Tag Archives: sin

Three Days Until Easter:


With Easter so near we can almost taste the chocolate, many of us have gone from weeks of reflection on our relationship with God through Christ to lists of to-dos for special family meals, and to-buys for Easter baskets for our kids.  Those with little girls may be out buying that perfect Easter dress and with little boys maybe getting little dress shirts and ties.  As with other special days of celebration we like to make a fuss.

With our kids a little older now, we don’t really do much with baskets or egg hunts any more.  We aren’t hosting a family event, so the panic clean-up is not under way.  The biggest sign that we are only 3 days away from Easter morning was last night when my husband arrived home with a huge box of bacon.  For years he has helped to organize the sunrise breakfast at our church and, for many of us, bacon plays a central role in the event.  At this point, the decisions about worship have all been made, the anthems planned and as practised as they are going to get.  

It is time to let go and let ourselves be swept away in the story and the emotional roller-coaster of this four-day period.  We will rise from the Passover meal with Christ on Thursday night feeling at the same time so close to him and confused by what he has said will happen.  Afraid that he will be leaving us, worried that we might deny him.  We will be horrified by the treatment he takes and the cries for his crucifixion, we will feel immense guilt as we see him hanging there on the cross, an innocent man.   Our sense of loss and grief will overtake us as we hear the words, “It is finished.”  This will be followed by a lost day in which regular life continues but feels like it shouldn’t.  And then there will be Sunday.

On Sunday morning we will rise to go back into our churches which were last seen in a moment of deep grief and pain, and be lifted up on the amazing wave of the news, “He lives!”  Let yourself feel it all this Easter weekend, and remember it throughout the rest of the year, for this is why we are Christians!

Prophet or Voice of Doom?


I think it is safe to say that there are still prophetic voices out there in the world today, probably not being paid much attention.  I think it is also clear that there are many people who get their five minutes of fame by predicting doom over one issue or another and they seem to be paid a great deal of attention.

 

I got the idea for this post a while ago while watching When Harry Met Sally with my daughters.  As he states himself, Harry has a dark side.  Particularly in the early part of the movie Harry makes many pronouncements which, while not necessarily without basis in reality, would suck the enjoyment out of almost any moment!  For instance;

 

Harry Burns: You take someone to the airport, it’s clearly the beginning of the relationship. That’s why I have never taken anyone to the airport at the beginning of a relationship.
Sally Albright: Why?
Harry Burns: Because eventually things move on and you don’t take someone to the airport and I never wanted anyone to say to me, How come you never take me to the airport anymore?
Sally Albright: Its amazing. You look like a normal person but actually you are the angel of death.

 

Later he and Sally actually discuss this tendency to the dark side;

 

Sally Albright: I have just as much of a dark side as the next person.
Harry Burns: Oh, really? When I buy a new book, I read the last page first. That way, in case I die before I finish, I know how it ends. That, my friend, is a dark side.

A doomsayer is “one given to forebodings and predictions of impending calamity”  (http://www.merriam-webster.com) Harry, is a doomsayer!  Another good candidate for the title of doomsayer would be Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh;

 

“Good morning, Pooh Bear,” said Eeyore gloomily. “If it is a good morning,” he said. “Which I doubt,” said he.”Why, what’s the matter?””Nothing, Pooh Bear, nothing. We can’t all, and some of us don’t. That’s all there is to it.””Can’t all what?” said Pooh, rubbing his nose.”Gaiety. Song-and-dance. Here we go round the mulberry bush.”

 

If predicting calamity is what it takes to be a doomsayer, then why do we not have a section in the Bible after the Pentateuch and Psalms and Wisdom Literature called Doomsayings?  If you read the beginning of many of the stories in the books of the prophets, they begin with warnings of catastrophe about to befall the people of Israel who have strayed from the ways of the Lord in one way or another.  Predictions of pandemics, military defeat, destruction of the Temple, and being taken into captivity abound!  I’m not sure I’d be in a hurry to invite a prophet to dinner at my house for fear they may have just such a message for me.

A prophet is,“one who utters divinely inspired revelations: as a often capitalized : the writer of one of the prophetic books of the Bible b capitalized : one regarded by a group of followers as the final authoritative revealer of God’s will <Muhammad, the Prophet of Allah> 2: one gifted with more than ordinary spiritual and moral insight; especially : an inspired poet 3: one who foretells future events : predictor” (http://www.merriam-webster.com)

 

The fundamental difference is that a prophet is divinely inspired.  The messages prophets share with the people around them are the words of God.   Some prophets in the past were pretty unhappy to be called upon to give the message they were told.  Jonah really didn’t want to help out the people of Nineveh and even ran away, but that didn’t end well for him and he delivered his message in the end.  There are stories of prophets hiding in caves in the wilderness to avoid crowds who were out to get them.  In 1 Kings 19 we read about Elijah, having challenged the prophets of Baal and won, ran away to a cave on Mt. Sinai to hide from Queen Jezebel who had vowed to kill him.

 

Regardless of the message a prophet may carry to us, our problem remains.  How can we tell when we are hearing from a true prophet and not a doomsayer?  Recently there was an individual who “prophesied” the coming of the rapture.  He claimed that the date and time were to be found written in Bible.  Many people were convinced by this prediction, some even selling all they had.  Many took it as a joke and there were many photos posted on Twitter of people’s clothing laid out as if they had just vanished from within them.

 

Our best hope is to look to the Bible to determine validity of such claims.  “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mark 13:32)  This is also stated in Matthew 24:36 and echoed again in Acts.  If our doomsayer of the day had really been speaking words from God, he would have known that the hour and the day would not be written in the Bible.’  Through study and prayer we seek the truth of God.

The Verses In The Plain Brown Wrapper: Why The Lectionary Skips Verses


If you look at the Revised Common Lectionary listing of Bible readings over a three year period you will notice that while in theory it covers the whole Bible in each cycle there are parts you may never hear preached.  Thankfully one section in this category includes most of the book of Numbers which contain seemingly endless lists of genealogies.  One of the most curious things is that even with the Psalms there are frequently parts of the Psalm which are not designated as a part of the reading.  For example; two of the Sundays in June had small pieces removed from the Psalms in the RCL.  On June 5 we read Psalm 68 but left out verses 11-31.  On June 12 the reading was Psalm 104 and we left out verses 1 -24 and 35A.

If you read these Psalms responsively in your worship service, these skipped sections can lead to confusion for the congregation as well as the minister, unless you print them out.  What could be so wrong with Psalm 68 verses 11-31 that would deem it unusable in worship.  It is a part of the Bible, that is not denied, the planners of the lectionaries, though, presumably thought it best to skip them.

Psalm 68
11
The Lord gives the command;

great is the company of those who bore the tidings:
12   ‘The kings of the armies, they flee, they flee!’
The women at home divide the spoil,
13   though they stay among the sheepfolds—
the wings of a dove covered with silver,
its pinions with green gold.
14 When the Almighty scattered kings there,
snow fell on Zalmon.
15 O mighty mountain, mountain of Bashan;
O many-peaked mountain, mountain of Bashan!
16 Why do you look with envy, O many-peaked mountain,
at the mount that God desired for his abode,
where the Lord will reside for ever?
17 With mighty chariotry, twice ten thousand,
thousands upon thousands,
the Lord came from Sinai into the holy place.
18 You ascended the high mount,
leading captives in your train
and receiving gifts from people,
even from those who rebel against the Lord God’s abiding there.
19 Blessed be the Lord,
who daily bears us up;
God is our salvation.
Selah
20 Our God is a God of salvation,
and to God, the Lord, belongs escape from death.
21 But God will shatter the heads of his enemies,
the hairy crown of those who walk in their guilty ways.
22 The Lord said,
‘I will bring them back from Bashan,
I will bring them back from the depths of the sea,
23 so that you may bathe your feet in blood,
so that the tongues of your dogs may have their share from the foe.’
24 Your solemn processions are seen, O God,
the processions of my God, my King, into the sanctuary—
25 the singers in front, the musicians last,
between them girls playing tambourines:
26 ‘Bless God in the great congregation,
the Lord, O you who are of Israel’s fountain!’
27 There is Benjamin, the least of them, in the lead,
the princes of Judah in a body,
the princes of Zebulun, the princes of Naphtali.
28 Summon your might, O God;
show your strength, O God, as you have done for us before.
29 Because of your temple at Jerusalem
kings bear gifts to you.
30 Rebuke the wild animals that live among the reeds,
the herd of bulls with the calves of the peoples.
Trample under foot those who lust after tribute;
scatter the peoples who delight in war.
31 Let bronze be brought from Egypt;
let Ethiopia hasten to stretch out its hands to God.

I assume that in the case of the above verses there were a couple of concerns.  In many of the verses God is portrayed in a very militaristic and vengeful light.  God’s army is huge, will shatter the heads of the enemies, there is talk of feeding the enemy to the dogs and the victors bathing their feet in blood.  Yuck!  One of the things that is most disturbing about reading in the Old Testament comes from this sort of portrayal.  This is not the loving God with whom we grew up in the mainline churches!  The other thing I noticed was how much God’s desire of a mountain top abode, receiving of gifts etc. reminds me of what I have taught for years in my unit on Mesopotamia and other ancient civilizations.  This is not surprising exactly, but in early days it would have been very important to distance Christianity from pagan practices.

Would the reasons be the same for Psalm 104?

God the Creator and Provider

1 Bless the Lord, O my soul.
O Lord my God, you are very great.
You are clothed with honour and majesty,
2   wrapped in light as with a garment.
You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
3   you set the beams of your chambers on the waters,
you make the clouds your chariot,
you ride on the wings of the wind,
4 you make the winds your messengers,
fire and flame your ministers.
5 You set the earth on its foundations,
so that it shall never be shaken.
6 You cover it with the deep as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
7 At your rebuke they flee;
at the sound of your thunder they take to flight.
8 They rose up to the mountains, ran down to the valleys
to the place that you appointed for them.
9 You set a boundary that they may not pass,
so that they might not again cover the earth.
10 You make springs gush forth in the valleys;
they flow between the hills,
11 giving drink to every wild animal;
the wild asses quench their thirst.
12 By the streams the birds of the air have their habitation;
they sing among the branches.
13 From your lofty abode you water the mountains;
the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.
14 You cause the grass to grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to use,
to bring forth food from the earth,
15   and wine to gladden the human heart,
oil to make the face shine,
and bread to strengthen the human heart.
16 The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly,
the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
17 In them the birds build their nests;
the stork has its home in the fir trees.
18 The high mountains are for the wild goats;
the rocks are a refuge for the coneys.
19 You have made the moon to mark the seasons;
the sun knows its time for setting.
20 You make darkness, and it is night,
when all the animals of the forest come creeping out.
21 The young lions roar for their prey,
seeking their food from God.
22 When the sun rises, they withdraw
and lie down in their dens.
23 People go out to their work
and to their labour until the evening.

35 Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
and let the wicked be no more.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
Praise the Lord!

As you could see, Psalm 104:1-24  had none of the more disturbing elements to it at all.  Paired in the lectionary as it is with the creation story from Genesis, I think we can be fairly certain that this shortening was done for time.  The Genesis reading is long and covers all the same ground as in verses.  Verse 35A however consigns sinners to be consumed (one assumes by fire) which seems contrary to the concept of Christian love.

I wonder if we do too much of this covering up, or brushing aside, the uncomfortable parts of the Bible.  I certainly understand that one might not want your five-year-old repeating lines about feeding their enemies to the dogs, or bathing their feet in blood.  My concern is that it is a little like issues of family violence.  People didn’t ever talk about family violence.  It was something to keep behind closed doors.  Neighbors might be somewhat aware that things were happening, but would never think to ask or offer help.  What ends up happening, in the case of the Bible, is that we educate Christians while side-stepping the issues, and then later when they come across these verses in their own study they are ill prepared to deal with them.  I know I wasn’t prepared the first time I seriously sat down and read the Old Testament!

I’m not sure what a solution might be.  Perhaps we need to be offering Bible studies on the unpalatable parts, but then, being so unpalatable, who would attend?  I do feel, however that it is important to get the verses out of their plain paper bags, and into the open.

Balancing the Books: God’s Gracious Gift


flickr.com/photos/andresrueda/3027534098

I was thinking this morning about debt.  When we say the Lord’s Prayer at my church one line is, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”  This is not really talking about financial issues, although I suppose it is not excluding those, but about our sins.

 

New rules for credt card companies came in as a response to the financial crisis of a couple of years ago.  Credit card companies are now required to give two new pieces of information on each statement; the date at which your debt will be paid off if you pay minimum payments, and the date if you pay a larger percentage.  This can be a pretty scary thing at which to look, almost scary enough to lead us to start using cash! 

 

What if that same rule were applied to our other debts, those of hurtful words, broken promises, and myriad other sins?  What would that statement have to say?

Payment Information

New Balance Total……………….   40 years of sin

Current Payment Due…………….   1 month of good works

                                                ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­________________________________

Total Minimum Payment Due……1 month of good works

Minimum Payment Due Date…… Next Sunday

 

Minimum Payment Warning: If you make only the

minimum payment each period, you will pay more in

interest and it will take you longer to pay off your balance.

For example:

 

If you make no additional               You will pay off the

charges using this card                    balance shown on this

and each month you pay                  statement in about.

by the due date.

 

Only the minimum payment            100 Years, 6 Months

 I obviously made all that up, but even though it seems extreem, I am pretty sure that the time to pay off our own debts would be a lot longer than 100 years, and let’s face it, we aren’t likely to manage not to run the bill up higher over the years!  The point is, there is no way that we can pay that debt off on our own.  But the good news is that through the grace of God and the loving sacrifice of Jesus, it is already marked

The Jesus Prayer in Song


The Jesus Prayer

Words and Music by Cathy Scott

 

Chorus

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!

 

1. Lord I acknowledge you as lord of my life,

I will seek your guidance, try to do as you like.

 

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!

 

2. Jesus you have known my name from the womb

and Jesus you have told me yours so I can call on you.

 

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!

 

3. Christ is a title appointed by God.

God’s annointed king, saviour of the whole world.

 

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!

 

4. Mercy that stems from your infinite grace.

Forgive all that I have done and all I’ve left undone.

 

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!

 

5. On me, the least of your followers,

Despite my straying bring me home to you.

 

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!

 

Sound file to come

The Beauty in a Drainage Ditch


Ditches are constructed to drain water from the land, especially during or immediately after times of heavy rain or melting snow.  Ditches are the things into which drivers sometimes drive or swerve and then need to be towed out of them. 

 

We don’t generally think much about the ditches alongside our roads.  We certainly don’t want to end up in them with our cars.  They tend to be somewhat filled up with trash which once it has blown down into them remains stuck there and gets water-logged.  When we have roadside clean-ups the main focus is clearing this refuse away.  For one thing it is unsightly, but it is also a danger to the functioning of the ditch as it may block the passage of water causing back-ups in the system.

 

If I sent you off to find examples of spring-time beauty, I doubt you would head straight for the ditch along your road.  But just as there are awesome and beautiful things happening in a world full of sin, hate, and war, there is beauty in our ditches.  In our neighbourhood it is one of the first areas to have really green grass which is a spirit lifting sight after months of snow.  No matter how much garbage may be thrown into your life, seek out the beauty and revel in it! 

 

photos were taken in the drainage ditches in my subdivision on April 29, 2011

The Real Breakout King


There is a new TV show on this year called Breakout Kings.  The premise of this  show is that a small group of inmates are given temporary leave from prison in order to put their unique skills into finding and catching escaped prisoners.  Yesterday at our communion service our minister spoke on the theme of breaking out and even as he was doing the children’s story I was sneaking out my note pad and writing down, “Jesus: The Real Breakout King.”

 

As people have stated for ages, there are two things that are inevitable; death and taxes.  From the day we are born, we are moving towards our death.  A chalenge with helping children to understand death is letting them know that it is permanent, the goldfish, other pet, or loved one will not be coming back.  We all know this.  That is why it was so amazing when Jesus was able to call a young man being carried to his grave, a young girl who had died, and finally Lazarus who had been in the tomb four days back from death.  This was amazing enough but Jesus actually broke out of his own death.  He was dead, he was layed out in the tomb and sealed in, and he broke out on his own!  

 

Jesus is truly the breakout king, and through his resurrection we not only see his power over death for himself but for us as well!   Through his death for our sins, we are forgiven, we have not yet died physical death, but we are already living our eternal life.

Targeting Intimacy with God


http://www.flickr.com/photos/storem/133599246/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Today in Family Living class we were looking at the filter theory on relationships.  The idea is that the intimacy level of a relationship can be judged, or improved, by rating degrees of seven filter areas.  The people closest to the bulls-eye of our target are those with whom we have the most intimate relationships.  If you want to improve your intimacy level then working on any of the filters further in will help. 

  

If we apply this filter to our relationship with God how would we fare?

 

#1 Physical and Emotional Closeness – On the physical side of this scale we run into the same snag as people for centuries because since the ascension of Christ there has been no solid tangible presence of God on earth.  We can not reach out and touch God, but the emotional attachment to God is probably the earliest that most of us remember.  God is love, how can we not be emotionally attached? (We will leave the issue of anger at God for another day)
 

#2 Sharing Values – As Christians our very understanding of values comes to us from the word of God.  While it may be true that people who are not Christian share many values like honesty and loyalty with us, the Bible provides with a clear moral outline which is not provided in the secular world.


 
#3 Reward Expected – If we were looking for reciprocity in the relationship I’m afraid God would be left the loser on reward expected.  From God we expect much and have his promise to count on.  If we believe, we can expect forgiveness and everlasting life.  Rewards don’t get much better than those!  What do we give to God?  We do well to give God thanks and praise.  If you have done the catechism you will recognize this as the chief end of man.
 

#4 Time Spent Together – Here is one area where most of us could stand to improve.  God is with us 24/7 through the presence of the Holy Spirit, but how often are we truly with him?  One hour/week in church?  Are we with God when we are at committee meetings at the church?  Some part of every day as we study the Bible or pray?  Moments of crisis only?  I think it is safe to say that we can all stand to increase our time spent together with God.
 

#5 Level of Exclusivity – We know that God loves every person in the world just as much as the others.  God is the only God and expects us to remember that.  This is the first commandment, ” I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery;  you shall have no other gods before me.” (Deut. 5:6-7)  This exclusivity is also the core of the shema, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One” (Deut. 6:4).   Jesus taught that, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other.” (Matt 6:24)

 

#6 Level of Commitment – We will never live up to God’s level of commitment shown in the sacrifice of his son, himself, on the cross for our sins.  On the other hand, we can rely on both his help in standing firm and his welcome back after our failures.


#7 Degree of Disclosure – Whether or not we choose to share with God, he already knows everything about us, but he wants us to share with him.  He desires that intimacy with us.   Admitting our sins and weaknesses can be very daunting for us, even when we know it won’t be new news to God.  If we share it with God, that means that we have to admit it to ourselves. 

 

So, do you see some areas in which you can work to increase your intimacy with God?  I know I do.  Let’s aim for that bull’s eye! 

The Cross Around Your Neck


Last night, the entry in the Lenten devotional book I have been following  started with the author referring to the cross his wife wears around her neck all the time.  Many people wear this symbol of Christianity on a regular basis.  Some have even had it tattooed on their bodies.


To some it may seem that people wear crosses to let everyone know they are Christian, in the same way that they might carry a Dior bag to be sure people know that they have money and status.  At this time, with the increasingly secular society in which we live, it might be considered that wearing a symbol of Christianity might actually lower one’s standing.


While this may be true for a few people, I believe most people wear the cross for themselves.  Wearing a cross is a constant reminder of the source of our strength.  It was to this reminder of strength that the reading referred.  There is significant irony in our choice of the cross, upon which our God died a human death in weakness, as a symbol of the strength of our God.


Think about some of the things around people’s necks historically.  Chains (jewelery and bindings both), neck shackles to keep slaves from running away, yokes to carry heavy loads.  On the end of our chains we wear a cross, the symbol of weakness which led to the final breaking of our chains of bondage to sin.


So, especially in the final run-up to Easter, wear your symbols of weakness with pride.  There has never been greater strength in the world than that which showed itself in the weakness of Christ on the cross.  With this reminder ever present, may we have the strength to be weak and sacrifice a little part of ourselves to make the world better for others!


Am I Judas? : Our Role In The Passion Story


Am I Judas?

 

Tell me Lord,

What is my role in this?

Am I just an innocent

observer on the scene?

Am I needed

to help show others how

events occurred within the life

of the resurrected Lord?

 

Am I Judas?

Have I betrayed you?

Do I share your bread and wine

then turn away and sin?

Will I gladly

give up your name for those

wanting to bring down your church

in turn for some reward?

 

Am I Mary,

Crying beside the cross

and come early to the tomb

to find the stone is gone?

Do I wonder

why your grave’s empty?

Do I run and tell my friends

he’s risen from the dead?

 

Am I Thomas?

Do I fail to believe

until I put my hands inside

and feel the wounds myself?

Give me faith Lord,

help me to conquer this,

to know that Jesus lives again

and He waits for me.

 

Jesus gave up

his very life for me

to buy forgiveness for my sins

as long as I believe.

This bright message

is the best I’ve ever heard.

Jesus died that we may live,

Glory to the Lord!

words and music by Cathy Scott

audio file to follow