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In my last post, I referenced the story of the self-righteous Pharisee and the penitent tax collector. The Pharisee attempted to hide his self-righteous disdain for other sinners behind a veil of gratitude for his own supposed godliness. He was quite happy to report to God that he was not “like other men; extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” Yet, by the end of his prayer of thanks, it is quite clear that he is no much grateful as he is ignorant of God’s own law – the very thing that he takes pride in keeping. He had forgotten what Jesus called the two greatest commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind….and…you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

These weren’t just Jesus’ new ideas – these were actual Old Testament commands. However, Jesus does take them farther than anyone ever had before, saying, “on these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Maybe if the Pharisee had remembered that his first duty was to love God with all of his being, he would have immediately recognized that he had fallen way short, and his prayer of thanks might have actually been a prayer of repentance. But, because he saw no sin in himself, he saw no need for the God who is fully of mercy, abounding in steadfast love, and ready to forgive. And if you don’t know this God, you just don’t know God.

Perhaps he should have prayed this old prayer of the Church:

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.

Pharisäer und Zöllner - Fresko (F3), Basilika ...

Pharisäer und Zöllner – Fresko (F3), Basilika Ottobeuren (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“He (Jesus) also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:  “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’  But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” – Luke 18:9-14 (ESV)

Before God, we are all miserable sinners. The only difference is that some acknowledge this and plead for nothing but mercy. Others thank God that they are not the same kind of sinner as their neighbor.  The Pharisee in this story thinks that because he has not committed the obvious taboo sins of his culture, he is fine. Even more he fasts regularly and tithes on everything. All good thing things. Yet, he forgot about the one sin that leads to all others: Pride.
It was pride that caused the fall in Eden and it is pride that causes my fall and yours today. We compare ourselves with others, seeking to justify ourselves in the sight of God and men. To do this, we must paint a very bleak picture of our neighbors’ morality, and a very charming portrait of our own goodness. In highlighting our goodness and focusing on others’ failures, we become self-deluded, thinking that our sins are trivial. We begin to see no need for repentance and mercy, only “thankfulness” that we are not like those we hold in contempt.
The remedy for us is humble repentance. As Jesus said, “…everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” That’s why we have the Lenten season – to humble ourselves once again so that we may be exalted with Christ as Easter.

Titus 2:11-14 looks at salvation and grace from a different perspective than we normally do:

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”

God’s grace has been given to enable us to lead self controlled and godly lives in the present age. We often think of salvation as the thing that will give us rest and an easy future in heaven. Salvation does bring rest, but it also brings a challenge as it “trains” us to give up our worldly passions and exchange them for a life of Christian discipline.

Our culture often bulks as the idea of self-control, and I must admit my own guilt in this area. We often find discipline to be a vice – an invention design to suppress  our authentic expressions of our true selves. The gospel brings us back to reality and says that actually much of our “authenticity” is the problem: our true selves are like sheep that have gone astray, with every one going along on his own way.

This gospel of Jesus Christ brings salvation to the lost sheep, with God forgiving them for straying from his path. The gospel also brings transforming grace that enables us to live with more self-control, as we put off our old selves and become his new creation here on earth.

At our church, we are going through The Story, which provides a overview of the biblical narrative by using actual scripture portions from the NIV.  This past week we came to chapter 17, which told of the failures of the wicked Kings and the eventual fall  and destruction of Jerusalem.  Israel had fallen because it had failed to live up to its God given task of being a light unto the world. God had chosen the offspring of Abraham to be a blessing to the surrounding nations. Instead, Israel became like its neighbors, returned to idolatry, and eventually was destroyed.   Israel had misrepresented God, and God had enough.  The city of Jerusalem was crushed, the temple burnt, the people sent into exile.

Jeremiah laments the situation: “How lonely sits the city that was full of people…Judah has gone into exile because of affliction and hard servitude…All who pass along the way clap their hands at you; they hiss and away their heads at the daughter of Jerusalem; Is this the city that was called the perfection of beauty, the joy of all the earth?”  The light had been snuff out with nothing remaining except a smoldering wick.

Though Jeremiah was the weeping prophet, he found reason for hope:  “The steadfast lover of the Lord never cease; his mercies never come to an end: they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”  Jeremiah was confident that God would once again prove his faithfulness. And God did. Centuries later God sent the true faithful Israelite to be a blessing to all the earth, to be a light unto the world. Jesus said that now, he himself, was the light of the world, and that whoever followed him would not walk in darkness.  The light of Israel had been restored in a brighter way than ever imagined. Now, through the Messiah, God has ensured that light would no longer be trapped under that basket of self preservation that leads only to smoldering wicks.   Instead, God has determined Jesus followers would be the  light on display for all the world to see, so that he may receive glory from all the nations.    As we continue in the Epiphany season, lets remember that our task is to carry forth the light of Christ to the world around us.

Pietro Perugino - The Adoration of the Magi (E...

Pietro Perugino – The Adoration of the Magi (Epiphany) – WGA17259 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In this week following the Epiphany of our Lord, we remember the revealing of Christ to the gentiles.  It is truly good news that the Jewish Messiah would come not just for Israel, but for all nations. We are all recipients of this grace.

Those wise men who came from the east were the first non-Jews to see the Christ.  The folks in Israel had not really paid much attention to this baby who was destined to be King of the Jews. However the Magi from a far away pagan land traveled hundreds of miles under the guidance of a star to see this child.  They were so excited to see this child that Matthew records that they “rejoiced exceedingly with great joy”  when they got close to Jesus. When they came into his presence they fell down and worshiped him.

When King Herod, King of Judea,  did find out about this child, he was not happy to hear about one who had “been born King of the Jews.”  He did not worship him; he declared war on him. Attempting to eliminate any threat to his throne, he had the infant boys of Bethlehem murdered.

As the gospel of John says, “he came unto his own, and his own did not receive him.” Many in Israel did not recognize the majesty of Jesus, while many pagans from around the world came to believe in him as their Lord.  This is not to pick on the first century Jews; we too fail to see the glory of God in Jesus Christ.

Far too often, we pay little attention to the King in our own midst. We strive for control of our own lives, and often buck against any perceived threats that would undermine our own little kingdom. When we are confronted with the news that the true King is here, we must be careful not to rebel against him as Herod did. Of course, we wouldn’t go to the extremes that Herod did in trying to eliminate the threat to his position. However, even our simple ignoring of his presence is really the same as rebellion against him.  He is a kind and gentle king, but he is still King.

Rather, God wants us to gladly bring him our worship and treasure as the Magi did.  This requires time and effort –  just like the Magi’s long and hard trip across the hot desert. However, the payoff will be worth it, as Hebrews says, “he rewards those who seek him.”

To Do List

To Do List (Photo credit: Beth77)

Its New Years Eve! So says the calendar. And speaking of calendars, I imagine all the organized, planner types of people already have their 2013 version mostly filled in.  Their New Year’s resolutions for 2013 have long been established.

The planner people are always telling folks like me how easy it is to get organized and to get things done: For the New Year, you need to establish some goals for the coming year.  However, I always forget to do this until December 31, and then I run out of time to think about. This could be overcome by implementing Career Coach Dan Miller’s strategy of setting your New Year goals by the middle of November!  This would be most helpful since I wouldn’t have to set my 2013 goals for 10 1/2 more months. But I’ve heard some talk that he is actually referring to setting your 2013 in November 2012, which would mean I’m already 1 1/2 months late.

After you set your goals, the planners are always talking about getting a calendar. When you have an appointment or deadline, just mark it on the calendar. Oh, yes, just so simple. What happens when you forget to mark your calendar? Or when you lose you calendar? Of course, now we’re supposed to have digital calendars on whatever electronic device we carried on us. However,  I find these phone calendars and  calendars to be tedious and somewhat obnoxious. Its somewhat of a pain to enter all the information correctly, and then you keep getting all these reminders about how late you are on everything.  When I first got my Nexus 7, I thought I would try one of these apps.  And now, a couple months later, I’m getting insulted by my tablet, with the app  implying that I’m worthless for not starting such-and-such task.  At least an old fashion calendar lets you be delinquent in peace.

And then of course, there are the to-do lists. These are the Type A planners favorite weapon. Us disorganized folks are told  that to-do lists are the way to get things done. However, lists are much like calendars: you actually have to remember to write something on the list, and then remember to look at the list when you need to know what to do next. And of course, just like the calendar, you have to do you best not to lose it somewhere.  If you’re very decisive, its easy to determine what to put on your list – Somehow, Type A people always know want they want to do next. However,  its not so easy to determine what to put on your list when there are so many good choices set before you.  Us ADD types who are distracted by everything have trouble narrowing our options down enough to put something down. So, I found the best way to compensate for this is to just not waste your energy trying to decide what to do next, which means that you won’t have much of a to-do list. This of course means that remaining tasks on my list are significantly fewer than those of a Type A planner.  So I’m already making significant progress on knocking out that to-do list. I just eliminate most of the possibilities before they can even get on there. That is some seriously efficient productivity.   Who says disorganize people can’t get anything done?

Happy New Year!!

12 Days of Christmas

12 Days of Christmas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Though December 25 is past, Christmastide is just getting started. This season of the church year is also known as the Twelve Days of Christmas (yes, it appears there actually was some reason to have a song called “The 12 Days of Christmas”).  These Twelve Feast Days run from Christmas to Epiphany on January 6. For more on the Twelve Days see the Wikipedia  article.

It seems as though the Twelve Days have been largely forgotten by many, including myself. At any rate, there does seem to be value in observing all twelve days of Christmas.  As I mentioned in this post, the Christian season Advent is ignored by many, and is swallowed up by Christmas of commerce.  On Christmas day we celebrate, and then its over. As Christians, we want to keep Christ in Christmas, but if we’re honest, most of us will probably admit that the events of December 25 often draw our minds to many things beside the Incarnation.  It might be helpful if we used the slower pace that usually comes after Christmas Day for continued celebration and reflection on the coming of our God in the person of Jesus Christ.

For the advertisers Christmas is over. They now begin a new marketing strategy to keep us in their stores through the cold and dark months of January and February. For the Church, Christmas is not over – its just getting started. We take this time to rejoice in the God of our salvation and to shine as lights in witness to the Joy he has brought to the World!