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?
Psalm 50, Isaiah 58, Matthew 6:1-18
First Sunday in Lent
February 17, 2013
One of the wonderful things about having a lectionary is that it takes us through the Bible every year, and it does so in a way that combines our daily readings with the readings, prayers and sermons on Sundays. And this cycle of prayer and worship is purposeful and assures that we will be led into the great doctrines of the faith, and the great principles of the Christian life in an orderly and understandable fashion every year. I promise that if you pray the prayers and read the daily Bible passages, and attend the worship and the sermons on Sunday, you will grow in the knowledge of the content, meaning, and application of the Bible. I also promise that the more years you do this, the deeper your understanding will grow, and the greater your faith will grow, for faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
There is, of course, a caveat. It must be done with the intention of seeking and obeying God. It must be done in faith. In the time of the prophet Isaiah, about 740 B.C., the Jews, who only enjoyed peace and prosperity because God had delivered their ancestors from slavery in Egypt, brought them safely into the Promised Land, and preserved their peace and freedom, had drifted into a casual and mechanical observance of the Old Testament means of grace. I say their observance was "casual," because very few of them were serious about knowing or loving God. They went to "prayers," they read the Scriptures, they offered the sacrifices, they kept the feast days, and they even fasted, but their hearts were not in these things. They had become merely the rituals that identified and unified them as a nation. I say their observance was "mechanical" because they believed that observing them guaranteed God would bless them with continued peace and prosperity. If you put the gear lever of a running automobile in "Drive" and push the gas pedal, it will move forward. That is the mechanical view the Jews had of prayer, and worship.
So when their enemies suddenly became powerful enough to threaten them, they faced a spiritual crisis, as well as a national security crisis. In their minds, they were the good people. They kept the ceremonial worship laws of the Old Testament, therefore, God owed them peace and prosperity. But here were these heathen nations, who never even heard of the worship laws, rising up against them and threatening to overpower them. How could God allow that? Hadn't they done everything God expected of them?
In a word, no. The Psalm for this morning says God had stopped accepting their sacrifices (Ps. 50:9). Why? Because they were not offered with the right understanding. They thought they were feeding God and giving gifts to Him. But God says He already owns the animals: he does not need to have them sacrificed to Him by the Jews. If we look at Psalm, 51:17 we see God telling Israel the real sacrifices He desires are a humble spirit and contrite heart. I am reminded here of Samuel's words to Saul, "to obey is better than sacrifice." In other words, God wants our hearts to enthrone Him above all things. Our hearts, our loving obedience, are the real sacrifices He wants. Devotion to Him in such a way that we become what Romans 12:1 calls, "living sacrifices" is the sacrifice that is acceptable unto God. The other sacrifices are expressions of our living sacrifice, not replacements for it.
In Isaiah 58 God addresses the insincerity of worship and life that prevailed in the days of Isaiah. He recognises their daily devotions and national religiousness. "They seek Me daily," He says, "and delight to know My ways as a nation" (Is. 58:2). But look what He says in verse 4. "Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist." He is saying they are using their religion as an offensive weapon. They fast in an effort to get God to enable them to cheat in business, and to harm people they don't like. They have attempted to use prayer as a magic spell to cause God to do their will. Listen, please, this is important. It is a good thing to pray for the downfall of evil. It is good to pray, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven." It is good to ask God to "beat down Satan under our feet." To do so is a prayer of love, asking God to deliver all people from oppression, violence and strife. Let us pray for this every day. But that is not what Israel was doing here. Israel was praying that God would do evil things to people for them. Rather than combat evil, they wanted Him to join it, just on their side.
I doubt anyone hearing or reading this sermon prays for personal revenge or success in wickedness. I do think there is another application to this passage of Scripture that could apply to us. I refer to the practice of doing Christian things, like praying and reading the Bible, yet not applying ourselves to Christian living. I refer to hiding from our responsibilities in life by pretending to apply ourselves to holiness. You have heard the saying that someone is so Heavenly minded he is no earthly good. I think it is possible to be that way, and to be so intentionally. There is a story line that has many variations in details, but always the same point. It tells of a minister who works diligently on his sermons, studies his Greek and Hebrew, memorises Bible passages, ensures that he understands every point of doctrine correctly, and spends hours each day in the Bible. Yet, while doing these good things, he neglects his church and home, so his congregation and family fall apart. In other words, his faith has become disconnected from his life. Like the gurus of some of the other religions, he is trying to retire from life. Instead of going to a mountain in Tibet, he retires to his study, but the same principle motivates him and the monk. He fails to love and support his wife. He fails to guide and teach his children. So they grow emotionally distant from him, and even angry at him. One day, the children grow up and leave physically as they left emotionally years earlier. One day he notices that his wife is just a person who lives in the same building, as though they were strangers in the same motel. The spiritual climate of the church declines, because the people are not taught that doctrine and life are as vitally connected in the Church as oxygen and blood in the body. And the minister, call him The Reverend Good N. Tentions, begins to realise he should have spent more time in the family room and less time in the study, and more time showing the Christian life to his congregation by example and less time writing scholarly papers about it. In other words, he should have put more of his faith to use in life.
This story is very flexible. We can take Reverend Good N. Tentions out and replace him with Mr. I. M. Bossy, a hard driving supervisor at work who neglects church and family to make more money. Or Mrs. Sue Per Christian, who is always bragging her prayer life or arguing about doctrine. Whatever name gets placed in the story, I pray it will not be yours, or mine.