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Lent – An Unchanging Standard

Paul’s warning here is a straightforward and simple text to consider. It is a valuable guide during the time of Lent. He asks us to come to God in Humility, by not thinking you are better than you really are. Be Honest in your evaluation of yourselves, and measure ourselves accurately in Faith. Our measurement of our Faith can only be of value if we use a consistent standard and the only standard for Christians is God’s Word.

Let’s consider a day to day example to see the value of a consistent standard.  Baseball is Americas game so let’s take a look at how it grows with us. Depending on the age of the participant, base distances, backstop and outfield fences can all be different to allow the game to be both fun and competitive. We have seen developments and improvements in baseball that move, in leaps and bounds. The players are stronger and faster than ever and increasing their skills everyday. Athletes are better than they were a generation ago and vastly improved over several generations. We have for sure have better tools and resources, but it is a consistent measurement that has allowed for the advancement. In the areas above of the baseball field that change there is still one main link between offense and defense that is the exact same for all ages and always has been – HOMEPLATE. Think how quickly the game might change if the pitchers could widen the plate and the hitters could shrink it. Homeplate is 17 inches wide – for all ages, all leagues it is the standard that is the measurement and center of the game of baseball. Our lives have a standard that has always been there for our measurement, and that is God’s Word. If we change that standard based on our circumstances, our day to day emotions or someone else’s view of the standard then once it moves everything else moves and our lives quickly would evolve into chaos. May we always approach God’s Word with Humility, Honesty and the Courage to measure our lives by our Faith and then we can look for the improvements in our lives that can only come from Faith in God. 

Lent – A Time to Change Our Lives

Lent is technically the 40 days leading up to Easter ( excluding Sundays ). It is a reminder of Jesus 40 days of temptation in the wilderness and has historically been observed as a time of repentance and fasting. It is a period of time for review and examination of our lives and our mortality – it can be sad and depressing but it is also is a sobering reminder that our chance of death is actually 100%.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NLT)

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.

The Lenten season is intentionally set aside for examination, instruction, repentance and prayer. This season is one of preparation for all the people of God. The Lenten time of reflection brings our individual lives along-side God’s word so we can find areas of our relationship with God that we can improve. Review and sacrifice in Lent leads us to focus on how to reflect and honor God by living out His purpose each day.

The value of this review time is it asks us to dig deeper than the surface. It will not find us on the mountain top celebrating or in the deepest valleys because what we hope to find in Lent are areas hidden from even ourselves and we pray that Lent will make it visible to us.

Lent is the time for a restoration project that will reveal the beauty of God’s design for us, showing once again the scale, proportion, and priorities intended for us by our Maker. Further, Lent is a season of hope and with ashes on our foreheads and hope in our hearts, we go forth to love and serve. For by God’s grace in Christ, we do not have to stay the way we are.

Ashes of Hope

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of this 40-day liturgical period of prayer and fasting or abstinence. Ash Wednesday derives its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of adherents as a reminder of our human mortality, and as a sign of mourning and repentance before God.  Ash Wednesday is a day of repentance and it marks the beginning of Lent. Ashes were used in ancient times, according to the Bible, to express a person’s mourning. Dusting oneself with ashes was the penitent’s way of expressing sorrow for sins and faults. Ashes are the result of fire – they are the most basic form of any material. It serves to remind us that our bodies will one day die and be returned to their most basic form in the dust of the ground.

This was bad news for Adam. And it is bad news for us. Like Adam, we have come from dust, and to dust we will return. Throughout our lives, our dusty bodies remind us of our mortality, when they get sick, or when they work imperfectly, or when they age, or when they stop working altogether.

Often, our bodies are the instruments of sin, rather than of God-honoring works of worship. Of course, many good things come from our bodies, including new human life, fulfilling work, loving embraces, and acts of charity. The inherent goodness of our bodies has not been obliterated by sin, though it has been tarnished and twisted.
So Ash Wednesday begins with bad news. It invites us into a time of extended contemplation and contrition, as we consider during Lent just how much we need One to save us from our sin. Ash Wednesday also signifies hope. The ashes that are imposed on our heads form the shape of a cross. Sometimes these crosses are obvious; sometimes more subtle, but the very stuff that symbolizes our mortality and sin also alludes to that which has set us free. It reminds us that God has entered into our human condition in order to break the power of sin and welcome us into the fullness of his eternal life. It is not a day to focus on the cross so much as a time to begin to realize just how much we need the cross.

May what we fast from during Lent be minor in comparison to what God can help us add to improve our relationship with Him.

A Sign of the Times ….

MARK 8: 11-12
11 When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had arrived, they came and started to argue with him. Testing him, they demanded that he show them a miraculous sign from heaven to prove his authority. 12 When he heard this, he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why do these people keep demanding a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, I will not give this generation any such sign.” 13 So he got back into the boat and left them ….
It seems like we are always using our relationship with God as a measure of certainty for our Faith. We want to be certain that we are on the right path without any risk or steps of faith on our part. We would like for God to not only shine a light on our path but also to put up some road signs along the way that tell us we are where he wants us to be. We often say we are waiting on a sign from God or the more popular phrase today is “God’s Got This” and while that is true and may be helpful, it is like affirming the earth God created is round – of course it is and of course he’s got this because he has everything. There is nothing wrong with using these certainties to affirm our faith in God and to support one another but in our daily walk with God how do we live out our faith? 
Hebrews 11:1 Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. The writer of Hebrews asks us to look beyond what we can see to our hopes and dreams so that God can accomplish His purpose and fulfill our faith. To do that maybe we need to send a sign to God that we are willing and able to move and act on His behalf. We can send Him a sign that our Faith lives in our hearts and our actions. He might in turn send a sign ( evidence ) that the purpose He has for our faith is both real and working. Then may our lives of faith be seen as a sign by others that God is real by the evidence of our lives.

History and Truth

While we can learn valuable things looking into our past in learning from our failures too often that can consume a lot of time digging into the details that may or may not contribute to improving our future. The Negatives of the past often overshadow our lives – we have to work to realize that our past is now a TRUTH. It cannot be changed, it is not flexible or open for opinion. The Good News in it for us is that this translation from Isaiah on “former things” and “dwelling on the past” cover things back In our past as well as recent failures we may have experienced. God asks Isaiah to take his past as a Truth but to know it is overshadowed by the Truth of today in the new things God is doing in his life. We try to teach our youth that the past can’t be changed and can only be managed by how we let it affect our future path. In baseball and strike is a strike and in 100 years when the scorebook is found in the dusty corner of a dugout it will still be a strike. While the call cannot be changed and is now a part of the Truth in life it has no power over the future of a hitter or pitcher.

We strive to realize that our past only controls us when we stay stuck in it and not come to a point of understanding it as a learning point:

  • You cannot change your past, but you can change how you react to it.
  • You are much wiser now based on the knowledge our past brings to us.
  • You are not the same person you used to be, so you do not have to make the same mistakes you once made.

What can always be of value, is looking at our past from the view point of neither success or failure but from a perspective of how have we lived and treated others. When we leave this life the only measure that will hold up and prevail over time is how we treated others – did we help and love our neighbors, family and friends.  Were our decisions and actions with others ethical and moral and would they be pleasing to God. More importantly do we truly believe in Faith that God is always working on a new beginning and can we see it, can we see the way he is making for us in the wilderness of our day to day world.

Faith Moves

We often begin our walk of faith by working and serving in areas where we can see both where we are and where we are going. If we step away from this spiritually for a moment we can see where the safety and predictability of these actions will accomplish many things that while useful, may not serve our purpose for God. This could leave us in a dangerous place of comparing our success and failure to others around us. It is a natural human instinct and sometimes based on our circumstances can be hard to move past. We often limit our Faith to what we can logically reason out and fit within our box of understanding. In other words, we want to see the path clearly from where we are to where we are going to end up.  The writer of Hebrews helps us to understand that faith requires us to go into areas where even with a plan we do not know the path and yet hope in our faith takes us along the journey for God.

Hebrews 11:1(NLT)

1:Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.

If faith then, is a step for us where we give control to God then we become a living part of God’s purpose. The great, and scary, part of living out this purpose is that God has an expectation of us to do “our” best – not average, not compared to anyone else but our best for Him every day. God has no limit like we have in logic and reason, and Faith will often carry us into areas we cannot explain. We only pray and work to realize the unlimited potential a day brings and recognize that we bring the only limit to our faith in each day.

“Faith has no limit – The only limit to our realization of tomorrow is the doubt we hold onto from today.”

Garbiel – The Travelers Gift

Faith Works

If God’s Grace is the movement of God for our salvation through Jesus Christ then the next move is ours.  Faith is our belief in God’s work and while Faith cannot be seen it is the fuel by which we accomplish the purpose God has called each of us to in His service. Faith moves our experience of Grace into action through our lives. Our human nature can sometimes allow us to become lazy and just cruise along simply existing in life. God did not create us to exist but to live our lives as an expression of our relationship with Him. James reminds us that Faith requires action –

We are all within God’s purpose whether we have made a confession of Faith or not. If we have not then His purpose can only be to move us to make a confession of belief in Jesus Christ so we can then exercise our Faith.  If we have confirmed our belief in Jesus Christ, then our Faith lives in our actions that allow us to fulfill God’s purpose. Our prayer today is that our Faith will move us to actions in our lives that reflect God’s presence in our hearts.

A New Year – A New Light

All of our actions in life initiate a consequence and result. That result is seen by others and is most often how we are viewed and judged by those who see these actions. If our actions are negative and selfish then they will reflect our human desires and our self-centered character. If they are positive and generate a positive result for our lives and for others, then they reflect a God centered character. Our negative actions can carry consequences that further impact us negatively as well as those that we hurt from our actions. Our positive actions reflect the Light of Jesus Christ inside of us. That light of Truth should shine from our action so that others see Christ in us.

It is amazing that if you are in the daylight the dark corners and alleys are easy to see and avoid but if you are in complete darkness only a tiny point of light will be easily seen and attracting to us. God also works that way – The light of Christ can be easily seen no matter how dark the room we are in and the more light we have in our life the easier it is to avoid the dark corners and stay in the light.

God calls us to life of faithful actions that reflect His love thru our lives to others. These are the works of Faith and actions that we pray for in this New Year. May God bless us all with His light and may we reflect that light for the world so see each day.

A New Start – 2020

It is always refreshing to start something new. To be able to begin with a clear mind and conscious on a new white sheet of paper with unlimited possibilities. Our biggest challenge is to actually start with the freedom that we have in front of us without letting the past color too much of our new start. Of all the strengths from our relationship with Jesus Christ one of the most powerful is that of forgiveness. Each day becomes a new opportunity in our lives to live out and share God’s love in our lives with others. If this were true in our lives then why do we struggle so much with the freedom of a new life?

Could it be that our old life had some advantages to us ? We were comfortable, everyone knew what to expect, no explaining to do, no different actions to take. People appreciated and accepted us in our flawed state and we were all good with one another. Wow, I am glad we got that aligned I thought this was going to get complicated for a minute …… We are all comfortable in our flawed lives and living at or below the expectations of others and to ourselves not to mention God.

The rich young ruler in Mark 10 – lived his life to the best of his ability and sought Jesus humbly to determine how he might obtain eternal life but his real motive was of human intent in that he wanted an eternal life with the qualities of this life? He calls Jesus good and the next statement is often taken as just that a statement that by itself is true and right but it can also be a question that Jesus poses to the young man to gage the seriousness of his intent.  

Mark 10:18 18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. “Only God is truly good.

Does he believe he is talking to God or simply a teacher that has an answer he knows he cannot get answered anywhere else? If he feels good about his life up to this point then certainly he has less left to do in attaining eternal life than many others right ? Jesus knowing his heart confirms for him what he must do and the young man confirms he has kept the commandments to the best of his human ability for most of his life – the text VS 21

21 Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him.  says that,

and told him he had one thing he had not done – go and release all that he had but the text says he had many possessions and he could not part with them on faith alone. Jesus uses money once again, though not the real topic here, to illustrate the physical and spiritual struggle we have in our day to day lives when we reflect. The good comes thru and the things we have neglected or failed at we would rather skip but these are the very things God wants us to focus on and give from our spirits beyond our physical selves.  Time, money, energy, talent …… still not enough because the spiritual requires an acknowledgment of God being first – dependence on Him.

If we can reflect and plan forward giving him control of our lives then we can accomplish many things that are not physically possible today because we have not allowed God to make them possible for us.

Mark 10:26-27   26 The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked. 27 Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible.  But not with God. Everything is possible with God.”