Holy Week…The Way of the Cross

The following are a series of Scripture readings and prayers for each day of the Passion Week. May the Holy Spirit use the Word to engender within you a deeper love for Christ, a greater adoration for his suffering and sacrifice on your behalf, and a firmer conviction to extend the love of Christ to a broken world at war with itself.

March 28, Palm Sunday… 

Philippians 2:5-11

Mark 11:1-11

Almighty and everlasting God, who, by your tender love towards humanity did send your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, to take upon him our flesh and to suffer death upon the Cross, so that all who believe might be reconciled to God and to each other; grant unto us that we might bend our stubborn hearts toward Him and to confess that He is our Lord and King so that we can become agents of his peace ; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

March 29, Monday before Easter…

Romans 5:1-8

Mark 14:1-16

Almighty God, whose dear Son did not experience joy before he first suffered pain, and did not enter glory before has was crucified; mercifully grant that we would also walk in the way of the cross even in our pain, and find it to be none other than the way of life and peace; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

March 30, Tuesday before Easter…

Isaiah 50:4-11

Mark 14:17-42

O Lord God, whose blessed Son, our Savior, gave his back to the smiters and did not hide his face from betrayal and shame; grant us grace that we might bear joyfully the affliction and injustice of this present time, knowing that we will never be separated from your love and that our suffering is discipline—not punishment of our sin, through Jesus Christ or Savior. Amen

March 31, Wednesday before Easter…

John 4:7-11

Mark 14:43-65

Assist us mercifully by the Spirit, O Lord God, that we might love others with the love whereby we have been loved by you; and may the sacrificial love of your Son move us to give ourselves away to others for the sake of the gospel; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

April 1, Maundy Thursday…

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

John 13:1-15

Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night he was betrayed, did institute Communion; mercifully grant that we might thankfully receive the same in remembrance of him while recognizing the responsibility to serve those around us, even those with whom we sit at table; through Jesus Christ, the Servant. Amen. {Perhaps you can gather a few friends or family members and share the Lord’s Supper together.}

April 2, Good Friday…

Hebrews 10:4-25

Mark 15:16-41

Merciful God, who made all people for yourself and for your glory and desire none to perish, but that all should come to repentance; have mercy upon those who do not know you, and lead them to the One who was lifted up, so that all might be drawn to him and become one flock under one Shepherd, even our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 

April 3. The Saturday before Easter…

Hebrews 13:20, 21

Mark 15:42-47

Grant, O Lord, that as we have been baptized into the death of your blessed Son, we might die to sin and the evil inclinations of our hearts, looking forward to the Blessed Hope and glorious appearing of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, when we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is; world without end. Amen. 

Postscript: Please take this opportunity to pray for all those who will come under the preaching of the Gospel in Easter services around the world.

Lenten Devotionals, Week 6…March 22-27

As we prepare for next week, Holy Week, let us do an inventory of our spiritual lives as the basis for personal revival. May we not shy away from a close examination of our own sinfulness before a Holy God. We do all this in the light of God’s grace and forgiveness in Jesus Christ.

March 22, Monday… Acts 2:37, 38 

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven (remitted). And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’

So, what is the best thing to do with true guilt?…get forgiven. 

John Calvin wrote, “Justification by faith is reconciliation with God and that consists solely in remission of sins…the only way in which those whom God embraces are made righteous, is by having their [sins] wiped away by the remission of sins, so that this justification (reconciliation) may be termed in one word the remission of sins.” 

The word REMISSION has an interesting meaning. It has the word missio in it, which means to send away. It is used as a medical term- the cancer is in remission (no longer present, sent away); a financial term- please remit (send away your money to us); a theological term- forgiveness- (aphesis, to send away one’s sins).

Psalm 103:12 “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he (God) removed our transgressions from us.”

Micah 7:18, 19 “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread all our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”

Isaiah 1:18 “ ‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be like wool.’”

The scarlet “A” on Hester Prynne’s chest represented the crimson stain of her sin. She cried out, “O to be forgiven, to have this letter taken away!”  And here God says, “Though your sins be as scarlet… No matter how dark the stain of sin in your life, I can take it away and make you clean.” 

Have you cried out to God for remission of your sin? If you are ready, He is willing.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
 (Horatio Spafford)

March 23, Tuesday… Personal Revival

When we properly confess our sins before God, we are essentially agreeing with him that a certain area of our life has fallen short of his glory and we recognize our need of forgiveness. It is important that we are specific about our confession in order to prevent self deception.

Over the next few days, I would like to give you the opportunity to do a moral inventory and to bring specific things before God and agree with him that they are sin and need to be forgiven. These are adapted from Richard Owen Robert’s Twelve Articles of Agreement for Personal Revival. Prayerfully consider each one and the Scripture upon which that agreement is based. 

Lord, I agree that sin in my life has always been and is now a very real problem and that I deserve to go to hell for it [Romans 3:9-23; 7:24; Ephesians 2:1-2; Hebrews 12:1]. 

Lord, I agree with You that the great wickedness of all my sin has been and is against You. “Against Thee, Thee only have I sinned and done this great evil in Thy sight” [Psalms 51:4]. “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” [Genesis 39:9]. 

Lord, I agree with You that repentance from all my sin is demanded, that I must cease taking advantage of Your goodness by failing to repent [Romans 2:4] and that I cannot know the refreshing that revival brings until this accomplished [Acts 3:19].

March 24, Wednesday…

Lord, I agree that public confession of public sin is mandatory [James 5:16] and that private confession of private sin must be regularly practiced. “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there remember that thy brother hath ought against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift” [Matthew 5:23-24]. 

Lord, I agree that restitution to any I have wronged is a necessary qualification for personal revival [2 Samuel 12:6; Jeremiah 35:15; Ezekiel 33:15; Luke 19:8], for knowing that I have defrauded another and not to make it right will prevent me from having a conscience void of offense toward all men [Acts24:16] and will leave me with a heart that condemns me and hinders my prayers [I John 3:20]. 

Lord, I agree that you are holy and so must I be (Leviticus 19:2). But Father, I am so aware of my own tendency to wander onto unholy paths that have been well-worn over the years. “Oh, to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be! Let thy goodness like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee.” May I be holy, like you. 

March 25, Thursday…

 Lord, I agree that holiness is Your will for my life, “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification” [I Thessalonians 4:3]. 

 Lord, I agree that holiness was purchased by Christ on His cross [I Corinthians 1:30] and is received by faith just as is justification [II Thessalonians 2:13]. 

Lord, I agree that You elected me to holiness [Ephesians 1:4] and this election has removed forever my right to choose to be sinful. I accept as my duty the daily reckoning of myself to be dead indeed unto sin and alive unto God [Romans 6:11]. 

Lord, I agree to guard what I read and what I see: books, magazines, television, movies, women (men) on the street, [“I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid?” Job 31:1]. I agree not to look upon another person with disdain or prejudice due to their wealth or poverty, skin color or ethnicity (James 2:1. I also agree that I would be better off without eyes rather than to have eyes that bring me down to hell [Matthew 18:9-10]. 

March 26 Friday…

Lord, I agree to guard what I listen to: jokes, gossip, racist criticism of others, flattery, religious views, suggestive stories, etc., and will regularly heed the words of Jesus, “Take heed how you hear” [Luke 8:18]. “Take heed what your hear” [Mark 4:24]. 

Lord, I agree to guard what I touch and how I touch it — money, goods, sex, etc., knowing the grievous error of sins of greed and lust [Exodus 20:17; Proverbs 15:27; Matthew 6:27-30]. 

Lord, I agree to guard what I taste and smell and the reason related thereto, for I acknowledge that gluttony and drunkenness are evil in Your sight [Psalms 34:8; 119:103; Proverbs 23:2-3; 20-221; Luke 21:34; Romans 16:18; I Corinthians 10:31; Galatians 5:19-21; Philippians 3:19; James 1:13-15; I Peter 2:2-3; 4:3]. 

Lord, I agree to place a guard over my entire body, knowing that my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit [Matthew 10:28; Romans 6:12; 8:13; I Corinthians 6:19; 9:27]. 

March 27, Saturday… Isaiah 53:1-6

Early in the nineteenth century, Philip Doddridge wrote his classic work

The Rise and Progress of Religion In The Soul. It traces God’s work of salvation from the point of conviction of sin through conversion, from awakening to the life of God to preparing for death. After a lengthy discourse on the depths of human sin, Doddridge begins his presentation of the good news of the gospel. 

“Look upon our dear Redeemer! Look up to this mournful, dreadful, yet, in one view delightful spectacle, and then ask in thine own heart, do you believe he suffered and died thus? And why did he die? Let me answer in God’s own words, He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities, and the chastisement of our peace was upon him, that by his stripes we might be healed; It pleased the Lord to bruise him and to put him to grief, when he made his soul an offering for sin; for, the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all.  You have indeed been a very great sinner, and your offences have truly been attended with the most heinous aggravations; nevertheless you may rejoice in the assurance, that where sin abounded, there shall grace much more abound…That righteousness, to which on believing on him, thou wilt be entitled, shall not only break those chains by which sin is (as it were) dragging thee at its chariot wheels with a furious pace to eternal ruin, but shall clothe thee with the robes of salvation, shall fix thee on the throne of glory, where thou shalt live and reign forever among the princes of heaven…But I have the authority of God’s Word to tell thee, that if thou this day sincerely believest in the name of the Son of God, thou shalt this day be taken under his care, and be numbered among those of his sheep, to whom he graciously declared, that he will give eternal life; and, that they shall never perish…With this gospel, O sinner, which is my life, and which, if thou dost not reject it, will be thine too.”

My soul confides in your goodness, O God. I adore the patience with which you have carried me for so long, and the grace which now makes me wiling to be yours- on your terms. As I prepare for this Holy Week, have mercy upon me and unite me to yourself so that none of the allurements of this world or the unbiblical perspectives of my culture may draw me back from you and plunge me into guilt and ruin. May I keep my hold upon you until at length I know more completely how sufficient a Savior you are. Through Christ, I pray. Amen.

Lenten Devotionals, Week 5… March 15-21

March 15, Monday…Psalm 42:5 

Why are you downcast, O my soul?  Why are you disquieted within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him for his help. .  

The mistake we often make is that we look for a source of comfort in ourselves rather than in God. Our hope is in God not what we feel him to be at the moment. For it is only in His countenance or presence (not our own) that our help (salvation) is found. That is why the Scripture is so important to our prayer life. The Word of God reveals to us the being and character of God and encourages us to place our hope and trust in him.  

Notice also how the psalmist here speaks to himself.  Why are you downcast, O my soul?  I think that is one of the traits of spiritual health.  We get into trouble when we listen to ourselves:

Why did God allow this if he loved me?

Maybe I’m being punished for my past sins.

Going back home to God will be such a long process I don’t want to try.

Instead we need to learn to speak to ourselves and utter forth a confession of faith and trust in the Lord.  “Why are you so discouraged, O my soul?  All of your past experience adds up to the fact that God has not abandoned you.  Hope in him, hang onto him, though you may feel no reason to do so, your past gives you full warrant to trust God.”  This is faith at its strongest- believing in God in spite of our feelings and circumstances, because we have remembered his goodness to us in the past. 

My God, my Life, my Love.

To thee, to thee I call.

I cannot live, if thou remove,

For thou art all in all.

Thy shining grace can cheer

This dungeon where I dwell. 

‘Tis paradise when thou art here.

If thou depart, ‘tis hell.

Thou art the sea of love,

Where all my pleasures roll,

The circle where my passions move

And center of my soul. (Isaac Watts, 1674-1748)

March 16, Tuesday… Psalm 42:6-11

Here the psalmist turns from talking to himself to speaking with God in prayer.  Mark that; though he is in despair he is also in prayer.  He also says that God is “my God.”  It reminds me of the prayer that Jesus prayed from the cross, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me.”  Most of us don’t even speak to God when we have a crisis of faith. Instead we speak about him, almost like we talk behind his back:  

If he is so powerful why didn’t he do something?

If he is so loving, why did he let that happen?

In addition to claiming God as his God, the psalmist also says that he “remembers God.”  In the face of crisis, he rehearses what he knows to be true about God so that he has a context in which to work out the things he does not yet understand. To put it another way: he is speaking out his strong convictions so that he might have a framework in which to work through his strong emotions.  He goes back to the basics through his remembrance and finds a place for his faith to stand.  Like a calf on ice, he gathers the legs of faith under him.  Look at what he remembers about God:

v. 8- The steadfast love of the Lord. The word for steadfast love is hesed, God’s covenant love to his people.  It is a love that has been pledged by God to those he has chosen and therefore can never be withdrawn.   

v. 9- God is my Rock.  He is unchanging even though life has changed for the psalmist. “I was young and now I’m old but I have never seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging bread.”  God will never change from the time we called out to him when we are children to the time we take our last breath.  God is our Rock.

Do you see what he is doing?  He is rehearsing what he knows to be true about God’s character in order to put into perspective what he doesn’t understand about God’s ways.  This leads to the refrain of hope in v.11, “Why are you cast down O my soul.  Put your hope in God for I will yet praise him, my savior and my God.”

My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness;

I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

When darkness hides His lovely face, I rest on His unchanging grace;

In ev’ry high and stormy gale my anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood support me in the whelming flood;

When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay. (Edward Mote)

March 17, Wednesday… Psalm 139:1-6

The intimacy of relationship with God is reflected in God’s comprehensive knowledge of us.  It should be noted that the perfect tense is used throughout this section indicating that God is not some “heavenly deteco-guard system,” continually testing and evaluating us. He already knows all there is to know about us.  

To search for something usually implies some measure of ignorance, some lack of knowledge. However, the Psalmist is saying that He has always known us completely.  As Spurgeon said, “There never was a time in which we were unknown to God, and there will never be a moment in which we shall be beyond his observation.”  

To paraphrase: “He has always known my sitting down and my rising up- my passive and active moments. He has always discerned my thoughts from afar- not merely detected what I’m thinking but has discerned them even before they are fully formed in my mind. He has always comprehended my path (my journey), my lying down (when I stop off at the hotel), and all my ways (the very reason for the trip). He has always known the words I will speak before they are formed. He has set limits on my behavior so that I am not able to ultimately destroy myself. He has always guided me by His hand.”

The Psalmist responds in amazement, “such knowledge is too wonderful,” it is too lofty for his finite mind to comprehend.  How could such a great God take such a personal interest in him? And for the believer in Christ, how can such a great God know me so completely and yet love me so intimately?  As someone has said, “Isn’t it odd, that a being like God, who sees the façade, still loves the clod, he made out of sod. Yes, isn’t it odd?”

Could we with ink the oceans fill and were the skies of parchment made, were every stalk on earth a quill and ev’ry man a scribe by trade, to write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry,nor could the scroll contain the whole tho’ stretched from sky to sky. (Frederick Lehman)

March 18, Thursday… Psalm 139:7-12

The Psalmist considers another characteristic of God’s nature, His omnipresence.  He wonders if there is any place where he can go where God is not present.  I don’t think he is asking this question because he is guilty and wants to run away from God. Instead, the Psalmist meditates on the extent to which God’s presence permeates His creation and he takes great comfort from this.  Probably better to translate it “Where could I go from your presence?” The Psalmist explores the physical dimensions of the universe; its height and depth, its breadth, its light and darkness, and concludes that there is nowhere in the universe that he could go beyond the presence of God. An old poem by Bela Edwards (1802-1852) says it like this:

How from thy presence could I go,

  Or whither from thy Spirit could I flee,

Since all above, around below,

  Exist in Thine immensity?

If up to heaven I take my way, 

  I meet Thee in eternal day.

If in the grave I make my bed

  With worms and dust, lo! Thou art there!

If on the wings of morning sped,

  Beyond the ocean I repair,

I feel thine all-controlling will,

  And Thy right hand upholds me still.

“Let darkness hide me,” if I say,

  Darkness can no concealment be;

Night, on Thy rising shines like day; 

  Darkness and light are one with Thee.

For thou mine embryo form did view,

  Ere her own babe my mother knew.

We could also personalize this section.  “Could I reach any point in my life that would separate me from your presence?  If I experience the heights of success, you are there.  If I am dragged through the depths of failure, you are there as well.  If I fly away from responsibility and live in the land of my own self-gratification, even there you are present and will bring me back to my senses.  If depression and despair come over me like a dark cloud so that I feel you no longer care, I will remember that you are also present in the darkness where you are doing your greatest work.”    

March 19, Friday… Psalm 139:13-18

The Psalmist indicates that God’s knowledge and care of us flow from His creation of us.  It is almost as if the writer sees himself as some kind of masterpiece of God’s design. 

      “You formed my vital parts (literally the kidneys, those deepest organs which cannot be detected, like a heart through its beat) and knit me together in my mother’s womb.”

        “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”  We are to consider ourselves so wonderful as to recognize that we have been wonderfully created by an awe-inspiring God. Here we see that the main focus of the Psalmist is God and yet creation takes on significance because of the character of the Creator.  (When we jettison God we also scuttle our human dignity- Romans 1:18 f.)

        “My very frame (literally my bones (our strength and latent potential) was not hidden from God when I was being made, skillfully made in the lowest parts of the earth.”  This is a poetic expression. All of us like Adam come from dust and “the same skill that made Adam makes every son and daughter of Adam.”  (H.C. Leupold) 

         “All of my days were ordained” by God, even before I came out of the oven. God has given us significance by virtue of our creation and a destiny by virtue of his sovereignty. Compare this to Jeremiah 1:5.

Instead of getting caught up in questions concerning foreknowledge and foreordination the Psalmist asserts how precious these thoughts are to him.  Who can comprehend God’s love and mercy?  Who can number God’s thoughts for all his creation? I may at times be unimportant in my own sight or that of the world, but I am never thus in the sight of my God.  

March 20, Saturday… Psalm 139:19-24

There is a surprising turn in the mood of the psalmist which is baffling. He seems to lash out at the wicked for their disobedience and ill-treatment of God.  This is not a New Testament response. We are not told to hate those who hate God, but to pray for them.  However, I do not believe that the Psalmist is motivated by a spirit of revenge (as in Psalm 63) as much as a spirit of grief over the dishonoring of a Holy God who is merciful and gracious.  We may be more tolerant, but are we as zealous for God’s honor and glory?  Do we grieve when others used the name of the Lord in vain? Do we grieve when we see those wonderfully created by God and blessed by His providential care blaspheme that same God, worse yet, ignore their God and live at the level that belies their dignity and significance?

 It is important to notice that the Psalmist finishes his thought not by condemning the sin of the ungodly, but by directing the radar gun on his own life. He asks God to continue to search him and know him and point out to him the unwholesome things that may keep him from the path of life.  He submits himself to the scrutiny of God. More specifically he asks that God might know his “anxious thoughts.” In what ways do our worries lead us to sin? Since he has already acknowledged that God knows him better than he knows himself, this is a prayer for further sanctification. He desires that God reveal things about his life that he does not yet know so that he can be purified.

 There are two kinds of hypocrisy: one where we deceive others and a second where we deceive ourselves. The first kind is dealt with by recognizing God’s omniscience and omnipresence in our world and in our lives. The second kind of hypocrisy—that of self deception, is dealt with by placing ourselves under the search light of God’s holy gaze and asking him to reveal the filth of our own natures to our own eyes. He doesn’t say, “I have searched myself and find no wicked way in me,” rather “Search me O God…and see if there be any way of pain in me.” That is an interesting way to describe sin- “the way of pain.”  However, it is true isn’t it? When we live our lives apart from the command of God we bring great pain upon ourselves and others. This way of life is put in sharp contrast with “the way everlasting” in which the Psalmist desired to walk. The way of pain results from the unexamined life. The way of righteousness comes as God searches us out and purifies us. 

In which way do you desire to walk? What are you going to do about it?

March 21, Sunday… Matthew 26:26-28

A universal question: What do you do with your guilt? The discussion of guilt takes religion out of the theoretical and brings it down to the real. So, let me ask you that question again: what do you do with your guilt?  What do you do with those feelings of shame or remorse that haunt you because of certain things that you have done? Someone has likened dealing with guilt to wrestling an octopus in a dark aquarium at midnight. We all have to do it and we have set up ways to deal with our guilt:

Denial. “What, me? I don’t have any guilt.” Psychology over the last forty-five years has tried to get rid of guilt through psychotherapeutic means –  helping people relieve their guilt by convincing them they did not do anything wrong. The problem is that guilt does not disappear just because we deny its existence. In fact, we are learning that many physical, psychological, and character disorders are the result of the following cover-ups for guilt: 

Transfer- shift the blame. “I know I shouldn’t have said those awful things about her, but she deserved it for all the things she’s done to me.”

Rationalize. “I know I lied, but it was just a little one—not nearly as bad as others who lie all the time.”

Conceal and Self-Punish.   Many of you have read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter. Hester Prynne is prosecuted in a New England Puritan town as an adulteress and has to wear a scarlet letter “A” on her clothes as a life time punishment for her sin. She would not reveal the name of the man with whom she had committed adultery, who is none other than the local pastor, Arthur Dimmesdale. He does not go public with his sin and it eats away at him and causes him to literally carve a letter “A” into the skin of his own chest. 

All of these responses indicate that guilt is both powerful and important. What we need to understand is that guilt has a pay-off; it serves a purpose and that is why it needs to be dealt with and not ignored. God has given us the ability to feel guilt very much like he has blessed us with the ability to feel pain. Did you ever think that if you could not feel pain you would never know that something was wrong?  If you put your hand on a hot stove and didn’t feel it, you might never know that your flesh was burning until it was too late. Likewise, when we feel guilty it usually indicates that something is wrong, and that we have to do something about it. Is it time to “fess up?” 

Let me warn all careless members of churches to beware lest they trifle their souls into hell. You live on year after year as if there was no battle to be fought with sin, the world, and the devil. You pass through life a smiling, laughing gentleman-like or lady-like person and behave as if there was no devil, no heaven, and no hell. Oh, careless Churchman…awake to see eternal realities in their true light! Awake and put on the armor of God! Awake and fight hard for life! Tremble, tremble and repent. (J,C. Ryle, 1816-1900)   

Lenten Devotionals…Week 3, March 1-7

Monday, March 1…Psalm 68:24

Your procession has come into view, O God, the procession of my God and King into the sanctuary. In front are the singers, after them are the maidens playing tambourines

The Psalmist here describes the festal procession celebrating the occasion of the Ark of the Covenant being brought back to the Temple.

He says that the worshippers actually see God processing as this festival is played out. I think that if some of us American Christians were there we would have only seen the procession (the costumes, the professionalism, the precision, the ages of the singers and what style of music they played) and not God himself. We would have separated out the “spiritual” from the “act” and made a judgment as to how worshipful the service was. CS Lewis in his Reflections on the Psalms uses the analogy of a child who cannot separate the religious from the festal character of Christmas or Easter. To the boy, chocolate eggs and Jesus’ resurrection are a unity. “And once he has distinguished (them), he must put one or the other first. If he puts the spiritual first he can still taste something of Easter in the chocolate eggs; if he puts the eggs first they will soon be no more than any other sweetmeat. They have taken on independent, and therefore a soon withering, life. Either at some period in Judaism, or else in the experience of some Jews, a roughly parallel situation occurred. The unity falls apart; the sacrificial rites become distinguishable from meeting with God.” 

Do we separate out the spiritual from the act of worship and judge the effectiveness of the latter by how it moves us? Might it be that we judge those who lead us in worship as guilty of performance when it is we who fail to see God “in the procession”?   

Reflect on this reflection and tomorrow we will make another application.

Tuesday, March 2… Psalm 50:8, 9, 12, 13, 17, 19

I bring no charges against you concerning your sacrifices or concerning your burnt offerings, which are ever before me. I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens…If I were hungry I would not tell you for the world is mine, and all that is in it…Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? You hate my instruction and cast my words behind you…You use your mouth for evil and harness your tongue to deceit.   

The other danger of separating out the unity of worship (the spiritual from the act) is vividly portrayed in Psalm 50, as well as in Isaiah 58. Israel’s performance of worship and other acts of piety became separated from the obedience that God required, or the slave-owning church-goer making no connection between his worship and his ownership and treatment of human flesh of another color. 

Instead of seeking and honoring God in all of life, the sacrificial system and the worship of the Temple became a kind of commercial transaction, which traded carcasses of animals for God’s blessings, as if God needed animals and blood in order to survive. Many a “religious” person in our day looks to rites and rituals as a means of merit that earns God’s favor eventuating in salvation. In Morocco, I am told that a Muslim earns one point each time he prays at home, but twenty-seven points for praying at the Mosque.

It is a proper understanding of the gospel that provides the antidote. “Not the labor of my hands can fulfill the Laws demands.” We cannot achieve a right-standing with God on the basis of any work or act of worship. It is only through the worship (sacrifice) of Christ that we are made acceptable to God. And it is through the indwelling gift of the Holy Spirit that we are given a heart that desires to seek after God, to long for his beauty and to obey his commands. It is, therefore, God’s work for us and in us through Christ that breaks down the barrier between the sacred and secular, and all of life becomes a venue for expressing our praise and adoration to God—whether it is in act of “temple” worship or in the worship of making coleslaw for supper for the glory for God. 

Not what I feel or do, can give me peace with God. Not all my prayers and sighs and tears can bear my awful load.Thy work alone, O Christ, can ease this weight of sin. Thy blood alone, O Lamb of God, can give me peace within.Thy love to me, O God—not mine, O Lord, to thee, can rid me of this dark unrest and set my spirit free. I bless the Christ of God, I rest on love divine, and with unfaltering lip and heart I call this Savior mine.  (Horatius Bonar)

Also, please pray for me (Dave McDowell) today as I will be receiving the first infusion of my clinical trial for cancer at the National Institutes for Health in Bethesda, MD. Thank you.

Wednesday, March 3…Job 40:1-5; 42:1-6

I am unworthy—how can I reply to you?  I lay my hand over my mouth.  I spoke once, but I have no answer; twice, but I will say no more… Therefore, I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.

Spirituality has become a very big business. The tools and techniques that were used by New Agers off in the dark corners of our culture twenty years ago have now been mainstreamed into a very popular vague, tolerant, and fluffy spirituality. There is also a very interesting shift in our culture where the terms religion and spirituality have been separated so that the latter has more to do with us than with God. 

However, unlike our culture’s version of spirituality, biblical spirituality does not begin with our own self awareness, but with God and the awareness of His holiness. John Calvin wrote “True and substantial wisdom principally consists of two parts, the knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves. [But] which of them preceded and produces the other is not easy to discover. [For] no man can take a survey of himself but he must immediately turn to the contemplation of God, in whom he lives and moves.” (Institutes1.1.1.),

In doing this (contemplating God), however, we run into an immediate problem. True Spirituality does not “feel good” initially because coming to know the biblical God is a deeply unsettling experience. Modern religious movements “de-fang” God and transform him into some nebulous higher power or tolerant grandfather.  

You know the story of Job, a righteous man who lost all his possessions through war, a natural disaster that took the lives of his ten children, and finally he was incapacitated by a painful skin disease.Job yelled and complained and wondered why he was even born.  He told his friends who were no help at all and only added to his suffering. Then he turned to God and asked, Why?  Why me?  Why not someone else?  All the normal questions; but as we read on it gets uncomfortable because of Job’s uncensored honesty.  Job tried to reconcile his integrity with his adversity and he couldn’t, so he questioned God’s justice.  God is tormenting me for reasons that have nothing to do with my behavior.  Is that justice?  I want God to come out of hiding and answer my questions!    

Suddenly God showed up! It was He who hurled question after question at Job.  He didn’t unlock the mystery of suffering or solve the enigma of death.  He simply revealed Himself as a God of power and wisdom. And before the presence of the Living God, all Job could do was repent in dust and ashes.

Almighty and merciful God, to whom the light and darkness are both alike, and without whom nothing befalls your children; strengthen us to meet all the experiences of life with a heart that responds like Job who said, ‘the Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.’ We pray this through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, March 4…Isaiah 6:1-4

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord…

Isaiah had this vision of the sovereign God in a time of national crisis.  Uzziah (Azariah) was the first godly national leader since Solomon.  Under his leadership, the nation prospered and Temple worship was restored to its proper place.  He reigned for 52 years and with his death, the hopes and dreams of Judah also began to die.  It is in this context that Isaiah saw the Lord in a vision, probably while worshipping in the Temple.   

Isaiah saw the awe-inspiring splendor of God.  He saw his sovereignty and his holiness. What a scene! Isaiah saw the holiness of God, the only attribute ever mentioned in this three-fold way (the Trisagion). Never do we hear, Love, Love, Love or Justice, Justice, Justice…but we do hear, Holy, Holy, Holy.  God is ethically pure, absolutely upright and utterly truthful in all His ways.  All his other attributes flow from his holiness.  The primary meaning of God’s holiness, however, is not just his ethical purity, but the fact that He is distinct or separate from all created things. [hagiasmos, signifies separation; we are to be holy, which implies a separation from the world and unto God.] There is nothing in this universe like God; He is completely unlike anything we can ever imagine. “God is not beautiful; he is beauty itself, the fountain from which all beautiful creatures draw their excellence. God is not loving; he is love. His attributes are the infinite standard against which all limited perfections are measured.” (Richard Lovelace)

What are you, O Lord, what are you? How shall my heart think of you? Certainly you are life, you are wisdom, you are truth, you are goodness, you are blessedness, you are eternity, and you are every true good. But these are many, and my narrow understanding cannot take in so much in a single glance and take delight all at once. (St. Anselm, ca.1033-1109)

Friday, March 5…Isaiah 6:5

Woe to me, I am coming apart.  For I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.  

What was Isaiah’s reaction to this vision of God? Did he get warm and fuzzy feelings all over? Did he experience a sense of worthiness and acceptance, embraced by love? On the contrary, Isaiah found that God’s holy character was too much for him to bear. He had the sense that his whole being was being undone, coming apart, “shriveled to a clinker.”  And so, Isaiah fell on his face in worship before the mysterium of God, and repented.

We have seen Job’s and Isaiah’s reaction to the untamed, undomesticated God of the universe. If we desire to know true spirituality, than we must begin to know God for who he is and that he is holy; that he is completely different than we are and there is no possible way we can stand to be in his presence. Our only possible recourse is to bite the dust in humble repentance. 

This is also where the gospel begins. Saving faith in Jesus Christ can so radically change the spiritual landscape of our lives that instead of cowering in God’s awesome presence or trying to flee from him in fear, we will desire to draw near to him and to be in his presence. Jonathan Edwards wrote: “As I walked (in my father’s pasture)…there came into my mind so sweet a sense of the glorious majesty and grace of God, as I know not how to express…God’s excellency, his wisdom, his purity, and love, seemed to appear in everything… I had vehement longings of soul after God and Christ, and after more holiness, wherewith my heart seemed to be full, and ready to break…Prayer seemed to be natural to me, as the breath by which the inward burnings of my heart had vent.”  

Jonathan Edwards’ relationship to God was changed when he understood the work of Christ. Christ Jesus came into the world to bridge the chasm between a holy God and sinful humanity, so that we might be forgiven and brought near to Him. Has that been your experience or are you still running from God and involved in a spirituality of your own making? Have you found your rest in Christ?

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought; my sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul. It is well, with my soul, it is well, it is well with my soul. (Philip Paul Bliss)

Saturday, March 6 … Romans 1:16

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God unto salvation of everyone who believes…just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”  

Martin Luther in commenting on this passage wrote, “Night and day I pondered until…I grasped the truth that the righteousness of God is that righteousness whereby, through grace and sheer mercy, He justifies us by faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through the open doors into paradise.  The whole of Scripture took on new meaning… This passage of Paul became to me a gateway to heaven.” 

This was a radical departure from the Roman Catholic understanding of Justification. The Church understood it as an infusion of righteousness whereby a person is actually made righteous through the sacraments. However, Luther discovered in The Book of Romans that Paul used the term justification in a declarative and forensic manner. In other words, when we believe in Jesus Christ we are not made righteous (we can talk about that in terms of Sanctification), but we are declared righteous. Here is an excellent definition: Justification by faith is “the legal act of God by which He declares the sinner righteous on the basis of the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ.” (Louis Berkhof)    

Luther was a priest and a professor in the Roman Catholic Church. He had been taught that one’s acceptance by God was based upon the spiritual life of good works and the merits of Christ’s death. The Scriptures convinced him otherwise; that his only hope of being in the right with God was not on the basis of our efforts, but on the basis of faith alone, by grace alone, in Christ alone. 

In Christ alone, I place my trust , and find my glory in the power of the Cross. In every victory, let it be said of me, my source of strength, my source of hope is Christ alone.

Sunday, March 7 … Psalm 32:1, 2

Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.    

Paul quotes these verses in Romans 4:7, 8 and gives us another perspective on Justification by Faith. God justifies completely the one who believes, so that not only is the righteousness of Christ credited to our account, but He also refuses to credit our sins against us.  Paul quotes King David who wrote Psalm 32.  It should be noted that David was a believer, one whom God had declared righteous and yet he committed adultery and tried to cover it up by becoming a conspirator in the murder of an innocent man.  He kept his crime to himself for about a year before the prophet Nathan confronted him and said, “You are the man!” David confessed his sin and repented of what he had done and then wrote of the blessings of forgiveness in Psalm 32. 

Thus, we see that being justified by grace through faith involves a positive; the crediting of righteousness to our account even though we are morally and spiritually bankrupt.  Justification also involves a negative; the forgiveness of all of our sins and never counting them against us ever again. That is why the play on the word justified is so accurate: just-if-I’d never sinned. When a person believes in Christ, that person is accounted righteous in the sight of God. Every sin—past, present, future, is washed away and God will never bring them up again. David also expressed this in Psalm 103:12, As far as the East is from the West, so far has He removed our sins from us. The prophet Micah agreed in 7:18-20, Who is a pardoning God like you, who pardons sin and forgives transgression…and hurls all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. God doesn’t throw them into the shallow water where we can go and scoop them out, but he casts our sin into the depths of the sea where they are lost forever in his grace. 

As believers, our slate is clean with God because of Christ. We should not respond to this grace by sinning all the more because we know we are forgiven.  In fact, it calls us to a higher standard of righteousness (“Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees.”) It calls us to a life in community where love, justice, and mercy live. It calls us to care for the poor and the oppressed, because that how we were before Christ liberated us by his grace. This grace should humble us and motivate us to live in such a way never to disappoint the one who has been so gracious. “O God, thank you for your grace and forgiveness and that I stand completely accepted and loved in your sight. Now, help me by my love for others to show just how much to you I owe to you. Amen”

Be sure to check back here next week for our last week of Lenten Devotionals...