Category Archives: Lent

I Lift up My Eyes to the Hills

Psalm 121

1   I lift up my eyes to the hills —
from where will my help come?
2   My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.

3   He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
4   He who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

5   The LORD is your keeper;
the LORD is your shade at your right hand.
6The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.

7   The LORD will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
8   The LORD will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time on and forevermore.

Rejoice in the faithfulness of the Lord, and do not let your heart be troubled.

Good News and Bad News

Saturday! After a relaxing swim and a good breakfast I looked at our local paper’s front page. I was faced with four titles:

  • “Guard was eyed to round up illegals”
  • “Pakistan victims remembered”
  • “Training add-on snags campus add-on gun bill”
  • “Project aims to cut wrong-way driving”

I chose the last article. Its subtitle was, “State’s $3.1 Million awarded for work to improve markings on off-ramp.” That sounded like good news to me and everyone in the state. We all have our own opinions of what “good news” is.

How to cope with the bad news?

Circle 1 studied Hebrews last week, so I opened my Bible and found what I thought I remembered.

“Therefore lift up your drooping hands & strengthen your weak knees, and make straight the paths for your feet, so what is lame may not be out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with all men and for holiness without which no one will see the Lord”.
Hebrews 12:12-14

May we be clear and tender hearted in our thinking and speaking, and kind hearted in our actions and words.

Prayer: Dear Lord, help us be your earthly example. Amen

Pam Andersen

Giving Up

 

Lent is the season to remember the sacrifice of Christ. For forty days, we purposely consider what distracts from our worship of His sacrifice. We consider what is important in our daily lives and chose to sacrifice that thing, whether it be food, drink, or entertainment, and every time we crave that thing, we think of Christ’s sacrifice for us. But what happens when that thing that distracts us from God is ourselves?

I truly believe that if everyone did as I said, when I say it, things in my life would go much easier and if they went wrong it would land on my shoulders to accept the blame. However, this means removing everyone else’s agency and no doubt there are those that would ask me to simply do as they wished. Fortunately, there came a time in my life when my ability to control anything was stripped away from me. My youngest son lay in the hospital and I was forced to accept that I could not influence whether he lived or died. To be honest, I was confident that God was not listening to my prayers anyway.

As I lay in the floor, silently screaming, as I received the news that he was on life support, I prayed. I prayed an acceptance of having no favor with God. I prayed that God would listen to any number of the people who had my child in their hearts. If there was but one person who had favor with God who was praying for my child, that their prayers be answered. I accepted that when it comes to God, I had no agency. Not if what I truly wanted was to live a life for God. I had to give up myself. Give up the future I had dreamed of. Give up the things that I wanted. Give up my demands of everyone else’s perfection and obedience. Give up my own selfishness. I accepted that I might have to give up my son.

It was in this moment of giving up that my fear for my son’s life left me. It was in this moment that God began to change me. He did not ask for everything at once, it is a slow and continuous process. A sacrifice that I am joyously willing to obey because of the sacrifice of Christ.

 

Scripture: Psalm 130

130:1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD.
130:2 Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!
130:3 If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?
130:4 But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.
130:5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
130:6 my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.
130:7 O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, you are the creator of everything that is, has been, and will be. You, who in your knowledge of your creation, knew that we would fail in every way. It is because of your knowledge that you sacrificed in order to save. And because of your sacrifice, I give you my spirit, my will, my body, and my life. May everything I do and say be for the glory of your name. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray.

Elizabeth Scheirschmidt

The Shepherd and the Flock

Psalm 23

23:1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.

23:2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;

23:3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.

Christ compares his followers to sheep, animals who need to be in groups to survive. Sheep are not known for independent thinking, but rather for complacency. Indeed, we are a forgetful people, often preferring nettles over sweet grass, and we frequently forget who is our shepherd, and must be gathered back in.

Psalm 23 is usually seen as a psalm of comfort, as assurance that we are cared for. And it is. But it is also a reminder of whose we are: we belong to the shepherd, who will not allow us to stray too far. And the shepherd does not merely care for sheep because he loves them; they are his wealth and his glory. They are what he has to give, to use, and to keep. He chooses to shear them for their wool or to slaughter them for their meat, and he chooses the hour in which these things happen, in accordance with his wisdom and experience. He cares for them and sees that they are well fed and protected so that they might be of greater use to him when he chooses. But he does not choose these things for the sheep arbitrarily; a good shepherd will not shear his sheep too soon, lest they are cold, nor too late, lest they overheat. A good shepherd will see that the sheep are a good age, and well fattened, before slaughtering them for food, and will not slaughter so many as to destroy his herd, nor treat them cruelly even in the slaughter.

We must recall always that we are God’s flock, and Jesus is our good shepherd. We need fear nothing, yes, but we also must remember whose we are: that we work and labor for the glory of the shepherd, not the sheep. That our wool, our very flesh, belongs to God, and all things we produce are rightly His—and that his care for us is not only unconditional love, but working to the greater glory of God. What gift, then, can we give our shepherd save our labor, our lives, and our all, since we are His?

Angela Cox

The Law and the Cross

Today’s readings celebrate the law. Jesus died for our sins, to give us freedom from the law and redemption for our sins, but not to exempt us from God’s law.

Jesus was the fulfillment of the law, not an excuse to step away from it.

Lent gives us the opportunity and the duty to examine the hard things about our relationship with the divine.

Isaac Watts wrote these words in 1707:

  1. When I survey the wondrous cross
    On which the Prince of glory died,
    My richest gain I count but loss,
    And pour contempt on all my pride.
  2. Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
    Save in the death of Christ my God!
    All the vain things that charm me most,
    I sacrifice them to His blood.
  3. See from His head, His hands, His feet,
    Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
    Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
    Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
  4. Were the whole realm of nature mine,
    That were a present far too small;
    Love so amazing, so divine,
    Demands my soul, my life, my all.

They are still as challenging now as they were then.

Distinction

Romans 3: 22-24

God’s righteousness comes through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who have faith in him. There’s no distinction. 23 All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory, but all are treated as righteous freely by his grace because of a ransom that was paid by Christ Jesus.

All of us fall short, there is no distinction.

All of us are treated as righteous, freely by God’s grace, there is no distinction.

The gift of God’s grace, given to us in Christ Jesus is for all.  It is not ours to decide “who is in and who is out.”  We are all “in” and that is just how it is…… through the grace of God.

The theme of the annual gathering of Presbyterian Church Educators in 2018 will be “Deep & Wide: Boundless Hospitality.”  I have been thinking about that in the weeks since we gathered in January 2017 and first learned the theme for next year.  What does it mean to offer this hospitality?  Ours is to extend hospitality and welcome in the stranger, help the one in need, cloth the one who needs clothes, shelter the one who needs shelter.  When we look at others as being freed by the grace of God, we can see all others as just as worthy and deserving of God’s grace as we are.  Sometimes we don’t feel so worthy ourselves and sometimes we cast judgement on others, sure they are not worthy.  When we are open to see both ourselves and others as truly worthy of God’s grace shown in Jesus, we really are free. We are free to love more fully. We are free to share more openly. We are free to be who God created us to be.

Thinking back to late November I first attended a concert of folk singer, John McCutcheon. He has a song that speaks well to our southern selves called “Ya’ll Means All.” He speaks in this song to this kind of openness. I highly recommend you look it up on YouTube.

“I might not like you and you might not like me. Sometimes that’s just the way things are going to be. Still I’ll catch you if you should fall. Where I come from, ya’ll means all…………There ain’t no difference I can recall that makes a difference.  Ya’ll means all.”

Kristi Button

 

Is Lent good for us?

 

An artist friend of mine was troubled by Lent. She didn’t think it was healthy to spend all that time thinking about your faults. But this is not a random guilt-fest. This is a period of forty days (to remind us of Jesus’s forty days in the wilderness) for self-examination, followed by a joyful celebration. I think this particular woman fretted about her shortcomings throughout the year. How much healthier to have a limited time of self-examination set aside!

Nor is it self-loathing. People who make themselves miserable by obsessing about their flaws are generally thinking about how different they are from Jessice Alba or the cool guy in the frat, not how different they are from Jesus. There is no spiritual benefit there.

Lent is traditionally a time for self-examination, a time to consider how we ought to improve our behavior. But there any many other things to contemplate as well. Many people contemplate the sufferings of Christ, particular teachings of the church, or injustices in the world which we might alleviate.

Here are some passages to contemplate today:

God’s Frequency

 

I remember the day my husband called me and asked if God could use children to answer prayers. I was struck by confusion and curiosity and asked him to explain the situation. He told me that he had been praying and that while he insisted that God did not need to answer him, he was concerned with the issues that were on his mind. Okay, that seemed like a normal prayer. I would not have added the “you do not need to respond” part of the prayer as I have come to expect answers to my questions, but my husband will admit he is new to this whole “prayer thing”. My husband continued to explain that after he had settled into his location to wait for help, a child came up to him. She had been playing on the opposite side of the room around a small corner, but that she seemed determined despite her mother’s insistence to return. The little girl looked and my husband and simply said, “Everything is going to be all right.”

I couldn’t help but smile. “Yes, God can use children to answer prayer.”

“Do you think that is what happened?” My husband was stunned and shocked by the exchange.

“Probably.” I answered.

That was a year or two ago. More recently, my husband asked if he was tuned into the right channel. He was concerned that although he was praying and asking for guidance, he did not feel like he was getting any answers. I should add that I feel like God talks to me often, sometimes in order to make requests that I really do not want to fulfill. I do, much to my annoyance, but for my husband it feels as if he is not tuned into the right frequency.

What does this have to do with Lent? Well, in Jeremiah 7:23 it says, “but I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in obedience to all I command you, that it may go well with you.”

In order to obey God, you must know and accept what he wants for you. My husband feels partially lost because he does not hear God’s commands to him. How was I supposed to explain that learning the difference between God’s voice and my own will took time? How was I supposed to explain that I had spent periods of my life dedicated to reading and studying the bible? And I accept that I will never feel qualified to explain biblical concepts. How do I explain that even now I experience long silences, usually because I am up to something I should not be doing? I paused for a long time and decided to say exactly what I was thinking.

“How can I improve on those things?” He asked.

Sarcastically, I answered, “You just did.”

I explained that the first step toward a relationship to God was to want to have the relationship.

God calls us to be his people. He has made a way for that to be possible. The crucifixion of Christ tore open a veil that had been closed to the majority of the world. It is now our job to seek God and be willing to answer the calls and demands he asks of us through our shared frequency.

Psalm 121
1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

Elizabeth Schierschmidt

Misereri Mei, Deus

Today, read the English translation of psalm 51 below, and listen to this beautiful recording in a time of contemplative prayer. This psalm has been set to music so many times throughout the ages that many of us may have a favorite recording.

But we don’t often pray about our sin with this kind of whole-hearted devotion. Our culture emphasizes feeling good about ourselves. “Don’t beat yourself up.” “No regrets.” “Sorry, not sorry.” “No apologies.”

Lent gives us an opportunity to recognize and regret our sins, to learn from our mistakes, to apologize, secure in the knowledge that God will hide His face from all our sins and blot out our iniquities.

Pray the psalm, or pray repeatedly the first line: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness; in your great compassion blot out my offenses.”

“Miserere mei, Deus Secundum magnam misericordiam tuam Et secundum multitudinem miserationum tuarum Dele iniquitatem meam”

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness;
in your great compassion blot out my offenses.

2 Wash me through and through from my wickedness
and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.

4 Against you only have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight.

5 And so you are justified when you speak
and upright in your judgment.

6 Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth,
a sinner from my mother’s womb.

7 For behold, you look for truth deep within me,
and will make me understand wisdom secretly.

8 Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure;
wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.

9 Make me hear of joy and gladness,
that the body you have broken may rejoice.

10 Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquities.

Shame and Grace

Lent is the season to remember the sacrifice of Christ. I cannot help but vividly imagine Jesus hanging on the cross, blood dripping from the wounds of the nails and thorns that pierce his body. I cannot help but imagine the pain he must have suffered. The pain placed on him by my sins. Shame washes over me for the pain I caused as he hung from that cross.

Everyone has those moments in their lives where their behavior offends even their own senses. Moments of shame that they hope will never reach the light of day. I have many and I hold onto them fiercely. I have heard people say that God could not forgive them for their sins. Do I feel this way? Once upon a time, perhaps. But I have come to the realization that God’s grace has blanketed us from before the creation of the world. Jesus was not a backup plan. Jesus was the plan from the very beginning. God knew I would fail. God knew I would feel the shame of my failures. God reminds me that there is nothing I can do that He cannot forgive and forget as long as I place my trust in him.

If I believe this, why do I hold onto my shame so fiercely? I do not hide my shame away from the world. I do not openly portray that shame for the world, either. I am ashamed of the pain I placed upon Jesus. However, by admitting my shame in times of need, I can help others. As in Alcoholics Anonymous where a recovering alcoholic who has been sober for some time sponsors a newly recovering alcoholic, I hope that my own experience of shame can help someone else recover.

I do not hold onto my sins because God cannot forgive me. I hold onto them because I want to remember the pain I placed upon Christ. I want that constant reminder to help me not to repeat those actions. And perhaps, my shame can be used to help someone else. I never want to lose the image of Christ’s sacrifice.

 

Scripture: Psalm 51

2 Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank you for your love. Thank you for your goodness and grace. Thank you for your trustworthiness. Forgive me for my sins. Release me from my shame. Help me to use my experiences to help others that they too may come to know you and be enveloped by your love and grace.

Elizabeth Schierschmidt