Friday, January 18, 2019

I will run in the way of your commandments
when you enlarge my heart!      Psalms 119.32

There was one word that stood out to me as I read this. It's the word 'when'. (I find it fascinating how a simple word can make such a difference.)

The first line of this verse holds a bold promise. The psalmist pledges himself to run. That's a commitment to devote himself not just to work at obeying this or that command but rather to pursue a particular way of looking at life, one that is based on the commandments. That really is saying something.

But this is where the 'when' shows up. It adds a very important element to that bold promise. The psalmist knows that keeping that promise isn't going to happen until God acts. He needs to do something to the psalmist. He needs to make it possible for our friend to actually live in that way.

This is a glorious expression of the writer’s dependence on God's grace. If there is no grace then there will be no life of obedience. But if God gives this grace…

And our friend is quite optimistic when it comes to God acting in this way. He doesn't say 'if you enlarge my heart' but rather 'when'.

There is great comfort in living in this way, in believing this part of the Gospel. It is God's grace that makes the seemingly impossible actually happen. And our God is eager to give us all the grace that we need.

For Sunday

Reading of the Law of God
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5.3

Confession of Sin
Our Father, we confess to You that we are not poor in spirit. Sadly, we are too like those around us. We think so well of ourselves. We are proud. We do not recognize how poor and weak and needy we really are. We do not believe this part of the Gospel very well. We acknowledge our sin. We ask that You would forgive us. We ask that You would change us. We ask this only because of Jesus, our Savior. Amen.

Declaration of Pardon
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" John 1.29

May almighty God, who sent his Son into the world to save sinners, bring you his pardon and peace, now and for ever.
The Book of Common Prayer

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Hell

Today, I’m going to deal with another challenging topic from the Bible. I’m going to talk to you about hell. Doing this, considering the fate of those condemned by God, their eternal torment, will not be pleasant. But examining what the Scriptures have to say about hell can be very helpful to you. And that is why I bring up the topic. So, I ask that you give serious attention to what I’m going to be telling you.

The Scriptures describe hell with striking images. I will mention a few of them. But before I do that, let me give you a basic definition.

Hell is the place where those who have been condemned by God will suffer the penalty for their rebellion against Him. Their punishment will be painful on several different levels, and will last forever.

And now for some of the Bible’s images of what that will be like.

A Prayer

Father,
You have called us to love You. We work at that. And we work at that because we want to love You. You have called us to obey You. And we also work at that. And we, likewise, work at that because we want to. But there is another thing that You call us to. You call us to fear You. And that confuses us. How do we work at that?

Father, Your Word says that perfect love casts out fear. And Your love certainly is perfect. So, what does it mean for us, who have experienced Your perfect love, to fear You?

Father, in Your Word You have made it clear that fear, the right kind of fear, comes as we get to know You. Fear grows as we understand that, though we are made in Your image, though we reflect something of who You are – fear grows as we understand that we are nothing like You.

You are the Creator. You have created everything that we see, as well as all that we don't see. And You have created all of this from nothing. We can't do that.

You are the Sustainer. You keep Your creation going second by second. That we and everything else exist in this very moment is only because You sustain creation. We can’t do that either.

You are the Eternal. There was no beginning for You. There will be no end for You. Time doesn’t even apply to You. It is something You created. We are completely bounded by time and always will be.

You are completely independent. You have no needs of any sort for something else to meet. We are full of needs.

We can apply words to these notions to describe You, but that doesn't mean that we actually understand them. And that makes You mysterious. There are some aspects of who You are that we might gain some faint notion about. But there are aspects of who You are that we will never have even a feeble inkling of understanding about, not in this life or even in the next. But You know us through and through.

Father, we need to understand better who You are so that we will understand better that we really don't understand who You are. We ask that You would make that happen. It is as that happens that we will fear You in the way that You want.

That's when all our pride will vanish. That's when our thinking that we are so strong, so able, will be shamed. That's when we will understand that You are Almighty God, and we are feeble creatures. That's when we will fear You which is what we want to do. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Scripture to Meditate On

I cling to Your testimonies;
O Lord, do not put me to shame!
Psalm 119.31

What is this 'put to shame'? It's actually something that shows up a good bit in the Psalms. Here are a couple of examples.

To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame. Psalm 22:5

O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me. Psalm 25:2

I think that you can see that not being put to shame has to do with counting on God, trusting him to act and then Him coming through. So, if God were not to come through that would be a problem. Others who were watching him would mock his distress. He would be ashamed.

Those mocking Jesus while He was hanging on the cross were shaming Him. God wasn't coming through for Him on that Friday as He had claimed. Though, of course, the Father did act decisively on the next Sunday.

So, the psalmist is asking God to come through for him, to act according to his need, so that he would not be put shame.

He even offers a basis for this request, a reason why God should act. He clings to God's testimonies, His Law. The basis of his appeal is his faithful obedience. That must mean that there are times when it's okay to tell God how well you are doing.

For Sunday

Reading of the Law of God
You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's. Exodus 20.17

Confession of Sin
Our Father, we confess to You that we have coveted. We have been dissatisfied with the good things that You have given to us. We have been jealous when others have prospered. We have longed for things that we have no right to. We see this as an insult to You and a rejection of Your loving plan for our lives. We know that breaking this commandment even once merits us eternal torment. We ask for forgiveness not because we deserve it but only because of Jesus, our Savior. Amen.

Declaration of Pardon
Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.
Micah 7.18-19

May the God of all healing and forgiveness draw us to himself, and cleanse us from all our sins that we may behold the glory of his Son, the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Book of Common Prayer