April 21

Easter Sunday   “He is not here, he is risen!”

Scripture: John 20:1-18

20 Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. 2 She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

3 Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. 4 They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. 6 Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, 7 while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. 8 Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed— 9 for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. 10 Then they went home.

11 Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. 12 She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her.

“Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

14 She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. 15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”

She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”

16 “Mary!” Jesus said.

She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).

17 “Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18 Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Let’s play out this scene a little bit. Early on the first day of the week, the first day of the New Creation, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb. Do you remember what happened on the first day of creation in Genesis? Darkness covered the deep waters and God said, “Let there be light.” Here the Light of the world is ushering in a new creation on the first day! Death has been defeated! Mary saw that the stone was rolled away and the body of Jesus gone. So she went and got Peter and John, two of the disciple leaders and told them someone took Jesus’ body out of the tomb. So the men ran to the tomb. John was faster than Peter (Why did John put that information in the Scriptures? A playful dig at Peter?) John looked into the tomb; Peter walked right in. The clothes were there but no body. It says John believed right then. Then both men went home! Apparently Mary stayed or came back to look into the tomb. When she did, she saw two angels (remember there are always two witnesses to verify?) who asked her why she was crying. (At this point Mary still thought the body had been moved or stolen. As for John and Peter, we don’t know what they were doing at home.) She told the angels that someone had taken Jesus’ body and she wondered where it was. Can you imagine the next few moments? She turned and a man asked her the same question as to why she was crying and who she was looking for. Her answer was the same as her answer to the angels. Then Jesus simply said her name, “Mary.” She instantly recognized her risen Lord! Notice what Jesus said. Go find my brothers and tell them I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God. Jesus immediately identifies the brothers with himself and with his God. Our Brother has opened the way to God the Father. The Temple curtain is torn and the way to the Father has been opened to all by our High Priest, Jesus. Mary went to the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Mary’s mission is our mission. “He is risen! He is risen, indeed!”

Music: “Messiah Part III”

www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGlAN_FE69o

“I Know that My Redeemer Liveth”   Sylvia McNair St. Martin in the Field Orchestra

www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kg7aXEvCeXY             Sylvia McNair is  a Wheaton College grad and follower of Jesus Christ. It shows in her singing! The story goes that Robert Shaw chose her for his recording of the Messiah because he wanted someone “who believed what they sang.”

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, the moment we have longed for has come; the night of our desires is here. What greater occupation could there be than for us to proclaim the power of your Resurrection! This was the night when you shattered the gates of hell, and you took up the victory banner of heaven This was the night when you set us among the stars. When your mother Mary gave birth to you she was overwhelmed with joy at your power. The blood which flowed from your side has washed away our sins. Your body rising from the tomb has promised us eternal life. Eternal are the blessings which in your love you have poured upon us.   ―from the  Gelasian Sacramentary.

Postscript:
Friends, thank you for journeying with us through the season of Lent 2019. This marks the tenth Lenten Devotional I’ve written and I am more in awe of our Lord each year. He truly speaks through his word in transforming our lives. Watch for the next Advent Devotional beginning December 1, 2019. A huge thank you to my oldest son, Jonathan, for putting all of this together. He has made all of this possible and I’m deeply grateful to him for his time and effort in helping make this resource available. I am grateful it has gone to some thirty states and countries all over the world: Hong Kong, China, Singapore, Nigeria, UK, France, Jamaica, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Ukraine, Japan, South Korea, and even Texas (!) to name a few. Feel free to pass the link along! If you have any questions use this email: [email protected]. Blessings on you all.

Sources:

The Valley of Vision, The Banner of Truth Trust

The Worshiping Church,  Hope Publishing, 1990

The Worship Sourcebook,  CRC Publications, Faith Alive, & Baker Books, 2004

Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1983

The Oxford Book of Prayer, ed. George Appleton, Oxford University Press, 1985

The Book of Common Prayer, Seabury Press, 1928

Prayers for Easter, Ideals Publications, Nashville

The Book of Uncommon Prayer, Word Publishing

April 20

Holy Saturday in Holy Week   “so he rested from all his work”

Scripture:  Genesis 2:1-3

2 So the creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them was completed. 2 On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work. 3 And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Put yourself in the mind of the disciples today. The one you have traveled with the past three years was dead. You had seen him raise people from the dead; you had seen him walk on water, feed thousands of people miraculously, cast out demons, make crippled and blind people well. He talked about proclaiming the Kingdom of God has come yet avoided following through on setting up his Kingdom and in fact had gotten killed in the process. You had the added guilt in running away instead of standing up for him. Things were in a mess! You really don’t know what to think about anything. You thought he was the Messiah, but that idea is over. You are sad and depressed and guilt-ridden. This is an awful day!

Now look at this day from another perspective. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Through each of the seven days, God added to the work he had done the previous day. On day six he made male and female in his own image and gave them free will and finished up his work. On the seventh day God rested from all his work and declared it a holy day because it was his day of rest, it separated the ordinary works from the holy. It was laying the foundation of Israel’s worship. It was also the day without end. Each of the other six days all end with the phrase “it was evening and it was morning.” That phrase is absent from the seventh day. Why? It anticipates the unending fellowship between God and his people. Sin entered and the perfect communion between God and his people was broken. What does this all have to do with Holy Saturday? What were Jesus’ last words on the cross? “It is finished!” and “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” After he finished his work of creation, God rested. After Jesus finished his work of re-creation, he rested in the tomb. He commended his spirit back to his Father, his work of redemption completed. No one but the Father and the Son knew what had happened. But soon, that would all change. Just a few more hours!

Music: Messiah Part II      Dream Orchestra    Daniel Suk conductor

www.youtube.com/watch?v=ONCXnPbYUok

Prayer: This is the night, when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave. How wonderful and beyond our knowing, O God, is your mercy and loving kindness to us, that to redeem a slave, you gave a Son. How holy is this night, when wickedness is put to flight, and sin is washed away. It restores innocence to the fallen and joy to those who mourn. It casts out pride and hatred and brings peace and concord. How blessed is this night, when earth and heaven are joined and man is reconciled to God. All glory be to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit world without end. Amen.
―Book of Common Prayer

April 19

Good Friday in Holy Week  “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

Read each of these verses noticing how thoroughly, willingly, and fully Jesus identified with humanity. Ask yourself this question each time, “Why is this phrase significant? What does it reveal?”

Scripture Isaiah 53

1 Who has believed our message
       and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

 2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
       and like a root out of dry ground.
       He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
       nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

 3 He was despised and rejected by men,
       a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
       Like one from whom men hide their faces
       he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

 4 Surely he took up our infirmities
       and carried our sorrows,
       yet we considered him stricken by God,
       smitten by him, and afflicted.

 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
       he was crushed for our iniquities;
       the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
       and by his wounds we are healed.

 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
       each of us has turned to his own way;
       and the LORD has laid on him
       the iniquity of us all.

 7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
       yet he did not open his mouth;
       he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
       and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,
       so he did not open his mouth.

 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
       And who can speak of his descendants?
       For he was cut off from the land of the living;
       for the transgression of my people he was stricken.

 9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
       and with the rich in his death,
       though he had done no violence,
       nor was any deceit in his mouth.

 10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
       and though the LORD make his life a guilt offering,
       he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
       and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.

 11 After the suffering of his soul,
       he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
       by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
       and he will bear their iniquities.

 12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,  
       and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
       because he poured out his life unto death,
       and was numbered with the transgressors.
       For he bore the sin of many,
       and made intercession for the transgressors.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
This chapter is the gospel in the First Testament. As each verse furthers the story, you see God’s plan of redemption unfolding. What aspects are key from God’s perspective? Let’s walk our way through the chapter. We begin with God speaking powerfully. We are introduced to God’s Servant who will be the path. The person is humble and very ordinary looking; nothing striking about his appearance. The Servant was rejected, even despised by those around him. The amazing thing was that this man empathized and carried the weaknesses and grief of those that hated him. The people dismissed him figuring his troubles were a result of God punishing him for his own sin not realizing it was their sins for which he was suffering. Isaiah, the speaker, goes on to describe the Servant being pierced, beaten, whipped as he bore our sins. He also reminds us that every person has rebelled and gone their own way and out of love, the Servant took the punishment for their rebellion upon himself. He did not fight back when condemned. He had done nothing wrong and yet was killed like a criminal. In an interesting twist, he was buried in a rich man’s grave. We are then told clearly that it was God’s plan to bring redemption about in this exact manner. The Servant’s perfect, holy life was made the sacrificial offering for the sin of the world. Though he died alone, his death paved the way for many descendants to be made righteous in the sight of God because he carried their sin to the cross. In his death on the cross he was counted as a rebel. We are the rebels but he stood in on our behalf bearing the brunt of what we should have received. Having defeated death for all eternity, we have been redeemed by this Suffering Servant, Jesus the Christ, and not only us, but the entire created order.

Music: “Were You There?”

www.youtube.com/watch?v=K5qUnKC9rPU Kings College

Hymn: O Sacred Head, Now Wounded    ―Bernard of Clairvaux, 12th century

O sacred Head, now wounded,

with grief and shame weighed down,

now scornfully surrounded

with thorns, thine only crown:

how pale thou art with anguish,

with sore abuse and scorn!

How does that visage languish

which once was bright as morn!

What thou, my Lord, has suffered

was all for sinners’ gain;

mine, mine was the transgression,

but thine the deadly pain.

Lo, here I fall, my Savior!

‘Tis I deserve thy place;

look on me with thy favor,

vouchsafe to me thy grace.

What language shall I borrow

to thank thee, dearest friend,

for this thy dying sorrow,

thy pity without end?

O make me thine forever;

and should I fainting be,

Lord, let me never, never

outlive my love for thee.

Prayer:  Today he who hung the earth upon the waters is hung upon the Cross.
He who is King of the angels is arrayed in a crown of thorns.
He who wraps the heaven in clouds is wrapped in the purple of mockery.
He who in Jordan set Adam free receives blows upon his face.
The Bridegroom of the Church is transfixed with nails. The Son of the Virgin is pierced with a spear.
We venerate thy Passion, O Christ.
Show us also thy glorious Resurrection.
–Hymns for Good Friday, Orthodox

April 18

Maundy Thursday in Holy Week   A new command I give you: Love one another.”

Scripture  John 13: 33-35

 33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.

 34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
If you knew you were doing to die in the next day or so, what would you say to your family and closest friends?  What would you talk about? I seriously doubt you’d be talking about soccer games, politics, the weather, the stock market or work. My guess is you’d be telling them how much you loved them. You’d want them to remember what you had taught them and to not “get off the track.” You’d tell them that you wanted them to love and look after each other and that you’d miss them but that you’d see them again. That’s pretty much what Jesus did in John chapters 13,14,15,& 16. In chapter 17 we get to listen in first hand on Jesus’ conversation, his prayer, to his heavenly Father. Chapters 13 through 19 cover less than 24 hours and is about a third of the entire book. John was an eyewitness this whole time. He thought it extremely important to record these conversations of the final hours of Jesus on earth. Some of the are extended conversations with the disciples. They include some of the most notable and oft-quoted words of Jesus. What is likewise of utmost importance is that we get to read and hear what Jesus thought was most important to say in the few hours before his death. It would then seem to me that we should give great attention to this portion of the book. John 17 is like eavesdropping on Jesus as he prays to his Father. We hear Jesus bearing his heart to his Father as he prays concerning the fulfillment of his mission to earth, his disciples, for us (!), and finally the truth of his indwelling of his children. In this section of the John’s gospel we have a model of grace, confidence, love, concern, and faithfulness as one leaves this world for heaven.  Over the next couple of days, take your time and read these passages again putting yourself in the midst of the disciples. What would (will?) you say to your loved ones if you knew you were going to die? You are. Tell them now what you want to say.

Please plan to be with us tomorrow night for the Good Friday service with the Chancel Choir. I’ll be preaching on “What All Happened on Good Friday?” at 7:00 PM. Being a part of these Holy Week services will change your perspective on Easter Sunday morning!

Music: “Ubi Caritas”       Ola Gjeila Very beautiful setting of text “a new command” (mandatum in Latin from which we get Maundy)

www.youtube.com/watch?v=zvI5sNucz1w     This is just the choral piece (text below)

www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_7mcGqsKP8   Same piece but the composer improvises on the piano with the choir.

Hymn:  Ubi Caritas      

(This hymn text was written specifically for Maundy Thursday worship possibly as early as the 4th century.)

Where charity and love are, there God is.
The love of Christ has gathered us into one flock.
Let us exult, and in Him be joyful.
Let us fear and let us love the living God.
And from a sincere heart let us love each other (and Him).

Where charity and love are, there God is.
Therefore, whensoever we are gathered as one:
Lest we in mind be divided, let us beware.
Let cease malicious quarrels, let strife give way.
And in the midst of us be Christ our God.

Where charity and love are, there God is.
Together also with the blessed may we see,
Gloriously, Thy countenance, O Christ our God:
A joy which is immense, and also approved:
Through infinite ages of ages.
Amen.

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, you have shaped our faith by making us believe you shared our mortal nature. In Gethsemane real drops of sweat fell from your body.  Lord Jesus, you have given us hope, because you endured all the spiritual and physical hardships which mortal nature can suffer. In Gethsemane your soul was sin torment, and your heart shook at the prospect of the physical pain to come. You showed all the natural weaknesses of the flesh, that we might know that you have truly borne our sorrows.
―Saint Bonaventura

April 17

Wednesday in Holy Week    “One of you is going to betray me.”

Scripture: John 13:21-30

21 After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.”

 22 His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. 23 One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. 24 Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.”

 25 Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”

 26 Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. 27 As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.

   “What you are about to do, do quickly,” Jesus told him, 28 but no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. 29 Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the Feast, or to give something to the poor. 30 As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Betrayal is one of the most difficult, awful acts between supposed friends. To be disregarded and despised by a friend is horrible. The betrayer must put self and self-interest above the relationship and the other person. In the case of the disciples’ forsaking Jesus and all running away, that form of betrayal was pure cowardice. Judas’ situation was far worse. I was a calculated betrayal. For this kind to work, the betrayer must have the complete trust of the one who is to be betrayed. That is what makes it so despicable. Betrayal is a complete and hostile disregard of the friend and relationship. Judas was all about money and power. I believe he wanted to force Jesus’ hand against the Romans figuring he would be in a position of power should that happen. He was apparently a crook long before this incident. One who looks out for the best interest of another, will not betray. Jesus shows us how to respond when we are betrayed. Jesus washed the feet of Judas right before Judas left to collect his betrayal money and tell the Romans where to find Jesus.  Jesus knew what Judas was about to do, even as he washed the feet of Judas! Jesus let the consequences of Judas’ action deal with Judas. Jesus’ words were “I did not come to judge the world but to save it.” Remember, betrayal pays its own horrendous dividend, always. Can you imagine Jesus saying this about you? “It would be better for you if you had never been born.” On the other hand, Jesus offers forgiveness. Just ask Peter who also betrayed his Lord. When betrayed, Jesus is our model. When we betray, Peter is our model.

Please plan to be with us tomorrow noon at 12:15 PM for the Maundy Thursday service and then  for the Good Friday service with the Chancel Choir. I’ll be preaching on “What All Happened on Good Friday?” at 7:00 PM. Being a part of Holy Week services will change your perspective on Easter Sunday morning!

Music: “And He Never Said a Mumblin’ Word”

www.youtube.com/watch?v=NgiCVwOZDEY          arr. Moses Hogan       Solo

www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Qy_1QdWe80             Derric Johnson      Choir

Hymn: “Ah, Holy Jesus”            Johann Heermann ,  early 17th century

Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?

Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee!

‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee;

I crucified thee.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, like Judas, we have betrayed you; like Peter, we have denied you; and like the other disciples, we have forsaken you. Yet you remain faithful to us unto death, even death on a cross. We plead for your forgiveness and mercy. And we ask that you strengthen us so that we do not turn aside but follow you to the very end-for the final victory belongs to you.
-The Worship Sourcebook, p. 597

April 16

Tuesday in Holy Week   “They still would not believe in him.”

Scripture John 12:37-38; 42-50

 37 Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. 38 This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:
   “Lord, who has believed our message
      and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

 42 Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.

 44 Then Jesus cried out, “When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. 45 When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me. 46 I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.

 47 “As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. 48 There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. 49 For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. 50 I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.”

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
“If I can just see it, I’ll believe it.” How many times have you heard that? It’s not true. We can see and still not believe, especially when it comes to faith. Remember the story Jesus told of Abraham, Lazarus and the rich man after they had died? The rich man told them to go tell his brothers he was tormented in Hades and that they should believe God so they wouldn’t have to come to his place of torment. Abraham’s response was if they didn’t believe Moses and the prophets, they wouldn’t believe someone coming back from the dead. Jesus had just raised someone from the dead and done other miraculous signs in the Pharisees’ presence and still they would not believe. Yet many others did see and believe. A major factor in the unbelieving Pharisees was, “What will my friends think?” Have you ever been embarrassed to say what you believe? Have you ever stood silently while others expressed beliefs contrary to Scripture? We live in a culture that ridicules and mocks Christian belief in regards to marriage and sexuality to name a couple of hot button issues. Have you noticed Jesus was not influenced by anyone but his heavenly Father. In his words, he came to save the world. People’s own words and decisions in regard to Jesus’ words would be their own judge. He spoke the exact words his Father gave him and in the way his Father told him to speak them. Their concern was their rejection of the words of God. Our perspective is to speak the words of God in love and grace. We are speaking of the glory and beauty of another eternal world accessed through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ . . . and we’re concerned what others think?

Music:Hymn of the Cherubim”    by P.I. Tchaikovsky

The USSR Ministry Of Culture Chamber Choir

www.youtube.com/watch?v=vyFkPd6fEuI&list=PL8A419B6451EB7C7D

Translation of the Russian below:

“We, who mystically represent the Cherubim,
And chant the thrice-holy hymn to the Life-giving Trinity,
Let us set aside the cares of life
That we may receive the King of all,
Who comes invisibly escorted by the Divine Hosts.”

Hymn: “Ah, Holy Jesus”            Johann Heermann,  early 17th century

Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended,                                                                                                     That man to judge thee hath in hate pretended? By foes derided, by thine own rejected,                                                                                                              O most afflicted.

Prayer: O Lord Jesus Christ, you have said that you are the way, the truth, and the life. Suffer us not to stray from you, who are the way, nor to distrust you, who are the truth, nor to rest in anything other than you, who are the life.
–Erasmus, 1469-1536  

Please plan to be with us Thursday noon at 12:15 PM for the Maundy Thursday service and then  for the Good Friday service with the Chancel Choir at 7:00 PM. It will change your Easter Sunday morning!                     

April 15

Monday in Holy Week    “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?”

Scripture John 12:1-11

 1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

 4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5 “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” 6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

 7 “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

 9 Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, 11 for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:

The events described above actually happened on the Saturday before Palm Sunday but the point is so significant. How is it that two people can look at one situation and see things so completely differently? From Mary came worship; from Judas condemnation. The actions reveal the heart. Days later, Mary saw the risen Christ and Judas hanged himself in remorse.  How does what Mary said relate to what Jesus said in the passage above? There is a connection. What did Jesus mean when he said you always have the poor but you won’t always have me? It seems Jesus was reminding those gathered that honoring him was primary. Mary recognized that the Lord would not always be physically in their presence; but there would always be poor people present in society. She wanted to honor the Lord while she could. Notice, Jesus did not say, do not help the poor. He did affirm Mary’s choice and expression of her devotion. We need to be aware that we don’t get lost in doing good works and neglect our first priority, actually our only priority, that of worshiping our Redeemer. It is not even a matter of highest priority, it’s not even a priority. Breathing is not a priority in daily life, we just do it in order to live. In the same way, we worship our God in order to live. What we do in helping the poor follows; it is an outgrowth of our devotion to the Savior. This week is about Jesus and what he did to make possible the restoration of the whole created order. Like Mary, lavious your attention on Jesus. Because of him, the course of humanity and the universe was altered forever.

Music: “Agnus Dei”    by Samuel Barber    The same piece two interpretations. It’s worth your time. Put on headphones to listen to the Shaw recording. There is no doctoring of dynamics with dials etc. All the dynamics are controlled by Mr. Shaw live. Note the different treatments of the text.

“Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.” is the translation.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=fRL447oDId4      Vlaams Radio Koor     7:36

www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6ilqJW3fV8       Robert Shaw Festival Singers.    10:55

Please plan to be with us for the Maundy Thursday at noontime (12:15 PM) this year due to the massive 5K race in the evening. The Good Friday service begins at 7:00 PM. I’ll be preaching on “What Happened at the Cross?” The Chancel Choir will sing in the service. These services will change your Easter Sunday morning!

Hymn:  When I Survey the Wondrous Cross                   Isaac Watts

When I survey the wondrous cross, on which the Prince of glory died,

My richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it Lord, that I should boast, save in the death of Christ my God

All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to his blood.

Prayer: Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: grant your people grace to love what you have commanded and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. ―from Book of Common Prayer

Please plan to be with us Thursday noon at 12:15 PM for the Maundy Thursday service and then  for the Good Friday service at 7:00 PM. It will change your Easter Sunday morning!

April 14

Palm Sunday   “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!”

Scripture: Luke 19:28-40

28 After telling this story, Jesus went on toward Jerusalem, walking ahead of his disciples. 29 As he came to the towns of Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives, he sent two disciples ahead. 30 “Go into that village over there,” he told them. “As you enter it, you will see a young donkey tied there that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks, ‘Why are you untying that colt?’ just say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”

32 So they went and found the colt, just as Jesus had said. 33 And sure enough, as they were untying it, the owners asked them, “Why are you untying that colt?”

34 And the disciples simply replied, “The Lord needs it.” 35 So they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their garments over it for him to ride on.

36 As he rode along, the crowds spread out their garments on the road ahead of him. 37 When he reached the place where the road started down the Mount of Olives, all of his followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen.

38 “Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord!

   Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!”

39 But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, “Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!”

40 He replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!”

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
You’ll recall that when Jesus told the disciples that they would all be going back to Jerusalem, Thomas’ comment was “We’ll go back and die with you.” We pick up the unfolding of history as Jesus does go back to Jerusalem. Here we see him entering the city on the back of a young donkey. From this account it is very clear in Jesus’ mind what is happening and what will happen. Everything unfolded exactly as he said. There is an interesting paradox here. 1,000 years earlier, King David rode on this very road on a donkey as he fled Jerusalem because his son, Absolom, who was leading a rebellion to overthrow David and gain power for himself. Donkey’s were the vehicle of choice for the king coming in peace. Mules and horses were vehicles for battle. Absolom came after David on a mule. King David left Jerusalem via the road by the Mount of Olives and 1,000 years later, his earthly descendent, King Jesus, entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. Absalom was killed in battle and David returned as King. In this case King Jesus was killed and we await his return to set up his eternal kingdom. The people cheered hoping that Jesus’ kingdom would begin shortly and that the Romans would be defeated.When the people’s plans for what Jesus should do didn’t materialize, they turned on him resulting in his death. I would guess that the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter morning has to be the darkest day in the history of the world. All hope was gone. But that all was later. Now there is rejoicing and celebration. There is great hope for the peace that the Messiah would bring. The Pharisees read what was happening because they realized that the people were cheering a Messiah believing at that moment that Jesus was the long prophesied Messiah of the Old Testament. They considered the cheering blasphemous and told Jesus to tell his cheering crowd to be quiet. Jesus, understanding the situation perfectly, responded that if the people quiet the very stones on the ground would cheer. This entrance into Jerusalem had been prophesied to this exact day in the book of Daniel! Though the people cheered they still did not understand and things unraveled very shortly. Within forty years Jerusalem was ransacked and the Temple totally

destroyed because in Jesus’ words, “you did not accept your opportunity for salvation.” Thus begins Jesus’ final week on earth.

Music: “Hosanna in excelsis”   from Placido Domingo Andrew Lloyd-Webber

www.youtube.com/watch?v=IuexxtDGo5c

Prayer: My Lord and Savior, like the people of Jerusalem that day, all too often I presume, predict, expect, hope you would do things in a certain way. There is far too much “me” in my thinking. They had your word but presumed too much.  Jesus, help me to just be quiet and listen and wait for you. Help me to be able to live peacefully without knowing what lies ahead. Help me to live willingly at your pace of change. I say with those in crowd on that Palm Sunday “Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as in heaven.
―Daniel Sharp

April 13

“. . . see the glory of God.”

Scripture  John 11:36-45

 36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”  

 38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.
      “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

 40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

 41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

 43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
      Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him.”

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Mary, Martha, and the mourners get to see the rest of the story! Jesus enabled all of them to see the glory of God in his raising Lazarus from the dead. As a result many more Jews put their trust in God. They had seen someone with power over death. Think of it. An inanimate thing such as death, the ceasing of all bodily functions, is subject to one man who actually has power over natural processes. And, the people standing around saw this actually happen. To many people who saw it happen believed in Jesus! But this victory, while bringing joy to many, also was hugely significant in moving things ahead to the completion of God’s plan for redeeming the world. Because of jealousy and hatred from the Jewish leaders, because the status quo and positions of power and influence of the Romans were all being challenged by this itinerant carpenter from Nazareth, Jesus had to be killed. On still a grander scale yet with the crucifixion and death of Jesus, it appears that God missed it again, that things did not turn out as they should have. If anything, we are shown again and again and again in the life of Jesus, that we can trust the Father regardless of how the situation looks at any given moment then or in our life today. If we continue to trust in “thy will be done,”  we will see “the glory of God.” The empty tomb still speaks!

Music: “Hark! I Hear the Harps Eternal”      Robert Shaw Chorale An American folk hymn on the journey from this world to the next! Note “crossing the river” motif.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbCGk1QrFhg

Prayer: Lord Jesus, here I am again praying with words, words, and more words. I seem stuck with the same old ones all the time. I have trouble finding the right ones to express my love and complete gratitude for what you have done and continue to do on my behalf. Words are so limiting! If you had not done what you did, there would be no hope at all. I cannot begin to imagine what that would be like. I very much connect with Paul Gerhardt’s phrase, “What language shall I borrow to thank thee dearest friend, for this thy dying sorrow, thy pity without end?” I still don’t have words, but please listen to my heart, it’s trying to tell you what’s in there. This I pray as Jesus intercedes on my behalf, my loving Lord. Amen.
―Daniel Sharp, 2009

April 12

“Jesus wept.”

Scripture   John 11:28-35

28 And after she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.

 32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
      “Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

 35 Jesus wept.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
This shortest verse in the Bible underscores this whole passage. Why did Jesus weep? He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead. He knew what was coming. So why cry? The mourners visiting Mary and Martha, assumed he was weeping because of the death of his friend. Was he weeping out of pity for the sisters because of the sadness of their own sadness? His was a different kind of weeping. Normal Jewish expression of sorrow at death would be a loud wailing which was the case of the sisters and those comforting them. The passage says that “deep anger” arose in Jesus. It may have been he was angered at the whole idea of death bringing this kind of grief to people. He was experiencing the “sting of death” and was angered by its reality. The word used for Jesus’ weeping is used only one time in the New Testament and it is here. The word is for a soft, subdued weeping. It seems most likely that his sorrow was for all of them in not grasping the bigger picture of who he was and what he had come to do. Here he was, only a few days from giving his life as the ultimate, perfect, and final sacrifice as the Lamb of God, and none of his friends or the people around him understood the magnitude of what was about to take place. The impact would eventually affect the entire universe! The people were so immersed in their own world and their perception of their world that they were unable to see with the eyes of faith. As the end of his earthly ministry approached, they still did not get it. Have you ever felt frustrated that someone you deeply loved, just couldn’t understand something? You tried and tried again to help them understand and it just did not happen. There is sorrow that they don’t understand and their is greater sorrow on what they are missing out on if they did understand. If they only understood, it would be so much better for them. There is joy and fulfillment they are missing. That brings a special kind of sad sorrow. Jesus knows exactly how you feel.

Music: “Death Shall Not Destroy My Comfort”    Washington Master Chorale

www.youtube.com/watch?v=ghaL4mGJmq8

Hymn:  When Jesus Wept   William Billings, 1746-1800

When Jesus wept, a falling tear
In mercy flowed beyond all bound.
When Jesus groaned, a trembling fear
Seized all the guilty world around,

Prayer: O Jesus, who wept over the death of Lazarus, be with all who grieve. O Jesus who wept alone in Gethsemane, be with all who feel alone, all who face difficult decisions. O Jesus who cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” be with all who are tortured, all who are victims. O Jesus who offered up prayers with loud cries and tears, hear our prayers. O living God who knows all our pain and joy, be with us in our lives. Amen.
―The Worship Sourcebook,p.573

April 11

I am the resurrection and the life.”

Scripture  John 11:25-27

 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

 27 “Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
No more glorious words have been spoken since the beginning of language. Is there life after death? Without a doubt! Jesus’ words couldn’t be clearer. Believe in him and live on, even when your body doesn’t! The current body you have now will turn to dust. Our mortal bodies will be transformed into immortal bodies that will never die. You’ll recall when Jesus was a baby, Mary and Joseph took him to the old priest Simeon. Do you remember Simeon’s words about his own death? They were, “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace.” He didn’t say “die in peace.” On the Mount of Transfiguration the same word was used in speaking of Jesus’ “departure” from this earth. Our bodies are simply transformed. When we die, we simply depart from this earthly time-bound body. (Read I Corinthians 15 for a fuller discussion.) There is life after death. This “I am the resurrection and the life” is the same “I AM” who spoke to Moses in the burning bush, the Good Shepherd, the Light of the World, the Way, the Truth and the Life. The Jews who were at Martha and Mary’s home would have picked up on the I AM reference in associating Jesus with God. Certainly the Pharisees did as they accused Jesus of blasphemy in his claiming to be God. As you walk around today or tonight, take a couple of minutes and go outside and look at the sky and remind yourself out loud (you may want to find a solitary place for this!), “Jesus, I believe in you, and because of you, the real me, my soul will never die. I will only depart this mortal body to gain an immortal body in your presence. Thank you.”  

Music: “In Christ Alone”     Christina Grimmie Yes, this is the young girl who was shot and killed following her concert here in Orlando. She lived this song and its truth.

No power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from His hand
‘til He returns or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=R0PonGNP3wA   

Hymn: In Christ Alone                                  Stuart Townend and Keith Getty

In Christ alone my hope is found, He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground, firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace, when fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All, here in the love of Christ I stand

In Christ alone, who took on flesh, fullness of God in helpless babe
This gift of love and righteousness, scorned by the ones He came to save
‘Til on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid, here in the death of Christ I live

There in the ground His body lay, light of the world by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious Day, up from the grave He rose again
And as He stands in victory, sin’s curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine, bought with the precious blood of Christ

No guilt in life, no fear in death, this is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from His hand
‘til He returns or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I’ll stand

Prayer:  You are God and we praise you; you are the Lord and we acclaim you; You are the eternal Father; all creation worships you. To you all angels, all the powers of heaven, cherubim and seraphim sing in endless praise, ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord, God of power and might; heaven and earth are full of your glory.’ Throughout the whole world the holy church acclaims you, Father of majesty unbounded; Your true and only Son worthy of all worship and the Holy Spirit advocate and guide. Come then Lord and help your people bought with the price of your own blood; and bring us with your saints to glory everlasting. Amen
– from
Te Deum, 4th century

April 10

“if you had been here . . .”

Scripture: John 11:17-24

17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

 21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

 24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Does it ever seem like all hope is lost? Sometimes the answer is yes. Martha, the more impetuous of the two sisters, was the one who went to meet Jesus. Apparently, with Jesus’ two day delay, he wouldn’t have gotten there in time anyway since Lazarus has already in the tomb four days, but then Jesus knew he was already dead before they came to Bethany. Lazarus had apparently died during the day trip to tell Jesus that Lazarus was ill. Jewish burial was held as soon as possible after death. The Jewish belief was that the soul of the deceased hung around for three days in case life returned. On the fourth day it left. Lazarus’ being dead four days is John’s way of telling us Lazarus was really dead.  Martha’s response to Jesus’ comment is kind of a mixed faith. She had been around Jesus and seen him heal people before, maybe even raise people from the dead and wished that he had been there earlier because he could have brought healing to her brother. She believed in a final resurrection, unlike the Sadducees, but that was of little consolation now. This is one of those challenging times when we have faith in the biggest picture, but are still in pain for the present time. A certain future does not provide much relief for the present. Martha reached out to the Lord and expressed her broken heart. Jesus did not recoil nor rebuke her. Never be afraid to express your true heart to the Lord in a tough time. Talk with him and listen carefully with ears of faith. Sometimes there are surprises. Just ask Martha!

Music: “If You Will Trust in God to Guide You”   Fountainview Academy

www.youtube.com/watch?v=zFPe_G-Lqcc

Hymn: If You Will Trust in God to Guide You                      -Georg Neumark, 1641

If you will trust in God to guide you and place your confidence in him,

You’ll find him always there beside you, to give you hope and strength within.

For those who trust God’s changeless love build on the rock that naught can move.

Sing, pray, and keep his ways unswerving, offer your service faithfully,

And trust his word; though undeserving, you’ll find his promise true to be.

God never will forsake in need the soul that trusts in him indeed.

Prayer:  And now unto him who is able to keep us from falling and lift us from the dark valley of despair to the bright mountain of hope, from the midnight of desperation to the daybreak of joy; to him be power and authority, for ever and ever. Amen.
–Martin Luther King Jr., 1928-1968

April 9

“…but his disciples thought…”

Scripture  John 11:7-16

 7 Then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

 8 “But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?”

 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world’s light. 10 It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light.”

 11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”

 12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.

 14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

 16 Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
The little phrase at the top is far too often descriptive of my response to the way of the Lord. “But I thought Lord that . . .”  Here we see the single-mindedness of Jesus. A short time prior to this, Jesus had to flee Judea because the people wanted to stone him. (A geographical reminder here may be helpful. Jesus and the disciples spent a great deal of time in the region of Galilee which is roughly sixty miles north of Jerusalem and the region of Judea. The region of Samaria lay between the two areas. The people of Jerusalem viewed Galileans as unsophisticated hicks.) Jesus’ response of “there are  twelve hours in the daylight” was a way of telling the disciples God, his Father, had given him a task to do. “You do your work while it is daylight. You accomplish the Father’s will. Someone who walks in the dark stumbles and gets off course.” Here he is affirming that he is committed and in perfect accord with his heavenly Father’s plan and will. Jesus knows now what is going to happen and the effect it will have on the religious Jewish community as he heads back to the place where Jewish leadership had tried to kill him. Certainly going back to Jerusalem has serious risk. Jesus also knows that the Passover is coming, which is celebrated at the Temple in Jerusalem, and that his time on earth is coming to a close. He has repeatedly told the disciples that he will be killed and will rise from the dead on the third day. They don’t really get it yet. It’s “daylight” which means God’s plan is unfolding now according to plan! The raising of Lazarus from the dead was part of his Father’s course of action so Jesus spells it out specifically for the disciples. In Thomas’ final comment, he still doesn’t get the biggest picture. His response was perfectly natural in light of the political and religious situation. The appearance of Jesus and his disciples, in light of their last time there, meant considerable risk to all of them. What is the central point in this pericope as relates to you and me? The next time you and I are tempted to respond “Lord, but I thought…”, let’s listen to Moses’ words to the Israelites before crossing the Red Sea, “be still and watch the mighty hand of God.” What followed in the raising of Lazarus and the Israelites crossing the Red Sea brought great glory to God. Remember, his ways are not our ways.

Music: “God Moves in a Mysterious Way”    Graham Kendrick

www.youtube.com/watch?v=F5-DQmhKPY4

Hymn: God Moves in a Mysterious Way                    William Cowper, 1774

God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform                                                                                       He plants his footsteps in the sea, and rise upon the storm. His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour,                                                                                              The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower. Blind unbelief is sure to err and scan his work in vain, God is his own interpreter, and he will make it plain.

Prayer: Lord God in heaven, who knows all things, who understands all things, who has power over all things, who has created all things, who sustains all things, who loves all things, who is over all things, who is everywhere present, who has been revealed in Jesus Christ, who is present in the Holy Spirit, who has given his written word, who has made provision for the restoration of the whole created order, grant us one more thing: faith to trust you when we cannot understand your ways in this world. This we pray through Jesus Christ, who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.
―Daniel Sharp, 2009

April 8

“When he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was . . .”

(A side comment here. This week we will look at the account of Lazarus. This event happened shortly before Palm Sunday and was a major triggering event which hatched the plot to kill Jesus. (John 11:51-53) As we move to the conclusion of Lent, our focus moves from more introspection and repentance in our own  lives, to the events that led Jesus to Calvary. In the ancient church, yesterday, the fifth Sunday in Lent, was called the First Sunday of the Passion.)

Scripture John 11:1-6

1 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”

 4 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” 5 Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Does it ever seem like God doesn’t do the right thing, or at least his timing is noticeably off? He clearly could do something and just doesn’t?  In fact sometimes it seems as if he deliberately tries to annoy us. The Lord says in Isaiah 55 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts neither are your ways my ways.” Then when that plays out in real life, we’re surprised! Such was the case with Lazarus who was sick at home. His sisters sent word for Jesus, who was in another part of the country, to come and attend to their brother.  After all, Jesus had healed many, many people. Jesus was not mad at Mary, Martha, and their brother. They were good friends and had honored him on various previous occasions. In fact, he often stayed with them. Yet in this critical situation, he ignored their request because, though they did not know it nor could imagine it, something better was in store. That something better was not the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead, it was the glorification of Jesus, as the Son of God, as the One who had the power over death. Think about it. Which is greater, power to resuscitate someone who had died, or power over eternal death? Lazarus was dead dead! You may be going through the “Jesus stayed two more days” phase of your life. Pray that God might be glorified in what is coming your way. Have you noticed how often in Scripture Jesus walks people through the experience and they see afterwards what he had in mind from the beginning. E.g. Feeding of the 5,000; casting their nets over the other side of the boat; Peter walking on the water; parting of the Red Sea; and on and on. In every case, trusting in God was involved. As my father-in-law so often reminded us, “The Lord may tarry, but he is never too late.” Just ask Lazarus!

Music: “In His Time”     This is another “contemporary oldie”! A simple song with a simple text that speaks of the truth we’ve been talking about.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wo-rGzx2OZk

Prayer: O Lord, let me not henceforth desire health or life except to spend them for you, with you and in you. You alone know what is good for me; do therefore what seems best to you. Give to me or take from me; conform my will to yours; and grant that with humble and perfect submission and in holy confidence I may receive the orders of your eternal providence, and may equally adore all that comes to me from you.
―Blaise Pascal, 1623-1662

April 7

Fifth Sunday in Lent    “All these years I’ve slaved for you . . .”

Scripture: Luke 15:25-32

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, 26 and he asked one of the servants what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’

28 “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, 29 but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. 30 Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’

31 “His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. 32 We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
It’s most interesting the way Jesus concludes this parable. We have a crabbing older son. The older son came late to the party. He asked a servant what was going on with the party and was told simply that your brother is back and we are celebrating his return. You might think the older brother would be glad to see his younger sibling. Apparently he was not concerned about his wayward brother during the time he was gone. At any rate, he was throwing a major pity party for himself and refused to join his brother’s party and pouted outside. We again are given insight to the character of their father. Whereas the father ran to embrace the younger son, here the father comes out to the childish older son and begs him to join the celebration whereupon the whining continues. Note the choice of words, “This son of yours.” The older brother refuses to identify with his repentant brother. Can’t you just hear, “It’s not fair!”? In one sense he’s right. Thank goodness our Father in heaven isn’t fair. But thank goodness he’s just and loving. In this parable the father absorbed the younger son’s foolishness and granted forgiveness to the repentant son. Have you noticed Jesus did not tell us how the older son responded to his father’s comments in verses 31-32? In the parable, the Jewish religious leaders were the older son. These leaders still had a chance to respond positively to the father (Jesus). Earlier in this chapter (v.7) we read of the great rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents. The lost sheep, the lost coin, and the parable of the prodigal son all point to a persistent God who is diligent in pursuing his children. He does not give up. Our God is faithful even when we are faithless.

Music: “Jesus, Lover of My Soul”     Fernando Ortega

www.youtube.com/watch?v=NsXcCdWjsmg

Prayer: Holy Lord, how little repentance there is in the world, and how many sins I have to repent of! I am troubled for my sin of passion, for the shame and horror of it as an evil; I purpose to give way to it no more, and come to thee for strength to that end. Lord God, I know that my sudden anger arises when things cross me, and I desire to please only myself, not Christ. There is in all wrongs and crosses a double cross―that which crosses me, and that which crosses thee; in all good things there is somewhat that pleases me, and somewhat that pleases thee. My sin is that my heart is pleased or troubled as things please or trouble me, without my having regard to Christ. Thus, I am like Eli, the subject of punishment for not rebuking sin; whereas I should humbly confess my sin and fly to the blood of Christ for pardon and peace. Give me, then, repentance, true brokenness, lasting contrition, for these things thou wilt not despise in spite of my sin. For it is in the completed work of Christ that I make this prayer. Amen.
The Valley of Vision, p.89

April 6

“This son of mine..was lost and is found.”

Scripture: Luke 15:22-24

 22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
This part of the parable is about restoration and forgiveness. Notice the father (God) barely responds to the son’s words of confession. He hugs him and kisses him!  No lectures on past failures, poor decisions, personal greed, none of the “I hope you learned your lesson!”and so forth. The father calls for the “best” robe, the robe of royalty.  He puts a signet ring on his son’s finger to remind him that he is still an heir, implying he still has an inheritance in spite of what he forfeited. The father saw a truly repentant son, a son who acknowledged his sin was against God, his vertical relationship, and against his father, his horizontal relationship. He had violated Jesus’ greatest two commandments: love God with all your heart, and soul, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. The son’s sin was that he violated both and confessed such to his father. The son remained an heir, even through foolishness, distance from home, and wonton self-will.  He is given shoes for his worn, dirty and cracked feet. The father completely restored the son’s position and identity. Both the vertical and horizontal relationships were re-established. This called for celebration! Do you ever think of God “rejoicing” over you when you turn from self-will to his will? Are there some “prodigals” you have been praying for for a long time? Keep it up. They may not have made it to the pig pen yet. Keep watching the horizon and get ready to run!

Music: “The Love of God”     Wintley Phipps

www.youtube.com/watch?v=3OzpQF97zU8

Prayer: Dearest Lord, may I see you today and every day in the person of your sick, and, whilst nursing them, minister unto you. Though you hide yourself behind the unattractive disguise of the irritable, the exacting, the unreasonable, may I still recognize you, and say: ‘Jesus, my patient, how sweet it is to serve you.’ Sweetest Lord, make me appreciative of the dignity of my high vocation, and its many responsibilities. May I give as gracious love as do you my Father. Never permit me to disgrace it by giving way to coldness, unkindness, or impatience. Lord, increase my faith, bless my efforts and work, now and for evermore, Amen.
–Sister Teresa of Calcutta, 1910-1997    adapted D.S.

April 5

“While he was still a long way off . . .”

Scripture: Luke 15:20b-21

 “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

 21“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
We may think of this story as a parable about the two sons, but this phrase tells us it may be more about the boys’ father and his love for them. Jesus’ parable is truly to show the depth of the father’s great heart and generous love for his sons, both of them. There is something here that is unique in all of Scripture. Something occurs in this parable that does not happen anywhere else in the Bible. Read the verses above again and see if you can figure out what it is. What is it?

Except for this parable, nowhere else does God ever “run” towards his children. Jesus walked everywhere. He never ran to a situation. Sometimes he deliberately stayed where he was and made a point of not going after someone (E.g. Lazarus). God never runs after people. He does not force his way into people’s lives. But he is always near at hand ready to receive his own. He gives people freedom and choice. But here is a beautiful picture of God’s love for the repentant person. The son had turned on his own toward home, and the father, filled with love, saw him and ran to him, put his arms around him and kissed him. The running was motivated by love and compassion. He hugged his son and kissed him. Can you imagine the son’s response. What did the son learn about his father? What do we learn about God? God is patiently waiting for us to turn around when we push down the road where the street sign says “Self.” There is not a wagging bony fingered condemnation for our stupidity but a warm embrace and “glad you have come back home.” Can you offer this kind of love to someone today?

Music: “He Ran to Me”    Craig and Dean

www.youtube.com/watch?v=FenkAVsGmEQ

Prayer: Bring us, O Lord God, at the last awakening into the house and gate of heaven, to enter into that gate and dwell in that house, where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light; no noise nor silence, but one equal music; no fears nor hopes, but an equal possession; no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity, in the habitations of thy majesty and thy glory, world without end.
–John Donne, 1571-1631

April 4

“When he came to his senses…”

Scripture: Luke 15:17-20a 

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
What was I thinking!  Have you ever said that? When we first wander off the path, it’s hardly recognizable. We used to live in Seattle. We drove to the farm in Illinois every summer. There was a point in eastern Washington where the interstate highway split. We could go straight and go through Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota or choose to make a slight veer to the south and a day later be somewhere in Nebraska, hundreds of miles to the south of where we might have been. At the time of making the split, it didn’t seem like that big of a deal, but it did set the course for the next several days. When the prodigal son left home, all he could see was wealth and good times ahead!   The path became bumpier with more rocks and ruts the farther he went. Finally the ruts became more like a grave with open ends. If you are in fantasy land or on the wrong road, turn around! (Just to clarify, it is not a sin to drive through North Dakota, though it apparently is if you are near 90 mph…and there is nothing out there except one other car… (another story!) The seed of humility in the son we hinted at yesterday began to grow. There is this most powerful line, “When he finally came to his senses . . .” I have to wonder if the father was not praying for this very thing for his wayward son. The teaching that had been instilled, finally kicked in. He recognized his sin against not only his earthly father, but against heaven itself. This is key. Like King David, he realized his sin was against God. He repented, and went back to the place where he got off track. Home. Notice how much more there is here than a simple “I’m sorry, dad.” There is a complete attitude and heart change. A complete change in direction. That is what happens in true repentance. The wiser you are, the faster you’ll recognize you are on the wrong path and turn around. What path are you on today?

Music: “In His Hands”    Radiance Acapella   great group from Zimbabwe                 

www.youtube.com/watch?v=E7O0k1fv-Iw

Prayer:  Fix thou our steps, O Lord, that we stagger not at the uneven motions of the world, but steadily go on to our glorious home; neither censuring our journey by the weather we meet with, nor turning out of the way for anything that befalls us. The winds are often rough, and our own weight presses us downwards. Reach forth, O Lord, thy hand, thy saving hand, and speedily deliver us. Teach us, O Lord, to use this transitory life as pilgrims returning to their beloved home; that we may take what our journey requires, and not think of settling in a foreign country.
―John Wesley, 1703-1791

April 3

“. . . no one gave him anything.”

Scripture: Luke 15:13-16

 13“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
When the “trinity of self” is worshiped, it rewards the worshiper handsomely. Welcome to the world of “self” son! Should we be surprised that no one gave him anything? His primary relationship and friendship was with himself! Stealing a line from a movie, “He was his own best friend!” That is part of the benefit of this kind of worship. Look with whom he was spending his time and money. This was not a community that was known for giving. This was the takers, the crowd of “the trinity of self.” It became particularly evident when everything headed south. (Look at all the people and corporations today with their hands out, people and companies who have “squandered their wealth on wild living,” Look at the people with their hands out wanting “their share of the stash.” Look at those “living beyond their means” expecting someone else to bail them out. We speak not of those who have genuinely fallen on hard times not of their own making.) We see the seeds of humility being planted in the son’s soil of desperation. His loneliness is overwhelming and spurs him to change is course. Change only happens when the pain of the current situation is great enough. People have different pain thresholds which is why some people last longer in horrible situations. In hiring himself out to feed the pigs (unclean animals to the Jews), he has not quite yet reached the pain level that will cause him to alter his course, though he is close. Look for people in your life today who may be in the son’s situation, and extend a hand in whatever form to bring encouragement and hope. Perchance you may even be that person. Go back home. Ask forgiveness. You won’t be disappointed at your Father’s response.

Music: “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child” Odetta   This is the best authentic recording of this piece I’ve come across. I can easily envision the prodigal son singing this to himself as he eats the pig’s food. Remarkable voice!

www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXg9UFUXFXU  

Prayer: Lord, I am blind and helpless, stupid and ignorant. Cause me to hear, cause me to know, teach me to do, lead me.
–Henry Martyn, 1781-1812

April 2

“Give me my share . . .”

Scripture: Luke 15: 11-12

(Jesus had just told the parable to the Pharisees about the lost coin.)

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
We live in an era of a new trinity. This one is not mysterious in the least! It is easily understood by even the smallest child. It is the trinity of “I, me, and myself.” There is actually a pop song entitled “It’s All About Me!” Those four little, simple, short words speak volumes. The season of Lent is about helping us to recognize how often that idea slips into and shapes our lives. We live in a society, and indeed in our own lives, where we are very aware of our “rights.” Look at all the lawsuits and the encouragement to sue in television commercials. “Have you been injured in an accident? Call:  888-LAW-CALL.” Law offices proudly tout how much of a settlement they got for their clients. We live in a litigious society. Where did we get this idea of my rights?  And how far do my rights extend? In this parable, the son was a rightful heir, albeit an impatient, immature, self-centered, short-sighted one! He used another version of the personal trinity and four words. Give me my share!  I’m embarrassed for him. But notice the Father did not reprimand him, humiliate, nor dishonor him in his foolish demand. I’m not sure I would have been that gracious. He granted the demand, knowing full well the consequences of this ludicrous request. There are certainly times when our heavenly Father does the same for us. He does not impose his will or force us in any direction. The father here likewise does not override the son’s stupidity and immaturity. Can you imagine a love like this so honoring and strong?  There is no “thy will be done” in this son’s demand! This son gained nothing from his father’s wisdom. He didn’t ask. He didn’t reflect. He didn’t wait. In effect he said, “Father, I wish you were dead so I can get my inheritance. Come to think of it, I don’t want to wait for you to die, so I want it now. See ya.” Are we ever like this son with our Father in heaven? As you pray today, be careful of what you ask for. In God’s gracious way, he may give it to you!

Music: “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us”

www.youtube.com/watch?v=DOXnzYPMhWY  

Prayer: O God our Father, help us to nail to the cross of thy dear Son the whole body of our death, the wrong desires of the heart, the sinful devising of the mind, the corrupt apprehensions of the eyes, the cruel words of the tongue, the ill employment of hands and feet; that the old man [in us] being crucified and done away, the new man may live and grow into the glorious likeness thy Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end.  Amen.
-Eric Milner-White, 1884-1964

April 1

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart.”

Scripture: Psalm 51: 13-19

 13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
       and sinners will turn back to you.

 14 Save me from bloodguilt, O God,
       the God who saves me,
       and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.

 15 O Lord, open my lips,
       and my mouth will declare your praise.

 16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
       you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
       a broken and contrite heart,
       O God, you will not despise.

 18 In your good pleasure make Zion prosper;
       build up the walls of Jerusalem.

 19 Then there will be righteous sacrifices,
       whole burnt offerings to delight you;
       then bulls will be offered on your altar.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
When our boys were little, I remember the immediate joy that returned in them after they had been disciplined for an “attitude problem.” One little guys words were, “Daddy, I feel happy again!” Our family rule was that the offense would not be mentioned again. There would be no, “Look what you did again!”  The God-quality of forgiveness includes forgetting. Like our boys, King David returns to joy in the Lord. His mouth is again open in praising God. He makes a beautiful distinction concerning God’s perspective. God’s greatest joy is not in receiving the offering of a sacrifice, however necessary and wonderful that is in worship. The joy in God’s heart came from the humble, broken heart of David, the worshiper, who was making the sacrifices. Even from the first Genesis recording of the sacrifices of Cain and his brother Abel, God’s words to Cain were, “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” Communion with the Lord was the central significant factor in sacrificial worship. While offering of the Old Testament sacrifice was necessary and of a significance of the first order, the ultimate point was the heart of the worshiper. Have you noticed the qualities of heart God is looking for? A truthful heart, a humble heart, a transparent heart, a heart like the heart of Jesus is what God is looking for. Honestly, how truthful, humble, and transparent are you with the Lord?  As you pray, ask the Lord to reveal his perspective on your heart.

Music: “Father of My Heart”       Fernando Ortega

www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Wnm7cp0E4s

Hymn: Come, Ye Disconsolate                             -Thomas More 1824

Come, ye disconsolate, where’er ye languish,                                                                                                  Come to the mercy seat, fervently kneel.     Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your anguish.  Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.

Joy of the desolate, Light of the straying,                                                                                                          Hope of the penitent, fadeless and pure,        Here speaks the Comforter, tenderly saying, “Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot cure.”

Prayer: Take, Lord, all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my whole will. You have given me all that I have, all that I am, and I surrender all to your divine will, that you dispose of me. Give me only your love and your grace. With this I am rich enough, and I have no more to ask
―Ignatius Loyola 1491-1556

March 31

Fourth Sunday in Lent  “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.”

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

16 So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! 17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

18 And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
From my perspective, this is one of the most powerful passages in all of Scripture regarding the impact of the work of Christ. I want to walk us through it. It would seem in the opening verses of this portion, Paul is reflecting back on his earlier days when he persecuted the church. He arrested and terrorized followers of Jesus precisely because he believed that Jesus was simple a human being with heretical and blasphemous ideas. Jesus’ followers needed to be eliminated. Jesus was dead and they were propagating a lie. Then there was the Damascus road encounter with the risen Jesus himself! In his own words, Saul became a new person. His old life was gone and he was now living an entirely new life with a completely different understanding of who Jesus Christ was and is. He humbly acknowledges that it was by God’s grace that he was transformed. Now his mission is to spread the message of reconciliation. The powerful phrase is simply “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.” What does that mean exactly? At creation God spoke (sang) a perfect world into existence bringing order out of chaos, a world that he would enjoy and one that would be in pure harmony and communion with the Godhead. That was the purpose and the ideal. As you know both then and now, human beings rebel against their Maker. With the Fall of our first parents in the Garden, every person from then on was “bent.” The bent was rejection of God. What happened next was God unfolding the action of reconciliation. What most people don’t know, don’t believe, or don’t care about is that God the Creator came to this planet in not only the form of a human being, but willingly became fully human in every conceivable way, (I mean that literally!) in order to make possible the bringing back into communion the world that had rebelled and rejected its maker. For only if Christ was completely and totally human and totally God could reconciliation be efficacious. God had no other way to redeem this world apart from Christ. The entirety of the Bible is the development and implementation of this plan. The Scriptures are the God’s Story of that plan. Paul states here by implication that there is no other system, no faith, no religion, absolutely nothing other than God’s reconciliation in Christ that solves the human and fallen world dilema. There is no Plan B.

Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane confirmed that. Glory to God for ever and ever!

Music: “God So Loved the World”    John Stainer St. Paul’s Cathedral Choir

www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5Akz6J8Rw0&t=16s

Prayer:

Glorious God, I bless thee that I know thee. I once lived in the world, but was ignorant of its creator, was partaker of thy providences, but knew not the provider, was blind while enjoying the sunlight, was deaf to all things spiritual, with voices all around me, understood many things, but had no knowledge of thy ways, saw the world, but did not see Jesus only. O happy day, when in thy love’s sovereignty thou didst look on me, and call me by grace. Then did the dead heart begin to beat, the darkened eye glimmer with light, the dull ear catch thy echo, and I turned to thee and found thee, a God ready to hear, willing to save. Grant that I may always weep to the praise of mercy found, and tell to others as long as I live, that thou art a sin-pardoning God, taking up the blasphemer and the ungodly, and washing them from their deepest stain. Amen.
The Valley of Vision p.60

March 30

“Take not your Holy Spirit from me.”

Scripture:   Psalm 51: 10-12

 10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
       and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

 11 Do not cast me from your presence
       or take your Holy Spirit from me.

 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
       and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
David was aware of his fickle faith. He knew he needed the presence of the Holy Spirit in his life continually. In these days of Israel’s history, the Holy Spirit was not a continual presence in David’s life as attested in this psalm. The continual indwelling of the Holy Spirit among all believers did not occur until Pentecost as described in Acts 2. In this section, David asks for a pure heart. He has acknowledged and confessed his sin earlier in the psalm. Now he wants a steadfast spirit. Like David, we all want to be consistent in our walk of faith. Yet we are “prone to wander” as the song says. It seems our old nature hangs around, trying to get its gnarly foot in the door. The key is the presence of the Holy Spirit within us recognizing when the door is being pushed ajar. I have been grateful and amazed at times during the day when my mind began to wander off the path, at how quickly the Holy Spirit pointed out what was happening. As we journey through this Lenten season, listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit. Ask him to watch the door and give you an alert spirit throughout this day. Live consciously in the presence of God. Some of us are prone to talk to ourselves from time to time. When I am doing carpentry work and measuring and cutting wood, I frequently talk to myself and Nancy asks me who I’m talking to. What would it be like if we talked out loud to the Lord during the day? Talk with him today as you go about your business. You may wish to do so when you are by yourself!

Music: “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”   by Eclipse 6

www.youtube.com/watch?v=1LWyBcCH7Wg

Prayer: Prayer to the Holy Spirit                   -Christina Rossetti 1830-1894

As the wind is thy symbol, so forward our goings. As the dove, so launch us heavenwards. As water so purify our spirits. As a cloud so abate our temptations. As dew so revive our languor. As fire so purge out our dross. (Note the use of the biblical symbols for the Holy Spirit.)

March 29

“You desire truth in the inner parts . . .”

Scripture: Psalm 51: 6-9

6 Surely you desire truth in the inner parts;
       you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.

 7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
       wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

 8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
       let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

 9 Hide your face from my sins
       and blot out all my iniquity.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Have you ever been amazed while watching American Idol (Admit it, you’ve seen it at least for a few minutes!) that some of the “wanna be” stars of tomorrow have so little understanding of their actual talent? They appear clueless! Remember when Simon Cowell was one of the judges? We all waited for Simon to speak because we knew he would speak the truth regarding their “talent.” Why is it that we can so easily live in duplicity? We are masters at giving ourselves the benefit of the doubt. We easily grant latitude to our own conduct that we will not grant to others.  We have a dozen reasons why it was not our fault; why we are the exception; why we can be excused for missing the mark; or why we should be granted leniency in this circumstance. In the Scripture passage, the “inner parts” can also be translated “inner being,” in other words, our heart, our soul, the core of who we are. The Lord wants us to be truthful with ourselves. When that happens, look what follows! Our heart gets a lesson in wisdom from God. God cleanses our sin completely. He is the one who does the washing. We physically revive. Unconfessed sin, sometimes known as rationalization, pays a heavy physical and spiritual dividend. I have to wonder if some of our aches and pains and tensions aren’t from unconfessed sin or our refusal to deal with what we instinctively know to be wrong in our lives. The devil will always tell you it’s not anything to worry about. I made a comment the other day that was to be funny. Part of it was. But as soon as I said it, I had a little voice that told me there could be too much “bite” in what I said and wished I hadn’t said it. The person about whom the comment was made asked to get together, and sure enough, I had hurt a friend. I apologized for my thoughtless remark. What struck me was that the little voice that spoke so quickly in me was right. It would have been easy just to move on, but to my friends credit, I was able to confess and get it out of my system. I’m wondering how many times we don’t follow up on those little nudges and they subtly eat away at us. Our relationship to God deadens. Confession gets a load off our chest. It is freeing. Are you telling God the truth today?

Music: “May the Mind of Christ My Savior”  Jake Armerding

www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXUOuzJo1bE        

May the mind of Christ my Savior live in me from day to day.                                                                   By his power and love controlling all I do and say.       May the Word of God dwell richly in my heart from hour to hour. So that all may see I triumph only through his power.

Prayer: Dear God, make me think about what I’m doing with my mind, with my body, with my habits, with my study, with my friends, with my hopes, with my parents, with my faith, with life. Amen.
-Carl Burke, b. 1917

March 28

“…sinful at birth.”

Scripture: Psalm 51:5

 5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
       sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Good grief, what chance do we have?!  As a friend of mine truthfully said, “There is very little ‘original’ sin. We’re just recycling!”  From the beginning we are sinners. Did you have to teach your children to say “MINE!”? I rest my case. You may have a translation that reads “In sin did my mother conceive me.”  The translation above is a far better, more accurate translation. Conception is not sin! This passage means that we are part of the fallen human race. David writes in another Psalm (143:2) “for no living thing is righteous before you.”  No one has ever gotten it right with a single exception, and in that Exception is our salvation. Have you read the paper? Have you kept track of the news? We are more self-absorbed than ever. We are not getting better as a human race. It is not “we are part of the problem, we are part of the solution.” Not true! We have abundant evidence that knowing what is right to do surprisingly does not equate with doing right. It is clearly not a matter of education or understanding or more case studies. We are an intrinsically flawed race. Can you think of some times when you knew what was right to do and didn’t do it?  Again, I rest my case! In this world we have battles, battles against flesh and blood. In some ways the season of Lent is a little like our world. Let me give us an illustration borrowed by the late Oscar Cullmann. He likened the present struggles to those of World War II. On D-Day, June 6, 1944 the Allies broke the back of the Germans when they stormed the beaches at Normandy. The next eleven months were fierce mop up battles in which the Allies prevailed. But it wasn’t until May 8 of 1945 that we got to V-Day and the peace treaty was signed. We live in such a time of mop up battles. We win some, we lose some, but victory is assured! Christ’s victory on the cross broke the back of sin, death, and the power of evil. But Christ’s return and the setting up of his eternal kingdom is yet to come and so we have intermittent battles with sin and evil though their doom is sure! Continue to wage war. Win your battles today. The word is your weapon and the Holy Spirit is your invincible ally.  

Music: “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”

www.youtube.com/watch?v=HqfTB50cE4o   Dan Forrest    Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Brass

www.youtube.com/watch?v=oNeP7bGagqg   Matt Boswell

Prayer:  Blessed are all thy Saints, O God and King, who have engaged in the tempestuous battles of this mortal life, and have made the haven of peace and felicity. Watch over us who are still in our dangerous skirmishes; and remember such as lie exposed to the rough engagements of trouble and temptations. Frail is our strength, and the battles fierce; but as in thy mercy thou hast set our path to walk bearing the armour of thy Holy Spirit toward the everlasting paradise of peace, and bring us at length to the quiet haven of our heart’s desire, where thou, O our God, are blessed, and livest and reignest for ever and ever.
St. Augustine, 345-430 AD adapted D.S.

March 27

Update March 26

Friends,
In reading yesterday’s Lenten Devotional, I want to clarify something that should have been much clearer. This is the portion from yesterday I want to comment further on.
 
“Jesus absorbed David’s and our sins into himself and became our sin. He who knew no sin, became sin; took our sin into (should be  “upon”) himself. Second, David asked God to “wash away all my iniquity.” The result was that his and our sin are gone from us.”  
 
Understand, Jesus was not a sinner hanging on the cross. The part of our sin he took was the punishment, the wrath of God directed toward our sin. Just like the sacrificial lambs in the OT, they didn’t take the sin of the person, but bore the punishment and paid the penalty for the sin by their own death. He paid the penalty for sin in full. In that sense, it was once and for all finished, hence his words from the cross, “It is finished!” The last sentence of the devotional above is poorly expressed! (Needed another edit Sharp!)

March 27

“Against you, you only, have I sinned”

Scripture: Psalm 51:3-4

3 For I know my transgressions,
       and my sin is always before me.

 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
       and done what is evil in your sight,
       so that you are proved right when you speak
       and justified when you judge.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Have you ever thought “Sure I messed up, but it’s not that big of a deal. No one got hurt too badly. I’ll just keep a low profile and things will blow over?”  King David tried that approach too until he ran into Nathan the prophet. We sometimes avoid dealing with our sin by going on with life. We seek to lose the guilty feeling by getting busy with the next thing and hoping others will calm down and forget about what we have said or done. We also get busy to get “it” off our mind and hope that after a time, even we will forget about it as it fades away. Have you noticed that approach really does not work? The “it” gets buried and slowly eats away on us as a slow moving cancer. The Psalmist writes “I know my sins, they won’t go away. I think about them subconsciously.” Do you have a relentless “cloud on a string” that follows you day after day? Imagine there is a dark cloud. It has a long string that is connected to your belt and wherever you go it follows you, reminding you of the “it.” And to make matters worse you can’t untie the string. It doesn’t go away does it? David’s key in dealing with the mess he was in, was acknowledging his sin against God. He confessed what he had done was wrong in God’s sight, the only sight that ultimately matters. As we reflect on our own walk with the Lord during these days of the Lenten season, are we cognizant that the sins in our lives, while at times against other people, are also always against God? Is confession to the Lord for having sinned against him also a part of our prayers? It was so with David.

Music: “Create in Me A Clean Heart O God”    Keith Green an “oldie”

www.youtube.com/watch?v=vD847UcRbL4

Prayer:  God of compassion, you are slow to anger and full of mercy, welcoming sinners who return to you with penitent hearts. That would be me. Receive in your loving embrace all who come home to you. We confess that we have been wayward children. We have disobeyed your commands; our ears have been purposely deaf to your call; our hearts have been cold to your love. In thought, in word, and in deed, in attitude we have hurt others and dishonored your name. Our sin is against you. Receive us yet again as your beloved fallen children, not because we are worthy, but for the sake of him who loved us and gave himself for us. Amen.
―Dan Sharp

March 26

Have mercy…wash away all my iniquity”

Scripture: Psalm 51:1-2

 1 Have mercy on me, O God,
       according to your unfailing love;
       according to your great compassion
       blot out my transgressions.

 2 Wash away all my iniquity
       and cleanse me from my sin.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
What words of pleading. Mercy is not something to be assumed nor guaranteed. The one seeking such is completely subservient to the ruler, his master’s wishes.  Control of the situation is gone. Having been responsible for plotting and carrying out a murder in order to cover up his own sin, King David pours out this confession to God. In pleading for mercy, he appeals to God’s own character of unfailing love and great compassion. Though David was guilty of a treacherous crime, his past walk with God had shown him God’s character first hand. His past relationship with God compelled him to turn again to his God, knowing that is what he needed to do. It is to this character of God that he appeals in three different ways. He asked to have his sin dealt with; blot out my transgressions. A blotter absorbs the liquid into itself. Jesus absorbed David’s and our sins into himself and became our sin. He who knew no sin, became sin; took our sin into himself. Second, David asked God to “wash away all my iniquity.” The result was that his and our sin are gone from us. Third, the sin itself was to be cleansed from me. Because of Christ’s action, we are pure before God. There was no blame, no excuse, no “mistake” here. David’s words were “my transgressions,” “my iniquity”, and “my sin.”  He took full ownership. In an almost incomprehensible way, we see this “unfailing love” and “great compassion” in this Psalm as Jesus’ embraces the hard wood of the cross in taking sole ownership of all of our sins and the sins of the whole world. There is no sin of yours or mine that Jesus has not carried. As a result, God has shown us mercy and washed away all our sins.  Thanks be to God!

Music:  “O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus”  You’ll get tired of me saying this. DON”T MISS THIS!  This is a glorious setting from believers in one of the Slavic countries. It’s in English but all the comments are in a language I don’t know! Thank you Simon Khorolskiy!

www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLTu1xv2-Us

Prayer: Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid. Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy name, through Christ, our Lord. Amen. ―BCP

Update 2019-03-26:
Friends,
In reading today’s Lenten Devotional, I want to clarify something that should have been much clearer. This is the portion from today I want to comment further on.
 
 “Jesus absorbed David’s and our sins into himself and became our sin. He who knew no sin, became sin; took our sin into (should be  “upon”) himself. Second, David asked God to “wash away all my iniquity.” The result was that his and our sin are gone from us.”  
 
Understand, Jesus was not a sinner hanging on the cross. The part of our sin he took was the punishment, the wrath of God directed toward our sin. Just like the sacrificial lambs in the OT, they didn’t take the sin of the person, but bore the punishment and paid the penalty for the sin by their own death. He paid the penalty for sin in full. In that sense, it was once and for all finished, hence his words from the cross, “It is finished!” The last sentence of the devotional above is poorly expressed! (Needed another edit Sharp!)

March 25

“Today’s trouble is enough for today!”

Scripture:   Matthew 6:25-34

 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

 28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Jesus was perfectly aware of God’s timing. So often in the early parts of the Gospels, he said, “My time has not yet come.” Then as he approached his last Passover, (he had regularly observed them throughout his lifetime), the Gospels say, he set his face toward Jerusalem. Jesus remained focused on what was right before him. As Passover approached, he told the disciples “the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” He never panicked, not even when he washed the feet of Judas, the one who would betray him only minutes later. He was composed in the present because he was connected intimately to the will of his Father and their overall plan for restoring the whole created order. He was realistic as he dealt with “the day’s troubles.” It was not a “God will work everything out” or a “whatever happens, happens” mindset. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he earnestly prayed hoping there might be another way. The silence from the Father in regards to Jesus’ request for an alternative course, is another way of affirming Jesus’ earlier words to his disciples in the Upper Room where he told Thomas, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me.” There is no other way, period. One of the reasons I love and trust the Bible so much is that the Holy Spirit pulled no punches guiding the writers as they wrote. Nothing is sugar-coated! We see the transparent humanity of Jesus. He is no distant God with an unreal connection to human beings. He is like us in every respect. What is one thing we can take from this passage? In this Lenten season, rather than being overwhelmed by all the things in our lives that need attention, deal with one thing at a time as we walk with the Savior through these days leading to the cross. Deal with one thing today.

Music: “Day by Day”   Jessica Wu

www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpOvYdFjbR0

Prayer:  Who can tell what a day may bring forth? Cause me therefore, gracious God, to live every day as if it were to be my last, for I know not but that it may be such. Cause me to live now as I shall wish I had done when I come to die. O grant that I may not die with any guilt on my conscience, or any known sin unrepented of, but that I may be found in Christ, who is my only Savior and Redeemer.
–Thomas á Kempis, 1380-1471

March 24

Third Sunday in Lent

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts.”

Scripture: Is. 55:1-9  

“Is anyone thirsty?

   Come and drink—even if you have no money!

Come, take your choice of wine or milk— it’s all free!

2 Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength?

   Why pay for food that does you no good?

Listen to me, and you will eat what is good.

   You will enjoy the finest food.

3 “Come to me with your ears wide open.

   Listen, and you will find life.

I will make an everlasting covenant with you.

   I will give you all the unfailing love I promised to David.

4 See how I used him to display my power among the peoples.

   I made him a leader among the nations.

5 You also will command nations you do not know,

   and peoples unknown to you will come running to obey,

because I, the Lord your God,

   the Holy One of Israel, have made you glorious.”

6 Seek the Lord while you can find him.

   Call on him now while he is near.

7 Let the wicked change their ways

   and banish the very thought of doing wrong.

Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them.

   Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously.

8 “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.

   “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.

9 For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,

   so my ways are higher than your ways

   and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
There is so much richness in this text appropriate for the Lenten season. As always, note the verbs of invitation: come, drink, listen, enjoy, seek, call, turn.  They are all “doing” words, nothing passive. Our God is offering salvation to all people freely. It cannot be purchased, “it’s all free!” Come with a listening heart. Do not waste your time and money on things that accomplish nothing and don’t satisfy. God made an eternal covenant with David, and through him to bless all the nations of the earth. What does this have to do with you today, afterall, the covenant was with King David 3,000 years ago? The covenant was with David, but the verses also apply to you as you hear God speak through his word. Verse six is as current as the time it takes to read it. “Seek the Lord while you can find him,” which would be now. “Call on him now while he is near.” Friends, you are reading this, which means you are alive. The fact that you are alive means you can seek the Lord and call on him right now. I called on him after the last sentence. And as I’m typing this devotional, the Lord is impressing on me that I need to learn how to listen to his voice much better. I need to learn how to sit still, be quiet and listen. His forgiveness is certain when there is repentance. Verses eight and nine give great insight into a better understanding of our God. When the the Lord says, “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts and my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine,” we begin to see the immense greatness of our God. Perhaps more accurately, we begin to see our actual significance and God’s great mercy. Do you see how futile it is to always try to understand what God is doing in your life. God does not think like we do at all. Say that about a dozen times a day! The word is nothing! So completely nothing that we can’t imagine it, that is, it won’t fit into our brains; we don’t have that capacity. Going at the speed of light, (circling the earth at the equator 7 times in 1 second) it takes less that a second and a half for light to get from the earth to the moon, and about 8 minutes and 12 seconds to get from the earth to the Sun, our nearest star. The far reaches of the universe are trillions of light years from the earth. So when the Lord says “just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts” you begin to get the idea of the distance between our thoughts and God’s! And in all of this grandeur, he asks you to seek him while you can find him.  Do it!

Music: “The Majesty and Glory of Your Name:     First Baptist Choir Dallas, TX

www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZrTV0KD_qQI

Prayer:

We praise thee, O God; we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.

All the earth doth worship thee, the Father everlasting.

To thee all angels cry aloud, the heavens and all the powers therein.

To thee cherubin and seraphin continually do cry,

Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth;

Heaven and earth are full of the majesty of thy glory.

The glorious company of the apostles praise thee.

The goodly fellowship of the prophets praise thee.

The noble army of martyrs praise thee.

The holy Church throughout all the world doth acknowledge thee:

the Father of an infinite majesty;

thine honourable, true and only Son;

also the Holy Ghost the Comforter.
Te Deum 4th century

March 23

“Treasures on earth . . .”

Scripture:   Matthew 6: 19-24

 19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

 22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

 24 “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
As we focus in on Jesus’ life as the weight of the cross draws nearer, we see more and more clearly how single-minded and centrally focused he was. Notice the relationship among these three short sections. Notice we start with earthly concerns and contrast those with a heavenly perspective. What you value is revealed in your heart. The middle section addresses what pulls at the heart; that is, what you see. How often have we said when we see something, “I want that!” So Jesus warns us of our eyes magnetic effect on our heart. The final paragraph of this trilogy is simply, “This is not an either or, make up your mind! You can’t have both.” Jesus’ earlier words, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…” was lived out in his own words “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”  He had no home. When he was killed, he had nothing other than the clothes he was stripped of. When he died, he had nothing. All disciples had deserted him. Jesus clearly did not store up treasure on earth. What treasure he stored in heaven, however, is glorious beyond our imagination. He asks us to do the same. Do not let your eyes mesmerize your heart to earthly stuff. A legitimate question to ask is “How much of my life (my time, energy, thought, money) is going into things or pursuits that are of little eternal consequence?” If we measure “treasure” only in terms of money, we see how quickly it can fade. Ask those who invested with Bernie Madoff! Remember him? Do you see in Jesus’ words, the point is not earthly treasures, but the affections of the heart?  The quality of the treasure is indicative of the quality of the heart. The character of the heart is central, not the treasure. It is for that heart’s affection that Jesus went to the cross. Where is your heart’s affection today?  That is the treasure you are accumulating. I take you back to the very first thing you saw as you began these Lenten devotionals, a quote from who else but C.S. Lewis. Lewis warns us, “Do not to live these days for things in our life that will end when you do.”  ‘nough said.

Music: “A City Called Heaven”    Jubilant Sykes

www.youtube.com/watch?v=I6fNY710Mu0   The full song.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFIgyXK0Qp4  This is a clip of the same song, shorter version, from the movie, Freedom. It is hard to believe that human beings were treated this way by other humans. As I watched and listened and as reprehensible as the film depicted human slavery,  I couldn’t help but think, the slaves on the ship were also a picture of our world today, where countless millions are every bit as enslaved to the things of this world, unlike in the film through their own choosing, in as vicious a manner as depicted in the film.

Prayer:  May God support us all the day long, till the shades lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done! Then in His mercy may He give us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last.
–John Henry Newman 1801-1890

March 22

“When you fast . . .”

Scripture: Matthew 6:16-18

 16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Fasting has long been a religious discipline in many faiths.  In the Jewish and Christian tradition it is associated with repentance. We read in the Scriptures frequently of “fasting in sackcloth and ashes.”  The longing that comes within us because of a lack of food during a fast, reminds us of our complete and utter dependence upon the Lord. Fasting is a symbol of the discipline it takes to turn away from sin. Fasting is not an isolated, individual act solely. It also has relational dimensions. Though it is the individual who is fasting, that person is in relationship with God, self, and others with whom we come in contact. Fasting sharpens the spirit and quickens spiritual perception in our interactions. The mind sharpens. There is a penitential aspect as well as an underscoring of our utter dependence upon the Lord. Fasting of some sort is a normal part of Lent. Again, Jesus said when you fast not if you fast. Sometimes there are short total fasts for a day or two or more. On other occasions there are longer fasts, maybe from specific foods, or perhaps choosing to eat only one meal a day for the specific purpose of being liberated from a fleshly habit or desire.  Fasting was a part of the life of every major character in the Bible. Jesus fasted. In Jewish culture, fasting was part of a regular weekly practice by the religious leaders.  Maybe they knew something we don’t. If this is a new area to you, it will be worth doing your own Bible study on “fasting,” and then doing it. As Jesus points out, the whole purpose is to deepen one’s relationship with our heavenly Father.  Try setting aside some regular period of fasting, perhaps one meal or one day a week for starters.

Music: “It Is Well with My Soul”    New Apostolic Church Silvertown Choir and Orchestra (WOW!)   in Cape Town, South Africa another DO NOT MISS

www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qp4MjHWZS5c

Prayer: Come now, little man turn aside for a while from your daily employment, escape for a moment from the tumult of your thoughts. Put aside your weighty cares, let your burdensome distractions wait, free yourself awhile for God and rest awhile in him. Enter the inner chamber of your soul, shut out everything except God and that which can help you in seeking him, and when you have shut the door, seek him. Now, my whole heart, say to God, ‘I seek your face, Lord, it is your face I seek.’
―Anselm 1033-1109

March 21

“Pray then in this way . . .”

Scripture: Matthew 6: 9-15

9″This, then, is how you should pray:
   ” ‘Our Father in heaven,
   hallowed be your name,
 10 your kingdom come,
   your will be done
      on earth as it is in heaven.
 11 Give us today our daily bread.
 12 Forgive us our debts,
      as we also have forgiven our debtors.
 13 And lead us not into temptation,
   but deliver us from the evil one.’ 14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Right after Jesus talked about the importance of praying, he gave us an example of how to do it. Notice the careful choice of words. He begins, “Our Father in heaven…” He makes a point of reminding us of whose we are at the same time reminding us of the existence of another world we cannot see. (The Bible is the one book that presumes, other dimensions and worlds outside the four dimensions we live in.) Perhaps it would be wise to think a little more carefully than we sometimes do in how we begin prayers. It might be that “God, we ask you to…” may not be the most thoughtful, reverent way to address our Creator. Our words belie our shallow understanding of the One we address. “God” is not meant as a punctuation mark. Notice the way Jesus addresses his Father in John 17. He is always mindful of who he is and who his Father is. The truth is, we live in a culture that has a very casual, dare I say shallow(?), view of God. In our worship, we give priority to being casual, late (it doesn’t matter), comfortable and relaxed. Those are the characteristics of what we want in our relationship with God. Our prayers often reflect a similar attitude in the words we use. Just listen to the opening words of our praying as contrasted to Jesus’ words here as he was teaching the disciples as to how to pray. It may be that we should pay a little closer attention to this prayer and learn from what Jesus said. Certainly there are times when a prayer is as short and urgent as “Help, Lord!”  Though Jesus is our friend, he is also our coming King, our constant Intercessor, our victorious Warrior, our compassionate Redeemer, our holy Savior, which does not make us equal! In his prayers, Jesus was always very aware of the Father/Son relationship. That kind of awareness is perhaps something we can tune our hearts to in our prayers. As you pray this week, notice how you begin your prayers. You are talking to the Creator of the universe and of all that was, is, and is to come . . . and he has revealed himself to you. Listen as well as talk.

Music: “The Lord’s Prayer”   Andrea Bocelli and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

www.youtube.com/watch?v=aEplqV0scyo

Prayer: Our Father in heaven, forgive us for those times we pray without thinking of the One to whom we are talking; for those times when we babble, lost in our words and our little world, oblivious to your grand design; for those times when we tell you how to solve our problems and how to be God; and for those times when we are disrespectful and arrogant in our prayers as we seek to be clever or earthy. Teach us to pray as your dear Son prayed, for it is in his name that we offer this prayer. Amen. ―Dan Sharp

Book Recommendation: A Diary of Private Prayer,  John Baillie, Scribner’s

March 20

“When you pray . . .”

Scripture: Matthew 6:5-8

 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Again in a plain, beautiful way Jesus simply comments “when you pray.”  Prayer, our conversation with God, is a normal, daily part of the Christian life. This act of praying is not complicated nor is the expectation. Three words, eleven letters. That’s it! In my reading this morning, I noticed several times that Jesus went away alone into the hills to pray. In one case he was interrupted on his way to be alone. He stopped and spent time with the people who had followed him, but then he sent the disciples on ahead of him and “he went into the hills to pray” and be alone with his Father. Such was his normal practice. There is much to be said for private alone time with just you and your Father who sees everything. Do you have an “alone place” where you pray and listen to the Father? If you don’t have a daily place or practice, the Lenten season is a good time to develop this daily pattern. “When” is a word of action. It occurs in time. It signals the beginning of an event. So in Jesus’ saying “when,” his full expectation is that prayer is a regular part of our daily lives. You have heard it said undoubtedly, “There is power in prayer.” Actually, the power is in the One to whom you are praying and the fact that you are actually praying! Simply saying prayerful words doesn’t really do anything. The crafting of your words contain zero power. Jesus makes that quite clear. Maybe you want to keep (or start) a prayer list or a prayer journal. While interceding for others is an important part of prayer, don’t neglect adoration, confession, and thanksgiving. And remember, a good portion of praying is listening to the Father. Remember, prayer is dialogical. Both people get to talk! In prayer we are turning to God in dependency as we turn from sin. There are a great many examples of prayer in Scripture to guide you along. (Col. 1:9-14; Phil. 1:3-11; Dan. 9:1-19) Maybe during the Lenten season you’ll want to build a collection of all the “prayers” you can find in Scripture.

Music: “Sweet Hour of Prayer”  by Radiance Acappella Do NOT miss this!! Five guys from Zimbabwe. Absolutely gorgeous and moving. They pray as they sing!

www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ph43J3pnBDo

 Hymn:  What a Friend We Have in Jesus                ―Joseph Scriven, 1855

What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear,

What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.                                                                             O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear All because we do not carry, everything to God in prayers.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, our Intercessor, may our hearts be open to you, to see as you see.  May we be obedient to your voice. May our prayer life with you multiply many times throughout the day. We ask that you’d bring things to our minds during the day that need prayer. May we be free to pray with those in need as we go through the mornings, afternoons, and evenings of our lives. In all of this, may you receive glory. Thank you for praying for us continually. We pray this in your tender name. Amen. ―Dan Sharp

Book Recommendation: Deepening Your Conversation with God, Ben Patterson, Bethany House

March 19

When you give to the needy . . .”

Scripture: Matthew 6:1-4

1 “Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.  2 So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Prayer, fasting, and giving alms are three central themes of Lent. We’ll look at each over the next three days.

Some thoughts:
We don’t need big words to say powerful things. These words of Jesus have four or fewer letters and most have a single syllable.  He couldn’t be clearer. Ours is a faith that expresses itself in actions. Giving to the needy is one of those actions that is done not to buy God’s favor or earn salvation. We are not graded by God based on what we do. We “give to the needy” to live out a relationship with our heavenly Father. Giving to those in need is what we do as Christians. Jesus was clear. He didn’t say “if you give to the needy,” but rather “when you give to the needy.”  Giving is one of the three primary themes of Lent along with fasting and praying. Have you noticed that is exactly what Jesus did his whole life? And we are the “needy” who benefit. So our question is how and when do we give to the needy?  Maybe adopt a World Vision child. Put together a “Grace Bag” for your car. In the bag you might have a toothbrush and toothpaste, a little bottle of shampoo, a roll of toilet paper, a bottle of water, a bar of soap, some baby wipes, a can of beans with a pop top and plastic spoon. Then when you see a homeless person who, like you is made in the image of God, you’ll have something practical you can give to one in need. Look them in the eye and don’t be afraid to talk with them and listen to their story, whether it is true or not. Listening gives dignity. Giving to the needy acknowledges their humanity. They are not like a pet that needs to be fed, but an actual human being that has come across your path. Another thought, do you know someone who is having a tough time making ends meet right now?  Send them a gift card, or send them some cash anonymously. Ask the Lord to bring to mind someone you can encourage in a practical way. “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” The point of secrecy here is to counteract our natural instinct to broadcast what we have done for our glory. A silent gift gives glory to God.

Music: “Amazing Grace”    Zero8

www.youtube.com/watch?v=vBNDdEnHCFQ&list=RDvBNDdEnHCFQ&start_radio=1

Hymn: Here I Am Lord   Daniel Schutte, 1983

I, the Lord of sea and sky, I have heard my people cry.

All who dwell in deepest sin, my hand will save.                    

I who made the stars of night, I will make their darkness bright,                                                                               Who will bear my light to them? Whom shall I send?                                                         Here I am, Lord, Is it I, Lord? I have heard You calling in the night. I will go, Lord, if You lead me. I will hold Your people in my heart.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, our Sustainer and Provider, help us to be your hands and feet to those in need. Tune our hearts to your own generous heart that we may see as you see and do something about it. Thank you for coming to us in our great need. You are our only hope and salvation. May we bring hope, the hope found in you, to those around us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
―Dan Sharp

Book recommendation: Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster  (An “old” classic)

March 18

“Search me, O God . . .”

Scripture: Psalm 139: 23-24

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
       test me and know my thoughts.

 24 See if there is any wicked way in me,
       and lead me in the way everlasting.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
In the early days of the Church, this season was a final time of preparation for the catechumens, those who had been studying the Christian faith. Their baptisms happened at the Easter Vigil on Saturday night right before Easter Sunday. Often this process of joining the faith community took several years of preparation as those being baptized learned of the faith. There was much self-examination occurring during these final six weeks both by the individual and by the church. The last verses of this psalm are most apropos. Periodic “soul searching” is good. In a world where we are so busy and consumed with the day to day activity and pressures, taking time to stop and look into our own hearts is essential.

David picked up this theme of self-examination in the final verses of this psalm. He  concludes with the kind of transparency that resulted in God saying of David, “He is a man after my own heart.” Could that be said about you? David was more interested in God’s perspective of David’s life than he was in justifying himself before the Lord. David stepped outside of himself and gave God free rein to look into every nook and cranny of his life, as did those who were being baptized. One of the characteristics of maturity is the ability to “step outside of our person” and see ourselves objectively. In this case, stepping outside of ourselves involves asking God to search the inmost recesses of our hearts and reveal to us any wickedness he finds. Trust me, he will find things you and I need to repent of. Can we live with a consistent transparency toward God? David has given us a marvelous daily prayer for the Lenten season in these verses.

Music: “Search Me, O God”  by Jonny Priano Grove City Touring Choir

www.youtube.com/watch?v=3XOcd9iQgFk

Hymn  “O for a Closer Walk with God”                        William Cowper, 1731-1800

O for a closer walk with God, a calm and heavenly frame                                                              A light to shine upon the road that leads me to the Lamb! The dearest idol I have known, what-e’er that idol be                                                                         Help me to tear it from thy throne, and worship only thee.

Prayer: O Lord, the house of my soul is narrow; enlarge it, that you may enter in. It is ruinous, O repair it! It displeases your sight; I confess it, I know. But who shall cleanse it, to whom shall I cry but to you? Cleanse me from my secret faults, O Lord, and spare your servant from strange sins.
–St. Augustine, 354-430 AD

Additional Reading: My Heart Christ’s Home by Bob Munger
―an old-time classic

March 17

Second Sunday in Lent “we are citizens of heaven. . .”

Scriptures: Philippians 3:17-4:1

17 Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example. 18 For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth. 20 But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. 21 He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control.

4 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stay true to the Lord. I love you and long to see you, dear friends, for you are my joy and the crown I receive for my work.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
The Apostle Paul has touched on some very timely topics. Though written 2,000 plus years ago, Paul’s words ring as true as walking down the street last night or reading the news this morning. Whenever someone says the Bible is an irrelevant old book, they clearly have not read it. A few things to notice in this passage: Paul sheds tears for people whose lives are contrary to the way of Christ. In truth, I do not always have a heavy heart for those in rebellion against God. I am more inclined to be upset with their conduct and rejection of God than I am sorrowful for their alienation from God. Our pop culture as a whole certainly brags about “shameful things” and glorifies vile behavior. Depravity is celebrated, often in the name of diversity. It would appear that many people around us are consumed with present day life on this earth with little or no thought of any life after this world. It is likewise easy for followers of Christ to be singularly focused on the present. Once again we have the insightful words of C.S. Lewis: “Aim at Heaven and you will get Earth thrown in: aim at Earth and you will get neither.” (The Joyful Christian) All around you and me are people aiming no higher than earth. Our calling is to let them know there is more than this earth at stake and to aim much higher. The earth they are chasing and never catching, will one day come into view as past history because they will discover they have actually been just “passing through.” People have asked me what our bodies will be like when we get to heaven. Paul gives us somewhat of a hint in this pericope. Our heavenly bodies will be transformed into glorious bodies like Jesus’ own resurrection body. Friends, let us live always preparing to leave while paying attention to each day. Stay true to the Lord and help those around you to aim at heaven. It has been secured on your behalf by our great Savior. He is the good news at the beginning and end of each day!

Music: “No Not One and This World Is Not My Home”  Guy Penrod

www.youtube.com/watch?v=-XKqlq5M32Y

“Alone Yet Not Alone”   Sam Robson

www.youtube.com/watch?v=-XKqlq5M32Y

Prayer:

You suffered throughout your life, O Lord Jesus Christ, that I might be saved. And yet, even now, you continue to bear with me, as I stumble upon the path and constantly go astray. As often as I become impatient and wish to abandon your way, you encourage me and stretch forth your helping hand. Each day I increase your burden; yet while I am impatient, your patience is infinite. Grant to me wisdom and a will to live each day noticing the day while living in eternity. In your grace, help me not separate the two but live a life of shalom through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
―Søren Kierkegaard, adapted Dan Sharp

March 16

“Do away with wickedness for good…”

Scripture: Psalm 139: 19-22

And please, God, do away with wickedness for good!  
   And you murderers—out of here!—  
      all the men and women who belittle you, God,  
      infatuated with cheap god-imitations.  
   See how I hate those who hate you, God,  
      see how I loathe all this godless arrogance;  
   I hate it with pure, unadulterated hatred.  
      Your enemies are my enemies!

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Do you ever get tired of the endless scandals, cheating, arrogance, and power struggles of our leaders and “famous people”? (. . . and that’s just in kindergarten! Apparently it continues in the rest of life!) I find David echoing my voice in the words of today’s reading. In the past few weeks the State of New York in the USA has passed a law making it legal to abort a full-term baby and even kill it after it is born if the mother and doctor decide to if it’s in the best interest of “the mother’s health.” The state senators cheered at the passing of the law. How can human beings be this godless? Such is the action of barbarian civilizations. When the heart is cold toward God, anything is possible. Like David, I get angry when people are defiant of God, mocking faith and integrity. Insulting God is no small thing. I also realize this dismissing of God has been in evidence since the beginning of creation, after all, Cain killed is own brother. These self-righteous immoral “wind machines” of today do not ultimately get away with their ways. They will answer to the One they have mocked. In contrast to my anger and frustration, God is patient, not willing that any should perish. But unwilling people do perish. I frankly do not have God’s attitude, I want them to perish! They have defied God! God’s desire that they repent of their deeds, however, is a convicting measure of my lack of grace and failure to see the grossness of my own sin.  In the meantime, God in Christ Jesus did something about the situation. Our Savior left the glory of a perfect heaven, of a perfect holy environment, of perfect communion with the Father and Holy Spirit, and came to a world filled with sin and arrogance, to a place of estranged people with severed relationships, a place of profane disregard for the sacred, the truth, and the holy, in order to make possible the restoration of God’s entire created order. We journey with Jesus through the slough of human brokenness to the victory on the cross. Look for someone today to whom you can give a word of hope and encouragement. Everyone around you needs God’s grace, including you. Be a vehicle of his grace to others. Maybe some calloused hearts will soften.

Music: “Sinner, Please Don’t This Harvest Pass”

www.youtube.com/watch?v=CcZDv9SvHCM

Hymn   Lavish Love, Abundant Beauty                      ―Peter Ellis, 1986

I am yours, Eternal Father, all my body, mind and heart.                                                            Take and use me to your glory, form yourself in every part. Lord, your love brings joy and gladness flowing forth within my soul.                                        May my very breath and being rise to you, their source and goal.

Prayer: Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love, where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, it is in dying, that we awake to eternal life.
–St. Francis of Assisi,  1181-1226

March 15

“Your thoughtshow rare, how beautiful . . .”

Scripture: Psalm 139: 17-18

Your thoughts—how rare, how beautiful!  
      God, I’ll never comprehend them!  
   I couldn’t even begin to count them—  
      any more than I could count the sand of the sea.  
   Oh, let me rise in the morning and live always with you!

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
In Psalm 119:164 David writes “Seven times a day will I praise thee.” It might be a good idea to remind ourselves aloud seven times a day of the presence of the Lord. Those words could be, “Lord, you are with me.” Or “The Lord is with me.” I’d suggest: when we awaken, when we eat breakfast, mid-morning, noon, mid-afternoon, at dinner time, and when we go to bed. See if you can do it one day, maybe tomorrow or today if you are reading this in the morning. During the season of Lent, we want to reflect and walk with Christ on the road that leads to Calvary. Time and time again as the disciples traveled the hills of Judea with Jesus, they were surprised by what he said and did. In Psalm 139, David writes of the joys of reflecting on God’s thoughts. He notes the overwhelming scope of the mind of God. The Scriptures are filled with God’s thoughts. The Holy Spirit guides us in our thoughts and brings God’s thoughts to our minds.  I think this is what David is getting at because he writes of his longing to live throughout the day in the presence of the Lord. Did you ever notice how close Jesus was to his heavenly Father and how often they communicated during the day and night, especially during his last hours on earth? Jesus practiced what David was writing about. Resolve to talk with the Lord seven times a day for the next week. You may even have to turn the car radio off! Maybe even leave the car radio off for the rest of Lent and use that time to talk to the Lord.

Music: “Hear My Prayer”    Henry Purcell Clare College Choir, Cambridge

www.youtube.com/watch?v=_WXx5tttwGo

Prayer: You are God and we praise you; you are the Lord and we acclaim you, You are the eternal Father; all creation worships you. To you all angels, all the powers of heaven, cherubim and seraphim sing in endless praise, Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might; Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Forbid it Lord, that of all your creation, we should remain dumb in your presence. Seven times a day do we praise you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.
―adapted from Te Deum 4th century

March 14

“…you shaped, you formed, you know…”

Scripture:  Psalm 139: 13-16                                                                                                           

13-16 Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;  
      you formed me in my mother’s womb.  
   I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!  
      Body and soul, I am marvelously made!  
      I worship in adoration—what a creation!  
   You know me inside and out,  
      you know every bone in my body;  
   You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,  
      how I was sculpted from nothing into something.  
   Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;  
      all the stages of my life were spread out before you,  
   The days of my life all prepared  
      before I’d even lived one day.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
In a time when giving attention to building “self-esteem, “self-worth,” and “self-identity” (What is the common word?) are so prevalent in our culture, we have discovered that giving everyone a trophy doesn’t do it! Authentic self-esteem, worth, identity, and everything else comes when we see our true selves from God’s perspective and realize we are loved dearly by the One who made us uniquely male and female. (Our identity is not in our sex.) In this passage written by King David, we see “self-worth” in the context of “God-worth.” God didn’t make a mistake when he made you. He knew you long before anyone had any idea you would even exist. Some of us live with greater challenges than others, but we are all wondrous works of God’s creative hand with unique gifts and skills. Though we may not see it or believe it in some cases, there are no “mistake people” along the way. We are all made “in the image of God.” God’s hand was on us from the moment of our conception through our last day on this earth. We read in the Scriptures that we were known from the foundation of the world. The image of God is stamped on every life from the moment of conception, a God-given truth that has been rejected by many in our current secular culture which has rejected God and created its own version of truth, disregarding the sanctity of life. Do you see here God’s commitment is to you as a unique person?  Note we are not “special.” If everyone is “special,” then no one is. “Unique” is a much better word. It means there is no one else in all creation quite like you! God wanted it that way. His imagination is unending. This “uniqueness” is what keeps life so interesting! In Jesus Christ, we have the most unique human being who has ever lived on earth, one whose life, death, resurrection, and ascension brought redemption to everyone who has ever lived.

Music: “He Knows My Name”    Tommy Walker (An old “contemporary” song!!)

www.youtube.com/watch?v=1bj-rlGcj8M

Hymn: He Knows My Name Tommy Walker

I have a Maker, He formed my heart.

Before even time began my life was in His hand.

He knows my name, He knows my ev’ry thought,

He sees each tear that falls and hears me when I call.

I have a Father, He calls me His own.

He’ll never leave me no matter where I go.

He knows my name, He knows my ev’ry thought,

He sees each tear that falls and hears me when I call.

Prayer: Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing that you have made, and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent. Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that, lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, we may receive from you, the God of all mercy, perfect forgiveness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
–Thomas Cranmer, 1489-1556

March 13

“…you are there”

Scripture: Psalm 139: 7-12

7-12 Is there any place I can go to avoid your Spirit?  
      to be out of your sight?  
   If I climb to the sky, you’re there!  
      If I go underground, you’re there!  
   If I flew on morning’s wings  
      to the far western horizon,  
   You’d find me in a minute—  
      you’re already there waiting!  
   Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark!  
      At night I’m immersed in the light!”  
   It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you;  
      night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to you.   

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

 

Some thoughts:
Why is it that we tend to avoid being confronted with the truth?  We somehow imagine that if we just hide or ignore it, we can skip facing reality. David writes with devastating clarity reminding us that we cannot escape God’s presence. Wherever we go, “God is there.” In fact, God is there before you get there! If you head to the backside of a galaxy “far, far away,” he’s waiting for you! Is there some pattern or habit in your life that you avoid in your conversations with God? After all, if you do all the talking in your prayer life, you don’t have to listen to what God has to say to you. David reminds us that no amount of finagling on our part makes things go away. Adam and Eve were the first people to try to hide from God and it didn’t work then and it hasn’t worked for anyone since! God’s question to them of “Where are you?” was not because he didn’t know where they were, he was asking them, “Where are you in relation to me? Where is your heart?” Not even the dark of night covers those hidden thoughts and habits. Is the quality of your nightlife the same as your daylife or are those two different worlds? God cares about every part of our lives and isn’t shocked by the way we live our lives. God truly knows you better than you know yourself which is why he is in the process of transforming you into the image of his Son. The season of Lent is a time to turn specifically toward our Creator and come clean. Is there something in your closet that needs God’s broom? Do you see God’s tender love and care for you expressed in this passage? Maybe write down what the Lord is saying to you. It will mean listening and not talking.

Suggested  Lenten Reading:
John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, a classic book about a Christian’s journey through life. Highly recommended. I reread this little book every three or four years in the old text. It’s a great way to learn what English words really mean. It is a spiritual masterpeace and has been translated into more than 200 languages. It is often the first book translated after the Bible in Christendom and has never been out of print since it was written in 1678! It is also the first novel written in English. It appears to have staying power!

 

Music: “The Lord Is My Shepherd”    John Rutter sung by Atlanta Master Chorale

www.youtube.com/watch?v=WOtsuzM6h7M

 

A Hymn to God the Father

Wilt thou forgive that sin, where I begun,

Which is my sin, though it were done before?

Wilt thou forgive those sins through which I run,

And do run still, though still I do deplore?

When thou hast done, thou hast not done, for I have more.

 

Wilt thou forgive that sin, by which I won

Others to sin, and made my sin their door?

Wilt thou forgive that sin which I did shun

A year or two, but wallowed in a score?

When thou hast done, thou hast not done, for I have more.

 

I have sin of fear that when I’ve spun

My last thread, I shall perish on that shore;

Swear by thyself, that at my death thy Son shall shine

As he shines now, and heretofore.

And having done that, thou hast done, I fear no more.
―John Donne, 1572-1631

 

Prayer: Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy name; through Christ our Lord.
―from Book of Common Prayer

March 12

“Lord, you have searched me and known me”

Scripture: Psalm 139: 1-6

 1 O LORD, you have searched me
       and you know me.

 2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
       you perceive my thoughts from afar.

 3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
       you are familiar with all my ways.

 4 Before a word is on my tongue
       you know it completely, O LORD.

 5 You hem me in—behind and before;
       you have laid your hand upon me.

 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
       too lofty for me to attain.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.  

Some thoughts:

Have you ever had someone stand too close to you when you were having a conversation?  There is a certain amount of distance we like to keep. Our souls also have that tendency in relation to God. We want to be in control of that “soul space.” If people get too close to our “soul space,” we can get hurt or embarrassed. In some cases it’s because deep down we know what’s there and we’d rather no one (or God) find out what we are really like. As we read the first five verses of David’s Psalm 139, we see a pretty transparent, even unnerving  picture. We learn of a God who sees right into our “soul space.” We have a God who cares about us and knows who we are, from whom nothing is hidden, and loves us anyway. He is aware of our physical movement (have you ever just missed having an accident?), what we think, where we rest, what all our habits are. He knows what we will say before we say it. He protects us and guards us as we move in our paths of life. We have a God who absolutely cares and is committed to us.  David’s response is that this is wonderful news. Is it good news to you? If we are honest, the answer is probably “yes” and “no.” Sometimes we want to run things ourselves. Is there some “soul space” that you can identify and open to a loving, understanding God? Is there some aspect of your life that you don’t want to let go of, or simply avoid addressing? If you can’t come up with anything, ask God to show you. He will! The truth is, there is always something in your life that needs attention. It’s called sanctification!

Music: “O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus”   Audrey Assad and Fernando Ortega

www.youtube.com/watch?v=1vUhwyjdk8A&start_radio=1&list=RD1vUhwyjdk8A

Hymn: O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus                          Trevor Francis, 1890

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast unmeasured, boundless, free

Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me!

Underneath me, all around me, is the current of his love,

Leading onward, leading homeward to that glorious rest above.

Prayer: O Lord our God, grant us grace to desire you with our whole heart, that so desiring we may seek and find you, and so finding you, may love you, and loving you, may hate those sins from which you have redeemed us.
–Anselm 1033-1109

March 11

He fasted forty days and forty nights”

Scripture:  Matthew 4:1-11

 1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”

 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
   ” ‘He will command his angels concerning you,
      and they will lift you up in their hands,
   so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'”

 7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

 10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'”

 11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.  

Some thoughts:

The clearest model of the forty-day fast and time of reckoning is Jesus himself. Prior to the beginning of his public ministry we read of his temptation by the devil. The devil makes few direct appearances in Scripture. In the Garden of Eden he succeeded in derailing humanity from a perfect sinless world into one of blighted self-rule by tempting humans to doubt God’s word by appealing to human pride. There is the indirect action of the devil in King Herod’s failed attempt to kill the young child Jesus in an effort to abort God’s plan of redemption. He failed. The devil’s next direct appearance to Jesus is at the end of the Savior’s forty day fast. We see in Jesus’ confrontation with the devil, the centrality and power of God’s word. In the face of great temptation, Jesus quotes the Scriptures in each of the three attempts to cause him to yield his will to Satan’s wish. (It behooves us to memorize Scripture; to absorb its content and context. It is truly the “sword of the Spirit.”  Why not set a goal of memorizing some portion of the Bible during these next weeks of Lent? You could start with the Beatitudes and maybe branch out to memorize the whole of chapter five of Matthew, or maybe I Corinthians 13, or Philippians 2:5-11.) If Jesus quoted Scripture in times of temptation and the devil left him alone, maybe he knows something we don’t! As the devil failed in his attempt at causing Jesus to fall, the last phrase is that he left Jesus for a more “opportune” time. He could not drive a wedge between the Father and his Son causing the Son to sin which would have ended God’s plan of redemption. The truth is, the devil never gives up then or now. The next recorded “opportune” time was when Peter, (the devil will use any means), tried to tell Jesus not to allow himself to be killed. The final time before the crucifixion was when Satan entered Judas who then betrayed Jesus. The irony is that throughout Jesus’ life, the devil sought to kill Jesus thinking it would thwart God’s plan of bringing redemption to the whole created order. In the end, Jesus did die, but not by being killed by Satan. Jesus voluntarily gave his life thereby destroying the devil’s hold on humanity and bringing restoration to the whole created order. All of this came in the context of worshiping God alone.

Music: “Ah Holy Jesus”     Sufjan Stevens This video is a little unusual. Sufjan and this band are not particularly “Christian” as such, though there is somewhat of a Christian heritage which you will hear. What I want you to notice is the impact the hymn text and nature of the tune has on a non-Christian crowd…even to the point of coming back to sing an additional verse. Never doubt the power of a biblically substantial hymn text to have a powerful impact. A very interesting video. This hymn is a part of every Holy Week service at some point.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=xG7UywiMJpg

Prayer: ―Thomas Aquinas 1225-1274

Give me, O Lord, a steadfast heart, which no unworthy affection may drag downwards;

Give me an unconquered heart, which no tribulation can wear out;

Give me an upright heart, which no unworthy purpose may tempt aside.

Bestow on me also, O Lord my God, understanding to know you, diligence to seek you, wisdom to find you, and a faithfulness that may finally embrace you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

March 10

When they call on me, I will answer.

Scripture: Psalm 91:1-2; 9-16

1 Those who live in the shelter of the Most High

   will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

2 This I declare about the Lord:

He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;

   he is my God, and I trust him.

9 If you make the Lord your refuge,

   if you make the Most High your shelter,

10 no evil will conquer you;

   no plague will come near your home.

11 For he will order his angels

   to protect you wherever you go.

12 They will hold you up with their hands

   so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.

13 You will trample upon lions and cobras;

   you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet!

14 The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me.

   I will protect those who trust in my name.

15 When they call on me, I will answer;

   I will be with them in trouble.

   I will rescue and honor them.

16 I will reward them with a long life

   and give them my salvation.”

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:

One thing about Jesus that stands out in my mind was his relationship to his Father in heaven. Have you noticed how often and how regularly he left the disciples and everyone else to go into the mountains to pray? We are admonished in this Psalm to call the Lord our refuge, the Most High our fortress, our place of safety. Jesus made his Father his place of refuge and peace. I think that is partly why he often went alone up the mountains. God often speaks with great clarity in the mountains in Scripture. There was the giving of the Law to Moses, Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac, the Transfiguration, the Ark resting on Mount Ararat, and the Ascension from the Mount of Olives to name a few instances.  I can’t imagine what it would have been like for Jesus, having come from the perfect holiness of heaven to an earth filled with greedy, sinful people who, it seems, always wanted something from him or who despised him. His solace was time away from people spent in solitary prayer with his Father. That was the time most like heaven . . . no sinful people around, just the creation, the Father and the Son. Is there something here for us to learn about solitude―away from people and alone with our Father? Jesus’ resources were renewed. Notice when he came down from the mountain, his strength returned as he went straight into his ministry.

There is another verse I’d like to comment on. Verse ten states “no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent.” But evil does befall us and we have great difficulties, so how do we reconcile this verse? Always start with context. Notice where we are at the beginning of the psalm . . . “Those who live in the shelter of the Most High.” In other words, when we are in the presence of God we are ultimately protected. We are in an eternally safe place. Remember, we are aliens in this world; it is not our home. We were made for another world, an eternal one. Our safety and security in that world is certain.

Music: “How Did I Make It Over?”   Mahalia Jackson Slow down and listen, this is a sung testimony! She’s singing from the “mountain!”

www.youtube.com/watch?v=iinuEJaUF1w

Prayer: Our Holy Father in heaven, it is so very clear that we live in a culture that has totally lost its way. We run around at a frantic pace. We get twitchy if we have to wait for anything. Our attention span is short. I’m praying things you already know about us. Forgive our deaf ears, distracted minds, shallow hearts, and self-absorption. Help us to live this psalm we just read. I pray it would be a reality today. Help me to find a “mountain” to be alone with you, and grant me the grace to listen, be focused on you, soften my heart, and look outward to your kingdom. Help me to live in your world during my time here until I enter your heavenly world. I praise you for your glorious Son who made all of this even possible. All glory to you Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.
―Dan Sharp

March 9 

“The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast.”

Scripture: Jonah 3   

1 Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”

 3 Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very important city—a visit required three days. 4 On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” 5 The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.

 6 When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7 Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh:
      “By the decree of the king and his nobles:
       Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”

 10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:

What is with the forty days of Lent? The number forty has been significant in the Scriptures for a number of reasons. Think about it. It rained forty days and forty nights bringing the great Flood of Noah’s day. The Israelites wandered forty years in the desert, one year for each day for each day of unbelief when the spies were sent into Canaan to check out the land. Moses was on Mt. Sinai forty days and nights when he received the Ten Commandments. David was king of Israel for forty years. But the core of the forty days of Lent is to be a kind of shadow of Jesus’ forty days of temptation in the wilderness. In Jonah’s time, the people of Nineveh repented in sackcloth and ashes for forty days and revival came to the city. There are many, many more examples in the Scriptures where the number forty plays significance. Numbers are significant in Jewish history. Think of the prominence of 3, 7,10, and 12 for example. What is the common thread in the above examples?  The period of forty, whether it be days, months, or years, is frequently a period of testing, trial, probation, or chastisement ending with restoration, revival, or renewal. It is not a period of judgment as such. Rather, it is a time of coming face to face with God and seeing who we really are and what we do in his name. In the case of the Ninevites, much to Jonah’s chagrin, the people repented and God relented in his judgment. Because of the change in the people’s hearts, God’s course of action altered. God responds when people humble themselves and own up to their sin. Such action from God has not changed. “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sins and restore their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14. The story of Jonah is one of common grace. The Ninevites were not Jewish, they were not God’s chosen people, yet God demonstrated grace to these gentiles. Jonah wanted a God who was exclusive, a God who dealt only with his Chosen People, the Israelites. He did not want a God who granted his grace to everyone, to every race, tribe, and nation. That message came full force at Pentecost in the New Testament. Let this season of the year remind us all that God’s grace is extended to everyone without regard for nationality. This world is not anyone’s exclusive home because God’s grace is extended to all. Christianity is the most inclusive offer humanity has ever received.

Music: “I’m Just a Poor Wayfarin’ Stranger”     Johnny Cash

www.youtube.com/watch?v=gIlbZAP8ASQ

Trace Adkins    (in a tribute to Johnny Cash)

www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPpV1Wcsgk0

Prayer of Repentance: God in Heaven, you have helped my life to grow like a tree. Now something has happened. Satan, like a bird, has carried in one twig of his own choosing after another. Before I knew it he had built a dwelling place and was living in it. Tonight, my Father, I am throwing out both the bird and the nest.                        –prayer of a Nigerian Christian

March 8

”From dust you came, to dust you will return.”

Genesis 3: 13-19  

 13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”
      The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

 14 So the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,
       “Cursed are you above all the livestock
       and all the wild animals!
       You will crawl on your belly
       and you will eat dust
       all the days of your life.

 15 And I will put enmity
       between you and the woman,
       and between your offspring and hers;
       he will crush your head,
       and you will strike his heel.”

 16 To the woman he said,
       “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing;
       with pain you will give birth to children.
       Your desire will be for your husband,
       and he will rule over you.”

 17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’
       “Cursed is the ground because of you;
       through painful toil you will eat of it
       all the days of your life.

 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
       and you will eat the plants of the field.

 19 By the sweat of your brow
       you will eat your food
       until you return to the ground,
       since from it you were taken;
       for dust you are
       and to dust you will return.”

           Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.  

Some thoughts:

We spoke earlier of sackcloth. Another sign of penitence and humility was expressed with ashes. In the Garden of Eden, God formed man from the dust of the earth. With our rebellion against God, we sealed our doom and broke communion with our Creator. As a result, this body of ours will in fact return to dust (to ash) again. That is why we speak those words in the Ash Wednesday service, “from dust you came, to dust you will return.” The glory is that we will get a new body, not a “remake” of this old one. The new one is not subject to death.  Stop a moment and take a look at your hands, your arms. When you are at home, look at yourself in the mirror for 30 seconds. As you look at hands and face, remind yourself that God has redeemed what you see and that it will exist for all eternity. Your hands, your face. . .you will never die. You will exist forever and that existence is underway now. Everything you see will go to dust only to be made new by the One who made this mortal model of you! You were sown into the earth in an earthly (dust) body and you will be raised in a heavenly (immortal fleshly) body, one like Jesus has. The sign of the cross made in ashes a few days ago proclaims that death is defeated forever and that this mortal body will put on immortality.  Put a little jar of ashes on your bathroom counter during this season to remind you every morning and evening that you are now in the process of living forever because of Jesus’ victory over death, sin, and the powers of evil. Take care of your body while you are here. God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are indwelling you.

Music:   “What Wondrous Love”  Robert Shaw Festival Singers

www.youtube.com/watch?v=WeIECnixpM0   

Prayer: Gracious God, out of your love and mercy you breathed into dust the breath of life, creating us to serve you and our neighbors. In this season of repentance, restore to us the joy of our salvation and strengthen us to face our mortality, that we may reach with confidence for your mercy, in Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. -The Worship Sourcebook

March 7

“Do not be hasty in your heart…”

Scripture: Ecclesiastes 5

 1 Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.

 2 Do not be quick with your mouth,
       do not be hasty in your heart
       to utter anything before God.
       God is in heaven
       and you are on earth,
       so let your words be few.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   Response: Thanks be to God.  

Some thoughts:

You may have counted the days from now until Easter Sunday and discovered there are actually forty-six days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. During the time of Lent people would fast and pray. Sunday was never considered a “fast” day and so the six Sundays were not counted as part of Lent. Though it was a penitential, reflective season, Sundays were always considered little “Easters.” If you take the six week period, you’ll have forty-two days, less the six Sundays makes thirty-six days fasting days. As a result four additional days were added which is why Lent always begins on a Wednesday. So what is the point and what difference does it make?

The season points to a kind of tension between the “already and not yet” aspect of faith. The Lord has risen (the “already”) and we know that part of the story, but we dare not rush through the way of the cross to get to the “not yet.” (We have “not yet” come to restoration.) It does us well to slow down. This pericope is a wonderful framer for worship.We are surrounded by people in a hurry. We purchase a new phone or computer because it is “faster.” The concept of speed has even entered our vocabulary. How often have you heard, “I have a quick question.” or “It will only take a minute.” Where is the “Can I ask a slow question?” In growing up on the farm, we planted the corn seeds in the ground in late April and waited until September or October to harvest the corn. Waiting is lost skill. We pray with a list of things we want God to accomplish, the sooner the better from our standpoint. During Lent, let me challenge you to spend one half of your prayer time listening to God and the other have conversing with him. Keep your mouth shut and give God a chance to talk! Don’t be is such a hurry. Amen!

Music:   “Miserere Mei, Deus”  Allegri 1630. This is a gorgeous setting of the penitential Psalm 51. It’s in Latin so you may wish to look at the English text. I’d suggest you read the psalm first and then slow down and listen to what you have read expressed in another language. It is gorgeous and beautifully filmed in a marvelous setting. Take the time. It will be the best 5 minutes and 30 seconds of your day! Listen with your heart.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3v9unphfi0

Hymn:             Gregory the Great    540-604

Kind Maker of the world, O hear
the fervent prayer, with many a tear
poured forth by all the penitent
who keep this holy fast of Lent

Each heart is manifest to thee
Thou knowest our infirmity
Now we repent, and seek thy face,
Grant unto us thy pardoning grace.

Grant, O thou blessed Trinity,
Grant, O unchanging Unity,
That this our fast of forty days,
May work our profit and thy praise!


Prayer: O thou great Chief, light a candle in my heart, that I may see what is therein, and sweep the rubbish from thy dwelling place.
― An African schoolgirl’s prayer

Ash Wednesday March 6

C.S. Lewis warns us, “Do not to live these days for things in our life that will end when you do.”  

Scripture:  Esther 4:1-4

 1 When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly. 2 But he went only as far as the king’s gate, because no one clothed in sackcloth was allowed to enter it. 3 In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes.

 4 When Esther’s maids and eunuchs came and told her about Mordecai, she was in great distress. She sent clothes for him to put on instead of his sackcloth, but he would not accept them.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.  Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:

We read in the Bible from time to time about people “repenting in sackcloth and ashes.” (Sackcloth is a course burlap kind of material.) Did this humbling action ever seem to you a little odd and far removed or irrelevant our day? Throughout history, the sprinkling of ashes has been associated with repentance and humbling oneself before God. The ash is a reference back to creation in the Garden of Eden where God formed man from the dust of the earth. Upon death, our bodies decompose to dust or ash. The marking with ash is an admission of mortality before God. Such a marking acknowledges God’s sovereignty over life, my life. I am visibly humbling myself before the Lord as a reflection of my heart. In the story of Esther, Mordecai put on sackcloth and covered himself with ashes. Why? It was a sign of deep humility and his humbling himself before God. In his case, it was a time of great stress for the Jewish people as the foreign king, Ahasuerus, had been duped into signing an irrevocable decree to annihilate the Jewish people. Mordecai’s action was part of a petition to God for deliverance and an expression of total dependence upon the Lord. The use of ashes was (and is) a reminder to people of the fragile and short nature of life, a humbling thought in our world that has such an exalted view of itself.  Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a season in which we daily die to self and focus our attention on the one person, Jesus Christ, who actually humbled himself to the point of death. He truly “died to self” in our place. In that death, he gained the victory over sin, death, and the powers of evil. In response to Lewis’ words, what things are you living for that will continue even after your death? If at all possible, find an Ash Wednesday service you can attend today. Get a piece of sackcloth (burlap) to put in your pocket or on your bathroom mirror during the Lenten season to remind you each day to humble yourself before the Lord and the One who humbled himself for you to the point of death.

Music: “Lord for Thy Tender Mercy’s Sake”   Farrant

www.youtube.com/watch?v=sugAjtysQCs

Hymn: “Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days     Claudia Hernaman, 1873

1 Lord, who throughout these forty days
for us didst fast and pray,
teach us with you to mourn our sins
and close by you to stay.
2 As you with Satan did contend,
and did the victory win,
O give us strength in you to fight,
in you to conquer sin.
3 As you did hunger and did thirst,
so teach us, gracious Lord,
to die to self, and so to live
by your most holy Word.
4 And thro’ these days of penitence,
and thro’ your Passiontide,
forevermore, in life and death,
O Lord, with us abide.                  

Prayer:  Lord God, our Father in heaven, we confess that we are a people absorbed in our own little worlds. Humbling ourselves is not something we do very well nor very often nor is it even something we like to do.  May sackcloth and ashes remind us again of our dependence upon your love and mercy. May we live these days with contrite hearts and humble souls, redeemed by the One who “humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death on a cross.” In Jesus’ name. Amen. ―Dan Sharp

Monday, January 7 – Thank you

I want to thank all of you who have shared the Advent journey again this year. As you know, or maybe didn’t (?), we have done “The Year of the Book” at First Presbyterian Church of Orlando since January 2018 and have focused on successive books of the Bible each of the 52 Sundays. At the same time the congregation read through the Bible during the year. Each day of Advent, I took the text from a portion of that day’s reading.

Beginning in January 2019, we are beginning to roll out a ten to fifteen year vision of where our church is going. It is most time consuming as there is a direct correlation as to worship visioning. As a result, for just this year, I will not be writing a Lenten Devotional due to the time involved in the vision casting. I will be back writing an Advent Devotional in 2019. So look for it around the middle of November 2019. If you have any questions, you can contact me.

Here is a bonus from Sam Robson that is a little different!! You’ll love it!

Oh! Happy Day

www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2wKSpYa0vo&list=RDw2wKSpYa0vo&start_radio=1

Sunday, January 6, EPIPHANY

Look, I am making everything new!

Candle Lighter:I saw a new heaven…”
Response: “…and a new earth.”

Scripture: Revelation 21:1-7

21 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

3 I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

5 And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.”6 And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. 7 All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.

Reader:  The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
The Hebrew Bible opens with the account of creation. At the end of each day God said, “it was good” and on the sixth day, he said it was “very good.”  You may have noticed that at the end of each of the six days it says “it was evening and it was morning.” But, on the seventh day, the Sabbath, neither of those phrases are used. God says nothing in regards to goodness and nothing about evening and morning. Why? In the book of Hebrews we read that the Israelites never entered a sabbath rest because of unbelief. It would seem that God’s people have yet to enter his rest. In a nutshell there is no “good or very good” pronounced by God and there is no “evening and morning” on the seventh day because the Sabbath has not yet ended. John describes in this passage the bringing of a new, holy, perfect heaven and earth made so by the blood of the Lamb. God is returning to his people, as in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve prior to the Fall. The perfect world has been restored. Death, sin, evil are all defeated and gone forever. There will not be another rebellion against God as in the Garden. God makes all things new! And here we have the great words echoing the words of Jesus from the cross, “It is finished! I am Alpha and Omega―the Beginning and the End, in other words, evening and morning. The Day of the Lord is complete, it has ended! Like the relationship between Adam and Eve and the Lord God in the Garden of Eden, God says, “I will be their God and they will be my children.” As believers, we have been washed pure by the blood of the Lamb and experience a perfect transparency with the Lord, even as did Adam in the Garden prior to the Fall. That Tree of Life mentioned in Genesis three appears here again in Revelation twenty-two (v.2,14). This time the tree is a source of food for eternal life. Evil, sin, and death are defeated and forever separated from God’s glorious Kingdom. Those who have been redeemed enjoy eternity in the presence of God. In the meantime, we await his Return. “Come, Lord Jesus!”

Music: “How Did I Make It Over?”   Jubilant Sykes
www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ytZ-apCvKA

Prayer:
My Lord, how grateful we are that you have, in your word, shown us with perfect clarity the beginning, middle, and end of creation and where we, as your children, fit in. Sometimes it is overwhelming to try to grasp the depth of your love and the whole of your plan, the perfect creation borne out of love, the fall borne of rebellion, the redemption borne out of mercy, grace, and love, and restoration borne out of  faithfulness and love. Thank you, Father, for your infallible, authoritative, inerrant word that brings truth and light and the Savior. Thank you for what it tells of you and what it shows us about ourselves. Thank you that it is living and speaks to listening ears and hearts that are open. Thank you, God, for your great love and salvation. We look forward with great anticipation to spending eternity in your presence with the host of heaven and all the faithful who have gone before. Glory to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen!
Daniel Sharp

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Saturday, January 5

And I saw a great white throne and the one sitting on it.

Candle Lighter:I saw a great white throne…”
Response: “…and the one sitting on it.”

Scripture: Revelation 20:7-14

7 When the thousand years come to an end, Satan will be let out of his prison. 8 He will go out to deceive the nations—called Gog and Magog—in every corner of the earth. He will gather them together for battle—a mighty army, as numberless as sand along the seashore. 9 And I saw them as they went up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded God’s people and the beloved city. But fire from heaven came down on the attacking armies and consumed them.

10 Then the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur, joining the beast and the false prophet. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

11 And I saw a great white throne and the one sitting on it. The earth and sky fled from his presence, but they found no place to hide. 12 I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up its dead, and death and the grave gave up their dead. And all were judged according to their deeds. 14 Then death and the grave were thrown into the lake of fire. This lake of fire is the second death.

Reader: The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
A little bit of context here will help to get a handle on this passage. John has just described how two of Satan’s henchmen, the beast and the false prophet, have been cast into the lake of fire. They had deceived many and inflicted much harm on God’s people. Christ, the triumphant warrior, destroyed them. Following that, Satan was bound in chains and thrown into a bottomless pit for a thousand years. It is at this point that we pick up John’s vision in the above passage. Satan is let loose whereupon he gathers all the rebellious nations of the world to battle the Lord. Satan’s rebellious host is destroyed and cast into the lake of fire permanently as their eternal destination. We then have what is known as “the great white throne judgment,” human beings’ final appearance before God’s throne. This is the terminal judgment for all those who have rejected the message of the gospel, their only hope of salvation. The Book of Life is opened and the dead, (these are not the Christians who have died trusting in Jesus for salvation), these are those who have rejected God’s gift of his Son. They are judged according to what they have done. Unfortunately for them, it is not possible to earn one’s way into heaven by what one has done. It clearly is not a case of “Do the good deeds outweigh the bad?” Everyone who has ever lived, who has rejected Christ, awaits this moment before God the Creator. When it says “death and the grave were thrown into the lake of fire,” it refers to the reality of death. This is the death of those who have no hope. Jesus was victorious over death, but not for these people. Their death is eternal separation from God with a horrible end that is eternal. All those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ alone have their names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Their eternal destiny is eternal life in heaven in God’s presence. The human birth of Jesus, celebrated a few days ago, brings all of this into reality. John is not writing a fantasy tale, he is writing truth as an eyewitness. God does have the last “last word.”  Hallelujah!

Music: CHRISTMAS SONGS    Fernando Ortega
www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZeIkTNdH8s

Fernando talks about the various songs in his Christmas album. You can youtube each one by title to pick the specific ones you want to hear.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus Christ, our king: rejoicing in your victory, we thank you that good is a greater power than evil.

Lord Jesus Christ, our friend: rejoicing in your sharing of our life, we thank you for your constant intercession for us now.

Lord Jesus Christ, our priest: rejoicing in the the new way you have opened up for us on Calvary, we thank you that we can approach the throne of God in full assurance of our faith.

Lord Jesus Christ, our judge: rejoicing in the love you have for all mankind, we thank you that we have no cause to be afraid. The present and the future, and all of eternity belong to you. Save us and strengthen us, and bring us by grace into your kingdom. Almighty and everlasting God, who didst raise thy Son Jesus Christ from the dead and set him upon the glorious throne of thy kingdom giving him a name that is above every name, we worship and adore thee in the fellowship of thy redeemed, ascribing to thee blessing and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever. Amen.
― Prayers for Sunday Services, Scottish, p.98

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Friday, January 4

“In a single moment it is all gone.

Candle Lighter: “At last…”
Response: “…God has judged her.”

Scripture: Revelation 18:19b-23

In a single moment it is all gone.”

20 Rejoice over her fate, O heaven

   and people of God and apostles and prophets!

For at last God has judged her

   for your sakes.

For context read all of chapters 17 & 18

Reader:  The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Chapters seventeen and eighteen paint a picture of worldly success and indulgence in debauchery. A point is made of wealth and luxury as the lifestyle enjoyed by the rebellious. But there is an interesting phrase that occurs three times. “These plagues will overtake her (Babylon, representing the rebellious world) in a single day.” (18:8) Then a little later in speaking again of the city, “In a single moment all the wealth of the city is gone!” (18:17). And finally concluding the section, “In a single moment it is all gone.” (18:20) We’ve all been alive long enough to know that in an instant everything can change. Normally, the change is in some situation here on earth, a birth, a death, a promotion, a marriage. In this passage the “a single moment” is for eternity. Death is the only event we have in this world which enables us to enter eternity. It is our singular “no turning back moment.” Yet much of our world gives little attention in preparing for “the single moment.”  We laugh at death, as though laughing defeats it (Halloween). We avoid thinking or talking about it. When was the last time you had a serious conversation about death?  We downplay the language by having “memorials” rather than “funerals”―too morbid. We most often spare an open casket, or even have a casket present in the memorial service, instead choosing to have lovely pictures of the deceased―avoiding having to look at the reality of death in person. Death is not pretty, but frankly, it is healthy to see death. John gives us the realistic words “In a single moment it is all gone.” The glory of the Savior and redemption is that “the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.” In a single moment, in the twinkling of an eye we shall all be changed…for eternity!

Music:  “Go Tell It on the Mountain”   Mahalia Jackson YOU CAN’T MISS THIS!!!
www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lq5aEwtvdRI       NOBODY SINGS THEIR SOUL LIKE THIS!

Prayer:
Lord God Almighty, I ask not to be enrolled amongst the earthly great and rich, but to be numbered with the spiritually blessed. Make it my present, supreme, persevering concern to obtain those blessings which are spiritual in their nature, eternal in their continuance, satisfying in their possession. Preserve me from a false estimate of the whole or a part of my character; may I pay regard to my principles as well as my conduct, my motives as well as my actions. Help me never to mistake the excitement of my passions for the renewing of the Holy spirit, never to judge my religion by occasional impressions and impulses, but by my constant and prevailing disposition. May my heart be right with thee, and my life as becometh the gospel. May I maintain a supreme regard to another and better world, and feel and confess myself a stranger and a pilgrim here. Afford me all the direction, defence, support, and consolation my journey hence requires, and grant me a mind stayed upon thee. Give me large abundance of the supply of the Spirit of Jesus, that I may be prepared for every duty, love thee in all my mercies, submit to thee in every trial, trust thee when walking in darkness, have peace in thee amidst life’s changes. Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief and uncertainties. I pray this through Jesus Christ, my Lord and Master. Amen.
― The Valley of Vision, p.65

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Thursday, January 3

This great choir sang a wonderful new song.

Candle Lighter:Fear God…”
Response: “…Give glory to him.

Scripture: Revelation 14:1-7

14 Then I saw the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with him were 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. 2 And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of mighty ocean waves or the rolling of loud thunder. It was like the sound of many harpists playing together.

3 This great choir sang a wonderful new song in front of the throne of God and before the four living beings and the twenty-four elders. No one could learn this song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. 4 They have kept themselves as pure as virgins, following the Lamb wherever he goes. They have been purchased from among the people on the earth as a special offering to God and to the Lamb. 5 They have told no lies; they are without blame.

6 And I saw another angel flying through the sky, carrying the eternal Good News to proclaim to the people who belong to this world—to every nation, tribe, language, and people. 7 “Fear God,” he shouted. “Give glory to him. For the time has come when he will sit as judge. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and all the springs of water.”

Reader: The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
This pericope is a beautiful picture of what lies ahead and also answers some common questions regarding heaven and the world to come. I also want to make some observations. The Bible has many references to numbers throughout all of Scripture. We begin with the seven days of creation, not four, not eleven, but seven. Why seven? There were twelve sons of Jacob, twelve disciples, and so on. And here in Revelation we have the 144,000. It is important to approach the biblical perspective of numbers and not impose a western mindset on an oriental understanding. Some numbers are clearly exact numbers. E.g. 153 fish.(John 21:11) Other numbers are viewed more symbolically as here in Revelation. “Multiples of ten are a symbolic way to say many. One thousand is regarded as the foundational large number; 12,000 is the foundational large religious number; and 144,000 is the supreme religious number that represents the complete people of God.”* It is important not to lose the theological significance of what is happening. The Lamb of God is joined by innumerable believers forming a great choir singing a wonderful new song, music never before heard making a massive, glorious sound. We’ve all heard enormous thunder rolls. Imagine giving pitch and never before conceived harmony to the sound! This is the choir of the redeemed. I’ve often said much of what we do on earth will not be done in heaven. No more confessing of sin; we won’t sin in a perfect holy environment―never been there! No one gets cancer―no sickness there. No funerals for loved ones―no more death. No politics―King Jesus rules in love and righteousness!  But singing worship will most certainly be a part of heaven. Our great, glorious, matchless, just, loving, God has made all of this possible. Share this great news wherever you go…and keep singing as you practice for the heavenly choir…and you will have a great voice in heaven!

*The New Living Translation Study Bible, Symbolic Numbers, p.2173, Gerald Borchert

Music: “The Trumpet Shall Sound”    Philippe Sly: Bass-Baritone,   Julian Wachner: Conductor
Trinity Wall Street Baroque Orchestra
www.youtube.com/watch?v=13DpmWPV9IU

Fantastic singer. Note how Handel musically paints the picture of “we shall all be changed.”  The trumpeter plays an authentic trumpet from Handel’s era. Not like anything you normally see. Handel has attempted to give the music the theological weight of the Scripture. This is worth your time! (9 minutes)

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, we are so often busy in our worlds, consumed by the pressures of the day, that we lose sight of the bigger, more grand, eternal picture. Thank you for infusions of beauty, truth, and reverence which all too frequently go unrecognized in our world. Forgive us for the times we ignore them, are too busy, or not interested because giving beauty or truth or reverence our precious time would take too long. Deliver us, good Lord, from consuming the trivial contemporary and dieting on the eternal significant. Save us from shallow notes and light-weight words. Make us a people who sing new songs of significance, of wonder, of reverence, and joy. May we never settle for earth when heaven is at stake and end up missing both heaven and earth. Amen.
Daniel Sharp

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Wednesday, January 2

It has come at last.

Candle Lighter:Rejoice, O heavens!...”
Response: “…and you who live in the heavens, rejoice!

Scripture: Revelation  12:10-12

10 Then I heard a loud voice shouting across the heavens,

“It has come at last—

   salvation and power

and the Kingdom of our God,

   and the authority of his Christ.

For the accuser of our brothers and sisters

   has been thrown down to earth—

the one who accuses them

   before our God day and night.

11 And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb

   and by their testimony.

And they did not love their lives so much

   that they were afraid to die.

12 Therefore, rejoice, O heavens!

   And you who live in the heavens, rejoice!

But terror will come on the earth and the sea,

   for the devil has come down to you in great anger,

   knowing that he has little time.”

Reader:  The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
This portion of today’s larger reading (chapters 12 and 13) is filled with involved symbolism requiring considerable commentary to be fair. In the setting, Christian believers are under severe persecution from Nero and Domitian, who followed Nero. The first nine verses of chapter twelve describe the war between the devil, whose wishes are carried out by Nero et al, and God’s people. In verse thirteen and following, the battle between God’s people and the evil of Satan’s hosts continues. The section we have pulled out for today’s reading is an aside of encouragement for followers of Christ.

The source of the affirming voice is from heaven. God is always aware of the situation of his people and provides words of hope and perspective. Seeing life (and death) from God’s vantage point is essential. In the words from heaven, “It has come at last―”. What is the “it?” Salvation, power, and the Kingdom of God and the authority of Christ. The devil, the accuser of us all, has been thrown down to earth. The devil has been defeated. In effect, God has said, “Enough!” As sovereign, God always has the last word. In that we rejoice! It is interesting that in verse eleven, John writes “they have defeated him (devil) by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. Think of it. Because believers have appropriated the blood of Jesus to cover them and by their witness to that effect, the devil is beaten, his power destroyed. A key factor in all of this is the followers of Jesus are not afraid of death because they see it from God’s perspective. They are untouchable by Satan. The devil is enraged in his permanent defeat and endeavors to create as much chaos on earth as possible in his limited time before he is cast into hell for all eternity. Your job and mine is to remain faithful in fulfilling our days on this earth. And God has given us the Holy Spirit to do just that!

Music: “Gloria in excelsis Deo”   The English Concert Trevor Pinnock
www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQx2TWgxX14

Prayer:
O Omnipresent One, beneath whose all-seeing eye our mortal lives are passed, grant that in all my deeds and purposes today I may behave with true courtesy and honor. Let me be just and true in all my dealings. Let no mean or low thought have a moment’s place in my mind. Let my motives be transparent to all. Let my word by my bond. Let me take no unchivalrous advantage of anybody. Let me be generous in my judgment of others. Let me be disinterested in my opinions. Let me be loyal to my friends and magnanimous to my opponents. Let me face adversity with courage. Let me not ask or expect too much for myself.  O Thou whose love to man was proven in the passion and death of Jesus Christ our Lord, let the power of His cross be with me today. Let me love as He loved. Let my obedience be unto death. In leaning upon His cross, let me not refuse my own; yet in bearing mine, let me bear it by the strength of His.
― John Baillie, A Diary of Private Prayer, p.49

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Tuesday, January 1

He will reign forever and ever.

Candle Lighter:The world has now become the Kingdom of our Lord…” Response: “…and of his Christ.”

Scripture: Revelation  11:15-18

15 Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices shouting in heaven:

“The world has now become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ,

   and he will reign forever and ever.”

16 The twenty-four elders sitting on their thrones before God fell with their faces to the ground and worshiped him. 17 And they said,

“We give thanks to you, Lord God, the Almighty,

   the one who is and who always was,

for now you have assumed your great power

   and have begun to reign.

18 The nations were filled with wrath,

   but now the time of your wrath has come.

It is time to judge the dead

   and reward your servants the prophets,

   as well as your holy people,

and all who fear your name,

   from the least to the greatest.

It is time to destroy

   all who have caused destruction on the earth.”

Reader: The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Have you noticed how much and how often voices and beings in heaven are involved in John’s vision? In II Peter 3:9 Peter writes that the “Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. But the day of the Lord will come…” This particular section of Revelation deals with the day of the Lord and the ending of God’s patience, which is not infinite. The blast of a trumpet was used as a signal for various things, in this case, of impending judgment for all who have rejected and refused God’s offer of redemption. The hosts in heaven shout the beginning of “the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ.” The “was, and is, and is to come” has arrived! The “is to come” is now! The reign of Jesus Christ over his Kingdom has begun. The twenty-four elders represent all the people of God worshiping the Almighty. With the coming of the Kingdom comes also the final judgment of those who have rebelled against God and his children. It is also time to reward the faithful who have suffered for their faith. As we begin this new year, there is the feeling that things will continue as they always have and that the description of this passage is remote and just an idea in the far distant future, almost as if it will never really happen. But, God said it will. George Frideric Handel wrote one of the most famous pieces of music in the world using some of the text you just read. Notice right before the text says, “King of kings and Lord of lords” we have the iconic sixteenth notes from the trumpet―the trumpet blast of the angel described in verse fifteen. As you listen, note how the text, aside from the “Hallelujahs,” develops. The day is coming when we will be present for all that is described. It could be this year!

Music: “Hallelujah Chorus”    BBC George Handel  Trevor Pinnock The English Concert
www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5Xjz6ZuVk0

Prayer:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, help us to live each day of this year as if it will be our last on this earth, you alone know what lies ahead and when this world, as we know it, will come to an end and the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ will begin an endless reign forever and ever. Hallelujah! Amen.
Daniel Sharp

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Monday, December 31

Salvation comes from our God.

Candle Lighter:I saw a vast crowd, too great to count,...”
Response: “…from every nation and tribe and people and language.”

Scripture: Revelation 7:9-16

9 After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. 10 And they were shouting with a great roar,

“Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne

   and from the Lamb!”

11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living beings. And they fell before the throne with their faces to the ground and worshiped God. 12 They sang,

“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom

   and thanksgiving and honor

and power and strength belong to our God

   forever and ever! Amen.”

13 Then one of the twenty-four elders asked me, “Who are these who are clothed in white? Where did they come from?”

14 And I said to him, “Sir, you are the one who knows.”

Then he said to me, “These are the ones who died in the great tribulation. They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white.

15 “That is why they stand in front of God’s throne

   and serve him day and night in his Temple.

And he who sits on the throne

   will give them shelter.

16 They will never again be hungry or thirsty;

   they will never be scorched by the heat of the sun.

Reader: The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
John’s vision is filled with fantastic images and descriptions of a world we cannot see. Into this world are some  actions to which we can relate. Yet, there are some more specific things we can draw from the passages. You note the vast array of human beings who have not lost their individual, national, family, or language identities. They find unity in Christ while maintaining each of their uniquenesses. In a portion of culture which strives for a united global culture where nations and the uniquenesses of the people is downplayed, the Scripture seems to stand in stark contrast. Pentecost is another example of the same idea. Unity among people is found in Christ, not in all trying to develop a generic identity. They spoke many languages with a single message. The unity was in the message, not the languages. Secondly, I noticed they were all wearing white robes, the robes of priests, indicating their fitness to serve as priests in God’s sight. The white robes and the  waving of palm branches are reminiscent of victory. On Palm Sunday the crowds, waving palm branches, the symbol of victory, shouted “Hosanna,” meaning “God save us.” Here is the heavenly completion of that “earthly shadow.” The white robes also indicate purity of character, after all, there is no sin in heaven. Worshipers are perfect in the presence of God because of the Lamb. We’re reminded of the passage in Isaiah, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” (Is.1:18) White is the color of rest as well as joy. It is as though the Bride of Christ is in bridal robes awaiting the marriage supper of the Lamb. In all this discussion about “white robes,” make no mistake, they are white because they have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. Next we see of the angelic heavenly host singing of seven glorious qualities of our great God. (Remember what we said about the significance of the number seven a few days ago.)  The heavenly host sang at the entrance of the Savior into the world and here again they sing rejoicing in the completed work. What a glorious picture of what lies ahead!

Music: “Mary’s Little Boy Child”  Andy Williams (This an oldie by one of the smoothest voices you will hear! A very nice setting of this classic. Some of you younger people won’t know who Andy Williams was!)
www.youtube.com/watch?v=OscFkho1RI8

Prayer:
Heavenly and eternal Father, Source of all being, from whom I spring, unto whom I shall return,―Thine I shall ever be. Thou wilt call me unto Thyself when my hour comes, Blessed shall I then be if I can say, “I have fought a good fight.” I fear not death, O Father of life; for death is not eternal sleep; it is the transition to a new life, a moment of glorious transformation, an ascension towards Thee. How could that be an evil that cometh from Thy hand, when Thou art the All-good! Lord of life and earth, I am in Thy hand; do unto me as Thou deemest fit; for what Thou dost is well done. When Thou didst call me from nothing into life, Thou didst will my happiness; when Thou callest me away from life, will my happiness be less Thy care? No, no Thou art love, and whosoever dwells in love, dwells in Thee, O Lord, and Thou in him―Amen.
― Heinrich Tschokke   1771-1848, Prayers Ancient and Modern

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Sunday, December 30

Worthy is the Lamb.

Candle Lighter:I looked again,...”
Response: “…and I heard the voices of thousands.”

Scripture: Revelation 5:1-14

5 Then I saw a scroll in the right hand of the one who was sitting on the throne. There was writing on the inside and the outside of the scroll, and it was sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a strong angel, who shouted with a loud voice: “Who is worthy to break the seals on this scroll and open it?” 3 But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll and read it.

4 Then I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll and read it. 5 But one of the twenty-four elders said to me, “Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory. He is worthy to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

6 Then I saw a Lamb that looked as if it had been slaughtered, but it was now standing between the throne and the four living beings and among the twenty-four elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which represent the sevenfold Spirit of God that is sent out into every part of the earth. 7 He stepped forward and took the scroll from the right hand of the one sitting on the throne. 8 And when he took the scroll, the four living beings and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp, and they held gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. 9 And they sang a new song with these words:

“You are worthy to take the scroll

   and break its seals and open it.

For you were slaughtered, and your blood has ransomed people for God

   from every tribe and language and people and nation.

10 And you have caused them to become

   a Kingdom of priests for our God.

   And they will reign on the earth.”

11 Then I looked again, and I heard the voices of thousands and millions of angels around the throne and of the living beings and the elders. 12 And they sang in a mighty chorus:

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slaughtered—

   to receive power and riches

and wisdom and strength

   and honor and glory and blessing.”

13 And then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea. They sang:

“Blessing and honor and glory and power

   belong to the one sitting on the throne

   and to the Lamb forever and ever.”

14 And the four living beings said, “Amen!” And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped the Lamb.

Reader:  The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
If you were hoping for a definitive perspective on the interpretation of this book, you need look elsewhere! That material would be beyond the scope and time we have here. What I do want us to look at, though, is the general thrust of what is being described by John. There is the scroll in the right hand, the position of authority, which contains the details of God’s plans. It is sealed and needs a worthy person to break the seals so the plans can be completed. The Lamb, Jesus, was the only one in the entire universe with the divine authority to step forward and take the scroll from the right hand of the one sitting on the throne. He was the central figure who completed God’s purposes in his death on the cross. Notice how often the Lamb’s suffering is cited in this section. Earthly history and heavenly reality are united in Christ. The twenty-four elders gathered around the throne sang the gospel story, the story which had brought redemption to people from every tribe, language, and nation. (What strikes me is that apparently the people retained the uniqueness of their heritage even into heaven. The creative wonder of God’s varied creation continues on into the next world.) Added to the song of worship of the Lamb were the voices of angels without number, in other words all of heaven,  singing “Worthy is the Lamb.” The number seven is the number of perfection, of completeness, in Jewish thought. So then, it is not surprising that there are seven excellencies attributed to the Lamb. The Lamb is worshiped and counted worthy of receiving power, riches, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, and blessing. You’ll also note the earlier description of the Lamb with seven horns (which refer to complete power), seven eyes (which refer to complete knowledge), and seven spirits (which represent the sevenfold Spirit of God.) And then finally as the chapter concludes, every created being in heaven, all those on earth, and even those under the earth and sea (this could be referring to the dead or evil beings), join in offering worship to the Lamb. In the latter case if may be referring to mandatory response. Paul reminds us in Philippians that “every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” This may be the fulfillment of Paul’s words. The concluding word of “Amen!” confirms “so be it!” This glorious description is the fulfillment of the earthly journey that began that starry night in Bethlehem.

Music: “Worthy Is the Lamb”  from Messiah Atlanta Symphony and Chorus Robert Shaw
www.youtube.com/watch?v=5eY_4iGel14&t=37s  DO NOT MISS THIS. This piece is, in my mind, the greatest musical setting of the text we’ve been writing about.

Prayer:
Lord God, most of the time my prayers are about things I’m concerned about or people for whom I’m praying. I find it very easy to pray thinking mostly of my world and asking you to intercede for it. But this time I want to pray a little differently. How am I to say you are worthy? I have a very small grasp of your worthiness. It almost seems arrogant for me to say such. But all I can say is that you are of greatest worth to me. Without you, I have no hope at all. Therefore, you are of greatest worth to me. All power in existence belongs to you and I greatly and happily rejoice in that truth. All riches are yours. Everything belongs to you and I greatly and happily rejoice in that truth. All wisdom resides in you and I take great comfort and peace and happily rejoice in that truth. All strength is yours and I am relieved and I greatly and happily rejoice in that truth, knowing you will never tire of anything in all of eternity. You don’t wear out even when I am completely exhausted. You are honored above all and I’m glad. I delight in your receiving glory. I have intrinsic joy in saying glory to you in the highest and blessing on you. All of these words fall short of what is in my heart. Like John, there are no words invented to express my adoration. Holy Spirit speak on my behalf where language fails.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.
Daniel Sharp

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Saturday, December 29

“Grace and peace to you from the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come.”

Candle Lighter: “All glory to him who loves us...”
Response: “…and has freed us from our sins.”

Scripture: Revelation 1:4-8

4 This letter is from John to the seven churches in the province of Asia.[a]

Grace and peace to you from the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come; from the sevenfold Spirit before his throne; 5 and from Jesus Christ. He is the faithful witness to these things, the first to rise from the dead, and the ruler of all the kings of the world.

All glory to him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by shedding his blood for us. 6 He has made us a Kingdom of priests for God his Father. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.

7 Look! He comes with the clouds of heaven.

   And everyone will see him—

   even those who pierced him.

And all the nations of the world

   will mourn for him.

Yes! Amen!

8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega—the beginning and the end,” says the Lord God. “I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come—the Almighty One.”

Reader: The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
If you’ve been reading through the Bible this past year, we finally come to the book of  Revelation. This book of John’s is one of the more bewildering books in the Bible. (John Calvin wrote commentaries on every book of the Bible but this one, maybe not feeling he sufficiently understood it.) It is most important to keep it in its context. Psalms is poetry and addresses our emotions. Acts is history and tells us of the movement of the Holy Spirit in developing the church. The Gospels are narrative and tell us the words and identity of Jesus. Romans addresses the intellect and expounds theology. Revelation, on the other hand, in its prophecy, appeals to our imaginations. Here John is trying to describe a vision he sees for which our language is inadequate. Our section opens with a phrase common to many New Testament writings, “grace and peace to you.” Have you ever asked yourself why those words in that order? Perhaps it is that God’s grace comes first and then his peace follows. You could not have peace without God’s grace. If I am not experiencing God’s peace today, perhaps I have not opened myself to God’s extending grace. The following phrase, “the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come” is a clear statement of our eternal Savior, reminiscent of God’s statement to Moses on Sinai “I AM, Who I AM.” That phrase has always given me confidence and peace that in the end, which may be after I leave this earth, God is in complete control. Things will not go off the rails. Notice, we have the presence of the Trinity here with the central focus being on Jesus, the victor over sin and death and the sovereign ruler of all the kings of the world. We are reminded again of the significance of the shed blood of Jesus. The Father has everything under control. It is easy to give power to God, when I’m thinking that God has always been and will always be. It can free my tendency to grab hold. This passage is so freeing. God loves us and freed us from our sins. What a wonderful message to end the year! John restates what he said earlier quoting a passage from the Old Testament, “I AM the Alpha and the Omega―the beginning and the end.” Notice how many times in this short pericope we have references to “was, is, is to come.” John was writing to people under severe persecution. In their (and our) chaotic world, John’s words give us a clear, the true perspective, the Almighty will return and rule with love and justice.

Music: “Angels We Have Heard on High”  Mormon Tabernacle Choir
www.youtube.com/watch?v=UArceTs1-G8

Prayer:
Our gracious Father in heaven, we are already thinking of Christmas as a “was,” we’re looking at today as an “is,” and this coming year as an “is to come.” Our attention span is so short, shallow, and simple and we move on to what’s next. But we’ve just read words to slow us down, words that take time, are profound, and ever expansive beyond our imagination. Help us Lord Jesus, to better grasp the significance of this day in your biggest picture. May the significance of your birth sink into our hearts more deeply than ever before. May we learn to linger with you over words and ideas and imaginations your writers of Scripture have given us. Thank you for the wonder and mystery of You and help us to not run away from it and be in a hurry to move on to something else. Grant the we could see more clearly where we are between Alpha and Omega. By the Holy Spirit, help us to see you. In the name of Jesus, Amen.
Daniel Sharp

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Friday, December 28

“All glory to him alone who is God.”

Candle Lighter: “All glory, majesty, power, and authority are his before all time...”
Response: “…and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen.”

Scripture: Jude

3 Dear friends, I had been eagerly planning to write to you about the salvation we all share. But now I find that I must write about something else, urging you to defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people. 4 I say this because some ungodly people have wormed their way into your churches, saying that God’s marvelous grace allows us to live immoral lives. The condemnation of such people was recorded long ago, for they have denied our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

5 So I want to remind you, though you already know these things, that Jesus first rescued the nation of Israel from Egypt, but later he destroyed those who did not remain faithful. 6 And I remind you of the angels who did not stay within the limits of authority God gave them but left the place where they belonged. God has kept them securely chained in prisons of darkness, waiting for the great day of judgment. 7 And don’t forget Sodom and Gomorrah and their neighboring towns, which were filled with immorality and every kind of sexual perversion. Those cities were destroyed by fire and serve as a warning of the eternal fire of God’s judgment.

Reader: The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
A couple of observations to keep in mind, Jude was another son of Mary and Joseph. Second, during Jesus’ in growing up and prior to the resurrection, his own brothers did not believe in him (which we mentioned the other day). After the resurrection, however,  they did believe in him and became prominent leaders in the early Church, particularly James and Jude (also called Judas Mk.6:3). Neither James nor Jude refer to themselves as an earthly brother of Jesus, but rather as a slave or servant of Jesus Christ. They point to the spiritual relationship with their half-brother. Central in this short epistle is Jude’s concern over the entrance of false teachers into the church. The lie being perpetrated was “accept God’s grace and live anyway you want, you’re covered.” Jude makes clear that it was and pre-incarnate Jesus who rescued Israel from Egypt. The tragedy was, that though God had rescued his people in miraculous ways, they failed to trust, and, as a result, died in the desert. Jude follows his account with that of rebellious angels and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Whether it was God’s chosen people rejecting His leading, angels being cast from the heavenly realm for rejecting God’s boundaries, or the completely vile pagan culture of Sodom and Gomorrah, false teaching was embraced by each resulting in eternal death and separation from God. In the afterglow of Christmas there are often “feature documentaries” on who is the real Jesus. Most often they are filled with erroneous false teaching and pseudo sources. False teachers abound in our day. The authority of Scripture is under attack. Too often it is treated in the same way the false teachers in Jude’s day addressed the theology. In our day it appears in this way: this is the way I want to live my life; this is what I believe; the way I interpret the Bible, (if I care at all what the Bible says) endorses my life-style and decisions. In Jude’s powerful words, “They follow their natural instincts because they do not have God’s Spirit in them.” (v.19) Jude concludes his letter urging all believers to show mercy and share the truth.

Music:  “On Christmas Night All Christians Sing”   King’s College Cambridge
www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqsnfgVQuyk

Prayer:
Now unto Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding great joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and for evermore. Amen.
Jude 24-25

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Thursday, December 27

Whoever has the Son has life.

Candle Lighter:He has given us eternal life,…”
Response: “…and this life is in his Son.

Scripture: I John 5:6-13

6 And Jesus Christ was revealed as God’s Son by his baptism in water and by shedding his blood on the cross—not by water only, but by water and blood. And the Spirit, who is truth, confirms it with his testimony. 7 So we have these three witnesses— 8 the Spirit, the water, and the blood—and all three agree. 9 Since we believe human testimony, surely we can believe the greater testimony that comes from God. And God has testified about his Son. 10 All who believe in the Son of God know in their hearts that this testimony is true. Those who don’t believe this are actually calling God a liar because they don’t believe what God has testified about his Son.

11 And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life.

13 I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life.

Reader: The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
We live in an age where people want proof as to the truth of something. When a person makes a statement, there must be corroborating evidence that validates the claim. There must be independent witnesses verifying the truthfulness of the fact. In Deuteronomy 17:6, Moses states that there must be two or three witnesses to verify any charge or claim. That is the biblical model. A charge or claim may not be upheld if there is only one witness or no witnesses. Since our attention has been focused on the birth of the Son of God and all that that means, the deity of Jesus is central. In the first decades following the resurrection, and even during Jesus’ own time on earth, there was the recurring question, “Is Jesus truly God?” How do we know besides what he says about himself? In the above passage, the three witnesses as to the claim of Christ, were his baptism in water, his shed blood, and the Holy Spirit. How were these “witnesses?” John also writes that the testimony is from God. Where does that play out? You’ll recall at Jesus’ baptism a voice came from heaven saying,”You are my dearly beloved Son, and you bring me great joy.” (Lk.3:22) God the Father validated the authenticity of his Son. In the same event John writes that he saw the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descend and settle on Jesus at the baptism (John 1:32-34). At the crucifixion of Jesus and the shedding of His blood for the sins of the world, God the Father again validated the efficaciousness of the sacrifice by tearing the curtain in the Temple from top to bottom. And so, in accordance with Old Testament law and jurisprudence practice, the identity of Jesus is firmly established. John goes on to write to reject these witnesses is to call God a liar. Nevertheless, there are many today that reject eyewitness testimony, even the testimony of God himself! The sad thing is, I have a neighbor who rejects God and tells me Christianity is all fantasy. I’d appreciate prayers for him to be willing to see the truth. The best part follows in the last section. God gives us his word regarding eternal life for all who put their trust in his Son. In a world of uncertainty as this year draws to a close, every follower of Christ can know the certainty of eternal life. May you be a witness of the truth this day as you go about your business.

Music: ““O Magnum Mysterium”    Morten Lauridsen commentary (do NOT miss this)
www.youtube.com/watch?v=gi51yTIQJXc   Composer talks about how he composed this piece

“O Magnum Mysterium”     Los Angeles Master Chorale,   Paul Salamunovich
www.youtube.com/watch?v=lO5MheI0A8o

O magnum mysterium,
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
jacentem in praesepio!
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera
meruerunt portare
Dominum Christum.
Alleluia.

English translation…
O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
Christ the Lord.
Alleluia!

Prayer:
Jesus Christ, our Lord, our God and Savior, Holy Spirit our Teacher and Witness, and God, our Father in heaven, how was it that common animals witnessed the birth of your Holy Son who was placed in their feeding trough while humble shepherds were your first human visitors? The beauty, the wonder, the mystery, the awe-filled setting is not what anyone would have guessed. But then, your ways are not our ways. Your ways are much more interesting and beautiful. There is something so attractive about the humility and simplicity of your entrance into this world. It is so clear that you love all of your creation, not just the people! Your angels sang for a small band of herdsmen upon your arrival the first time. Apparently your angels will be singing and blowing the trumpet when you return. What a glorious day that will be. Lord Jesus, thank you for coming to earth and for loving us. We love you with all our heart. In Your name we pray, amen.
Daniel Sharp

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Wednesday, December 26

“We are God’s children.”

Candle Lighter:See how very much our Father loves us...”
Response: “…for he calls us his children.

Scripture: I John 3:1-3

3 See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him. 2 Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. 3 And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure.

Reader: The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
There was a line in yesterday’s closing prayer which captures perfectly a phrase we used a couple of days ago,“the Great Exchange.” These few words of the prayer express so perfectly and succinctly the mission of Christ.  “[Jesus] comes to bring God to man and man to God.” High Priest, Bridge, Incarnation. Because God has come to man in human form, man can retain his humanity in approaching a holy God through the only holy human being, Jesus Christ. Because Jesus became a child, it became possible for humans to become the “children of God.” It is essential that Jesus be fully human or the possibility of a relationship between human being and the Creator God is not even possible. For the most part, the divinity of Christ escapes the mind of the non-believer. This person has no concept of the reality of another world. The idea of human beings connecting and communing with a holy God is a fantasy, a theoretical idea, an unprovable concept to them. Hence, Christmas is a happy celebration on the order of Thanksgiving in the states, or some other national holiday. But the celebration of Christmas is not simply the remembering of an historical event long ago like we might celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Christmas is a reciprocal event. Throughout the world, we have children who don’t know to whom they belong. They are orphans in search of a Father. We have a world and culture searching for meaning. Searching by trying to redefine what a marriage is or means; searching through having all kinds of gender classifications, searching for a political identity, searching for meaning through various justice issues, searching for truth by creating “their own realities,” searching for spirituality through various religious encounters. Without overstating, the birth of Jesus brings all those searchings to an end. “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” (Westminster Shorter Catechism) The Creator has made humans to enter and be in communion with the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. How often have you heard said of a son, “He looks just like his father.” Jesus’ own words were, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” Our identity is found in Christ and in nowhere else. He is the starting place in my finding out who I am. Our prayer today is that as his adopted children, we orphans would look more and more like our Father. After all, we are now related by blood, the blood of our adopted big brother.

Music: “The Wexford Carol”  Alison Kraus and Yo Yo Ma
www.youtube.com/watch?v=yxDZjg_Igoc

Prayer:
Three in one, one in three, God of my salvation, heavenly Father, blessed One, eternal Spirit, I adore thee as one Being, one Essence, one God in three distinct Persons, for bringing sinners to thy knowledge and to thy kingdom. O Father, thou hast loved me and sent Jesus to redeem me; O Jesus, thou hast loved me and assumed my nature, shed thine own blood to wash away my sins, wrought righteousness to cover my unworthiness; O Holy Spirit, thou hast loved me and entered my heart, implanted there eternal life, revealed to me the glories of Jesus. Three Persons and one God, I bless and praise thee, for love so unmerited, so unspeakable, so wondrous, so mighty to save the lost and raise them to glory. O Father, I thank thee that in fullness of grace thou hast given me to Jesus, to be his sheep, jewel, portion; O Jesus, I thank thee that in fullness of grace thou hast accepted, espoused, bound me; O Holy Spirit, I thank thee that in fullness of grace thou hast exhibited Jesus as my salvation, implanted faith within me, subdued my stubborn heart, made me one with him forever.  Let me live and pray as one baptized into the threefold Name. Amen.
― The Valley of Vision, p.3

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Tuesday, December 25, CHRISTMAS DAY

Jesus is the Word of life.

Candle Lighter:We proclaim to you...”
Response: “…the one who existed from the beginning.

Scripture: I John 1:1-10

1 We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. 2 This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that he is the one who is eternal life. He was with the Father, and then he was revealed to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy.

5 This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. 6 So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. 7 But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.

8 If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. 9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.

Additional Reading: Luke 2:1-20

2 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.

2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

3 And all went to be taxed, everyone into his own city.

4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

Reader: The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
The pairing of these two pericopes is profound. The I John passage sounds a great deal like the opening of John’s gospel, which is not surprising since scholars generally affirm that the Apostle John, “the one whom Jesus loved,” wrote both of them. Luke included “the Christmas story” in his account concerning the life of Jesus. Scholars believe his primary source was Mary, the mother of Jesus. What you have is John’s declaring the One who has existed from the beginning is the Word of life. Like Peter, he appeals to his first hand, primary source, of eyewitness evidence as to the authenticity of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, the giver of eternal life. John continues with references to God and light, reminiscent of Genesis 1, where the light came to bring order to chaos and darkness at the dawn of creation. In the epistle, the light is again associated with creation again bringing order to chaos and darkness, but not an earthly creation but the spiritual creation of fellowship with the God and other believers via the cleansing blood of Jesus. The Lukan passage narrates the thread of the creation of fellowship with God from a different perspective. In this case, the Light has entered the world in the form of a flesh and blood human baby. The general creation has now become specific as God’s grand plan comes into full play, that of restoring a broken, dark world. Heaven rejoices as the angels sing a great song of rejoicing. Rejoice this day! The Light of the world has come and is coming again!

Music:  “Many Moods of Christmas” Suite 1  Atlanta Symphony and Chorus Robert Shaw
www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpLZOyprik4

“Many Moods of Christmas” all four Suites of Christmas Music about an hour in length.      Atlanta Symphony and Chorus and  Robert Shaw
www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfETrmnZK5w&t=2246s

Prayer:
Almighty God, we give thee thanks for the mighty yearning of the human heart for the coming of a Savior, and the constant promise of thy Word that He was to come. In our own souls we repeat the humble sighs and panting aspirations of ancient men and ages, and own that our souls are in darkness and infirmity without faith in Him who comes to bring God to man and man to God. We bless thee for the tribute that we can pay to Him from our very sense of need and dependence, and that our own hearts can so answer from their wilderness, the cry, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” In us, the rough places are to be made smooth, the crooked straight, the mountains of pride brought low, and the valleys of despondency lifted up. O God, prepare Thou the way in us now, and may we welcome anew Thy Holy Child. Hosanna! Blessed be He who cometh in the name of the Lord. Amen
― Rev. Samuel Osgood, 1862, Prayers Ancient and Modern

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Monday, December 24, CHRISTMAS EVE

We were not making up clever stories.

Candle Lighter: “And there were shepherds in the fields...”
Response: “…keeping watch over their flocks by night.”

Scripture: II Peter 1:16-21

16 For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We saw his majestic splendor with our own eyes 17 when he received honor and glory from God the Father. The voice from the majestic glory of God said to him, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” 18 We ourselves heard that voice from heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain.

19 Because of that experience, we have even greater confidence in the message proclaimed by the prophets. You must pay close attention to what they wrote, for their words are like a lamp shining in a dark place—until the Day dawns, and Christ the Morning Star shines in your hearts. 20 Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, 21 or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God.

Reader:  The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
The certainty and reality of the Christmas story is central upon which everything else rides. If it is fiction, the whole world has been fooled. The people Peter was writing to were being subjected to false teachers and a blending of Christianity with other belief systems. It was a “Christianity plus…” challenging the faith. It is not uncommon for us today to have false religions embracing the Bible plus an additional “holy book.” Peter challenged the people to remain true to the gospel, period. Notice his very strong eyewitness account. 1) We are not making up clever stories. 2) We saw Jesus’ majestic splendor at the Mount of Transfiguration. 3) We heard God speak with our own ears! 4) 5) We were physically with Jesus. 6) Peter quoted the words God said. Again, notice the verbs: saw, heard. Peter’s first hand eyewitness experience gives him and us great certainty as to the reality, significance, and meaning of his encounter with the Son of God. But notice Peter appeals to more than his experience with Jesus. He admonishes them to pay close attention to all the prophets wrote concerning the beginning and ending of all things. Just like he denied making up clever stories, in the same manner of authenticity, the prophets likewise did not make things up, but wrote under the influence and direction given by the Holy Spirit as they communicated the very thoughts and words of God. So when you read the Christmas story tonight, remember Peter’s words, you are reading the very words of God as given to Luke under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. You will be hearing God speak out loud, just as certain as Peter heard God speak on the Mount of Transfiguration.

Music: “Silent Night”  arr. Stephen Paulus  The Singers
www.youtube.com/watch?v=-mbWgb7V1cI

Prayer:
Father, long ago you sent your angels through the midnight of the sleeping world to tell the shepherds Christ was born in Bethlehem: come to our dark world, and stir our hearts to hear again their message of your love in Christ. Aided by your Spirit, may we grow in faith and understanding of your purposes and so be moved to wonder and to praise. O God Most High, on this night of joyful and expectant wonder, we tread again the path to Bethlehem and to the child whose birth was heralded by prophets, proclaimed by angels, and welcomed by shepherds. Open our eyes to see in him your loving purposes, and stir up within us the spirit of adoring praise. Almighty God, in the quietness of this hour, touch our understanding with thy Holy Spirit, that we may know again in true reality the wonder of thy love in Jesus Christ; and though there was no room for him in Bethlehem’s inn, help us to make more room for him in our common life, that our lives may show his love, and our hearts receive his peace, for the sake of the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
― Prayers for Sunday Services. P.73 (Scottish)

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Sunday, December 23

Christ has gone to heaven.

Candle Lighter:if someone asks about your hope as a believer,…”
Response: “…always be ready to explain it.

Scripture: I Peter 3:15-23

15 …you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. 16 But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. 17 Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong!

18 Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit.

19 So he went and preached to the spirits in prison— 20 those who disobeyed God long ago when God waited patiently while Noah was building his boat. Only eight people were saved from drowning in that terrible flood. 21 And that water is a picture of baptism, which now saves you, not by removing dirt from your body, but as a response to God from a clean conscience. It is effective because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

22 Now Christ has gone to heaven. He is seated in the place of honor next to God, and all the angels and authorities and powers accept his authority.

Reader: The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
There are several threads of thought in this short section. One of the opportunities we have in a culture that celebrates a completely secular Christmas holiday is to be aware when we have the chance to engage someone in a conversation about the meaning and significance of the birth of Jesus, the focal point of Christmas. There is this wonderful line you just read, always be ready to explain it. How would you explain Christmas to someone who asked you what you think about Christmas? What is a little surprising is that it is brash Peter who writes “do this in a gentle and respectful way.” (Apparently the Holy Spirit did some reworking on Peter!) Look for opportunities these days to do just that. Peter anticipates you may receive some harassment for explaining Christmas and he then connects the “suffering” aspect to Jesus’ own suffering. In one short sentence he summarizes the whole purpose of Christmas: “He died for sinners to bring us safely home to God.” That’s it in a nutshell. Jesus came to die to make it possible for people to dwell eternally with God in heaven. There is much, much more to life than our time on this earth.

Verses nineteen to twenty-one are one of the more difficult and mysterious portions of Scripture. It’s a little more complicated than we have space for here. Suffice it to say, these verses do not allow for a “second chance” nor do they endeavor to prove the existence of a purgatory. Both of those ideas would be inconsistent with the rest of Scripture. (Email me here at church if you are curious for a longer discussion.) The last verse of our reading today describes Jesus’ completed earthly mission in restoring creation and then his return to heaven, assuming his rightful place at the right hand of the Father. We might read this last verse and move on without much thought. Jesus did not always have a human flesh and blood body. As a part of the Triune God, he has never not existed. But there was a moment in human time when he took on human flesh and was born of a woman. He left the heavenly realm to dwell in Israel thirty some years. During his time on earth upon occasion he was ministered to by angels from heaven (E.g. his temptation Mt.4:11, Garden of Gethsemane Lk.22:43). Jesus’ return to heaven in his physical body to resume his place at the right hand of the Father brought great joy to the angelic host. One of the challenges all of us have, in the midst of Christmas celebrating, is to grasp the reality of what is happening in a world we cannot yet see, and live in relation to that world while we continue to live in this one. Jesus’ humbling of himself to live and die in our world is the ultimate measure of his love for you and for me.

Music: Dec.23 “The First Noel”   Atlanta Master Chorale -a glorious setting!
www.youtube.com/watch?v=e2p4OwOu8mA

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, forgive me for the many times I think of you only in relation to myself. I think of you in terms of what I want to see happen; what I think you should do; what I need from you―forgiveness, grace, mercy, wisdom, strength, courage, patience. I’ve thought very little of what your love and humility led you to do. You were in a perfect, holy, sinless, joyful world in perfect communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit in need of nothing. Yet you willingly left heaven to take on all the limitations of human beings. I have no framework to process what you did except to say I love you and joyfully bow at your feet in worship and adoration. Your love is mystery beyond my comprehension! This I pray to one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.
Daniel Sharp

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Saturday, December 22

There is wonderful joy ahead.

Candle Lighter:You love him...”
Response: “…even though you have never seen him.

Scripture: I Peter 1:3-11

3 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, 4 and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. 5 And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.

6 So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. 7 These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.

8 You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. 9 The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.

10 This salvation was something even the prophets wanted to know more about when they prophesied about this gracious salvation prepared for you. 11 They wondered what time or situation the Spirit of Christ within them was talking about when he told them in advance about Christ’s suffering and his great glory afterward.

Reader: The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
The Peter writing this book is a very different one from the one who denied the Lord. At Pentecost, Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and everything changed. In this short epistle, he is writing to believers who were living in a world where the culture scorned their faith, criticized their morality, and mocked their hope. They were regarded as a strange, superstitious people with an odd religion who refused to go along with the cultural norms of the day. They were often persecuted in economic and hostile ways even to the point of being pulled into court on trumped up charges because they would not adopt the values of the prevailing culture. The truth is, godly values convict manmade worldly values which in turn bring conviction and hatred for those who hold to God’s truth. It is their own heart which brings conviction resulting in lashing out. Does that sound familiar? But the one writing this epistle had seen Jesus and interacted with him. Peter addresses you and me in the above passage. Verses eight and nine are particularly encouraging. “You love him (Jesus) though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him…The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.” Think about it. We are trusting our very lives into the hands of someone we’ve never seen. From an earthly  standpoint, that could seem foolhardy. But for a believer in Christ, it makes all the glorious sense in the world. The Holy Spirit attests to the reality of the Savior. This unseen Jesus is coming back. Have you noticed how often Paul, Titus, Timothy, and now Peter all refer to the return of the Lord in their correspondences? They want us to get the picture! Once again the implications of the birth of Jesus fulfilled lead right into the world we live today and …the end is still to come! Come Lord Jesus!

Music: Noel   (African Spiritual)   Concordia College Choir
www.youtube.com/watch?v=nF1-rfV3dAc

Prayer:
We thank Thee, O God, for the return of the wondrous spell of this Christmas season that brings its own sweet joy into our jaded and troubled hearts. Forbid it, Lord, that we should celebrate without understanding what we celebrate, or, like our counterparts so long ago, fail to see the star or to hear the song of glorious promise. As our hearts yield to the spirit of Christmas, may we discover that it is Thy Holy Spirit who comes―not sentiment, but a power―to remind us of the only way by which there may be peace on the earth and good will among men. May we not spend Christmas, but keep it, that we may be kept in its hope, through Him who emptied Himself in coming to us that we might be filled with peace and joy in returning to God. Amen.
Peter Marshall, US Senate Chaplain, December 19, 1947

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Friday, December 21

Be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return.

Candle Lighter:Take courage,...”
Response: “…for the coming of the Lord is near.

Scripture: James 5:7-8

7 Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return. Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen. 8 You, too, must be patient. Take courage, for the coming of the Lord is near.

Reader:  The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
When I was a little boy, my piano teacher, Mrs. Byrnes, gave me an advent calendar which had little doors that you opened each day beginning on December 1st. The first year I had it, I could hardly wait for the next day to come to see what was behind the little door! Waiting was so hard. It seemed like Christmas Day would never get here. The next year I kind of cheated…well, not actually. You see the little doors didn’t go quite as shut and if I peaked in from the side and looked through the crack, I could get a glimpse of what might be behind the door and some I could remember from the year before. I never actually touched anything, so I figured it wasn’t exactly cheating! No matter how you cut it, waiting for anything is hard. As I look in the Scriptures, there were many, many people who often had to wait, and many times it was for years. Jesus’ brother encourages the Jewish Christians, who are under difficult persecution from the world in which they live, to be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return. Here we are some 2,000 years later still waiting. But from the time of the covenant God made with Abraham, it was 2,000 years until the promised Messiah arrived. That was a long wait in earthly time, but not in Godly time! A day is as a thousand years. As a farmer, I can identify with James’ comments about waiting for rains. In fact, in my prayer book, I have down praying for rains at the right time for the crops. And it is true we eagerly await the harvest, which was completed last week as I write this, to see how the crops did. The good thing is that while farmers do the hard work in the field, it ultimately is up to the Lord on how this year’s crops do. (This was a good year! Thank you, Lord!) At the core of waiting is faith and trust. The return of the Lord is in his hands. In that, we can rest. Take courage in the meantime. The present circumstances will pass. Like peeking through the crack in my advent calendar doors to see what was coming next, the prophets of the Bible gave us clues as to what was coming next. That glorious Christmas Day did arrive, and I got to open both stable doors and there he was! Jesus in the manger! The waiting was over. At some point in the future, the doors of heaven will open and there he will be, not in a manger, but on a throne, as Jesus, King of kings and the Lord of lords. The waiting will be over! Hallelujah!

Music: “Hallelujah Chorus”     Atlanta Symphony Chorus   Robert Shaw
www.youtube.com/watch?v=JtWkNxn3duA

Prayer: An Evening Prayer
Almighty God, in this hour of quiet I seek communion with Thee. From the fret and fever of the day’s business, from the world’s discordant noises, from the praise and blame of people, from the confused thoughts and vain imaginations of my own heart, I would now turn aside and seek the quietness of Thy presence. All day long have I toiled and striven; but now, in stillness of heart and in the clear light of Thine eternity, I would ponder the pattern my life has been weaving.  May there fall upon me now, O God, a great sense of Thy power and Thy glory, so that I may see all earthly things in their true measure. Grant to me patience. Let me not be ignorant of this great thing, that one day is with Thee as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day. I am content, O Father, to leave my life in Thy hands, believing that the very hairs upon my head are numbered by Thee. I am content to give over my will to Thy control, believing that I can find in Thee a righteousness that I could never have won for myself. I am content to leave all my dear ones to Thy care, believing that Thy love for them is greater than my own. I am content to leave in Thy hands the causes of truth and of justice, and the coming of Thy Kingdom in the hearts of men, believing that my ardour for them is but a feeble shadow of Thy purpose. To Thee O God, be glory forever.
― A Diary of Private Prayer, John Baillie, p.27, altered DS

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Thursday, December 20

Do not waver.

Candle Lighter:If you need wisdom...”
Response: “…ask our generous God.

Scripture: James 1:1-8

1 This letter is from James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I am writing to the “twelve tribes”—Jewish believers scattered abroad.

Greetings!

2 Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

5 If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. 6 But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. 7 Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.

Reader: The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Admittedly, this devotional is a tough one to write. We’re committed to drawing the material from the daily readings in FPCO’s “Year of the Book” as we read the entire Bible during the course of the year. We began reading the second week of January 2018 so we are coming to the end of the Bible in a couple of weeks. Today’s portion comes from the book of James, whose focus in on Christian ethics. Having said this,

you’ll recall Mary and Joseph had other children after the birth of Jesus. There were four more boys and several girls in their family.  Apparently Joseph had died by this time. I do wonder what it would have been like to have Jesus as an older brother growing up! He never did anything wrong! Think about it! James knew big brother Jesus from the time he was born. Jesus’ siblings did not believe in him as they grew up, even into adulthood. In fact, they thought he “lost it” and wanted him to come home and assume his responsibilities as the oldest son. (read John 7:3-5 and Mark 3:31-35) After the resurrection they came to believe in him. James, the writer of this book that bears his name, became a leader in the church at Jerusalem. He was eventually killed by the Jewish leaders. This book is one of the earliest in the New Testament being written in the late 40’s AD, maybe fifteen years or so after the resurrection. He was writing to Jewish Christians who were already being discriminated against economically and abused for their faith in Christ. One of the many things we could point out, is James’ challenge to believers to be undivided in their loyalty to the Lord. They were not to be double-minded. Like these early Christians, we live in a world which has compromised the truth. Could we be singularly focused these last few days before Christmas on the significance of the birth of the Savior? Can we reflect such without being a wet blanket on the joy of the season? Is there a way to help those around us grasp the wonder of what God has done? God chose to give birth to us by giving birth to his Son. “And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession.” (1:18). Let’s commit to tell the great thing God has done beginning with his arrival that night so long ago, the night the cry of a baby pierced the universe and eternity was transformed for all of creation.

Music: “O Magnum Mysterium”    Ola Gjeilo Sofia Vokalensemble, Sergej Bolkhovets, violin
www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Femr6-OMEM       This is as beautiful and awe inspiring as any music you will hear this Christmas! Translation below:

O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
Christ the Lord.
Alleluia!

Prayer:
God of wonder, all too often we are lost in words, words explaining, words describing, words reflecting, words defending, words complaining, words expressing, words, words, words. We’ve lost beauty, lost wonder, lost awe, lost reverence, lost mystery. Thank you for music that expresses your glory, for music that enables us to leave the common place and enter a different world, for music that inspires awe and mystery, for music that expresses reverence, for music that put simply, is beautiful. Thank you, Jesus, that we can enjoy the wonder of sound and music, your invention. We rejoice in the glory of what you’ve made. With this music we offer our praise to you this wondrous season. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Daniel Sharp

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Wednesday, December 19

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Candle Lighter:For this world is not our permanent home...”
Response: “…we are looking forward to a home yet to come.

Scripture: Hebrews 13:8-16

8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. 9 So do not be attracted by strange, new ideas. Your strength comes from God’s grace, not from rules about food, which don’t help those who follow them.

10 We have an altar from which the priests in the Tabernacle have no right to eat.11 Under the old system, the high priest brought the blood of animals into the Holy Place as a sacrifice for sin, and the bodies of the animals were burned outside the camp. 12 So also Jesus suffered and died outside the city gates to make his people holy by means of his own blood. 13 So let us go out to him, outside the camp, and bear the disgrace he bore. 14 For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.

15 Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name. 16 And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.

Reader: The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
As we mentioned the other day, the people receiving this epistle were undergoing stress both within the believing community and from the outside world as well. The writer is encouraging truth in the midst of strange new ideas. This passage is remarkably current in today’s culture as gender identity, marriage, human sexuality, justice issues, truth, and reality are all undergoing “reinterpretation.” Then we read, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” How does this relate to the above discussions. The gospel does not change. Jesus is (not was) the same yesterday. The “yesterday” speaks of Jesus as the Father’s agent of creation. He is the one who created male and female, only two species. Today Jesus sits at the Father’s right hand interceding on behalf of his followers. His work is concerned with all the present day issues. In the time yet to be, he will rule the universe. He does not change. His truth is absolute and does not change regardless of human interpretation. As Creator, Jesus interprets humanity. Humanity does not interpret Jesus. Human beings come and go, he is forever. His word is authoritative. It is God’s grace that sustains us. In contrast, at the time of the writing of Hebrews, one of the “new ideas” from Jewish leaders was that certain kinds of fellowship meals were understood as providing God’s grace. Participants were encouraged to focus again on the altar in Jerusalem, going back to the Old Covenant. So the author reminds his readers that just as sacrifices under the old system were burned outside the camp, so Jesus was crucified outside the city gates. Further, people were made holy by the shedding of Jesus’ own blood. It was the one final complete sacrifice, the supreme Day of Atonement. The challenge to the people then and to us,  comes in withstanding ridicule and bearing the suffering for Jesus’ sake, remembering that this world is not our permanent home. In C.S. Lewis’ wonderful words, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” This pericope is concluded with the phrase “sacrifice of praise.” He goes on to describe this “sacrifice” as one of offering praise to God in our worship and living a life of obedience and of sharing with those in need. Note there is both the vertical relationship to God always stated first and then the horizontal relationships to those around us, reminding us of the two great commandments given by Jesus: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. All of the above is the ramification of the newborn baby boy wrapped up in the arms of his mother, Mary, as she placed him in a manger.

Music: “Jesus, What a Wonderful Child”   Pacific Youth Choir
www.youtube.com/watch?v=GHTfYJSpWT0

Prayer:
O Lord Jesus Christ, in whom is truth and life, let Thy presence abide in us, that seeking Thy truth we may find Thee, and sharing Thy life, may dwell together in perfect fellowship, and may be found faithful servants of Thee, to whom with the Father and the Holy Spirit be glory and praise, now and forever. Amen.

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Tuesday, December 18

But now, once for all time…

Candle Lighter:He entered into heaven itself…”
Response: “…to appear now before God on our behalf.

Scripture: Hebrews 9:24-28

24 For Christ did not enter into a holy place made with human hands, which was only a copy of the true one in heaven. He entered into heaven itself to appear now before God on our behalf. 25 And he did not enter heaven to offer himself again and again, like the high priest here on earth who enters the Most Holy Place year after year with the blood of an animal. 26 If that had been necessary, Christ would have had to die again and again, ever since the world began. But now, once for all time, he has appeared at the end of the age to remove sin by his own death as a sacrifice.

27 And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment,28 so also Christ was offered once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him.

Reader: The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
As we draw closer and closer to celebrating the day of Jesus’ birth, I would like us to consider the above passage in a contrasting context. “For Christ did enter into an unholy place marked with human rebellion, which was the authentic fallen world. He entered this world to appear now before man on God’s behalf. He did enter earth to offer himself one time and one time only entering the Most Holy Place, not with the blood of sacrificed animals, but with his own perfect blood. His sacrifice and shed blood has removed all of the sin since the world began. The truth is, we all die once and then comes judgment. In the same way, Christ died once which resulted in the sins of many people being forgiven permanently. He returned to heaven and he’s coming back to complete the redemption journey for all those waiting for him.” Sometimes the Nativity of Christ is referred to as the “Great Exchange.” The universal story is that of humans reaching to the heavens for a god. Pagan religions “fed” the gods through sacrifices, sometimes infant sacrifice, killing babies. (Can you imagine killing your own babies?) Human efforts have never reached nor can they ever reach a Holy God. In God’s great love, he came to us out of a heavenly context to make it possible for us to commune with God. Had Jesus not come to this world in which we live, there would have been no way to ultimately solve our sin problem. The Old Testament way was a shadow, a copy, a light sketch of the heavenly model. God was interested in bringing all who would come, into the heavenly realm, to be in his presence, to freely commune in a holy, pure, perfect environment. Only through the shed blood of Jesus Christ covering our sin is it possible. But that is exactly what God did on our behalf. All our sins have been dealt with, even those we have yet to commit! We rest in the Savior as we await his return. His first arrival in Bethlehem was rather quiet as most of the world missed it, except for the angel’s visit to the shepherds. His next arrival on earth will apparently be hard to miss!

Music:  “And the Glory”  from Messiah Atlanta Symphony Chorus
www.youtube.com/watch?v=u3raTXZ_hPk

Prayer:
O God, praise waiteth for thee, and to render it is my noblest exercise; this is thy due from all thy creatures, for all thy works display thy attributes and fulfil thy designs; the sea, dry land, winter cold, summer heat, morning light, evening shade are full of thee, and thou givest me them richly to enjoy. Thou art King of kings and Lord of lords; at thy pleasure empires rise and fall; all thy works praise thee and thy saints bless thee. Let me be numbered with thy holy ones, resemble them in character and condition, sit with them at Jesus’ feet. May my religion be always firmly rooted in thy Word, my understanding divinely informed, my affections holy and heavenly, my motives simple and pure, and my heart never wrong with thee. Deliver me from the natural darkness of my own mind, from the corruption of my heart, from the temptations to which I am exposed, from the daily snares that attend me. I am in constant danger while I am in this life; let thy watchful eye ever be upon me for my defence. Save me from the power of my worldly and spiritual enemies and from all painful evils to which I have exposed myself. Until the day of life dawns above let there be unrestrained fellowship with Jesus; until fruition comes may I enjoy the earnest of my inheritance, and the first fruits of the Spirit; until I finish my course with joy may I pursue it with diligence, in every part display the resources of the Christian and adorn the doctrine of thee my God in all things.  Amen.
― The Valley of Vision, p.14

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Monday, December 17

Jesus lives forever, his priesthood lasts forever.

Candle Lighter:He is the kind of high priest we need…”
Response: “…because he is holy and blameless.

Scripture: Hebrews 7:23 -8:6

23 There were many priests under the old system, for death prevented them from remaining in office. 24 But because Jesus lives forever, his priesthood lasts forever. 25 Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf.

26 He is the kind of high priest we need because he is holy and blameless, unstained by sin. He has been set apart from sinners and has been given the highest place of honor in heaven. 27 Unlike those other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices every day. They did this for their own sins first and then for the sins of the people. But Jesus did this once for all when he offered himself as the sacrifice for the people’s sins. 28 The law appointed high priests who were limited by human weakness. But after the law was given, God appointed his Son with an oath, and his Son has been made the perfect High Priest forever.

8 Here is the main point: We have a High Priest who sat down in the place of honor beside the throne of the majestic God in heaven. 2 There he ministers in the heavenly Tabernacle, the true place of worship that was built by the Lord and not by human hands.

3 And since every high priest is required to offer gifts and sacrifices, our High Priest must make an offering, too. 4 If he were here on earth, he would not even be a priest, since there already are priests who offer the gifts required by the law. 5 They serve in a system of worship that is only a copy, a shadow of the real one in heaven. For when Moses was getting ready to build the Tabernacle, God gave him this warning: “Be sure that you make everything according to the pattern I have shown you here on the mountain.”

6 But now Jesus, our High Priest, has been given a ministry that is far superior to the old priesthood, for he is the one who mediates for us a far better covenant with God, based on better promises.

(I would encourage you to read all of chapter 7 and 8 to gain a better context.)

Reader: The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
I’d like to stay with this idea of Jesus as our High Priest a little longer…as that is our passage in Hebrews! Most of us are familiar with the “priesthood of believers,” one of the significant concepts and realities to come out of the Reformation. But let’s back up a bit. A quick review. Priests had to be from the tribe of Levi. They had to be from the family of Aaron. The High Priest was appointed by God, not by lot. They served their entire lifetime. Their first sacrifice was for their own sins and then for the sins of their family, and then for the sins of the people. Sacrifices were offered daily, morning and evening. The Hebrew Bible had three separate primary offices: prophet, priest, and king. Three different roles; three different people. In Psalm 110:4 the psalmist prophesied concerning the Messiah, “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” Back in Genesis we have the account of Abraham offering a tithe to Melchizedek, a non-Jew, who was both priest and king of Jerusalem. This passage in Hebrews makes clear that Jesus is an eternal High Priest on the order of Melchizedek. Jesus was appointed by God, but he was from the tribe of Judah not Levi nor Aaron’s lineage. Yet, Jesus fulfilled the role perfectly. He was sinless, so he did not have to offer sacrifices repeatedly every morning and evening. He fulfilled all three roles as Prophet (fulfilled all O.T. prophecy), Priest (eternal in the order of Melchizedek-for all peoples, not just Jews), and King (from the line of king David) forever. He was completely human to represent all peoples, nations, and tribes, and he was completely divine, bringing perfect holiness to the sacrifice. Rather than a priest who dare not sit down in the Tabernacle or Temple―a shadowy copy of the heavenly sanctuary― Jesus sat down at the right hand of the Father in the heavenly sanctuary, (one built by God, not by humans), indicating the sacrificial system was fulfilled completely. It is in this situation that Jesus mediates before the Father on our behalf. His mediation began in a stable in a little village just outside Jerusalem, Israel. And his intercession continues in a world we cannot currently see even as you read this. The day is coming when we shall see him face to face, our Prophet, Priest, and King. For some of us, it may be this coming year. Advent reminds us to watch and wait. In the meantime, talk to your High Priest often. He understands completely everything you are dealing with today. “Christ the babe was born for you.”

Music: “Infant Lowly, Infant Holy”    University of Utah Chamber Choir
www.youtube.com/watch?v=plKS6HHEeq4

Prayer:
Everlasting Creator―Father, I have destroyed myself, my nature is defiled, the powers of my soul are degraded; I am vile, miserable, strengthless, but my hope is in thee. If ever I am saved, it will be by goodness undeserved and astonishing, not by mercy alone but by abundant mercy, not by grace but by exceeding riches of grace; and such thou hast revealed, promised, exemplified in thoughts of peace not of evil. Thou hast devised means to rescue me from sin’s perdition, to restore me to happiness, honor, safety. I bless thee for the everlasting covenant, for the appointment of a Mediator. I rejoice that he failed not, nor was discouraged, but accomplished the work thou gavest him to do; and said on the cross, ‘It is finished.’ I exult in the thought that thy justice is satisfied, thy truth established, thy law magnified, and a foundation is laid for my hope. I look to a present and personal interest in Christ and say, surely he has borne my griefs, and carried my sorrows, won my peace, healed my soul. Justified by his blood I am saved by his life, glorying in his cross I bow to his sceptre, having his Spirit I possess his mind. Lord, grant that my faith in you may not be occasional and partial, but universal, influential, effective, and may I always continue in thy words as well as thy works, so that I may reach my end in peace. Amen.
The Valley of Vision, p.40

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Sunday, December 16

He learned obedience from the things he suffered.

Candle Lighter:Jesus became the source of eternal salvation…”
Response: “…for all those who obey him.

Scripture: Hebrews 5:1-10

5 Every high priest is a man chosen to represent other people in their dealings with God. He presents their gifts to God and offers sacrifices for their sins. 2 And he is able to deal gently with ignorant and wayward people because he himself is subject to the same weaknesses. 3 That is why he must offer sacrifices for his own sins as well as theirs.

4 And no one can become a high priest simply because he wants such an honor. He must be called by God for this work, just as Aaron was. 5 That is why Christ did not honor himself by assuming he could become High Priest. No, he was chosen by God, who said to him,

“You are my Son.

   Today I have become your Father.”

6 And in another passage God said to him,

“You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.”

7 While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death. And God heard his prayers because of his deep reverence for God. 8 Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered. 9 In this way, God qualified him as a perfect High Priest, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him. 10 And God designated him to be a High Priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Reader: The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
This particular portion of the epistle, draws our attention to one of the primary roles of Jesus today. Think for a moment on where we would be in relation to the God if Jesus had not been born. We would apparently still need to be offering sacrifices in expressing our relationship to God, and an earthly priest would function as our human bridge to God. The early verses of this chapter point to the necessity of the high priest offering sacrifices for his own sins as well as the people’s sins. Hence, sacrifices would have to be offered again and again, as they were in the previous 2,000 plus years prior to Christ. What is also clear is that the high priest was appointed by God, not by human desire or vote. The glory of the latter part of this pericope is that God the Father appointed the Son of God to serve as our High Priest. He serves in a unique role in that he is fully human and sinless; fully God and perfectly holy. He is the perfect bridge, the perfect High Priest, chosen and perfectly qualified by God the Father. When the baby entered the world that quiet night in the village of Bethlehem, a cry pierced the universe that altered history and time forever. Our eternal High Priest, our bridge to the Father had arrived. He’s interceding on your behalf as you read this.

Music: “Angels We Have Heard on High”    St. Olaf Choir in Norway
www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNZ9cthM3CA

Prayer:
My Lord, my Savior, and my Intercessor, whom have I in heaven or on earth but you alone. I am utterly without hope apart from you. I take comfort in praying knowing that you are interceding before the Father on my behalf. It’s real, not imaginary. You pray as I type. Thank you for a love that was so deep you were willing to become one of us. I cannot begin to comprehend that sacrifice alone. Though I cannot grasp even a straw of it, I thank you. Praying, knowing that you understand even thoughts I cannot get into words, gives me comfort and freedom in praying. Knowing that your desire that I become more and more like you is very humbling. Thank you for dying for my sin and all the sin that has ever been committed or will be committed. Again, I cannot begin to fit that into my head, but I am so grateful, for without it, I have no hope. Lord Jesus, you are the center of every hope I have about everything. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Amen.
Daniel Sharp

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Saturday, December 15

Today when you hear his voice, don’t harden your hearts.

Candle Lighter:For this good news…”
Response: “…—that God has prepared this rest.

Scripture:  Hebrews 4:1-16

4 God’s promise of entering his rest still stands, so we ought to tremble with fear that some of you might fail to experience it. 2 For this good news—that God has prepared this rest—has been announced to us just as it was to them. But it did them no good because they didn’t share the faith of those who listened to God. 3 For only we who believe can enter his rest. As for the others, God said,

“In my anger I took an oath:

   ‘They will never enter my place of rest,’”

even though this rest has been ready since he made the world. 4 We know it is ready because of the place in the Scriptures where it mentions the seventh day: “On the seventh day God rested from all his work.” 5 But in the other passage God said, “They will never enter my place of rest.”

6 So God’s rest is there for people to enter, but those who first heard this good news failed to enter because they disobeyed God. 7 So God set another time for entering his rest, and that time is today. God announced this through David much later in the words already quoted:

“Today when you hear his voice,

   don’t harden your hearts.”

8 Now if Joshua had succeeded in giving them this rest, God would not have spoken about another day of rest still to come. 9 So there is a special rest still waiting for the people of God. 10 For all who have entered into God’s rest have rested from their labors, just as God did after creating the world. 11 So let us do our best to enter that rest. But if we disobey God, as the people of Israel did, we will fall.

12 For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable.

14 So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. 15 This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. 16 So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.

Reader: The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
So we’ve come to another year of advent and we walk our way through it again. Are we simply repeating a religious practice that some Christians observe and others don’t? Is there more significance to advent than remembering the various themes leading up to the celebration of the birth of the Savior? If so, how so? The fourth chapter of Hebrews gives us some insight I believe. You must have noticed the ubiquitous presence of the word “rest.” The writer of Hebrews is urging the believers to press on in this life knowing the certainty of the final rest in the presence of God. He uses the wandering, rebellious Israelites in the desert as a negative example of rejecting God’s word. God rested from his labors on the seventh day, a sabbath rest. His plan is the same for his people. An eternal sabbath rest is in store for the faithful. Following the death of Moses, Joshua was appointed leader of the children of those who left Egypt. You’ll recall every adult over the age of twenty on the night of the first Passover, died during the forty years in the desert wilderness, never reaching the Promised Land due to their rebellious hearts against God. Like Moses, Joshua dealt with their rebellious children. The second generation Israelites entered Canaan, but rejected the Scriptures and adapted and adopted the religion of the people they were to drive out of the land. Consequently, they also failed to enter God’s eternal rest. Likewise, if we fail to heed the sharp two-edged sword of the Scriptures, we will suffer the consequences of rejecting God’s word. There is a theme of persistence here in responding to the word of God. Think of advent as a cork screw in that every year we grow deeper and deeper in our pilgrimage journey on earth. We have not come to a place of rest; we press on. I trust you have a greater grasp this year of what it means and takes to follow Christ than you did last advent. The latter part of this chapter draws our attention to the significance of the  Scriptures shaping our lives. You may have heard the phrase “gospel surgery.” I think these words are a pretty apropos description of what Scripture can and should do in our lives. Our surgeon is our High Priest who is very familiar with our struggles since he endured them during his time on earth. Press on down the road, pilgrim! Cheer up! There will be more surgeries along the way, each one bringing greater and greater health until we reach the final rest and we are completely healed! Hallelujah! Advent is a reminder to keep going. Watch and wait. He’s coming to take us to that final rest.

Music: “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”    arr. Dan Forrest Concordia Choirs
www.youtube.com/watch?v=M-eV29ABPTI

Prayer:
O Lord Jesus, may we not think of Thy coming as a distant event that took place once and has never been repeated. May we know that Thou art still here walking among us, by our sides, whispering over our shoulders, tugging at our sleeves, smiling upon us when we need encouragement and help.
Peter Marshall, Senate Chaplain

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Friday, December 14

The Son became flesh and blood.

Candle Lighter:It was necessary for him…”
Response: “…to be made in every respect like us.

Scripture: Hebrews 2:10-18

10 God, for whom and through whom everything was made, chose to bring many children into glory. And it was only right that he should make Jesus, through his suffering, a perfect leader, fit to bring them into their salvation.

11 So now Jesus and the ones he makes holy have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters. 12 For he said to God,

“I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters.

   I will praise you among your assembled people.”

13 He also said,

“I will put my trust in him,”

   that is, “I and the children God has given me.”

14 Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. 15 Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.

16 We also know that the Son did not come to help angels; he came to help the descendants of Abraham. 17 Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people.18 Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.

Reader: The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
This portion of Scripture is another passage that is so rich on so many levels. We’ll limit ourselves to only a few observations. The next six days we’ll be working our way through the book of Hebrews. Again, a little context will help us grasp some of the deeper meaning. There is evidence that this entire letter was a sermon by an anonymous writer who was very knowledgeable of the Hebrew Bible and assumed his readers were likewise well-versed in the Old Testament. His overall point is to establish that Jesus, the Messiah, is superior to angels, Moses, and everything else in creation and that Jesus alone is the bridge to the Father, the High Priest of our worship. It was very hard for the Jews to accept that God would take on human flesh and be born of a woman. In this section the writer seeks to explain why God had to become human if the sacrificial death was to be efficacious, that is, to accomplish what it was supposed to do from the standpoint, not of man, but of God the Father. So in verse ten the writer plays on the word “son.” In preceding verses he has referred to Jesus as the “son of man,” a term with messianic implication familiar to the book of Daniel. The word above is translated above is “children,” since it is referring to both male and female, though the word in Greek is “sons.” He is establishing that humans are Jesus’ brother and sisters in flesh and blood. God is exactly and humanly like us in every detail. (v.11)  Verse fourteen states this truth very clearly and very bluntly. There is no god or deity in any religion who took on human flesh and was actually a person. To the Jew and those curious as to the nature of Jesus, this was something to process, and it still is today! The rest of the verse and verse fifteen state as clearly as anywhere in the Bible why it was necessary for Jesus to enter the world in a stable in Bethlehem. If Jesus died, only as God with no human connection, it would do humans no good. God doesn’t die but human beings do. The point is to provide a way for humans to live forever with God in God’s world. Satan held the power of death from the Garden of Eden on. Men and women were slaves to that death. By taking human form, as Paul writes in Philippians, Jesus was us! His resurrection broke the devil’s hold on death and provided the way out of this world so to speak. Angels were held in very high view by the Jews as they were messengers from God. Here the writer elevates the view of humans by stating that Jesus didn’t die for the angels but for the “brothers and sisters” of Abraham. There is more to say about the priesthood of Jesus, but that is in coming days! He concludes this little section with an underlining of the humanity of Jesus by referring to the suffering and testing that Jesus endured while here on earth. He is making sure that the readers know that even though Jesus was God in the flesh, he experienced everything we experience and, as a result, is able to help us with our struggles. And all of this grows out of that silent night in Bethlehem!

Music: “Silent Night”  Celtic Women
www.youtube.com/watch?v=kf16EBNTxGI

Prayer:
O Father of Jesus, help me to approach thee with deepest reverence, not with presumption, not with servile fear, but with holy boldness. Thou art beyond the grasp of my understanding, but not beyond that of my love. Thou knowest that I love thee supremely, for thou art supremely adorable, good, perfect. My heart melts at the love of Jesus, by brother, bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh, married to me, dead for me, risen for me; He is mine and I am his, given to me as well as for me. I am never so much mine as when I am his, or so much lost to myself until lost in him; then I find my true manhood. But my love is frost and cold, ice and snow; let his love warm me, lighten my burden, be my heaven. May it be more revealed to me in all its influences that my love to him may be more fervent and glowing; let the mighty tide of his everlasting love cover the rocks of my sin and care; then let my spirit float above those things which had else wrecked my life. Make me fruitful by living to that love, my character becoming more beautiful every day. If traces of Christ’s love-artistry be upon me, may he work on with his divine brush until the complete image be obtained and I be made a perfect copy of him, my master. O Lord Jesus, come to me, O Divine Spirit, rest upon me, O Holy Father, look on me in mercy for the sake of the well-beloved.
― The Valley of Vision, p.25

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Thursday, December 13

Your love has given me much joy.

Candle Lighter:I always thank my God…”
Response: “…when I pray for you.

Scripture: Philemon 1:1-7

1 This letter is from Paul, a prisoner for preaching the Good News about Christ Jesus, and from our brother Timothy.

I am writing to Philemon, our beloved co-worker, 2 and to our sister Apphia, and to our fellow soldier Archippus, and to the church that meets in your[a] house.

3 May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.

4 I always thank my God when I pray for you, Philemon, 5 because I keep hearing about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God’s people. 6 And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ. 7 Your love has given me much joy and comfort, my brother, for your kindness has often refreshed the hearts of God’s people.

Reader: The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
I read today’s passage in Philemon and thought how am I ever going to relate this to anything about advent or Christmas? In this brief letter, Paul is asking a friend to accept back an “employee,” Onesimus (a slave), who quit on the job…actually, who ran away. During the time of his “one way journey,” Onesimus ran into Paul and became a believer in Jesus Christ! His life was totally transformed, and he became a useful helper during Paul’s time in prison. This letter is written to Paul’s friend, Philemon, who was the master of Onesimus. In some cases a runaway slave was subject to death so this was a very serious matter. Onesimus may even have stolen some money as well. Paul’s clear  words to Philemon are to accept back Onesimus as a “brother in Christ.” In other words, take him back as an equal before God, a radical concept considering the times. Paul offered to repay any stolen money on Onesimus’ behalf. In a nutshell, Christ can transform anyone into a new person. And you are thinking at this point, “Nice, but where is the connection with Christmas?” Thank you for asking! My guess is that many of us will be with extended family at some point over the next few weeks. If your family is like everyone else’s, there are “unique” relatives, some of whom are delightful, and others not so much. Our tendency is often to react to the way people used to be. Approach this year’s gathering  with the mindset that God may have been working on that “uniqueness” in Uncle Fred and molding him more and more into the image of His Son, or drawing him closer and closer to Himself. That’s what Paul was getting at in this little letter. In other words, give God credit for the ability to transform a person into a new creation. After all, I trust that is what God has been doing with your “uniqueness!” Christmas is about setting in motion the transformation of the entirety of creation. What have you noticed about changes in yourself this past year? Where is God working on you? Merry Christmas, Uncle Fred!

Music:  “I Wonder as I Wander  Benjamin Luxon
www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZcSw46YP4Q

Prayer:
Gracious God, who never gives up on any of His creation, grant that I might attain that loving heart towards all with whom I come in contact over these next weeks and in the months to follow. Father, you have been gracious and patient with my stubborn heart. I thank you for pursuing me when I have resisted you, fighting the transformation you were working on. May I be the one in my family who encourages joy and honors the love and care you are giving to those “unique” people in my family, including me. Thank you Lord Jesus, for humbling yourself to become one of us and living in Israel so many years ago. That is almost more than we can imagine, but it beautifully demonstrates your love and commitment to your people. We do wonder at your great love which led you to die for us. We love you and thank you for loving us to the point of death on a cross. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Daniel Sharp

P.S. And may I be a blessing to Uncle Fred.

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Wednesday, December 12

The grace of God has been revealed

Candle Lighter:We should live in this evil world…”
Response: “…with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God.

Scripture: Titus 2:11-15

11 For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. 12 And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, 13 while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. 14 He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds.

15 You must teach these things and encourage the believers to do them. You have the authority to correct them when necessary, so don’t let anyone disregard what you say.

Reader:  The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Some background will be helpful in grasping some of the dynamics of this pericope. Here we have another of Paul’s letters to fledgling churches. This one is to Titus, a “son in the faith.” Titus’ calling is to serve on the island of Crete, off the coast of Greece. The culture of the Cretans was vulgar and crude, known particularly for lying and moral corruption. They were also great lovers of money and greedy in nature, not a pleasant people! Into this world came the gospel! In the portion of this letter, Paul gives guidance for how a believer should live in the midst of this kind of world. I believe, through the apostle, God gives to us direction as to how we might live in today’s world, not totally unlike the lifestyle of the Cretans. The beginning words start with the grace of God extending to all people. God always is the initiator of grace. What is very clear is that we not separate ourselves from this world. His exact words, “live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day…” What a contrast to the mindset of the world today! Wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God―what a beautiful and attractive way to live. In a Christmas season with Santa’s, newest “gotta have” toys,  gadgets, new Christmas songs, winter solstice celebrations, “winter” concerts, parties, newly released movies, college bowl games, etc…everything to fill the mind with anything but the significance of the birth of the Savior of the world, we have the opportunity to encourage those around us in the truth. The Cretans thrived on lies and corruption of all kinds. In the midst of such, churches grew and ministered among that society and lives were transformed. We’ve been given that same opportunity in our world these days of advent. Perhaps you’ll have an opportunity today to express devotion to God and help point a “Cretan” to the Savior.

Music: “O Holy Night”     Home Free (They were at Bob Carr in Orlando 4 days ago!)
www.youtube.com/watch?v=CO6OZIY-lYw

Prayer:
O God of truth and wisdom, I praise thee for the revelation of thyself in the gospel, for thy heart as a dwelling place of pity, for thy thoughts of peace towards me, for thy patience and thy graciousness, for the vastness of thy mercy. Thou hast moved my conscience to know how the guilty can be pardoned, the unholy sanctified, the poor enriched. May I cherish simplicity and godly sincerity of character. Help me to be in reality before thee as in appearance I am before men, to be religious before I profess religion, to leave the world before I enter the church, to set my affections on things above, to shun forbidden follies and vanities, to be a dispenser as well as a partaker of grace, to be prepared to bear evil as well as to do good. O God, make me worthy of this calling, that the name of Jesus may be glorified in me and I in him as I live in the very fallen, broken, and confused world.  Amen.
― The Valley of Vision, p.12, adapted DS

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Tuesday, December 11

Never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord.

Candle Lighter: “Carry out the ministry…”
Response: “…God has given you.

Scripture: II Timothy 1:8-10; 4:1-5

8 So never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord. And don’t be ashamed of me, either, even though I’m in prison for him. With the strength God gives you, be ready to suffer with me for the sake of the Good News. 9 For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus. 10 And now he has made all of this plain to us by the appearing of Christ Jesus, our Savior. He broke the power of death and illuminated the way to life and immortality through the Good News.

4 I solemnly urge you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus, who will someday judge the living and the dead when he comes to set up his Kingdom: 2 Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.

3 For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will reject the truth and chase after myths.

5 But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you.

Reader: The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
As Paul is writing this letter to Timothy, he is nearing the end of his life. He fervently wants to impress upon his young man the significance and responsibility of following Christ. In the first section you read, that from before the beginning of time extending grace to us through Christ Jesus was in the heart of God. He urges Timothy (and us) to share this good news that the power of death has been broken and immortality in the presence of God is possible for all. Sometimes the truth of these words seem more like words expressing a wonderful idea than actual reality. We are a people so tuned to what we can see and hear in the actions of today, (meetings, appointments, reports, phone calls, etc.), that talk of immortality seems more like fantasy. But in the second portion of today’s reading, Paul underscores truth again with “in the presence of God and Christ Jesus, who will someday judge the living and the dead.” Notice the comma after the word Jesus. Take the descriptive phrase out and you have “In the presence of God and Christ Jesus, preach the word.” Then a series of instructive words follows: be prepared, patiently correct, rebuke, encourage, and teach. We are to do all of these things realizing we are in the presence of God as we are doing them. His presence is not fantasy in spite of the subtle lying voice that whispers otherwise!  With those words in mind, Paul goes on to describe our culture today! How did he know!! At the core of our culture is a rejection of God’s truth. The Scriptures are viewed as a collection of words that need to be interpreted in light of today’s values. Rather than having the Scriptures speak truth to our day, people have opted to decide their own truth. Instead of the Word standing in judgment of us, we stand in judgment of the Word. In the midst of this world, Paul challenges Timothy do the work of telling others the Good News, the ministry God has given him. And again you are saying to yourself, “what does all of this have to do with advent?” Notice again, everything we have said above points to the end of time, the return of the Lord, and being prepared (all advent themes), but also for the importance of telling others the good news of the gospel. It is so important that we not view the nativity as simply “the birthday of Jesus.” There is SO MUCH MORE going on.

Music:  “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence”   by Kin
www.youtube.com/watch?v=NWTdLD5w92c

Prayer:
Glory to God in the highest―the creative, living God by whose energy the world is constantly sustained.

Glory to the Son, the Word made flesh, who entered human life as a man and died for us, that we might rise with him to everlasting life.

Glory to God the life-giving Spirit, who makes known the wonder of the Father’s love, even to our hardened hearts.

Glory be to God the Trinity, our inspiration, our fulfilment and our destiny in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
― 
Prayers for Sunday Services, Scottish, p.36

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Monday, December 10

All honor and power to him forever! Amen.

Candle Lighter:At just the right time…”
Response: “…Christ will be revealed from heaven.”

Scripture: I Timothy 6:11-16

11 But you, Timothy, are a man of God; so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have declared so well before many witnesses. 13 And I charge you before God, who gives life to all, and before Christ Jesus, who gave a good testimony before Pontius Pilate, 14 that you obey this command without wavering. Then no one can find fault with you from now until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. 15 For,

At just the right time Christ will be revealed from heaven by the blessed and only almighty God, the King of all kings and Lord of all lords. 16 He alone can never die, and he lives in light so brilliant that no human can approach him. No human eye has ever seen him, nor ever will. All honor and power to him forever! Amen.

Reader: The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Have you noticed how often Paul refers to the Lord’s return? As we wrote all last week, the beginning of advent draws our attention to the Second Coming. In some ways we can be very much like the people Paul was writing to. We hear about the Lord’s return, but in some ways it seems very far off, surely not in our lifetime. This thinking is natural  since it’s been a couple of thousand years since the Lord walked around in Israel. But then, God’s “time” is not like ours. He was 2,000 years in fulfilling part of his promise to Abraham. Our human tendency is to kind of forget about the Parousia and focus on today and tomorrow and what we’ll do next week. Yet Paul urges Timothy to stay alert, live a godly life, and persevere in the course God has planned for him. Do not get pushed off course. Give no one an opportunity to find fault with you. Live a godly testimony so you may not cause those around you to stumble. Jesus before Pilate is our model. Rest assured God is on his own time schedule and at just the right time “Christ will be revealed from heaven!” Can you imagine how the world will respond? Read again the description. “He lives in light so brilliant that no human can approach him. No human eye has ever seen him, nor ever will.” (v.16) Take a moment now and stop and reflect on what you just read. Do not rush on… Our Lord came to earth as a newborn baby boy and through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension returns as the King of kings. And because of his great sacrifice, we can live with him forever. Never let the Christmas story stop with a sweet baby in a manger. He became a child that we might become the children of God…forever.

Music: “Away in a Manger”    Home Free
www.youtube.com/watch?v=oCFTK_xoC0U&list=PL29Dg_0jZND9uJlPnT6OC4fID1pg0IZeP&index=4&t=0s

Prayer:
Lord of all being, there is one thing that deserves my greatest care, that calls forth my ardent desires, that is, that I may answer the great end for which I am made―to glorify thee who hast given me being, and to do all the good I can for my fellow men; verily life is not worth having if it be not improved for this noble purpose. Yet, Lord, how little is this the thought of mankind, of my own heart! Most men seem to live for themselves, without much or any regard for thy glory, or for the good of others; they earnestly desire and eagerly pursue the riches, honors, pleasures of this life, as if they supposed that wealth greatness, merriment, could make their immortal souls happy; but, alas, what false delusive dreams are these! Too often they are my own dreams. And how miserable ere long will those be that sleep in them, for all our happiness consists in loving thee, and being holy as thou art holy.  O may I never fall into tempers and vanities, the sensuality and folly of the present world! It is a place of inexpressible sorrow, a vast empty nothingness; time is a moment, a vapour, and all its enjoyments are empty bubbles, fleeting blasts of wind, from which nothing satisfactory can be derived; give me grace always to keep in covenant with thee, and to reject as delusion a great name here or hereafter, together with all sinful pleasures or profits. Help me to know continually that there can be no true happiness, no fulfilling of thy purpose for me, apart from a life lived in and for the Son of thy love. Amen.
The Valley of Vision, p.13

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Sunday, December 9

“This is the great mystery of our faith.”

Candle Lighter: “Christ was revealed…”
Response: “…in a human body.”

Scripture: I Timothy 3:16

16 Without question, this is the great mystery of our faith:

Christ was revealed in a human body

   and vindicated by the Spirit.

He was seen by angels

   and announced to the nations.

He was believed in throughout the world

   and taken to heaven in glory.

Reader:  The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Today we turn from the attention on the Second Coming to the wonder of the Incarnation. One of the theological themes of advent is the Incarnation of the Son of God. In this letter to Timothy, Paul is again dealing with the challenge of erroneous teaching. This particular passage may well be one of the hymn texts of the early church. It’s structure is in contrast to the surrounding content. It would appear that several of the passages in the New Testament are actually texts of hymns sung in the early church. Note how compact each phrase is and how much theology is packed into it. It has been said the average person learns as much theology from what he or she sings as they do from the Bible. (Dangerous, but probably true, which is why it is vitally important to note the content of the hymns and worship songs we sing in worship today.) Let’s look at the text. Think of yourself as hearing all of this for the first time whether you are a Jew or a Gentile. Jesus Messiah was revealed having come from God in a human body! This had never happened in all of history. It is a one time only event and it happened thirty to thirty-five years ago. Though he was killed, the Holy Spirit of God vindicated him in his resurrection from the dead. The God-person was killed and brought back to life. His being seen by angels points out his sovereign rule in the heavenly realm. Jesus’ authority is not only over the earth (“and announced to the nations”) but also over all the beings in the heavenly realm. His mission extends to all the world. He ascended to heaven being received in great glory by the heavenly hosts there to await his return in the Father’s timing to establish his eternal kingdom. This passage is a marvelous example of the entire ministry of Jesus being outlined in six short lines from his birth to his Return at the end of the age. If you are not in the habit, study the theology of the carols and songs you sing this advent season. It’s important to sing the truth.

Music: “O Come, All Ye Faithful    arr. David Wilcocks
www.youtube.com/watch?v=6cxdlgJUbas  Southwestern Baptist Oratorio Chorus
www.youtube.com/watch?v=D5ONtCZUhZ0   Enya   sung in Latin   -gorgeous!

Prayer:
Good Lord, in this season of singing carols, may we sing that which is true and may we  believe what we sing. We sing of the miraculous―Jesus, you humbled yourself and became a fully human being, as human as we are. We sing of the mysterious—how you revealed yourself in a human body is wondrous and beyond our understanding. We sing of the magnificent heavenly host―beings whose singing to the shepherds that glorious night we can only imagine. We sing of the matchless Good News to all peoples and nations―the Savior of the world has come to bring redemption to his entire created order. There is salvation for all. Our thrice holy God, there is none like you and we bow in prayer and adoration. Receive our prayer through Jesus Christ our Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen.
Daniel Sharp

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Saturday, December 8

“This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time.”

Candle Lighter: “Christ Jesus came into the world…”
Response: “…to save sinners.”

Scripture: I Timothy 1:15-17

15 This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. 16 But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 All honor and glory to God forever and ever! He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God. Amen.

I Timothy 2:1-7

2 I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. 2 Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. 3 This is good and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. 5 For,

There is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. 6 He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone.

This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time. 7 And I have been chosen as a preacher and apostle to teach the Gentiles this message about faith and truth. I’m not exaggerating—just telling the truth.

Reader: The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
We have mentioned at other times the importance of seeing the Nativity in its true context. It is also significant that our children and grandchildren, in the midst of joy, excitement, and presents, begin to realize why the baby Jesus came to earth. We must connect the Nativity, the Passion, the Ascension, Pentecost, and the Return. Now that might be a bit much for a five year old! But, Paul has reduced the mission of God in Christ to “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.” A five year old can realize  this baby Jesus came to save them. Paul then reminds us of his horrible past. He consented to murder of Christians. He’s making a strong case that our past is not a liability in becoming a believer in Jesus. In the second passage you read, Paul helps us see the significance of the birth of Jesus with his words “there is only one God and one Mediator who an reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus,” the baby born in a manger in Bethlehem. His life and death (Christmas and Easter) purchase freedom and eternal life for everyone who would believe. Paul’s use of the words “one God and one Mediator” would have registered significantly with the Jewish believers, reminding them of the Shema. (“Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone.”) There is one other phrase to comment on. “God gave to the world at just the right time.” We’ve talked about the word kairos, meaning at an opportune time. In the mystery and wonder of God, who is outside of time yet encompasses all of time, he moves, for reasons known only to himself, into his universe appearing on a tiny speck of a planet in one of a hundred billion galaxies at a particular moment in human time, and at just the right time! We must assume, since it was God acting, the perfect time. If this entrance of Jesus Christ into our world was God’s perfect time and plan, we should definitely pay attention and not be totally consumed with tinsel! What’s more, at just the right time, God extends his offer of salvation and redemption to all. When is that right time? As Paul writes elsewhere in II Corinthians, “Now is the day of salvation.” Perhaps today you’ll have opportunity to share this bigger context of Christmas with someone you meet!

Music: “Children Go Where I Send Thee”  Home Free and Kenny Rogers
www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4qNaAlZ1xc&list=PLY-HJUkWgmopM0NiNA8dhWLyCZ6upQE5N&index=3    DO NOT MISS THIS!

Prayer:
Sovereign God, Thy cause, not my own, engages my heart, and I appeal to thee with greatest freedom to set up thy kingdom in every place where Satan reigns; glorify thyself and I shall rejoice, for to bring honor to thy name is my sole desire. I adore thee that thou art God, and long that others should know it, feel it, and rejoice in it. O, that all men might love and praise thee, that thou mightest have all glory from the intelligent world! Let sinners be brought to thee for thy dear name! To the eye of reason everything respecting the conversion of others is as dark as midnight, but thou canst accomplish great things; the cause is thine, and it is to thy glory that men should be saved. Lord, use me as thou wilt, do with me what thou wilt; but, O, promote thy cause, let thy kingdom come, let thy blessed interest be advanced in this world! O do thou bring in great numbers to Jesus! Let me see that glorious day, and give me to grasp for multitudes of souls; let me be willing to die to that end; and while I live let me labor for thee to the utmost of my strength, spending time profitable in this work, both in health and in weakness. It is thy cause and kingdom I long for, not my own. O, answer thou my request! Amen.
― from
The Valley of Vision, p.177

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Friday, December 7

Remember what I told you.

Candle Lighter:Now, dear brothers and sisters,…
Response: “…let us clarify some things.

Scripture: II Thessalonians 2:1-12

2 Now, dear brothers and sisters, let us clarify some things about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and how we will be gathered to meet him. 2 Don’t be so easily shaken or alarmed by those who say that the day of the Lord has already begun. Don’t believe them, even if they claim to have had a spiritual vision, a revelation, or a letter supposedly from us. 3 Don’t be fooled by what they say. For that day will not come until there is a great rebellion against God and the man of lawlessness is revealed—the one who brings destruction. 4 He will exalt himself and defy everything that people call god and every object of worship. He will even sit in the temple of God, claiming that he himself is God.

5 Don’t you remember that I told you about all this when I was with you?6 And you know what is holding him back, for he can be revealed only when his time comes. 7 For this lawlessness is already at work secretly, and it will remain secret until the one who is holding it back steps out of the way. 8 Then the man of lawlessness will be revealed, but the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by the splendor of his coming.

9 This man will come to do the work of Satan with counterfeit power and signs and miracles. 10 He will use every kind of evil deception to fool those on their way to destruction, because they refuse to love and accept the truth that would save them. 11 So God will cause them to be greatly deceived, and they will believe these lies. 12 Then they will be condemned for enjoying evil rather than believing the truth.

Reader: The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
As this first week in advent draws to a close, we conclude with Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians. By now the persecution of believers had increased, more false teachers proclaiming that the Day of the Lord had already come added more confusion, and the problem of people not working because they thought the End was imminent continued. So Paul spelled out with more specificity the circumstances preceding the Lord’s return.  Paul assured the Thessalonians that the Lord had not returned. He urged them to hold fast to the truths they had learned. And as for those who quit working, Paul was blunt; if you don’t work, you don’t eat! The description of the world’s perspective toward God in Paul’s day is not unlike the world’s view of God in our day. I don’t know what is going on in the world today as your read this… since I’m writing it in September. My guess is that it is not peaceful nor are people very concerned with the Lord…and certainly not with His return. In the midst of uncertainty, the overall summary of Paul’s letter is pastoral and encouraging. I don’t know if you ever get upset at all the bold hatred among people or are bothered by the frequent mockery of Christians or biblical values. Paul reminds them to “keep a strong grip on the teaching we passed on to you.” In our case, keeping a strong grip means studying and absorbing the Scriptures, not simply to know content, but to know and converse with the Lord as we await His coming. One of the goals of these daily devotionals during Advent and Lent is for us to develop the practice of spending time each day with the Scriptures that we might encounter the Lord in our reading and meditation. God called us to salvation, gave the Holy Spirit to teach and to guide, and commanded us to share the Good News as we are going about in this world. Look for the Lord’s action in your life as you go through this day.

Music: “Come, Thou Long-expected Jesus”   Fernando Ortega
www.youtube.com/watch?v=0dmO8UPlWoo

Prayer:
Lord God, my Father in heaven and on earth, ours is a very troubled world. People around us ignore You, mock You, defy You, mold You after their own image of You. Sometimes it’s hard to stand up against ridicule and hostility because of our love for You. Help us to hold fast to what we know to be true. Help us to uphold your word in our lives. Grant that we would be bold in speaking the truth into our culture with grace and compassion. We live in a world that has lost its identity. Help us to live as children whose identity is in Christ alone, not in our social status, knowledge, intellect, people group, gender, financial position, or in anything other than You. Grant that we may live lives which reflect the compassion of Jesus. Make us diligent and loving this day until we put our heads on our pillow tonight as we await His glorious return. Amen.
— Daniel Sharp

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Thursday, December 6

Encourage one another.

Candle Lighter:For you are all…
Response: “…children of the light.

Scripture: I Thessalonians 5:1-11

5 Now concerning how and when all this will happen, dear brothers and sisters,we don’t really need to write you. 2 For you know quite well that the day of the Lord’s return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. 3 When people are saying, “Everything is peaceful and secure,” then disaster will fall on them as suddenly as a pregnant woman’s labor pains begin. And there will be no escape.

4 But you aren’t in the dark about these things, dear brothers and sisters, and you won’t be surprised when the day of the Lord comes like a thief. 5 For you are all children of the light and of the day; we don’t belong to darkness and night. 6 So be on your guard, not asleep like the others. Stay alert and be clear headed. 7 Night is the time when people sleep and drinkers get drunk. 8 But let us who live in the light be clear headed, protected by the armor of faith and love, and wearing as our helmet the confidence of our salvation.

9 For God chose to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out his anger on us. 10 Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever. 11 So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.

Reader:  The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
In staying with the advent theme of the Lord’s return and judgment at the end of earthly time, Paul continues with this subject in this last chapter of I Thessalonians. You might be thinking, Paul and the Thessalonians thought the Lord’s return was imminent and so it was on the front of their minds. But, that was a long time ago (in our minds), and so this idea of the Lord’s return seems more like a piece of ancient history. After all, there is so much going on now and people scarcely give the Second Coming a thought, although there are recent movies that touch on this “end of the world” theme. Paul’s advice is to not be fanatical in expectation, (the Harold Camping’s of the world who predict the End to the day!), but also to not be cold, indifferent, or cynical about the Day.  Some of the Thessalonians thought that since the Lord’s return was so near, they no longer even needed to go to work! Paul challenges them and us to live a balanced, calm, and watchful life. The Lord will return unexpectedly and without warning, a truth still in effect. For unbelievers, the Day of the Lord will be catastrophic. People will have a sense of peace and safety as in the days of Noah. Then came the Flood! Paul’s mentioning of night and darkness in the passage refer to willful ignorance and immorality. There is also a final word in this short section as to how believers are to live while awaiting Christ’s Return. Notice there is nothing passive here. We move forward in faith and love being confident of our salvation as we are filled with a certain hope. We need never fear the end for we have been redeemed by the blood of this glorious Baby born in a manger in Bethlehem. Knowing what’s eventually coming, your death or the Lord’s return, live this day wisely and with joy. We know how the story ends! Share it.

Music: Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NsXcCdWjsmg&index=2&list=RDen0sv1jeDws

Prayer:
Almighty God, in the wilderness of Jordan you sent a messenger to prepare men’s hearts for the coming of your Son. Help us to hear the good news, to repent and be ready to welcome the Lord our Savior, Jesus Christ.  O Christ our God, who wilt come to judge the world in the manhood which thou didst assume, we pray thee to sanctify us wholly, that in the day of thy coming we may be raised up to live and reign with thee for ever. Almighty Father, whose blessed Son at his first coming brough redemption to his people, and peace to men of good will, grant that, when he comes again in glory to judge the world and to make all things new, we may be found ready to receive him, and enter into his joy, through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Prayers for Sunday Services, p.70, Scottish

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Wednesday, December 5

We want you to know what will happen.

Candle Lighter:Encourage each other…
Response: “…with these words.

Scripture: I Thessalonians 4:13-18

13 And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.

15 We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves. 17 Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. 18 So encourage each other with these words.

Reader:  The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
By now you are wondering, “When are we going to be doing something about Advent or  Christmas?” At least, we are getting some Christmas music! There are some reasons. As we have said previously, advent means “coming.” This season opens with a paradox. Rather than begin with the birth of Jesus and end with His return, advent starts with His return and concludes with the Nativity. And there is an additional “coming” in between that has eternal consequences. Jesus enters the life of everyone who puts their trust in Him for salvation. The book of I Thessalonians has much to say about the Lord’s return. Christ had very recently come into the lives of the people in the church at Thessalonica. There was much false doctrine circulating in those early days, even as there is in our own time. Since Jesus is coming again, the question of what happens to people who have already died was on the minds of these believers. They wanted to know how death and Jesus’ return was to play out. There is an obvious truth here for any who doubt. There is life after death for everyone. Paul encourages the people to have great hope, not to avoid grief in death, but the Christian’s grieving is not like someone with no hope. One of the most powerful lines in this section is in verse fifteen. “We tell you this directly from the Lord.” What follows is as clear as it could be, concluding with “we will be with the Lord forever!” Could there be a more hopeful, glorious, humbling, joyful phrase in any language? You see, the season of Advent is not simply looking forward to the birth of the Savior; it is also framing the birth of everlasting life!

Music: The King Shall Come    The Orchard Enterprises
www.youtube.com/watch?v=OQZRRjmIgYQ

Prayer:
O Son of God and Son of Man, Thou wast incarnate, didst suffer, rise, ascend for my sake; Thy departure was not a token of separation but a pledge of return; Thy Word, promises, sacraments, show thy death until thou come again. That day is no horror to me, for thy death has redeemed me, thy Spirit fills me, thy love animates me, thy Word governs me. I have trusted thee and thou hast not betrayed my trust; waited for thee, and not waited in vain. Thou wilt come to raise my body from the dust, and re-unite it to my soul, by a wonderful work of infinite power and love, greater than that which bounds the oceans’ waters, ebb and flows the tides, keep the stars in their courses, and gives life to all creatures. This corruptible shall put on incorruption, this mortal, immortality, this natural body, a spiritual body, this dishonoured body, a glorious body, this weak body, a body of power. I triumph now in thy promises as I shall do in their performance, for the head cannot live if the members are dead; beyond the grave is resurrection, judgment, acquittal, dominion. Every event and circumstance of my life will be dealt with the sins of my youth, my secret sins, the sins of abusing thee, of disobeying thy Word, the sins of neglecting ministers’ admonitions, the sins of violating my conscience all will be judged; and after judgment, peace and rest, life and service, employment and enjoyment, for thine elect. O God, keep me in this faith, and ever looking for Christ’s return.
— The Valley of Vision, p.27

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Tuesday, December 4

And now the word of the Lord

Candle Lighter:You are looking forward…
Response: “…to the coming of God’s Son from heaven.”

Scripture:  I Thessalonians 1:8-10

8 And now the word of the Lord is ringing out from you to people everywhere, even beyond Macedonia and Achaia, for wherever we go we find people telling us about your faith in God. We don’t need to tell them about it, 9 for they keep talking about the wonderful welcome you gave us and how you turned away from idols to serve the living and true God.10 And they speak of how you are looking forward to the coming of God’s Son from heaven—Jesus, whom God raised from the dead. He is the one who has rescued us from the terrors of the coming judgment.

Reader:  The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
What do you think most people are concerned with today? What are they thinking about? What will occupy most of your time this Tuesday? It is always a challenge for me to make some time to think about the bigger picture. That is why every day starts out with some time with the Scriptures and talking with the Lord. I find listening to the Lord is harder than talking to the Lord! In this passage, Paul commends the people in the church at Thessalonica for their growing faith. I’d like to make a few observations about some of the words and ideas he mentions. Like those Greeks, our challenge is to turn  from the idols of our culture to serve the “living and true” God. Turning is a repentance word. Turning involves a complete change in pattern or habit. Turning means going the opposite direction. Turning means putting down the phone and having a conversation and looking the other person in the face. But turning is even more; it is, in this case, a complete change in the direction of the will, a re-orientation of life. The word, living, here has to do with being active, it is not just being alive. Truth has to do with genuine as opposed to false. We worship a real God. that might seem like a dumb thing to say, but contrast it to 100 years from now. Which is more real, your cell phone, your house, your job or God? We end this section of Scripture with the central advent theme, the return of the Lord. The return of the Lord is the most frequently mentioned doctrine in the New Testament occurring on the average of once every thirteen verses. We are to watch and wait for this great day. As G.G. Findlay has written, think of wait as a “sustained expectation.” Notice also the “rescued us” is actually has a deeper meaning. Think of it as a continual, timeless present. And that deliverance is from the wrath (terrors) of the coming judgment. There is much to say and much misunderstood about the wrath of God, but we need to stop for today! Let us wait for the Lord’s return today with sustained expectation. He’s coming back!

Music: Joy to the World    George Fox University
www.youtube.com/watch?v=6oOwa0CWVVQ

Prayer:
O Lord have mercy upon us when thou comest. Have mercy upon our failure, our failure to reckon with judgment, our easy acceptance of forgiveness, our lack of a sense of urgency, our proneness to make tomorrow the day of repentance and renewal. Almighty God, have mercy upon us, reckon not our offences against us but pardon our transgressions for thy name’s sake. O Lord, keep us awake and alert, watching for your kingdom. Make us strong in faith, so we may welcome your Son when he comes, and joyfully give him praise with you, and the Holy Spirit, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
— Prayers for Sunday Service, p.66

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Monday, December 3

“Christ is all that matters and he lives in all of us.”

Candle Lighter: “You have been raised…”
Response: “…to new life with Christ.”

Scripture: Colossians 3:1-11

3 Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 2 Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.3 For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.4 And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.

5 So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. 6 Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming. 7 You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. 8 But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. 9 Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. 10 Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. 11 In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.

Reader: These are the words of God as spoken through the Apostle Paul.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
A little context for this short passage may be helpful. This pericope begins with the word “since,”… a clue to look at what came before. There is a phrase in verse twenty of the previous chapter which states “since you have died with Christ…” Paul’s contrasts that statement with “since you have been raised…with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven.” In a season consumed with joyful music, parties, and celebrations, there is a strong pull to focus solely on what is happening right now. We all do it and find it very natural. How does a phrase like “dying with Christ” connect with a Christmas party? They don’t seem remotely related. So how do we connect them?  “Dying with Christ” is not a once and for all thing. We are called daily to die to self, to ambition, and to temptation. The world in which we live has much trouble dying to itself. It is hard to notice other things when consumed with oneself. Paul, who is in prison as he writes this letter, admonishes his readers, (us), to set our sights on the realities of heaven. So how do we do that in walking through this season as we draw closer and closer to the Nativity? In Jesus’ day, Herod was consumed with his own power. The magi, in contrast, were tuned beyond this immediate world in looking for the King of Israel.  When Jesus came to this world as a baby, very few noticed His arrival. The fact that Jesus is in our midst whenever two or three come together now, for example, is a shock to many people and a truth that is met with unbelief. The fourth verse of chapter three, however, assures us this will not be the case when He returns in glory as Paul refers to “when Christ is revealed to the whole world.”  Since we have been buried with Christ in baptism and raised to a new life in Christ, let us live as shepherds and magi, people who recognize Jesus among us…until He comes in full glory with all His angels at the last trumpet! Let us set our sights on heaven, the location of the ultimate celebration of the King of kings.

Music: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”     Barlow Girl
www.youtube.com/watch?v=zzW_PmW-LzE&list=RDMD-jBLZSZNU&index=9

Also www.youtube.com/watch?v=t1glfuYQxdo  Sam Robson and A cappella Ft.Friends

Another wonderful setting that’s a bit different! Beautiful!

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, who lives in us and among us, grant that we would live with an awareness of your presence more often than we do, that we would live in anticipation of your return more often than we do, that we would speak to those around us who live only for this world more often than we do, and that we would talk with and listen to you more often than we do. Grant that we would daily die to self, take up our cross and follow you until the day of your return. O come, O come Emmanuel and ransom this captive world. In the name of our glorious Lord, who became a child that we might become the children of God. Amen.
Daniel Sharp

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved

Sunday, December 2

For God in all his fullness
   was pleased to live in Christ”

Candle Lighter: “The invisible God…”
Response: “…has become visible!”

Scripture: Colossians 1:15-20

15 Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
   He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,
16 for through him God created everything
   in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see
   and the things we can’t see—
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
   Everything was created through him and for him.
17 He existed before anything else,
   and he holds all creation together.
18 Christ is also the head of the church,
   which is his body.
He is the beginning,
   supreme over all who rise from the dead.
So he is first in everything.
19 For God in all his fullness
   was pleased to live in Christ,
20 and through him God reconciled
   everything to himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth
   by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.

Reader: These are the very words of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
As we enter this season, our hearts are tuned during these early days of Advent toward the end of time and the return of the Lord, coming in judgment bringing the consummation of history and establishing His eternal kingdom. We live in a world that gives little thought to the end of life, let alone the end of time. In this most remarkable passage in Paul’s little letter to the people of Colossae, we have an explanation, a creed, if you will, (this may actually have been one of the creeds of the early church), of the role of Jesus in creation, in redemption, in the church. All things have their meaning in Christ! Jesus is the visible image, the icon, of our invisible God. This “visible image” is far more profound than we might imagine. Jesus is such a full and exact picture of God, that He is actually the exact representation of God in human flesh. His words: “He who has seen me, has seen the Father.” (Jn.14:9) In Christ, He humbled Himself in taking the human form to enable humanity to relate on a personal level to the eternal God! Think about it! There is no god in any religion that has done anything like this. Do you realize how many monumental questions are answered in these very few verses? God is intent on communicating to people in ways they can begin to understand. Look again at all the words I have emboldened. The most significant questions humans can ask are all answered in these verses! For example: Has God always existed? Who made the universe? What about angels and other powers; who made them? How do we solve the sin problem, or problem of evil in this world? What’s the purpose of life? Where did the Church come from? What is the Church? Are there worlds or powers beyond what we can see here on earth? Does God care about us? How does He relate to us? What keeps the universe from falling apart? What does God look like? And those questions barely scratch the surface! As we journey through Advent, let us be ever mindful that we are not simply rehearsing facts about our awe-inspiring God, but that we are in communion with the one who “made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of his blood on the cross.”  Take some time now and express your heart to Him.

Music: “What Child Is This?”   Cambridge Singers arr. John Rutter
www.youtube.com/watch?v=IBsdJMtzzBQ

Prayer:
“O God, you have given us the sure promise that Jesus will return to judge the earth. Make us ready, we pray, for his royal coming, that we may consider daily what sort of people we ought to be, and be found faithful servants waiting and working for our Master’s return. Grant in your mercy that many may be won for him before he comes, and make us bold in our witness until that day, whether he comes at midnight, or at dawn, or in the daytime. For his name’s sake. Amen.”
— The Worship Sourcebook, p.431

© 2018 Dan Sharp – All rights reserved