Lessons to Learn

Read John 21:15-19

One of the more interesting post-resurrection stories is the one found in our reading today. Jesus had appeared to his closest disciples and they were all sharing in a meal. When the eating was done, while the cleaning up was underway, Jesus asks Peter about the love the disciple has for Jesus. In this interaction, there are a few lessons for us.

The first lesson is the connection Jesus makes between words and actions. After each time Peter affirms his love for the Lord, Jesus tells Peter to feed or tend Jesus’s sheep. Of course, Jesus is talking about the other followers, both present and future. What is obvious in Jesus’s words is the expectation not to just declare a love for the Lord but to show that love by caring for others. Our love for Jesus must be manifested in our acts of love toward others.

The second lesson here is one of grace. Jesus asks Peter three times to declare his love for the Lord. Three times Peter denied any relationship with the Lord prior to the crucifixion. Now in an act of grace and redemption, Peter is given the opportunity to not only acknowledge a relationship but to declare the depth of his love in the relationship. While Peter became frustrated by the repetition, Jesus knew the necessity to counter Peter’s previous actions. We learn of the efforts Jesus will make to offer us grace and redemption. Even when we do not see a necessity in what our Lord asks of us, our Lord knows what we need to overcome the guilt of our past.

The third lesson illustrated here is the need for us to give up control. Jesus tells Peter that there will come a time when someone else will make decisions for him. He indicated that Peter will need to surrender control. Jesus then says, “Follow me!” If we are going to follow Jesus, we must leave behind our previous, or “younger,” attitudes of being in charge of our destiny and choices. Following the Lord requires us to surrender control of our life to the Lord, go where the Lord takes us.

Confession

Read Psalm 51:1-12

If you happen to watch many crime and drama shows, you know that the ultimate goal of the police investigators is to get the perpetrators of a crime to confess. Depending on the show, the tactics used to elicit such a confession varies. If a confession is extracted legally, the wheels of justice can then begin to move  forward. Watching such shows, you also know anyone who has committed a crime is usually not eager to confess. People do not wish to take ownership of their wrongs because they fear the punishments which may be forthcoming.

As believers in God, we know the importance of confessing our wrongdoings. The author of Psalm 51 demonstrated the need to confess. Confession is an important step for us as we seek forgiveness and cleansing. The confession in this psalm acknowledges the need for God. Only God is able to wipe clean the negative impact of our sin. God alone is the one who can restore us to our created nature.

As we are currently in the season  of Lent, we experience a stronger focus on the value of confession. Perhaps as a spiritual practice for the next week, you may choose to read the words of these verses every day during your prayer time. Pause to consider what you are saying as you read the words outloud or in your thoughts.

Qualifying

Read Colossians 1:12-14

In athletic running events, swimming competitions, and a few other sports, a person is required to be qualified in order to participate. These qualification events are often referred to as preliminaries or entry heats. A participant must achieve a specific time or placing if she/he is going to be allowed to compete in the final which will determine the overall winner.

The passage taken from the first chapter in the letter written to the Colossians speaks of qualifying. The writer is sharing why thanks is given for the members of this faith community. God is lifted up as being the one who has qualified them to share in the inheritance of the people whom God has set apart. It is the action of God which has made the people heirs, not the people themselves. This action of God has brought the people into the light of the Son’s kingdom where there is redemption by the forgiveness of sin.

In sporting events, one’s qualification depends solely upon the athlete’s or team’s performance. Colossians indicates that our qualifying to be participants in the Son’s kingdom has no dependency upon us, instead it is God who does the qualifying. This is exciting news because we would fail to qualify if it were not for the forgiveness found in Jesus.

Jesus Loving Sinner

Read 1 Timothy 1:14-16

When we come to realize the magnitude of the love, mercy and grace demonstrated in Jesus Christ, we are amazed. Our sin can seem overwhelming. We may mistakenly think that there is no possibility that God can overlook our sin and continue to love us. God does not overlook our sin but loves us in spite of the sin. We are loved so much that God provides through Jesus Christ a way for our sin to be removed. This gift, or grace, prompts us to respond in love. Each of us is broken, that is the truth, but each of us are made whole in the love of Christ.

May this song by Casting Crowns remind you of these things.

Carrying a Burden

Read Psalm 32:1-5

Many of us carry burdens unnecessarily. There are times we are not even aware that we have accepted a burden; other times we willingly take it up. When these burdens are pointed out to us, we may even choose to continue carrying them instead of laying them down. There can be a strange comfort in holding on to our burden because it is familiar.

In the portion of today’s psalm, a burden is mentioned. This burden, familiar to all of us, is sin. The psalm begins by admitting what a blessing it is to be forgiven. The psalmist continues by saying that while carrying the burden, instead of confessing it, there were negative results which caused torment and weariness. The change took place when the sin was acknowledged out loud and no longer hidden. Forgiveness was given and the burden was removed.

Each of us have reasons why we choose to continuously carry our sin. Fear may drive us, the fear that the sin is unforgivable. We may decide that we deserve to have to carry this load. Our thought could be that if we keep the sin hidden, we can maintain the proper public image. All of these reasons are just excuses which prevent us from experiencing a full life. Carrying the burden of sin destroys our life from the inside out. Our health, self-image, spirit, and mental wellness are negatively impacted by the carrying of our sin.

Confession of our sin to the Lord, and when necessary to others, allows this burden to be laid down. Jesus reminds us endlessly that in him all sin can be forgiven. By laying this burden at the foot of the cross we can experience the fullness of life. We will see improvements in health, spirit and our minds.

Lay down your burden and receive the blessing of forgiveness.

Together and Prayer

13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

17 Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

James 5:13-20 (NIV)

Have you ever noticed how much more effective a group is in solving a problem than one individual is alone? Bringing a variety of perspectives together often results in a solution which one perspective alone could not have achieved. In addition, having many hands and heads working together increases the rate of outcome and lessens the burden of the individual. This view has led to sayings such as, “two heads are better than one,” or “many hands make light work.”

In the letter of James we hear a discussion of community and prayer. The writer impresses upon the receivers the importance of turning to one another when they are experiencing troubles. There is an understanding that when someone turns to others, the response will be to join with the troubled one and use the power of prayer. The letter clearly emphasizes how powerful prayer can be to bring about healing and restoration. A reader gets the sense that believers in Christ are to care for the needs of one another.

As we read this passage written a few thousand years ago, we see reflections of the role the church is to play in people’s lives. The church is to pray for those who are troubled, sick, or fighting sin. These prayers are called intercessory which occur corporately as part of worship services and individually through prayer chains or during home visits. The church is to also be engaged in bringing those who have wandered from the truth back into the fold. This is the role of reaching out, hearing confessions and providing assurances of forgiveness.

An important reality which we all must remember is that while this happens on a corporate level, usually in the midst of a worship service, each of us have a responsibility to make sure these things occur as part of our daily life. We are supposed to reach out to other believers when we are dealing with challenges in our lives. We are to be available to one another when there is a need. The power of prayer is to always be utilized as a tool of response. We are the church, individually and together.

Behavior Guidelines

25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Ephesians 4:25-5:2 (NIV)

Human relationships can be challenging. Our behaviors toward one another are not always positive in nature. At times, our self-centeredness, greed, and anger can prompt us to act in ways which are harmful towards others. These behaviors create a negative environment for all people. Our society has developed rules and laws to manage the most destructive of these behaviors. Throughout civilizations and religions in all of recorded history, there have been acceptable and unacceptable ways to behave and interact with one another.

In the letter to the believers in Ephesus, Paul writes about the behaviors which are acceptable and unacceptable among followers of Christ. He provides a list of unacceptable behaviors with contrast behaviors scattered within the list. Some of the unacceptable behaviors are found in the commandments which God gave the Israelites through Moses. Clearly there is instruction here in regard to building one another up and not tearing one another down. Attitudes are addressed here as well. Attitudes lead to actions.

As we consider how we interact with one another, Paul’s instructions are beneficial in guiding us. Lying to one another, being angry, slandering others, expressing rage are seen too often in our public discourse and among neighbors. These happen as well in communities of faith. Paul tells us that we are no longer to engage in these behaviors. We are not to cause grief for the Holy Spirit by behaving in these ways. Instead, we are to practice kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and building one another up.

Comparison

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Luke 18:9-14 (NIV)

Many individuals spend a large amount of time and energy comparing themselves to others. When a person engages in this type of activity, it results in one of two outcomes. The first possible outcome is the individual finds the self inadequate in the comparison. This can cause feelings of sadness, frustration, and anger. The second outcome could be the person feeling superior and judgmental towards others. Neither of these outcomes is beneficial. Only a comparison by a neutral party using measurable objectives has any benefit. The best way for a person to improve is by doing comparisons with self. Compare your actions, skills, and efforts today with how you performed the previous day, week, or month. Work for improvement in these comparisons.

In our reading today, Jesus encounters some people who have compared themselves with others and determined they were more righteous. Jesus tells the story of a Pharisee and a tax collector going to the temple to pray. The Pharisee compared himself to others and told God why his actions made him so much better than others. The tax collector humbles himself, acknowledges he is a sinner and seeks God’s mercy. Jesus says the humble one is justified before God.

We need to learn from Jesus’s lesson. First, we should avoid comparing ourselves with anyone else. We do not know another person’s life or spiritual journey. We know only what we perceive on the surface and what they choose to share with us. Second, we must humble ourselves and acknowledge we are unworthy to receive God’s forgiveness and grace but that is exactly what we need. If we spend any time and energy upon improving ourselves in our daily walk with the Lord instead of trying to be better than someone else, then we have learned from Jesus’s story.

Confession

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
    and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
    sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
    you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
    wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
    and blot out all my iniquity.

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

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    so that sinners will turn back to you.
14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
    you who are God my Savior,
    and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 Open my lips, Lord,
    and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
    you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is[b] a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.

18 May it please you to prosper Zion,
    to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
    in burnt offerings offered whole;
    then bulls will be offered on your altar.

Psalm 51 (NIV)

One of the most challenging actions for most people is admitting when he/she has done wrong. There is not a person alive who has not taken an action or said something which impacts another in a negative way. As humans we make bad choices, act in hurtful ways, and say hurtful words. How we handle conversations with others afterwards, especially someone we may have wronged, speaks directly to who we are as a person. It has been said that confession is good for the soul. The reason for this is by not honestly admitting our shortcomings a burden is placed upon us which impacts us emotionally, spiritually, and even physically. Relationships can be harmed when we do not own up to our negative behaviors. The well-being of others can be strongly impacted by our silence or lies used to cover up. Confession releases all the negative and allows for reparations and healing.

The psalm for today is a confession. It has been attributed to David. He seems to have written it after Nathan confronts him regarding Bathsheba. This is a confession to the Lord with a request to be forgiven and cleansed of sin. It is a psalm where most of the words could be said by almost all of us at various times, or possibly daily.

Let us follow David’s example. With contrite hearts, come before the Lord and acknowledge any sin. Request forgiveness and cleansing. Receive the Lord’s compassion which comes for unfailing love.

Freedom Responsibilites

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

Galatians 5:13-15 (NIV)

As children mature, they make efforts to establish their independence. This is first noticed around the age of 2 when they enter the “me do “phase. Once they reach the milestone of legally driving, this striving for independence increases in leaps and bounds. No longer dependent on parents or older siblings to chauffer them from place to place, they begin exploring the world and its offerings on their own. Graduating from high school marks another turning point in their goal for personal independence. Each stage of new found freedom increases the level of responsibility to use these freedoms without causing injury to self or others.

Today we hear Paul’s words in regard to responsible use of freedom. He has been writing to the Galatians concerning confusion over their living under the Law. Paul points out that by believing in Christ, they no longer are bound to the Law. They have a new freedom. He expresses to them that this freedom should not be used to obtain their own wants and desires solely but it should be used in service to one another. Paul reminds them that they are to “love your neighbor as yourself.” If in their freedom they attack and steal from each other, it will be mutually destructive.

The nation in which we live provides many freedoms that are not available in other countries of the world. We are able to share our thoughts aloud without fear of being restrained, tortured, or put to death. We choose where we live, what we purchase, and how we live without a government dictating any of that to us. These freedoms have some restrictions placed upon them in the interest of public safety. There are still steps which need to be taken to ensure these freedoms are available to ALL people within our borders. Yet we remain one of the nations which affords its citizens more freedom than others.

As Paul points out, we also are free of retaliation by our God when we do not adhere to the Law of the Old Testament. Because of the grace shown to us through Christ, the punishment of the Law no longer hangs over us. We live as ones who have been freed.

However, as mentioned in regards to children obtaining independence, with our freedoms come responsibilities. Whether talking about our civic freedoms or our spiritual freedoms, we must exercise them in light of how our neighbors might be impacted. The words we use or the actions we take should not have us as the sole focus. In light of human advances, we are more connected to each other in much broader ranges than ever before. If we use our freedoms in ways that negatively affects others then we will begin a path of mutual destruction.

Be grateful for the freedoms which have been obtained for you, but be responsible and loving in how you exercise them.