Archive for the ‘Penitence’ Category

A wounded spirit

Have you ever experienced a wounded spirit?  By that I mean something that grieves the very Holy Spirit dwelling inside you, leaving you in despair and feeling hopeless. Personal, unconfessed sin can leave a Christian wounded, as can sins committed against a Christian by a fellow believer. I imagine that Peter felt wounded when Jesus turned and looked him in the face after Peter had denied knowing Jesus three times (Luke 22). This was the same Peter who, at least for a short time, had walked on the water with Jesus (Matthew 14). Imagine what Peter must have thought at that moment he denied Jesus the third time—he had followed the Lord through thick and thin, watching, listening, and learning from Him, only to seemingly throw it all away in a brief, fearful moment. How does one overcome having made such a grave error?

I imagine that King David felt the same way when he sinned with Bathsheba. Filled with lust for Bathsheba after spying her bathing on a rooftop, David arranged to have her husband killed on the battlefield so David could have Bathsheba for himself (2 Samuel 11). David and Bathsheba’s sinful union resulted in the birth of a child (2 Samuel 12). David eventually took Bathsheba for his own wife. Not long afterwards, God struck the child with a serious illness as punishment for David’s sin.  Despite his desperate pleas begging God to save the child, it eventually died. Psalm 51, which is attributed to David, clearly reveals his wounded spirit in verses 1-4, as he confessed that he had sinned against God and God alone:

1Have mercy on me, O God,

    according to your unfailing love;

according to your great compassion

    blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash away all my iniquity

    and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,

    and my sin is always before me.

4 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.

Imagine how wounded Jesus’ disciples must have felt to see him hanging on a cross, naked, bleeding, and slowly dying.  They had thought He was the promised Messiah who would free the Jews from Roman oppression and restore the Kingdom of Israel. After Jesus died, they hid themselves out of fear for the Jewish authorities. Juxtapose this scene of death and despair with the joy and relief experienced when the risen Lord appeared to his disciples (John 20).  

No matter how wounded your spirit is, you are never too broken to be healed by Jesus Christ. This is clear in the story of Peter’s restoration before Jesus (John 21). After having denied Jesus three times, Peter showed true repentance while declaring his love for Jesus three times; and Jesus gave immediate forgiveness. Peter was fully restored to his ministry by Jesus and just a few weeks later preached an extraordinarily powerful sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Jesus is the Great Physician who can heal any wound, whether it was caused by a personal sin committed by you or by someone committing a grievous sin against you.

Only One can heal the spiritual wounds of mankind, rebuild broken spirits, feed famished soulsChrist, our blessed Savior. He has been down the road we’re traveling; He has experienced what it means to be human. He has “borne our griefs and carried our sorrows”; “He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4a, 5b). Taken from “Christ Solves the Mystery of Our Sorrow,” a sermon by Rev. Dr. Walter A. Maier, the first Speaker of The Lutheran Hour

Dust in the wind: a Lenten reflection

“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

As I began writing this post it was the first Sunday in the church season of Lent, a 40-day period of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends at sundown on Holy Thursday. Lent is a time of preparation to celebrate Christ’s resurrection on Easter day. The blessing priests pronounce at the Ash Wednesday service is a solemn reminder of our mortality—the priest draws the sign of the cross with ashes on one’s forehead while saying, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

On the surface, this seems like an odd sort of blessing—a reminder that you’re going to die someday.  Death is an inevitable part of life, but it’s a contradiction because it wasn’t part of God’s plan for us. The Lenten ashes on one’s forehead reminds us that we are dead in our sinfulness and that our only hope is God’s saving grace, a gift offered freely through Christ’s death and resurrection.   

Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, where he bore the sins of the world, revealed God’s limitless love for each of us. Death has a way of revealing love. Over the past 100 days I’ve lost three dear friends and Army pals. For me, their deaths are also a reminder of my own mortality. I miss them all and will miss them always.  It’s easy to take someone for granted while they’re alive, but their death provides a stark reminder of how much they meant in one’s life. Though I miss them all, I take comfort in the knowledge that they were all Christ followers and they will see the Lord face to face on Resurrection Day.  

Lent is a somber season. The focus on penance, fasting, and one’s mortality is like living Christ’s final journey to Jerusalem and His crucifixion. The beauty of the crucifixion is that it isn’t the end of the story. It is the chapter in Jesus’ life leading to the season of Easter and the celebration of His glorious resurrection, which brings a gift of eternal life to those who accept him as Savior.  Lent is my favorite church season.

“(Lent) is a period of spiritual ‘combat’ which we must experience alongside Jesus, not with pride and presumption, but using the arms of faith: prayer, listening to the word of God and penance. In this way we will be able to celebrate Easter in truth, ready to renew the promises of our Baptism.”  -Pope Benedict XVI

If you come from a church tradition that doesn’t celebrate Lent, I encourage you to learn more about it. There are many free resources available online from the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). Please visit the “Gift of Lent” link below. 

Lent
by Christina Georgina Rossetti

It is good to be last not first,
Pending the present distress;
It is good to hunger and thirst,
So it be for righteousness.
It is good to spend and be spent,
It is good to watch and to pray:
Life and Death make a goodly Lent,
So it leads us to Easter Day.

Distracted Living

Zombie ApocalypseHas the Zombie apocalypse begun!

We’ve all heard tragic stories about distracted driving, where someone texting on a cell phone lost control of their car and caused a great tragedy. When driving, it’s absolutely crucial to keep one’s eye on the road ahead.  The advent of the internet and subsequently cell phones has created millions of distracted people.  You’ve probably seen some of them sitting at a family dinner in a restaurant—all heads down, focused on their phones and no family interaction at all.  How very sad!

According to a January 2020 article in The Guardian, a study conducted in 2014 indicated that mobile phone users receive an average of 63.5 alerts every day, most viewed within minutes whether the phone is on silenced or not. A 2016 study by Deloitte corporation found that people checked their phones an average 47 times a day, often in response to alerts. Many people are bombarded by cell phone beeps, blips and buzzes nearly every waking moment.  These distractions can even continue through the night for those who sleep with cell phones by their beds.

Unfortunately, many Christians today suffer from another form of distraction—distracted living. Distracted living is a byproduct of other distractions and cares of this world, for example partying, obsessive fitness, substance abuse, emails, texting, internet browsing, social media, television, movies, sports, and many others that that steal our time daily.

The Bible story of Mary and Martha is a perfect example of distracted living (Luke 10:38-42).  Mary and Martha were the sisters of Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead. They were all beloved friends of Jesus. On one particular occasion, Jesus visited their home in Bethany. There were others present as well. Mary chose to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to him teach, while her sister Martha busied herself serving their guests. Martha became irritated with Mary and asked Jesus to send Mary to help her. Jesus responded with a mild rebuke, saying, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” Mary was laser focused on Jesus, while Martha was living a distracted life.

People with distracted lives may become easily agitated, they often feel overwhelmed, and they frequently neglect the essential “four-F’s” of things that really matter in this life—faith, family, friends and freedom.  Christians shouldn’t allow any of these areas to suffer neglect, but they must be especially cautious about neglecting their faith. Renowned Scottish theologian Oswald Chambers said, “Starvation of the mind, caused by neglect, is one of the chief sources of exhaustion and weakness in a servant’s life.” Evidence of faith neglect often includes finding reasons to skip church, not finding the time to read and study scripture, not praying, feeling rushed while praying, and even sometimes falling asleep while praying.

Christian churches around the globe will soon begin commemorating the holy season of Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday (2/26/2020) and runs through sunset on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter.  I blogged about this very special church season in February last year  (https://divinesimplicity.wordpress.com/2019/02/26/lent-a-season-of-penitence-and-prayer/).   

For Christians, Lent is traditionally a season of fasting, penitence and prayer. It’s a wonderful time for Christians to practice disciplines to help them reconnect with their faith.  One of my Lenten disciplines is to prayerfully read the Seven Penitential Psalms the first thing each morning during Lent. I also find a good Lenten devotional and read a morning devotion daily. A wonderful version of the Seven Penitential Psalms can be found at this link: http://www.edgeofenclosure.org/intro7penitentialpsalms.html.  Lutheran Hour Ministries provides a new series of daily Lenten devotions each year.  Beginning on February 26, they can be found at this link: https://www.lhm.org/dailydevotions/default.asp.  I encourage you to take part in a Lenten discipline this year and, if you’re leading a distracted life, begin turning your attention back to God.

Is your God this big?

HubbelHubble Space Telescope Image

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.  —Psalms 19:1*

During my 24-year U.S. Army career I deployed to the Middle East and the horn of Africa for extended stays.  Much of my time there was spent in very remote areas of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq and Somalia.  While I can’t say I enjoyed my time in these places, the deployments were great learning experiences that I wouldn’t trade for anything. 

One thing that I did enjoy, however, was the nighttime sky in the desert west of Kuwait City and in the plush south Jubba River valley of Somalia.  With no man-made light to interfere with my vision, I could look upward and literally see billions of stars.  God has created an unfathomable universe that defies human description. As the Psalmist says, truly the heavens declare the glory of God. 

My God can alter this vast universe in the blink of an eye. Is your God this big?

In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth,
    and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment.
Like clothing you will change them and they will be changed.
But you remain the same
 and your years will never end.  —Psalm 102:25-27

The King James Bible of 1611 paints an image of God reflecting the social order of Jacobean England—a king sitting on a throne, surrounded by throngs of courtiers. Many Christians have grown up with this image of God. God truly is our king; however, he is much, much more. English clergyman and Bible scholar J.B. Phillips is probably best known for his epic book, “Your God is Too Small.” Published in 1952, he might have just as easily called it, “Your Mind is Too Small.”  Phillips encourages us to set aside the limits human reason places on God and instead embrace Him as the omnipotent, omnipresent creator of the universe. Rather than having God conform to a man-made image of Him, which Phillips calls “God in a box,” Phillips challenges us to open our minds and embrace God’s reality—the creator of the universe, who is unconstrained by our concepts of time, speed, distance and space.

When I consider the work of your fingers, the moon and stars which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?—Psalm 8:3-4

Perhaps what’s most amazing about my God is that the creator of the limitless universe is also the God who cares for you and for me as individuals.  As our father and creator, God knows our thoughts, our fears, our weaknesses and our individual needs. He wants to care for us.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! —1 John 3:1

The glory of God can shine through us as individuals when we are in a right relationship with Him, but because of mankind’s fallen state, we cannot even look God in the face (Exodus 33:20). Therefore, our creator sent us a savior, His only begotten son Jesus Christ, who willingly set aside his heavenly glory and took on human form, being born of a virgin, for the express purpose of dying on the cross for your sins and mine. By his death and resurrection, we can be restored to a right relationship as children of God.

But the cross wasn’t the end, it was the beginning.  Through His glorious resurrection from the dead, Christ banished death and opened the gateway to eternal life for all who put their faith in Him as savior. There is nothing we can do by ourselves to be restored to a right relationship with God; it is a gift that must be accepted. Jesus Christ offers forgiveness and eternal life freely to those who confess their sins and trust in Him. Do you want to trust Jesus?  Click the link to find out how. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P8qWlN7c3lQ

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. —1 John 1:9.     

*All Bible quotes are taken from the New International Version.

The Seven Penitential Psalms

 

Saint Peter in Penitence by El Greco

St. Peter in Penitence, El Greco, (ca. 1580)

We are currently celebrating the church season of Lent, a 40-day period before Easter when Christians reflect upon the passion and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who was crucified and died as atonement for our sins, setting believers free from sin and death. Easter celebrates Christ’s resurrection from the dead and the promise of eternal life for His believers.  Penitence, a solemn contemplation of one’s sins and request for God’s forgiveness, is foundational to Lent.

One Lenten discipline that I recommend is the prayerful reading of the Seven Penitential Psalms—Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130 and 143. These psalms (prayers) are generally attributed to David.  Psalm 51 is probably the most widely read of the seven. In Anglican and Catholic traditions, it is often recited by congregations on Ash Wednesday and at other times during the Lenten season.

Christian tradition suggests several possible reasons behind the writing of these psalms. Probably the most widely accepted explanation is they were King David’s prayers of repentance for his sins against Uriah and Uriah’s beautiful wife Bathsheba. David’s sinful lust for Bathsheba drove him to conspire to have Uriah killed in battle. With Uriah out of the way, David took Bathsheba for his wife.  She conceived and bore a baby son, but the child died shortly after birth.  Recalling the words of condemnation delivered to him by the prophet Nathan regarding David’s sin with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12: 4-7), David believed the baby’s death was God’s punishment for his transgressions. Nathan said to David:

“Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”  Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! (NIV)

Another Christian tradition associate’s the Seven Penitential Psalms with the Seven Deadly Sins. We first encounter the Seven Deadly Sins in the writings of Pope Gregory I around the year 600.  The sins are pride, greed, lust, wrath, gluttony, envy, and sloth.

The writings of  French Roman Catholic theologian Cardinal Pierre d’Ailly (1351-1420) associates certain spiritual virtues with the Seven Penitential Psalms: Psalm 6, fear of punishment; Psalm32, sorrow and confession for sin; Psalm 38, hope;  Psalm 51, love of purity and mercy; Psalm102, longing for heaven, Psalm 130, distrust of one’s own strength and hope for mercy; and Psalm 143: joy.

During this year’s season of Lent, I’ve committed to prayerfully reading the Seven Penitential Psalms daily as part of my morning devotion.  It has been a deep spiritual experience, one that I plan to make part of my future Lenten discipline.  I encourage readers to give this a try.  You can find the Seven Penitential Psalms online at the following URL:

http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-year/lent/seven-penitential-psalms-songs-of-suffering-servant.cfm