1 John 1:8 “If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense.”
None of us would ever think to claim that we are perfect. We all recognize that as arrogance. But perhaps we claim to be free from sin by our silence. How often do we truly confess our shortcomings and faults to God let alone another person? In her book Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation, Ruth Haley Barton suggests,
“Confession is the endgame in the self-examination process, but it is the part we shrink from most. Confession requires the willingness to acknowledge and take responsibility not only for the outward manifestations of our sin but also for the inner dynamics that produced the sinful or negative behaviors. Confession requires us to say our failure out loud to ourselves, to God and to the person(s) we have hurt and to take steps to renounce it for Christ’s sake, even making restitution if that is needed.” (103)
If we are not involved with confession at some level maybe we are claiming to be without sin. Maybe this week God is calling you to explore confession on a deeper level.
Romans 8:27 “If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans.”
Ever been at a loss for words? Sometimes we encounter things that are either so wonderful or so horrible that we can’t find words that adequately express our reaction to them. Sometimes these become places of prayer. We want to bring them before God but we don’t know what to say. In the passage above Paul tells his friends in Rome not to be overly concerned when they can’t find the words to pray. He says that God actually does the praying for us. If we bring our hearts to God, God will make the prayer happen. This is a mystery but it may be one worth exploring this week.
Mark 10:51 Jesus said, “What can I do for you?”
The above is Jesus’ response to Bartimaeus, a blind beggar he met along the road. The needs of a blind beggar should be pretty apparent, so why does Jesus ask? The only reason I can think of is that Jesus wants to interact with this person on a deeper level than just that of miracle worker. He wants the opportunity to hear the man open himself at the level of his deepest needs and desires. Maybe that is what he wants with us also. If Jesus asked you this question what would be your response? Ruth Haley Barton in her book Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation (pg 24) comments on this:
Now if I had been in Bartimaeus’s shoes, I might have gotten a little impatient with a question whose answer is so obvious. “What do you mean, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Isn’t it obvious? And besides, this is getting a little personal, don’t you think? We don’t know each other that well!” But on another level, the level where the spiritual journey is unfolding, it is a question that penetrates to the very core of our being. And it is very, very personal. It brings us face to face with our humanness, our vulnerability, our need. If we let it, such a question strips away the layers of pretense and superficiality to expose what is truest within us. And that is a very tender place indeed.
Live with the question “what do you want Jesus to do for you?” this week. Don’t be satisfied with your first response but ask it over and over on different days in different settings. You might be surprised at what you find.
Revelation 21:6 “The Enthroned continued, “Look! I’m making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate.”
I believe that it is part of Christianity to make our political decisions an act of living out the faith. As I’ve tried to be more responsible about this during the past eight years that I’ve been a pastor. I have listened (sometimes more than others) to the way issues are presented in the media. One approach I have taken is to listen to MSNBC immediately followed by some time on Fox News. Both organizations present themselves as objective journalists, but you go away from each with the impression that whatever issue was being discussed has a very clear right side and wrong side. They sometimes have data to support their conclusions, but sometimes statements are just thrown out that are assumed to be self-evident. Check out the health-care debate as an example. So, whom do you believe? It is a fundamental concern of life; this matter of what is “dependable and accurate.” We are bombarded with hundreds of messages daily. Which are worth paying attention to? Which can be trusted? Christians have professed that the bible, despite the difficult things in it, contains truth about God that can be relied upon. Many people dismiss this idea without ever thoughtfully reading the bible. We just completed reading the New Testament together here at Logan. At one chapter a day, which usually takes only about 5 minutes to read, the whole New Testament can be completed in 8.5 months. Wouldn’t that be worthwhile if you found things that were “dependable and accurate” about God and life? Why not give it a try this week?
Revelation 17:9 “But don’t drop your guard. Use your head. The seven heads are seven hills; they are where the woman sits.”
As we complete our reading of the New Testament at Logan we find ourselves in Revelation. This book is one wild ride and people have done many creative and powerful things in their interpretation of it through the centuries. The above passage indicates that certain things are thinly veiled references to the Roman Empire, the force threatening the original readers of this book. The woman is called “the whore of Babylon” in other places. The idea is that a spirit of domination permeates our world. It is the desire to conquer and impose one’s own will. It can be found in Babylon or Assyria or Persia or Rome or the Third Reich. It is the power that opposes God by saying we are the elite and therefore deserve our lion’s share of influence and material goods. It is seductive, luring us to believe in our own superiority. It is also the force that is overcome by Christ in the narrative of Revelation. Ultimately, each of us is called to place our allegiance either in these worldly powers or in the power of servanthood displayed in the death and resurrection of Christ. Look around you this week. What powers do you see? With whom have you allied yourself?
Acts 20:21 I taught you out in public and I taught you in your homes, urging Jews and Greeks alike to a radical life-change before God and an equally radical trust in our Master Jesus.
This is Paul telling his friends what he wanted them to remember about him. What he is emphasizing is that he told everyone he could, everywhere he could, the things he knew about God. We live in a mass media age where TV, movies and music are viewed by millions of people around the world. A recent Utube video made a Scottish housewife an overnight celebrity to millions as clips of her singing on the British version of American Idol circulated around the globe. But when you think of the places in your life where the greatest impact was made I bet you can associate a flesh and blood personal encounter with another human. At our Reunion Sunday yesterday many folks saw pictures of people that God used in their lives to share deep and meaningful spiritual experiences. It seems it always comes down to another human being to spread this God thing; Jesus, Paul, your parents, your Sunday school teacher. Sooner or later it becomes your turn to be that person who embodies and shares the love of God to another. As in Paul’s case, it may be someone you might not expect or someplace you might not have planned. The possibilities are everywhere God is present, and God is present everywhere. If we are attentive to God, we too can become part of God’s story today. Maybe years from now someone will be telling others how God used you in their life. That would be a pretty great thing.
John 20:30-31: Jesus provided far more God-revealing signs than are written down in this book. These are written down so you will believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and in the act of believing, have real and eternal life in the way he personally revealed it.
Some people believe this is where the gospel of John ended originally and that chapter 21 was added later. It certainly does make a good ending. What it says is that we don’t have everything that happened but we have what we need. It stands in contrast with Thomas who a few verses earlier proclaimed that he needed more, that he needed to touch the holes in Jesus’ hands and side. We would all like more, wouldn’t we? We would like things explained and revealed on our terms, the way we like them and in ways we find comfortable. Sometimes we get closer to this experience and sometimes it seems far away. But what if, despite the incompleteness of our understanding and experience, we really do have what we need to live life in God’s grace and goodness? What if, instead of always wanting and sometimes demanding more, we lived like what God has provided is truly enough, both spiritually and physically? May your rest in God’s “enough” this week.
John 6:38 Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life. The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever.
This is a pretty outrageous claim that Jesus is making here. Can you imagine never getting hungry again? I can rarely make it from meal to meal without wanting a snack in between (I’m munching on an apple as I write this). Of course, Jesus is talking about spiritual hunger and thirst here, not physical. Just the same, I don’t know anyone who claims to have complete contentment in his or her spiritual life. We live with ups and downs, hopes and doubts, moments of intimacy with God and times of apparent abandonment. So is Jesus just blowing smoke here? I don’t think so. I’m hungry and thirsty a lot but not to the point of real need. I may want more but I never fear starving or dehydration. Maybe Jesus is using a little hyperbole here to let us know that the fulfillment he provides is substantive if not exhaustive. What I mean is that what Jesus does for us as the bread of life makes a real difference in our inner lives, a difference that is solid and lasting and satisfying, even if it still ebbs and flows. Even Jesus experienced the anguish of the Garden of Gethsemane and the suffering of the cross. The folks who wrote the gospels had their share of persecution and disappointment. Yet through all that they were willing to proclaim that the reality of their faith was still enough to keep them going. Maybe there are more ways to feed on this bread of life than we a willing to try and maybe we would hunger and thirst even less if we were more accepting of this nourishment. But beyond our effort, or lack thereof, is the presence of Christ through faith that in its most basic form is enough in itself. Have a slice of that bread this week.
Luke 9:28 About eight days after saying this, he climbed the mountain to pray, taking Peter, John, and James along. While he was in prayer, the appearance of his face changed and his clothes became blinding white.
Thus begins Luke’s account of what we call the Transfiguration. The traditional churches always take note of this on the last Sunday before Lent. The gospel writers view this event as a glimpse of Christ’s glory that gave strength to the disciples as they followed Jesus to Jerusalem and witnessed the suffering he experienced there. The church uses this event in the same way as we figuratively journey with Jesus during Lent. The interesting thing about Luke’s account is that he alone of the gospel writers frames the action with prayer. Maybe the other authors assumed their readers would know that Jesus took the three disciples apart to pray and that, of course, that’s what Jesus was doing when Moses and Elijah showed up. Luke doesn’t want to leave any room for his readers to miss that point and states it plainly. In our culture we often think of Lent in terms of giving up something: candy, TV, whatever. But giving up something is only significant if it makes extra, special time and space to focus on God. More than anything else, Lent is a call to prayer. It is an opportunity to come away from all the motion and stress of the regular routine and be still in the presence of the creator and redeemer of the world. It just may be that like the disciples in this story, in doing so, we will see Jesus in a new or deeper way. Take the gift of Lent this year, the gift of carving out an added place in your life to be with God.
Luke 2:41-43 Every year Jesus’ parents traveled to Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up as they always did for the Feast. When it was over and they left for home, the child Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents didn’t know it.
Did you ever lose a child? I’ve done it. Fortunately they survived, and I don’t think did any long-term damage. But in that moment of discovery that this life that has been entrusted to your care is no longer with you, you experience a range of emotions from anger to bewilderment to panic. Then you turn around and retrace your steps hoping to find where your paths parted. It happened to Jesus’ parents in this story. It sometimes happens to us with to Jesus and our faith. We can be going along and all of a sudden realize that somewhere along the way Jesus, who once seemed to be with us, isn’t there anymore. Maybe that’s where you are now. The only thing to do is to turn around (this is what repentance means) and return to where you were last connected to Christ. It may be in church at the holidays. It may be in an experience of nature. It may be in reading the Bible. It may be in sharing with a friend. Where ever you are in your faith, look around. If Jesus isn’t there, turn around and reconnect. Just like in the story, Jesus is still where you left him.