t do or say, and somehow we always want to do them and say them!  Being a believer is certainly no guarantee that we won’t be tempted; in fact, it probably makes us an even more inviting target for the devil.

 

            But this reading also brings its share of hope – we’re all a lot stronger than we think we are, and God will never let us be tempted beyond our strength.  I am reminded of words from one of my favorite Christian contemporary songs:

 

                        “There is another in the fire, standing next to me.

                          There is another in the water, holding back the sea.

                          And if I ever need reminding, of what You’ve done for me,

                          I’ll count the joy in every battle, because I know that’s where you’ll be.”

 

            No matter where we are, or what battle we are asked to fight, God has promised always to be standing right there next to us, and He will always show us the way out.  We just have to look for it, trust it, and use it for His glory.

DAY 25 – MARCH 17, 2021

John 8:12-20

 

12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” 13 Then the Pharisees said to him, “You are testifying on your own behalf; your testimony is not valid.” 14 Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid because I know where I have come from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. 15 You judge by human standards; I judge no one. 16 Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is valid; for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. 17 In your law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is valid. 18 I testify on my own behalf, and the Father who sent me testifies on my behalf.” 19 Then they said to him, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” 20 He spoke these words while he was teaching in the treasury of the temple, but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.

 

            Why in the world was it so hard for the Pharisees to see who Jesus was?  We know from Scripture that Jesus had a divine countenance that caused people to drop whatever they were doing, leave everything behind, and follow Him.  Jesus was unlike any other man the Pharisees had ever met.  The very Light of the World was standing right in front of them, and they were clueless.  Maybe if they had stopped asking so many stupid questions, they might have gotten to the truth.  They might have seen what Jesus’ amazing light has shown believers throughout history: what love is; what forgiveness is; what service is; what sacrifice is; and who we can be as children of God.  They could have seen God himself!

 

            But perhaps there are times when we too lose sight of who Jesus is. Times when we get lost in the minutiae of our secular world.  When our faith falters in the face of hard days and long nights.  When we try to put Jesus into the box we need Him to fit into.  When we have more questions than answers.

 

The Light of the World is standing right in front of us too. We know who Jesus is!  Perhaps in those moments when we lose sight of that, we, like the Pharisees, need to stop asking so many stupid questions, a

DAY 26 – MARCH 18, 2021

Psalm 51:1-12

 

1 Have mercy on me, O God,
   according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
   blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
   and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,
   and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
   and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
   and blameless when you pass judgment.
5 Indeed, I was born guilty,
   a sinner when my mother conceived me.

6 You desire truth in the inward being;
   therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
   wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
   let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
   and blot out all my iniquities.

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
   and put a new and right spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from your presence,
   and do not take your holy spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
   and sustain in me a willing spirit.

            One of the many attributes of King David that has always impressed me is his capacity for repentance.  And God knows he needed it!  David was far from sinless, and some of his failings were stunning.  But what stands out the most to me are his wholehearted confessions, every time he failed God, and his steadfast, resounding commitment to learn from his mistakes and to change his ways.  The Psalms are full of them.

 

            In these words from Psalm 26, we see one of David’s many pleas for forgiveness.  It seems possible that this prayer may have come sometime after David committed adultery with Bathsheba. Certainly, these words of agony, brokenness, and great remorse provide us with an outstanding model of devout prayer and repentance.

 

            Let’s face the facts – none of us will ever have “a clean heart” and a “right spirit” on our own.  If we were capable of that, Jesus wouldn’t have had to go to the cross to save us.  But we can, like King David, be honest about our sin, go to our God, tell Him how sorry we are, ask Him for forgiveness and strength, and dedicate ourselves with everything in us to be more like Jesus.  We can’t say we don’t know how to do this!

 

            As we walk together through this Lenten season, it’s a great time to do a spring cleaning of our soul, and as we place all of our sin and regret at the foot of the cross, may God “restore to us the joy of our salvation, and sustain in us a willing spirit”. 

DAY 27 – MARCH 19, 2021

Hebrews 4:14-5:4

 

14 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. 15 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. 16 Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

5 Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; 3 and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. 4 And one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was.

 

            Today’s verses can be extremely comforting to us when we consider everything they say.  Jesus opened up to us the throne of grace, where we can confidently ask for and receive God’s mercy and forgiveness. Jesus is our great high priest, our very access to God.  But in all His glory, he was also a man.  He knows something of the world we live in.  He has personally experienced all of our pain and suffering, our human failures, our temptation to sin, our dark side that constantly struggles to live in the light.  He chose to come here just to understand everything we go through in this life.  Jesus gets us!

 

            And yet He fought through worse battles than we will ever have to.  Job description: Save the World!  Who of us can even imagine the frustration he went through, with just three years to minister, and a stiff-necked world that was more interested in destroying Him than listening to Him.  Who of us can imagine the anguish of knowing full well the horrors that were ahead, and yet faithfully walking the road God put in front of Him. Jesus did it all without once giving in to sin.  He was the only perfect human being. 

 

During Lent and always, Jesus is standing right next to you.  There are no emotions you will ever feel that He hasn’t felt.  There are no battles you will confront that He hasn’t fought and won.  There is no human fear that he doesn’t understand.  There is nothing He cannot help you overcome.  Look to Him as your perfect example.  You can learn from his life here on earth just how to do it.  And even when you fail, you can count on Him to be your source of help and healing.  You are incredibly blessed to have a Savior who knows how it feels to need saving!

DAY 28 – MARCH 20, 2021

John 12:1-11

 

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” 6 (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” 9 When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, 11 since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.

 

            What a beautiful story of devotion!  In these verses we see Mary of Bethany giving a priceless gift to Jesus, an offering that was costly to her in several ways.  The spice that Mary used came all the way from India, imported to Israel at around $24,000 in today’s currency.  Mary was not a rich woman, so her offering was given at great financial cost.  Mary anointed Jesus’ feet, which was the lowly task of a slave.  She lovingly wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair.  Respectable Jewish women never let down their hair in public, yet Mary didn’t give a moment to considering what the men around her would think. A woman’s hair was considered her glory, and she willingly laid down her glory at Jesus’ feet.  Her offering was given at great cost to her pride.  Mary willingly held herself out to the criticism that she surely knew would come, and did.  Her offering was given at great cost to her reputation.

 

            We know that Jesus had recently raised Mary’s brother, Lazarus, from the dead, so it is easy to understand how grateful she must have been.  She may also have known that Jesus’ time was coming, and that her offering would be a way to prepare His body for burial.  It was the very last thing she could do for this man who had changed her life in so many ways. And it can be a model for us of selflessness, thanksgiving and devotion.

 

            Jesus’ time did indeed come, shortly after this reading.  He took my sin and yours onto the cross, suffered unimaginably, and died there, so that we could have the freedom to live out our lives in service to Him, knowing that eternal life is ours.  We didn’t deserve that and we never will, but He gave it freely to us anyway. 

 

            Do you treasure Jesus, as Mary did, more than the things you own, more than your pride, and more than your reputation? As you watch Jesus continue down the dreadful Lenten road to Calvary, what offering can you give Him?  How can you show your gratitude? Perhaps you can do what Mary did and sit at Jesus’ feet, talking to Him and doing what He tells you to.  Perhaps you can spend some time each day giving Jesus what He desires most – your heart.

DAY 29 – MARCH 22, 2021

2 Corinthians 3:4-11

 

 

4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, 6 who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

7 Now if the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stone tablets, came in glory so that the people of Israel could not gaze at Moses’ face because of the glory of his face, a glory now set aside, 8 how much more will the ministry of the Spirit come in glory? 9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, much more does the ministry of justification abound in glory! 10 Indeed, what once had glory has lost its glory because of the greater glory; 11 for if what was set aside came through glory, much more has the permanent come in glory!

 

            I am so grateful that God no longer asks us to live under the old covenant.  Just imagine if we had to depend on perfectly keeping the Ten Commandments in order to be saved!   The Jewish people, all through the Old Testament, studied, interpreted, and reinterpreted those rules.  They wrote down how they thought each Commandment pertained to every single circumstance in their lives.  And we’ve seen how that turned out! The result was a lengthy legal document with which no one could comply. We were dead in the water, and dead for all eternity.

 

            Only Jesus, the single perfect human being could ever fulfill that covenant. So our forgiving God, because He loved the world so much, gave us a second chance through Jesus.  The new covenant was simple: believe in my Son as your Lord and Savior, and through Him, you will have new life, now and for all time.  Rather than a legal “to do” list, God gave us a covenant of love -- a personal relationship with Jesus.  Rather than a hopeless path to condemnation, God gave us a path to pardon, a fresh opportunity to change our heart and live our life in freedom.  And as if that wasn’t enough, Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit, to guide us through all the ethical decisions we’ll have to make and around all the potholes that threaten to swallow us up. We have a new covenant and everything we’ll ever need to keep it. 

 

            During Lent, why not practice using the amazing gift of the Holy Spirit that has been instilled in each of us.  We all recognize Him – that better angel that sits on our shoulder and tells us those hard truths we need to hear, whether we want to or not.  Let’s listen for that voice and do what it tells us.  I bet we’ll find an awesome source of strength and goodness. It will surely help us to live as Jesus did, and who knows, we might even change the world!

Day 30 - March  23, 2021

Psalm 121

The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.

Psalm 121 has become one of my ‘go to’ psalms on days when the world is just too much. This is especially true now as we live through a pandemic. I find that I often glaze over verse 6, but in that one line comes the words we so long to hear: “God is with us!”

Think about it for a minute—God is with us—every day, every night. God is there. Still, I know I often go about my days and nights not giving that a second thought. Yet, it is exactly because God is with me that I have had the courage to face whatever life throws at me. God is with us—in times of joy, times of mourning, and all the time in between. Perhaps in these in between times, if you are like me, you may lose track of God by your side.

We lose track of God’s presence in the cooking, cleaning, work, shopping, laundry—in our everyday life. Sometimes it is the everyday life that takes the most courage—the courage to speak up, to show up, to love and care even when we feel like we are running on empty—for God is with us!

Day 31 - MARCH 24, 2021

Psalm 27

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?

The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

The strength of life.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?”

 

During this Lenten season, my hope and wish is for you to find courage in your daily life. When I look at my own life, I realize that every path I have walked I have seldom walked alone. I have always found courage and strength from those walking with me by my side.

Take a look at the sky, we never know where it begins or where it ends. God’s love is deeply manifested within us, from our beginning to our end. Let’s continue with a stronger faith and trust the journey together.

DAY 32 – MARCH 25, 2021

Philippians 2:1-8

 

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.

 

            It sounds a little bit like Paul is saying: “Can’t we all just get along?”  He is writing to the believers in the early church in Philippi, who were struggling with divisions in their ranks.  Apparently, there were false teachers coming from outside the church, and disagreeing members inside.  We can only imagine the challenge of building the church so soon after Christ’s resurrection.  It was a time when everything was so new to them, and there were serious threats of persecution.  With so many fledgling churches, it must have been frustrating to Paul that he couldn’t be in more than one place at once.  He must have had countless moments when he thought, “God help me. This is never gonna work!”

 

            But isn’t that the human condition?  The modern church is no different; we all struggle with times of disunity.  As long as churches are made up of human beings, there are going to be problems.  When it comes to worship and ministry, we all have our own ideas, and we all know what’s best.  As Paul says, selfish ambition and conceit are plentiful; humility, not so much.  But Paul has the right answer: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”  Jesus gave everything He had for the glory of God alone.  He was the only perfectly humble servant ever.  His eyes were never on himself, but always focused on the needs of others.  And once He saw those needs, he acted to fulfill them, no matter what the cost. 

 

            Like the people of Philippi, we here at St. Bart will surely have our occasional disagreements, but during this coming Holy Week, we can look to Jesus as our ultimate example.  When we do, will see how to be humble, willing to place ourselves and our own interests behind each other’s.  We will see how to sacrifice our own glory for the glory of God.  We will see how to rise above the things of this world that separate us from each other.  Most of all, we will see how to love each other as Jesus loved us.  That love will always unite us.

 

            Jesus knew it wasn’t about Him.  It isn’t about us either.  It’s about God.

DAY 33 – MARCH 26, 2021

Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

 

Open to me the gates of righteousness,
   that I may enter through them
   and give thanks to the Lord.

20 This is the gate of the Lord;
   the righteous shall enter through it.

21 I thank you that you have answered me
   and have become my salvation.
22 The stone that the builders rejected
   has become the chief cornerstone.
23 This is the Lord’s doing;
   it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day that the Lord has made;
   let us rejoice and be glad in it.
25 Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!
   O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!

26 Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
   We bless you from the house of the Lord.
27 The Lord is God,
   and he has given us light.
Bind the festal procession with branches,
   up to the horns of the altar.[c]

28 You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
   you are my God, I will extol you.

29 O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
   for his steadfast love endures forever.

 

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

            Every now and then, I have a day like today when I wake up in a funk, and I can’t seem to pull myself out of it.  It can feel as if I’m treading water and going nowhere; locked in an empty room devoid of any positive emotion; spiritually absent; missing in action.  In my case, it’s clinical depression, and every now and then the medicine doesn’t work as well as it should. But I do know that I’m not alone in this.  All of us have days when we just can’t get it together.  I’ll bet God longs for us on those days, when we fail to see all the gifts around us, including the fact that He’s right there to help.

 

This morning, when I took a moment to stop feeling sorry for myself, I felt God telling me to focus on His Son.  And so that’s what I did; I focused on Jesus.  I saw an innocent man, gathering up everything I’ve ever done wrong, and taking it with Him onto the cross, where it will disappear forever.  I saw a Savior who loved me so much that He was willing to keep walking that dreadful road to Calvary, with all of its suffering and humiliation, just so I can be with Him forever.  What kind of love does that?  And who am I to forget it, even for a moment?

           

            Now I can’t guarantee that my brain chemistry won’t drag me into the occasional funk, but I can do my best to remember that this morning God showed me the way out.  I will remember to look for the Father who loves me just as I am, and the Savior who died for me even though He didn’t have to. I will treasure the kind of love that surpasses all understanding.  And in doing so, I will rediscover that point of light that was there in the darkness all along.  This is the indeed the day that the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.

DAY 34 – MARCH 27, 2021

Mark 10:32-34

 

32 They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; 34 they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.”

 

            Yet again, Jesus is trying to prepare his disciples for what is ahead, and yet again, they probably didn’t want to hear it.  Time and again, they take one step forward and two steps back.  They have flashes of insight, quickly replaced with fear and self-preservation.  One minute they see the truth, and the next minute they run from it.  The fact is, the disciples just couldn’t make themselves hear it.  What Jesus was telling them was not the way it was supposed to be.  They did not want to face it.  And neither do we.

 

            It is hard to go there!  It assaults our senses and brings up emotions we would rather not feel. We love Jesus, and we can’t bear to consider what is going to happen to Him.  The closer we get to Holy Week, the less we want to think about it.  But perhaps we should.  Perhaps we owe it to our Savior to take a hard look at what it cost Him to save us.

 

            At least once during the coming week, shouldn’t we spend some time walking alongside Jesus, without sugar-coating it.  Shouldn’t we allow ourselves to imagine being mocked and spit on, and flogged, and humiliated?  Shouldn’t we try to imagine the shame of carrying all the sins of the world, when you never committed a single one?  Shouldn’t we try to experience the feeling of being rejected by the very creation you came to save.  Shouldn’t we take just a moment to contemplate the loneliness of seeing your Father turn his face away? Shouldn’t we?

 

            I don’t think God expects us to beat ourselves up with guilt.  But if we don’t confront the breadth of what Jesus endured for us, we miss so much.  We miss the strength and courage He showed us; the abiding trust He had in his Father; and his unfailing commitment to obey God’s will.  If we don’t learn these lessons, how can we emulate them?  And if we don’t walk this path with Jesus, we may miss the most important thing He taught us – what real love looks like.  Jesus knew that if we didn’t understand that kind of love, we could never come close to living it.

DAY 35 – MARCH 29, 2021

Psalm 36:5-11

Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.

 

God’s steadfast love extends up to the heavens, God’s faithfulness up to the clouds. Isn’t it interesting that David describes God’s love and faithfulness as extending “upwards”? Although the Reformed insist that God is omnipresent and beyond the confines of space and time, in our ordinary God-talk, we tend to refer to God as being “up above.” According to this typical picture, God’s love should be “coming down.”

 

And yet, if we follow the psalmist’s line of thought, God’s love and faithfulness begin “down” here below, with us, in our mundane experiences, in our daily lives. God, in this psalm, begins with where we are.

 

It’s tempting to look for God in the “big” things, the things that are “up” and “high.” But this passage encourages us in this season, especially as we journey with our Lord Jesus on his march to Calvary, to recognize that God’s love for us begins here below. In fact, God’s love sunk to the depths of hell itself so that we, along with our risen Lord, may rise “up” to the heavens, to the clouds, carried by God’s love and faithfulness until we arrive in our final home.

DAY 36 – MARCH 30, 2021

Psalm 71:1-2

“In you, O LORD, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.

In your justice rescue me, and deliver me; incline your ear to me, and save me.”

 

I am afraid of betraying Jesus. I have denied Jesus many times, yet the possibility to change and grow is always open. Jesus still trusted the young Church in Peter’s hands and so he still trusts us. Each time I think I am the only one who can make a difference is a time of pride and rejection of God’s trust in humanity. Yet, God peeks into my life to remind me of the hope our faith provides and the responsibility to build God’s kingdom with each other. 

The psalm reminds us to embrace our relationship with God because She is our radical hope in each other. Reminded by our call to build a sustainable world, I wake up knowing I have not done enough to fight for  justice.

 

 How could I keep going about my business as usual while the world burns and people are dying? The world will always have pressing problems, and we will only be able to overcome them when we put our trust in God by working with each other.  I am not alone in this struggle and I found radical hope which filled me with God’s grace and purpose. I have to open my eyes and look around to see God working through others to build the Kingdom of God.

 

Lent is a time to grow from our repeated betrayals and exemplify our faith through actions. Just as Peter continued to fight for Jesus after his denials, we too can change. Because of God’s infinite and boundless love for us, we can use Lent as a concerted time to examine our relationship with God and find faith in each other.

DAY 37 – MARCH 31, 2021

Isaiah 58:6-7

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

"Liberation is a praxis: the action and reflection of [people] upon their world in order to transform it."

        – Paulo Freire

My faith changed the moment I learned that Jesus worked to overturn systems of oppression. There was no way around this revolutionary love, which evolves into revolutionary action. And the road to agitate, to disrupt, to challenge systemic oppression is long, difficult, and, at times, lonely. It is a road less traveled, and I’ve found myself wondering if it’s worth it.

 

As I reflect this Lenten season in preparation for Easter, I invite you to join us as we explore various topics and demonstrate some of the ways that we as a community, along with we as individuals prop up systemic oppression and social injustices. Out faith should bring us into the revolutionary nature of what it means to follow Jesus — an invitation to turn our world upside down with courageous love.

Let us ask the questions together, and be transformed as we hold space for and stand in solidarity with our siblings in our community. What does it mean to give up our privilege? How do we gently (and not gently) call one another in to bring revolution in our community so that we can see a transformed world?

Prayer

May God bless you with discomfort
At easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships,
So that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger
At injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
So that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless you with tears
To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war,
So that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain to joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness
To believe that you can make a difference in the world,
So that you can do what others claim cannot be done,
To bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.

DAY 39 – April 2, 2021

Good Friday

Matthew 27:46

“My God, My God… why have you forsaken me?”

We call it Holy Week. But it was a terrible week.

His trial reeked of injustice. His own disciple sold him out for a few pieces of silver, betrayed him with a kiss… and hung himself.

As he was arrested, one of his closest friends disregarded all his teaching on love – pulled out a knife – and cut a guy’s ear off. (Jesus called him out… and healed the other guy). A lot of the stuff that happened that first holy week was pretty unholy.

Once arrested, he was passed back and forth between politicians and bureaucrats. There was Caiaphas the priest, the Sanhedrin council, Pontius Pilate, the crowd – everyone seemed to want him dead, but no one wanted blood on their hands. Even Pilate washed his clean.

 

They had all kinds of accusations… Insurrection. Inciting a riot. Conspiracy. Terrorism (plotting to destroy the temple). Blasphemy.

But all he did was love. And heal. And give people hope.

 

Despite any substantial evidence, witnesses, or signs of any crime committed – he was pronounced guilty and sentenced to die.

As he awaited his fate, he was bullied, interrogated, harassed, tortured, beaten to a pulp. The authorities humiliated him and stripped him naked. They mocked the claims of his divinity – ramming a crown of thorns onto his head and wrapping him in a royal purple robe as they laughed.

 

And so it went. This man who many believe was the holy one that the prophets spoke of, the long awaited Messiah, God incarnate, love with skin on – was executed, brutally. He died with his body convulsing as his lungs collapsed, with vultures swarming overhead, hoping to clean up after the execution. There is nothing more evil than what happened that “Good” Friday.

Most of his friends deserted him and left him to fend for himself. Some of them were so scared they denied even knowing him. Only the women stayed.  The long loneliness was so agonizing, so gut-wrenching, he felt like God had bailed on him. Among his last words were these: “My God, My God… why have you forsaken me?”

But even though it was a gruesome week – love gets the last word. We call it “Good” Friday because it wasn’t just death that made the news – but resurrection. The empire, the cross, the bloodshed was not the end of the story. On the cross Jesus made a spectacle of evil – he exposed the hatred we are capable of. And he triumphed over that hatred with love. He died with forgiveness on his lips. Just as he came to set the oppressed free, he also came to set oppressors free.

Holy Week is not just about the resurrection – it is also about the cross. Without Good Friday there is no Easter. But we can’t leave Jesus on the cross. In the end this is a resurrection story. Holy week is about a God who suffers with us – bleeds with us, cries with us, hopes with us. As we celebrate Holy Week, let’s connect the passion of Christ with the passion of the streets. As we remember the violence inflicted on Jesus, we remember the crucified peoples of our world, the victims of violence today.

DAY 38 – April 1, 2021

Maundy Thursday

John 13:34-35:

 

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

 

The various Christian holy days that occur during the season of Lent and Easter were never a big deal in my family when I was a kid.  I don’t recall ever attending an Ash Wednesday or a Maundy Thursday service. Nor did we observe any kind of reverent meditation on Good Friday.

 

So when I became a Lutheran,  I didn’t know what to expect. However, Holy Week it’s become one of my favorite services of the church year.  It could be the simplicity I enjoy so much. Or maybe the solemnity. Perhaps that’s part of it. But tonight, Maundy Thursday is special because of the brutal honesty of it. 

 

The story told on Maundy Thursday is not a feel-good tale.

 

Jesus is betrayed and handed to the authorities by one of the Twelve. His closest disciple, Peter, denies knowing him not once, but three times. He is brutalized and humiliated by his Roman jailers before being condemned to a horrific death on the cross. The story is one of betrayal, denial, pain, and sacrifice.  

 

 I ask as simple question to you tonight: "where were you?"

During the last supper in the upper room, “where were you at the table”.

During Jesus’ arrest at Gethsemane, “where were you in the crowd”.

And finally, during Jesus’ crucifixion, “where were you at the cross.”

 It was people just like us who broke bread with Jesus. It was people like us who betrayed Jesus. And it was people like us who stood by while Jesus was brutalized and crucified. And if I’m honest, I find myself in this story today. I feast at the table of abundance while the majority of humanity suffers from want and deprivation. I turn away while society relegates millions to lives of hunger, homelessness, illness, and hopelessness. And most troubling of all, I stand mute while society takes its revenge on the condemned through “capital” punishment, which is nothing more than state-sanctioned murder. Even today, in our own way, we continue to brutalize and crucify Jesus in the form of “the least of these” who walk among us.

I believe that Jesus has walked among us many times since his death almost 2000 years ago.  

Jesus was among those murdered in the WWII death camps.  

Jesus was a black man lynched in the Jim Crow south.

Jesus was a prisoner executed for a crime he did not commit.

Jesus was among the men, women, and children slaughtered at Wounded Knee.

Jesus was a gay teenager beaten to death in Utah.

Jesus was the man who froze to death in a lonely bus stop in Dallas this winter.

Jesus is among the young people speaking out against gun violence and climate change, pleading with adults to ensure their safety and guarantee their future. Jesus walks with these children that some mock and spit on, just as he was mocked and spat upon 2000 years ago.

And Jesus is a refugee huddled at our border seeking safety and protection from the violence in their home countries. He waits patiently for Christians to act in harmony with their faith and welcomes them with love and compassion. 

Jesus walks among us to see if we truly understand the meaning of his life and death and to see if we live our lives accordingly.

 

Jesus will not return to Earth in power and glory to restore the Kingdom until we fulfill this commandment and do our part to bring about the Kingdom in the here and now.  

How many times will we reject Jesus when he comes to us as the weak, the oppressed, and the marginalized living as our neighbors?

DAY 40 – April 3, 2021

Low Saturday

John 19:14-15

 

It was the day of Preparation of the Passover (Sabbath); it was about noon. “Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.

But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”
 

Holy Week began with Jesus’ triumphal entry on Palm Sunday. The parade-like atmosphere became a pseudo enthronement of Jesus when disciples laid down cloaks and palm branches on the road before Jesus as they processed to the temple. He was being celebrated as the coming king, bringing peace and glory (Lk. 19:38b) to the Holy City, Jerusalem.

A few days later the Last Supper took place which was the Passover Seder. Here Jesus washed his disciples’ feet in a demonstration of one who came to serve rather than to be served, setting them an example of true servanthood. He also used this opportunity to inaugurate the Sacrament of Holy Communion in remembrance of him.

Later that evening he was betrayed and arrested, tried by a Sanhedrin kangaroo court, and turned over to Pilot. Pilot had Jesus whipped, and the soldiers mocked him. The crowd called for his crucifixion even though Pilot found no fault in him. Fearing a riot, Pilot gave in to them, and so Jesus was murdered on a cross on the day called Good Friday.

Soon he would arise on Easter Sunday, the most holy day of the Christian year. It is a grand celebration of the resurrection, and the reason we exist as the Church. His death and resurrection validated everything he said and did, and it assures us of eternal life.

But then comes Saturday. Saturday seems so anticlimactic. Nothing happened so Saturday is called Low Saturday. Some Christians recognize it as Holy Saturday, the seventh day of Holy Week. In a sense this is the day on which Jesus “rested” from his work of ushering in salvation. As he died, Christ called out, “It is finished!” the atonement had been achieved.

In the text above, John refers to Saturday as the “day of Preparation.” This was the day before the Sabbath. It was spent in “preparation” for this special Sabbath—the Sabbath of the Passover week. The Jews were scrupulous about allowing no work such shopping or preparing meals. All that had to be done the day before. So the Jew prepared for Sabbath on Saturday. Recall the Jewish day runs from 6:00 pm to 6:00 am. So we see why it was necessary for Jesus’ two friends had to finish the burial the sun went down (John 19: 38-42).

Consequently as God rested on the day God finished the work of creation week, so Christ rested on the day after he finished his work of redemption for the world. In a spiritual sense, Christ had recreated the world.

A questioned is begged then: “For what do you prepare on Low Saturday?” Are you prepared to receive the risen Christ into your life? Are you prepared to take up your cross and follow him? Are you prepared to serve him by humbly serving the world in some way in his name? If you are a pastor, are you prepared to go to the cross for your people and the Gospel?

You have one day to reflect on all the events of Holy Week and what it means for you and what you mean to God. Low Saturday may be the most important day of your life.

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Saint Bartholomew Lutheran Church

1746 South Clinton Avenue

Trenton, NJ 08610

609-393-6060

stbartlutheran@gmail.com

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