Thursday, March 17, 2011

Repentance and Refreshing

Acts 3:11-26 (quoted below)
I love this story of Peter and John going to pray and healing the crippled man, although I can’t think of it without singing it. (Sing along with me now… “Peter and John went to pray, they met a lame man on the way, he asked for alms and held out his palms, and this is what Peter did say: ‘Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I Thee, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.’ He went walking and leaping and praising God…”) What a great story! Sometimes knowing a story in song since childhood can be a hindrance, though. It becomes so familiar I don’t think about it, really.
And how often do I read beyond the story and meditate on the words Peter said in response to this great opportunity the beggar’s healing opened up for Peter to share Christ with the crowd at the Temple? The passage is below if you’d like to pause and read it.
The main reason I am considering this particular passage today as a Lenten devotional is verse 19: “Repent , then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord”
There are so many reasons to repent. Let’s brainstorm some reasons: God invites us to repent, and tells us to repent… sin is destructive and turning from it stops the destruction… feelings of guilt and shame…to make loved ones happy… fear of judgment…. Well, that was harder than I thought.
Anyway, this verse brings out several reasons to repent and benefits of repentance:
1.      “Repent then” – in this specific circumstance, the listeners had participated in demanding the crucifixion of Jesus. They acted in ignorance, Peter says, and God used them to accomplish his purpose, but they committed a terrible wrong and needed to repent.
2.      “Turn to God” – repentance is in fact “turning” - away from sin and toward God. We are not able to turn toward God when we are moving in the opposite direction toward sin.  (Hebrews 12:14, Romans 3:23 and many others.)
3.      “so that your sins may be wiped out” – Amen! Hallelujah! Freedom from the penalty and the shame.
4.      “that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” – this is the whole reason this passage jumps out and calls to me today. Times of refreshing. From the Lord. Can we grasp that? Turning from sin is not only about escaping the penalty of sin (which is ultimately death), it is not only about duty and obedience, it is about entering in the presence of the LORD and being refreshed. Times of refreshing. This is what I long for. And this is what results from repenting, from turning toward the LORD. Times of refreshing with Living Water (John 4) that satisfies in a unique and astonishing and complete manner impossible by any other means. He, that is Christ the Lord, is Himself the reward, this day and every day.
I am constantly challenged and inspired to move beyond going through the motions of religious practice because I’ve always done it, because it’s the right thing to do (not that those are bad reasons), because people expect me to do it, because it’s my job, because I get to go to heaven, etc., and to focus on the incredible blessing HERE and NOW of knowing Christ. He is worthwhile in and of Himself.
Also, the benefits of living a godly life are so much greater than the benefits of living an ungodly life. Here and now. It bears repeating that being Christian is not about giving things up. It is about lavishly receiving. As Peter says later in the passage, “When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways."
“To bless you.”
Be blessed.
Here is the passage:
Acts 3:11 While the beggar held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon's Colonnade. 12 When Peter saw this, he said to them: "Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14 You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16 By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus' name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.
17 "Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. 18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer. 19 Repent , then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20 and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you — even Jesus. 21 He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. 22 For Moses said, 'The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. 23 Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from among his people.'  

24 "Indeed, all the prophets from Samuel on, as many as have spoken, have foretold these days. 25 And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, 'Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.'   26 When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways."  NIV
Have times of refreshing come from the LORD as a result of your sins being wiped out?
How have you been blessed by being enabled to turn from wicked ways?

PS – I am compelled to revel in a few additional choice morsels in this passage:
·         His servant Jesus (v.13) –  “servant” – this is how the Holy Spirit teaches us to view Jesus. I want to be “His servant Kimberly.”
·         Disowned the Holy and Righteous One (v.14) – the people Peter is addressing are going down in history forever as the ones who disowned the Holy and Righteous one. Please don’t ever let that be me!
·         Author of life (v.15) – okay, I love that description of Jesus and all that it means. I just have to let my mind run on that for a moment…
·         It is Jesus' name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.  (v.16) – powerful words on healing

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Repentance, Rebuilding, Redemption

Wow, sisters. I am humbled and overwhelmed with the amazing testimonies shared by Karen, Stephanie, and Deena. I am so moved that you shared so deeply and I am praising God for the grace He has lavished in your lives. Wow. Again, I’m overwhelmed. Thank you so much.
I was going to start working through the gospels to meditate on the passion of Christ because this is supposed to be a Lenten devotional. I’m not a big fan of the “open the Bible and see where you land” approach to hearing from the Word of God. BUT, whew! I opened the Bible today and my eyes immediately landed on Isaiah 59:2--
But your iniquities have separated
you from your God;
your sins have hidden his face from you,
so that he will not hear.

Well, Lent is traditionally about repentance but in this century of the church we don’t really like to dwell on sin and sound harsh. But let’s face it, our sin is the reason Christ suffered and died. And we need to take it seriously and personally.

So my attention was grabbed and I started to read all of Isaiah 58 and 59 from a devotional point of view. I won’t quote all of the two chapters but I wanted to share portions with you so you can meditate and be nourished along with me. I’m not going to comment extensively, but I’ll put some of my thoughts in black and then you can share your thoughts.

Isaiah 58:5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?
6 "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter —
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Okay, I could preach on this alone all day long. It is certainly challenging to me because I am not concerned enough with these things. I think evangelicals as a whole have a narrow focus on what the gospel is. We over-correct for the way we’ve seen the church in the past focus on social needs to the exclusion of spiritual needs.
Also, often I/we look at church as a place for our own needs to be met. I know I could use a lot less focus on myself. The last line of verse 7 is especially speaking to me.

8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
"If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.

THEN…. THEN… Grace is by definition free. Yet, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously noted, grace is free but it is not cheap. It cost Christ everything. We have an obligation of love to respond to the grace that has been lavished on us by being concerned about what God is concerned about and loving as he loved. THEN we will experience the manifest pleasure of the LORD.

12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

This verse has long spoken to me of rebuilding the walls of our families after they have been devastated by generational sin and family dysfunction. We do not have to be bound by generational curses. The devastation can stop in our generation. We can be the repairers of broken walls, the home builders. Our children do not have to suffer what we have suffered.

59:1 - Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save,
nor his ear too dull to hear.
2 But your iniquities have separated you from your God;
your sins have hidden his face from you,
so that he will not hear.

From verses 3-14 some of the phrases that caught me include:

 … your tongue mutters wicked things. (v.3)
…Their feet rush into sin (v.7)
… We all growl like bears; we moan mournfully like doves.(v.11)

Anyone been moaning or growling lately?

Our offenses are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities (v.12)
uttering lies our hearts have conceived. (13)

Brings to mind a favorite verse of mine in 1 John that says God is greater than our hearts. Even our hearts can lie to us but we can look to God for the truth about our own selves.

Picking up at v. 15b
The LORD looked and was displeased that there was no justice.
16 He saw that there was no one,
he was appalled that there was no one to intervene;
so his own arm worked salvation for him,
and his own righteousness sustained him.
17 He put on righteousness as his breastplate,
and the helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.
18 According to what they have done,
so will he repay wrath to his enemies and retribution to his foes…

He was appalled! Do you love it! And he was the only one who was able to completely do something about it. He himself intervened (and intervenes) in our dire situation. He put on the same armor that Paul instructs us to don in Ephesians 6! The armor we put on is the armor the Redeemer Himself took into action! And we know that turned out well!

…men will fear the name of the LORD,
and from the rising of the sun,
they will revere his glory.
For he will come like a pent-up flood that the breath of the LORD drives along.  
20 "The Redeemer will come to Zion,
to those in Jacob who repent of their sins," declares the LORD.
21 "As for me, this is my covenant with them," says the LORD. "My Spirit, who is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will not depart from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children, or from the mouths of their descendants from this time on and forever," says the LORD.

LOVE the imagery of verse 19 – the pent-up flood of God’s glory… His breath that gave us life to start with (Genesis 2:7) and that breathes the Holy Spirit into us (John 20:22).
And I cling to the promise of God’s Spirit for my children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren….

Well, this is a lot of ground to cover and it calls forth a thousand thoughts. But I thought I’d share some of my reflections with you and then listen to what grabs you out of these verses.

Love you - Kimberly

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ash Wednesday

I'm starting this blog on Ash Wednesday, so I thought I'd title it "Ashes to Beauty" in reference to a favorite scripture in Isaiah 61 (1-3).

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,  
to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion —

to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendor.

The purpose of this blog is to facilitate Bible study and conversation among my circle of sisters in Christ. It's a way to get us together when we aren't able to physically be together.

This could last two days, or it could last longer! We'll see!

It's interesting that the song to which the LORD has led me as a theme for this season in our church life is "Carrier," which quotes the Isaiah scripture above. We know that in Luke 4 Jesus proclaimed this scripture was fulfilled in him. I am earnestly praying that the LORD will birth in all of us a fresh passion for participating in this mission - preaching the good news, binding up the broken-hearted, comforting those who mourn, and I could go on repeating the whole scripture! These things are on my heart afresh this week as the precious students at our high school are walking through a valley of great sorrow.

I am reminded of a transcendent moment in the LORD I experienced several years ago in Yellowstone National Park. We traveled through many acres of forest devastated by fire - charred stumps and ruin. Yet flourishing anew amid the ashes were glorious flowers. It was such a vivid display to me of how the LORD brings beauty from ashes. He certainly has done so in my life!

So. Has the LORD created beauty from ashes in your life?
Have you had any transcendent moments with God?
Have you had the opportunity recently to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor?

Please share your thoughts with me.

Blessings - Kimberly