Journey to Awareness Lent Day 18

NIV Ezekiel 36:25-27   I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.  I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

For those of us who believe baptism is a sacrament of grace that is a sign of our belonging to God’s new covenant people, the sprinkling of water has a profound meaning.  I was baptized by immersion.  It was not being dunked in a tub full of water that was important.  Yes, the literal word in the Greek does mean to immerse, but immersed in what?  Immersed in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Immersed in love and grace.  Immersed into a community of the called, the set apart whom God has given a new heart and a new spirit. This is what is important.  God does the sprinkling (or the dunking or the pouring) and we become a child of the covenant.

Lent has its foundation in baptism.  In the early church it was a time of preparation for baptism.  For me today, it is a time of preparation because of baptism.

God’s Spirit has come to (John 16:8) convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.  The Holy Spirit (John 14:26)  will teach you all things and will remind you of everything Jesus taught about the Word of God.  The more we submit to the Spirit’s leading the closer we are to God and the more understanding of the relational covenant we will possess.  This understanding is what sustains us when all else fails.

Take time today to reflect on your baptism.  Take time to pay attention to the Spirit God has sent to our hearts.  Take time to be changed and give thanks for the deeper and more profound hope you will find.

Journey to Awareness Lent Day 16

NIV Luke 19:10   “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

The concept of being lost is not one the occupies much thought in our culture.  There are still a few TV preachers and fundamentalist who use it as phrase to get an amen, raise money, or push a new program of “evangelism”, but “being lost” is far from being a social concern.  Church people, “saved” people, are not the dominant voice in the public square anymore.  The church itself has become more concerned with its material survival and cultural preservation than in being the presence of our Lord who “came to seek and to save what was lost”.

As relationships grow more shallow and transitory and our purpose in life more driven by consumption, “lost-ness” has become an idea delegated to the category of a religious vestige.  Being lost or having lost as it relates to God doesn’t matter much.  In an age of “no fear” the language of being lost is not a motivator for seeking God.

So what do we do?

First we pray.  We pray for ourselves.  We pray that we become sensitive, burdened, and filled with a desire to be what the church is intended to be:

NIV 1 Corinthians 12:27  Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

We need to pray that God will give us determination to do what Jesus came to do in seeking the lost.  We must also pray for those who are separated from God.

Secondly, we must take inventory of our own spiritual growth.  We must: (Philippians 2:12)  continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling- and grow in our desire for perfection.  It is this desire for perfection, of a closer, more confident walk with our Lord that will keep our focus on God’s desire.

Third, we must be witnesses that are (Matthew 10:16)  shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.  We must learn how to be sensitive to the actions of the Holy Spirit as God’s prevenient grace works on the hardened hearts that live in darkness around us.  We must be ready to listen without judgment.  We must be will to support without conditions.  We must learn to accept people as they are and them help them to discover just how much God loves them and what they have lost in not having this relationship that is the purpose of our creation.

People are lost.  People suffer.  People need.  Jesus cares. ( John 11:35)  Jesus wept.  Do we?

 

 

 

 

The Third Sunday in Lent – A Gathering on the Journey

Today we gather to worship.  Today we come together before our God.  What mindset and attitude will we bring with us?  Is today something to be endured?  Is today something that causes excitement?  Is today something that we do out of habit?  Is today and opportunity to renew our hope.

The spiritual perspectives and provisions of this day will not depend upon the technical aspects of the service.  It will not depend on the skill or lack there of skill of the preacher.  It will depend upon the heart I/we bring to offer to our Lord.

Today we will pray.  Will we pray with confidence?  Today we will sing.  Will we seek to sing or sing to our God?  Today we will give.  Will our giving (or not giving) be out of guilt, out of greed, out of manipulation or out of love for our Lord?  We will come together with others.  Will we come and look down on those who we think we are better than?  Will we come critical and confrontational or perhaps with an apathetic orientation toward others who come?  Or, will we come excited and anticipating how others gifts will bless us and how others needs can be met by us.

The journey of Lent is one of awareness.  Let us be aware today as we have the opportunity to once again gather on the beginning day of the week, the day our Lord defeated sin and death and rose for the purpose of bringing us back to the God who loves us one and all.

Journey to Awareness Lent Day 12

NIV Isaiah 55:6   Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near.

There will always be distractions.  We will never have enough time.  Good intentions will remain intentions until the commitment is made and carried out.

The principalities and powers seem to be fed on the theft of time.  Time is what God has given us as either a means of preparation or as a witness as to our wastefulness.  I am continually grieved at my own struggle to be a good steward of the time that has been granted to me.  I dare not judge others for what they do with time, but my heart does go out to those who have no idea what time really means.

NIV Ecclesiastes 1:14 I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

ESV Ephesians 5:16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.

CSB Psalm 90:12 Teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts.

As a pastor, I encounter people at all levels of spiritual development.  Those who understand the verses listed above have a depth to the souls and a strength in their hearts which cannot be shaken by the darkness of this world nor do they have much time stolen from them.  These are the wise servants of the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:13-30).

Lent is a time.  A time that calls us to preparation.  The early church understood the need for this.  They grasped the struggle that must be faced and the mystery we are called to encounter.  Everything happens in accord with God’s will because time is a creation of God.  Do not seek to put the previous statement into a simple theological formula.  It will not fit.  Things like suffering, depravity, inequality that happen in the midst of our time cannot be reasoned, explained, or understood by our finite grasp of our journey through this life.  Somehow we must find the faith to trust that God does.

NIV Isaiah 55:8   “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.

How do we not waste time?  How can we make our journey one of awareness and preparation rather than meaninglessness and foolish victimization?

NIV Isaiah 55:11  so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

The Word of God made known in Scripture, experience, tradition, and reason give us the best options for training we can receive.  These are our tools.   The Word of God is made flesh in Jesus.  In seeking Jesus, in loving Jesus, in living for Jesus, in reflecting, meditating, desire Jesus our time is well spent.

NIV Galatians 6:10  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

We continue the journey toward the cross and the tomb in the midst of time.

Journey to Awareness Lent Day 11

NIV Exodus 3:5  God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”

I love the song, Holy Ground.  The song reminds us that anywhere the presence of God is holy ground.  It is sacred space.  It is here we need to be careful and not let our Western minds muddle theology.  God is everywhere.  Since God is everywhere (as the Psalmist states: Psalm 139:7-8  Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?  If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.  NIV) then everywhere is holy ground.

This does not mean we must walk around everywhere barefoot.  It does mean we are to be mindful of the presence of God and the attitude of respect that God is due.

I know we have our spiritual family gathering, our localized pre-arranged time of worship, on Sundays.  These are needed times for us to come together and rejoice over the resurrection and demonstrate our faith to God in our doing the liturgy (the work of the people).  The building we use for our communal worship is holy ground.  Sacred acts and experiences happen there.  However, let’s not make the mistake of thinking this is the only time we should worship.  Our lives should be a time of worship.  We are to be a people of continuous prayer.  A people who feast daily on the Scripture.  In Jesus Christ we are all priests and carry God’s temple around with us in our hearts.  

Lent calls to us to worship daily.  Jesus is with us always.  God’s presence is ever with us.  Make worship a priority of you life. It is how we fulfill the greatest commandment to love the Lord our God will all that we are.  Remember, where ever we are we are standing on holy ground.

Proverbs 8:34  Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway.

Journey to Awareness Lent Day 10

NIV Genesis 32:26-28  Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”  The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered.  Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”

Have you ever wrestled with God?  I have.  No, not in the way Jacob did, but in my heart and mind in trying to understand some of the things I have faced in my life.

When Jacob wrestled with God he was afraid.  He was trying to come home and did not know how his brother was going to act toward him.  His brother had planned to kill him in the past.  So why does God come and wrestle with Jacob when he is already afraid?  God wanted Jacob to know he really had nothing to fear.  God wanted Jacob to know that God was involved in Jacob’s life.  God wanted Jacob to know that Jacob had an inner strength to rely on.

Fear is a foe all of us must face.  It often wears disguises such as worry, anxiousness, uncertainty, pain, or even embarrassment.  Often it comes when we are facing difficult times.  It comes when we face our own physical, emotional, mental, and/or spiritual struggles.  It comes when events of evil and chaos make us wonder why.  In these times we may cry out to God, “What are you doing?”  These are times of wrestling.  There may not be easy answers.  God knows our struggles.  Jesus wrestled with the Father in the garden asking if there was any other way than the cross.  In the end, Jesus trusted in the will he had come to fulfill and we are the ones most blest.

On our journey we will struggle.  God has given us a gift for times like this.

NIV 1 Peter 5:7  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Journey to Awareness Lent Day 8

NIV 2 Corinthians 1:19-20 For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.  Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

Get these three Principles fixed in your hearts: that Things eternal are much more considerable than Things temporal; that Things not seen are as certain as the Things that are seen; that upon your present choice depends your eternal lot.  Choose Christ and his ways, and you are blessed forever; refuse, and you are undone forever. – John Wesley

I hate making wrong turns.  Being the intuitive I am I can drive along in my own little world and drive right past the exit I am supposed to take.  I hate to think how my times I have driven right by the Abilene loop that leads to Winters and have had to exit by Walmart.

It is easy to get distracted from our destination in this life.  There are lots of forces trying to get us to make wrong turns.  What is the last time you saw a commercial on TV or an ad in a secular magazine trying to get you to prepare for your ultimate eternal destiny.  If anything they will try to distract you and get you to focus on how their product can make you happy now.  These are at best distractions and at worse delusions.

God has given us a promise in Jesus.  A promise that can guide us now and which will put us on our knees in thankfulness in days to come.  Lent is a time of check God’s map for our journey.   It is a time to gain awareness of where we are going and why.  When we give time daily to God through the means of grace of reading Scripture, praying, fasting, or practicing other spiritual disciplines that bring us close to God and God’s influence in our lives we are blessed by the promises.  We are able to stand firm against deception and delusions.  John Wesley is right.  The choices are up to us.

Journey to Awareness Lent Day 6

NIV Romans 4:22-24  This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.”  The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone,  but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness– for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.

The resurrection of Jesus from death is what makes the Christian story Good News.  It moves our faith from the realm of simply ethical living or one of many pre-scientific religions that serve to easy the mental strain of that which cannot be explained to a blessed hope.  Not a hope of maybe but a hope of certainty.

The resurrection is viewed by secular science as a myth because it goes against the known “knowledge” that science depends upon.  It is a miracle, a seeming violation of the laws of science.

The journey of Lent would be a journey of futility, a journey of toward a foolish, avoidable destiny if not for the resurrection that spells is end and a new beginning.  We who are now willfully engaging in this journey of faith live in the knowledge of this miracle and the promise that this miracle is ours as well.

In making the resurrection a foundational truth upon which we seek to live our lives is “credited” to us as righteousness.  Again, this is not simply thinking that the resurrection is true but living in the hope it gives.  Living this way should motivate us toward building in our lives the things which will be part of our eternal character rather than just living in the delusion of meaning this world pushes as the truth.

Resurrection oriented thinking and living is not easy.  It requires preparation.  It requires attention and intentionality.  It is a call to spiritual formation and spiritual discipline.  This is focus of Lent.  May we be diligent in our efforts.

The Journey to Awareness Lent Day 6

Nehemiah 9:6   You alone are the LORD. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.

Romans 1:20  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities– his eternal power and divine nature– have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

Living in a small town in West Texas you are never far away from wide open spaces.  It is not hard to see a vast starry sky at night or a to watch clouds forming all kinds of shapes and images during the day.  It is not to hard to find a dove sitting on a wire or a hawk sitting on high vantage point.  All around us the natural world functions as God has decreed.

It is important to be aware of this wonder.  Jesus would retreat to be alone with the Father.  It might be a mountain, or a garden, or a stop on the side of the road.  Nature was aware of Jesus presence.  The rocks would worship Him if we did not.  The creation is groaning for His deliverance.  Until then it stands as a witness to us.  It function as God intended.  It does so and will continue to do say until God changes things.  This is natural revelation.  Deep in our hearts every person knows this is so.

During the season of Lent Spring will began to once again bring forth the cycle of life.  Out of Winters barren-ness will come the new life of seeds, of leaves, of baby birds, caterpillars, and all other kinds of life.  God reveals life.  God is about life.  God overcomes death.  There is no excuse for our ignoring the good desires to bring to us.

The Journey of Awareness – the Temple Lent Day 5

NIV 1 Kings 8:27-29  “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!   Yet give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy, O LORD my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day.   May your eyes be open toward this temple night and day, this place of which you said, ‘My Name shall be there,’ so that you will hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place.

NIV 1 Corinthians 3:16  Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?

This morning I awoke to a daily ritual.  I get up, let the dog, feed the dog, turn on the Keurig, check my email, and then do Tai Chi followed by the Morning office of prayer.  The last two my wife and I do together.  It is a simple routine that provides a sense of connected-ness with time and the ordinary.  I am also aware what I do God is doing with me.  Why, because God has chosen me as his temple.

Jesus said in  Luke 19:46 (and two other Gospels)   ‘My house will be a house of prayer.  God comes and dwells with us making us his temple and calls us to continual prayer.  God wants us to be a place of worship.  This does NOT negate our coming together as the Church as some people falsely believe.  I does mean that God really does want to be with us.  This is one of the primary elements of love.

As we make this journey with Jesus toward the cross I hope we can be filled with the awe  and the desire for mercy that Solomon felt when God entered the Temple he had built.   I also hope it fills us with a sense of deeper intimacy and connected-ness with our Lord who wants to be a part of everything we do.