February 2009


Read 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

 

Where is the one who is wise?

Where is the scribe?

Where is the debater of this age?

 

Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.  For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

 

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.

 

He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”  (NRSV)

 

    —from Rev. Donald Snyder – First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Beckley

 

            There is an apocryphal story told about St. Augustine.  It seems that the famed teacher was confronted one day by a man who asked, “If God is eternal, what was He doing before he began creation?”  Quickly Augustine replied, “Creating hell for people who ask questions like that!” 

            The world wants easy answers to tough questions.  Paul is confronting a conflicted church that has divided the body of Christ   according to baptismal tradition.  The cross has lost its meaning for those who think that it is not the one in whom you believe that is important, but rather who has dunked you. 

            The meaning of the cross is based upon the perspective of position:  On this side of the cross we see the foolishness of rejection; on the other side we see the wisdom of God’s salvation.

 

Open our eyes and our hearts, O God,

that in the wisdom of this world we may find its folly,

and in the foolishness of the gospel, eternal life.

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Week 1:  God’s Loving Paths

It is never easy to look into ourselves and acknowledge and own what we find.

While the path may have some difficult turns, it is paved with God’s love.

Our journey is sure.

Read Titus 3:1-8

 

Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone.

 

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another.  But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.  This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

 

The saying is sure. I desire that you insist on these things, so that those who have come to believe in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works; these things are excellent and profitable to everyone.  (NRSV)

 

–from Rev. Robert Brooks, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), New Martinsville

 

            As we begin our Lenten journey it is healthy for us to “take stock” of where we are in our walk with God and where God wants us to be.  What motivates us?

 

            Our first reading says that ambition in life motivated by envy is a destructive characteristic (Titus 3:3).  It drives people to perform in ways that do not bless God or demonstrate that they are loving their neighbor as themselves. For instance Saul envied David and focused on himself to his own demise. David envied Uriah and coveted Uriah’s wife Bathsheba.  That ended in Uriah’s death and eventually David’s own fall.  

 

            Ambition like that of Jesus, which moves you to see what you can do to better serve God and bless others in the process is the better choice. So, If you notice that you feel intense reactions to others’ success — make note of it and spend time in honest self-reflection asking God to help show you the basis of your heart.  As our text tells us “…these things are excellent and profitable for everyone.”

 

Loving God, show me the basis of my heart and lead me to a life

of using my ambition to bless others as you have blessed me.

Read Psalm 22

 

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?

O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.

Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.

In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.

To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people.

All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;

“Commit your cause to the LORD; let him deliver–

            let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”

Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.

On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God.

Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.

Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me;

            they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.

I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint;

            my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast;

            my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws;

             you lay me in the dust of death.

For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me.

My hands and feet have shriveled;

I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me;

            they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.

But you, O LORD, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid!

Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog!

Save me from the mouth of the lion! From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.

I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;

            in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:

You who fear the LORD, praise him!

All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!

For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted;

            he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.

From you comes my praise in the great congregation;

            my vows I will pay before those who fear him.

The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD.

May your hearts live forever!

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD;

            and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.

For dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.

To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;

            before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him.

Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord,

            and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it. (NRSV)

 

—from Pastor Rae Browning, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Cumberland, MD

 

            This Psalm begins with the same words that Jesus cried to His Heavenly Father: “My God, My God why have you forsaken me,” a cry that holds agony in the desire of God, assuring us that we too must cry out to God acknowledging our need for Him, putting God first in all.

 

            We will have pain, suffering,  trials, desolation, hostility and even death. We will never experience what Jesus chose to do for us, but God knows we are here. God’s promise to eternity through Jesus will carry us through this transitional journey.

 

            Let us live our lives as Jesus lived, knowing that Jesus’ faith in God’s promise prevailed. Though he cried out, “My God, my God,” his faith was maintained in that the Lord was still “my” God. We are chosen by Jesus to be saved. Though at times we might feel His absence, let us continue to pray, “My God, My God.” He is with us.

 

God, give us patience, courage and strength

to allow your wonderful works to prevail.

May all generations be brought unto You through Jesus Christ.

Read John 1:29-34

 

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!  This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’  I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.”

 

And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.  I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’  And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” (NRSV)

 

     —from Pastor Judy Bennett, Island Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Wheeling

 

            What does this mean to us as we begin the long, spiritual journey within that takes us down that lonesome road and up the hill of  Calvary with our Savior?  Most importantly is the knowledge that there is enough saving power in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the entire world.  There is enough saving power for each of us who confess honestly that we sin and fall short of claiming all that God wants for our lives.

 

            As we journey toward the cross, Jesus invites us to look straight into His eyes and become totally open to the abundance of the grace that is offered.   Stop the denial!  Shed the excess baggage of the sin that stunts our spiritual growth.  Behold Jesus who takes away our sin!

 

God of abundant mercy, may we behold you anew

as we journey together in this Lenten season.

Hebrews 12:1-13 (NRSV)

 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

 

Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.

 

In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.  And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children– “My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, or lose heart when you are punished by him; for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves, and chastises every child whom he accepts.”

 

Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? If you do not have that discipline in which all children share, then you are illegitimate and not his children.

 

Moreover, we had human parents to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not be even more willing to be subject to the Father of spirits and live?  For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness.

 

Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.  Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.

 

—from Rev. Joshua PattyCentral Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Fairmont

            It begins with a confession, “Create in me a clean heart,” and ashes smudged on our bodies.  For most, it is easy to realize we’ve made mistakes, we’ve not lived our lives as God intended.  A noble and necessary confession, but where does it lead us?

            Some will withhold pleasures.  No chocolate or sugar.  No meat.  No video games.  No alleluias.  Some will attend extra Bible studies, book groups, service projects, prayer meetings.  Some will read devotionals.

            Where do you want to go this Lent?  After the smudged ashes are washed away, what will you do?  Will you focus on what you’re giving up for six weeks?  Will you just add a few more things to your weekly to-do list?  Do these things get to the heart of the matter?

            Or will you take the challenge offered in Hebrews?  Will you seek the Lord’s discipline in your life?  Will you ask God to scold you when you make mistakes and then to guide you toward living a better life – more honest, more caring, more loving, more giving, more faithful?  Will you accept God’s discipline to pray not only more often, but more openly – giving of yourself and receiving of God?  Will you accept God’s discipline to strengthen your spiritual legs, that you might walk more faithfully on God’s path, rather than staggering down your own?

            You must decide how you will spend these forty days.  The promise is clear.  By the time you celebrate again the glorious resurrection of Jesus, you can be well on your way toward experiencing the peaceful fruit of righteousness that God wants you to enjoy.

            But you’ve got to make the trip; you’ve got to do the work.  Step by step, day by day, with God by your side.  Godspeed on this Lenten journey.

  Gracious God, walk with me these next days and discipline my heart and spirit

so that I may more faithfully follow your way.

 

merowig-labOur Lenten journey begins at the beginning—

examination of ourselves, an assessment of our spiritual being,

and an acknowledgement of where we are.

We begin there and move through confession of sin toward where God calls us.