Archive for March, 2011
Has something happened in your life lately for which you cannot find comfort? Do you yearn for the days prior to this event? Does God seem far away? Do you wonder if God’s steadfast love for you has ended? Do you feel God has suddenly changed from a gracious God to an angry one? Does this make living with the aftermath of the event even more horrible? The psalmist reminds us that, to remember how God has been and always will be—gracious, steadfast, ever-loving and forgiving—is not just a fond hope but the reality of every day of our lives. This always-generous God even loved us so much that God was willing to die for us. May you be comforted by the witness of the psalmist’s faith in the midst of your suffering.
Ever-present God, we cling to your love for us in all things. Amen.
For centuries, theologians have tried to describe how Jesus can simultaneously be fully God and fully human. As we begin our Lenten journey, this story about the temptation of Jesus reminds me of what someone once said: “I am a Christian because I believe that as a human being, Jesus knows firsthand what I’m experiencing. So when I pray to him, I know he knows what I’m talking about.” Temptation is a daily part of our human lives. We can look at ourselves honestly during this holy season and trust that the forgiveness and comfort offered to us by Jesus takes seriously all of human experience. Even though we may not know exactly how to talk about it, we trust that Immanuel, God-with-us, is indeed the one who suffered, died and was raised for us—and who knows our human experience intimately.
Jesus, as you guide us, we commend our Lenten journey to you. Amen.
We don’t have to understand Paul’s reasoning to appreciate his central truth and the difference it makes for our lives. Even though we daily observe humankind’s failure to live out relationships of love and justice, our failure is not God’s final verdict. Condemnation is not what God metes out. Our propensity to turn away from God and be deceived about who we are is in our DNA. But God’s grace, inexplicable and magnanimous, is more than enough to bring us into right relationship with God. Restored repeatedly by God’s great love, just as the psalmist prayed we would be (Psalm 51:10-12), we are bold to engage this tear-filled world with hope for justice and peace.
Faithful Lord, thank you for loving us more than we could imagine. May profound gratitude for your generous gifts shape our relationships with your people and all creation. Amen.
Both Paul and Isaiah remind us that we are not cast away from God’s presence. We receive the gift of God’s own Holy Spirit at our baptism into the body of Christ. But in our daily lives we often lose sight of that life-giving gift and our calling to be ambassadors of God. Or we grow weary and weak. It is not easy to love our neighbors in a world where love is not often welcome or to speak truthfully in a world that loves deceit. The Psalmist knows that God alone can restore our awareness, our joy in a relationship with creation and its creator. Only God can sustain us through all those things that would rob us of joy and darken our vision.
Let us simply lift our hearts with the psalmist and pray, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and sustain in me a willing spirit.” Amen.
On Ash Wednesday, worship leads us to contemplate the brevity of every life on earth. Even as we remember our mortality, we hear Isaiah’s words, calling us into the fullness, beauty, healing and light of earthly life. As we turn toward God’s creatures with love, seeking to provide what is needed for their lives, we discover that we have turned also toward God, who welcomes us with open arms. We humble creatures cannot control what lies beyond this world; that power belongs to God. The joy of our lives is serving one another, delighting in God’s presence and trusting in God’s future.
Prayer: Almighty God, may we fast this Lent from the pride and fear that keep us from one another. Help us recognize that true worship of you means true love for one another. Open our ears to hear you say, “Here I am” when we turn toward one another in generous love. Amen.
How shocking to imagine that God makes appeals through us ordinary men and women. Are we really speaking and acting as God’s ambassadors wherever we are in the world? This is exactly what St. Paul claims about himself and about us as well. Paul insists that, no matter what happens to us, we show the world something of God’s love by reaching out as God has done—in holiness of spirit and genuine love. Can you picture this? What if Christians proclaimed their God by engaging the world as God did in Christ and does in the Holy Spirit?
Loving God, loving us humans has been hard. It cost you your beloved son. But you have never given up on us, never abandoned us. Open our eyes and hearts to be ambassadors for you by loving our fellow creatures with the holy generosity and perseverance you provide. Amen.
This past week, in a message I entitled, Stronger than Prison Bars, I looked at Peter’s miraculous escape from what we might call today a maximum security prison. His circumstances certainly qualified as a “dead-end.” Literally, he would have been executed the following morning had God not intervened on his behalf.
If you read Acts chapter 12 you can’t help but notice the connection between Peter’s incredible getaway and its association with the church’s prayers. Acts 12:5 ESV says, “So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.” For me, the key word in this verse is “but…” It represents the decisive reason for the positive outcome. Now, although we know that God’s will is ultimately determined by His sovereignty, the Bible is clear that He is affected and moved by the prayers of His people. In Jeremiah 33:3 KJV God himself urges us to pray to him when he says, “Call unto me and I will answer thee and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.” Well, the believers in the Early Church clearly decided to call on God and the results were phenomenal. Even though they prayed with an obvious lack of faith (see Acts 12:14,15), their perseverance and sincerity more than made up for their unbelief. I find this candid description of their spiritual duplicity strangely comforting.
Clearly Luke is allowing us to see the Early Church as it really was and not as our idealized or romanticized assumption would lead us to believe. Here we do not see the Early Church as a bunch of super faith-filled heroes and heroines. Instead we see them as real human being who wrestled with the same kind of muddled, half-believing, faith-one-minute-and-doubt-the-next-minute struggle that most of us face. In reality, they were people very much like ourselves.
But with that said, their prayers still allowed them to participate in something truly extraordinary. Their “earnest” prayers were heard and God’s will was done on earth as it is in heaven.
So, what about you? Do you believe that prayer with just a little faith in a big God can still yield great result? I hope so! Jesus told us in Matthew 7:7 NLT “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.”
In the famous Christian allegory, Pilgrims Progress, there is a point when Christian receives his armor. One of the weapons he receives is called, “All prayer.” The author of this famous allegory, John Bunyon, undoubtedly had Ephesians 6:18 in mind when he drew this analogy. “Praying at all times in the Spirit, with ALL PRAYER and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.” Christian was actually given this weapon so that if every other weapon failed, it could still keep him in good safety. Later in the book, Christian actually uses his weapon of “ALL PRAYER,” to prevail against the fiends which attack him in the Valley of the Shadow. It says that when “He poured out his soul in fervent prayer; they fell back and came no further.”
In our lives today all of us are facing fiends of various kinds. Fear fiends, financial fiends, failure fiends, frustration fiends, fatigue fiends, family fiends. Even so, I believe that if we will follow the example of the Early Church and begin to use the ultimate weapon of “All prayer,” our problems will begin to “fall back and come no further” as well.
I hope you will take to heart the story of Peter’s release from prison and remember that when every other gate is shut and locked, the gate to heaven is always wide open. All we have to do is take advantage of that open gate through prayer.