Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!

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Filled with Love

We can express our love for God in many ways.  It can be expressed in worship, in our daily disciplines, in our service to others, and in how we treat our neighbors.  The love we share with others wells up and out of the love of God within and for us.  When we share this love of God with others, they too can come to know that love themselves.

But at times we can “do” things without really loving.  Have you ever gone to church on a Sunday morning when you really did not want to?  You smile and chat, bow you head and sing along, maybe even nod approvingly during the sermon – but inside you are not present or engaged.  Ever been of service because it was expected?  You go and help cook and serve the meal at the mission but inside of you there is apathy or maybe the resentment and anger are just below the surface.  In these and similar situations, the love of God seems far away.  In times like these we are the clanging symbols Paul writes of in today’s passage.

We get to this place a number of ways, but there are two primary ways.  First, we forget to be thankful to God.  If we are not intentional about making time daily to be thankful to God for our many blessings, it can be easy to forget how much He loves us.  Without His love filling us up, we have little true love to offer others.  The second way is we forget to love ourselves.  Being a constant well of love to others leaves us empty inside.  We can be so busy being in ministry to others that we do not allow ourselves the Sabbath we need.  In this too we must be intentional.  We are at our best loving God and loving others when we have a thankful and rested heart, filled with God’s love for us.  Then we can truly offer His love to the world.

Scripture reference: 1 Corinthians 13: 1-3 & 13

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Piety – Inward and Outward

In Matthew 6 Jesus offers some tips on how we should and shouldn’t do a few things.  He advises that when we give to the needy, that we don’t make a big show of it.  He suggests that we even go so far as to give with one hand without the other even knowing about it.  He advises that when we pray we go into a quiet room.  He advises that when we fast we wash our face and make ourselves appear healthy so that others do not know we are fasting.  Jesus tells us that God knows all we do in secret and will reward us.  He is cautioning the religious leaders who like to stand before men when they pray or give.  Jesus says they have received their reward – just recognition from men.  Jesus concludes by summarizing why we should give, pray and fast as he advises – because then we are storing up treasures in heaven.

At first I thought this an odd reading on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.  Lent is traditionally a season of self-examination and reflection, a season where we give something up or choose to do something ‘extra’ for others.   But then I realized the cautions of Matthew 6 are for us too.  Today is a day when many will wear the mark of the ashen cross on the forehead as a reminder of our faith.  If the cross on our forehead is simply a mark of religious piety, then we have already received our reward in full too.  If it is a personal reminder of the inner transformation taking place then it is between us and God, not as a show for the world.  If our inner change is leading to greater worship and praise of God and into humble acts of kindness to our  fellow man, then we are beginning to store up those treasures in heaven.  Now it is not about keeping score on a secret scorecard.  It is about living as a child of God.  As with Abraham, it is through right living that we too are counted righteous.

The ashen cross on our forehead can also be a conversation starter.  If a non-believer asks about it, we can explain the meaning.  In our church we use Psalm 51:10 as we administer ashes: “Create in your child a pure heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within him/her.”  Lent is a season of giving to God and of sacrifice to remind ourselves of the repentance we must offer.   The ashen cross is also a mark of ownership – to say that we belong to Christ.  Ashes are used to remind us that we are mortal and also that Jesus chose to die for our sins.  As we go through our day today, may we allow that inner light of Christ to shine forth.  May the cross we bear in our heart (and maybe the one we bear on our forehead too) be a sign of our inward piety and may it also be a reminder that we are called to be spent in faithful service to our God and to our fellow man.