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Lent Reflections 2017


Lent invites us to make our hearts ready for remembering Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Join us as we come together to trace God's gracious rescue of His people through the pages of the Bible, in order to help us prepare our hearts to celebrate His victory over sin and death on Resurrection Sunday.

A reflection for the day will be added to this page each morning, you can scroll down to see the reflections for previous days. We pray these Lent Reflections will be a blessing to you.


 

Day 22 - Open Heart Surgery

 

‘I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow My decrees and be careful to keep My laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be My people, and I will be your God.’
Ezekiel 36:26-28 (NIV) 

 
If we’ve been Christians for a while, we can read these promises with a casual familiarity. But for the original hearers of Ezekiel’s prophecy this would have been a bowl-you-over promise, a stop-you-dead-in-your-tracks promise. The first hearers of these words would have stopped and marveled at them.

Let’s let these promises stop us in our own tracks for just a moment.

In the preceding verses, God has been promising to bring His people back from exile, to restore them to the land of Israel. That is grace enough. But hanging over all those promises is the inevitable question - what’s to stop exile from happening again? What’s to prevent God’s people from the same cycle of hard-heartedness, disobedience and idolatry that led to His just punishment of them in the first place?

On top of grace, God promises even more grace. Not only will He intervene in their external circumstances to bring them back from exile, but He will also intervene in their inner selves. He will give them a new heart which is directed to the Lord in love, and He will give them His Spirit to help them obey and walk in His ways.

These promises are an assurance of salvation. God will do everything needed in order to rescue, redeem and keep His people. And of course, they aren’t just promises for ethnic Israelites but they are new covenant promises, made to everyone who is in Christ Jesus.

Do you worry that your love for Christ may grow dim? Do you worry that you won’t be able to hold onto Him? That you might not be able to sustain faith and obedience till the end? These promises are for you. Not only will Christ hold onto you, but He will give you everything you need to hold onto Him and to keep following Him. That is grace on top of grace already given. That is blessed assurance.

Our Gracious God, thank You for this promise of a new heart, new transformed life and Your indwelling Spirit. We ask that You would continue to grow our love for You and our desire to walk in all Your ways. Increase our desire for You above all the other things in our lives that compete for our love.
Amen



Day 21 - Hypocrisy of Our Hearts

 

“Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury,
burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known,
and then come and stand before me in this house,
which bears my Name,
and say, ‘We are safe’– safe to do all these detestable things?
Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you?
But I have been watching!
declares the Lord.”
Jeremiah 7:9-11 (NIV)



Where do you look to for safety? In a dangerous and uncertain world, what is it that makes you feel safe and secure?

For the people of Jeremiah’s day, the answer to that question was simple: it was God’s temple. That was the centre of worship and the place where God dwelt with his people. When asked where their trust and security lay, they answer, “The temple of the LORD!” (7:4).

But while they declared trust in God’s presence, their lives demonstrated something different. They lived no different to the nations around them, worshiping idols while stating that God was their security. The temple of the Lord was what they thought kept them safe, but they failed to live for the Lord whose temple it is.

So God’s word comes through the prophet Jeremiah, which cuts to the bone and exposes the hypocrisy of their hearts. Safety doesn’t come from token trust, but lives given in worship to the living God. Mere lip service to the Lord is far from safe.

These words of God through Jeremiah are then spoken by Jesus. He finds the temple dedicated not to worship but to wealth, and drives the money changers out, declaring that God’s house has ‘become a den of robbers’. Jesus exposes the hypocrisy of our hearts – how we too easily pay lip service to worship but our lives tell a different story.

With a whip in his hands and the words of Jeremiah on his lips, Jesus is not a ‘safe’ person. He’s not the Jesus ‘meek and mild’ who we can domesticate, without bite or challenge. He is no easy Jesus who only says the things we find comfortable.

But he is the Jesus who brings true safety. He is the true temple, which would be torn down at the cross, but rebuilt after three days on Easter Sunday. As we come to him this Lent, we find that he is not comfortable, but he does bring comfort; he is not safe, but he brings eternal safety.

 
Almighty God,
we acknowledge how often we declare our trust in you with our lips,
but not with our lives.
Expose the reality of our hearts
and change us by your Spirit to truly trust in you.
May we know in Jesus Christ safety
and security that comes only through his cross and resurrection.
In his name we pray,
Amen.

 
 

Day 20 - Good News

 

‘The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
   because the Lord has anointed me
   to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted,
   to proclaim freedom for the captives
   and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour
   and the day of vengeance of our God’
 Isaiah 61:1-2 (NIV)


                       

Good news - we are living in extremely favourable times, although it may not feel as if this is the case.

In this passage the prophet Isaiah looks forward to the Messiah, Jesus Christ, coming to rescue His people. This proclamation reminds us that God provides for the weak and vulnerable. One year in seven, and at the 50th year Jubilee, God's people were released from slavery, released from their debts, and given another chance.

Jesus Christ Himself quotes these verses of good news – verses of forgiveness and reconciliation. He read aloud these words in the synagogue in Luke 4, and we are left in no doubt that this passage is fulfilled in Him.

On the cross, Jesus bought our liberty - freedom from the penalty and power of sin - and brought us from darkness into His glorious light. Jesus was the great physician-healer -  binding up the broken hearted. He was also the Great Evangelist, and we are called to follow His example by proclaiming the good news, with deep thankfulness, in the power of the Spirit.

We live in the 'year of the Lord’s favour' - a time of grace and privilege. But with a reminder that a ‘day of vengeance’ will come when we must stand before God and give an account of our lives.

 
Thank you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
that we live in the day of Your favour.
We are deeply thankful for your rescue and redemption through
the precious blood of our Lord Jesus Christ on the first Good Friday.
We rejoice in His victory over sin and death
and His rising on Easter Day, returning to sit at Your right hand in glory.
May we follow His example in sharing this good news
that others may find healing and be released from sin and darkness.
Empower us to live and serve in Your power and to Your glory.
Amen
.


 

Day 19 - Suffered to Save

 

He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Surely he took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
    stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
    each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53:3-6



This is a prophecy about a suffering servant written 700 years before its fulfilment. But who is this suffering servant?

Connect Good Friday and the agony of the cross to these verses – Jesus Christ is despised, rejected, his body and spirit bearing our pain on the cross as a result of our sin when he had no sin. The tragedy is even more acute when we are told that he does it for the very people who despise and reject him; no person could understand what he was doing at the time. Yet he carried on to die for us.

But why? Verse 6 tells us the answer. All humanity is in the same sorrowful condition. Sinful sheep – clueless, fragmented, wandering aimlessly, turning to our own way rather than following our creator God. If the sinless suffering servant had not willingly made atonement for our sins, and called us to receive God’s mercy and forgiveness, we would be lost forever destined for the eternal punishment that is justly ours. But Christ’s death on the cross on Good Friday means that he has taken our punishment, healed us and paid the price to buy us peace with God, washing us clean of the stain of our sin.

Let us therefore thank God for new lives in Jesus Christ as a result of his atoning sacrifice. May we feel called to share these verses with a friend.

 
Lamb of God,
help us to remember how you endured in body and soul
God’s anger against the sin of the whole human race.
Thank you for standing in our place,
setting us free from eternal condemnation
and gaining for us God’s grace, righteousness and everlasting life.
We pray for those known to us, who remain lost like sheep,
and ask that you may open their eyes and hearts
to believe in your atoning sacrifice for their sins, turn to you
and receive new life in your name this Easter.
Amen
 

Day 18 - Open to the Nations

 

He says:
‘It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
   to restore the tribes of Jacob
   and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
   that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.’
Isaiah 49:6


The plan was never small.  The plan was always cosmic.  

From the moment our first parents rebelled in the garden, God had a plan to restore the whole of creation. The plan was always for the nations. The promise through the ages was that God’s blessing would go out to the nations.  

As we approach Easter, we must not have too small a vision of the extent to which God will apply the saving work of Jesus on the cross. In the death and resurrection of Jesus, God is reconciling the world to Himself in Christ (2 Corinthians 5). It would be far too small a thing for us to limit the work of the Suffering Servant to the tribes of Jacob, or to those who we think God will save.Today as we read this, we are the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy, people of every tribe and tongue receiving the saving work of the Suffering Servant.

This Lent may God open our eyes to see the work that He is doing in our neighbourhoods, in our workplaces, in our city, in our country and in our world.  

Lord of the nations,
renew our passion to see the good news of your Son Jesus Christ reaching the nations.  
May we bring the light of the gospel to the places you have placed us.
Open our eyes to see where you are at work.
For the glory of Jesus,
Amen.
 


Day 17 - God Forsaken


‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
   Why are you so far from saving me,
   so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
   by night, but I find no rest.
Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
   you are the one Israel praises.
In you our ancestors put their trust;
   they trusted and you delivered them.
To you they cried out and were saved;
   in you they trusted and were not put to shame.’
Psalm 22:1-5



"My God, My God why..?"
It is the cry of so many down the years caught up in agony of some kind compounded by the seeming silence of the Almighty, the God they had counted on for help, "My God".

"My God, My God why ...?"
It is the psalmist who first cries it and then teaches us to battle his own thoughts. He puts alongside those feelings of abandonment and painful silence, other truths he knows about his God.  "Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One ...in you our ancestors put their trust ...in you they trusted and were not put to shame."

"My God, My God why have you forsaken me?"
Jesus picks up the psalmist's cry as he hangs on the cross, faces its torture and tastes the reality of 'God forsakeness' as the relationship with his Father, so intimate for so long, is ripped apart. But his mind knows the triumph with which the psalm ends even as his body experiences the agony which launched it.

He is God forsaken so we never need to be!
 
Heavenly Father,
thank you for giving your Son, who knew no sin, to be sin
so we might become the righteousness of God.
May we have that trust in you that means we are not put to shame.
Amen


 

 

The Third Sunday of Lent

 

...you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
Ephesians 2:13 (NIV)

 

On this Third Sunday of Lent, we look forward with great anticipation to Easter,  just a few weeks away. We remember that we were once separated, far away from God, unable to claw our way into His family.  But at the first Easter, with open arms and bleeding hands, He welcomed us forever - at no cost to us, but great cost to Him. Praise be to our awesome Saviour King who has won our reconciliation!

We who were once God’s enemies are now His children, co-heirs with Christ.
We who were once dead are now alive, to dwell with Him eternally.
We who were once hopeless are now hopeful, to bring hope to the world.
We who were once condemned sinners, are now His redeemed saints, clothed in His righteousness.
We who were once shut out, are now welcomed with arms open wide.
 
….. All by the precious blood of Jesus Christ.

 

O come to the altar,
The Father's arms are open wide.
Forgiveness was bought with
The precious blood of Jesus Christ.




Day 16 - Rejected King


the Lord told [Samuel]: ‘Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.
1 Samuel 8:7-8 (NIV)

Despite the amazing miracle of their rescue from Egypt and entry into the promised land, the Israelites asked Samuel to appoint a human King, rejecting the creator God who had been behind it all for a mere creature.

Like the Israelite we too reject our true King - the God of the universe. Sometimes we put our trust in ourselves as king of our lives or households. Other times we look to human leaders to bring salvation and rescue to our troubled world.

But our kings never fulfil us. Whether its ourselves or our political rulers we are incapable of exercising the just, wise, loving rule of the Creator. Our ‘kingdoms’ are corrupt, infiltrated by sin and the wages of sin - death.

Our rejection of God’s Kingship means that we deserve His punishment, cut off from Him and His Kingdom forever. But instead, in Hebrews 4:16, we read that we can approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

How can this be?

In God’s mercy, the true King of the universe stepped into human history in the person of Jesus Christ. But He came to save, not to condemn. His death on the cross was the death of death; His victory was our victory; restoring us to His Kingdom.

We don’t need to search for a good king, a wise ruler for our lives or for the world. We already have one, the great King we have always longed for. We just need to acknowledge Him for who He is.

Lord God, heavenly King, sorry for the times I reject your rule and seek to put myself or other human leaders in your place. Thank you that Jesus died on the cross to bring me back into Your Kingdom.  Help me to bow the knee to Him as my true King.
Amen.





Day 15 - Enter By The Blood

 
He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull’s blood:
he shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it.
In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been.
He is to do the same for the tent of meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness.
No one is to be in the tent of meeting from the time Aaron goes in to make atonement in the Most Holy Place until he comes out, having made atonement for himself, his household and the whole community of Israel.
Leviticus 16:15-17 (NIV)

Blood. Lots of it.  

The sacrificial system laid out for Israel, visceral and graphically described, makes unsettling reading. It can feel all too reminiscent of the horrific violence in our world which makes us long for better things, not more bloodshed.  

Slaughtering animals and sprinkling their blood was a drastic solution to a drastic problem. The evil in our world, the lies, hatred and killing, make us cry out for justice. And there is a judge, who sees and knows all things and has promised that sin will be dealt with. Romans 6:23 tells us that the wages of sin is death. What else can it be, if God the judge is truly holy, just and good? An atoning sacrifice was needed to deal with sin. But Israel kept on disobeying, kept on sinning. And so do we.

It is only through the blood of Jesus, His death on the cross, that the problem can be permanently dealt with. ‘He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by His own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption’ (Hebrews 9:12).

Blood is the solution. Of course we should wince and feel uncomfortable. Our sin is what means His death was necessary. But, above all, we should give endless thanks and praise that Jesus died for us. Such love!
Loving Father. Thank You that You did not abandon us and Your world as our sins deserve.
I give You thanks and praise that Jesus came to die for my sins and that through Him I can be reconciled with You.
Help me to live my life today and every day in the light of this truth.
Amen.
 



Day 14 - No Entry


The Lord spoke to Moses
after the death of the two sons of Aaron
who died when they approached the Lord.
The Lord said to Moses:
‘Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come whenever he chooses
into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain
in front of the atonement cover on the ark,
or else he will die.
For I will appear in the cloud over the atonement cover.
Leviticus 16:1-2 (NIV)



They died. When they approached the Lord they died.

The instructions for the Day of Atonement start with this solemn warning from God. Aaron is not to come into the Most Holy Place, behind the curtain, whenever he chooses. His sons had died when they approached inappropriately.

Why not? Why not just walk in on God? What is a curtain after all – just a symbol of separation. It’s hard to get our heads round the separation that exists between sin and holiness. But God’s holiness is such that we simply could not stand before Him in our sinfulness, without atonement, and not be destroyed. Do we struggle to remember that?

So serious and complete is the separation that we cannot enter God’s presence unless He makes it possible, by taking our sin, by making a way, a safe way. Hebrews 10:19-20 tells us that we do have a way made for us – ‘by Jesus’ blood, a new and living way opened up through the curtain, that is his body.’

In that powerful moment as Jesus dies on the cross ‘the curtain of the temple is torn in two from top to bottom.’ Mark 15:38. God himself makes a way for us.

Maybe some of us struggle to remember that we can now come into the presence of God whenever we choose – because God chose to make that possible.

Can you think what it’s like to walk freely into somewhere you’ve never been allowed to go before? Not just allowed but welcomed?

Sin’s separation. God’s free entrance. Amazing.
 
Almighty God,
may we marvel and rejoice again as we approach Easter,
that we can come into your presence whenever we choose
because, through your dear son Jesus,
you have opened a new and living way that will never be closed.
Amen

 

Day 13 - Lifted up for Life

 

Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them;
they bit the people and many Israelites died.
The people came to Moses and said,
‘We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you.
Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.’
So Moses prayed for the people.
The Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a snake and put it up on a pole;
anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.’
So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole.
Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.
Numbers 21:6-9 (NIV)


We’ve all experienced the unbelief of the human heart. The Israelites saw God’s faithfulness through forty years in the desert. They fought the Canaanites and won, they are about to enter the promised land, but having to walk around Edom, rather than through it, they grow impatient. “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?” 

As they face hardship their hearts long back to the land of slavery, rather than forward, to the land of promise.

As things get even harder, they realise their mistake, and ask Moses to intercede. The Lord provides a remedy which shows them that salvation is found only with Him. As the afflicted Israelites look to what he has provided they receive life. As they look to the snake, the Lord looks at them with grace and compassion. As quick as the Israelites were to forget God’s goodness, so quick is God to forgive the repentant.

This story is included in Numbers for our sake, for our unbelieving hearts. It anticipates the day when Jesus was lifted up, becoming a curse for us, bearing our sin on the cross so that we might have eternal life. 

When our hearts are tempted to go back to the slavery of sin, we need to look at the cross and the life we find there.
 
Lord of life,
when we are tempted to go back to the slavery of sin,
would you direct our eyes to the cross, where we find life and forgiveness.
Thank you that by your Spirit, we can say no to sin,
and this lenten time may we would grow to be more in step with that same Spirit.
Amen.

 



Day 12 - Show Me Your Glory

 

Then Moses said, ‘Now show me Your glory.’
And the Lord said, ‘I will cause all My goodness to pass in front of you,
and I will proclaim My name, the Lord, in your presence.
I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy,
and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.
But,’ He said, ‘you cannot see My face, for no one may see Me and live.’
Exodus 33:18-20 (NIV)



Moses simply cannot imagine leading Israel, God’s chosen people, without God’s presence. He asks: “How will anyone know that You are pleased with me and with Your people unless You go with us?” (v16)

God responds tenderly and personally: “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.” (v17)

So Moses requests: “show me Your glory”. He desires more of God. In fact, he wants all of God. He longs to see His Glory.

And God reveals two important things about who He is. First, He responds generously to our desire to know Him. God hears Moses’ cry and allows for His goodness to pass before him. It’s tempting just to stop here. Admit that we cannot bear the thought of this day, of our lives, of all that is wrong in our world, without God’s presence, and issue our collective cry for Glory.

But, there is more. Yahweh reveals that He is not like the gods of Egypt. Israel cannot make demands of Him, nor can we barter or expect favours for our offerings. And unlike our little gods of wealth or competence, He is not an unyielding taskmaster. He is free to show mercy and compassion. Entirely able to act, to defeat the sin and rebellion that keeps us from being able to stand fully in his Glory.

As we approach Easter we see how God ultimately fulfils Moses’ prayer in Jesus - God become flesh. Even Moses was not permitted to see the fullness of God’s glory; because of his sinful, rebellious heart he could not see God’s face and live. But one day we will see the God-man Jesus Christ face to face, because He died on the cross in our place to open the way to the fullness of relationship with God.
Lord Jesus Christ,
Son of God.
Have mercy on me, a sinner.
Amen.
 

Day 11 - The Stiff-Necked People

 

Then the Lord said to Moses,
‘Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt.
They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf.
They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it
and have said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”
‘I have seen these people,’ the Lord said to Moses,
‘and they are a stiff-necked people.’  
Exodus 32:7-9 (NIV)


It’s quite obvious to recognise when someone has a stiff neck. The posture of their bodies usually reflects that something is wrong and if they try to look at something they have to awkwardly move their entire body to face the object. Their gaze is pointed in one direction and they cannot see what’s around them. Having a stiff neck means it’s dangerous to drive and difficult to even walk down the street safely.

It turns out that trying to worship God with a stiff neck is dangerous too.

The Israelites had spent 400 years in Egypt, being exposed to the gods of their captors. Images and pictorial representations of those gods was a matter of course; that was how worship took place. Left to their own devices, these newly released slaves went straight back to an idolatrous form of worship, quickly turning away from the very thing God had commanded them. It was familiar and comfortable and disobedient. Their stiff necks allowed for only one perspective, their own, whereas God was showing them a very different way.

It was similarly stiff necked people who murdered the Saviour of the World at the first Easter. Stuck in their self-imposed vision they were blind to the great salvation that God was accomplishing before them, too busy with their own preconception of the Messiah.

Like them, we often try to impose on God our own expectations, agendas and methods; our own stiff necks set on a course from which we allow no deviation.
But what if God is showing us something just over our left shoulder? Like Moses, who when he noticed the burning bush had to ‘turn aside’ to look more closely, are we able, and willing, to move our heads to have a look at what God is doing just outside our self-imposed field of vision?

Father,
we confess our own patterns of thought and practice that are opposed to yours.
Have mercy on us.
Will you do your kneading work
to allow us a full range-of-motion
so that we can see what you did at the cross, and are doing today, and respond rightly.
Amen.

 

The Second Sunday of Lent

 

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory
and the exact representation of His being,
sustaining all things by his powerful word.
After He had provided purification for sins,
He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
Hebrews 1:3 (NIV)



On this second Sunday of Lent we continue to look forward to resurrection Sunday, and remind ourselves of the glory of our risen and ascended Saviour-Redeemer. Although on Earth He was despised and rejected, He is now seated in heaven in a place of unimaginable honour, power and glory. He died to save us at the cross, purifying us from our sins, and is alive today, sat at the right hand of the Father - the place of majesty and honour, worthy indeed is the Lamb. Praise be His mighty and eternal name!


Crown Him with many crowns
The lamb upon the throne
Hark! How the heav'nly anthem drowns
All music but it's own!
Awake, my soul, and sing
Of Him who died for thee.
And hail Him as thy matchless king
Thru all eternity.
 

Day 10 – Grace for Law Breakers

 
 

And God spoke all these words:
'I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
You shall have no other gods before me.'
Exodus 20: 1-3 (NIV)



The text tells us these are God’s words - the ‘ten words’ we call the Commandments - which so timelessly encapsulate the law of God and reflect the character of God. But the Ten Commandments are preceded by nineteen chapters of the book of Exodus which tell us of how God rescued and liberated His people first. It is the God of salvation who imposed law. The grace that saves always precedes the law that demands. Law keeping saves no one.

The first commandment is not a tacit admission there are other gods. It is a recognition that human beings are masters in inventing them. As Calvin said, the human heart is an inveterate idol factory. An idol is anything or anyone in your life which you place ahead of God.  To trust in anything more than God is to make it a god. It’s horrible to worship the wrong thing. We trifle with money, sex, status, power and possessions, when our true calling is to love God first and foremost. He is to be everything to us, first in all things. Our whole life, our very existence, is to be devoted to His glory.

He calls us in these verses to place Him where He rightly belongs – on the throne of our life: to love Him with heart, soul, mind and strength –the first and greatest commandment.

But we don’t. We can’t. We need - more than we can express - the true righteousness Jesus secured fully and finally for us at Easter.


Lord,
You created us for Your glory
and call us to put You first in everything.  
We admit we are law breakers who don’t.
We thank you sincerely and joyfully that the full answer to all our sin and failure
lies in the cross of Jesus, who died that we might live.
Amen.

 
 

Day 9 - By the Blood of The Lamb

 

‘On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals,
and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt.
I am the Lord.
The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are,
and when I see the blood, I will pass over you.
No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.’
Exodus 12:12-13 (NIV)


It is great to be chosen - to be in the team rather than left to watch from the sidelines. It was certainly better to be in this team, chosen by God, than not. This team was left unscathed as the angel of death passed through Egypt and exacted judgement on every family, every farm. None were left unscathed – only those that could show they were chosen by God and anointed with the Blood of the Lamb.

Can you imagine the scene? Hear the cries of anguish from your Egyptian neighbours – from those who had oppressed you for years. This last of God’s plagues to achieve the release of his suffering people showed who was the real God here. Having challenged some of Egypt’s “god symbols” of the Nile and the Sun, now we have blood spilt in sacrifice to achieve liberation for God’s chosen people.

No wonder the Israelites commemorated these events every year as one of their pilgrim feasts in Jerusalem at the Temple (until its destruction), reminding themselves of the night God fulfilled his promise, chose them and liberated them.

How much more do we have to celebrate because we too have been chosen and saved – and from an even greater and more deadly oppression than the Israelites faced. We have been saved for all eternity from the law of sin and death - because Christ, the Easter Lamb, has become our Passover lamb, dying in our place to save us from God's righteous judgement against sin.
Saving and Liberating God,
Thank you that you chose us before we chose you.
Thank you that because of the death of your son we have life eternal
and are not subject to the judgement of sin.
May we live our lives in that knowledge as free people
and give us the strength we need to throw off all that would tie us to the old life.
Through the Easter Lamb Jesus Christ,
Amen

 

Day 8 - God Intended it for Good


‘But Joseph said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God?
You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good
to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.’
Genesis 50:19-20 (NIV)



We are near the end of the story of Joseph, Abraham’s great grandson, sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. After their father's death, fearing Joseph still holds a grudge against them, his brothers send a message asking for forgiveness. Gen 50: 19-20 is Joseph’s response.

‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God?’ Although Joseph reassures his brothers, he doesn't deny that evil act nor does he absolve them of responsibility. Instead, while reminding them it is God’s place to judge, he makes an amazing statement recognising God’s sovereignty - ‘You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good’. 

As the brothers sold Joseph into slavery, there were two starkly opposed intentions. the brothers intended and committed evil. But God also acted, and His intentions were good - ‘the saving of many lives’. It is because Joseph was sold into slavery that he could preserve his brothers. 

Even more astonishingly, his brother Judah is the line from which the Lion of Judah, our Saviour Jesus Christ, would come. As we crucified Him like a common criminal, man intended it for evil, but God intended it for our ultimate good. 

Confident that no amount of sin can defeat God’s good purposes, we need to face up to the reality of our sin, and come to God to ask forgiveness.  He is the ultimate righteous judge, yet he sent His son to die in our place. God listens to those who come to him acknowledging their guilt and pours out His grace and mercy on us. Let us come before him in prayer, acknowledging our sins,and asking forgiveness through Christ’s death.
Sovereign Lord,
creator and judge,
grant us forgiveness for the ways in which we have ignored, disobeyed, and turned our back on you.
We thank you for sending your son to die in our place and thus save us from the consequences of our actions,
help us to follow you and your ways day by day.
Amen
 

Day 7 - God Provides the Lamb


'Then God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, whom you love – Isaac – and go to the region of Moriah.
Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain that I will show you.’
Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey.
He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac.
When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering,
he set out for the place God had told him about.
On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance.
He said to his servants, ‘Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.’
Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife.
As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, ‘Father?’, ‘Yes, my son?’ Abraham replied.
‘The fire and wood are here,’ Isaac said, ‘but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’
Abraham answered, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.’
And the two of them went on together.'
Genesis 22:2-8 (NIV)


Abraham went up a mountain with his son in order to make a sacrifice. Isaac was astute enough to see the problem: “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

As well as being an astute observer of a lack of farmyard animals, Isaac had a significant role to play in the history of God’s people. He was the object of the hope of the promise the Lord had made to Abraham: he would father a nation and inherit a land for his descendants to live in.

Just when it looked like God was fulfilling His promises, He threatened to derail them by instructing Abraham to kill his son. And Isaac was not just his son. He said, “take your son, your only son, whom you love.”

“Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham’s answer was inspired: “God himself will provide the lamb.” In fact, it was a ram that Abraham saw caught in a thicket. So the scene goes unresolved: the faithful son is not sacrificed, and we are still waiting for a lamb.

No longer. Centuries later God’s faithful son, the Lord Jesus Christ, would die as a sacrifice to bring His people to himself. He would himself be a sacrificial lamb, taking the punishment His people deserved on their behalf.
 
Our gracious God,
we thank you that you did not spare your own son - your only son, whom you love.
We praise you for Jesus Christ,
who died as our sacrifice to take the punishment that our sins deserved.
Please help us, during this season of Lent, to repent of our sin
and to trust in the saving work of the Lord Jesus at Easter.
Amen.


 


Day 6 - Guaranteed With an Oath

 

‘But Abram said, ‘Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I shall gain possession of it?’. 
So the Lord said to him,

‘Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old,
along with a dove and a young pigeon.’
Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half

When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking brazier with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces.
On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram…’
Genesis 15:8-10,17-18a (NIV)



Some promises seem too good to be true. On Valentine’s Day 2013, the Swedish furniture giant IKEA promised a free cot to any baby born exactly nine months afterwards. To prove that their promotion was genuine, they published coupons in newspapers which could be redeemed on 14th November.

God didn’t promise Abram a free cot. He promised him and his wife a son, who would be his heir. Despite their advanced years, God promised that a nation would come from their descendants and that they would inherit a land to live in.

It seemed too good to be true. Abram asked for some assurance, and witnessed a most incredible ritual to substantiate the claims God had made. Abram sacrificed a number of animals, cut them in two, and arranged the parts opposite one another. He woke to see a blazing fire pass between the animals.

The Lord was making a promise to Abram. He was saying, in effect, “I will do it. If I do not fulfil what I have said I would, may it be done to me as has been done to these animals.”

It was a sign of a covenant - a solemn promise. The wonder of this covenant is that the promise was one-sided: Abram was a spectator as the Lord made a promise and staked his God-ness on it being kept.
Our gracious God,
we praise you for your promise of a nation for the people of Abram.
We thank you that we can be included in that nation, by faith, through the Jesus Christ.
Please help us today to trust that you will fulfil what you have promised to do.
Amen.
 

Day 5 - From Cursed to Blessed


The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
 ‘I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing. 
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.’
Genesis 12:1-3 (NIV)



“Go.” It’s an easy word to read; it’s a much harder word to obey.

Abram was an old man when The Lord called him, already 75 years of age and probably as set in his ways as anybody would be today. He came from a pagan family, in a part of the world renowned for moon-worship. Few people would find it harder to get up and go.

And yet that is exactly what he did. He and Sarai heard God’s call and responded to it. The Lord had promised a great blessing: blessing for Abraham and his descendants and, through them, blessing to the whole world.

When people had plotted to build a tower to the heavens, God responded with chaos and scattering. Here is a promise that scattering will be turned to gathering; that curse will be turned to blessing.

The apostle Paul wrote that God had “announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’” And so, he wrote, “those who have faith are children of Abraham.”

We, in our sin and rebellion against God, have found ourselves a scattered people in need of God’s blessing. The good news of the call of Abram is that we can be heirs of the same promise: to know God’s blessing as He draws His people back to himself.
 
Our gracious God,
we thank you for the gospel
announced in advance in the call of Abram.
Thank you that, despite our sin and rebellion against you,
you have called your scattered people back to you.
And help us to respond to your call on our lives,
and so to receive your blessing today as children of Abraham.
Amen.


 

The First Sunday of Lent

 

'Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy, He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.
This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.'
1 Peter 1: 3-6 (NIV)


Sundays during Lent can be an opportunity for us to celebrate, looking forward to Resurrection Sunday that is coming. Let us greatly rejoice, considering our risen and ascended King. Though in this life there may be grief and suffering, we who are born again through the resurrection have guaranteed hope now and imperishable inheritance to come. He who called us into this grace will keep us to the end and through all eternity.

Heavenly Father,
give me the assurance that in Christ I died,
in him I rose, in his life I live,
in his victory I triumph,
in his ascension I shall be glorified.
What more could be done than Christ has done,
His death is my life,  His resurrection my peace,
His ascension my hope, His prayers my comfort.
Amen.
 ~ Puritan Prayer, from the Valley of Vision (adapted)

 

Day 4 - In His Grace He Scatters, In His Grace He Gathers

 

‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens,
so that we may make a name for ourselves;
otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.’
Genesis 11:4 (NIV)


At Babel, humanity huddle united to build a tower that reaches the throne of God, to exalt their name, instead of cooperating with each other to multiply, be fruitful and fill the earth for God’s glory. God came down to frustrate their plan by confusing their language and scattering them across the earth. 

There is no life apart from God, only sin that leads to death. 

Though their tower would have never reached heaven, their unity in opposition to God’s rule was digging their pit of destruction.  It is His grace that scattered us from Babel.

We like our forefathers in Babel are sinners full of pride and selfish ambition, we desire our own glory and wage war against God to achieve it. We were lost sinners united in our unrepentant rebellion and hate for God. While we rebelled to exalt ourselves to death, Christ humbled himself to stoop down and give us life.

On the cross He was humiliated so we might be exalted. He will not leave us scattered. Redeemed and blessed we will gather once more as His eternal church to sing in one accord and worship in the city of Christ our Saviour. 
 
Heavenly Father,
we thank you for sending Jesus to die on the cross to deal with our unrepentant, rebellious hearts.
Renew our minds by your Holy Spirit that we might humbly exalt your name rather than seeking a name for ourselves.
Amen.

 

Day 3 - How Great the Wickedness


The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth,
and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.
The Lord regretted that He had made human beings on the earth,
and his heart was deeply troubled.
So the Lord said, ‘I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created
– and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground
– for I regret that I have made them.’
But Noah found favour in the eyes of the Lord.
Genesis 6:5-8 (NIV)


God hates sin - and His punishment for sin is death. It’s not necessarily a comforting thought, but it’s a truth that the bible affirms again and again. And it’s a truth that affects each one of us - we are all sinners, and so we all face the prospect of being wiped from the face of the earth. But in Genesis 6 we discover that, somehow, there is a way to avoid the penalty we are due. We are not told that Noah was spared because he was more godly or less sinful than his fellow human beings - only that he found favour in the eyes of the Lord. How can we find that same favour?

In Romans 10 we read that “if you declare with your mouth that ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” We cannot avoid God’s punishment by trying harder or being better people - but God opens the way of mercy to those who trust Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.

How great our wickedness, but how much greater our Father’s love and mercy. May His name be praised forever.
 
Lord God,
thank you that even though my sin deserves your punishment of death,
you show your favour to all those who acknowledge and put their trust in the Lord Jesus.
Help me to follow Him as my Lord today.
Amen

 

Day 2 - Sin the Predator

 

'The Lord looked with favour on Abel and his offering,
but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favour.
So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?
If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?
But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door;
it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.’
Now Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let’s go out to the field.’
While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.'
Genesis 4:4-8 (NIV) 


Every temptation provides us with a choice - to sin, or not to sin. Like Cain, upset that his brother’s offering was accepted, but his own was not, sin is crouching at our door every minute of every hour of every day - will we rule over sin, or will we give in and let it rule over us? We may not be murderers, as Cain was, but the answer is still the same - all too often we give in. We may like to think of ourselves as good people, but Romans 3 v10 tells us that  “There is no-one righteous, not even one”. 

Every one of us turns away from God, away from doing what is good, and turns towards sin and evil. Everyone, that is, except for Jesus, the one man who was tempted in every way just as we are, yet did not sin. The one man qualified to save us from the punishment our sins deserve.

 

Dear Heavenly Father,
we pray that we would not allow sin to rule over us today.
But we confess that we continually turn away from you and do what is evil.
Thank you that Jesus lived a perfect life and died on the cross to save us from the punishment our sins deserve.
Amen.




Day 1 - From Ashes to Riches

 

'By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.’
Genesis 3:19 (NIV)


Out of dust we were made to bear the image of the Almighty God, with His breath we were given life to dwell with Him as rulers in His perfect world. In Adam, our hard and impenitent hearts rebelled to distrust and disobey our good God. Our sin brought forth the curse of death and all creation groaned under its grip. Living became marred with frustration and ends with death and decay.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust - death is an appointment that awaits all of us. With Adam we have sinned and with him we will return to the ground whence we came.

Amidst this devastation, though our sins shut the gates to God’s presence, His grace makes a way for our return. In Genesis 3:15, we are told of the serpent crusher to come, born of a woman, He comes to be stricken in our place, crushing evil to rise victorious.

Jesus is our Serpent Crusher, who lived the sinless life we couldn’t, and died the sinner’s death we deserved - all to save sinners like us. But He did not stay dead, His body did not turn to ashes. He rose from the grave and is seated at the right hand of God waiting for the day until He returns.

In Adam we all die, but everyone joined to Christ by faith will be made alive in Him.

 

Almighty God,
this Ash Wednesday we remember the agonising death we deserve for our sin,
and look to the forgiveness and resurrection hope your Son, our Saviour, has laid open before us.
Ashes we deserve, but by your grace His eternal riches we gain.
By your Holy Spirit, turn our hearts to Christ this Lenten season.
Amen. 


 

All Souls would like to acknowledge the many people who contributed to this series of reflections as writers, coordinators, designers and technical support:
Aileen Austin, Mary Currie, Jonathan Day, Jacob Durham-Morgan, Laura Elworthy, Eric Engberg, Louanne Enns, Paul Enns, Jenny Gallagher, Louise Gibson, Alastair Gledhill, Alison Grieve,  Peter Hamm, Peter Haskew, Melinda Hendry, Katie Huggins, Claire Jackson, Alex Lee, Amy McBirnie, Seza Mekhdjian, Hibist Mesfin, Martin Mills, Charmaine Muir, Hugh Palmer, Trevor Pearce, Tuuli Platner, Paul Stamper-Iveson, Sue Stamper-Iveson, Freddie Rutherford, Rico Tice, David Turner, Robert Turner, Dan Wells and Chris Wright.