Lent devotions: Saturday 19 March

Therefore let no-one pass judgement on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.Colossians 2:16-17

In this passage St. Paul reminds us that through His sacrificial death and resurrection, Christ fulfilled the law and set us free from the demands of the law, human traditions and the doctrines of men. Our Lutheran Confessions reflect on this truth when they confess that human rites and rules regarding what we eat or drink, how we dress, or when and how we worship ‘neither merit the forgiveness of sins or justification before God, nor are they necessary for justification’ and ‘human traditions are not acts of worship necessary for righteousness before God.’ Consciences are not to be burdened as though observing such things is necessary for salvation.

In the modern world many people are easily fooled. The so-called ‘reality’ television shows are designed to make us think that this is the way life really should or could be. Video games are called ‘virtual reality’. From these things we can get a false picture of what will truly give us lasting joy and meaning. If we chase these ideals we will find that they are but shadow – meaningless and counterfeit.

St. Paul tells us that reality is indeed Jesus Christ, who alone purchased and won us from sin, death and the devil by His death on the cross and resurrection. He alone is the way, the truth and the life.

By God’s grace, we stop chasing shadows and follow the Lord Jesus Christ, who alone is our Saviour. With God’s help, we understand that who we are is based on whose we are. Real and meaningful life is found only in Christ!

Help me, O Lord, to stop chasing shadows and to rely on You for genuine meaning and lasting joy; through Christ I pray, Amen.

Lent devotions 2011: Friday 18 March

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.Hebrews 2:14-15

God, in Jesus Christ, saved us from three kinds of death: spiritual, temporal, and eternal.

Spiritual death is this that the heart, departing from the Lord, is without true fear, love, and trust in God. All people are by nature spiritually dead. If Christ had not redeemed us from sin, we could never believe in Him for the remission of our sins. We could not truly fear, love, and trust in God. Hence, we would always remain in spiritual death. We received spiritual life when the Holy Spirit brought us to faith. This is the first resurrection.

Temporal death is the separation of body and soul. Unless Christ returns first, all people will suffer temporal death. Therefore, we experience a natural dread and horror of death. Because of the fear of death we are by nature, during our lifetime, subject to bondage. But Christ “destroyed him that hath the power of death”, and thereby delivered us from the “fear of death.” To a believer, temporal death is but a dark passageway which leads us into the beautiful mansions of heaven. Knowing this, we do not fear death. Death lost its sting.

Eternal death is the eternal separation of body and soul from the blissful presence of God. By faith in Christ we became children of God. We are heirs of God. Eternal death has no power over us. Because Christ redeemed us we shall have life and immortality.

Because of humankind’s sins, death and the devil had power over us. On our own we could not free ourselves. The Son of God became our champion against these dread enemies. When Christ took upon Himself our sins, the devil indeed “bruised His heel.” Christ died in our place. But, by His very death Jesus “bruised the head” of the devil. Jesus overpowered death and the devil. Jesus abolished death, and destroyed him that had the power of death. Though we pass through temporal death, as Christ did, we shall have the victory and enter heaven. As Christ was the first fruit of resurrection, so too will believers be raised from the dead to life everlasting with God in Heaven.

Praise You Lord, for this. Amen.

Lent devotions 2011: Thursday 17 March

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. — Romans 12:4-5

Our bodies are a wonderful, complex creation. Every part (or member), even down to the cellular level, has an essential part to play in keeping us alive, healthy and mobile. Even the small, or what we might consider to be least impressive, parts are as important as the obvious parts. And when one part is hurt, all parts are impacted and experience the pain. Luther used the illustration of what happens when you stub your toe. You reach down with your hands to grab your painful foot, your face screws up in pain, you may even cry out and hop around on the other foot.

Just as our cells, organs, limbs etc are members of our physical bodies, we are all members of Christ’s body, the church. In other words, we are believers united under one head. Our unity is based on our Baptism, through which we are incorporated into the body of Christ. Because we are members of Christ’s body, we do not live for our selves – instead we use our gifts to serve the other members. Because we are joined to Christ and to each another, we are never alone. What comfort this brings! When we suffer, Christ and all the members of His body share our suffering; when we rejoice, they all rejoice with us. Because we are mutually dependent on Christ, our head, and on each other, we are all of equal importance, just as the smallest cell of our body is equally as important as the largest organ. We are all Baptized and redeemed children of God, and nothing can separate us from the love of our head, Jesus Christ.

Thank You God for bringing me into the Body of Christ and for the gifts You give to those who have served me in many and various ways. Enlighten me with Your gifts, and empower me to be a living sacrifice, that I may humbly use my gifts to serve others. Amen.

 

Lent devotions 2011: Wednesday 16 March

And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgement, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. Hebrews 9:27-8

As I was looking up the text for today’s devotion I smiled with relief at the realisation that I would be finding it in the New Testament! The Old Testament is certainly indispensable and equally illuminating, but I can’t help my preference. This is because it is in the New Testament that we have the full revelation of Jesus Christ. No more waiting and wishing, He’s finally here now! Naturally it is entirely easier to relate to.

Having said that however, it is so easy to find oneself over-preoccupied with life and God can sometimes seem so distant! Today’s text can seem particularly daunting as it has a certain apocalyptic tone to it. I start to reflect and think about judgement, and then my thoughts turn to how modern fiction tends to depict the end of the world. Every other film seems to explore our disastrous fate when strenuous use of the earth’s natural resources, pollution or a fatal climate change drives the world to ruin. Even physics now tells us that our own sun will eventually be giving up on us someday, ceasing carrying out its energy-producing process of fusion. What then, freezing temperatures and total darkness? That is as realistically as I can picture the apocalyptic last day (a chill slides down my spine). I imagine God’s fully glorious and mighty presence coming to gather up His people. How will He ever find me amidst this blackness, and if He does will He like what He sees? (There is a tight feeling in my chest).

That might have been the tragic picture, but like waking from a nightmare, I realise how Jesus is the light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome. I scoff at my foolish doubts. Judgement is no longer pendant; it took place when Jesus stood before the Father in heaven on our behalf appearing spotless and blameless in His sight. In our baptisms we receive the Holy Spirit and we put on Christ. Now when God looks at us; He sees the purity of Jesus and we shine brighter and so much more luminously than the sun.

It is human nature to doubt the reality of a God who once uttered mountains into being, and that this God is good. It seems almost silly that this God might preoccupy Himself with such as us. But through the Holy Spirit comes the knowledge of God’s love that caused Him to humble Himself to human form to die on the cross for us. This, and how He urges for me and you to call Him our Father, becomes the clearest, simplest truth in the world. So today’s message is by no means a threatening one, but a message of redemption for those who partake in Christ’s body and blood.

I am confident in my salvation, and I thank God for His gift of Jesus Christ.

I pray that I may never be so presumptuous as to turn away God, but I may always seek to replenish my strength in Christ the founder and perfector of my faith, and receive the all-sufficient sacrifice for sin. That when the day comes, I may be found ready and eagerly waiting. Amen.

 

Lent devotions 2011: Tuesday 15 March

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.1 Peter 4:10

Jesus performed a lot of miracles during his ministry on earth. Even up until His trials and persecutions, He was still blessing people with His grace and love. Jesus has the ultimate heart for serving other people. We hear phrases like ‘the perfect example’ and ‘a willing servant’ used in association with His name and character. Similarly to Jesus, God blesses each of us still today with different gifts to be used to serve each other, and ultimately to serve Him.

When we share what we have and work together as the Body of Christ, we glorify God and help to further His kingdom. There is a whole chapter in 1 Corinthians that is dedicated to this very thing. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12 about different spiritual gifts that people have and how they work together. The Church body truly does function similarly to the way a human body does. Each part has its own purpose, and each part serves the others so that the body itself can thrive. What a dynamic and grace-filled God we serve that He would use His scientific creation of the human form as an analogy for us to study!

If we excel at one particular thing, we cannot take credit because no one would have any gift except by the grace of God; we cannot boast. But there is no point to keeping our gifts a secret, and not using them to help others in humility. When we serve God by serving other people, whether they are fellow-believers or not, we are witnessing with His gift of grace and showing His love.

Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for Your abounding grace and the gift of Your Son, Jesus to be an example of how to be a good servant. Help me to discover the gifts You have given me and show me how to share them with the people around me. In Your loving name I pray, Amen.

Lent devotions 2011: Monday 14 March

I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD’,
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.Psalm 32:5

This passage shows me that the Lord is a forgiving and loving God and that when you make mistakes and sin, you can turn to Him and not be scared to do so. He will always be there to guide you in life and if you are sorry for your transgression, you will be forgiven, and hopefully we will learn not to do them again.

Lord God, thank You for the amazing gift of forgiveness. Teach us to always remember Your unfailing love and to trust You for it every day, no matter what. Amen.

Lent devotions 2011: Saturday 12 March

Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.Matthew 11:28

In reading this I am reminded that life is full of highs and lows, of joy and sadness, and of hellos and goodbyes. I can think quickly of some of my moments of joy – high points in my life over the last few years – mainly my marriage to a wonderful godly man and the birth of my two small boys. Of course, other highs include seeing God work low points or moments of sadness into blessing.

In 2005 my new husband and I found out that the Pfizer site in Kalamazoo, Michigan was closing their R&D site. Six months into our marriage we were faced with the reality that we were going to have to relocate and leave the town we loved. God opened an amazing opportunity for us to work overseas in Sandwich, England and we started our second year of marriage together in a new home far from family and friends. As you can imagine, the last five years have been full of highs and lows. We have come to love our new home and have grown closer in our relationship with one another and with God. God turned much sadness into many joys. When we left Kalamazoo we had many goodbyes, but here in Deal/Sandwich many of our hellos have turned into lifetime friends.

Once again, February 2011, we are faced with news that the R&D site in Sandwich is closing and once again we are faced with another low time, the possibilities of more goodbyes and much sadness… Yet, we know that out of the burdens of life that make us weary, God will give us rest. Our future is once again unknown: maybe it will bring sadness and goodbyes… yet we also believe it will once again bring joy and more lifetime hellos!

Prayer: Father, I pray we remember that it is You who knows our future and that we can trust You to give us much-needed rest when we feel weary or burdened with things in life that are our out of our control. Amen

Lent devotions 2011: Friday 11 March

For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.John 10:17

This statement from Jesus is puzzling: does the Father only love Jesus because Jesus lay down His life? Surely the Father’s love for the Son is from eternity, unconditional and unbreakable?

Two ways of understanding this come to mind. First, Jesus is giving us a glimpse into His eternal relationship with the Father – a relationship of joyful, voluntary submission of the Son to the Father, and of the Father’s love for His Son, continuing from eternity to eternity. It is scarcely surprising that we should find it difficult to understand something belonging to the profoundest depths of God’s being.

Second, Jesus’ death on the cross doesn’t mean that the Father didn’t love Him before but does now, but it does bring a new dimension to the Father’s love for the Son. Now the Father’s love is not only for the Son in and of Himself, but for the Son as redeemer and representative of the whole human race – and especially those who are united to Him in His death and resurrection, as we are in our baptism.

Lord Jesus, who laid down Your life and took it up again, vindicating the Father’s eternal love for You, keep us united to You in that same love of the Father, through Your death and resurrection. Amen.

Lent devotions 2011: Thursday 10 March

You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone…Ephesians 2:19-20

These two verses sum up some of the great benefits that result from Jesus’ saving work. They look back to verse 13, “in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” Christ literally means Messiah. Jesus is the long-expected deliverer, who had been prophesied many years earlier.

At the right time, God sent His Son, Jesus who is “Immanuel” – God with us. At the right time, God spoke to each one of us. In my case (and probably yours also), the Holy Spirit had been working, preparing me, for several years. At the right time, God spoke in His grace – His favour that we did not deserve -to each one of us. God spoke His message of peace. We had no hope and were without God in the world (verse 12).

But God took action in His great love. “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, made us alive together with Christ” (verses 4-5). What action did we need to take? Absolutely nothing! The only thing we needed to do was to not obstruct God’s gracious work in our lives. Jesus Himself is our peace (verse 14). Jesus reconciled us to God through the cross (verse 16).

Jesus has given us direct access to Almighty God, His Father. Through Jesus we have access in the Holy Spirit to the Father”.

Now we are no longer aliens and strangers to God. We are fellow citizens of Heaven with the vast number of our brothers and sisters in Christ, throughout the centuries and throughout the world. When Paul wrote, very few people were citizens of Rome. Being a citizen gave great benefits. How much greater are the benefits of being a citizen of Heaven! We are also members of the household of God. Jesus Himself is not only our Saviour, but also our brother.

So let us join in the song in Heaven to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world:

We pray:

“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5.9-10)

Amen.

Lent devotions 2011: Wednesday 9 March

ASH WEDNESDAY: He will swallow up death forever

And the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,
And the reproach of His people He will take away from all the earth,
For the Lord has spoken.Isaiah 25:8

On this day, Ash Wednesday, the Church enters the season of Lent. This season is a time of prayerful and penitential reflection as our attention is focused on the sufferings and death of our saviour Jesus Christ.

This evening we will gather at a special Divine service where ashes can be placed upon our foreheads. As the imposition of ashes takes place, the pastor declares, remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.

Now those are some sobering words. There is no joy or hope tucked away in that phrase. It forces us to face the grave reality. We will die, and when we do, we will return to the soil from which God first called humanity into being. Our time is short and death awaits everyone. The act of imposing ashes is almost a literal rubbing our noses in the fact of our mortality. Maybe that’s why not many people come to this service, because this service reminds us of how helpless we are in the face of death.

But into this gloom, which covers us like a pall, come these words from Isaiah. Death, our greatest enemy, which the imposition of ashes confronts us with, will not win the day. No, it will be swallowed up forever, never to cause us sorrow or reproach again.

I love the imagery of being swallowed up. When I eat a curry, or a pizza, or a hamburger, I swallow the food and it is gone – no trace remains. So it is when Jesus burst the bonds of death on that first Easter morning. He had death for lunch. Death could not stand in the presence of Jesus – the Resurrection and Life. Death has not only been defeated, but in Jesus no trace of it will remain. Death has been swallowed up in the victory of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Death is still our enemy and its power is real. One day we will return to dust. It may seem death has won the day, BUT death was swallowed up on Easter morning. When Christ returns in glory to take us to live with Him forever, then there will be no trace of death left anywhere. Death cannot survive in the midst of life, and Jesus is the LIFE.

By Thy deep expiring groan,
By the sad sepulchral stone,
By the vault whose dark abode
Held in vain the rising God,
O, from earth to heaven restored,
Mighty, re-ascended Lord,
Bending from Thy throne on high,
Hear our penitential cry!
Amen.

(Saviour When In Dust To Thee LSB 419 v. 4)