February 24, 2013
February 25, Day Eleven
Morning - Psalm 39, Genesis27:1-29, 1 Corinthians 5
Evening - Psalm 50, Jeremiah 4:23, John 10:11-21
Commentary, John 10:11-21
The Good Shepherd is Jesus who gives His life for His sheep. Jesus knows His fate and walks without hesitation toward the cross. People have been tempted to reduce Jesus to a mere social/religious reformer who was killed for His efforts. But Jesus makes it clear that His death was an intentional sacrifice for us. No one took His life from Him; He laid it down of His own accord to bring His people into one fold, which is His Church. We must not read verses16 and 18 without also reading verses 4 and 5. Christ came to lay down His life for His sheep. His sheep know His voice, follow Him, and will not follow another. These aspects of God's sacrifice and human response are essential elements of the Gospel of Christ.
Self examination is an honest look at the whole tenor of our lives. We have looked at the way it includes attitudes and thoughts, now we finally look at the self examination of our actions. Are they sinful? Do they honor God? Do we sin by inaction; by failing to do what we know we should? In more Biblical language, do we hear and follow the voice of Christ? Do we flee from the hirelings, the thieves and the predators? Or do we happily follow them to our doom?
February 26, Day Twelve
Morning - Psalm 41, Genesis 27:30-40, 1 Corinthians 6:1-11
Evening - Psalm 51, Jeremiah 5:1-9, John 10:22-38
Commentary, John 10:22-38
John 10:22 finds Jesus in
Jerusalem for the Feast
of Dedication, known to us as Hanukah.
The "Jews" of this passage are the religious leaders who live
in Judea and who oppose Jesus because He is a threat to their power and
money. Two things stand out in this
passage. First, Jesus gives eternal life
to His sheep (10:28). Jesus is stating
again His reason for coming to this planet.
He came to lay down His life for His sheep, so we can have eternal life
in Heaven with Him. We see His face set
boldly toward the cross, never faltering, never turning aside, always moving
toward it with faith and determination.
Second, we see a clear statement of His Divinity. He calls The Father "My Father,"
and says, "I and the Father are one" (10:30). The Jews understood this as what it was, a
direct answer to their question, and a claim to be nothing less than God
Himself (10:31). Again it is stated that
His sheep hear His voice and follow Him, while those who are not His sheep do
not hear Him or believe in Him (10:26).
Let us hear His voice.
We have not completed our self-examination until we have also given serious attention to our motives for doing what we do, for our motives are at least as important as the things we do. The Pharisees spent hours in prayer and fasting, and gave extravagantly to the
Temple and synagogue. Yet Christ had no praise for their actions
(Mt. 23:14). Why? Their motives were wrong. They did it to be known for doing it, rather
than for God. James tells us one reason
God refuses to give what we ask in prayer is that we ask amiss, for the wrong
motives, that we may consume it upon our own lust, rather than for the glory of
God (Jas.4:1-3). Simon wanted power to
bestow the Holy Ghost, but his motives were impure (Acts 8:18-21). It is difficult to honestly examine our
motives, yet we cannot really begin to confess and repent until we know what
motivates us in our daily activities.
February 27, Day Thirteen
Morning - Psalm 56, Genesis 27:46-28:22, 1 Corinthians 6:12
Evening - Psalm 65 and 67, Jeremiah 5:10-19, John 11:1-16
Commentary, John 11:1-16
John 11 finds Jesus going back into
He had left the area to stay in Perea, east of the Jordan River, though
He travelled widely during this time, making trips to Galilee and Judea. Much of this time was spent teaching the
Twelve, but He also took time to preach and teach the multitudes that followed
Him. In today's reading, He crosses
again into Judea to raise Lazarus, showing that He has power over death. This is an important step on Christ's journey
to the cross. He has already said that
He lays His life down of His own accord and no man can take it from Him (see
Jn. chapter 10). Now He shows His power
over physical death. There is no doubt
about Lazarus' death (11:14). Our Lord waited for him to die before going to
him because He wanted to show His authority one more time before going to the
cross. In a sense, Lazarus represents the spiritual condition of all people
apart from Christ. We are as dead toward
God as Lazarus was toward this world.
And we are as unable to give life to our souls as Lazarus was to give
life to his flesh. Christ came to give
us life by laying down His own for ours.
In another sense, the raising of Lazarus is proof that Jesus lays down
His life of His own free will. If He can
raise Lazarus, He can keep His own flesh alive, and no human treachery or power
is able to take His life from Him. This
will be important for His disciples to remember when He is dead and in the
tomb. He gave His life. He allowed this
to happen to Him. This was an
intentional act on His part. We must
never read the raising of Lazarus without also remembering the tenth chapter of
What do we do in Lent? Lent is simply a time of seeking God. It is simply a time of intentional holy living. This requires that we turn away from sin and turn to God. We generally call this process repentance. We cannot repent of sin unless we first find the sin in our lives. We find sin through an intense process of self examination. We simply put our lives under the microscope of God’s word to discern where we are missing the mark. Once we find our sin, we must admit it. The Bible's term for this is confession, which simply and profoundly means to agree with God. In confession we agree with God about our sin. We agree that we are sinners. We agree that we have sin in our lives. We don’t cover it up. We don’t ignore it. We admit it is there, and we face it. Without this, repentance is impossible, and without repentance we have no part in Christ.
February 28, Day Fourteen
Morning - Psalm 62, Genesis 29:1-20, 1 Corinthians 7:1-17
Evening - Psalm 66, Jeremiah 5:20, John 11:17-27
Commentary, John 11:17-27
Verse 17 is the proof of Lazarus' death. He was in the tomb four days. We will find this proved again when they open his tomb and know the truth of Martha's words, "he stinketh." Jesus wanted everyone to know without doubt, "Lazarus is dead." If he is not dead, Christ's words in John 11:25 are meaningless. What power is required to wake a man that is merely sleeping? Cannot any mere mortal do that? But to restore life to this stinking, rotting corpse requires power no mortal can possess. He is the resurrection and the life. Therefore, those who believe in Him, though they were dead in their souls as well as their flesh, will live, and those who live in their souls through His gift of eternal life, will never die.
We are experts at justifying our actions. If we are disrespectful to someone, we convince ourselves he deserved it. If we fail to seek God in prayer and Bible study we convince ourselves we just don’t have time. If we fail to worship God, we say Sunday is my only time to rest, or play, or _____ (fill in the blank). If we fail to keep the spirit or the letter of God's commandments we tell ourselves we have some special excuse, or convince ourselves it is the commandments, rather than ourselves, that are wrong.
In stark contrast, true confession admits that sin is sin. Confession agrees with God that my sin is disobedience to God. My sin causes hurt to others. My sin wrecks my relationship to God and prevents me from experiencing the full joy of Christ. My sin embarrasses the cause of Christ on earth. My sin brings shame on the name of Christ’s Church. My sin is a stumbling block to others. My sin contributes to the general malaise of this sin-sick world, and because of my sin I am as much a cause of the problem as any other person, and apart from the grace of God in Christ, there is in me no good thing.
March 1, Day Fifteen
Morning - Psalm 95, Genesis 32:22-31, 1 Corinthians 8
Evening - Psalm 69, Jeremiah 6:1-8, John 11:28-44
Commentary, John 11:28-44
John 11:37 voices the question that was on everyone's mind as they gathered at the grave of Lazarus. "Could not this man [Jesus] ... have caused that even this man [Lazarus] should not have died?" Jesus had healed the sick, caused the blind to see and made the lame to walk, why didn't He keep Lazarus alive? This reminds us of the question, if God is so good, why does He allow suffering and death? The answer is that the only way to prevent suffering and death is to create unthinking robots without any freedom of choice at all, following a given program. Freedom requires the ability to make wrong choices, and do wrong things, and to suffer the consequences of them.
But Jesus allowed Lazarus to die for a much greater reason. Lazarus died so Jesus could show that His power is much greater than simply the ability to heal the living. He can actually raise the dead. He can give life to a decaying corpse as easily as He can multiply bread and fish, or still the storm, or heal the blind. He is the Lord of Life, and if He can raise the dead, He can surely keep Himself alive. Thus His crucifixion is an intentional act of self sacrifice. He lays down His life; no man takes it from Him. He lays it down for us.
Confession means to agree with God that our sin makes us worthy of the wrath of God. We acknowledge that we deserve to be punished, and that God is righteous when He judges us guilty. King David was told a story about a thief who stole the single lamb of a poor man. David became livid with righteous indignation. He wanted to execute justice on the thief. Then the prophet said to the King, “Thou art the man.”
David saw that the sins of the thief deserved punishment, and was willing to be the hand of God to deliver the thief unto death. When he learned that he was the thief he had to admit that his guilt made him worthy of death, and of the wrath of man and God. All of us, when we are honest, agree that certain acts require restitution and retribution. Justice demands not only that wrongs be righted, but also that the guilty be punished for their wrongs in some way that will force them to experience something of the pain their actions have inflicted upon others This is the true meaning of, "an eye for an eye." If this is true of our sins against other people, should our crimes against the Righteous and Holy King of Heaven go unpunished? Confession admits that we are sinners, and that our sins alone have justly placed us under the wrath of God.
March 2, Day Sixteen
Morning - Psalm 63, Genesis 35:1-20, 1 Corinthians 9:1-14
Evening - Psalm 72, Jeremiah 6:9-21, John 11:45
Commentary, John 11:45
Will Jesus come to the feast? This question is on the lips of all in Jerusalem as they prepare for the Feast of the Passover (Jn. 11:56). The chief priests and Pharisees are there, along with the devout Jews from all Israel and the Roman Empire. The conflict of the priests and Pharisees with Jesus, and their intent to take Him is well known (Jn. 11:57). It is also known that Jesus has been staying in Perea on the east side of the Jordan, and that He has made trips into Israel, as He did to raise Lazarus. Caiaphas' words show the deadly intent of the religious leaders (Jn. 11:50). John 11:53 shows their unanimity of purpose. Thus, for Jesus to come to the Feast is to face certain death. It is to accept the cross, or, more correctly, to embrace it. The moment He crosses the Jordan His fate is sealed, and He knows it.
One of our great problems is our ability to look at ourselves and say, “I’m not so bad. My sins aren’t so bad. I’m really O.K.” You may be familiar with the parody of that great Gospel song, “Love Lifted Me.” You recall that the song begins with the words, “I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore.” The parody says, “I was sinking deep in sin, yipeeee!” This makes sin something to be joked about, winked at. It carries the assumption that it really isn’t sin. Today people march and organize to protect their right to sin. Even clergy and denominations say sin isn’t sin. It is right and good, and must be condoned. It seems the only “sin” left is to call sin “sin.”
By contrast, confession agrees that sin is sin. Confession agrees that God hates sin, I hate sin, and I hate my sin. If sin is as wicked as the Bible portrays it, we should not be surprised to learn that the One who is of purer eyes than to look upon it hates sin. He hates it for all the suffering and death it has caused to people He created to love and to enjoy the blessings of life. He hates it for putting children to bed at night in fear and hunger. He hates it for making the streets of our cities crime-filled death traps. He hates it for the abuse it causes, and for the way it causes us to use and discard people like paper plates. He hates it for the wars and oppression, and crime, and hate, and grief and loss it has caused through the blood stained millennia of human history. Do we not hate this sin? And do we hate, not just sin in general, but our own sins in particular? Can we not say with tears the General Confession of our Communion Service, “the remembrance of them is grievous unto us; the burden of them is intolerable?” Repentance is not complete until we confess, and confession is not complete until we learn to hate our sin as God hates it. God help us to confess our sin.
Psalm 86, 142, 1 Kings 8:35-43, Colossians 3:8-17
Second Sunday in Lent
February 24, 2013
Psalm 86, 142, 1 Kings 8:35-43, Colossians 3:8-17
Second Sunday in Lent
February 24, 2013
There is a beautiful old word that was a favourite of Christians in past generations. It is not used very often today, I hope that is not because people no longer believe in it. The word is "Providence." Providence is the activity of the Provider. It refers to God providing for our needs. From Him we receive our creation, preservation, all the blessings of this life, and all the means of grace. All things needful for happiness in this life, and the next come to us freely as gifts from God. Providence also refers to God's direction and protection of us. It refers to His guiding our lives toward His intended goal. Under His Providential guidance, as St. Paul wrote in Romans 8:28; "all things work together for good to those who love God."
Providence is one of the many doctrines addressed in today's Scriptures and Collects. Instead of "Providence," the Collect uses the word, "keep," and, it seems to me that it uses it in the sense of the Old Testament Hebrew word that is often translated as both guard and keep. It refers to God to guarding and protecting us, both physically and spiritually. I think there is another meaning to the word, "keep," and that is to fence. So to ask God to keep us is to ask Him to build a fence around us that will keep us in the place where we ought to stay, and out of the places we should not go.
As we looked at the reading in 1 Kings 8, I saw Solomon asking God to keep Israel out of places she should not go. That prayer is coupled with another petition, repeated several times in the chapter, a prayer for forgiveness, a prayer that when Israel does sin, does stray into those places she should not go, God will have mercy upon her, cause her to turn to Him and seek Him in His holy Temple, and bring her back to faith and to God. "Hear Thou in Heaven," Solomon prayed, "and forgive the sin of Thy people."
Looking at the reading in Colossians 3, I see a prayer about keeping us in the place where we should always be. The passage expounds and explains the meaning of two earlier verses, not officially included in the Lectionary, but which I read today because they are integral to understanding and practicing the message of Colossians 3. They are verses 9 and 10 which tell us we have put off the old and put on the new. The old refers to the unGodly thoughts and actions identified in verses 5 and 8, things like fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, covetousness, anger, wrath malice, blasphemy, and filthy communication. These are not the only unGodly things we are to put off, if we are Christians, but they are certainly some of them, and we are to take them off and throw them away like ragged, maggot infested garments. We are to throw them in the trash, and not allow them to characterise our lives anymore. In fact, these things are so wicked that we are not even to give the appearance of endorsing them. In their places we are to put on the pure, new, and holy garments of the righteousness of Christ. So, instead of fornication, we are to put on chastity. Instead of inordinate affection, which is a burning desire to have something, it could be a boat, a horse, or a lifestyle of self indulgence and luxury, we are to put on self control, moderation, self discipline, and even a certain amount of self denial, in the realisation that even good things are not always expedient.
Please don't misunderstand me here. I am not saying we should not enjoy the fruits of our labours. We should enjoy them. God wants us to enjoy them. I am saying that having wealth and possessions and pleasures is like living with lions, there is an element of danger in them. There is always the chance that they will consume you.
Paul goes on to exhort us to put on, that is to dress in and have as our defining characteristics, things like mercy. You know what mercy is. Mercy is what you want from God on the day you stand before Him and He reviews all your sins. Let mercy characterise us here and now. You know what kindness is, it is what you want God to have when you see that you cannot atone for your own sins, or make yourself acceptable to Him. You know what forbearance is, it's what you want us to have when you say or do something foolish or inappropriate, or even mean. Be kind to one another. Let forbearance characterise you.
Look at the way Paul contrasts the old things with the new. The old is characterised by fornication; the new by charity, love. The old is given to covetousness, the new is given to longsuffering. The old is given to wrath and malice, the new is given to kindness, forbearance, and forgiveness. The old is given to filthy communication, the new speaks in Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in the heart. The old is controlled by inordinate affections and covetousness, the new, and for this we will go back to the very first verse of the chapter, for it is the main point of this whole passage; the new seeks those things which are above. It has set its affections on the things of God, not of earth (Col. 3:1-2). It lives in a state of continually mortifying, or crucifying sinful desires, and living for Christ in this life.
I'm trying to say today, that these things of Godliness, things like forbearance, kindness, forgiveness, and love need to become habits in our lives. They need to become the habitual ways we respond to situations and people in life. That won't happen unless we intentionally cultivate them. We must train these things into ourselves until they become habit. And then we must continually reinforce that training day in and day out for the rest of our lives. Otherwise we will slip back into the old, unGodly habits of anger, inordinate affections, and filthy communications. These old habits are natural to us. they are like weeds in a garden, they grow naturally, and we have to fight them to control them. It is Godliness that is foreign to us. Like flowers and vegetables, Godliness must be planted and nurtured, or it won't grow. We all know it just takes a couple of weeks of neglect to turn a beautiful garden into a weed bed. Let us not neglect to cultivate Godliness in us.
Today, pondering the doctrine of the Providence of God, we are asking Him to use His power for our benefit. We're asking Him to keep us from all things that hurt body and soul, which also means to keep us in those things that aid and heal us. The words of Psalm 86:11 express this prayer well. Let us close with theme.
"Teach me thy way, O Lord, and I will walk in thy truth. O knit my heart unto thee, that I may fear thy name."
February 17, 2013
February 18, Day Five
Morning - Psalm 36, Genesis 24:1-27, 1 Corinthians 3:1-17
Evening - Psalm 42, Psalm 43, Jeremiah 3:19, John 9:1-23
Commentary, John 9:1-23
John 9 records the healing of a blind man. Still in Jerusalem, our Lord has left the Temple where His rebuke of the empty religion of the Pharisees ended in their attempt to kill Him. Outside of the Temple He sees a blind man to whom He restores sight. Sight and light in this passage are spiritual words, referring to a condition of the soul more than of the body. Christ came to give sight to the spiritually blind and light to those who dwell in spiritual darkness.
It is important to know that we cannot heal our own blindness or give light to our own darkness. Only Christ can do this, and Lent does not replace or add to His redemptive work. Lent is a concentrated attempt to gratefully practice the principles of holy living. In Christ we who were blind have been given sight, and in Lent we devote ourselves to "seeing" Christ. We divert our gaze from other things to look upon the beauty of God. In Lent we intentionally practice holiness. We set aside the time to do the things we should always be doing, but sometimes allow to be crowded out of our lives. Emphasizing these things during Lent does not excuse their neglect at other times, of course. But in Lent we make a special point of doing them.
February 19, Day Six
Morning - Psalm 37:1-24, Genesis 24:28-67, 1 Corinthians 3:18-4:5
Evening - Psalm 46, Psalm 47, Jeremiah 4:1-9, John 9:24-41
Commentary, John 9:24-41
In John 9:35-38 we see the conclusion toward which Christ is leading the blind man. That is, the restoration of his spiritual sight. Now the man can say, "Lord, I believe." Now he can worship Christ as His Lord and God. The Pharisees, however, remain in their blindness. They refuse to see their sin or their God.
One of the things we emphasize in Lent is repentance. We make a great point of turning away from sin and turning to God. Before we can repent of sin we must find our sin, and Lent is a time for finding the sin in our lives. It is a time to put our lives under the microscope to find the tiny flaws, and to stand back far enough to see the giant holes. Returning to our example of a journey, finding our sin is like checking the compass to determine the present course of our lives.
When we do this we will always notice a discrepancy between our professed ideals, and our practice in real life. For example, we may say that our goal in life is to live for Christ, but our actions might show that our real goal is to be a world champion sports fan. Obviously, this self examination is more than simply asking if a certain action is a sin or not. We are talking about a serious, intense, and honest look at the way we really live our lives.
February 20, Day Seven
Morning - Psalm 26, Ezekiel 2, Matthew 9:1-13
Evening - Psalm 4, Psalm 16, Ezekiel 3:16, 2 Corinthians 4
Commentary, Matthew 9:1-13
Matthew 9 finds our Lord again in dispute with the Pharisees. The climax of today's reading is verse 13, "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." The Pharisees' values were wrong. They valued show and pomp. Jesus values real faith and obedience. His concern is that sinners (and that is all of us) are running to hell with all their strength. His concern is to save them from the awful consequences of actually and eternally reaching that goal. He not only calls sinners to repent, but also gives Himself as the ransom for their sins.
One of the things we devote ourselves to in Lent is the serious examination of our values. We will honestly ask and answer probing questions about them. What do I value in life? How do I know that I value them? How are my values formed? What do I allow to shape my values? Do I value humbleness, kindness, honesty, and integrity? What personality traits do I value in others? In myself?
February 21, Day Eight
Morning - Psalm 37, Psalm 26, Genesis 25:28, 1 Corinthians 4:6
Evening - Psalm 49, Jeremiah 4:11-22, John 10:1-10
Commentary, John 10:1-10
We find in John 10 the contrast between the Good Shepherd and the false shepherds that abound always. The Good Shepherd is Christ, who comes for the benefit of His sheep, even at the cost of His own life. He is the door through whom His sheep go in and out, and find "pasture." The false shepherds come to fleece the flock; the Good Shepherd comes to save the flock. Following Christ's journey to the cross is a constant reminder that He died to save us. He gave His life to save His sheep. There is in this passage another issue, namely the question of whose sheep we are. Christ's sheep know His voice and follow Him. They will not follow another. Whose voice do we follow?
Self examination is tough, but necessary. It requires us to be brutally honest with ourselves, which is why few people actually do it. It also requires us to be thorough. We must look below the surface, meaning we examine things like attitudes as well as actions. Attitudes are mind sets and values upon which actions are based. Do I have attitudes of self-importance, looking out for number one, bitterness, resentment, jealousy, anger, grudge bearing? What must I change that I may have more of an attitude of Godliness?
February 22, Day Nine, Ember Day
Morning - Psalm 95, Psalm 84, Ezekiel 34:1-16, Matthew 10:24-42
Evening - Psalm 77, Ezekiel 37:1-14, I Timothy 4
Commentary, Matthew 10:24-42
We are often surprised at the world's reaction to the Gospel. Knowing it is the way of life, of Heaven, and of God's love given to us, we are surprised that people reject it, and love darkness rather than light. More surprising, however, is the tenacity with which we who claim to love and follow Christ still cling to our sins and resist the holy influences of the Word and Spirit of God. Christ Himself, in today's reading from Matthew, calls us to a life-style of holiness and radical commitment to Him. This requires a constant effort to find and expel sin in our lives and to replace it with Godliness.
Self examination is the attempt to find our sins. In this we are not content to look at actions alone. From them we move to our internal thoughts and habits. Habits are just the ways we respond to life. They have become so ingrained in us that we do them without thinking. Habits can be good, or bad. We can have a habit of laziness, or a habit of industry. We may have a habit of not listening to others, of aggressive driving, or of unedifying mannerisms or speech. Take time to examine your habits of life by the light of God's word.
Today is the second of the Spring Ember Days when we pray for the ministers of Christ's Church and ask Him to call men into the ministry of the Gospel. The Collect for The Ember Days is found on page 260 of the Prayer Book:
"O Almighty God, who hast committed to the hands of men the ministry of reconciliation; We humbly beseech thee, by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, to put it into the hearts of many to offer themselves for this ministry; that thereby mankind may be drawn to thy blessed kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."
February 23, Day Ten, Ember Day
Morning - Psalm 101, Ezekiel 34:17-31, 2 Timothy 2:1-15
Evening - Psalm 19, Psalm 23, Ezekiel 37:21, 1 Timothy 6:6
Commentary, 2 Timothy 2:1-15
"Endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ" (2 Tim. 2:3). How many Christians think of themselves as soldiers of Christ called to endure hardness? Do we not think more in terms of the hardness Christ endured for our sakes than of enduring it for Him? Do we not tend to think of Christ more as a life enhancing commodity than a King leading His army into the field of battle? Perhaps this is why so little real self-examination and Christian living occur in today's Church.
Self-examination requires us to honestly examine our thoughts. What do I think about most during the day? What do I think about when I have free time? Are my thoughts about getting more toys? Having more fun? Advancing my career? Chocolate? Notice, these can be good. It is good to enjoy God's blessings, to advance our careers, and to have fun. And I am certain God has nothing against chocolate. But do we also think about God, the Scriptures, holiness? Do we see ourselves as called to endure hardness for Christ? Do we ever think that some of the things to which we devote ourselves may actually impede our service as soldiers of the cross?