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The Season of Lent

artprint77The Wilderness Experience

The Season of Lent is a time of fasting and prayer for the Church. It corresponds to the time of preparation that Jesus spent in the wilderness before beginning His earthly ministry. Scripture tells us Jesus was led there by the Holy Spirit for forty days of fasting and prayer. Thus, Lent begins with the service of Ash Wednesday and runs through Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday. This time period is actually forty six days, because the six Sundays in between the beginning and end of the Lenten Season are not really part the days of fasting. Sundays are always days of celebrating the resurrection of our Lord.

Historically, in the Earth Church, Lent has provided a time in which new converts were prepared for Holy Baptism. This practice is still observed in many liturgical churches.

Why should we observe this time of preparation and what does it mean to each of us and the Church today? Clearly this observance is not required for salvation. The saving act of Jesus on the cross and our response to His loving sacrifice is required, followed by our endurance in the Faith with His help. Nevertheless, we cannot deny that life does present us with wilderness experiences.

What is false is a church that suggests that Christians should not have them. We do have them. Job stood head and shoulders above his peers as a righteous man in his day, yet he experienced a terrible wilderness experience. The false triumphalism found in some of today’s churches would have us believe that such experiences should not occur, bringing condemnation on those who go through them because they do not have enough faith.

If we have wilderness experiences as a matter of course then why designate an appointed time to go through one within the Church Year? Is not this appointed time artificial? It is my belief that the Season of Lent in the early church was very much influenced by the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it is better to observe a wilderness experience appointed by the Holy Spirit than the one that is unscheduled and catches us by surprise. We may still endure unscheduled ones but we might be better prepared for them having benefited from the teachings and disciplines of Lent. Jesus required preparation in the wilderness through the Holy Spirit in order to begin His ministry on earth. He experienced other wildernesses as well, Gethsemane being one of them.

Our purpose for Lent should be the same purpose that Jesus had for entering the wilderness: to prepare for ministry. We all have a ministry if we are Christian believers. Lent should be a time of fasting and prayer, self-examination and repentance, and reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. It should be a time of setting aside the things of this world that so easily creep in and devote ourselves more to God and His Word. In other words, let us come up to the mountain of God and be prepared for his transformation.

What should Lent not be? It should not be about our attempt to impress God by what we are giving up for Him or what spiritual gymnastics we are putting ourselves through. The “giving-up” notion is fundamentally flawed. It makes us dread Lent. We then cannot wait for Lent to be over. That is why Mardi Gras or Carnival has such an appeal for many people. Too often Lenten promises are like New Years resolutions. We make them but we don’t keep them and then we are under condemnation. Satan has a field day with us. He loves our false humility and piety.

It is said that we often grow through our struggles and trials. This may be true but it is not necessarily true. A greater truth is that our struggles do teach us that we cannot get through life on our own strength alone. The struggles often drive us to God. It is God who then changes us and not our struggles. Why should we wait for a crisis to go to God? Why not go to Him early and often?

Perhaps the best observance of Lent would be to approach God with faith in the saving blood of Jesus, asking Him what He would have us discover about ourselves and about Him. Let Lent be a time of intentional fellowship with God in prayer, seeking His will and wisdom for our lives so that we might be better disciples of Jesus Christ and living examples of God’s love for the world.

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Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B

The Wings of Eagles

We live in a very hectic world. Our personal computers and cell phones that promised to save us time, somehow, ended up taking away some of our leisure time. Maybe we can relax when we get around to taking a vacation? Or perhaps we need a thorough rest as a gift from the Almighty? Jesus said:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”   (Matthew 11:28-30)

Could this be true? God spoke through the Prophet Isaiah:

Have you not known? Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.

He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.

Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;

but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,

they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.   (Isaiah 40:28-31)

How would it be to soar on the wings of an eagle?  The psalmist wrote:

Great is our Lord and mighty in power;
there is no limit to his wisdom.

The Lord lifts up the lowly,
but casts the wicked to the ground.   (Psalm 147:5-6)

We need to tap into the power of God. The Apostle Paul wrote about the power of God:

God said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power[c] is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.   (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

Receiving the power of God is directly related to giving up our own power. It means giving up our own wisdom and tapping into the wisdom of God. In the Book of James we have a comparison between these two wisdoms:

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.   (James 3:13-18)

We see that our wisdom can get us into trouble. It is difficult for us to make right decisions because our perspective is often narrow and flawed. We are fallen creatures. God’s wisdom is broad and all encompassing. His wisdom brings peace and harmony. Our wisdom leads to disorder.

What do we do? James tells us to simply ask God for his wisdom:

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.   (James 1:5)

During his earthly ministry, Jesus did not rely on his own wisdom. He sought guidance from the Father. From today’s Gospel we read:

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.   (Mark 1:35)

Again, we live in a very hectic world. Life can be very difficult. We face many storms in life. Do we face them alone, or do we invite Jesus into our lives? Do we rely on our own wisdom or the wisdom which God gives to all those who ask for it?

To soar above the storms and ride on the wings of eagles is a choice we can make. God is there for us. He is concerned about our welfare. He is standing by to help us. Will we act impulsively or will we wait for the Lord?

Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,

they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.

Jesus’ yoke is easy. But we must be willing to give up the yoke of this world. We must pass on worldly wisdom and selfish pleasures. And we must be willing to wait patiently on the Lord. He is waiting on us. What will we do?

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Third Sunday of Advent: Year B

The Year of the Lord‘s Favor

In this Season of Advent we seek a new understanding and realization of the presence of God in our lives. Advent is a season of expectation. God has intervened on behalf of his people many times. We have so many biblical examples of this. At times, his interventions were unexpected. God’s actions brought great surprise and joy. We have an example of this in today’s Psalm:

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
then were we like those who dream.

Then was our mouth filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy.

Then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them

The Lord has done great things for us,
and we are glad indeed.   (Psalm 126:1-4)

The psalmist was recalling how God brought his people back from captivity from Babylon. Today, perhaps we as a people and nation feel captive by a different Babylon – a culture of inmorality and spiritual darkness. We need and intervention from God, do we not?

Are we ready for God to act? The people of Nazareth were not ready when Jesus got up to preach in the synagogue of his home town. He preached from this passage in Isaiah:

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
    to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
    and the day of vengeance of our God;
    to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
    to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
    the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.   (Isaiah 61:1-3)

Jesus was telling the people of Nazareth that he was the fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah. They did not believe him. What stopped them from receiving his sermon? Perhaps he was just a hometown boy to them and nothing more. He did not fulfill their expectation of the Messiah. Perhaps they were afraid of what the future might bring. They may not have liked wwhat was happening in their day, but would rather cling to that status quo than embrace an unknown future.

What may be keeping us from receiving a movement of God? If the people of Nazareth could only have been able to see the signs from God all around them. Jesus was performing the miracles mentioned in the prophecy of Isaiah. Can we see that God may already be moving in our midst?

God has a blessing for us – for each of us and for our nation. We need to be able to receive his blessing. Only he can prepare us for what lies ahead. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Church in Thessalonica:

May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.   (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)

God is faithful. He is calling us to a greater purpose and a higher spiritual life. But we must be able to believe in him and accept his intervention. The enemy has his gatekeepers who could keep us from doing so. When John the baptize was preaching the coming of the Lord the Pharisees were there to oppose him. From today’s appointed Gospel we read:

This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said,

“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’”

as the prophet Isaiah said.   (John 1:19-23)

Who are today’s gatekeepers? Are we gatekeepers?

We are living in a spiritual wilderness. We are living in a wasteland. Immorality is being exposed. The sin behind the abortion explosion is being revealed. A colossal corruption in high places is staring to show.

We need to continue to cry out to God. We need to continue to pray. And above all, we must put our full trust in God because he is in charge of all that we see around us.

Again the Apostle Paul to the Thessalonians:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.   (1 Thessalonians 5:16-22)

God has made promises to his people. He is ready to act:

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD,
my whole being shall exult in my God;

for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,

as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,

so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations.   (Isaiah 61:10-11)

We are living in the year of the Lord’s favor. Let us embrace him and all that he has prepared for us.

 

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The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin

Children of the Promise

Mary, the mother of Jesus, visits her cousin Elizabeth who was also with child. When the child in Elizabeth’s womb hears Mary’s voice he leaps for joy. This child is John the Baptist. The moment of celebration brings joy to Mary and she prophesies:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.   (Luke 1:47-55)

Mary’s prophecy echoes the great joy of another Mother who had a miraculous child. Hannah prayed:

“My heart exults in the Lord;
    my strength is exalted in my God.
My mouth derides my enemies,
    because I rejoice in my victory.

“There is no Holy One like the Lord,
    no one besides you;
    there is no Rock like our God.
Talk no more so very proudly,
    let not arrogance come from your mouth;
for the Lord is a God of knowledge,
    and by him actions are weighed.
The bows of the mighty are broken,
    but the feeble gird on strength.
Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
    but those who were hungry are fat with spoil.
The barren has borne seven,
    but she who has many children is forlorn.   (1 Samuel 2:1-5)

Hannah dedicated her child who became Samuel, the great prophet and man of God. Hannah was barren but she believe in the promise of God.

What is remarkable about Mary and Elizabeth also is that they believed the promises of God, even though great miracles of God were required to fulfill them. Mary, a virgin, had conceived a child and Elizabeth, who was well beyond any child bearing age, had also conceived. Nevertheless, these chosen instruments of God were able to believe God as was Abraham before them.

Are we able to believe in the miraculous today?

Mary and Elizabeth understood that the promises God made to them were not just about them. Jesus and John the Baptist are children of the promise which God made to Abraham. Their births extended and expanded that promise down through the ages. Today, we are recipients of that promise.

God has made promises to us as well. His plans for us may not be as dramatic as Mary and Elizabeth, but they are important to God just the same. Are we willing to believe in those promises and hold on to them. There will always be obstacles in the way of our receiving God’s promise. The Apostle Paul tells us how to overcome these obstacles with this prescription:

Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.   (Romans 12:12)

In time, the promises of God will come to pass. The blessing is in the believing and perseverance. Too often me take matters in our own hands and thwart God’s plans and purposes for us. Others are depending upon to make the right choices. In fact, their future blessings depend upon our faithfulness. Let us be willing to see beyond ourselves as the wonders of God’s work unfolds. We are also children of the promise

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