Archives for February 2015

Bible Study: 5 Lent (B)

March 22, 2015

Jason Poling, General Theological Seminary

“Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.’” (John 12:23-25)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-13; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Few passages in the Old Testament are as important – or as difficult to understand – as Jeremiah’s prophecy about the “new covenant.” The writer of Hebrews cites this passage not once but twice (Chapters 8-10), a dense passage describing his/her understanding of the relationship between the old covenant with Israel and the new covenant with the church. Certainly this passage haunts Paul’s consideration of the matter in Romans 9:11. And according to many important manuscripts, which our Prayer Book follows, our Lord Jesus Christ himself alluded to it in what we know as the “Words of Institution” from Matthew 26:28.

The major challenge for us as Christians is to understand how God may institute a new covenant while not abrogating the old one. Certainly what Jeremiah is describing here – what Jeremiah says the Lord is describing here – is a new covenant in radical continuity with the old one. It, too, is with God’s people, their unfaithfulness notwithstanding. Yet what we read about here has important elements of discontinuity as well.

What are the elements of continuity and discontinuity between the old and new covenants, as described in this passage and the verses around it?

The succeeding verses (35-37) seem to indicate that God’s promises are permanent. How may we understand this to be true if God is replacing an old covenant with a new one?

Psalm 51:1-13 and Psalm 119:9-16

The two psalms that may be read this week complement each other like a hand in a glove – or a broken leg in a cast. The epigraph for Psalm 51 states that David composed this psalm when his prophet Nathan enabled him to see the gravity of his sin in committing adultery with Bathsheba and arranging the murder of husband Uriah to cover up his crime (2 Samuel 11:1-12:15). But all of us can relate to this psalm, even if our sins are less impressive. Who of us hasn’t had the experience of waking up – literally or figuratively – to the awareness that we have offended God, violated our own conscience, harmed others and sowed chaos in the world we live in?

In Form One of the rite of the Reconciliation of a Penitent in our Prayer Book, after confessing his/her sins to God, the church and the priest, the penitent person states, “I firmly intend amendment of life” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 447). Our passage in Psalm 119 offers welcome guidance for the person Jesus has picked up and dusted off. We are seldom so interested in keeping our way pure than we are after seeing the mess we’ve made of it by our sin. The author of this psalm describes God’s word not as something he accepts grudgingly, or in the absence of better options – no, God’s word is something in which he delights. What’s being described here is not what Dallas Willard has called “the gospel of sin management” (“The Divine Conspiracy,” HarperCollins, 1997); the psalmist is talking about living well, and about how God’s guidance enables rather than frustrates that valid human desire. That’s what Jesus’ uncle Zechariah celebrated in his song: “that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (Luke 1:74-75).

Be honest: When you pick up the Bible, do you think of it as a source for living life well? If you do, did you always think so? If not, did you ever?

Are there times when, like the psalmist, you have delighted in reading scripture? Can you imagine that ever being the case for you?

Hebrews 5:5-10

Here the author of Hebrews has three high priests in mind: Melchizedek, the high priest described in Torah, and Jesus. Most of his hearers – people from a Jewish background who had come to recognize Jesus as Israel’s Messiah – would naturally have been thinking of the high priest Moses described as the person who would make atonement for God’s people on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. But the writer of Hebrews stretches back to some of the earliest stories in the Bible (Genesis 14:18-20) to recall the shadowy Melchizedek, described there as both King of Salem (in Hebrew, Shalem) and a priest of God Most High (in Hebrew, ’El ‘Elyon) to whom Abraham brought a tithe of the spoils from his victorious rescue of his hapless nephew Lot. The writer then says that Jesus is a high priest “according to the order of Melchizedek” (verse 6; see also Psalm 110:4), bringing together nearly the entire sweep of biblical history in this claim about Jesus’ ministry.

Read Psalm 110. How would it have been understood by the people who first sang it? How do you understand it in light of what the author of Hebrews says in our passage? What’s similar? What’s different?

A few verses before our passage, the author of Hebrews says that because Jesus is the sort of high priest that he is, he is “able to deal gently” (verse 2) with us. How does verse 8 of our passage illuminate that statement?

John 12:20-33

A friend of mine who is a Presbyterian pastor has the second verse of this passage in the old King James translation inscribed on her pulpit, facing the preacher: “Sir, we would see Jesus.” (At my church we have inscribed John 13:27: “What you are about to do, do quickly.”) Her inscription is a good reminder to any preacher or teacher that ultimately, what draws any person to Jesus’ disciples is nothing other than Jesus himself.

In this passage we have gentiles who feared the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob coming to Philip not to see him, or Andrew, or any of the other disciples, but Jesus. To the degree we lead people to Jesus, we are his disciples. To the degree we fail to, we are simply indulging in religious exercises for our own sake.

Think about your congregation’s programming. How is it designed to lead people to Jesus himself? How might it be failing to do so because it only leads people to your congregation’s programming?

Bible Study: 4 Lent (B)

March 15, 2015

Michael Toy, Princeton Theological Seminary

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21

Numbers 21:4-9

This passage finds the people of Israel after they have left Egypt and journeyed through the wilderness. Bullied by the Edomites, the Israelites become impatient on the circuitous route and repeat their malcontented refrain: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?” God responds by sending poisonous snakes among the people, killing many. The people come to Moses and ask for him to intercede on their behalf. The serpents were themselves the affliction, and in an act of ironic salvation, the Lord uses a serpent of bronze to become the instrument of healing for those bitten.

Upon a first reading, this punishment hardly seems to fit the crime the Israelites commit. But this event is not an isolated incident. The people have complained before, and in fact, they refused to enter into the Promised Land for fear of its occupants. How is this story harmonious or dissonant with your conception of God’s justice? Is all suffering some kind of divine discipline or punishment?

Though the people of Israel are unhappy with Moses and God, the one thing that is never in doubt is God’s presence among the people. When the people complain against God, the Lord hears. When the people repent, God hears and responds with healing and relief from suffering.

Can you think of a time you felt that God led you to a place of wilderness?

In what ways has God delivered you from bondage as God delivered the Israelites from Egypt?

Wherever you are on your life journey – whether feeling the joy of healing and wholeness or in the miserable trek through wilderness – how and where do you see God accompanying you?

Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22

This psalm of thanksgiving recounts the deliverances of Israel by the Lord. The refrain in this psalm is “Let them give thanks to the Lord for his mercy, and the wonders he does for his children.” Though the people of Israel were perennially disobedient and rebellious, when they turned to God, the Lord had mercy and saved them. The actions of God elicits a response from the psalmist, who commands the people of Israel to give thanks to the Lord and to “tell of his acts with shouts of joy.” For the psalmist, there is no way to repay God’s mercy, but the response is thanksgiving and proclamation of God’s actions.

In what ways has God done wonders for you?

What are the “foes” from which you have been redeemed?

How can you follow the instruction of the psalmist and proclaim these blessings and grace?

Ephesians 2:1-10

The author of Ephesians eloquently paints a picture of death and renewal in this passage. Before there was death, but now, through Christ, there is life. Before “we were by nature children of wrath,” but now we are seated in the heavenly places with God’s own son. All of this is accomplished through God’s grace, not out of any human work. This passage is often quoted to emphasize that humans do nothing to earn God’s love or grace, yet at the end of the passage the author states that we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works.”

There is nothing that humans do to earn God’s love, grace or mercy, but that does not mean that good works are irrelevant. It is a matter of order. First and primary is our identity in Christ Jesus. Second, stemming from our identity is the way of life that God has prepared for us. The reason that Christians do good works is not in order to earn God’s love or mercy but rather in response to God’s action. Our good works are not in pursuit of a reward, for we have already received the immeasurable riches of God’s grace.

What does it mean to you to be a recipient of God’s grace?

Identities such as parent, child, spouse, employee or employer come with certain duties. How does your identity in Christ bring new or different duties?

Though our identity as Christians has shifted from death to life, that hardly means Christians are now perfected. In what ways do you recognize a movement from pursuing “the desires of flesh and senses” to the way of life that God has prepared?

John 3:14-21

One of the Jewish religious leaders, Nicodemus, meets with Jesus at night for fear of his peers’ judgment. It is in this conversation that we find perhaps the most well-known Bible verse of all time, John 3:16. This statement of God’s love and promise of eternal life in Jesus is tied by John to the serpents in today’s reading from Numbers 21. Just as the instrument of affliction became the instrument for healing to the people of Israel, so through Jesus death itself becomes the vehicle for imperishability. Death, the very enemy of life, has become the portal into eternal life.

In each of these passages, we see the people of the Lord have been delivered from death and brought into life. The merciful and salvific actions of God were never in response to the good works of the people, but rather stem from God’s identity and God’s grace. Now the Christian’s identity is that of one saved by grace from the grave, from affliction and the desires of the senses. From that identity, we live into the way of life God intended, doing good and proclaiming God’s goodness.

Nicodemus came to Jesus at night for fear of his peers. But as it is written in this chapter, those who do what is true have no reason to hide in darkness but to come to the light. It is not easy proclaiming God’s goodness in a modern world that has little value for religion. Yet we are commanded to proclaim God’s goodness in thankfulness through word or good deeds.

In what situations or circumstances are we likely to mute our proclamation, whether through word or deed? In the workplace? In our social circles?

How can we find the strength to live into our identity as the people of God?

Death is still a frightening force in the world. What about death scares you?

What strength do we find in the Gospel of John that those who believe in God’s Son will not perish but will have eternal life?

Bible Study: 3 Lent (B)

March 8, 2015

Christine Havens, Seminary of the Southwest

“In the temple Jesus found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’” (John 2:14-16)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22

Exodus 20:1-17

This week’s Old Testament reading is the first instance in the narrative of the exodus of Israelites from Egypt in which the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) appears. It appears again in Exodus 34, immediately following the making of the golden calf, when Moses carries the tablets down from the mountain.

In this narrative, the people are privy to God’s voice, are present for the thunder and sounding of trumpets that herald the Lord’s approach; Moses brings the people to meet God (verses 17-20). After God has spoken the ordinances, which might be a better word than “commandments,” the people decide that they want Moses to act as mediator between themselves and the Lord (verses 18-19), because direct contact with God and his voice is too awesome, too overwhelming. The sign was both a gift and a test designed to help them keep from sin.

The Decalogue is not an everyday occurrence in our liturgy; it appears as an optional opening to the Liturgy of the Word in the Book of Common Prayer (p. 324). When was the last time you recited the Decalogue? Perhaps as part of the liturgy on the First Sunday in Lent?

Exodus does not record any response of the people as they heard God’s words; do you consider the Decalogue a conversation? Why or why not?

The Book of Common Prayer adds a response for the people (p. 317); read it and discuss whether this changes the “commandments.”

Psalm 19

Psalm 19 seems to be a work of contrasts, two discrete pieces, according to some scholars. The first six verses are labeled as a hymn to the sun; the remainder of the verses are devoted to torah (not only meaning “Law,” but also “instruction” and “learning”), having no clear connection to the beginning.

Have you ever read one of Shakespeare’s sonnets? Here are the first lines of Sonnet 116, one of his most familiar, and often encountered at weddings:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.

One feature of the Shakespearean sonnet is that the final two lines (the couplet) take an unexpected turn from the first verses.

Read the psalm and then read the sonnet; consider the form of each. How are the two similar in form? Is there a turn in the psalm? If so, where does it come, and why might the psalm’s writer use such a turn?

Reread today’s Old Testament reading. Does the Decalogue share anything in common with Psalm 19? If so, what?

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

My church is located on the border of the University of Texas campus. This year, we celebrated Mardi Gras with a lawn party, complete with a live zydeco band. I volunteered to hand out beads to passing students and others, inviting them to not only to receive ashes with us the following day, but to come and join us for homemade gumbo and grilled sausage, free – no strings attached.

I’m a nerd, but like many, worry about making a fool out of myself, being considered weird, and thus being ostracized because of that perception. However, I jumped at the chance to wear green, gold and purple clothing, don my pinstripe blazer decorated with moons and stars, and grab my mask and drape my many beads around my neck.

As I began to ask passing people if they would like some beads, I was quiet and still, but as the afternoon wore on, I began to dance to the music, wave at passing cars and those on the opposite side of the street – reveling in the joy of it as people smiled, even though some of those smiles were the “I’m embarrassed for you” type of smile. And many passersby crossed the street or deliberately did not disengage from their cell phones. I handed out beads for three hours and felt more exhilarated as time passed – foolishness held no fear for me as the momentary community ebbed and flowed. Those who were “wise,” who considered those who believe to be “fools,” missed something precious.

And so, in the midst of the solemn season of Lent, as we read Paul’s words about human wisdom and God’s wisdom, ask yourself, “Where is the foolishness of the cross in my life?”

John 2:13-22

Today’s gospel is the Johannine version of Jesus’ interaction with the moneychangers and sacrifice sellers within the Temple in Jerusalem. Unlike the three synoptic gospels, John’s christology places the event early in the narrative, right after the Wedding at Cana, where Jesus performs the changing of water into wine, the first sign.

Jesus’ zealous actions provoke the Jews present to ask for a sign “for doing this.” What gives him authority, in other words? Are they looking for a miraculous sign? Would they have heard about his actions in Cana?

Is it wise or foolish to look for signs as proof, as a reason to believe, to have faith in God or in Jesus? You might consider this a foolish question, but think about your own spiritual journey. Was there a moment or a time in your life when you turned away, when you doubted? What brought you back to God? A physical experience? Something you saw? Words from scripture? Something you heard?

Bible Study: 2 Lent (B)

March 1, 2015

Jessie Gutgsell, Berkeley Divinity School at Yale

“Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’” (Mark 8:31-33)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:22-30; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

This story of God giving Abraham the covenant is the second time readers hear of this same covenant-granting process. The first account of the Abrahamic Covenant can be found in Genesis 15. Scholars determined that these two accounts are from two different sources for the Hebrew Bible (the J and P sources, respectively). This duplication is common in the Old Testament. (See the creation story, and Noah and the Ark, for example). In this case, both Genesis 15 and 17 agree on the general framework of the story, but they argue over some details.

The Abrahamic Covenant is the second of the major covenants that God gives in the Old Testament. The first is the Noahic Covenant (Genesis 9), and the Sinaitic/Mosaic Covenant will follow, with the giving of the Ten Commandments (beginning in Exodus 19). All of these covenants have different signs to bind them, and different people they are intended for. The Abrahamic Covenant in the passage for today promises that all those who bless Abraham will be blessed and given the gift of the Promised Land. The sign of the covenant is the name change of Abram and Sarai, and also circumcision. In Genesis 17’s account of the covenant, the reader is told that the covenant will be eternal (17:7). However, this does not mean that Abraham and the generations to come do not have work to do. This captures one of the many paradoxes of faith: Abraham is given an eternal, not conditional, promise, but he still has responsibilities.

Some significant notes about this covenant in particular are that God initiates the covenant. Not only that, but scholars have determined that, based on the covenant structure, God is the one who is actually bound by this covenant, not Abraham. In this way, it almost seems as if God is the one who is taking the risk in initiating this promise with Abraham. This is a humbling thought indeed!

Consider the covenants you have made in your life (baptismal, marriage, ordination, etc.). Who initiated those covenants? What work do you do to nurture and respect those covenants?

Has there ever been a moment in your life when something so profound happened to you that it could’ve been (or was) marked with a change to your first name? Imagine what it must have been like for Abraham and Sarah to have their names changed, especially in their old age.

Psalm 22:22-30

When reading the assigned portion of the psalm for today, it can be easy to think, “Oh, this is just another nice psalm about praise.” It can read as a fairly typical psalm, nothing really out of the ordinary. What makes this psalm extraordinary, though, is looking at it in context of the entire psalm, not just verses 22-30.

The first verse of the Psalm 22 is “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” These are the words that Jesus speaks on the cross in both Matthew and Mark. Directly before the point where our psalm begins for today, we find the verses “They cast lots for my clothing” (22:18), “But you, O Lord, do not be far away!” (22:19).

Read in the shadow of verses 1-21, the assigned portion of the psalm today almost explodes with meaning and praise. It’s all the more intense to offer such a resounding expression of praise, based strongly in a community, given the context of what came before. As the New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary put it, this psalm effectively articulates the meaning of both the cross (“My God, my God…”) and the resurrection (“May your hearts live forever,” v. 26).

Reflect on a time in your life when you experienced deep sorrow, disappointment or grief. Perhaps that time is now. Have you been able to experience and articulate joy and hope in those times? Perhaps this psalm can serve as a model for this kind of praise.

Reading this psalm in its larger context completely changed the interpretation of the psalm. What in your life do you need to consider in its full context? What are you missing by not looking at the whole picture? This could be a personal relationship, a situation at work, an issue in your faith life or something else.

Romans 4:13-25

This dense passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans is in direct conversation with our Old Testament reading for today. Paul is emphasizing here that we are all children of Abraham and Sarah (verse 16), so the covenant is thus available to Jews and gentiles.

A major theme of this passage is the importance of a certain kind of faith (the faith of Abraham), over strict adherence to the Law. (See verse 15, for example.) This is the kind of arguing that Martin Luther picked up on in the Reformation when he was arguing against the Catholic notion of works-righteousness.

Paul is insisting on a strict imitation of the faith of Abraham. What most characterized Abraham’s faith? It was his trust, as can be seen in verse 20. Abraham was an old man, “already as good as dead” (verse 19), but he remained trusting of God.

All of this – our parenthood with Abraham and Sarah, and the strong need for trust rather than strict adherence to the Law – is tied up and made complete with a faith in Christ (verses 23-25). We all have a part to play in this great salvation history.

How much do you emphasize trust in your faith life? What does that or would that look like for you? How can you have the trust of Abraham and Sarah?

When is the last time you considered what it would be like to live more focused on your life of faith than strict adherence to law and rules? Even if you don’t follow Torah, what other parts of our society do you allow to guide your decisions and life? How can you live a life more directed by your faith?

Mark 8:31-38

This Passion prediction from Mark is one of the most crucial passages in Mark’s entire gospel. The same story also appears in Matthew, but in Mark, it serves to solidify some major themes of Mark’s message. Mark emphasizes that Jesus must be the suffering Son of Man (verse 31). Crucially, though, Mark did not see this suffering as a spectator activity for Jesus’ followers. Rather, as the challenging words of verses 35-38 say, Jesus’ followers must also make sacrifices and suffer. Jesus adds at the end that his followers should not be ashamed of their faith or the Son of Man, or they will be ashamed when the Son of Man returns to earth.

The Jesus presented in this passage is often not the Jesus people feel most comfortable with. He is blunt, speaking openly (verse 32), and he’s harsh to Peter after Peter’s rebuke of him (verse 33). While Matthew also includes this story, Jesus’ language and actions here are especially characteristic of Mark’s gospel. Mark was known for presenting a less “cuddly” Jesus than many would like to find. All in all, this Passion prediction challenged the people of Jesus’ time, and it continues to challenge modern readers in uncomfortable ways today.

What is your reaction to the actions and speech of Jesus in this passage? Is this a familiar image of the Jesus you’ve been taught about in your faith life?

Re-read verse 38. Have you ever been ashamed of your faith and hidden it from your friends or family? What caused you to do this? Are you seeking to strengthen your faith and relationships so this does not have to be the case again?

Bible Study: 1 Lent (B)

February 22, 2015

Steven M. Balke, Jr.Virginia Theological Seminary

“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’” (Mark 1:9-11)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 25:1-9; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15

Genesis 9:8-17

As human beings, we seek to make sense of our world and our existence in it. We love to find explanations and bring meaning to what is happening around us. Early civilizations fashioned stories about why it rains long before the science of precipitation was understood, because we just had to know why it was happening.

Part of what makes wilderness intimidating is that it is full of the unknown. In a world where we so often want assurance and certainty, the wilderness is teeming with the uncontrollable and the unexpected. In Lent we are asked to embrace the wilderness in the hope that it will bring us closer to God, but exactly what is it about a wilderness discipline that brings us closer to God?

One answer is trust. To truly be close to God, we need to be able to trust in God, and one cannot exercise trust when one is only ever surrounded by certainty. The doubts with which we struggle in our lives – each one is like a rainstorm that could last for 40 days and 40 nights. God has promised us that they won’t, but the proof of the rainbow doesn’t appear before the storm. Lent is a chance to be aware of the doubts and unknowns that trouble us and to see them as an opportunity to trust in God’s promises to us.

When do you find it easy to face the unknown?

When do you find it difficult?

How do you practice placing your trust in God?

Psalm 25:1-9

Trying to trust God not only in certainty but also in the midst of doubt is a fitting Lenten discipline. This is especially true if one is struggling with self-doubt. Growing into a deeper, more trusting relationship with God means being able to trust God with the things that we find distasteful, shameful and unlovable about ourselves and trusting in God to love us anyway.

This psalm features some of the most powerful feelings a person can have: fear of being put to shame, anxiety of being judged unworthy of love, doubt that one’s mistakes can be forgiven, anger at being hurt or betrayed. It can be debilitating to think that we are beyond love, especially God’s love. The person singing this psalm is opening up to God about some of the most vulnerable and private self-doubts, trusting in God to love, teach, lead and extend mercy in response.

This Lent is not only a time to face the wilderness out in the world but – perhaps even harder – the wilderness within us. Engaging in a practice of being vulnerable with God, trusting that God will always respond with love, brings one into closer relationship with the divine.

Do you have fears and doubts that you feel as if you cannot share with anyone?

What does it mean to you that God has promised to unfailingly love you?

1 Peter 3:18-22

This Lent is a fine time to recognize that you and God growing closer together is a two-way street. Just as you work and learn and grow into a deeper relationship with God, God chose to dwell among us as a human to grow into deeper relationship with us. In living as a human, Jesus Christ alongside us, God knows what it is like to be joyous and to be sad, to be enveloped in love and to be in great pain. God knows what it is like to be generous to a stranger, to receive a kind act, and to trust in someone and get hurt. God made the choice to experience the full range of what it is like to be us, so God knows the unknown, the doubts and the fears we face every day. To trust in God is to trust in someone who gets us.

In Lent, we try to take on disciplines that bring us closer to God, but maybe one of the important things to remember is that we are already a lot like God, and God is a lot like us. As we step into the wilderness around us and face our own inner struggles, we are stepping into a wilderness and a struggle that God understands and in which God genuinely dwells with us.

When have you found someone who really understands what you’re going through?

When have you really understood what another person is feeling? Does that make you think about your relationship differently?

Mark 1:9-15

Given all the talk about giving up things for Lent, personal sacrifice, and just trusting in God, it is important to remember that there is a dark side to these things too. It is painfully marginalizing to people who is impoverished to tell them that they need to give things up to grow closer to God. It is terribly harmful to tell a person who is suffering from abuse that personal sacrifice is the answer. Telling someone to just trust in God can do great damage when praying for a sick loved one or a needed miracle fails to deliver. Lent is an important time to embrace living a disciplined life, but Christ did not ask us to harm each other or ourselves to make God happy.

Jesus responded to the gift of the Holy Spirit by going into the wilderness as a way to help prepare him for the work he was called to do. Any Lenten practice should be about looking for God in your life. The wilderness is about empowerment and exploring new parts of this relationship to understand where you and God are together in yet undiscovered ways. It will always involve facing the unknown, but that is because growth always involves the unknown. Lent gives us a chance to step into that unknown with God and come out stronger on the other end as a result.

When have you seen people hurt by well-meaning things people have said?

How can you take advantage of Lent as a chance for growth?

What would you like to accomplish between now and Easter?