Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What have you given up for Lent?

This past week you probably saw stories on the events taking place in New Orleans. It was time for Mardi Gras. It comes around every year right before the start of Lent. It is a week long celebration that is capped off with parades, music, food, along with some other customs that could sum up as being less than God-pleasing.  The last day of the celebration is called Fat Tuesday with an emphasis on gorging your self with food and drink prior to the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday.
There are other customs associated with Lent that are far more God-pleasing. One such custom is that of giving up something for Lent. The way it works is that you pick out something you enjoy and give it up for Lent. Starbucks coffee on the way to work, eating desserts, or watching television are a few examples. By  making such a sacrifice you help yourself focus on the sacrifice that Jesus made for us on the cross.
This year for Lent, I would like you to consider giving up your doubts, fears, and worries. Easier said than done, you quip. All you have to do is look around you and you find plenty to worry about. We have so many problems in life that it can make one stop and wonder if God really loves us or is watching over us. Why is life so hard? Why so many difficulties? Loved ones die of cancer or some other disease. Our marriage doesn’t work out. We lose our job. The list goes on and on.
In the midst of all this turmoil, in the face of all these difficulties, the Apostle Paul reminds us that God still loves us and has assured us that there is nothing that can come between us and his love. As a child of God, we sit in the ‘catbird seat.’ We can be assured that God is our friend, more than that, our Savior. We can be assured that he uses his almighty power to protect us, watch over us, and bless us. Nothing, not the devil, not sin, not disease, or even death can come between us and God’s love.
Listen to what he says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or naked ness or danger or sword? …No in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, not any powers, neither height nor depth, not anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35-39

Monday, February 20, 2012

LENT - A TIME FOR MEDITATION, REPENTANCE, AND PREPARATION

February 22, 2012

Lent is upon us once again.  The word "Lent" itself is from the old English word which means spring.   The German word "Lenz" also means "spring."   From what I could find out its basic meaning means to lengthen and refers to the lengthening of the days in the spring time.  Since a part of the pre-Easter season always falls in spring, it is only natural that through the ages this season from Ash Wednesday to Easter should come to be called Lent.
The early Christians remembered Lent with special devotions which were held during the forty hours during which our Savior lay in the tomb.  The period of commemoration was later extended to two weeks, and eventually, in recognition of the forty days of our Lord's temptation, to forty days. Since Sundays were never fast days, these days were during Lent but not considered part of Lent.  As a result Lent runs from Ash Wednesday up to Easter Sunday.
For many, including Lutherans, Lent is a time of commemoration.  The Scripture lessons each Wednesday evening retell the journey that our Lord took to the cross.  It begins with his meeting with his disciples to celebrate the Passover on Maundy Thursday, the night he instituted the Lord's Supper. It  ends with his dead body being placed in the grave to await the resurrection on Easter morning.
Lent is also a special time of spiritual contemplation.  Our focus is on the passion or suffering of our Lord but then also extends to the cause for that suffering.  That cause, of course, is our sinfulness.  Christ came into the world to carry the burden of our sins on himself.  Even though he was holy, without sin, he took on our sins and suffered their consequence.  The wrath of the Father was directed toward him.  He endured the pain and torment of hell and died in our place.
When we see the dire results of our sins, we cannot help but grieve.  It is our sins and those of the world that brought this pain and suffering on our Lord.  Lent is a time when we focus our need to repent of our sins and look to Jesus as our only hope and salvation.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of this observance.  In the Medieval church it was customary for penitents to come to church on this day in sack cloth and bare feet.  After finishing their prayers, they threw ashes on their heads - ashes, made from palms blessed the previous Palm Sunday.
The Lenten season ends with the glorious message of Easter morning, "He is risen!"  It assures us that his work was done and was complete.  The payment for sin had been made.  The wrath of God appeased.  The power of sin, death, the devil and the grave were all broken.  What a glorious day and what a glorious promise Jesus gives us - "Because I live, ye shall live also!.
So, while Lent is a season of repentance and sorrow over sin, it is also a time when we look ahead to the joy of Easter day.  May the Lord bless your meditation this Lenten season!


Monday, February 6, 2012

IN THE MIDST OF CHANGE, OUR LORD REMAINS THE SAME.

        I remember what it was like the first time I drove into this area with my wife and family. It was around the first of February in 1985. I had never been to the East Coast and didn’t know what to expect. I knew about Jamestown and Williamsburg, but had never heard of Newport News or Poquoson. The area around Jefferson and I-64 had a couple of stores, a McDonalds and some car dealerships. Wal*Mart, Patrick Henry Mall, K-Mart, Kill Creek, and Victory Blvd were all in the planning stages. The area was either farm land or covered with woods. 
The population has probably grown by almost 200,000. No longer is the area’s economy solely dependent on the shipyard, NASA and the military. The area is thriving with activity from one end of Hampton Roads to the other. 
Back in 1985 my 69 Camaro SS and I were both in good shape. My children still lived at home and I had more hair on top my head (but, not much).  A lot has changed over the years.
The congregation has changed as well. There are only a couple families still here who helped start our church. With the mobile society we live in today, it seems like I have a new congregation every three or four years. Things sure change.
As we forge ahead in our lives, the same thing happens. Things change. As you look back, you can recall weddings, funerals, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and job promotions. Nothing stays the same. Sometimes these changes are ones we look forward too, others not. Some are easy to deal with; others hard to face.
The one thing that does not change is our Lord. In the midst of all the changes we face in life, the Lord is the one thing we can count on. He does not change. His love and grace remain the same day in, day out, year in, year out.. His promise of forgiveness in Christ Jesus, his mercy, his help in time of need is constant. His constant presence is our comfort. He is there for us in time of temptation and trial. He is there to give us strength when we are weak. He is there to help us when we are afraid; to be with us when we feel alone. 
What a comfort it is to know that the Lord who loved Adam and Eve and promised them a Savior, the same Lord who renewed those promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; is the same Savior who is there for you today – everyday. He will be the same tomorrow as well. “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) Thank God, some things just don’t change.

WITH GOD AT YOUR SIDE, YOU KNOW YOU WILL WIN!

One of the most interesting and exciting books in the Bible is the book of Judges.  The book is about those people, called judges, whom God rose up to deliver His people from their enemies.  The most famous of the judges must be Sampson. Gideon probably takes second place.
The nation of Israel during this period of their history was not very faithful to God.  As a consequence, God let their enemies get the best of them.  One such enemy was the nation of Midian.  The Midianites periodically would pillage the land and then leave.  Their army was strong and fierce.  It numbered about 135,000 men.
Gideon was called by God to do battle with the Midianites.  He raised up an army of 32,000 men.  But before they went into battle, God said that they had too many men.  It didn't sound like too many to me, but God wanted them to know for sure that God was giving them the victory.  So, the army was trimmed down to 300.  
This fighting force of 300 men, surrounded the camp of the Midianites in the dark of night.  When Gideon blew his trumpet, the 300  men blew their trumpets too.  Then they dashed their gourds on the ground and held up their torches.  With all their might they yelled out, "The sword of the Lord and of Gideon."
The Midianites, awakened from their sound sleep, were caught off guard.  They came rushing out of their tents, their hearts beating fast and trembling in fear.  They bumped into each other, drew their swords and fought against each other in the darkness.  In utter confusion they killed 120,000.  The other 15,000 who escaped were later captured by Gideon and his men.  Gideon and his 300  men became instant heroes.  
The real victory, however, belonged to God.  God is the one who is always there to help us against our enemies.  It doesn't matter whether it is a temptation from Satan or one from within.  Pressures can come from fellow students, teachers, co-workers, family and friends.  We are tempted to lie, cheat and steal, to have sex outside of marriage, to take drugs, to curse, to set our hearts on material things, etc., etc. etc.  
We may set out to live a "good" life.  We may be determined to be honest, a person of integrity.  We may be hard working, a good citizen, and a good parent.  We may be faithful to our spouse.  We may succeed in fighting the vices of drunkenness and gambling.  We may be able to live in a way that is envied by others and emulated by few.  But the bottom line is that no matter who we are or how hard we try we cannot succeed in overcoming the enemy of sin.
Everyone sins.  This is not only clear from the Bible but from our own experience.  And there is only one who can give us victory over sin.  That one is the Lord.  He can not only help us in fighting our own sinful desires, in thwarting the attacks of the devil,  and resisting the appeal of the sinful world, he can assure us of the ultimate victory and the crown of eternal life.
Gideon was no fool when he went into battle with 300 men.  He knew the Lord was with him.  It would be foolish to live any other way.  Don't forget it!