Lenten Devotional

Lent Day 41

Philip, John 12: 20 – 26

I love this guy, and I like the way the author writes about him. Philip says he doesn’t always understand what Jesus means even after being with Jesus for 3 years. Many of us have been following Jesus for a lot longer than 3 years and we don’t always understand him either.

In John’s gospel, this conversation happens right before the Last Supper. I would imagine things are getting intense. There are enough folks in Jerusalem for the Passover that have heard about Jesus’ teachings and miracles and they are trying to meet this famous but mysterious teacher. The only way to get to Jesus is through his disciples.

That is the same today. To get to Jesus, folks are going to have go through us. Even 2,000 years later there is still a lot of hype and talk about Jesus, but not always a lot of understanding — What did he really say? What does that mean today? How does that affect me? We are now the hands and feet, eye and ears, even the mouthpiece of our Lord on this earth – and that is scary. It hard to witness to others about Jesus when we really don’t even understand what the bible says. But this passage tells us what to do when we don’t get it – bring them to Jesus. Bring them to church. Bring them to the place where God speaks and we listen. Bring them with you to get their questions answered, and their answers questioned. It is OK to say we don’t know. Our job is just to be faithful, God will take care of the rest.

Easter services are at 7:30 and 10:30 so bring a friend.

Lent Day 40

Poor Widow, Mark 12:41-44

This passage represents a good biblical principle to live by. It reminds us that what we owe God is as important as what we owe to the bank or the phone company. We are to offer our gifts to God first, and then let the rest of our budget work around it.

Typically, we are most comfortable giving God ‘leftovers’. We develop our budget with all the known bills—car payments, insurance, rent, food, clothes – and then we see what we have left over. Out of that residual amount, which seems to get smaller and smaller each year, we determine if we have anything left to give God. That is a really bad habit to get into. We are to consider our gifts to God like this widow did, a priority. It is a leap of faith to put money in the plate each week and God greatly honors that faith.

God does not ask us to give beyond our means but God does not like getting the leftovers. Do you want God’s leftovers – left over mercy, left over joy? Of course not. So, think of it from God’s point of view — having to always stand in line behind payments to the gym (we don’t even go that much but maybe we will), or the money we keep for eating out (we deserve a break, don’t we?). For God, it is disrespectful. God sacrificed for us but we do not value that sacrifice enough to give more than leftovers?

As we journey to the cross together, let’s think about how much we value eternal life and the others gifts that God offers – love, joy, peace and hope, not to mention being declared joint heirs to the kingdom. Maybe we can re-evaluate our spending and giving habits so that we do a better job of honoring God’s sacrifice on our behalf.

Lent Day 38

Temple Merchant, Mark 11: 15-18

Note to self – Read the prayer first!

I was all set to write my thoughts on this passage and then I read the prayer, “keep me from getting in the way of others who wish to worship you.” Wow. Do you think that we are ever a stumbling block to others? Is it possible that our words, actions, or even our profession could turn people off from worship? Do people look at us and see hypocrisy instead of devotion and loyalty to our God?

The merchants in the temple courts made the people to jump through a lot of hoop before they could get right with God. It was hard enough to leave your farm or business and travel to Jerusalem but that was only the first of many obstacles. When you arrived in Jerusalem, you had to find lodging even if it was just a field in which to camp (think Disney World at prime season). Then you had to stand in line and exchange your regular roman currency for temple money – Cha Ching. With your temple money in hand, you paid to have your animal inspected for sacrifice – no one could begin the barbeque until this was done. If the animal failed to pass inspection, you could buy another one, at a premium of course. The priests had turned their religious practices into a great business venture, but the worship of God got lost in the process.

Our Book of Confessions contains the Westminster Shorter Catechism. The first question is the most well-known: What is the chief end of humanity? Answer: Our chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy God forever. We need to ensure that our focus as a church is as simple as that – finding ways to glorify God and enjoy God. What obstacles can we remove so that others are drawn in and not turned away?

Lent Day 37

Zacchaeus, Luke 19: 1 -10

The devotion brought up a point that I had not thought of before – maybe Zacchaeus came to see Jesus because he had heard that Jesus had another tax collector in his inner circle of friends. This would have been Matthew, also known as Levi, who tradition credits with writing the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus’ friendship with Matthew gave Zacchaeus hope – hope that he too could be befriended by Jesus, even when none of the other Jews wanted anything to do with him. Tax collectors were disowned by their countrymen – they were traitors working for Rome. Oddly enough the Romans didn’t like them either because they were Jews, the ones with the funny language, habits and traditions. Poor old Zach was stuck between a rock and a hard place.

We live in a world of opposing standards – people divided because of race, culture, religion – and it seems like it is getting worse. We are divided even within our groups and some folks act as if we have nothing in common with “them”, not even our humanity. This is not a new situation and there are ways to overcome this. Tradition tells us that when the Persians invaded and captured the cities in Israel in the 600s, they torn down churches all over the country yet one church in Bethlehem was spared. Why was this one church left untouched? Because when the Persians entered the church they saw a mural of the three wise men – their kin, their countrymen and left the church alone. That mural didn’t necessarily unite two opposing groups but it allowed them to see that at one time they had something in common and that gave them a starting point.

Who are the tax collectors of our day, the folks that are disliked or disowned because of their jobs, their religion, or their funny language and habits? Jesus calls us to befriend those that others shun, to welcome those like Zacchaeus that are purposely overlooked by the rest of society. Christianity is a radical religion – it is radical because we are called to love others – regardless of race, culture, nationality or language. Even those that do not love us. Jesus did this by making a friend, one person at a time. Who is God calling us to befriend today?

Lent Day 36

Mother of James and John, Matthew 20:20-28

In this passage, we have a very familiar situation. A parent wants the best for her children – and by the best she means opportunity, advancement, and recognition for demanding work. Here we have a mother who asked around to find the best synagogue teacher and the best donkey, field hockey league for her boys. She probably learned all the ways for them to get scholarships to Galilean Community College, too. And what is wrong with that? This is a good mother – we all know people like this, and in truth, many of us are very much like this person.

If our kids /grandkids have community service requirements for graduation or scholarships, don’t we stay abreast of how many hours they have done, or have left to go? Don’t we also look for opportunities to get the most hours for the least amount of work / pain? That is only smart. But what happens when they reach that required number? Do we insist that they keep on volunteering because God is blessed by our service to others, or do we congratulate them on meeting one milestone and encourage them to begin working on the next requirement for their opportunity and advancement? I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t in the second category.

Like the mother of James and John, many of us would like the reward for demanding work to equal power and prestige, but Jesus says we have the wrong formula (again). A Christian’s reward comes from service and that reward is more service, not advancement and recognition. Our service to one another is not a stepping stone to a higher level of prominence or prestige, it is just the opposite. Our service should make us aware of the overwhelming needs of others in the community so that we work harder and longer striving for justice. Instead of seeing a finish line defined by hours completed, we are to focus on the number of people still standing in line needing our help. It is a lifelong pursuit, not a once in a lifetime endeavor. We will set ourselves and our kids against God if we focus only on the prestige and advancement that the world offers and not the service to others which is pleasing to God.

(The phrase, “whoever wishes to be great among you must be the servant” flies in the face of the world’s wisdom and boy, if that is not the biggest oxymoron – the world’s wisdom!)