Good or Best?

Today is Sunday, the twenty-first of February, the first Sunday in Lent.

Peace be with you!

Day 22,991

42 days until Resurrection Sunday.

For the first time in a week, it is above freezing, this morning. It won’t be tomorrow morning, but the high today is supposed to be in the low sixties, and same tomorrow.

C was actually able to get groceries, yesterday. It was unplanned, but she had gone out to pick up S’s laptop, which had been in service at Best Buy (it’s not fixed, but that’s long story). She texted me that she was at Winco, and they had stuff, so she went ahead and got our groceries. I had tried an order from Amazon Fresh, but there were no delivery times available through tomorrow. Really, the only thing Winco didn’t have was the kind of bread we like, or milk. She found some suitable bread, and we can live without milk for a bit. We are not big consumers of milk in this house, not even for cooking.

We have our 10:15 Zoom church gathering, this morning, during which we will continue reading and discussing Psalms. We should be starting with Psalm 7 today, and will probably get through three or four chapters.

If I had gotten up a little earlier, this morning, I might have been at a local Anglican Church right now. I’m reading a book by an Anglican priest, Tish Harrison-Warren. The book is called Prayer in the Night, and is all about one of the prayers that is used for daily Compline, which is a part of the “fixed-hour” prayer liturgy. Compline is the prayer to be prayed before going to bed every night. There is a rather long order for it in the Book of Common Prayer, but the one piece that the book focuses on is as follows:

"Keep watch, dear Lord,
with those who work,
or watch,
or weep this night,
and give your angels charge
over those who sleep.
Tend the sick, Lord Christ;
give rest to the weary,
bless the dying,
soothe the suffering,
pity the afflicted,
shield the joyous;
and all for your love's sake.
Amen."

It’s a beautiful prayer, and I am quite captivated by it, as well as Ms. Harrison-Warren’s treatment of it in this book. I have also developed an interest in the Anglican Church, through reading it.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Amen.
(The Prayer of St. Francis)

You cried to me in trouble, and I saved you; I answered out of the thundercloud and tested your faith when there was no water at Meribah.
(Psalms 81:7 NLT)

Today I am grateful:

  • For so much that I am almost literally overwhelmed.
  • That I am alive and breathing
  • That we have electricity, lights, heat, and water
  • That we have food
  • That we have resources to share, should there be a need
  • For Your love in my life, which enables me to love others
  • That there is still time for people to seek You

Scriptures and Prayers from Seeking God’s Face: Praying with the Bible through the Year

First Sunday in Lent

INVITATION

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
(Psalms 34:18 NIV)

Take a moment to meditate on this truth. Say a prayer for those who are brokenhearted or crushed in spirit. If you are one of those, embrace the love of the Lord, this morning. Also, let me know, so that I can pray for you.

BIBLE SONG

A psalm. A song. For the dedication of the temple. Of David.

I will exalt you, LORD, for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me.
LORD my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me.
You, LORD, brought me up from the realm of the dead; you spared me from going down to the pit.

Sing the praises of the LORD, you his faithful people; praise his holy name.
For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.
(Psalms 30:1-5 NIV)

BIBLE READING

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'”
“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
(Genesis 3:1-7 NIV)

DWELLING: SILENCE AND MEDITATION

The psalm expresses something that is appropriate for the season. The anger of the Lord is temporary. In fact, I believe that (and this is difficult for me to embrace) that God does not get angry at us who are in Christ. His anger was/is placated by Christ, and His favor is eternal. I love the last phrase, “weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”

We will weep. That much is certain. But that doesn’t have to affect our joy. This is one thing that makes that Compline prayer so powerful. We ask God to dwell with those who are weeping, who are watching, during the night, and those who are working during the night. We ask for His comfort over those who are suffering, struggling, and dying. And we ask Him to shield our joy, to protect it.

One of the big statements of the book, Prayer in the Night, is that we cannot trust God to keep bad things from happening to us. I’m sure that the statement would anger some people, but only because they haven’t really stopped to consider what it really says. The reason we cannot trust God to keep bad things from happening to us is that God never promised to keep bad things from happening to us. God did not even keep bad things from happening to Himself!

What He does promise, though, is deliverance out of those bad things, and protection during them.

One thing I notice, this morning, in the ever-familiar story from Genesis 3 is the word “good” in verse 6. It has oft been pointed out that the way our enemy gets to us is through questions lies. And he does this in Genesis 3. He starts out by getting Eve to question God. “Did God really say . . .?” Then Eve quotes, pretty much verbatim, what God said. Then the lie comes. “You will not certainly die.” And, like a lot of lies, there is a shred of truth in the statement, just enough to be fatal.

Because she didn’t die. Not for a while, at least. It was not instant. But she did, eventually. And the “spiritual” death that occurred has plagued humanity ever since.

Now, back to that word in verse 6. “Good.” She saw that the fruit of the tree was “good.” It was, apparently, also quite lovely to look at. But here’s the thing. There are many things that we fall into that are “good.” And what happens, so often, is that we sacrifice the best for what is “good.” There are things that might be sinful for you or me that are not inherently bad things. They might be “good.” Sometimes, they might not even be sin, really. But they are also not the best for us.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you are starving, you think you’re starving to death. You come upon a table that has a cheeseburger and fries on it. Someone reliable has told you that there is another table in the next room with a big juicy steak, with your choice of potato and/or vegetable. But you can’t see that steak (it may even be prime rib). And there is a person next to the hamburger table who tells you that the other person is lying, and that there is no steak. (“The cake is a lie! The cake is a lie!”)

Do you eat the cheeseburger? Oh, by the way, you can’t have both. Because if you eat the cheeseburger, your hunger will be satisfied, and you won’t need the steak.

If you eat the cheeseburger, you have settled for “good,” and sacrificed the best. It was not a sin to eat the cheeseburger, but it was not the best thing available.

Now, in Eve’s case, it was sin, because God had specifically told them not to eat the fruit of that tree.

And before we go all blaming on Eve, keep reading that next verse, because it said that she gave some to her husband, “who was with her!” My brothers and sisters, Adam was right there the whole time, and never said a word! So stop blaming Eve for everything!

Father, help us to be able to discern “good” from “best” in our lives. Of course, I pray that we will hear Your voice when You speak to us, and that we will obey what we hear when we listen to You. But if we are faced with choices, give us wisdom and discernment to know which is best and that we not settle for what is simply “good.” Help us to trust You when You tell us there is “steak” waiting for us, nearby. And thank You for prayers that are available for us to read and pray; prayers that strengthen our faith and give us assistance, especially when we have no words of our own to pray.

"God of grace,
I can't go very long without sin
showing up somewhere again in my life.
It's tiring to think
that I carry this sin around with me,
in me.
It's a family curse 
that I've inherited,
like a genetic deficiency
that plagues my life
and infects my living.
Lord, be my help and my health.
Amen."
(Belgic Confession 15)

BLESSING

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
(Romans 5:8 NIV)

But now Timothy has just returned, bringing us good news about your faith and love. He reports that you always remember our visit with joy and that you want to see us as much as we want to see you. So we have been greatly encouraged in the midst of our troubles and suffering, dear brothers and sisters, because you have remained strong in your faith. It gives us new life to know that you are standing firm in the Lord. How we thank God for you! Because of you we have great joy as we enter God’s presence. Night and day we pray earnestly for you, asking God to let us see you again to fill the gaps in your faith. May God our Father and our Lord Jesus bring us to you very soon. And may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows. May he, as a result, make your hearts strong, blameless, and holy as you stand before God our Father when our Lord Jesus comes again with all his holy people. Amen.
(1 Thessalonians 3:6-13 NLT)

Never speak harshly to an older man, but appeal to him respectfully as you would to your own father. Talk to younger men as you would to your own brothers. Treat older women as you would your mother, and treat younger women with all purity as you would your own sisters.
(1 Timothy 5:1-2 NLT)

“The master was full of praise. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’”
(Matthew 25:21 NLT)

“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Ephesus. This is the message from the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand, the one who walks among the seven gold lampstands:
“I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. You have patiently suffered for me without quitting.
“But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches. But this is in your favor: You hate the evil deeds of the Nicolaitans, just as I do.
“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. To everyone who is victorious I will give fruit from the tree of life in the paradise of God.”
(Revelation 2:1-7 NLT)

Ephesus, in a sense, was “the love capital of the ancient world.” Tourists were drawn to the great shrine to the goddess Artemis, who was a fertility goddess. But this wasn’t truly “love.” It was lust. “It was the manipulation of appetite and the exploitation of bodies. Artemis was false advertising. Love packaged as a commodity was the biggest business in Ephesus.”

But the Christians in Ephesus understood real love: “Love that gave. Love that accepted. Love that was sacrificial and redemptive. Love that paid its promises. Love that wasn’t out to get but out to give. Love that didn’t leave you wasted and cheapened but fulfilled and enriches.”

But, for some reason, they simply quit. It was too much. It demanded too much from them. They could still do their important church jobs, live their moral lives, and fight against evil. But Jesus calls them out in this letter from John.

“Love is what Christ still requires of us. It is what he won’t do without.” He will not lower Himself to our standards, but desires to raise us to His.

What had been the strongest virtue of the Ephesians had become “the source of their failing – they worked so hard to be right and correct that they forgot who they were being good to and how their righteousness affected others.” They had lost their “first love.”

Remember what Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.
(1 Corinthians 13:1-3 NLT)

Jeremiah wrote these words in the Old Testament:

“Go and shout this message to Jerusalem. This is what the LORD says: “I remember how eager you were to please me as a young bride long ago, how you loved me and followed me even through the barren wilderness.”
(Jeremiah 2:2 NLT)

Jesus has examined the Ephesians and holds against them that they have abandoned their love. Can we see the same thing in today’s church? Are we more concerned with being right than we are with loving?

(From This Hallelujah Banquet, by Eugene H. Peterson)

Seek the LORD while you can find him. Call on him now while he is near. Let the wicked change their ways and banish the very thought of doing wrong. Let them turn to the LORD that he may have mercy on them. Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously.
(Isaiah 55:6-7 NLT)

Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days.
(Ephesians 5:16 NLT)

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.
(Psalms 90:12 ESV)

No one knows how long they have on this earth. Only God knows our beginning and our end. I urge anyone who reads this to do what is called for in the Isaiah passage. Seek the Lord while He may be found. Get right with God while you can. Join in, enter His kingdom, where things are far better than you could ever imagine. Yes, bad things will still happen, God never promises otherwise. But what He does promise, as well as the eternal inheritance that awaits, is so worth it.

Father, there is still time for people to seek You. The days grow fewer, though. Each passing day is one less day in which someone can seek You, in which You can be found. There will come a day when all choices become final. Help me to be a channel, Father, of Your love for humanity. Help me to display truth, but to display it in love and compassion. May I be less concerned with being right (or wanting to be right) than I am with being loving and compassionate. I feel the weight of this past week, Lord, and it is heavy. Please show us where we can render grace and spiritual or physical assistance.

Lord, I pray, this morning, for true and authentic fellowship with Christ, crucified and risen from the dead. He is “best” for me. Please keep giving me spiritual renewal and refreshment, especially during these days that we are in.

I pray for peace in our nation, peace in our world. I pray for racial injustice to end, and I pray for the pandemic to be over. Above all else, though, I pray for Your will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven. For Yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, have mercy on us.
Lord, have mercy on us.
(Kyrie)

Grace and peace, friends.