20170417

Reengaging Earth With Heaven

Christian faith gives us a new conception of work as the means by which God loves and cares for his world through us.

― Timothy Keller

Scripture: Exodus 28

[God said,] “You shall speak to all the skillful, whom I have filled with a spirit of skill, that they make Aaron’s garments to consecrate him for my priesthood.” — Exodus 28.3

Reflection: Reengaging Earth With Heaven
By Steven Dilla

The first people to be filled with a spirit from God were not priests, but craftsmen. Few were said to have direct access to God’s Spirit at this moment in human history—those that did engaged in their vocation in a way that could not be explained merely by human skill (something that happens more than once in Scripture).

What they created under this empowerment is remarkable not only for its detail, but for its transcendent meaning.

The priestly garments are a picture of the world properly ordered. In his 21-volume series, The Antiquities of the Jews, the first-century historian Josephus describes the symbolism of the priestly garments as understood in the time of Christ:

The robe of the high priest being made of linen, signified the earth; the blue denoted the sky, being like lightning in its pomegranates, and in the noise of the bells resembling thunder.

He also appointed the breastplate to be placed in the middle of the ephod, to resemble the earth, for that has the very middle place of the world. And the girdle which encompassed the high priest round, signified the ocean, for that goes round about and includes the universe.

And for the headdress, which was of a blue color, it seems to me to mean heaven; for how otherwise could the name of God be inscribed upon it?

Faith is designed to reengage earth with heaven. Even in the darkness of our sin and brokenness, God did not abandon us—his redemption plan begins its renewal here and now—and he will stop at nothing to complete his work. Not only is God’s name inscribed on the earth, his blood is spilt on it.

The craftsmen are a case-study of how to respond to God’s spirit of grace. As an act of faith they hone their skill over years of practice, invest themselves deeply into their work, and engage in projects which help humanity flourish.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons

…the loving-kindness of the Lord fills the whole earth. — Psalm 33.5

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Leviticus 21 (Listen – 3:08)
Psalm 26-27 (Listen – 3:13)

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20170414

Mercy and Fidelity

If these things were done to the green tree, what had been the case of the dry tree? O love unutterable and inconceivable! How glorious is my love in his red garments!

― John Flavel

Lenten Reflection: Mercy and Fidelity
By Steven Dilla

The first Good Friday would not have been a day of rest as much as a day of emptiness. Had the disciples grasped the spiritual aspect of Christ’s sacrifice, in the early hours after the crucifixion, their words likely would have foreshadowed those of John Flavel. The 17th-century puritan declared, achingly, “O how inflexible and severe is the justice of God! No abatement? No sparing mercy; no, not to his own Son?”

On one hand we want the penalty for sin to be harsh—the evil that has been inflicted on us deserves justice. On the other, we are unable to pay if justice requires from us what we demand for others. Flavel, in the twentieth sermon of his series The Fountain of Life Opened Up, acknowledges both—first explaining how sin’s harsh penalty bears fruit in our lives:

Oh cursed sin! It was you who used my dear Lord so; for your sake he underwent all this. If your vileness had not been so great, his sufferings had not been so many. Cursed sin—you are the sword that pierced him!

When the believer remembers that sin put Christ through all that ignominy—and that he was wounded for our transgressions—he is filled with hatred of sin, and cries out, O sin, I will revenge the blood of Christ upon you! You shall never live a quiet hour in my heart.

The harshness of the penalty, as recorded in Scripture, is eclipsed only by the immensity of Christ’s sacrifice. In laying down his life Christ demonstrated the strength of his mercy and depth of his fidelity. Only on these, Flavel concludes, can we securely anchor our lives:

It produces an humble adoration of the goodness and mercy of God, to exact satisfaction for our sins, by such bloody stripes, from our surety. Lord, if this wrath had seized on me, as it did on Christ, what had been my condition then!

This begets thankfulness and confidence in the soul—Christ is dead—and his death has satisfied for my sin. Christ is dead—therefore my soul shall never die. Who shall separate me from the love of God?

The Call to Prayer

I cry out to you, O Lord; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.” — Psalm 142:5

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Leviticus 18 (Listen – 3:46)
Psalm 22 (Listen – 3:49)

This Weekend’s Readings
Leviticus 19 (Listen – 4:39) Psalm 23-24 (Listen – 2:03)
Leviticus 20 (Listen – 4:18) Psalm 25 (Listen – 2:18)

 

20170413

The Abandoned Savior

Then all the disciples left him and fled.

— Matthew 26.56

Lenten Reflection: The Abandoned Savior
By Steven Dilla

God, we abandoned you.

It was the darkness in our hearts that caused your Father to turn his back on you. Eternal unity broken by our sin. Truly we would have been counted among your disciples that night. When you asked, “remain here, and watch with me,” we would have slept. Disquieted by evil—though we stood in the presence of the very one who could save us—we would have fled.

My God, my God, why have You forsaken me, and why are You so far from helping me, and from the words of my groaning? — Psalm 22.1

You were forsaken because you embraced the consequences of our brokenness. Your body broke under the weight of hell.

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. — Isaiah 53.3–6

Lord we ask only this: may we not forsake your sacrifice by defining our lives by our own failures and fleeting successes rather than the glory of your grace and peace.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.

Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors. — Isaiah 53.0-12

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You trust in God, trust also in me. — John 14:1

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Leviticus 17 (Listen – 5:36)
Psalm 20-21 (Listen – 3:17)

 

20170412

The Garden of Anguish

Then Jesus said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.”

― Matthew 26.38

Lenten Reflection: The Garden of Anguish
By Steven Dilla

The Son of God, who rhythmically withdrew from all human contact to pray, now asks his disciples to journey with him into the garden. He did not want to be left alone.“Father, take this cup.” The prayer of Christ would go unanswered.

For the first time in all of eternity, “Jesus Christ turned toward the Father and there was nothing there but the abyss,” remarks Timothy Keller. “There was nothing there but the darkness that opens out into an infinite nothing. He turned, expecting heaven and the Father, and there was hell.” Blood vessels ruptured under stress—his body being forced toward death long before the cross—as the weight of sin fell upon our savior. Keller explains:

As he began to walk, he began to experience the wrath of God. He began to actually experience God turning away from him. How does God punish sin? The Bible tells us (it’s almost poetic justice) the sinful human heart wants to get away. It wants to be away from God. It wants to be able to be its own master. So the way God punishes sin is to give the heart what it wants.

Jesus received what we deserved—what we have earned. From his birth to his resurrection, Christ did for us what we are unable to do. He loved God fully and loved man perfectly. He gave his life that we may live. Though we see this, we have trouble reorienting our lives in response.

We do not want to accept such a sacrifice. We do not want to cost of our sin to be so high. We do not want to live indebted to grace so deep. Christ’s love shines through the night, even while our love flickers in the wind. Keller concludes:

We don’t trust him. We’re afraid he might not have our best interest in mind, that he might ask us to do something that won’t be really good for us. So on the one hand, we don’t really trust him, but on the other hand, we don’t really trust ourselves. One of the reasons why we don’t give ourselves wholly and utterly and completely is because we’re afraid of failure.

Here is a love that hell came down on. His love for you—hell came down on it—and it didn’t eat through it. His love for you, hell came down on it, and it didn’t break it.

Prayer: The Call to Prayer

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting and to everlasting; and let all the people say, “Amen!” — Psalm 106:48

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Leviticus 16 (Listen – 5:36)
Psalm 19 (Listen – 1:52)

 

20170411

The Unlucky Tree

It is difficult, after sixteen centuries and more during which the cross has been a sacred symbol, to realize the unspeakable horror and loathing which the very mention or thought of the cross provoked in Paul’s day.

―F.F. Bruce

Lenten Reflection: The Unlucky Tree
By Steven Dilla

The word “crucifixion” was nearly unspeakable among Rome’s cultural elite. Most Romans, like Cicero, avoided the term all-together, opting for the euphemism arbori infelici suspendito—hang him on the unlucky tree. In the ancient Jewish tradition, and therefore early Christian culture, to hang on a tree was to fall under the curse of God.

For the first Christians, Christ’s cursed death would have been just as arresting as the thought of his resurrection. Yet how the apostle Paul—a Jewish-elite Roman Christian—responded to the scorn and humiliation of Christ on the cross set a tuning-pitch for the early church.

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others,” the apostle wrote. His reasoning wasn’t moralism or civility, but a direct application of what it meant to follow a crucified savior. He continued with the words to one of the first Christian hymns:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

In other words: sacrifice your pursuits, comfort, and status just as Christ sacrificed his for you. This is the pathway to resurrection. Selfish ambition fractures relationships. Vain-conceit leverages success in an attempt to exact revenge on those who have hurt us in the past. The cruciform lifestyle lays all this down—we follow Christ to the cross because grace has invited us to the resurrection.

Of the first Christians, British theologian F.F. Bruce remarks:

One could have understood it if the early Christians, knowing that the crucifixion of Jesus was an undeniable fact, had admitted it reluctantly when they were compelled to do so. But Paul, Roman citizen by birth and religious Jew by upbringing, not only dismisses as the merest refuse those things in which he had once taken a proper pride, but embraces—as the most worth-while goal in life—the knowledge of the crucified Christ and boasts in his cross.

Prayer: The Greeting

Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your Name give glory; because of your love and because of your faithfulness. — Psalm 115:1

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Leviticus 15 (Listen – 4:59)
Psalm 18 (Listen – 5:47)