February 14, 2018 – Ash Wednesday-Remember God NOW- Ecclesiastes 12:6-7, Matthew 12:43-45

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Remember him—before the silver cord is severed, and the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, and the wheel broken at the well, and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. Ecclesiastes 12:6-7 (NIV)

Today Lent begins. Traditionally Lent is a season of examination, repentance, sacrifice, and getting our priorities straight. If we accept the challenge, Lent can be a time of great spiritual growth for us. This Lent begins a journey- a journey with Jesus to the Cross.

It is interesting that Solomon, the Teacher, implores us to remember God NOW. Surrendering to God and getting closer to Him is not something to be checked off the bucket list at the last minute, but something to do NOW, before the bucket list comes into play.

Ash Wednesday is an opportunity for us to reflect not only on our mortality and our sins and all the ways we fall short of God’s expectations for us, but it is also a time to reflect on how we “do life.” Yes, we should confess and repent (repent means: to turn away from) of our sins.  As we reflect upon our sins and repent, we should also be mindful that turning from sin and those things that fail to glorify God has another essential component.

When we give up something harmful, what beneficial, God-honoring thing do we take up?  There is a great deal of truth to Grandma’s old saying, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”  If we aren’t intentionally pursuing the things that God intends for us, we will occupy ourselves with any old thing, and given human nature, many of those idle things do not bring glory to God.

Jesus put it this way: “When a defiling evil spirit is expelled from someone, it drifts along through the desert looking for an oasis, some unsuspecting soul it can bedevil. When it doesn’t find anyone, it says, ‘I’ll go back to my old haunt.’ On return it finds the person spotlessly clean, but vacant. It then runs out and rounds up seven other spirits more evil than itself and they all move in, whooping it up. That person ends up far worse off than if he’d never gotten cleaned up in the first place.

“That’s what this generation is like: You may think you have cleaned out the junk from your lives and gotten ready for God, but you weren’t hospitable to my kingdom message, and now all the devils are moving back in.” Matthew 12:43-45 (MSG)

There’s no sense in cleaning house and cleaning up our lives unless we surrender our lives to God to put them to good use. The discipline of surrender is simply inviting Jesus to clean us up, and then inviting Him to move on in.  He’s the one at work here, not us. Grace, love, and joy happen when we let go and let Him in. He actively brings about God’s kingdom through us here on earth.

How are we responding to the grace of God NOW? Are we honestly praying the most difficult petition of the Lord’s Prayer- “Thy will be done?”  Are we listening to the Holy Spirit when He responds?

There is nothing wrong with the tradition of “giving something up for Lent.” Sacrifice is a beneficial discipline for Jesus followers.  Yet along with giving up harmful things, and/or getting rid of the clutter, we are called to take up our own cross and live surrendered and sacrificially as we follow Jesus.  We are called to live the God-life NOW, not as something to check off our bucket list, but as something to embrace NOW, because our time here is fleeting and not at all guaranteed.

Life on this earth is a limited time offer. We are called to get out there- NOW- and live it in response to God Who has given it to us.

 

 

February 13, 2018 – Mardi Gras- Fat Tuesday- Shrove Tuesday- Eat, Drink and Be Merry? Ecclesiastes 3, 6:2, 8:15, Hebrews 12:1-2

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God gives some people wealth, possessions and honor, so that they lack nothing their hearts desire, but God does not grant them the ability to enjoy them, and strangers enjoy them instead. This is meaningless, a grievous evil. Ecclesiastes 6:2 (NIV)

So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun. Ecclesiastes 8:15 (NIV)

Today is a sort of unusual holiday. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, which most people are aware of. Most people have also heard of Mardi Gras, which is French for Fat Tuesday.  It sounds a little better in French!  Mardi Gras traditions can include parties, drinking, debauchery, and basically “getting your sin on” before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.

More conservative Mardi Gras observers use the occasion to get rid of all the rich food and sweet treats that people tend to give up during Lent. There’s a reason for today being referred to as Fat Tuesday. It may be some people’s last day to eat chocolate for awhile.

It’s not that possessions, food or enjoying what life has to offer are bad things. We shouldn’t go through life as drab, dull no-fun Nellies. God’s gifts can be unappreciated or misused, but inherently and of themselves, the “finer things in life” are good gifts. God gives us those things for us to enjoy and to share them.

We should celebrate when it is time to celebrate. We should not be afraid or ashamed of eating, drinking or being glad in the proper time and context.  However, Solomon (the Teacher of Ecclesiastes) warns us against a lack of balance. Over or under doing it just isn’t a good thing. Throughout the book of Ecclesiastes Solomon shares his wisdom that there is a time and a place for “every purpose under heaven.” (See Ecclesiastes 3.)

As we enter the season of Lent it is good to be thankful for God’s good gifts, and to enjoy them. It is also a good time for us to examine how we can better serve God with the gifts we have been given.

For Jesus followers, rather than overindulging in the secular bacchanalias that can accompany Mardi Gras, (and the accompanying hangovers and heartburn!) today it might be better to consider observing Shrove Tuesday.  To be “shriven” is an old way of saying to get rid of those things that fail to glorify God, and to be forgiven and to start fresh.  It’s a good day to confess and forsake our sins and accept God’s forgiveness.

The writer of Hebrews encouraged us to: …throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. Hebrews 12:1-2 (NIV)

This Shrove Tuesday, may the Holy Spirit show us the things that hinder us so that we can throw them off, and may we fix our eyes on Jesus today and every day.

February 7, 2018- The Chief of Sinners, and the Only Savior- 1 Timothy 1:15-17, James 2:10, 1 John 1:9

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This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. 1 Timothy 1:15-17 (NKJV)

The apostle Paul has an interesting back story. Here was the Pharisee Saul, a guy with a reputation for killing Christians- who by the transforming power of God became the apostle Paul, who was arguably the most powerful and influential Christian thinker and writer of all time.

Paul ended up having to endure much for the sake of his faith in Jesus. He endured prison, persecution and according to historical tradition, (though not recorded in Scripture,) died as a martyr by beheading.

How many of us could claim to be Chief of Sinners? It’s a good bet all of us have some pretty long lists. Some translations of the verse above from 1 Timothy say, “Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.” (NIV) or “of whom I am foremost.” (NRSV) It is the same message, just a bit less poetic.  If anyone is feeling sin-free (which is unlikely,) the apostle James reminds us that everyone who violates just one little teeny part of the Law violates all of it.

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. James 2:10 (NIV)

The title of Chief Sinner falls upon every one of us.

In the Lutheran tradition we tend not to be terribly overbearing on the sinner label, because we focus upon the grace of God in Christ, and that is a good thing.  If being a sinner were the end of it, then we would all be nothing more than the Chief of Sinners, just like Saul / Paul was, but without any hope of being transformed into saints of God.

Confession is indeed good for the soul, and it is for our own benefit to stay in conversation with God in prayer and meditation. Confession is one of the most difficult of the spiritual disciplines, but it is well worth the initial discomfort and squirminess. It is a good idea for us to confess to God and to a trusted believer who can pray for and with us, but it is God alone who forgives us.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 (NIV)

The interesting part of this is that God didn’t say, “I only forgive this, but not that.”  He says we are both forgiven and purified. Our God is far bigger than our sins and failures.  He can overcome anything.

Everyone who follows Jesus has the potential to transform the world around him or her. God can overcome our sorry back stories, our most tragic failures, and outright sins and work in and through us to encourage and inspire others.

Lent is coming soon. Lent is a season of penitence, but it isn’t about punishment. Lent should be seen as being cathartic- a time for getting rid of old garbage so we are free to take in what’s healthy and good and beneficial. Rather than seeing Lent just as a time of “giving up something,” why not see if the Holy Spirit would like us to take up something edifying for ourselves and others?   When we Chief Sinners confess our sins, and surrender ourselves to Jesus, we are forgiven and purified, set free for God’s purpose- so what does that mean in practical application?