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Lenten Devotional – Day 17 – The Name

Lent 3  Psalm 72: 12-19:

For he will deliver the needy who cry out,
    the afflicted who have no one to help.
13 He will take pity on the weak and the needy
    and save the needy from death.
14 He will rescue them from oppression and violence,
    for precious is their blood in his sight.

15 Long may he live!
    May gold from Sheba be given him.
May people ever pray for him
    and bless him all day long.
16 May grain abound throughout the land;
    on the tops of the hills may it sway.
May the crops flourish like Lebanon
    and thrive[a] like the grass of the field.
17 May his name endure forever;
    may it continue as long as the sun.

Then all nations will be blessed through him,[b]
    and they will call him blessed.

18 Praise be to the Lord God, the God of Israel,
    who alone does marvelous deeds.
19 Praise be to his glorious name forever;
    may the whole earth be filled with his glory.
Amen and Amen.

At the inauguration of a king of Israel, the Israelites would offer a prayer like Psalm 72. This prayer was not only an acknowledgement of the king, but also expressed a set of expectations and criteria for their leader.

The king was viewed as the means by whom blessings came to the people from God and he was expected to uphold divine standards of justice and righteousness. Looking to the king for compassion and deliverance for the weak was not naive or wishful thinking, but a hope rooted in the character of the one who had anointed him.

The God of Israel is by nature a rescuer and helper to the helpless, so must the king be. Prayers for the endurance of the king’s name were based on that expectant hope, that the king would fulfill his commitment to the weak, so prayers for him meant safety and happiness for all.

From then until now, however, no king or leader has ever been able to fulfill these divine standards. Today many have lost faith in our leaders and distrust them all, while others spend their lives and money promoting this name or that name as the one who will finally save us.

As followers of Christ, we can know that God has given us the One in whose name the needy, poor and helpless will truly find deliverance. We can know that in Christ, we have a king who is not only concerned with our needs and suffering, but compassionately identifies with them.

We can know that in Christ, prayers for the flourishing of his name and reign will mean peace and blessing for all. Do you know that the King truly cares for you and all of your needs? Have you called on his name?

Prayer:  Almighty God, we praise you that your Son is the king we all want and need; that his compassion far outweighs anything we have ever seen. Help us to trust and obey you as our righteous king, and may your name be forever praised. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

 

 

Lenten Devotional – Third Sunday of Lent – Die in Your Sins

Lent 1Key Bible Verse:   “Again Jesus spoke to them saying, ‘I am the Light of the world.’ …”   – John 8:12a

Bonus Reading:  John 8:12-30

Jesus’ enemies want Him dead. Has He pressed too hard? Is it time to lighten up or compromise to find common ground? No! Jesus knows there is only one way for them to be saved. So He presses even harder. He declares, “I am the Light of the world.”

Instead of backing down Jesus draws a line in the sand and says, “Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” But to those who reject Him, He says, “I am going away, and you will seek Me, and you will die in your sin.”

Their hearts should be stirred, but instead they stubbornly refuse to listen. In idle curiosity they ask each other if Jesus’ talk of “going away” means He will kill Himself. Jesus answers, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, you will know that I am He.”

When they lift Him up and nail Him to the cross, they will know who He is. The miraculous signs at His death: the darkness, the earthquake, the torn curtain in the temple and His glorious resurrection will make it clear to them that Jesus is the mighty Son of God, the promised Messiah.

Which side of the line are you walking on? Are you truly walking in the light of Christ or the darkness of this unbelieving world?

Jesus warns all of us that our time is short. Don’t wait for tomorrow. Today is the day to live in Christ through faith, rather than die in your sins.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, bring me out of the darkness of my sin to the light of Your Son Jesus Christ. I pray in His Name. Amen.

Lenten Devotional – Day 16 – The Champion

Lent 3  Psalm 68: 7-18:

When you, God, went out before your people,
    when you marched through the wilderness,[a]
the earth shook, the heavens poured down rain,
    before God, the One of Sinai,
    before God, the God of Israel.
You gave abundant showers, O God;
    you refreshed your weary inheritance.
10 Your people settled in it,
    and from your bounty, God, you provided for the poor.

11 The Lord announces the word,
    and the women who proclaim it are a mighty throng:
12 “Kings and armies flee in haste;
    the women at home divide the plunder.
13 Even while you sleep among the sheep pens,[b]
    the wings of my dove are sheathed with silver,
    its feathers with shining gold.”
14 When the Almighty[c] scattered the kings in the land,
    it was like snow fallen on Mount Zalmon.

15 Mount Bashan, majestic mountain,
    Mount Bashan, rugged mountain,
16 why gaze in envy, you rugged mountain,
    at the mountain where God chooses to reign,
    where the Lord himself will dwell forever?
17 The chariots of God are tens of thousands
    and thousands of thousands;
    the Lord has come from Sinai into his sanctuary.[d]
18 When you ascended on high,
    you took many captives;
    you received gifts from people,
even from[e] the rebellious—
    that you,[f] Lord God, might dwell there.

Psalm 68:7-18 is a song of praise for the power of God as seen in salvation. There are three movements in this passage.

Verses 7-10 describe the power of God in delivering the people of Israel from their bondage in Egypt.

Then, verses 11-14 recount the power of God in the present to preserve his people as they lived amongst their enemies.

Finally, verses 15-18 rejoice in the power of God that will safely bring his people home to the mountain of God.

These three movements describe the life of a Christian. We are those who have been brought out from the bondage of sin and death, are being preserved in our present journey, and have been given a promise that we shall arrive safely home. How are all these wonderful truths possible? These benefits are secured for us because of our champion.

Psalm 68:18 refers to one who ascended on high, leading forth a host of captives in his train. According to St. Paul, this passage is describing Christ Jesus, particularly the victory accomplished by him through his resurrection from the dead (Ephesians 4:8).

In Hebrews 12:2 we are told to keep our eyes on Jesus, the archegos of our faith. Although it has been variously translated as “author” or “pioneer,” the best translation would be “champion.” In other words, Jesus went toe-to-toe with sin and death and won! He fought the battle on our behalf with death and secured the victory. Now, we can rest in him, knowing that the very same power that raised Jesus from the dead is also at work in us (1 Corinthians 6:14).

Do you find yourself anxious today, maybe fearful of what the future holds? Let the truth of these verses be a reminder that the power of God is present in your life because of the work of our champion. Because of him we have been brought out of bondage, are being preserved day by day, and through his grace we shall arrive safely home.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, we give you thanks for the power present in our lives because of our champion, Christ Jesus, and would ask that today we would find ourselves equipped with courage and joy because of him who ascended on high. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 15 – The Forsaken

Lent 3  Psalm 22:1-11, 29-31:

For the director of music. To the tune of “The Doe of the Morning.” A psalm of David.

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.[b]

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
    you are the one Israel praises.[c]
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.

But I am a worm and not a man,
    scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
    they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
“He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
    “let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
    since he delights in him.”

Yet you brought me out of the womb;
    you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.
10 From birth I was cast on you;
    from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

11 Do not be far from me,
    for trouble is near
    and there is no one to help.

Psalm 22:29-31 New International Version (NIV)

29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
    all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
    those who cannot keep themselves alive.
30 Posterity will serve him;
    future generations will be told about the Lord.
31 They will proclaim his righteousness,
    declaring to a people yet unborn:
    He has done it!

Psalm 22 is the first in a cluster of psalms that describe the suffering of someone which seems to echo the accounts in Isaiah of the suffering servant of the Lord. The first line of this psalm is likely to be familiar to us because Jesus cried out these exact words when he was being crucified on the cross. Yet this psalm was written by David, many generations before that.

Whatever suffering of his own that David was recounting, he was also prophetically describing the redemptive suffering of Christ on the cross thousands of years later.

Jesus would have read this psalm many times in his life during worship at the temple. He no doubt had it memorized, for it to come so readily to his mind when he was on the cross.

Knowing what he was going to face, Jesus could have spent his life in fear or dread. Instead, he, like David before him, clung on to what he knew was true: God is holy, God is his God, and God has been trustworthy throughout his life. And then, based on these truths, David appeals to God to stay close to him. Jesus knew, though, that the greatest suffering he would face would be abandonment by God, so that God would never abandon his people.

The psalm ends with praise and a note of triumph at the end: “for he has done it.” Jesus stayed to the end, bore our sins, and purchased our reconciliation with God.

The messianic nature of the psalm becomes clear as David declares that past generations that have died as well as future generations not yet born will all come to know that his God is a God who delivers his people from suffering. After all because Jesus really was completely forsaken by God (for us!), we can be confident that we never will be abandoned, even if, in our suffering, God seems far away or silent when we call out.

Prayer:  Gracious God, we glorify you that because Jesus knew what it meant to be utterly separated from you, we will never have to experience that. Strengthen our faith to truly believe this especially when we think we have reasons to doubt it. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

Lenten Devotional – Day 14 – The Appeal

Lent 3  Psalm 109:21-31

But you, Sovereign Lord,
    help me for your name’s sake;
    out of the goodness of your love, deliver me.
22 For I am poor and needy,
    and my heart is wounded within me.
23 I fade away like an evening shadow;
    I am shaken off like a locust.
24 My knees give way from fasting;
    my body is thin and gaunt.
25 I am an object of scorn to my accusers;
    when they see me, they shake their heads.

26 Help me, Lord my God;
    save me according to your unfailing love.
27 Let them know that it is your hand,
    that you, Lord, have done it.
28 While they curse, may you bless;
    may those who attack me be put to shame,
    but may your servant rejoice.
29 May my accusers be clothed with disgrace
    and wrapped in shame as in a cloak.

30 With my mouth I will greatly extol the Lord;
    in the great throng of worshipers I will praise him.
31 For he stands at the right hand of the needy,
    to save their lives from those who would condemn them.

In a world that is broken, the psalmist appeals to God to deal with his false accusers. The idea of such a plea (“May my accusers be clothed with dishonor”) can be uncomfortable to those of us who are not exposed to the injustices of war, genocide and sex trafficking as others throughout the world are. And yet, at some point we have all chosen to repay evil for evil.

But instead of addressing injustice on his own, the psalmist takes this injustice to God and appeals to him to act on his behalf. He chooses to allow a just and holy God to deal with those who have wronged him instead of seeking retribution himself.

If God were only forgiving but not just, there would be nowhere for us to go when we are sinned against. But God’s holiness will not tolerate injustice.

As comforting as that sounds at first, we also are unjust, so unless there is some remedy for us, we will be judged with the same judgment as our oppressors. The only reason the psalmist (or we) can appeal to God is because Christ has already spoken on our behalf. When Christ cried out to God from the cross, he was rejected and scorned because he was taking the place of a sinful humanity.

Now we can appeal to God because he looks at us through the sinless Christ who spoke on our behalf.

Prayer:  God, our Father, we praise you for sending Christ to cover our own acts of injustice towards you so that we can have a relationship with you, who are perfect in holiness. We thank you that you listen to our appeals when we have been wronged and that you will hear us in your compassion and mercy. Help us to bring our pleas to you instead of seeking our retribution when we are sinned against. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

 

 

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 13 – The Scorn

Lent 3 Psalm 69: 1-12:

For the director of music. To the tune of “Lilies.” Of David.

Save me, O God,
    for the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in the miry depths,
    where there is no foothold.
I have come into the deep waters;
    the floods engulf me.
I am worn out calling for help;
    my throat is parched.
My eyes fail,
    looking for my God.
Those who hate me without reason
    outnumber the hairs of my head;
many are my enemies without cause,
    those who seek to destroy me.
I am forced to restore
    what I did not steal.

You, God, know my folly;
    my guilt is not hidden from you.

Lord, the Lord Almighty,
    may those who hope in you
    not be disgraced because of me;
God of Israel,
    may those who seek you
    not be put to shame because of me.
For I endure scorn for your sake,
    and shame covers my face.
I am a foreigner to my own family,
    a stranger to my own mother’s children;
for zeal for your house consumes me,
    and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.
10 When I weep and fast,
    I must endure scorn;
11 when I put on sackcloth,
    people make sport of me.
12 Those who sit at the gate mock me,
    and I am the song of the drunkards.

David is drowning in his troubles (vv. 1-3). He is crying out in solitary agony, cast aside by his friends and family (v. 4) and set upon by his foes (v. 8). His reputation is under attack. The champion whose name was once celebrated in the streets is now being mocked in the taverns (v. 12). Israel’s savior is crying for salvation and he hears no reply (v. 3).

The pain we feel when our reputation is under attack is uniquely excruciating. No matter whether we come from cultural backgrounds that prize the family name or are individualists who seek to make a name for ourselves, that name is our resumé. Kill it and we are in danger of a full-blown identity crisis.

How are we tempted to respond when it is our reputation that is being assaulted? Do we cover up our flaws? Do we succumb to despair? Do we drive ourselves (and others) crazy in a hopeless quest for perfection? David is on a different track.

Even in his distress, David’s mind is not on himself. He is not preoccupied with his own honor. His zeal is for the Lord’s house. This is what consumes him (v. 9). Honestly confessing his faults, he prays there would be no collateral damage from his own folly that would defame the God of Israel or those who look to him (vv. 5-6). David makes his appeal, boldly staking his claim upon the steadfast love and faithfulness of his just and omniscient Lord (v. 13). In short, he locates himself in God’s own reputation.

Many years later, the one called the Son of David entered the temple in Jerusalem at Passover, driving out the merchants and money-changers. His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house has consumed me” (John 2:17). This confrontation sparked the events that would culminate in the greatest loss of dignity imaginable.

The creator of the universe, humiliated as a criminal on a cross, prayed for his enemies, offering them all the benefits of his good name. In Jesus, we inherit an eternal reputation that can never be tarnished.

Prayer:  Lord Jesus Christ, Son of David, Son of God, we confess that we have sought too much to make a name for ourselves, and have considered too little the name you have given us. You, whose name is above all names, made yourself of no reputation. You humbled yourself, taking the form of a servant, and endured the violent scorn of those to whom you offered your title. Through the ultimate exchange, you have written your name on our foreheads, and written our names, indelibly, in your Book of Life. Give us the wisdom and faith necessary to humbly receive your exaltation. Teach us by the Spirit and the word to grow together into that name, and thereby to begin to reflect the traits associated with it. For your kingdom, by your power, for your glory, Amen.

 

One Great Hour of Sharing – Sunday, March 6, 2016

One Great Hour of Sharing 3

Lenten Devotional – Day 12 – The Stone

Lent 3    The stone the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
23 the Lord has done this,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 The Lord has done it this very day;
    let us rejoice today and be glad.  – Psalm 118:22-24

In the parable of the tenants, the owner of a vineyard leases his property to others and travels abroad. While away, he sends his servants to collect his share of the fruit from the land, but the tenants beat his servants and then kill them. Finally, he sends his son to collect the fruit, reasoning, “They will respect my son” (Mark 12:6). But he is wrong. They kill his son too.

Jesus explained what the parable meant by quoting Psalm 118: “Have you not read this Scripture: ‘This stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” (Mark 12:10-11, cf. Matthew 21:42).

In other words, God is the owner of the vineyard. The tenants are his people. They were supposed to give him the fruit of their lives through worship and obedience. But they rejected his prophets and messengers. Finally, he sent his Son. But they rejected him too. In rebellion, they would not respect or honor him as the Son of God. Instead, they killed him.

Yet Jesus was not swept away by a storm of angry and uncontrolled men. His rejection was according to the intentional plan of God — “the Lord’s doing.” This is “marvelous in our eyes” because the death of Christ defeated death itself.

We rejoice because God picked up Jesus from the grave and made him the cornerstone of salvation for everyone who believes. In him, therefore, we will live and never die (John. 11:25-27).

By The Park Forum (Bethany Jenkins)

Prayer:  Lord, you work everything according to your good will. Although Christ’s death seemed like defeat, you vindicated him by raising him from the dead. In him, therefore, we sing, “We shall not die, but we shall live” (Psalm 118:17). He is our salvation. It is marvelous in our eyes. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

Lenten Devotional – Day 11 – The Son

Lent 3Psalm 2:

Why do the nations conspire[a]
    and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth rise up
    and the rulers band together
    against the Lord and against his anointed, saying,
“Let us break their chains
    and throw off their shackles.”

The One enthroned in heaven laughs;
    the Lord scoffs at them.
He rebukes them in his anger
    and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
“I have installed my king
    on Zion, my holy mountain.”

I will proclaim the Lord’s decree:

He said to me, “You are my son;
    today I have become your father.
Ask me,
    and I will make the nations your inheritance,
    the ends of the earth your possession.
You will break them with a rod of iron[b];
    you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”

10 Therefore, you kings, be wise;
    be warned, you rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear
    and celebrate his rule with trembling.
12 Kiss his son, or he will be angry
    and your way will lead to your destruction,
for his wrath can flare up in a moment.
    Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

Lent is a season of repentance and humility, a time where we are called to consider our human sin and frailty in light of the splendor and perfection of God our King.

Psalm 2 is the first of many so-called “royal Psalms,” focusing on God’s kingly character. The psalm opens with a question that answers itself, establishing rebellion and the throwing off of God’s yoke as the desire of the nations and kings who conspire against the true King.

The reaction of “He who sits in the heavens” is scornful laughter, highlighting the ridicule of one who will not be mocked.

The reaction is not only derision, but action. The Lord refers to his Son, the real and true king, who will come and accomplish everything that was originally expected from David and his entire lineage. All is his and his reign over all false kings and nations betrays the attitude of rebels as not only foolish, but dangerous.

In a jarring and ironic poetic image, the “potter” (Isaiah 45:9) will smash their lives like broken pottery, which becomes trampled underfoot and ultimately insignificant — trash on the ground.

While this psalm is sobering in its judgment, it also offers great hope. It points forward to the true divine Son who came to be the final and only truly righteous king, the one who obeyed his Father perfectly and broke the yoke of sin to set us free.

Because Christ accomplished his mission on earth, he could definitively say: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). He is the one the scriptures call “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” (Hebrews 1:3).

Prayer:  Our King and Father, where you are there is majesty and perfection. Thank you for giving us your Son, who reflects your glory and intercedes for us, advocates for us, and sends us the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

 

Lenten Devotional – The Second Sunday in Lent – Hidden Darkness

Lent 1Key Bible Verse: “Jesus answered them, ‘Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil’”  – John 6:70

Bonus Reading: John 6:66-71

In sadness Jesus watched the crowds turn and walk away. Now He turns to His twelve chosen disciples and asks if they want to leave too. The Lord won’t force them to stay at His side; He won’t force you and me to stay either.

Peter answers, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that You are the Holy One of God.” The Holy Spirit led Peter to this great confession.

But Jesus knew Peter wasn’t speaking for every one of the disciples. He knew all too well that one of them had turned away, even though he was still standing by Jesus’ side. None of the other disciples was aware, but Judas had secretly rejected Jesus’ Kingdom of light and allied himself with the prince of darkness. The darkness had so deceived Judas he thought Jesus would never know what was in his heart.

Judas’ darkness is in each of us too and can deceive us as thoroughly as it deceived him. On the outside we can be active in our churches. Yet deep in our hearts we may have grown cold to Jesus. It’s so easy to go through the motions of faith, while our hearts turn away to the darkness like Judas.

Jesus calls us to stop and examine the depths of our soul. Are we sincere in our faith, or are we servants of darkness going through the motions? It’s a matter of life and death and heaven and hell for us just as it was for Judas.

Prayer: Holy Spirit, remove all that is false and impure from my heart, and fill me with the fire of faith in Jesus Christ my Savior. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 10 – The King

Lent 3Psalm 110:

The Lord says to my lord:[a]

“Sit at my right hand
    until I make your enemies
    a footstool for your feet.”

The Lord will extend your mighty scepter from Zion, saying,
    “Rule in the midst of your enemies!”
Your troops will be willing
    on your day of battle.
Arrayed in holy splendor,
    your young men will come to you
    like dew from the morning’s womb.[b]

The Lord has sworn
    and will not change his mind:
“You are a priest forever,
    in the order of Melchizedek.”

The Lord is at your right hand[c];
    he will crush kings on the day of his wrath.
He will judge the nations, heaping up the dead
    and crushing the rulers of the whole earth.
He will drink from a brook along the way,[d]
    and so he will lift his head high.

People think of Jesus in many ways. Perhaps two of the most common is that he is a wise teacher or a great example. But this passage, which is the most cited in the New Testament, tells us of two of Jesus’ roles — priest and king.

The king in Psalm 110 is unequaled in power and might. He sits at God’s right hand in the place of highest authority. He is guaranteed victory over his adversaries and he rules his people in such a way that they freely follow him. He crushes opposing kings and executes judgment among the nations. He is exalted and has sure victory over all his enemies.

When Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, God restored him to his original place at his right hand. His resurrection was both a vindication of his status as the Son of God and his enthronement as the rightful king over creation. He defeated the power of sin and death and he presently reigns as king. This means that Jesus has the power and authority to protect us from all evil and wickedness and that he deserves our complete allegiance and loyalty.

This psalm also tells us that Jesus is a priestly king. Priests offer sacrifices and prayers on behalf of their people. But Jesus is a permanent priest in the order of Melchizedek, who was greater than all other priests. Jesus offered himself as a perfect sacrifice for our sin and he continually intercedes for us. He clothes us in holy garments, so that through him, we can draw near to God.

Prayer:  Father, thank you that you have raised Jesus from the dead and seated him at your right hand, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. Help us to trust in him daily as our priest and king. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 9 – The House

Lent 32 Samuel 7:1-5, 11-17:

God’s Promise to David

After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”

Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.”

But that night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying:

“Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in?

11 and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders[a] over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies.

“‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: 12 When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. 15 But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me[b]; your throne will be established forever.’”

17 Nathan reported to David all the words of this entire revelation.

King David, finally settled in his cedar home, desired a house for the ark of God. However, the word of the Lord came to Nathan, telling David that instead of allowing him to build a temple, the Lord would establish the House of David, culminating in one who would “sit on the throne forever.”

Obviously God is not simply promising that he will ensure the continuation of David’s lineage as a sort of memorial to him — the common belief of many religions that we only live on in our descendants. He is promising to raise up his own Son from among the descendants of David, one who will bear our stripes and our iniquity.

How like God this is! We offer to him some grandiose plan of how we plan to honor him, and he counters with a completely counterintuitive plan, one in which he is glorified by becoming both king and substitute.

Thankfully, God reads our hearts and edits our plans and our prayers so that they are far more than we would have dared to ask or imagine. Pray, pray and pray, to the limit of your vision and faith, and then be prepared for God to do something even better.

Prayer:  O Lord, you are mighty and faithful. Let your righteousness and justice, steadfast love and faithfulness go before us. Allow us to walk in the light of your face and to exult your name all the day. Remind us of your covenant with David, how you built your throne for all generations with the wood of the cross. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 8 – The Priest

Lent 31 Samuel 2:27-36: 

Prophecy Against the House of Eli

27 Now a man of God came to Eli and said to him, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Did I not clearly reveal myself to your ancestor’s family when they were in Egypt under Pharaoh? 28 I chose your ancestor out of all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to go up to my altar, to burn incense, and to wear an ephod in my presence. I also gave your ancestor’s family all the food offerings presented by the Israelites. 29 Why do you[a] scorn my sacrifice and offering that I prescribed for my dwelling? Why do you honor your sons more than me by fattening yourselves on the choice parts of every offering made by my people Israel?’

30 “Therefore the Lord, the God of Israel, declares: ‘I promised that members of your family would minister before me forever.’ But now the Lord declares: ‘Far be it from me! Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained. 31 The time is coming when I will cut short your strength and the strength of your priestly house, so that no one in it will reach old age, 32 and you will see distress in my dwelling. Although good will be done to Israel, no one in your family line will ever reach old age. 33 Every one of you that I do not cut off from serving at my altar I will spare only to destroy your sight and sap your strength, and all your descendants will die in the prime of life.

34 “‘And what happens to your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, will be a sign to you—they will both die on the same day. 35 I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and mind. I will firmly establish his priestly house, and they will minister before my anointed one always. 36 Then everyone left in your family line will come and bow down before him for a piece of silver and a loaf of bread and plead, “Appoint me to some priestly office so I can have food to eat.”’”

Do you want the wrongs of this world to be righted? In this text, we learn in v. 28 that the role of priests was 1) “to go up to my altar”— they should have been going before God on behalf of the people to intercede and plead for them, 2) “to burn incense”— which was a religious duty and ritual that honored God (Leviticus 16:13), and 3) “to wear the ephod”— which would mark the priests as those who counseled the people with wisdom from God.

In v. 29, we see that Eli’s sons, who were the priests at the time — the very ones who should have been caring for the people — were in fact “fattening” themselves on the labor of others wrongfully. Not only was this injustice, but the very people who should have been caring for others were in fact harming them. How would God right these wrongs

When we look at our own lives and the lives of those around us, we often ask the same question. How will God right the wrongs of the world? It becomes a traumatic question when we realize that we are guilty of wronging others as well. The very people we know we should love and serve are often the victims of our selfish focusing on our own interests and priorities.

We are told God does see this injustice and that he must stop it (vv. 30-31) as well as administer just consequences to the offending parties (v. 34). We need the wrongs to be stopped, but we also need someone to go before God and plead for us, as we too are offenders.

Who will this be? Verse 35 says, “And I will raise up for myself a faithful priest … my anointed forever.” The Hebrew word for “faithful” also means “enduring,” so this priesthood will last forever, but the fact that he is “my anointed forever” means my “king” in this context. Who is both a faithful and enduring priest who is also the king forever?

Only one person history could be both — Jesus.

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, enduring great high priest and king, you have opened a way for us to approach you even though we are often guilty in our thoughts, words and deeds. Give us your grace that restores, preserves, leads, guards and supplies our hope. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 7 – The Prayer

Lent 31 Samuel 2:1-10:

Hannah’s Prayer

Then Hannah prayed and said:

“My heart rejoices in the Lord;
    in the Lord my horn[a] is lifted high.
My mouth boasts over my enemies,
    for I delight in your deliverance.

“There is no one holy like the Lord;
    there is no one besides you;
    there is no Rock like our God.

“Do not keep talking so proudly
    or let your mouth speak such arrogance,
for the Lord is a God who knows,
    and by him deeds are weighed.

“The bows of the warriors are broken,
    but those who stumbled are armed with strength.
Those who were full hire themselves out for food,
    but those who were hungry are hungry no more.
She who was barren has borne seven children,
    but she who has had many sons pines away.

“The Lord brings death and makes alive;
    he brings down to the grave and raises up.
The Lord sends poverty and wealth;
    he humbles and he exalts.
He raises the poor from the dust
    and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
he seats them with princes
    and has them inherit a throne of honor.

“For the foundations of the earth are the Lord’s;
    on them he has set the world.
He will guard the feet of his faithful servants,
    but the wicked will be silenced in the place of darkness.

“It is not by strength that one prevails;
10     those who oppose the Lord will be broken.
The Most High will thunder from heaven;
    the Lord will judge the ends of the earth.

“He will give strength to his king
    and exalt the horn of his anointed.”

Within these ten verses there are two stories. The first is Hannah’s, a barren woman who desired to have a child and a life with meaning and who was rescued from herself by God’s mercy. The second is a story of the people of God travelling each year to “worship and sacrifice to the Lord at Shiloh.” These two narratives intertwine in 1 Samuel 1 and in the midst of the two accounts we see what is known as “Hannah’s prayer.”

There is perhaps no greater image of a broken world (particularly in ancient cultures) than that of the “barren” woman. The pressures to produce an heir and insure an inheritance in Israel were so tremendous that “barrenness” might describe not only the physical but also the spiritual and social condition of the afflicted.

After years of this, Hannah recognized that her grief had become sin and her mourning had become an “affliction” (1 Samuel 1:11), so at Shiloh she sacrificed that which enslaved her to the Lord. Upon repenting, she vowed that if she were ever to have a child, she would dedicate him to the Lord — rather than using her child as proof of her worth to those who had been judging her. She soon conceived and later returned with her son, who she gave as an apprentice to Eli the priest. This boy was Samuel, the first of the great Old Testament prophets.

If any parent thought their child was precious, it was Hannah. Still, she must have known her role in his life was a temporary one. When we see Hannah “exult in the Lord” from her heart, and “find strength” in him (v. 1), she is being restored by the one thing permanent and true in the world (v. 2). Hannah understood then that behind every condition, physical or spiritual, the Lord’s creative power is at work, and not hers. (vv. 6-8). She rejoiced in that knowledge and was liberated.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, though we may not all desire the same things that Hannah desired, we too suffer from trying to make temporary and fleeting things in life permanent. Help us to recognize and repent of our sin and put our strength in the Rock, your son, Jesus Christ. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

Lenten Devotional – Day 6 – The Passover

Lent 3Exodus 12:1-13

The Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread

12 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb[a] for his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire—with the head, legs and internal organs. 10 Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. 11 This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.

12 “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. 13 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.

The account of the Passover with which Israel begins its exit out of Egypt and slavery is in many ways the central story of the Old Testament. It is meant to speak profoundly to God’s people. On the one hand, it is a reminder that unless God intervenes and covers us, we are in the same condition as everyone else: part of a rebel creation that stands under God’s judgment and condemnation. That is always part of our identity as human beings and without it we cannot walk in humility either before God or others.

On the other hand, it is a reminder that the primary thing God wants from us is trust. He wants us to trust that he is merciful and that he cares for us. He wants us to trust that he desires to save and not condemn us. That is why he became incarnate in the person of Jesus. And he wants our lives to issue in the acts of obedience that manifest our trust in him – whether that is putting blood on our doorposts and eating the Passover meal as was the case for the Israelites, or remembering Jesus’ death which saved us when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper and then living lives of forgiveness and generosity. Is your life being characterized by this kind of humility and trust? If not, why not?

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, grant me to so deeply feel my need for your mercy and to know your provision of it that humility and obedient trust might be profoundly manifest in my life. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 5 – The Lion

Lent 3Genesis 49:8-12 New International Version (NIV)

“Judah,[a] your brothers will praise you;
    your hand will be on the neck of your enemies;
    your father’s sons will bow down to you.
You are a lion’s cub, Judah;
    you return from the prey, my son.
Like a lion he crouches and lies down,
    like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?
10 The scepter will not depart from Judah,
    nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,[b]
until he to whom it belongs[c] shall come
    and the obedience of the nations shall be his.
11 He will tether his donkey to a vine,
    his colt to the choicest branch;
he will wash his garments in wine,
    his robes in the blood of grapes.
12 His eyes will be darker than wine,
    his teeth whiter than milk.[

On his deathbed Jacob prophesied the future of each of his twelve children, foreseeing their future ascendancy or demise, prosperity or impoverishment. For some, the future would be full of violence and heartache. But for others, theirs would be a future of prominence and victory.

For Judah, the fourth among Jacob’s sons, his was a future of distinction. He would be held in esteem by his brothers (v. 8, “your brothers shall praise you”) and receive tribute from all nations (v. 10, “to him shall be the obedience of the peoples”). His reign would be enduring and unchallenged (v. 10, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah”) and a time of overwhelming abundance.

Because grapevines require attention and care, wine was a luxury for nomadic people in the ancient world. Yet under the reign of Judah, there would be such an abundance of vines that one could tie his donkey to one without fear that it would be damaged, wash his garments in wine without depleting the supply, and even drink until his eyes took on the color of wine itself (vv. 11-12). Judah’s reign would be a glorious one indeed and it is no wonder that Judah himself would be called a lion (v. 9).

In Revelation 5, John has a vision of the enthroned Lion of Judah, and yet this vision is juxtaposed with a Lamb who was slain. Why? The Gospels show us that Jesus demonstrates his greatest power through weakness, his lordship through service, and his sovereign reign through self-sacrifice.

In other words, Jesus was slain because he was the Lion and enthroned because he is the Lamb. In your moments of brokenness, heartache and hardship, do you see that Jesus Christ experienced brokenness for you so that you might experience the abundance of his reign over your life?

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, we are amazed that you reign not through a demonstration of power, but of service; not through exaltation, but humiliation; not through might, but sacrifice. Help me to see that you were the Lion who was slain like a lamb, so that in my humiliation I might experience your exaltation. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

Lenten Devotional – The First Sunday in Lent – A Visit in the Dark

Lent 1Key Bible Verse:  “Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can these things be?’”John 3:9

Bonus Reading:  John 3:1-8

Jesus made powerful enemies when He cleansed the temple. But He also impressed some leaders with His boldness and His miracles.

In chapter three a prominent leader comes to the Light, but fear of his colleagues leads him to come to Jesus under the cover of darkness.

Being a Pharisee, Nicodemus thinks his good life will win him heaven. Jesus immediately challenges this false hope. “Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” Answering Nicodemus’ confused reply Jesus explains He is talking about baptism. But Nicodemus still finds it difficult to accept these words.

You and I might find it difficult also.

Like Nicodemus we have so many good qualities going for us, especially when compared to others we can point out. We work hard to provide for our families. We try to be good citizens. We try to treat our neighbors well.

But Jesus is clear and unbending, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” It can never be anything but flesh. You and I can try as hard as we want, but we are and always will be sinners.

And saying, “I’m only human” is no excuse either. Jesus was truly human, yet He was without sin.

That is why our Lord commanded His Church to baptize sinners. Through the power of God’s Word in that water Jesus takes our sins and guilt upon Himself and suffers and dies in our place. He fills us with His Holy Spirit and makes us children of God.

Just as Jesus rose again on the third day, He will raise us to live with Him in paradise forever.

Prayer: Jesus, bring me out of the darkness of my self-righteousness to the light of Your forgiveness and peace. Amen

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 4 – The Test

Lent 3Genesis 22:1-14 New International Version (NIV):

Abraham Tested

22 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

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 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.

When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram[a] caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

This is one of the most well known and difficult passages in the Bible. Abraham is introduced in Genesis 12 as the one through whom “all the peoples on the earth” will be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3).

And so as we arrive at the scene above we find that what started as God’s call to Abraham to leave his home has now reached a dramatic climax. God has now included in that call the ultimate sacrifice and test of Abraham’s faith — the willingness to sacrifice his only son.

The pain and poignancy of this moment is heightened by the fact that Abraham and his wife, Sarah, had waited years without seeing the fulfillment of God’s promise of a son. God’s promise that a nation would come through their family seemed impossible to Abraham and Sarah, given their inability to have a child.

So now having answered their prayers and given them a son, God has asked Abraham to do something that seems completely cruel and irrational. How will God create a people through the sacrifice of Abraham’s only heir? How will this death lead to the blessings promised in Genesis 12?

The answer comes as we move from the events of Abraham’s life to the events of the life of Jesus.

As you reflect on this story of faith and sacrifice in light of this season leading up to Holy Week, take the time to reflect on the way it foreshadows the faith and sacrifice of Jesus. Abraham’s declaration that God himself will provide the lamb (Genesis 22:8) reminds us of God’s gift of the Lamb to save the world (Mark 10:45; John 1:29, 36).

God’s provision of the ram on Mount Moriah foreshadows his sacrifice of his only son, Jesus Christ — the true Lamb without blemish who died in our place on the cross. Like Isaac, Christ is the lamb led to the slaughter, yet unlike Isaac, Jesus didn’t open his mouth. Just as Isaac carried his own wood for the altar, Christ carried his own wooden cross (John 19:17).

Go back and re-read the passage with eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith (Hebrews 12:2).

Prayer:  Holy Father, I thank and praise you for sending your only Son into the world. Give me eyes to see the beauty and perfection of Jesus, the spotless Lamb who willingly sacrificed himself so that I might receive forgiveness and new life. And in light of your grace may I live a life of faith, trusting in your goodness and laying down my life for others. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 3 – The Darkness

Lent 3Genesis 15:7-12 New International Version (NIV)

He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will 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.”

10 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. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.

Genesis 15:17-21 New International Version (NIV)

17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi[a] of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”

Genesis 15 presents one of the most remarkable if not macabre episodes in the life of Abraham.

For a nomad, the promise of a land to possess would have been both comforting as well as difficult to believe, so it is only natural that Abraham would respond to God’s promise (v. 7: “I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess”) with a request for assurance (v. 8: “How am I to know that I shall possess it?”). What is surprising is not the request, but the sign that God provides.

Animals are brought before God, split in two, and then arrayed before him. The writer makes clear that as the sun goes down, Abram does not merely fall asleep, but experiences a “dreadful and great darkness.” In the thick darkness, a smoking fire pot and flaming torch pass between the pieces and the episode ends with the statement, “On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram” (v. 18).

What is going on?!?  In the Ancient Near East, when parties entered a covenant it was often dramatized by a sacrifice or some other enactment of the penalty that would fall on the party who did not keep up their end of the bargain. This signified that both parties were willing to honor the arrangement at the possible expense of their lives — their fate would be the same as that of the animals. In the darkness Abraham witnesses God (represented as a fire pot and torch) passing through the pieces, and yet he himself is not required to!

The gospel writers note that when Jesus died, darkness fell over the land, and in that moment, we see the sacrifice God made in order to honor his promises to us. It is a reminder that he went to the grave to give us the skies, became alienated to give us a home, and experienced deep darkness to bring us into the light. In fact, this vision is what comforted Abraham’s fear in Genesis 15:1 (“Fear not, Abram, I am your shield.”).

Is this your comfort too?

Prayer:  Father, remind me that because Jesus experienced the darkness, you have shown me your light; because he experienced alienation, you have promised me a home; because he experienced the grave, you have given me the skies. And help me not to be afraid, because you are my shield and very great reward. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

 

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 2 – The Bow

Lent 3Genesis 9:8-17 New International Version (NIV):

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you 10 and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. 16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

17 So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”

The Lenten season has historically been a time of solemn reflection on the human condition. Ash Wednesday reminded us that human life is fragile — for dust we are, and to dust we shall return. But we learn quickly that the human condition is marked not merely by fragility, but by depravity. In fact, by the time of Noah, human corruption and violence had become so pervasive that God was said to be grieved to his heart and filled with regret. That the all-powerful God could be portrayed as regretting the creation of man powerfully conveys the sinfulness of sin.

Yet what pierces is that the Bible is not speaking about the human heart abstractly. No, it is speaking specifically about my heart, the sinfulness of my sin and, indeed, the divine regret as to how I have lived.

Yet, in the midst of the gloom and in the aftermath of the storm of God’s judgment, we see hope shine through. Noah looks up and sees against the gray clouds the dazzling glory of the rainbow emerging where sun and storm meet. And there in the clouds he sees the bow of God’s wrath laid aside in the promise of peace.

And that great promise is that no matter how dark our sin might grow, God will not turn his face against us again. Instead, God would sooner point the bow of his wrath upward, towards heaven, at his own Son, than unleash his wrath upon us again. And on the cross, where the sun of God’s love and the storm of God’s wrath would meet again, Jesus would die in darkness so that the brilliance of the glory of God’s saving plan would shine forth into our hearts. All this without a hint of divine regret.

Prayer:  Lord, help us to share your sorrow and grief at our sin. During this season, grant us the courage to look honestly into the gloom of our sin so that we might see anew the brilliance of your glorious promise and grace to us in Christ. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

Lenten Devotional – Day 1 – Ash Wednesday – The Dust

Lent 3Genesis 3:14-19 New International Version (NIV):

14 So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,

“Cursed are you above all livestock
    and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
    and you will eat dust
    all the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity
    between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring[a] and hers;
he will crush[b] your head,
    and you will strike his heel.”

16 To the woman he said,

“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
    with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
    and he will rule over you.”

17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 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.”

When we come to Genesis 3, we encounter a God who curses! He responds to Adam and Eve’s disobedience and the serpent’s treachery decisively.

With the pronouncement of each curse and judgment, there is an undoing or reversal of God’s gracious creative works. Adam, who was created from the dust, is now destined to return back to it. Eve, who was created out of Adam, has now become dominated by him. The serpent, who was more crafty than any of the wild animals, is now humiliated, groveling on its belly, eating dust. In this chapter we see that sin has affected all of creation.

This text speaks to our desire to overlook our sins. God does not respond lightly to sin. Death entered the world with sin, and all manner of sorrow, suffering and despair. But the worst of the curse would fall upon a different man many millennia later as Paul said in Galatians 3:13, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us — for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’” Jesus would take upon himself a curse in order to redeem humanity’s status.

 

Prayer:  Dear Father, I know you cannot take lightly the sins that I commit because you are a God of holiness who loves justice and does not allow evil to go unpunished. But I thank you for your wisdom and mercy in devising a plan that would allow the curse that was rightfully mine to fall upon your Son. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

Lent-Easter Quiz

Lent and Easter Quiz

Beginning on Ash Wednesday and until Good Friday, you can check here each weekday for a new question to help you learn about the season.

Fat Tuesday – Booster or Buster?

Key Bible Verse: You yourselves are our witnesses—and so is God—that we were pure and honest and faultless toward all of you. 1 Thessalonians 2:10

Bonus Reading: Ephesians 4:17-24

All too often, when talking with a guy who’s a believer, I hear statements like, “WMardi Grase had a great service last weekend. Pastor hit the nail on the head. I’d be there this Sunday, but I’m going to Vegas.”

For me, hearing this statement is like scratching a fingernail across a chalkboard. I know that are some decent shows there, but when I hear “Vegas,” my mind goes to gambling, sensuality, and organized crime. “What happens here stays here.” Sin City.

I believe when most unbelievers hear statements like this or “I’m going to Mardi Gras” they have the same reaction. It’s a witness buster. An unbeliever can conclude, “He’s just like me” or “He’s worse than me.” It will at least arouse his suspicion. Christ doesn’t appear to be directing and altering that person’s life. Multiply this statement by thousands like it across our country, and the gospel is severely undermined.

How much better for an unbeliever to hear, “This weekend I’m going on retreat to a Christian camp to recharge my batteries. It’ll be a lot of fun too.” Or “A bunch of us guys from church are going to repair a home for a single mother this weekend. We’re looking forward to helping her out.” Witness boosters.

—James Hilt in Wisconsin

My Response: How do my pursuits validate or cast doubt on my faith claim?

Prayer for the Week: Lord, give me the discernment and determination to make my conduct consistent with my beliefs.

 

Information on the Zika Virus

This information reflects what is known in January 2016. 

See Hesperian’s website at www.hesperian.org for updates.

Zika virus

Zika - MosquitoThe Zika virus is spread by black mosquitoes (Aedes aegypti or Aedes albopictus) with bands of white dots that look like white stripes. Their legs are also striped. These are the same mosquitoes that can carry dengue, chikungunya, and yellow fever viruses. These mosquitoes usually bite during the day, especially in the early morning and late afternoon. When Zika virus appears in an area for the first time, it can spread very quickly.

Zika virus causes a mild fever, rash, and body aches, usually for a few days only. Many people who get it develop no signs. It can be hard to tell which virus a person has if Zika, dengue, and chikungunya are all present in your region. Zika can be very dangerous to a baby in the womb if the mother gets Zika during pregnancy.

Zika virus and pregnancy

It is possible that Zika can be dangerous for a baby growing in the womb. In Brazil, following an outbreak of Zika, some babies were born with a serious condition called microcephaly, where the baby’s head is too small. Babies with microcephaly may die at birth or may live for many years but have problems developing physically and mentally. Because of this, all women and especially women who might be pregnant should try to prevent mosquito bites by covering up with clothing, using mosquito repellents, and keeping mosquitoes away by using screens and bed nets in the home.

If you are thinking about getting pregnant, it is a good idea to wait until after Zika is no longer affecting people in your community. Making birth control accessible to all women is an important way to limit harm from the Zika virus.

Zika - FeverSigns of Zika virus

  • Fever, rash, joint pain, and irritated or red eyes (“pink eye” or conjunctivitis) are most common.
  • Muscle pain and headache can also be signs.

Zika is usually mild and lasts just a few days or up to 1 week. Usually a person with Zika virus is not sick enough to need to go to a hospital.

Malaria, dengue, chikungunya, and other illnesses can have similar signs as Zika. Except for malaria, tests can be slow, expensive, and difficult to find. Health officials in your area should have information on whether one or more of these illnesses are in your region and if tests are available.

Is it Zika virus, dengue, chikungunya, or malaria?

These diseases share many of the same signs like fever, aches, and rash. It is also possible to be infected by more than one at the same time. Some signs help point to one disease over another.

  • Malaria: Usually starts with chills (shivering), a headache, and then a high fever (40°C/104°F) for 2 or 3 days. The person then may go back and forth between having a fever and then chills again. Malaria does not give a rash.
  • Dengue: Gives a high fever (40°C/104°F) that comes on suddenly and can last up to a week.  Usually 2 or more of these signs with the high fever means dengue: severe muscle and joint aches, headache and pain behind the eyes, nausea or vomiting, or a rash. Watch out for vomiting blood, unusual swelling, or bleeding from the nose,
    gums, or skin as these can be signs of a dangerous type of dengue where emergency help is needed.
  • Chikungunya: Usually there is a mild fever and very intense joint pain that may affect the hands, feet, knees, and back. The joint pain can be so painful that people stay bent over and cannot walk. After the fever goes away, the joint pain can last for several more weeks, or even months.
  • Zika: Gives a mild fever and usually a rash. It is also common to have irritated eyes or “pink eye” (conjunctivitis).

Zika - Mosquito NetsTreatment

There is no medicine to treat Zika virus, and no vaccine to prevent it. Zika can be treated at home with bed rest, drinking plenty of fluids, and taking acetaminophen (paracetamol) to reduce pain and fever. In case the person has dengue, and not Zika, using acetaminophen is safer than aspirin or ibuprofen, which are dangerous for people
with dengue. If a woman might be pregnant, aspirin and ibuprofen could be harmful to her baby but acetaminophen is safe.

When you are sick, a mosquito can bite you and spread the virus to other people it bites.  That is why it is good prevention for the community to protect a sick person from
getting any new mosquito bites. Use a bed net while in bed and stay away from water sources (like rivers, wells, or water pumps) early in the morning or late in the day when
these mosquitoes bite most.

Reasons to see a health worker

Zika can be treated at home but seeing a health worker is especially important when there is:

  • very high fever (40°C/104°F).
  • fever followed by unexplained bleeding from the skin or gums (this is an emergency).
  • illness in a baby.
  • illness in someone elderly or with serious health problems including high blood pressure or heart problems.
  • severe aches that continue longer than 2 weeks.

Informing local health workers and health officials about who is sick can help them know when it is urgent to take community-wide measures to stop the illness from spreading.

Prevent mosquito bites
Unlike the malaria mosquito, the mosquitoes carrying Zika bite mostly during the day.  These mosquitoes usually stay in shady, dark places, such as under tables or beds, or in corners.

You can avoid mosquito bites:

  • Wear clothes that completely cover the arms, legs, neck, and head (long sleeves, pants, and skirts, and a head covering).
  • Use natural repellents like citronella, neem oil, or basil leaf. Or use chemical repellents that have one of these ingredients: DEET, Picardin (KBR 3023, icaridin), PMD and other oil of lemon eucalyptus compounds, or IR3535. Repellents are especially important for children because they can prevent mosquito bites even when other
    preventive steps are not taken, but read the label carefully to make sure the product is safe for children. The label will also say how often to reapply. Usually repellent needs to be reapplied every few hours, but some last less time.
  • Only use mosquito coils until you can find a better repellent. The smoke from the mosquito coils can harm your breathing.
  • Use screens on windows and doors. Repair or patch any holes.
  • The moving air from a fan can keep mosquitoes away.
  • Use bed nets. Tuck the edges of the nets under the bed or sleeping mat so there are no openings.

Bed nets are especially helpful against the malaria mosquito that bites at night, but they also help prevent Zika for small children or others who sleep during the day. Bed nets will also keep those who are already ill from being bitten by a mosquito that could then give the illness to others. Mosquito netting and bed nets treated with insecticide are best. To be effective, bed nets must be re-treated every 6 to 12 months. Use a net when sleeping outdoors.

Prevent mosquitoes from breeding

The mosquitoes that spread Zika, dengue, and chikungunya breed in standing water. A mosquito will lay eggs in even a shallow dish of water where they will hatch in about
7 days. By getting rid of standing water once a week, mosquito breeding is interrupted because their eggs do not hatch to spread disease.

To prevent mosquitoes from breeding:

  • Outside your home, get rid of places where water collects (standing water) such as old car tires, flower pots, oil drums, ditches, and even small containers and bottle caps. Do this at least once a week or after it rains.
  • Inside the house, frequently change the water in flower vases and water dishes for animals. Unless containers are scrubbed clean, mosquito eggs can stick to the sides of the containers where they can live for months until there is water to make them hatch.
  • Tightly cover water storage containers so mosquitoes can’t get inside to lay eggs. For containers, barrels, or water tanks with no lids, use screens or wire mesh with holes too small for a mosquito to get in, or cover with plastic sheeting and tie in place.

Communities can prevent mosquito illnesses

The community can help elderly people, people with disabilities, or families without enough money to get the supplies or make the changes they need to avoid mosquito bites. Help your neighbors keep their yards and homes free of standing water to prevent mosquitoes from breeding. As long as mosquitoes find a place to breed, they can infect everyone in the community. That is why community-wide prevention efforts are so important.

Roadways and anywhere else water collects need attention to stop mosquitoes from breeding. Keeping natural waterways and rain water moving and flowing will keep water
from collecting. Manage land so water soaks into the ground or runs off into streams instead of collecting in areas where mosquitoes can breed. Protect watersheds so water
will keep flowing. Don’t let water pool on the ground, collect in trash dumps or vacant lots, or allow streams to be blocked by eroded soil, leaves, or other debris. Hesperian’s
Community Guide to Environmental Health has more information on community mosquito control.

Remove mosquito breeding sites around the house and community:

  • Clear drainage ditches so water can flow through.
  • Use screens on windows and doors.
  • Keep water containers covered.
  • Make sure there is proper drainage around community wells and water taps.
  • Clear away old cans, tires, or broken pots that collect water, and fill any pits.
  • Biological controls, such as a bacteria called BTi, are used in some places to kill young mosquitoes without harming the environment.

 

 

 

Witness – Putting It on the Line

Mardi GrasKey Bible Verse: I live in … hope … that I will always be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past, and that my life will always honor Christ, whether I live or die.  – Philippians 1:20

Bonus Reading: Acts 4:1-22

Bill Lane, my former prof, mentor and confidant, was as courageous a man as I’ve ever known. He once preached on the streets in Amsterdam, carrying a cross and experiencing such hostility from the crowds that he later said he believed he understood better what Jesus experienced on the way to Golgotha.

I’ve seen pictures of him preaching on the streets at Mardi Gras, when he was accosted by a group of Hell’s Angels. “If I slapped you in the face would you turn the other cheek?” a burly biker said as he prodded Bill from the crowd.

“Yes,” Bill responded quite calmly.

Then the man drew a line with his foot, warning Bill not to talk about Jesus any more and that if he crossed the line, he’d “knock him down.”

Bill stepped across the line, fully expecting to be punched. But he had to show the crowd of young students that he was unwilling to be silenced for Christ because of this one man. As he moved within reach of the biker, there was a moment of tense silence. Then all at once the man erupted, “You’re all right.” He patted Bill on the back and disappeared into the crowd.

—Michael Card in The Walk

My Response: A time I really put my faith on the line was …

Thought to Apply: One man with courage makes a majority.  —Andrew Jackson (seventh U.S. president)

Adapted from The Walk (Nelson, 2000)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I want my life to carry a bold witness for You and Your kingdom. Give me the courage to follow through.

 

Church

Belong to Church

Make Your Talents Count – Generosity

GenerosityGod has given each one of us a unique combination of gifts and passions to be used for the good of others.

As the parable of the talents discussed in this week’s readings revealed, we have a choice to invest those gifts and reap a rich return or hoard them to ourselves to our own detriment.

In this week’s Key Study Passage, Paul encourages generosity. After all, our generosity flows from the generous heart of God and will be bountifully rewarded by him.

Key Study Passage:  2 Corinthians 9:6-15

  1. Why do you think Paul gives the church the option whether or not to give rather than requiring it?
  2. Do you think it’s okay to expect a blessing when you give? (See vv. 8-11.)
  3. List and then reflect on the motivations for generosity from this passage.
  4. Take a mental inventory of your gifts, talents, and resources. Are you cheerfully using each to the best of your ability and for the betterment of those around you and the advancement of God’s kingdom? Are there any areas where growth is needed?
  5. If question 4 stirred your heart, commit to praying for and planning to make better use of what God has given you.

Spend Time in Prayer: Ask God to give you a cheerful, giving heart that looks to the needs of others ahead of your own; ask him to reveal to you the gifts that he’s given you and help you invest your talents well.

2 Corinthians 9:6-15

6 Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. 7 You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” 8 And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. 9 As the Scriptures say,

“They share freely and give generously to the poor. Their good deeds will be remembered forever.”

10 For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you.

11 Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God. 12 So two good things will result from this ministry of giving—the needs of the believers in Jerusalem will be met, and they will joyfully express their thanks to God.

13 As a result of your ministry, they will give glory to God. For your generosity to them and to all believers will prove that you are obedient to the Good News of Christ. 14 And they will pray for you with deep affection because of the overflowing grace God has given to you. 15 Thank God for this gift too wonderful for words!

Prayer for the Week: Giver of all good gifts, help me to be aware of the talents with which you have equipped me; give me a vision for ways to use them for your
kingdom.

Make Your Talents Count – Can’t Out-Give God

GenerosityKey Bible Verse: “I am the LORD All-Powerful, and I challenge you to put me to the test. Bring the entire 10 percent into the storehouse. … Then I will open the windows of heaven and flood you with blessing after blessing.”  – Malachi 3:10, CEV

Dig Deeper: 2 Corinthians 9:6-15

I urge you—plumb the depths of the parable of the talents. Take a good, hard look at the context of your life—nothing happens by chance. You are where you are and the way you are for a reason, for God’s reason.

The master says that when you invest the talents he’s given you, when you are faithful to bear fruit from the little he’s given you, he will give you more. And you will enter into his joy. People around the world are searching for joy. Where is it? How can we find it?

Here’s the answer. Plain and simple. Straight from God: Invest what I’ve given you. Take a chance. Put it to work. Trust me. Make it multiply. Then I’ll give you more. And you’ll be happier and more content than ever fathomed. Don’t believe it? Think of investing your talents the way the Old Testament describes giving your tithe [in today’s Key Bible Verse].

We’ve all heard it said, “You can’t out-give God.” He’s made me a believer. My joy is worth more than all the money in a zillion banks. What about you? Are you ready to take a good, hard look at yourself and determine what talents God has knit together within you?

—Bob Westfall in The Fulfillment Principle

My Response: How is the Holy Spirit prompting me to respond to this reading?

Thought to Apply: God has a way of giving by the cartloads to those who give away by shovelfuls.—Charles Spurgeon (British preacher)

Adapted from The Fulfillment Principle (Leafwood, 2012)

Prayer for the Week: Giver of all good gifts, help me to be aware of the talents with which you have equipped me; give me a vision for ways to use them for your kingdom.

 

Make Your Talents Count – You’ve Got It Already

GenerosityKey Bible Verses: “The master called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them … each according to his ability.” Matthew 25:14-15, NIV

Dig Deeper: Matthew 25:14-30

Let me make an essential point here: God has already given you the talent, ability, skill, money, or passion you need to fulfill his plan, to be entrusted with more, and to walk in pure joy. That’s one of the key truths of the parable of the talents that many people miss.

Remember? The master went on a journey. But before he left, he called his servants in and “entrusted his possessions to them” (Matt. 25:14, NASB et al.). He passed out five talents to one, two to another, and one to a third, “each according to his own ability,” (v. 15) and then he went on his way.

What I’m trying to show you is that you already have everything you need! The skill is within you. The dream is deep inside you. The plan is in place. The passion is there. The ability is woven into your DNA by the Creator himself.

Have you examined your life? The people within your circles? The possibilities within your realm? Will you be faithful in the little things?

Examine your life today. Don’t make the mistake of saying, “Someday, when I have this, I’ll do that,” or, “When I have more time, I’ll pursue that dream,” or, “When I have more money, I’ll give to this or that organization.”

—Bob Westfall in The Fulfillment Principle

My Response: Have I been making these kinds of excuses? If so, I will repent and make a plan of action.

Thought to Apply: He who waits to do a great deal of good at once, will never do anything.—Samuel Johnson (British writer)

Adapted from The Fulfillment Principle (Leafwood, 2012)

Prayer for the Week: Giver of all good gifts, help me to be aware of the talents with which you have equipped me; give me a vision for ways to use them for your kingdom.

 

 

Make Your Talents Count – Moving Mountains

GenerosityKey Bible Verse: Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.  – 1 Timothy 4:12

Dig Deeper: John 14:12-14

Austin has a book out with a title that reiterates the point of today’s reading: Take Your Best Shot: Do Something Bigger Than Yourself. One of the Bible verses Austin reflects upon as he speaks about Hoops of Hope is today’s Key Bible Verse.

“I’m happy and I’m proud that kids are finally seeing that they can make a difference at a young age, that they don’t have to wait to be an adult,” Austin said. “At the same time, it’s hard to be proud of what we’ve done when you go to Africa and see how much more there is to do.”

Wow! The faith of a child—a child who saw a video about orphans in Africa, and refused to let the memory of it die. A child who felt a burden and realized, with God’s help, he could move mountains.

Maybe you’re a high school teacher who’s been entrusted with a classroom full of students. How will you steward the hearts and minds of those kids who’ve been placed in your care?

Say you’re a college student. You’ve been entrusted with an education. What will you do with that knowledge and experience? How will you invest it for the good of others?

—Bob Westfall in The Fulfillment Principle

My Response: What talents have I been given? How can I better use them to serve God and bless others?

Thought to Apply: The world asks, “What does a man own?” Christ asks, “How does he use it?”—Andrew Murray (South African writer, teacher, pastor)

Adapted from The Fulfillment Principle (Leafwood, 2012)

Prayer for the Week: Giver of all good gifts, help me to be aware of the talents with which you have equipped me; give me a vision for ways to use them for your kingdom.

 

Make Your Talents Count – Hoops of Hope

GenerosityKey Bible Verse: Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress.  – James 1:27

Dig Deeper: Matthew 25:34-40

There is a young man in Arizona by the name of Austin Gutwein who, at the ripe old age of 10, saw a video about a girl in Africa who lost her parents to HIV/AIDS, and it gripped his heart. He learned that 5,700 children are orphaned each day because of HIV/AIDS, and that 15 million children have already lost one or both parents to the disease.

“That hit me hard,” recalls Austin, now 16. “I felt God calling me to go do something about it.”

A friend suggested Austin use his favorite sport, basketball, to make a difference. He got some friends involved in shooting free-throws to raise money for those children in Africa. God used the faith of that little kid from Arizona and he birthed Hoops of Hope (hoopsofhope.org), which has since become the world’s largest free-throw marathon.

Some 40,000 children have participated in Hoops of Hope, raising more than $2.5 million and allowing the organization to build a school in Zambia where there was no school for 70 miles. Not only that, Hoops of Hope has partnered with World Vision to build four dormitories for students of the school, two medical clinics, a computer lab, and more.

—Bob Westfall in The Fulfillment Principle

My Response: What gets me excited? How can I use that passion to serve others?

Thought to Apply: Not he who has much is rich, but he who gives much.—Erich Fromm (psychologist)

Adapted from The Fulfillment Principle (Leafwood, 2012)

Prayer for the Week: Giver of all good gifts, help me to be aware of the talents with which you have equipped me; give me a vision for ways to use them for your kingdom.

 

Make Your Talents Count – Man on a Mission

GenerosityKey Bible Verse: Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless.  – Isaiah 58:7

Dig Deeper: Isaiah 58:6-12

Sean Lambert is president of Youth With a Mission San Diego/Baja. While on a mission trip in Tijuana, Sean and his daughter, Andrea, joined a team of 15 people to build a house for a poverty-stricken family.

When the house was complete and the family moved in, Andrea pointed out another poor family living in an abandoned bus adjacent to the new home being built and said, “Daddy, are you going to build them a house?”

Andrea’s words moved Sean to build a second house and Homes of Hope was born.

Starting with this single house in Tijuana, Mexico, Homes of Hope has now built 3,482 homes for poor families in 10 different nations. One of the “talents” knitted into Sean’s make-up is his compassion for the poor. He was faithful with the one house God sent him to build and so God put him in charge of many.

Today, Homes of Hope impacts needy families in five key areas: economic, educational, health, social and emotional, and spiritual.

Sean is an excellent example of someone who took small, simple steps in obeying God, entering into all God wanted to do in and through his life in a ministry that is now impacting 10 other nations … and growing!

—Bob Westfall in The Fulfillment Principle

My Response: I will think about people who are less fortunate than I am, and consider ways I can help meet their needs.

Adapted from The Fulfillment Principle (Leafwood, 2012)

Prayer for the Week: Giver of all good gifts, help me to be aware of the talents with which you have equipped me; give me a vision for ways to use them for your kingdom.