Lent Reading Challenge – Mark 2

The Challenge for the rest of Lent:

– Read. One chapter in the Bible each day until Easter.  Start with Mark, then read Romans.
– Pray. 10 minutes, twice a day.  No distractions, not multitasking.  Just spend time with God.
– Give. A full tithe (10% of your income) each Sunday through Easter.
 
Don’t do this religiously, do it relationally.  Scripture says in James 4:8, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”  Engage this challenge prayerfully and openly, asking God to reveal Himself throughout these coming days.  Be aware and alert to the things God may be showing you.  They may be thoughts that just pop up, experiences that you have, or even just impulses that you may sense.  Also be aware that Satan, the enemy, will seek to throw you off.  Scripture calls us to put on the Full Armor of God, that we can stand against the schemes of the devil.

 Read Mark 2

Questions for Reflection:
1.  Why do you think that Jesus forgiving sins was so offensive to the teachers of the law?  Do you think it really had to do with God, or would they have been using God as an excuse to keep them in power?
2.  Jesus associated Himself with many people that the religious people didn’t.  Why do you think this is?  If we are to “follow Christ’s example,” how would things need to look different in our own lives?
3.  What do you think Jesus means when He says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.  So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”?  How does this change the way you think about (and participate) in Sabbath rest?

Prayer

Pray for the coming month, for your commitment to this challenge and openness to God’s leading and protection from Satan’s attempts to derail you.
Pray for Hopkins Community Church, that we would see a renewed hunger for the Word of God.
Pray for the GEMS program as their last meeting night of the year is tomorrow (March 20).
Be sure to spend time listening too; prayer is a conversation.  “Be still and know that I am God.”  Psalm 46:10


Lent Reading Challenge – Mark 1

The Challenge for the rest of Lent:

– Read. One chapter in the Bible each day until Easter.  Start with Mark, then read Romans.
– Pray. 10 minutes, twice a day.  No distractions, not multitasking.  Just spend time with God.
– Give. A full tithe (10% of your income) each Sunday through Easter.
 
Don’t do this religiously, do it relationally.  Scripture says in James 4:8, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”  Engage this challenge prayerfully and openly, asking God to reveal Himself throughout these coming days.  Be aware and alert to the things God may be showing you.  They may be thoughts that just pop up, experiences that you have, or even just impulses that you may sense.  Also be aware that Satan, the enemy, will seek to throw you off.  Scripture calls us to put on the Full Armor of God, that we can stand against the schemes of the devil.
 
Each day, we will try to post some reflection questions and some prayer prompts to aid you in your engagement.  Feel free to post reflections yourself, questions you may have, or encouragement to others here as well!

Read Mark 1

Questions for Reflection:
1.    Jesus lived a perfect life and had no need for repentance Himself, so what do you think is the significance and/or of Jesus’ Baptism?
2.  Luke 5:1-11 records a significant event in the calling of Jesus first disciples.  Have you experienced significant events like this in your life that led to you following Jesus?  What events or circumstances led you to follow Jesus in your life?
3.  Jesus teaches His disciples to pray both directly and by example.  What was the example that Jesus set in prayer and how can you follow that example in your own life over the next month?

Prayer

Pray for the coming month, for your commitment to this challenge and openness to God’s leading.
Pray for Hopkins Community Church, that we would embrace this challenge and God would strengthen us through it.
Pray for the Consistory as we have our leadership meetings tonight (March 18).
Be sure to spend time listening too; prayer is a conversation.  “Be still and know that I am God.”  Psalm 46:10


Advent Day 5: Are You Sure?

Reading

Meditation

Zechariah’s angelic encounter is not necessarily unique in Scripture.  Many of the great people that God has chosen to work through in the Bible have an experience with an angelic messenger.  Abraham, Gideon, and Hezekiah are just a few.  Like those before him, Zechariah asks for a sign, something that can assure him of the angel’s words.  He is, unfortunately, in good company.
 
It is hard to blame Zechariah for his doubt.  Gabriel promises him and his wife something that, for them, seemed impossible.  They didn’t live in the age of fertility treatments, medical help, or even a basic understanding of why Elizabeth couldn’t have a child.  She likely faced questions and doubts about what she had done to fall into disfavor with God.  Little did she, or anyone around her, know what God had in mind.  Zechariah questioned the seemingly impossible; all of us can relate.
 
Now, not everyone that asks God for a sign in Scripture gets punished for it.  In fact, on more than one occasion, Scripture tells us that God actually gives a sign to show the person that He means business.  For Zechariah, however, the sign comes in a form that we would consider punishment: being mute.  However we want to look at it, though, it was a sign.  Certainly, the people around him would have known that something happened while he was in the Temple.
 
I wonder, as I write this, how I would have reacted to this angelic encounter.  Would I have been as quick to believe as I think Zechariah should have been?  How about you?  Without a doubt, encountering an angel is a big deal and it would take any one of us by surprise!  But the message that he brought, so incredible and seemingly impossible too.  Would we have questioned it?  Maybe ask for a sign ourselves?
 
In reality, this is often what we do.  We get a thought, a nudge, a notion of something that we should do.  Sometimes it big, sometimes small, but it often winds up outside of our comfort zone; often they are scary and even seem impossible for us to do on our own.  What happens inside you when God prompts you to do something outside the box?  Often, I find myself rationalizing why it wouldn’t be possible or why the time just isn’t right.
 
Christmas, however, is about believing the impossible.  God took on human flesh; the creator of the universe beginning as a single cell in a woman’s womb.  It’s really unfathomable if you give it much thought.  But it happened!  Not only that, God does this for the sake of us, to forgive us and reconcile us back to Him!  This is the time when we are invited again to believe in the one who makes unbelievable, seemingly impossible things reality.

Prayer

Amazing God,
From nothing You created everything,
You took on our flesh and form to redeem and save us.
When we were lost in darkness, without hope,
You entered in, shining a light into the darkness and illuminating our hope once again.
Rekindle our faith and hope through Your Holy Spirit,
that we may again shine Your light and share the amazing story of Your Son Jesus.
May those who hear this Good News be drawn into your love and your light.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord we pray,
Amen.


Advent Day 4: John the Baptist

Reading

Meditation

Icon of John the Baptist

Many consider John the Baptist to be the last of the Biblical prophets. Following a long line of prophets that began over 700 years before, John came preaching a message of repentance and preparation.   All four Gospels refer to him, and we know that He and Jesus, as well as their families, had a unique relationship.  His coming breaks what appears to be a time of silence from the Lord; over 400 years since the last words of the prophet Malachi.

 
Isaiah 40 records one of two Biblical prophecies concerning John’s coming and purpose:
“A voice is calling, ‘Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.”
Malachi 3 echoes these words:
“Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the Lord of hosts.”
Both of these prophecies imply that John’s coming and the purpose for his ministry was to prepare the way for Jesus.  Yet we also see in the Malachi passage that this is ultimately accomplished by the Messiah Himself.  He “suddenly” comes into His temple, as if perhaps he arrived too soon or before preparations were complete.  Ultimately, though, this was true with other prophets as well, each of which proclaimed the Word of the Lord but saw their prophecies fulfilled only through Jesus.
 
Advent, as we have said, is a time of preparation and anticipation.  As with John the Baptist, we are called to prepare the way for the Lord in our own lives.  Perhaps reading this very post is part of the way that you are doing just that.  When we create space in our lives, God shows up and works in us.  The same can be true for those around us.  Though Jesus ultimately accomplishes the work, we can prepare the space.  This year, let’s be intentional about keeping Jesus at the forefront of our Christmas celebrations.  Centering everything on Him invites Jesus into the moments where we interact with friends and family that may be wandering far from God.

Prayer

Saving God,
Before even one of our days comes into being, you know everything about it.
You have prepared a way for us, gently guiding us along the path that you have laid out.
Help us so to create space for you in this Advent season,
that those who enter into these spaces may encounter You anew and experience the joy of Your presence.
Renew them and us through your Holy Spirit, that Your light may grow brighter in this dark world.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Your Son, the Light of the World, we pray,
Amen.


Advent Day 3: Faithful Service

Reading

 Meditation

For hundreds of years, the priests of Israel performed the ritual worship of God in the Temple.  In fact, despite being subject to the rule of several different world powers over the course of the six hundred years prior to Jesus coming and the destruction of the Temple of God, the priests were faithful in their service and worship.
 
Can you imagine the monotony?  Every day, all year round, going into the temple grounds to sacrifice, burn incense, pray, and hope.  Sometimes I think that this is something akin to what we experience in the doldrums of winter.  We continue to go to work, day in and day out, while the days themselves get shorter and colder.  While there are some high points, like holiday celebrations, most days just feel cold and dark.
 
Similarly, I think this can feel, for us, a lot like our normal worship experiences.  We show up faithfully to worship, serve in places of ministry, and do our Christian thing.  Salvation, hope, and future glory are things we hear about on a regular basis as well.  But, if we’re honest about things, from time to time it can feel pretty monotonous.
 
Yet, for Zechariah, there is a sudden and unexpected inbreaking of God his seemingly boring repetition.  In a space for worship, in the midst of faithful service, God hears the prayers of His people and shows up in a new and unexpected way!
 
It’s hard to imagine the shock and disbelief that Zechariah experienced at this moment.  Or… perhaps it isn’t.  Many of us go through the routine of our lives, trying to be faithful Christians and good people.  Most of us, like Zechariah, probably don’t expect to encounter God in any way, shape, or form.  Yet in the season of Advent, that is exactly what we should expect!
 
Advent is a time of anticipation and preparation for the coming of the Messiah to earth.  None of us would prepare for a party that no one is coming to.  That is, however, often how we treat this season leading up to Christmas.  We have space, created by church tradition, in which we are reminded to create space in our own lives for the coming of our Savior.  The question we must ask ourselves, though, is “are we creating that space?”  Do we wait expectantly in our faithful service for God to show up?  Or is this simply a season filled with a different kind of busy monotony?

 Prayer

Eternal God,
You have been with your people and your creation since the very beginning,
faithfully walking with us, even in times of darkness and silence when we wonder if you are there.
Reveal yourself to us anew this Advent season and help us to recognize where you are present in our lives,
so that we may be renewed with hope and joy, and may spread the good news of Your love for us,
through Jesus Christ our Lord, we pray,
Amen.


Advent Day 2: In Those Days

Reading

Meditation

The Old Testament prophets spoke at length about the coming of the Messiah.  Like John, these prophets knew that they were playing a part in a much greater story of God’s love and work in the world.  These prophets lived in a time when the effects of sin were readily apparent in the rebellion of God’s people.  Times were tough, the people of Israel often found themselves in trouble with other rulers and foreign powers.  They worshiped idols and turned away from God’s law.  However, the prophets knew and spoke the promise of God that a “New Day” was coming.
 
God’s covenant promise, to be God to His people and to send a Savior to them, is renewed multiple times throughout the Old Testament.  From Noah to Abraham, Moses to David, God never abandoned His people.  No matter what they were going through, no matter how far they had wandered from Him, God never abandoned them.  The promise of a coming Messiah didn’t just include a physical change in their current environment but represented a fundamental transformation of the world and everything in it.
 
Jesus’ coming represents a new or rather renewed relationship between God and creation.  Whereas sin created a rift between God and His creation, one that cannot be traversed by anything or anyone from the created order, Jesus’ life, death and resurrection bridges that divide.  This restoration is the new day that the prophets speak of.
 
It is important to note that the prophets often refer to this “new day” in the past tense.  This voice, speaking of something as if they are remembering it, is purposeful.  The prophets are certain of the coming fulfillment of God’s promises.  In fact, they are so certain that they speak of it as though it has already happened.
 
Scripture invites us into this certainty as well.  Certainly, it is easy to prepare and anticipate Christ’s coming, something that has actually already happened.  However, we are also those that are awaiting a new day, the one in which Christ finally returns!  The voice of the prophets reminds us once again of the truth and reality of God’s promises.  If God has said it, it is as good as done!  As we wait, prepare, and anticipate the Christmas incarnation, let us also be mindful of the certainty of Christ’s return, renewing and grounding our hope in Him.

Prayer

Faithful God,
You have walked with your people through good times and bad, never leaving or forsaking them, 
and You remained true to your covenant promises despite their disobedience.
Remind us always of Your faithfulness and the hope that we have in You,
that in these busy days of preparation and celebration we may remain focused solely on Your Son Jesus.
Help us to firmly ground our hope in You, that we may shine forth Your light,
and that Your Name and love would be made known through us.
In Christ’s Name, we pray,
Amen.


Advent Day 1: Another Beginning

Reading

Another Beginning

In the beginning was the Word

Meditation

The echoes of Genesis 1 and 2 reverberate throughout the beginning of the Gospel of John.  As he begins to write his account of the life and work of Jesus Christ, the very first point that is made is that there is something bigger going on here.  John isn’t simply writing a biography about some famous person.  He isn’t just recording historical events or even a new beginning.  The Apostle is not defining another beginning, as if prior events don’t matter.  Indeed, John picks up a story already being told, adding his words, thoughts, and observations to God’s story which is thousands of years in the making.
 
 John’s account of the beginning of Jesus’ life is quite different from the other Gospels.  Matthew and Luke record the dramatic story of newlyweds in an overcrowded town and seemingly inconvenient timing of a birth.  Mark jumps right into the ministry of a notably influential rabbi throughout the nation of Israel.  However, John makes sure, from the very beginning, that his readers know the scope and subject of his writing is none other than God Himself.
 
From the very beginning, John reveals the purpose of God as well.  The divine Word was in existence alongside God since before the beginning began.  This Word is responsible for the creation of all things.  He is the source of all life.  Though darkness may be part of the reality that we know, the Word is light and pierces that darkness with an unquenchable brightness.
 
Advent is a season of waiting, preparation, and expectation.  In this, we find ourselves looking forward to the arrival of Jesus on this earth once again.  John’s Gospel reminds us, however, that there is much more to this story.  We are not simply speaking of the birth of a great leader.  He is not just an influential teacher or a moral example.  Jesus is the God of the universe, eternal and all-powerful, coming to earth.  The trajectory of His earthly life has been set in motion since the moment sin entered the world.  And John reminds us, in no uncertain terms, what the point of Jesus’ life, and his writing is at the end of his Gospel.
 
John 20:31 – “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

Prayer

Eternal God,
who has created all things and given them life through your Word,
and who stepped out of eternity, wrapping flesh around yourself for our sake,
grant that we may keep the narrative of your coming in perspective
that this Advent season for us a time of new beginning and awareness of your love and work.
In our reflections this season, may our hearts and lives be filled with joy,
that your light would shine out through us into the darkness of this world
so that all would know the love of your Son Jesus, the Word made flesh,
in whose name we pray, Amen.


Advent: Awaiting the Already

 
Every year, starting on December 1, Christians around the world begin to celebrate the season of Advent.  For those who follow the church year calendar, this is the beginning of the new year, taking ourselves back to the very beginning of the story of Salvation, and remembering again the strong work that God has done for us in Jesus Christ.
 
Waiting and expectation

Waiting and expectation for our coming Savior

The Christian calendar begins with a season of waiting and expectation.  We are reminded of all that happened in the beginning from creation, paradise, and perfect relationship to the shattering fall into sin and death that humanity is now subjected to.  At that moment, however, Adam and Eve are not left in darkness.  In the midst of the curse of sin, God speaks a promise: this is not the end.

 
So the great story of the Bible begins.  It is a story of revelation, covenant, and faithfulness that ultimately leads us to a small, overcrowded town.  A baby is born in an animal pen to a young woman.  His birth signals the beginning of the fulfillment of thousands of years of waiting and expectation.  This baby boy, whose origins are from ancient times as Scripture says, will undo the curse of sin and reunite God with His people.
 
Most of us know the story of Christmas.  Mary and Joseph, shepherds and wise men, angels singing, animals, and a manger.  There doesn’t seem to be much that is new here.  Yet each year we prepare, waiting as if it were happening again.  Why?
 
Advent literally means arrival or the process of arriving.  The season itself is a time of waiting and expectation, preparation with eager anticipation for the arrival of Jesus.  So how do we do this for something that is in the past?  By participating as if we are a part of the story. 
 
Because we are.
 
Christmas, Christ’s incarnation, His coming into this world, is not just a story. And it isn’t a story just about Him.  The story of Christ’s birth is a revelation of God’s love for us and God’s redemptive work in the world.  And it’s a story that God invites us into as well.  As Advent begins tomorrow, will you join us on a journey of waiting and expectation?  Each day we will prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus with a short passage and reflection.  I invite your comments as you reflect on what we read together!


Psalm 67

Psalm 67 New International Version (NIV)

May God be gracious to us and bless us
    and make his face shine on us—
so that your ways may be known on earth,
    your salvation among all nations.

May the peoples praise you, God;
    may all the peoples praise you.
May the nations be glad and sing for joy,
    for you rule the peoples with equity
    and guide the nations of the earth.
May the peoples praise you, God;
    may all the peoples praise you.

The land yields its harvest;
    God, our God, blesses us.
May God bless us still,
    so that all the ends of the earth will fear him.



Closing Prayer: H.C. Lord’s Day 52

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 52

Q 127: What does the sixth petition mean? 
A 127: “And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one” means:
By ourselves we are too weak to hold our own even for a moment.
And our sworn enemies—the devil, the world, and our own flesh—never stop attacking us.
And so, Lord, uphold us and make us strong with the strength of your Holy Spirit, so that we may not go down to defeat in this spiritual struggle, but may firmly resist our enemies until we finally win the complete victory.
 
Q 128: What does your conclusion to this prayer mean?
A 128: “For the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours forever” means:
We have made all these petitions of you because, as our all-powerful king, you are both willing and able to give us all that is good; and because your holy name, and not we ourselves, should receive all the praise, forever.
 
Q 129: What does that little word “Amen” express?
A 129: “Amen” means: This shall truly and surely be!
It is even more sure that God listens to my prayer than that I really desire what I pray for.
 
The closing of both the Lord’s Prayer and the teaching of the Lord’s prayer represent three things, a recognition of God’s presence in our daily walk, a reiteration of God’s sovereignty, and a trust in God’s faithfulness.
 
First comes the phrase “save us from the time of trial,” an update from the traditional “lead us not into temptation.”  The original texts of Jesus’ teaching on the Lord’s prayer were never meant to give a false indication that God is the one who either prompts or creates temptation.  God’s presence in the midst of our trials and temptations, however, is a gaurantee in Scripture.  He promises to never leave us or forsake us; He walks every step of our lives with us, sustaining us even when He doesn’t approve of our actions or the things we get ourselves into.  Even when we are clearly in over our heads, there is nothing that God cannot save us from.
 
When we find ourselves in the midst of these times, Jesus reminds us of two things.  First, that we are indeed not alone.  We are not caught in temptation because God has left us, but rather because we are walking away from Him.  Even then, however, when we are faithless, He is faithful.  And second, He reminds us that we can always call to Him when we are lost.  There is nothing that we can get ourselves into that discounts us from turning back to God and God receiving us with His full love and open arms.
 
Second in the closing phrases of the Lord’s prayer is a sort of reprise and a reminder of the whole purpose and goal of prayer in the first place.  Prayer is an act of worship, and through it, we see a transformation in us that prompts us toward desiring and enacting God’s will and purposes in the world.
 
This is also a declaration of the state of our hearts.  Saying, “The Kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours,” means that, for us, those things belong to God and as such they are not ours to control.  Rather, we are placing our trust once again in Him and recognizing Him for who He is: God.  
 
Finally, the prayer is ended by the word “amen.”  This word is not just a nice Christian word for “prayer done.”  It carries with a very real and very specific meaning: “this is sure to be!”  When Jesus is talking to His disciples about things that are sure to be, He says in the Greek “amen, amen,” or “truly, truly…”  The emphasis here points to the certainty of God’s actions in our lives and in the world.
 
Have you ever prayed and felt like your prayers were just bouncing off the ceiling?  Have you ever felt alone and not sure if what you were praying would even come to be?  The word “amen,” is a statement of trust.  We say this because we believe, deep in our core, that God hears and answers prayer.  In one of the closing statements of his book, Kevin DeYoung says this, “God is so gracious that He is more willing to hear our requests than we are sure that we actually want what we pray for.”  God’s desire that we come to Him, even in the midst of our doubts, is so great that we are assured that no matter the state that we are in, God will always here and answer. 
 
DeYoung finishes by saying this, “How Liberating!  Go ahead and pray to God better than you feel and you may just find that in His mercy you end up better than you deserve.”  How wonderful and true.  God is able and willing to do far more than we could ever ask or imagine, even at our best.  So the invitation of God is to come… no matter where you are or what is going on… go to Him!


Amen: H.C. Question129

What does that little word “Amen” express? 
 
Isaiah 65:24 – Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.
 
2 Corinthians 1:20 – For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.
 
2 Timothy 2:13 – if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.


Kingdom, Power, and Glory: H.C. Question 128

What does your conclusion to this prayer mean? 
 
Romans 10:11-13 – As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
 
2 Peter 2:9 – if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment.
 
Psalm 115:1 – Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.
 
John 14:13 – And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.


The Time of Trial: H.C. Question 127

What does the sixth petition mean?
 
Psalm 103:14-16 – for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.  The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.
 
Ephesians 6:10-13 – Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
 
1 Peter 5:8 – Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
 
John 15:18-21 – “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.
 
Romans 7:23 – but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.
 
Galatians 5:17 – For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.
 
Matthew 10:19-20 – But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
 
Matthew 26:41 – “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
 
Mark 13:33 – Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.
 
Romans 5:3-5 – Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
 
1 Corinthians 10:13 – No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
 
1 Thessalonians 3:13 – May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.
 
1 Thessalonians 5:23 – May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.


Forgiveness: H.C. Lord’s Day 51

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 51

Q 126: What does the fifth petition mean? 
A 126: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” means:

Because of Christ’s blood, do not hold against us, poor sinners that we are, any of the sins we do or the evil that constantly clings to us.

Forgive us just as we are fully determined, as evidence of your grace in us, to forgive our neighbors.
 
The theme of forgiveness is arguably one of the strongest themes that run through Scripture.  It isn’t any wonder, then, that this theme also comes up Jesus’ teaching on prayer too.  If God is all about forgiveness of sin and working that out through history, leading up to Jesus Christ, then it is something that we need to be thinking about in our time and relationship with God.  Simply put, neither would really exist without God’s forgiveness extended to us in Jesus Christ.
 
One of the biggest questions that come out of this petition in the Lord’s prayer has to do with our salvation: “haven’t all of our sins been forgiven already?”  The answer, of course, is yes.  When Jesus Christ died on the cross, He took on the sins of the whole world and His righteousness was imputed to us.  This transaction was a once for all event that took place with lasting impacts and implications throughout the entire universe.
 
However, you and I both know that though our sins have been forgiven, we are not ourselves sinless in this life.  We are made righteous by Christ and yet we continue on in our rebellion against God, sinning all the time, every day.  And, while there is no way for us to lose our Salvation once it is granted to us, we are called to better things in our lives and that is part of what we are acknowledging here.
 
A good way to think about it, suggested by Kevin DeYoung, author of the book The Good News We Almost Forgot, a book that has been our guide through this past year, is the parent-child relationship.  If your child has set chores to do each day, the expectation is that those would be done and that you wouldn’t have to do them.  Let’s say that one day your child didn’t do them and you had to do them yourself.  Obviously, your child has broken the agreement, the relationship you have experiences some strain, but it isn’t something you would disown them for nor would you withdraw your love from them.  But disobedience has occurred, and something must be done.
 
When you decide to confront your child about it, he or she could admit their guilt, sorrowfully apologize, and your relationship would be restored.  This is what you would desire as a parent.  If the child blew you off and/or continued in their disobedience, the relationship you have would experience greater amounts of strain and a distance would be created.  You would never stop loving them, even though they were continually pushing away from you.
 
This is how it is with us and God as well.  God desires that our relationship would be restored.  For us, that means a continual confession of our sins and desire to do better next time.  We aren’t condemned, Scripture assures us of this.  God will not withdraw His love, Scripture assures us of this as well.  But restoration needs to take place and, for that to happen both forgiveness (from God) and repentance (from us) are necessary.
 
When we sin, we feel guilty.  This is often called this a “conviction” of the Holy Spirit.  We needn’t carry that guilt around us as an identity.  Rather, we respond to this conviction by repentance and receive/acknowledge anew the forgiveness of God in Jesus Christ.
 
Jesus teaching goes beyond the simple fact of sinning and repenting in our relationship with God though.  As is true with many things in the Christian life, we are called to extend the love and grace that we experience beyond ourselves to those around us.  The forgiven heart is a forgiving heart.  When we experience God’s forgiveness, the deep cleansing and washing that takes place inside of us, and the unmerited grace extended to us in our lives, we cannot help but want to share that love with others as well.
 
Does this mean that if we don’t forgive someone that we will lose our salvation?  Certainly not.  There are all sorts of circumstances in which forgiveness can be difficult due to extensive pain, lack of remorse from the other party, and so much more.  However, the Scriptural call is a trajectory toward forgiveness and restoration and the heart that experiences forgiveness longs to be a heart that forgives as well.  It may take a lot of God’s work on our hearts to get us there, but God’s desire for our lives is that we who are forgiven become forgivers, continuing to break the bondage of sin and encountering a deeper understanding of God’s love and forgiveness to us along the way.


Debts and Debtors: H.C. Question 126

What does the fifth petition mean? 

Psalm 51:1-7 – 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.
 
Psalm 143:2 – Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you.
 
Romans 8:1 – Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,
 
1 John 2:1-2 – My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
 
Matthew 6:14-15 – For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Matthew 18:21-35 – Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

“At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”