Friday. February 16

Dearest church family, 

Good morning to you. I hope you are doing well this lovely Friday. 

The Psalm readings from the daily lectionary for today are: 

Morning - Psalm 22 & 148             Evening – Psalm 105 & 130 

Our final Epistle reading for this week is Philippians 4: 1 – 9. As the letter to the church at Philippi comes to a close, Paul encourages the congregation to stand firm in the Lord. These words of encouragement speak to what it means to live the life of faith in the earthly kingdom. 

From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, all that is worthy of praise.

Philippians 4: 8  CEB 

For almost twelve years now, we have begun each Sunday’s Lord’s Day worship with the statement, “God is good all the time, and all the time God is good.” These words set the tone for our worship and, hopefully, for our encounter with the world as children of God. It has become part of our spiritual mantra. 

These words seem empty and difficult whenever news of great tragedy comes our way. As I learned of yet another mass shooting in a schoolhouse – a reality all too present in our present – I found myself questioning these words. If God is good all the time, why do things like this happen? 

I think I am smart enough and have lived enough years to know that the question of why bad things happen to good people is a colossal waste of time. There are things in the earthly kingdom that defy reason. Our efforts to make sense of tragedy provide no relief. 

Our reading today offers a constant found in God’s story. “Don’t be anxious…lift your concerns to God in prayer (4:6).” How in the world are any of us supposed to set aside anxiety in the face of such horrific news? Is prayer all we have? 

The human tendency in response to tragedy is to assign blame. The response to this week’s shooting illustrates this quite clearly. People who are broken and suffering demand answers and / or solutions. There is an assumption that the problem can be fixed. The problems can and should be addressed, but assuming they can be fixed is misguided. So what do we do as people of faith in the face of human tragedy? 

First, we give our anxiety to God. We do not apologize for it, for it is real and warranted. We give it to God because only God has shoulders big enough to bear it. 

Second, we do as our reading today suggests. We focus on the things that are excellent and admirable. We focus on truth, holiness, justice, purity, and loveliness on God’s terms rather than human ones. We allow God to define our response. 

Finally, we acknowledge that we cannot put an end to tragic events implemented by human beings. We bear witness to God’s better way and seek to live it in every aspect of our daily living. We allow God to use us to speak the truth in love in response to horrific events. We pray to God but we also speak God’s answers to all, whether they appear to be listening or not.

The statement “God is good all the time and all the time God is good” does not have a question mark at its end. The realities of life in the earthly kingdom sometimes cause us to add that piece of punctuation, but God does not put it there. We need to make sure we understand that difference. 

Peace,

Jonathan 

p.s.

We will be providing a team of volunteers at the Elmore County Food Pantry tomorrow, Saturday, from 9:30 to 1:30. Any time you have to spare during those hours would be greatly appreciated. 

Please remember that our Relay for Life team is proving the meal for Fellowship Lunch this Sunday. All are invited to come share a meal and make a contribution to help reach our team’s goal of raising $ 4,000 for this year’s relay event.  


Thursday, February 15

Dearest church family, 

Another soggy morning. Good morning to you all just the same!

The Psalm readings from the daily lectionary for today are: 

Morning – Psalm 27 & 147: 12 – 20            Evening – Psalm 102 & 126 

Our Epistle reading for today is Philippians 3: 12 – 21. In chapter of this letter, Paul talks about  establishing and maintaining priorities and values. He speaks of the goal of the life of faith. 

It’s not that I have already reached this goal or have already been perfected, but I pursue it, so that I may grab hold of it because Christ grabbed hold of me for just this purpose.

Philippians 3: 12                CEB 

Our reading today is tailor made for the entry into Lent. Paul speaks of the human desire for perfection and its application to the life of faith. The Common English Bible translation, in my opinion, emphasizes the personal nature of the call of God in Jesus Christ. 

Striving to deepen and strengthen our faith has a very specific goal, but that goal may not be the one we are accustomed to. In most areas of our personal lives, we set goals and work to check those things off before moving to the next. This serves our humanity well, but it does not translate to the life of faith. 

The life of faith is a constant journey towards something we can never attain – the perfection of Jesus Christ. This should not be perceived as a negative, however, even though many frustrated Christians see it that way. On the contrary, striving towards the perfection of Jesus Christ actually means witnessing to it rather than trying to achieve something on our own. 

God does not view the earthly kingdom or any member of it the way we view it. We see success and failure, while God sees human activity. We see differing levels of human value, while God sees a level playing field. We see friends and enemies, while God sees siblings. 

Our goal is to bear witness to divine vision and embody it wherever and however we are able. If the aim of the life of faith was to achieve some level of perfection, we would distort God’s good news of grace, mercy, forgiveness, and redemption. Let us all embrace God’s goal for our lives – faithful witness to the goodness of God. 

Peace,

Jonathan


Wednesday, February 14

Dearest church family, 

Good morning. Ash Wednesday blessings to all! 

The Psalm readings from the daily lectionary for today are: 

Morning – Psalm 5 & 147: 1 – 11                Evening – Psalm 27 & 51 

Our Epistle reading for today is Hebrews 12: 1 – 14. We depart from our reading of I John and turn to texts assigned to Ash Wednesday in the daily lectionary. The latter portion of Hebrews begins with a call to “run the race that is set before us” (12:1a). 

Let’s throw off any extra baggage, get rid of the sin that trips us up, and fix our eyes on Jesus, faith’s pioneer and perfecter.

Hebrews 12: 1b – 2a       CEB 

Today marks the beginning of Lent. Christians the world over will celebrate Ash Wednesday in a variety of ways, but hopefully a similar fashion. The ancient practice of donning sackcloth and ashes as a sign of mourning and repentance is repeated in the imposition of ashes. Christians mark the beginning of the journey of Lent with a sign of the cross made from the ashes of last year’s Palm Sunday palm fronds. 

The observance of Lent carries powerful meaning in the life of faith. Throughout the years, the significance of the season has been co-opted by secular interests. In some regards, Lent has become a sacred holiday of the self help industry. A return to origin seems in order and our reading today makes that possible. 

Our reading from Hebrews paints an interesting picture of our entry into Lent. It speaks of the mortal life of faith in the image of a race that is set before us. Our reading provides instruction for completing the race in good standing. This passage has tremendous potential bearing on our Lenten journey. 

As Lent unfolds in your life over the next forty days, the word of God invites us all to consider the baggage we are carrying. What are the things we think we need that we actually need to set aside? Can we set aside feelings of guilt and unworthiness and recognize sin as something that trips us up? If we can do these things, then perhaps we will have the energy and strength to fix our eyes on Jesus. Following Jesus is the ultimate prize that accompanies us throughout the race of our mortal life all the way to the finish line. 

Peace,

Jonathan 

p.s.

Make plans to attend our Service of the Imposition of Ashes this evening at 6pm in the Sanctuary. Choir practice will begin following worship.


Tuesday, February 13

Dearest church family, 

Good Tuesday morning. I hope you are doing well as this day unfolds. Happy Fat Tuesday! 

The Psalm readings from the daily lectionary for today are: 

Morning – Psalm 123 & 146          Evening – Psalm 30 & 86 

Our Epistle reading for today is I John 2: 1 – 11. Following chapter 1’s reminder that God is light, the letter moves to instruction for living in the light of God. The instruction is practical and repetitive in a helpful manner.  Living in the light of God is within the reach of all. 

The one who claims to be in the light while hating a brother or sister is in the darkness even now.

I John 2: 9            CEB 

Sharing God’s good news is the privileged responsibility of every child of God. It is a privilege because the light of God is a gift from God, and one we do not earn and cannot ever create. It is a responsibility because the life of faith is a two way street. Living one’s faith involves receiving God and proclaiming God at the same time. 

The explanation of living in God’s light in our reading today is practical and direct. It focuses on the connection between heart and head. The message is clear. If a person claims one thing while doing another, there is a distortion of truth. 

The difficulty in living into this practical teaching comes from our humanity. Have you ever been wronged by a brother or sister? Have you ever hated what a sister or brother has done or said? If we have lived a single day in the real world, our answer is likely to be yes to both questions. 

Our reading today is not an attempt to demonize us for feeling wronged or even hating violations of God’s covenants. It is a direct challenge to the practice of hate as it affects human life. Another way to look at it is to say that if we allow the wrongdoing in the world to instill hatred for sisters and brothers, we have stepped away from the light of God. 

The teaching in our reading today moves beyond the human teaching, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” This human expression is not in keeping with the teaching of Jesus regarding the ways of God. The teaching in our reading today reflects the teaching of Jesus. Love one another as I have loved you. Jesus never said anything about hating anyone. 

The truth is that we should indeed hate sin and its destructive power in the earthly kingdom. However, recognizing the nature of human sin should prevent us from personifying it in any way. We all sin and fall short of our God given potential. In Jesus Christ, God reminds us that our divine image and belonging to God is what identifies us, not our sin. 

Peace,

Jonathan 

p.s.

Remember our Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper this evening. The Scouts will be serving supper between 5:30 and 7:00 in Fellowship Hall. There is no charge for supper, but donations to support troop activities are welcome.  


Monday, February 12

Dearest church family, 

Good grey Monday morning to you! The sun is shining somewhere! 

Our readings for daily devotion this week will be the Epistle selections from the daily lectionary. We will be reading portions of I John. I will also include the daily Psalm readings for those who would like to incorporate Psalm reading into daily devotion.

The Psalm readings for today are: 

Morning – Psalm 135 & 145          Evening – Psalm 97 & 112

Our Epistle reading for today is I John 1: 1 – 10. For centuries, the letters of John were thought to have been written by the writer of the fourth Gospel. While this fact has been disputed by biblical scholars for the past several centuries, the fact that the letters have connection to the fourth Gospel is undisputed. They represent continued teaching and admonition from the Johannine school of Christianity. The letters urge Christians to remain rooted in the gospel truth as it came from Jesus and to be wary of truths shared by others that conflict Jesus’ teaching and witness. 

If we claim , “We don’t have any sin,” we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

I John 1: 8            CEB 

The second half of our reading today should sound very familiar to you. Verse 8 in particular should ring a bell loud and clear. This portion of I John is used widely as a call to confession in the reformed tradition. It is quoted verbatim in the Book of Common Worship. The message is clear. If we claim to be without sin, we distort gospel truth. 

I include these words or something similar each week as our call to confession. I agree with the reformed understanding that claiming to be without sin distorts gospel truth. I also agree with the understanding that we need to be reminded of this fact regularly; especially as we make preparation to confess our sin. 

Have you ever wondered what aspect of our human nature causes us to forget that we are not perfect? The word of God clearly explains that no mortal can ever be completely without sin. Why is it so hard for us to accept that fact? 

I think part of the answer is that we want to be perfect in our faith. Our desire to know God carries with it the desire to be on God’s Dean’s List, so to speak. We know that God calls us to strive for the perfection witnessed by Jesus who was without sin. Isn’t that what we are supposed to strive for? 

Yes it is, but our end goal comes from the divine perspective rather than the human one. Faithfully following the example and witness of Jesus does not mean we are ever completely without sin. It does mean that we are free from the destructive power of sin. 

As it turns out, even though we are not without sin, we have the potential to embody perfection. Confession of our sin and acknowledgment of God’s forgiveness is our connection to the perfection made real in Jesus. Our perfection is not what matters. Jesus’ perfection is. 

Peace,

Jonathan