March 31, 2009

March 31

121, 122, 123, 124, 125, 126
Jer. 25:8-17
Rom. 10:1-13
John 9:18-41

Psalm 125
1Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever.
2As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people, from this time on and forevermore.
3For the scepter of wickedness shall not rest on the land allotted to the righteous, so that the righteous might not stretch out their hands to do wrong.
4Do good, O LORD, to those who are good, and to those who are upright in their hearts.
5But those who turn aside to their own crooked ways the LORD will lead away with evildoers.
Peace be upon Israel!

I am fortunate to have lived near mountains most of my life. When I am in a location that doesn’t have mountains, I find myself disoriented and don’t know which direction I am facing. Mountains are comforting because they give definition to the landscape. I know that if the mountains are to my right, I am facing north. In Colorado Springs, it is the opposite, since the mountains are to the west of the city.

Just like the mountains give orientation to my life, the Lord provides direction to us all. The psalmist says “the Lord surrounds his people” like mountains. When we trust in God’s direction, we are better off than when we trust ourselves. When the word of God is on our side, we are facing the right direction.

Mountains also provide protection and form a buffer against some forms of weather. There are less tornados, for instance, in the mountains. God, too, provides protection from the storms of life. When we trust in God’s protection, we find peace and security that isn’t the norm in the culture around us.

I have a bookmark adapted from a saying by Sri Sathya Sai Baba (Indian spiritual leader, b.1926) that is a reminder of the care of God and our response. It says:

Where there is Faith, there is Love
Where there is Love, there is Peace
Where there is Peace, there is God
Where there is God, there is no need.

Do mountains remind you of the security of God? Are you able to trust in the Lord to surround you with protection and direction?

For your journal: Find a photo of mountains to paste in your journal or draw some mountains, if you prefer. On the faces of the mountains, or under the picture list some ways you feel upheld, strengthened and protected by God.

March 30, 2009

March 30

31, 35
Jer. 24:1-10
Rom. 9:19-33
John 9:1-17

Jer. 24:1-10
The LORD showed me two baskets of figs placed before the temple of the LORD. This was after King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon had taken into exile from Jerusalem King Jeconiah son of Jehoiakim of Judah, together with the officials of Judah, the artisans, and the smiths, and had brought them to Babylon. 2One basket had very good figs, like first-ripe figs, but the other basket had very bad figs, so bad that they could not be eaten. 3And the LORD said to me, “What do you see, Jeremiah?” I said, “Figs, the good figs very good, and the bad figs very bad, so bad that they cannot be eaten.” 4Then the word of the LORD came to me: 5Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I have sent away from this place to the land of the Chaldeans. 6I will set my eyes upon them for good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up, and not tear them down; I will plant them, and not pluck them up. 7I will give them a heart to know that I am the LORD; and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart. 8But thus says the LORD: Like the bad figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten, so will I treat King Zedekiah of Judah, his officials, the remnant of Jerusalem who remain in this land, and those who live in the land of Egypt. 9I will make them a horror, an evil thing, to all the kingdoms of the earth—a disgrace, a byword, a taunt, and a curse in all the places where I shall drive them. 10And I will send sword, famine, and pestilence upon them, until they are utterly destroyed from the land that I gave to them and their ancestors.

At first, this reading from Jeremiah seems like the “Old Testament God of vengeance, fire and brimstone” still preached by some ministers. After all, God has allowed King Nebuchadrezzar to drag off the king and people of Jerusalem into exile in Babylon and in vs. 8-10 he says that those left will be “utterly destroyed”. According to the notes in my Bible, this is because they took over the property of the exiles and did not seek God.

However, right in the middle of this chapter is reassurance of God’s love for the faithful (even though they are in exile). Jeremiah says God “will give them a heart to know that I am the LORD; and they shall be my people and I will be their God.” Throughout the Bible, God loves those who seek the Lord with their whole heart.

As the Annie Moses Band sings in the song Bethlehem, House of Bread, when we seek God, we become bread for one another.

Child of Bethlehem-
house of bread;
Man of Jerusalem-
city of peace
You have loved us
Without limit or condition;
In our greatness and in our misery,
In our folly and in our virtue;
May your hand be always upon us
And may your heart be within us
So that we too may become bread and peace for one another.

The Israelites in exile were faced with a strange culture. Depictions of animals representing strange gods and goddesses like this lion on the Ishtar Gate to ancient Babylon probably appalled the people who knew the first and second Commandment forbidding worship of other gods and graven images of any creature. To maintain faith in the One God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob required strength of character.

We are faced with our own challenges to faith daily, and often especially in our Lenten discipline. After nearly 5 weeks, is your discipline (whether fasting from something or taking on some new study) as fresh as it was on Ash Wednesday? God doesn’t require perfection, just a faithful heart that knows “that I am the LORD.” If you have slipped a bit with your discipline, take a deep breath and recommit your Lent to having a heart for God.

For your journal: Take time to think about your Lent so far. Have you remained faithful to seeking a deeper intimacy with God? Write a prayer of recommitment to the Lord for the rest of Lent—one day at a time.

March 29, 2009

Sunday, March 29, Lent V

Isaiah 43:16-21
Philippians 3:8-14
Luke 20:9-19

Isaiah 43:16-21
16Thus says the LORD, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters,
17who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick: 18Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. 19I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. 20The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, 21the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.

This is the fifth Sunday of Lent. We are getting closer to the end of our journey. Next Sunday will be Palm Sunday, followed by “Holy Week and Easter then tell who died and rose again” as the old children’s hymn says.

Today, the reading from Isaiah focuses on God who declares, “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing.” In the Isaiah reading, we are reminded of the Exodus, of God “making a way in the wilderness” and “giving drink to my chosen people.”

In the northern part of NM, the Rio Chama winds its way south past limestone cliffs. Over the millennia, it has carved a channel to forge a way through the wilderness. As we look toward Good Friday, we know that God’s plan of salvation involves more than streams in the desert—it involves a deeper relationship with the One who knows us intimately and still loves us.

Centuries later, God is still doing new things. God is always renewing and changing us. That renewal may involve carving away a bit of the limestone around our hearts. Over the years the little frustrations and irritations build up between us and God's love. I don't know about you, but I tend to resist the changes, but God's love makes a new channel and finds a way to soften even the hardest heart.

What new thing is God doing in your life this day or this Lent? Is your relationship with God changing? Do you find yourself asking God the words found in this poem from an old Daughters of the King magazine?

Why me, Lord?
Here I am,
“In the thick of things.”
Once I wasn’t,
Someday I won’t be.
But here, now, I am.
Right in the middle of a strange, mixed-up world,
and with this nagging awareness within me that you want me,
To do something—or say something—or be something
That shall make a difference.
It may not change the course of history—
this that you want me to say or do or be
but it may change the course of some life:
And I am obligated to respond to
Thy call on behalf of all mankind.
And what, what would you have me do?

For your Journal: List some things that you used to do, but aren’t active in anymore. Make a second list of things you are active in now and then a third list of things you are (or might be) interested in doing.

Look at the three lists and see what changes and new things God has already done in your life. Do you feel God urging you to look more closely at anything on the third list?

March 28, 2009

March 28

107:33-43, 108:1-6(7-13), 33
Jer. 23:9-15
Rom. 9:1-18
John 6:60-71

Psalm 107:33-43
33He turns rivers into a desert, springs of water into thirsty ground,
34a fruitful land into a salty waste, because of the wickedness of its inhabitants.
35He turns a desert into pools of water, a parched land into springs of water.
36And there he lets the hungry live, and they establish a town to live in;
37they sow fields, and plant vineyards, and get a fruitful yield.
38By his blessing they multiply greatly, and he does not let their cattle decrease.
39When they are diminished and brought low through oppression, trouble, and sorrow,
40he pours contempt on princes and makes them wander in trackless wastes;
41but he raises up the needy out of distress, and makes their families like flocks.
42The upright see it and are glad; and all wickedness stops its mouth.
43Let those who are wise give heed to these things, and consider the steadfast love of the LORD.

Ps. 107 comes to a dramatic conclusion with these promises for those who follow God. In the midst is the blessings is one that struck me as very important. Verse 41 says, “he raises up the needy out of distress.”

This sentiment of God’s desire for our safety and security is echoed by Isaiah (chapter 61) and other prophets and in Jesus’ Beatitudes (“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”).

The KJV says “yet setteth he the poor on high from affliction” and Strong’s indicates that the translation could also be expanded to read “[God] takes those in want (especially in feeling or spiritually) and places them so far above their misery, depression, or trouble that it cannot touch them.” The Message translates this verse: “He gave the poor a safe place to live.” It seems to me that this verse has more depth than just a safe home, although a secure home is one of the things that many in our world today don’t have. It is hard to have a sense of stability and comfort if you don’t have a place to live.

Sometimes we find it hard to relate to someone who isn't as fortunate as we are. We may think, 'they did something wrong' or 'it's their fault for making wrong decisions'. That may be true, but too often that attitude keeps me (us) from seeing the child of God in front of us.

What can you or I do to help those who do not have the blessing of a house or other security? How can we help to “raise the needy out of distress,” either in their physical or spiritual dwelling?

Maybe we need this prayer by Rabindranth Tagore that reminds us of how our pride can keep us from acting in love:
This is our prayer to thee, our Lord;
Strike, strike at the root of penury in our hearts.
Give us the strength lightly to bear our joys and sorrows.
Give us the strength to make our love fruitful in service.
Give us the strength never to disown the poor or bend our knees before insolent might.
Give us the strength to raise our minds high above daily trifles.
And give us the strength to surrender our strength to thy will with love.

For your journal: Draw a house (it doesn’t have to be elaborate—a box with a pitched roof is just fine). Inside the walls list some things that make you feel secure—physically and spiritually. Outside, list things that make you fearful.

Think about someone who is not as fortunate as you—maybe a refugee, maybe someone whose house is in foreclosure, maybe someone in a war-torn area, maybe a homeless person on the street of your city. Draw a house for them. What can you offer that would help that person feel more secure physically or spiritually? List these things in their house.

March 27, 2009

March 27

102, 107:1-32
Jer. 23:1-8
Rom. 8:28-39
John 6:52-59

Rom. 8:28-39
28We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
29For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified. 31What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This is such a rich passage that it was hard to decide where to look. The line that jumped out for me was Paul’s rhetorical question: “If God is for us, who is against us?” I think that speaks to our entire Lenten walk. Starting on Ash Wednesday we have been exploring the ways God loves us, wants to be in an intimate relationship with us, and in all things is on our side.

I am reminded of the hymn, Just a Closer Walk with Thee. The refrain calls us to an intimate walk with our Lord, trusting that God is there for us in all things.
Just a closer walk with Thee,
Grant it, Jesus, is my plea,
Daily walking close to Thee,
Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.

How do you feel when you hear that God is for us? When we are in the midst of some difficulty or tragedy, it is very easy to think that God has forgotten us. If you lose your job, or have a life threatening illness, or someone near and dear dies, or any multitude of other problems, you can feel adrift and bereft. It is then, however, that God is closest and paradoxically can be the times when we think God’s love is hardest to find. When we feel far from God, the road can be as long and dry as this one in northern NM. But just as God is closer than we know, this road actually leads to a lovely retreat center.
For your journal: Read through this entire passage (Rom. 8:28-39) a couple of times and in another translation or two, if you can. Listen to what God is saying to you through Paul. Copy the line in your journal. Sit quietly with it for a few minutes. Then write, draw, or find a poem or quote about what that special citation means to you and your ‘closer walk with God’.

A favorite poem of mine by Carla Holterman speaks to me about how I could live in the belief that God is on my side in all things and at all times.

Dear Lord,
Help me to live this day,
Quietly, easily
To lean upon thy great strength
Trustfully, restfully
To wait for the unfolding of thy will
Patiently, serenely
To meet others
Peacefully, joyfully
To face tomorrow
Confidently, courageously

March 26, 2009

March 26

69:1-23(24-30)31-38, 73
Jer. 22:13-23
Rom. 8:12-27
John 6:41-51

Rom. 8:12-27
12So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—
13for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
18I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.
19For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. 26Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Paul reminds us that we are “children of God.” God loves us more deeply than even the most attentive mother or father and desires the very best for us in all aspects of our lives.

Consider what that means for your relationship with God. Even when we are naughty, acting like spoiled toddlers or teasing the cat, God loves us. Because God is a loving parent, we sometimes reap the results of our actions, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t loved, deeply and intimately.

Through Jesus, God is offering to be our ‘bosom friend’ as they used to say a century ago. That is someone who knows you so well that she/he understands your hopes and dreams and fears. A bosom friend or kindred spirit is like Diana Barry in Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. (That's Green Gables on Prince Edward Island, below) A kindred spirit is a friend who is as close to you as family, despite no blood relationship. Can you think of someone you know who is a kindred spirit?

The story of Anne could be a metaphor for our own adoption by God. You may recall, Anne is an orphan who is adopted by Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert. At first they are appalled that a girl rather than boy arrives from the orphanage. Anne herself is self-critical of her red hair and freckles, but adapts to life with the Cuthberts who soon come to love her. Diana and Anne understand each other and support one another throughout their lives.

Isn’t that the heart of a true relationship—being present and supporting each other in good times and bad?

Jesus is offering to be a ‘kindred spirit’ with you and with me, and all we have to do is come to Him—to offer our life to God. Perhaps this prayer is one way we can do that:

I am Yours and born for You,
What do you want of me?
Majestic Sovereign, unending Wisdom,
Kindness pleasing to my soul
God sublime, one Being Good,

Yours, you made me,
Yours, you saved me,
Yours, you endured me,
Yours, you called me,
Yours, you awaited me,
Yours, I did not stray.
What do you want of me?
In your hand, I place my heart,
Body, life, and soul,
Deep feeling and affections mine,
Spouse—Redeemer sweet,
Myself offered now to you,
What do you want of me?

Give me, if You will, prayer;
Or let me know dryness,
An abundance of devotion
Or if not, then barrenness,
In you alone, Sovereign Majesty,
I find my peace,
What do you want of me?

Yours I am, for You I was born:
What do you want of me?

For your journal: Think about someone who is a kindred spirit. How is your relationship with them different from other friends?

Write a prayer asking Jesus to be your bosom friend.

March 25, 2009

March 25

101, 109:1-4(5-19)20-30, 119:121-144
Jer. 18:1-11
Rom. 8:1-11
John 6:27-40

John 6:27-40
27Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” 28Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” 29Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
35Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; 38for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. 39And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.”

In this scene from the Gospel of John we see the people who have experienced the miraculous multiplication of the bread, asking for yet another sign. Jesus tells them “I am the bread of life” and continues with the promise “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Jesus promises that he will provide for us—we will be spiritually filled. His words remind me of similar words in the Beatitudes “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

As followers of Christ, we are to become the bread and wine for each other. It is by our actions that the hurting and hungry world is fed and filled. This can be physical and it can be spiritual feeding. This isn’t always an easy transformation. We seldom like being crushed wheat and grapes to make bread and wine.

Oswald Chambers, in My Utmost for His Highest, says, we are “being made broken bread and poured-out wine. God can never make us wine if we object to the fingers He uses to crush us with. If God would only use His own fingers, and make me broken bread and poured-out wine in a special way! But when He uses someone whom we dislike, or some set of circumstances to which we said we would never submit, and makes those the crushers, we object. We must never choose the scene of our own martyrdom. If ever we are going to be made into wine, we will have to be crushed; you cannot drink grapes. Grapes become wine only when they have been squeezed.”

Are there ways you can be ‘bread and wine’ for someone? Jesus is offering to remain in relationship with us in the bread and wine as well as when we offer ourselves to one another.

For your Journal: Write about what your relationship with God is like in light of knowing that you will never be spiritually hungry or thirsty when you are in relationship with Jesus.

It might help to put your name in the quote so you hear Jesus say, “[your name] comes to me will never be hungry, and [your name] believes in me will never be thirsty.”

March 24, 2009

March 24

97, 99, 100, 94
Jer. 17:19-27
Rom. 7:13-25
John 6:16-27

Psalm 100
1Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth.
2Worship the LORD with gladness; come into his presence with singing.
3Know that the LORD is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
4Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name.
5For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

Here we are in the midst of the penitential season of Lent and today one of the psalms is this joyful song to God. I recently made a ‘mandala’. The end result surprised me by being very symbolic of the seasons, cycles, and turnings of my life. Like a joyful psalm in lent, the cycles of our lives can be surprising.

A mandala is a spiritual tool used to focus the thoughts and bring us back to the center. In use by many religious traditions, the shape is usually circular or oval. Carl Jung said mandalas are “a representation of the unconscious self”. Used widely in Buddish and Native American religion, the mandala is also used by Christian mystics and seekers. Hildegard of Bingen, a 11th century nun, healer, writer, composer, botanist, and prioress drew mandalas to express many of her visions. She counseled popes and archbishops (almost unknown for a woman of that era). Some experts see the Celtic cross as a form of a mandala, esp. those with carvings along the uprights and crossbeams. Another is the rose window found in many churches and cathedrals. The reason for a mandala is to help use leave the rational, conscious mind aside and enter deeper into the mystery that is God.

The mandala I made at first seemed to be just an exercise for the class, but as I worked with it and thought about the colors which at first seemed random, I realized that there was a message for me. I found in it a reminder of the faith cycles I (we all) go through. This psalm also calls us to remember to be joyful and worship God through all the changes of our life.
Let me explain how the 3rd verse of this psalm fit into the cycles I found in my mandala.

A seed is planted (although the ground seems barren and nothing seems to be happening in your relationship with God). This is a time when we begin to Know that the LORD is God.
Watering is needed (the discovery of God’s never failing presence in the relationship). We understand that It is he that made us,
Sunlight encourages growth (our relationship with God is nurtured). We understand that We are his
All this leads to growth (a blooming of the relationship and flowering of faith and works). Simply because We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture

This quote from Mother Teresa brings us to a similar joyful place:
The Fruit of Silence is Prayer
The Fruit of Prayer is Faith
The Fruit of Faith is Love
The Fruit of Love is Service
The Fruit of Service is Peace

Have you observed similar patterns in your faith walk? Are there times when God seemed distant, followed by nourishing and nurturing which resulted in growing faith and the desire to respond with love and action?

For your Journal: Using Mother Teresa’s words draw your own mandala. Start with a circle or oval shape marked in 4 quadrants (or go to to find a starter shape to use. Choose one of the Fruits (prayer, faith, love, service, or peace) to be the center of our mandala. The other 4 will be represented in the 4 quadrants.

Now you can color or find pictures in magazines or even a variety of media in each of the quadrants to represent the “fruits”. Don’t be confined to the size of the printout or shape you drew. If you feel that you should expand outside the borders of the drawing, go ahead and mount the mandala on a larger paper.

When you finish, sit with your mandala and see if you can see a pattern between the 5 fruits and your life and relationship with God.

March 23, 2009

March 23

89:1-18, 89:19-52
Jer. 16:10-21
Rom. 7:1-12
John 6:1-15

John 6:1-15
1After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias.
2A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” 6He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” 15When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

I can certainly relate to Philip. Jesus asks “where are we going to buy bread for these people?” It was probably the very question running through all the disciples’ heads. Like me, Philip is very practical. He has already calculated that they don’t have nearly enough money to buy food for everyone and is probably thinking up a contingency plan, like how to convince everyone to leave and find their own dinner.

Andrew sees another option and finds a boy with some bread and fish, but “what are they among so many?”

Like the disciples, do you try to second guess God? Do ou prepare plan for events that might, but probably won’t, happen? Are you stymied by the limits of your imagination for solutions to problems in your life?

Jesus’ solution is larger than any of the disciples’ ideas. He provides food for everyone with 12 baskets of leftovers! God’s bounty is always greater than our imagination and always provides greater opportunities than we can imagine. We may not know what will happen, but we are called to live out our life faithfully.

Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-1890) wrote:
God has created me to do Him some definite service.
He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another.
I have my mission.
I may not know what it is in this life.
But I shall be told in the next.
I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.

He has not created me for nothing.
I shall do good. I shall do His work.
Therefore I will trust Him.
Whatever I do, wherever I am, I cannot be thrown away.
If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him.
If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him.
He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about.

God is always asking us to stretch ourselves and allow him to meet our needs and the needs of those who come to us. Can we let him? Can you let him?

For your journal: Read through the lesson a couple of times, using another translation if you want. Imagine yourself in the scene.

How would you have responded to Jesus’s question? What would your reaction have been to the miracle of gathering 12 baskets of scraps from only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish?

March 22, 2009

Sunday, March 22, Lent IV

66, 67, 19, 46
Joshua (4:19-24); 5:9-122
Corinthians 5:17-21
Luke 15:11-32

Corinthians 5:17-21
17So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Paul says we are called to the ministry of reconciliation—restoration of the world to God’s favor. As new creations, we are to work with God to bring the world back into sync with the Lord of all. Paul says we are “ambassadors for Christ”. An ambassador goes to a foreign country on behalf of a leader, ruler, or government. We are called to go into the world as representatives of Christ in and to the world.
What does it mean to be an ambassador (minister) of reconciliation? How can we do this ministry?

Fortunately, we aren’t alone or on our own in this mission. Christ goes with us and before us. All we need to do is respond and say ‘yes’. When we are in relationship with God, we are able to carry out our ministry as ambassadors (representatives) of the Holy One.

I collect clippings of poems, quotes, etc. that are meaningful to me. One that I’ve had for a long time is entitled Called to Say Yes. I think I copied it from a book of poetry, but it’s been so long ago that I don’t know who to give credit to. (You can tell from a couple of the verses that it was probably from the 70’s.) To me, this poem gives the answer to how to start a “ministry of reconciliation.”

We are called to say yes
That the Kingdom might break through
To renew and to transform
Our dark and groping world.

We stutter and we stammer
To the lone God who calls
And pleads a New Jerusalem
In the bloodied Sinai Straits

We are called to say yes
That honeysuckle may twine
And twist its smelling leaves
Over the graves of nuclear arms.

We are called to say yes
That children might play
On the soil of Vietnam where the tanks
Belched blood and death.

We are called to say yes
That black may sing with white
And pledge peace and healing
For the hatred of the past.

We are called to say yes
So that nations might gather
And dance one great movement
For the joy of humankind.

We are called to say yes
So that rich and poor embrace
And become equal in their poverty
Through the silent tears that fall.

We are called to say yes
That the whisper of our God
Might be heard through our sirens
And the screams of our bombs.

We are called to say yes
To a God who still holds fast
To the vision of the Kingdom
For a trembling world of pain.

We are called to say yes
To this God who reaches out
And asks us to share
His crazy dream of love.

For your journal: What might happen if you said “Yes” to God and “His crazy dream of love”? Jot down a few ways you could act as a minister or ambassador of reconciliation?

March 21, 2009

March 21

87, 90, 136
Jer. 13:1-11
Rom. 6:12-23
John 8:47-59

John 8:47-59
47Whoever is from God hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear them is that you are not from God.” 48The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon; but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 50Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is one who seeks it and he is the judge. 51Very truly, I tell you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.” 52The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon. Abraham died, and so did the prophets; yet you say, ‘Whoever keeps my word will never taste death.’ 53Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets also died. Who do you claim to be?” 54Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, he of whom you say, ‘He is our God,’ 55though you do not know him. But I know him; if I would say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you. But I do know him and I keep his word. 56Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad.” 57Then the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.

Jesus says, “Whoever is from God hears the words of God.”

How can we hear what God is saying in our hearts and lives? It can be hard to do, perhaps even more amid the modern clamor of Facebook and IM’s and texting when the goal is to ‘stay connected’ with our friends. Some say we are perhaps looking in the wrong places for community.

I think there is another side as well, for it is often within our relationships with one another that we find God. In our interaction and service to each other we find our Lord. We can forget to be in relationship with the One who is completely and forever on our side when we become immersed in technology and deafened by the clamor around us or we can hear and respond to the needs however we connect with them.
I am reminded of The Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry van Dyke. First published in 1896, it is usually called a Christmas classic (but it’s more than a Christmas story). If you have never read it, I suggest you go to and read it online. It’s a very short book—only 86 pages in the copy I have.

I have loved this short story of the fourth Magi, who got left behind because he stopped to help a sick man and missed finding the Christ child, since I first read a copy that belonged to my great-grandfather. I still have that copy, although I had to replace it with a newer one after a puppy chewed one corner.

Artaban spends his life searching for the Christ and helping the poor, sick, imprisoned he meets along the way. On Good Friday he finds himself in Jerusalem. His plan to rescue Jesus from the cross by using his last gift is thwarted when he must use it to ransom a girl being sold into slavery to pay her father’s debts. It is then that he understands:
“He had given away the last remnant of his tribute for the King. He had parted with the last hope of finding Him. The quest was over, and it had failed. But, even in that thought, accepted and embraced, there was peace…He knew that all was well, because he had done the best he could, from day to day. He had been true to the light that had been given him.”

Artaban learned that his gifts were accepted because they were given, in love, as to the Christ child. He gave of himself in his search and ultimately, “the Other Wise Man had found the King.”

Can our social networking help us to hear God in each other’s needs and hopes and fears? Is this a new way to hear and share the word of God and our relationship with our Lord?

For your journal: Artaban had difficult choices to make. He had to decide whether to follow the “expectation of faith or the impulse of love”. Can you think of times you were faced with that choice? What are some of your ‘expectations of faith’ and how do they conflict with the ‘impulse of love’?

March 20, 2009

March 20

88, 91, 92
Jer. 11:1-8, 14-20
Rom. 6:1-11
John 8:33-47

Psalm 91
1You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
2will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”

3For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence;
4he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
5You will not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day,
6or the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or the destruction that wastes at noonday.
7A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.
8You will only look with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.
9Because you have made the LORD your refuge, the Most High your dwelling place,
10no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent.
11For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.
12On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
13You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.
14Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name.
15When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them.
16With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.

This psalm is one of my favorites. I first read part of it in an unlikely place. It was in a Christian children’s book. In one scene the young protagonists were going to be burned at the stake by Indians. One of the children quoted verse 5. Sure enough, in the next chapter, everyone was saved by the Pony Express rider.

Years later, I learned a song based on this psalm—“On Eagles’ Wings” (Michael Joncas) whose refrain says: And He will raise you up on eagles' wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you to shine like the sun, and hold you in the palm of His hand.

These eagles in Alaska know the meaning of trust. They are waiting at a feeding station for their daily fish. They are certain that the human visitors will not fail them.

Both these remind us of the truth found in the first verse. When we trust in the Lord, we are kept safe, no matter what the danger is we are held safe in the palm of God’s hand. Knowing and trusting in that, we can readily say and believe, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.” When God is our refuge, we can rest secure in our relationship with God.

Have you had times in your life when your only hope was to trust in God? How did God prove faithful?

For your journal: Read through the psalm. List anything in your life that makes you fearful. Read the psalm again and insert whatever your greatest fear is into the psalm. Does it look less frightening in the context of this psalm?

March 19, 2009

March 19

42, 43, 85, 86
Jer. 10:11-24
Rom. 5:12-21
John 8:21-32

John 8:21-32
21Again he said to them, “I am going away, and you will search for me, but you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.”
22Then the Jews said, “Is he going to kill himself? Is that what he means by saying, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?” 3He said to them, “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. 24I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am he.” 25They said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Why do I speak to you at all? 26I have much to say about you and much to condemn; but the one who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.” 27They did not understand that he was speaking to them about the Father. 28So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things as the Father instructed me. 29And the one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him.” 30As he was saying these things, many believed in him. 31Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

Today we hear Jesus predicting his death, but no one understands him. However, he ends with a promise to those who do believe. “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

Truth is liberating. You know how it is when you tell even a ‘little white lie’. Inevitably it mushrooms and gets out of control. Pretty soon you forget who you have told what to and slip up. Meanwhile you are on edge trying not to get caught in your lie.

Of course, it’s not easy to tell the truth 100% of the time. Is it easier to say you like someone’s new shoes or to tell her “they are the ugliest things I’ve ever seen”? Not telling the truth opens you up to the temptation of gossiping about the shoes later and then the truth gets back to her.

Sometimes the truth is not easy to believe. For instance, if you had never seen or heard of water lilies, would you believe it if someone said flowers can grow and float in a pond of water?

Jesus is the ultimate Truth or Authenticity and by following Him, we can live a life of integrity. He says that when we remain in his word (thought, way) then that “truth will make you free.” We can believe the unbelievable truth that He rose from the dead.

Having Truth within us may, disturb us, as in this poem attributed to Sir Frances Drake:

Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.

We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.

How can we live “in strength, courage, hope, and love” so that we are disciples, remaining in Christ’s truth? Can you take time to stop and think before telling even the littlest ‘white lie’? Would that change your relationship with God and with those around you?

For your journal: Think over the last 24 hours. Were you truthful 100% of the time or did you prevaricate once or twice? Write about what else you might have done in these instances?

March 18, 2009

March 18

119:97-120, 81, 82
Jer. 8:18--9:6
Rom. 5:1-11
John 8:12-20

Rom. 5:1-11
1Therefore, since we are justified by faith
, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. 6For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. 8But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. 9Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. 10For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. 11But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Isn’t that a nice promise—“we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”? According to Strong’s, the word used by Paul is: eirēnē, pronounced i-rah'-nay. It is from the verb meaning to join and to be one, quiet, at rest, set at one again. We are at rest and one with God through Christ.

Peace can mean other things, too. The word we use now is derived from the Latin pax and before that the Hebrew word shalom. Along with the freedom from violence, peace has connotations of safety, prosperity, security, and even friendship. It also can indicate healthy relationships and equality, justice and goodwill.

Are there other words that come to mind when you think of peace? What does it mean to you that through our faith, we are at peace with God and have access to God’s grace?

Paul is referring to all of these when he says we are at peace with God. He says we have “hope of sharing the glory of God.” Despite any current sufferings, “hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

Emily Dickinson’s poem Hope is another way of looking at the idea of hope as something that never demands anything of us, but gives and gives despite everything.

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

These are powerful promises and assurances for us to think about. Do they help you come into a closer relationship with God?

For your Journal: Find some images of peaceful scenes—pictures you have taken, on-line searches, drawings of your own or someone else, etc. One of my favorite peaceful pictures is in this blog. Use them to meditate on being at peace with God. What does peace mean to you?

March 17, 2009

March 17, St. Patrick's Day

78:1-39, 78:40-72
Jer. 7:21-34
Rom. 4:13-25
John 7:37-52

Rom. 4:13-25
13For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. 16For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, 17as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” 19He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.” 23Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, 24but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.

We are about half way on our journey to Easter. Today is St. Patrick’s Day. It seems fitting that the feast day for a man like Patrick should be found in mid-Lent. Most people know the story of Patrick. He was born in the 4th century CE. As a young boy he was kidnapped and forced into slavery in Ireland. After his release and conversion, he heard God call him to return to Ireland and his captors. His obedience resulted in the conversion of the Irish Celts to Christianity. It was these same Christians who kept many of the scrolls of the church safe during the Dark Ages.

Paul writes to the Romans that righteousness depends on faith (rather than Law). He says, “For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations.”)” Paul is explaining that Abraham, father of the Jewish people, is also the spiritual father of all people.

As an evangelist to the Celts, Patrick might have kept this verse in mind, as he converted the people of Ireland by his life among them. By his words and actions, he lived his faith and demonstrated the power of Christianity. The Irish kings could see his intimate relationship with God and were converted because of it.

Patrick’s life was evidence that he believed Christ was present in all aspects of life, as is found in the chant that bears his name (St. Patrick’s Breastplate):
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

Few of us are called to evangelize a pagan people like the Celts of ancient Ireland, but we are called to live our faith in the midst of a secular world. How can we show the grace of Christ in our lives to those with whom we live and work? In what ways is your intimacy with God revealed in your life?

For your journal: Patrick and Paul were both missionaries and evangelists to non-Jewish peoples. In honor of Patrick, draw a shamrock. On each leaf write the name of a person you can pray for and/or share your faith with.

March 16, 2009

March 16

80, 77
Jer. 7:1-15
Rom. 4:1-12
John 7:14-36

Psalm 80
1Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
2before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your might, and come to save us!
3Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
4O LORD God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
5You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure.
6You make us the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves.
7Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
8You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it.
9You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land.
10The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches;
11it sent out its branches to the sea, and its shoots to the River.
12Why then have you broken down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?
13The boar from the forest ravages it, and all that move in the field feed on it.
14Turn again, O God of hosts; look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine,
15the stock that your right hand planted.

16They have burned it with fire, they have cut it down; may they perish at the rebuke of your countenance.
17But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself.
18Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name.
19Restore us, O LORD God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

In this Psalm (80), there is a refrain of sorts that builds throughout the psalm. The first occurrence is in verse 3: “Restore us, Elohim; let your face shine, that we may be saved.”

There are many names for God used throughout scripture. Elohim is the oldest used in the Bible and Yehovah (YHVH) is the Name revealed to Moses and therefore the holiest of names. It is so holy that only the initials are used by orthodox Jews.

In verse 7, God is recognized as being over all the hosts of heaven (Tsabaah—sometimes translated/spelled Sabbaoth). By the end of the psalm it is YHVH, Elohim Sabbaoth who the psalmist looks to for salvation. ‘Yehovah, the God of all the hosts [of heaven]’ The holiest of God’s names is invoked for the protection and salvation of the people.

God’s relationship with us has many levels, and changes with our needs. Sometimes we may look to the ‘traditional’ God we grew up with. Other times we desire help from all the hosts of heaven.
How often do we, unintentionally, limit God by looking at only one aspect of our Lord? It can be too easy to lower our expectations by thinking we know how God should or will act. The reminder that God has many names and many attributes or characteristics should give hope and open our hearts to greater expectations of the ways God can and will work in our lives. One of my favorite images of God is "Light" such as the setting sun in Tulsa pictured above. At other times, that Light is the blazing sunrise or rays of light from behind a cloud. Even within the one metaphor there are infinite possibilities.

Are there ways that you consistently think of God and limit your expectations and understanding of the fullness of God? How would thinking of God more broadly enrich your faith relationship?

The well known Footprints in the Sand story, attributed to Mary Stevenson is an analogy for our lives and God’s constant encouragement and presence in intimate relationship with us.

One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky. In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there were one set of footprints.

This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints.

So I said to the Lord, "You promised me Lord, that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there have only been one
set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, you have not been there for me?"

The Lord replied, "The times when you have seen only one set of footprints in the sand, is when I carried you."

For your journal: List as many names as you can for God (Shepherd, Friend, Lover, etc.). Then write down as many attributes or characteristics that you can think of for God. How does this expand your relationship with God?

March 15, 2009

Sunday, March 15, Lent III

93, 96, 34, 103
Jer. 6:9-15
1 Cor. 6:12-20
Mark 5:1-20

Mark 5:1-20

1They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. 2And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. 3He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; 4for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. 5Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. 6When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; 7and he shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” 9Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” 10He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; 12and the unclean spirits begged him, “Send us into the swine; let us enter them.” 13So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea. 14The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. 15They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. 16Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. 17Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood. 18As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. 19But Jesus refused, and said to him, Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” 20And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.

Jesus casts out a “Legion” of demons from a man and the people in the area are so afraid that they “beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood.” How often are we fearful of really letting God get close to our lives? We might have to rethink our interaction with each other, our way of life, our comfort zone, if we let Jesus in.

The man himself wants to go with Jesus, but instead Jesus tells him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” That must have been disappointing to the newly healed man. However, he does as he is told and “began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him.” It was through the man’s words and witness and life that “everyone was amazed.”

The second verse of the poem Perseverence by George Herbert tells us that the best we can do is speak and let God work. Ultimately, Herbert says, “Thou art my rock, thou art my rest.”

My God, the poor expressions of my Love
Which warm these lines, and serve them up to thee
Are so, as for the present, I did move
Or rather as thou movedst me.

But what shall issue, whither these my words
Shall help another
but my judgment be;
As a burst fouling-piece doth save the birds
But kill the man, is seal’d with thee.

For who can tell, though thou hast died to win
And wed my soul in glorious paradise;
Whether my many crimes and use of sin
May yet forbid the banes and bliss.

Only my soul hangs on thy promises
With face and hands clinging unto thy breast,
Clinging and crying, crying without cease
Thou art my rock, thou art my rest.

Has God acted in your life? Have you been healed? When did God provide something you needed? Are you afraid to tell other people about these times? If you are in an intimate relationship with someone, you want to share that with everyone. How much more should we want to share “how much Jesus has done”?

For your Journal: Read through this account 2 or 3 times. Find the account in another translation of the Bible, if you want. Put yourself in the story.

Are you one of the pig-herders who witness their livelihood drowning in the sea?
Do you relate to the demoniac with a life out of control?
Perhaps you understand how the townsfolk felt to find the insane man “clothed and in his right mind.”
Maybe you hear the man tell his story afterward.

Journal about the difference this event made in your life—from whatever perspective you relate to.

March 14, 2009

March 14

75, 76, 3, 27
Jer. 5:20-31
Rom. 3:19-31
John 7:1-13

Rom. 3:19-31
19Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.
20For “no human being will be justified in his sight” by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. 21But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, 22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; 26it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus. 27Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law. 29Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

I have often heard the quote “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”, but I never before paid much attention to the entire context of the sentence. Today, the next phrase jumped out as more important, “they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

It is true, none of us can attain our own salvation and we are all sinners. The good news, however, can be overlooked if the rest of the sentence is left off. The reality that we are justified by grace is what empowered John Newton to change his life and inspired him to write the hymn Amazing Grace.
The second verse speaks powerfully to his transformation (and to ours):
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!

It is nothing that we do, not adherence to the Law, not doing good works, nor giving sums of money, that will make our relationship with God right. It is only the redemption, some translations say the ransom, “that is in Christ Jesus” can change our lives. For me, ‘ransom’ is a more graphic term because it reminds me that a price was paid for me. A prisoner is ransomed or saved by payment of some sort. We were, as Paul says elsewhere "bought with a price."

What do the words “grace”, “redemption”, and “ransom” mean to you?

For your Journal: Read through, sing, or listen to the hymn Amazing Grace. What verse or line means the most to you? Write a bit about why the words are important to your faith journey.

March 13, 2009

March 13

95* & 69:1-23(24-30)31-38, 73
Jer. 5:1-9
Rom. 2:25--3:18
John 5:30-47

Rom. 2:25--3:18
2 25Circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law; but if you break the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.
26So, if those who are uncircumcised keep the requirements of the law, will not their uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 7Then those who are physically uncircumcised but keep the law will condemn you that have the written code and circumcision but break the law. 28For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. 29Rather, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart—it is spiritual and not literal. Such a person receives praise not from others but from God.
3 1Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision?
2Much, in every way. For in the first place the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. 3What if some were unfaithful? Will their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? 4By no means! Although everyone is a liar, let God be proved true, as it is written, “So that you may be justified in your words, and prevail in your judging.”5But if our injustice serves to confirm the justice of God, what should we say? That God is unjust to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) 6By no means! For then how could God judge the world? 7But if through my falsehood God’s truthfulness abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? 8And why not say (as some people slander us by saying that we say), “Let us do evil so that good may come”? Their condemnation is deserved! 9What then? Are we any better off? No, not at all; for we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, 10as it is written: “There is no one who is righteous, not even one; 11there is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God. 12All have turned aside, together they have become worthless; there is no one who shows kindness, there is not even one.” 13“Their throats are opened graves; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of vipers is under their lips.” 14“Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” 15“Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16ruin and misery are in their paths, 17and the way of peace they have not known.” 18“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

“Real circumcision is a matter of the heart” Paul says in this reading. To the Jewish man of Paul’s time, circumcision was the ultimate proof of belonging to the tribe, of being a Son of the Covenant, and of belief in God. Paul’s words must have created quite a stir in the Jewish community. He was saying that this physical mark was not enough to make them righteous.

Paul goes on to say that the truly righteous person is one who “receives praise…from God.” If circumcision (of the heart) is the proof of belonging to God, how can we change our hearts to be in right relation with God—to be righteous?

Paul admits later on, “all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin” and quotes several verses of scripture to prove this. Despite all this, Paul’s underlying argument is that God is faithful even though we are not and cannot be. The only way to be righteous is to look to God, the only One who can affect the change.

As I have said, Lent is a time of looking at our relationship with God. Are there things in your interaction with God that could be changed to make the relationship more fulfilling or more intimate? Maybe one way is to remember this poem by Grace Naessens called The Difference

I got up early one morning and rushed right into the day;
I had so much to accomplish, I didn't have time to pray.
Problems just tumbled about me and grew heavier with each task;
Why doesn't God help me, I wondered; He answered, "You didn't ask."

I wanted to see joy and beauty, but the day toiled on, gray and bleak;
I wondered why God didn't show me - He said, "But you didn't seek."
I tried to come into God's presence; I used all my keys at the lock;
God gently and lovingly chided, "My child, you didn't knock."

I woke up early this morning and paused before entering the day;
I had so much to accomplish that I had to take time to pray.

For your Journal: Draw a heart. Inside-write all the ways you seek God (prayer, study, etc.) On the outside list some of the things that draw you away from God. Which of these outer things can you ‘circumcise’ so that you can draw closer to God?

March 12, 2009

March 12

71, 74
Jer. 4:9-10, 19-28
Rom. 2:12-24
John 5:19-29

Psalm 71
1In you, O LORD, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.
2In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me and save me.
3Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.
4Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel.
5For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O LORD, from my youth.
6Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you.
7I have been like a portent to many, but you are my strong refuge.
8My mouth is filled with your praise, and with your glory all day long.
9Do not cast me off in the time of old age; do not forsake me when my strength is spent.
10For my enemies speak concerning me, and those who watch for my life consult together.
11They say, “Pursue and seize that person whom God has forsaken, for there is no one to deliver.”
12O God, do not be far from me; O my God, make haste to help me!
13Let my accusers be put to shame and consumed; let those who seek to hurt me be covered with scorn and disgrace.
14But I will hope continually, and will praise you yet more and more.
15My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all day long, though their number is past my knowledge.
16I will come praising the mighty deeds of the Lord GOD, I will praise your righteousness, yours alone.
17O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
18So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to all the generations to come. Your power
19and your righteousness, O God, reach the high heavens. You who have done great things, O God, who is like you?
20You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again.
21You will increase my honor, and comfort me once again.
22I will also praise you with the harp for your faithfulness, O my God; I will sing praises to you with the lyre, O Holy One of Israel.
23My lips will shout for joy when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have rescued.
24All day long my tongue will talk of your righteous help, for those who tried to do me harm have been put to shame, and disgraced.

Have you ever noticed that many of the psalms that start out as a cry for help turn into a song of praise? Ps. 71, today, is a good example. The psalmist begs for rescue and then his thoughts turn to the truth that the Lord is the One “I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you.”

I know I can relate to this experience. When I let myself look around at the worrisome things in the world then I am tempted to think it is in the “grasp of the unjust and cruel”. When I stop and sit down and listen to God, however, I am reminded that truly God is “my strong refuge.” I remember that all through my life, God has led me forward step by step from a shy teen barely able to stutter through a report to a confident woman able to teach adults.
If it’s finances that have me fretting—I need to recall the times when God provided just the right amount to pay bills.
If it is a health issue, I can bring to mind times when prayers for healing have been answered.
If it’s danger, I need to recall that I am held safe in God’s hands.
If things aren’t going the way I think they should, well, I need to remind myself that God is in control, not me.

The psalmist says, “O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.” In thinking back over my life, I know that this is true for me, too. God has indeed taught me to trust and has been faithful to meet every need.

Just like a parent, God guides us gently forward. First with baby steps and “milk”, as Paul says. (I Cor. 3:2) Later on, the “meat” of faith is given to us.

Have you ever felt that you were alone against the world? Are you able to remember times when God helped you through troubles? Did God provide ‘milk’ or ‘meat’ for you? The poem Broken Toys is an image of what we often do in our relationship with God:

As children bring their broken toys,
With tears for us to mend;
I brought my broken dreams to God
Because he was my friend.
But then instead of leaving him in peace to work alone,
I hung around and tried to help, with ways that were my own.
At last I snatched them back and cried
"How could you be so slow?"
"My child," He said, "What could I do?
You never did let go..."

For your journal: Look back over your life. Write down spiritual stepping stones along the way. These are the times you were aware, either at the time or later, that God was present and active in your life. These may not be grand experiences of the Holy Spirit (although they might be). If you are having trouble, block your life out in 5 or 10 year segments and think about this time frame and then move on to the next.

Some of my stepping stones are:
The Bible story books I read as a child.
Courage during changes in my life, knowing I felt the presence of God.
Times when God supplied just the right amount of money to pay bills.
Employment when needed and the realization the each job was the right one at the right time.