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Are You for Real? – …and Consequences

Living Uo to Your FaithKey Bible Verse: May you always be filled with … those good things that are produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God.  –  Philippians 1:11.

Bonus Reading: 2 Peter 1:3-8

[continued from yesterday]   Linda and Jerry weren’t perfect, we discovered. But then again, they never claimed to be.

Primarily what we saw was a gentle spirit of acceptance toward us, a lot more humility than pride, a willingness to admit when they were wrong, an anxiousness to reconcile when there was conflict, a readiness to acknowledge the rough edges of their character and a sincere effort to smooth them out, a refusal to playact by pretending that the Christian life is always happy, an admission that they struggled with their faith from time to time, but most of all, undergirding everything, we saw an honest desire to become a little more like Jesus, bit by bit, as time went by.

In short, they were real. Leslie and I became citizens of God’s people largely through their example.

Now I don’t want to make you paranoid, but if you’re a Christ follower, you are being watched. Your friends, neighbors, and acquaintances are scanning your life with their hypocrisy radar, because they want to know whether you’re authentic. And what they observe will either stymie or propel them in their spiritual journey.

—Lee Strobel in God’s Outrageous Claims

My Response: Will others detect in me someone who approaches life with integrity?

Thought to Apply: How little people know who think that holiness is dull. When one meets the real thing … it is irresistible.—C.S. Lewis (British academic & author)

Adapted from God’s Outrageous Claims (Zondervan, 1997, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: May you receive glory and praise, Father, because the faith I claim and the life I live square up.

 

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Are You for Real? – Truth…

Living Uo to Your FaithKey Bible Verse: “Yes, the way to identify a tree or person is by the kind of fruit that is produced.”  –  Matthew 7:20.

Bonus Reading: Matthew 7:15-21

Years ago Linda and Jerry lived in the same condominium building as Leslie and I, and so we got to know each other well. Our daughter, Alison, became best friends with their daughter, Sara.

But what Linda and Jerry didn’t realize was how much we were scrutinizing their lifestyle. They were up-front about the fact that they were Christians, and we were curious to see whether they were real. Do you know what I mean by that?

We wanted to see whether we could detect a holier-than-thou attitude toward those who didn’t subscribe to their theology. We wanted to see how they’d handle conflict in their marriage. We wanted to see whether they’d put on a Christian happy face and pretend they never got angry, worried, or frustrated.

We wanted to see whether they’d be truth-tellers and whether they’d ask for forgiveness when they made a mistake. We wanted to see whether they’d hold a grudge if we did something to hurt them. We wanted to see if they were honest about the little things in life. We wanted to hear the comments they would make about people who weren’t around.

We watched over a long period of time, and guess what we found? [continued tomorrow]

—Lee Strobel in God’s Outrageous Claims

My Response: How do I distinguish the contrived from the genuine in another person?

Thought to Apply: Where one man reads the Bible, a hundred read you and me.—Dwight L. Moody (evangelist)

Adapted from God’s Outrageous Claims (Zondervan, 1997, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: May you receive glory and praise, Father, because the faith I claim and the life I live square up.

 

 

Are You for Real? – Barracks Shock Waves

Living Uo to Your FaithKey Bible Verse: For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases him. Philippians 2:13.

Bonus Reading: Phil. 2:12-15

I decided to clean up my act. I began disciplining myself to speak without the splatter of four-letter words epidemic in army talk. I could get my point across without them.

I stopped drinking. Alcohol was part of my family growing up, and everything we seven in my detachment did together—going to the movies, playing volleyball—included a couple of beers. I can still hang out and have a good time, I told myself, I’ll just have a Coke instead. But the six quickly asked, “Hey, what’s wrong with you, Streucker?”

I also excused myself from certain movies I would have seen before. Then I started cleaning out my music collection. I’d been raised on classic rock, and bought a lot of heavy metal too. But the lyrics started to bother me. I got a big garbage bag, loaded it up with hundreds of cassettes and CDs, and dropped them on our unit’s front desk. “Here you go,” I said, “They’re yours, free for the taking.”

“Streucker must have joined some cult!” they said. I’d already heard how they ridiculed Kurt Smith behind his back. When I told him about it, Kurt calmly said, “So? I’m not concerned about what they think.” That became my stance as well.

—Jeff Streucker in The Road to Unafraid

My Response: Where have I let what my peers might think inhibit clear-cut discipleship?

Thought to Apply: Once you get a taste of where you want to go, motivation takes care of itself.—Chuck Daly (basketball coach)

Adapted from The Road to Unafraid (W Publishing, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: May you receive glory and praise, Father, because the faith I claim and the life I live square up.

 

Lenten Devotional – Easter Monday – Wounds Run Deep

EasterKey Bible Verse:  “When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these? …”  – John 21:15a

Bonus Reading:  John 21:1-19

We are often cut to the core by our own sins, by the hasty words and hurtful things we have done and by our failure to do the good things God put it in our power to do. The scar of our personal failings can run very deep in us, just as the scar of Peter’s three denials ran deep.

After His resurrection our Lord went to work right away healing that wound. Luke tells us that Jesus made an appearance to Peter on the afternoon of His resurrection (Luke 24:34). And in today’s reading John records another special conversation between Jesus and Peter.

Easter 2On that dark night in Jerusalem Simon denied His Savior three times. Now, on this bright morning at the Sea of Tiberius, Jesus leads Peter to confess his devotion to His Savior three times. Then Jesus gives Peter a glorious promise. In the future, when Peter’s life is in danger for Jesus’ sake, he will not weaken in denial. Simon Peter will remain faithful in his confession and die as a martyr of Jesus Christ.

Jesus died and rose again for your sins—each and every one of them. They are all forgiven. This is something He constantly reminds you through His Word, through the waters of your Baptism and by the body and blood He gives you in worship— the price He willingly paid for your eternal salvation. His Holy Spirit will keep you strong in the confession of His Name, until our Lord welcomes you into paradise.

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, let Your light continue to shine in this dark world, that with boldness and confidence I may live for You, until You come again and scatter the darkness forever. I pray in Your holy Name.  Amen.

Are You for Real? – Outclassed?

Living Uo to Your FaithKey Bible Verse: You have been Christians a long time now, and you ought to be teaching others. Instead … you are like babies.Hebrews 5:12-13.

Bonus Reading: Colossians 1:9b-10

I knew that I’d just married an incredibly principled, moral young woman. But after bringing Dawn to Fort Benning, I was seeing it on a daily basis.

This connected with what had happened with Kurt Smith, a close friend in our Ranger reconnaissance regiment. In the spring he’d gone home on leave—and returned radically changed. He’d turned his life over to Jesus Christ, and it clearly showed. Right away his language changed for the better, his music choices cleaned up, and his general attitude brightened. He began telling others in the detachment about Christ and what a difference he’d brought to his life. It was unmistakable.

I had to admit that although I’d been a declared Christian for nearly a decade, my daily life didn’t reflect it. I looked at the way Kurt acted and felt guilty. Then I went home at night to Dawn and sensed more of the same.

The two of them, without lecturing in any way, were shining a spotlight on my inconsistencies. I was definitely rough around the edges, behaving pretty much the way most young enlisted men in the army behave. I’d lie in bed at night and think, God, I’m not matching up to these two at all.[continued 1/29]

—Jeff Streucker in The Road to Unafraid

My Response: Here’s how my growth trajectory since becoming a disciple could graph:

Adapted from The Road to Unafraid (W Publishing, 2006).

Prayer for the Week: May you receive glory and praise, Father, because the faith I claim and the life I live square up.

 

 

Lenten Devotional – Easter Sunday – The Light Shines

Easter - Resurrection SundayKey Bible Verse:  “Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ …” John 20:16a

Bonus Reading:  John 20:1-18

After the long, dark weekend, Mary Magdalene left early Sunday morning to go out to Jesus’ tomb. Already filled with grief and sorrow she saw the tomb broken open and Jesus’ body missing.

She ran to tell the disciples someone had stolen His body. Peter and John ran out to investigate, then went back into hiding to consider what they had seen. Mary stayed behind at the tomb, overwhelmed with sorrow.

Have you ever stood at a graveside totally lost and immersed in unspeakable grief ? Imagine Mary’s pain, totally shattered by the brutal murder of her Lord.

But Jesus had already told His disciples how the story would end. This was a day of joy and victory; it was not a day of grief and loss. And so Jesus came up to her and at the sound of her name on His lips, the light burst forth and scattered the darkness of Mary’s grief.

When we stand by a loved one’s grave, this is a moment to remember. On the Last Day our loved ones who are now separated from us, hidden in the darkness of the grave will stand before us shining. Their voices that are now still in death will be music in our ears once again when the Light comes to raise the dead and vanquish the darkness forever.

We will see Jesus with our own eyes just as Mary did on that great day of resurrection. And we will shine in that glorious light forever and ever.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for bursting out of the tomb on this glorious day, revealing our future and that of our loved ones who have died in faith. Give us joy, courage and hope as we await that glorious day of Your return, and help us share it with all. We pray in Your holy Name.  Amen.

Lenten Devotional – Day 40 – The Grave – Holy Saturday

Lent 3    Matthew 27:57-66:

When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.

The central claim of the historic Christian message is that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. Tempting though it may be for us to jump quickly from Friday to Sunday, from cross to resurrection, Matthew pauses and brings us through the silence and stillness of the grave.

Many have tried to dismantle the hope of Christianity, suggesting that Jesus had not really died or that eager disciples had stolen his body to substantiate their claims of a risen Savior. Yet Matthew’s interlude between final breath and first appearance speaks unequivocally of a death that was real, a grave that was silent, and a situation that appeared beyond hope.

Romans were thorough in carrying out capital sentences, particularly for those accused of treason. That Joseph was able to retrieve Jesus’ body meant the executioners were satisfied with their handiwork. Jews, throughout the Old Testament, would heap rocks on the vilest of criminals to represent that for some, there would be no life beyond the grave. That a great stone would cover the entrance of the tomb meant that there was no expectation of life beyond this grave. The tomb is still, dark, silent.

This is the fate that should have been ours and the destiny of humanity. And yet, our hope is that through the one who went into the tomb before us, there is a way through and out into a new world of God’s creating. It is the hope that because one transcended the grave itself, we too may experience new life with him. Matthew’s description of the grave is a reminder that the tomb was silent and yet the silence would only last one more day.

Prayer:  Our Father, remind us that the darkness of the grave will soon be overcome by the brightness of the third day. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

 

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 39 – The Cross – Good Friday

Lent 3    John 19:1-37:

Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.” When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.”

From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.

So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says,

“They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.”

So the soldiers did these things, but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness — his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth — that you also may believe. For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”

Re-read this again slowly and prayerfully, engaging your imagination as each scene unfolds. What do you see, hear, feel, smell, in each scene? What is all this meant to mean to you? Allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you through the story of Christ’s death for you today.

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, it was our sins that sent you to the cross. There we beheld our king. There you finished the work of our redemption. There we looked upon you, whom we had pierced. There redemption was accomplished. Thank you for your astonishing love. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

 

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 38 – The Washing – Maundy Thursday

Lent 3  John 13:1-15:

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.

The NIV translates verse 1: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.” In this unexpected act of foot washing, Jesus was communicating something profound about the nature of divine love. Love is not simply what Jesus does, but love is who he is.

Often when we consider loving someone, we think in terms of actions and behaviors. We ask ourselves, “What’s the loving thing to do?” But Jesus’ unexpected, self-effacing act of service leads us to ask the antecedent question, “Who am I?” Without first asking this question, we can unknowingly place limits on our love because we are not operating out of a gospel-transformed identity. For example, if we functionally see ourselves as orphans needing to look out for ourselves instead of as God’s beloved children, we will limit our generosity towards others out of fear of not having enough. Likewise, if we think we are righteous by our own hard work, there will be boundaries to the way we are willing to serve others because our pride keeps us from serving those who “aren’t deserving.”

When we look to Christ we find a beautiful freedom to serve others, arising from the security of his identity: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant …” (Phil 2:6-7, NIV). Jesus was able to serve in a way that no one expected because he knew the Father’s love intimately. The same heart that led him to wash the disciples’ feet would lead him to the cross. Because of Christ we have the same privileged status and security with the Father, and so we become free to serve in the radical, loving ways in which he has served us.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, I forget each day who I am in Christ and the grace that envelops my life. My love has limits because I don’t embrace the truth of who you have made me to be. Help me to live out the reality of being your beloved child so that my love for others flows out of this new identity. Let me be a bewildering servant to those around me as you dismantle the limits I have placed on my love. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

 

 

Chuck Knows Church – Maundy Thursday

Maundy ThursdayMaundy Thursday is also known as Holy Thursday, Covenant Thursday, Great and Holy Thursday, Sheer Thursday and Thursday of Mysteries!

But what exactly is this important day. The United Methodist Board of Discipleship series “Chuck Knows Church” explains.

Watch video

What is Maundy Thursday?

Maundy ThursdayMaundy Thursday is an alternate name for Holy Thursday, the first of the three days of solemn remembrance of the events leading up to and immediately following the crucifixion of Jesus.

The English word “Maundy” comes from the Latin mandatum, which means “commandment.” As recorded in John’s gospel, on his last night before his betrayal and arrest, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and then gave them a new commandment to love one another as he had loved them (John 13:34).

This is why services on this night generally include the washing of feet or other acts of physical care as an integral part of the celebration.

While John’s gospel does not record the institution of the Lord’s Supper among the events of this night, the other gospels do. Christians therefore keep this night with celebrations both at the basin (footwashing) and at the Lord’s Table (Holy Communion).

In 2016, Maundy Thursday is today, Thursday, March 24.

Lenten Devotional – Day 37 – The Plot

Lent 3  Matthew 26:1-5, 14-25:

When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.”

Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.”

Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.

Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover.

When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.”

Even when Jesus’ life was slipping away from him, he remained remarkably in control. He predicted his arrest and crucifixion before the religious leaders met to conspire against him. He knew that Judas, one of his trusted apostles, would betray him. How disturbing that must have been to Judas to know that Jesus could see right through his charade. Though humans have their plots and schemes, it is God’s plan that always prevails. Nothing can interfere with what he has purposed to do. And nothing is more central to God’s eternal plan than that Jesus, the Son of Man, would be delivered up to be crucified. His final meal, the Passover, carried symbolic import and pointed to the purpose for Jesus’ death. The Passover was an annual celebration of Israel’s exodus from slavery in Egypt. Jesus’ death would be the new Passover. Those who trust in him experience the ultimate Exodus — deliverance from the slavery of sin. As a result, they enjoy the privilege of living in the freedom of his love forevermore.

When life seems chaotic, when things seem not to cohere, great comfort may be found in remembering Jesus’ own experience at the end of his life. Though humans plotted against him and succeeded in executing their plan, nevertheless they could not thwart the plan of God. What comfort there is in knowing that nothing can interfere with the plan of him who is in control! He is at work in all the particulars for his good purposes. By looking to Jesus, particularly his death for us, we discover what is central to God’s plan for us: through Jesus’ death we find life, through his blood shed for us, we experience the exodus from enslaving sin and the freedom of living in his love.

Prayer:  Gracious Father, thank you for being in control of our lives, especially when we feel desperately out of control. Center us in the one who is central to your plan for the ages. Enable us, Holy Spirit, to trust in Christ that we might experience the true Exodus. And having experienced the forgiveness of sin, may we live daily in the freedom of your love, wholeheartedly devoted to you. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

 

Prayers for Belgium – ISIS Attack – March 22, 2016

Belgium ISIS Attack - 3-22-2016

Lenten Devotional – Day 36 – The Cleansing

Lent 3  Mark 11:15-19:

15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’[a]? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’[b]

18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.

19 When evening came, Jesus and his disciples[c] went out of the city.

Every year at Passover thousands of Jews came from all over Israel and Judea to offer sacrifices at the temple in Jerusalem. Since many traveled long distances, they often purchased their animal sacrifices in Jerusalem rather than hauling them from home and risking an injury or a blemish that would make them an unworthy sacrifice.

It was a convenience for Jewish worshippers to purchase their sacrifices once they arrived. However, the market for these transactions had been set up in the Court of the Gentiles, where non-Jewish seekers of God came to worship. Thus, at Passover, the temple courtyard was filled with livestock, sellers of livestock and money-changers, who exchanged regional currencies for Jewish money.

When Jesus saw this, he was angry — so angry that he overturned tables and placed an embargo on merchandise. But why? Weren’t the merchants just trying to help the travelers worship God? Perhaps. But they were doing it at the expense of those from “all nations” who were seeking God, counting their worship as insignificant. In calling them “robbers” Jesus may have been referring to their greedy financial transactions and the way they were robbing Gentiles of their place of worship.

Yet something else is going on. In a similar account of his cleansing the temple, Jesus was asked for a sign of his authority. He replied, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). But he wasn’t speaking about the building; “he was speaking about the temple of his body” (John 2:21).

In other words, when he died, the temple and its entire system — the priesthood, the sacrifices, the glory — died with him because he himself was the Passover Lamb, high priest and Shekinah glory.

Thus, when the temple curtain split at the death of Christ (Mark 15:38), the barrier between God and humanity came down for everyone. Jesus became the “house of prayer for all nations.”

Today there is no need to travel to the temple in Jerusalem to worship. Nor is there any distinction between Jewish and Gentile worshippers. Worship is no longer attached to a place, but a person. Jesus is the temple. He is where we meet God.

— By The Park Forum

Prayer:  Lord, we worship Jesus as the final sacrifice, priest, glory and temple. Therefore, let us join ourselves to him so that we may love his name and be his servants (Isaiah 56:6). In Christ, may all nations — those near and far — come to you in prayer (Isaiah 56:8). In Christ’s Name, Amen.

 

 

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 35 – The Anointing

Lent 3  Mark 14:3-9:

And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”

“What a waste!” That is the complaint made regarding the woman’s use of her expensive perfume to anoint Jesus. Jesus will have none of it. He finds a purely cost-benefit analysis of our actions to be inadequate and bankrupt. Even though the money from the sale of the perfume could have been used to do a lot of good things, Jesus considers her act to be completely appropriate. Why? Because it is an act of worship. And he knows that life begins with what you worship.

Worship the wrong things and nothing else will come out quite right. But worship the living God who has given himself for us in the sacrifice of Jesus and you have a new sense of what matters and you will prioritize your life accordingly. Suddenly you find yourself “wasting” your life on Jesus by giving your life to his agenda rather than your own. That will include caring about justice for the poor.

Contrary to what is sometimes assumed, Jesus is not minimizing our responsibility to the poor in this passage. He actually is quoting from Deuteronomy 15, which encourages radical generosity to the poor. However, such generosity flows from worshiping God. First things first! Put God ahead of all else as the only one worthy of your worship and you will find you are pouring yourself out in all sorts of beautiful ways in service to the world.

Prayer:  Lord, too often I worship the wrong things. Help me to see that my life is to be “wasted” on you and only then will it become something beautiful for you to use in your world. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

Lenten Devotional – Palm Sunday – Before the High Priest

Lent 1Key Bible Verse: “When He had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, ‘Is that how you answer the high priest?’”  – John 18:22

Bonus Reading: John 18:13-14, 19-24

After His arrest, the guards bring Jesus to Annas. This former Jewish high priest had been deposed by the Roman governor in AD 15.  His five sons had each taken a turn succeeding him and now his son-in-law Caiaphas is high priest.

Annas questions Jesus about His disciples and His teaching, but Jesus’ silence protects them. So Annas turns to Jesus’ teachings. The high priest hopes he can trip up the Son of God and find a basis for a charge against Him.

Jesus will have nothing to do with this. He has always been honest with the Jewish authorities, never saying anything in private He didn’t say in public. He tells the high priest, “Ask those who have heard Me.” That leads an officer of the high priest to strike Him with his hand.

At this point you might expect Jesus to meekly take the abuse, but He doesn’t. He turns to the officer and confronts him, “Why did you strike Me?” Again, we see Jesus completely in control. He stops the proceedings to call the officer to explain why he struck Him.

Annas showed he was willing to ignore the truth and twist it against Jesus. Is integrity and truth important to you like it was to Jesus? Or are we willing to distort the truth if it goes to our advantage?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You humbled Yourself to be struck by an officer when You had only told the truth. Forgive us for setting aside Your truth when we don’t think it is convenient. Give us faith, courage and trust to do what is right in Your eyes. Amen.

Lenten Devotional – Day 34 – The Prediction

Lent 3  John 12:20-33:

Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.

John devotes much of his Gospel to the last six days of Jesus’ life. In John 12, Jesus predicts “what kind of death he was going to die” — one that would loosen Satan’s death grip on the world, raise Jesus in victory from the horrors of the crucifixion and grave, and draw people from all over the world to him (v. 32). But here he also reiterates his sobering template for all who would follow after him and be known as his disciples.

From the early days of his ministry in John, Jesus has been alluding to his “hour” — the appointed time when he would undergo suffering and death for the sins of the world. But through this humiliation Jesus also strangely radiates the “glory” of God to humanity. God “glorifies his name” not only through the earthly ministry of Christ but also his death. John foreshadows this reality early on by concluding “we have seen (or ‘beheld’) his glory … full of grace and truth” (1:14).

Equally striking is the very human Jesus we encounter here, honest enough to admit “now is my soul troubled” (v. 27) as he starts to feel the agony he is about to undergo. It is an amazing picture of a person completely abandoned to God in the face of unspeakable pain, knowing that God’s glory ultimately is the only thing that matters. And it becomes a teaching moment for the disciples as well.

Seeds are living things that must die in order to reproduce; they carry the promise of future life. On the surface, Christ’s death looks to the world like a disaster, but by falling “into the earth” (v. 24), he is able to raise up followers and bring “many sons to glory” (Hebrews 2:10). However, following Christ carries a cost: many of the original disciples were to die excruciating deaths themselves, leading Tertullian to conclude that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Christ’s disciples must always “die” to themselves to find “living hope” (1 Peter 1:3-5) in Christ. Here Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s observation on discipleship rings true: “when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

Prayer:  Risen Lord, you loved us so much that you died to save us from sin. We pray that this reality gives us humility, leads us to praise you always, and gives us a boldness to live fully abandoned to your loving will. In your mercy make these things so, for we pray them in your name. Amen.

 

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 33 – The Call

Lent 3  Luke 9:18-27:

Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him. And he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” And they answered, “John the Baptist. But others say, Elijah, and others, that one of the prophets of old has risen.” Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”

And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”

After spending days and nights with Jesus, witnessing his words and works first hand, Peter could make an absolute confession that Jesus was the Christ, the promised one of God. Those further from Jesus were less resolute in their faiths, often believing him to be a prophet, but those who followed him regularly knew that he was not simply a messenger, but the message itself. After Peter’s confession, Jesus tried to help them understand his mission and what it looked like to follow him, but Jesus was not the kind of Messiah they were expecting, and following him was not what they thought it was going to be like.

Jesus issues a clear call to those who might follow him, that allegiance to him requires denying yourself, taking up your cross daily and following him. Then and now his words are difficult. We live in a culture that teaches us to glorify ourselves and to pursue comfort, control and the satisfaction of our desires above all else. To deny oneself and pursue the things of God can feel like death, but that is what Jesus calls us to. He tells us that to follow him we will have to relinquish all control and endure suffering and rejection, but he also promises that this will make us like him. In him, triumph will come through suffering. Jesus is calling us to lose our lives as we know them, but only so that he might give us real and eternal life in him. Do you hear him calling you? Are you willing to deny yourself and take up your cross in order to follow him? Do you trust that he will lead you to life?

Prayer:  Gracious God, we thank you that you have revealed your Son to us, that Jesus is the Christ, the deliverer we all need. Please give us the grace we need to follow you. You alone are worthy and we want to give you our lives, but need your help to do so. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 32 – The Adulteress

Lent 3    John 8:1-11:

but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

The Law was clear — adultery was a capital offense with two guilty parties: “If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die” (Deuteronomy 22:22). In accordance with the Law, therefore, the scribes and Pharisees came to Jesus with an adulterous woman to be stoned. Where was the man? They didn’t care. After all, their concern wasn’t really with the Law. Their concern was with testing Jesus.

But Jesus wasn’t fooled. He said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” Of course, Jesus wasn’t making a recommendation for a new judicial system; no criminals would be held accountable if judges had to be without sin. Jesus was making a point – a point he frequently made to the Pharisees. He often said things to them like, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice’” (Matthew 9:13; c.f., Matthew 12:1-8; John 7:21-23).

In other words, he was telling them that they were missing the most important part of the Law – that its foundation was love (Matthew 22:34-40; Matthew 7:12; Galatians 5:14). Thus, although they appeared interested in upholding the Law, they were actually breaking it because they weren’t acting on the basis of love, grace, humility and compassion.

So they went away. And Jesus told the woman, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” He didn’t say, “It doesn’t matter whether you sin.” Instead, he said, in effect, “I myself am establishing your righteousness on the foundation of love and grace. Therefore, don’t sin — not because you fear its punishment, but because you have met me and have been saved by grace.”

— By The Park Forum

Prayer:  Lord, We exalt the name of Jesus because his righteousness has been imputed to us through grace alone! Therefore, even as we seek to sin no more, let us long for holiness and righteousness out of a deep recognition that we have been saved by grace. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

Reception after Morning Worship – March 20, 2016

Punch

Please join us in the Fellowship Hall after the morning worship service this Sunday for sandwiches, cake, and punch to honor our Preaching Assistant, Jan Davis, who has just received her approval to become a “Certified Local Lay Preacher!”

Lenten Devotional – Day 31 – The Leper

Lent 3    Mark 1:40-45:

Jesus Heals a Man With Leprosy

40 A man with leprosy[a] came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”

41 Jesus was indignant.[b] He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.

43 Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: 44 “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” 45 Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.

Contracting leprosy was one of the most tragic things that could have happened to an individual in the ancient world. Whenever a leper was around other people, he was required to shout “unclean, unclean,” so passersby would know to keep their distance. A leper was required to live “alone, outside the camp,” so as to reduce the risk of transmitting his disease to others (Leviticus 13:45-46). To be a leper was to be isolated and humiliated perpetually.

And then Jesus came and changed everything. One of the great beauties of the Gospels is how frequently they record Jesus’ interactions with lepers. He approached them and was approached by them. He treated them with respect and kindness. He even did the unthinkable: he touched them, and his touch made them clean. Jesus healed the lepers.

Many biblical scholars have pointed out that there is an analogy between the physical condition of leprosy and the spiritual condition of sin. Sin in our hearts isolates us, both from God and from other people. Try as we might to hide it or remove it, the stain of sin remains present. Like Lady Macbeth, we try to wash away the stain of sin crying, “out damn’d spot,” all to no avail. We are unclean, and we know it.

The good news of the gospel is that Jesus Christ is the contagiously clean man. When he touched a leper, Jesus did not contract leprosy. Rather, the leper became clean. Those trying in vain to remove their sin must allow themselves to be touched by the contagiously clean man. And, like the leper in the story, may we who have experienced that touch possess an uncontainable gratitude, talking freely about our encounter with the contagiously clean man.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, we thank you for your Son who makes clean everything he touches. By his grace may our hearts and our actions be touched by him this day and everyday. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

 

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 30 – The Fast

Lent 3  Matthew 4:1-11:

Jesus Is Tested in the Wilderness

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted[a] by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’[b]

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    and they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’[c]

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[d]

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’[e]

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

Here, we learn about three specific ways that Satan sought to tempt Jesus, each one more significant, by challenging his desire for food, urging him to display power sensationally, and encouraging him to use political power to establish God’s kingdom. In this third instance, he was tempting Jesus to bypass the cross.

The devil was more than willing to give us all back to Jesus, if only Jesus would worship him instead of God. Skip the suffering, save the people, deny God, do it the easy way. For each response, Jesus relied on Scripture, the “sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17), to resist.

These temptations occurred following Jesus’ baptism. Right after Jesus was anointed for ministry, the Spirit led him into the wilderness for 40 days and nights of fasting “to be tempted by the devil.” Jesus’ time in the desert reminds us of Moses fasting for the same period on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:28).

After Moses’ 40 days and nights, God gave him the Ten Commandments for the Israelites. Thus, here we see that Jesus is the new Moses come to fulfill the law that Moses was given.

Prayer:  Gracious God, we praise you that you know what it is like to be tempted in every way, as we are. Thank you for showing us how to resist temptation and thank you for enduring the cross and for fulfilling the law, for our sakes, on our behalf. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

Lenten Devotional – Day 29 – The Lamb

Lent 3  John 1:29-34:

John Testifies About Jesus

29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”

32 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”

In Genesis 22, Abraham took his only son Isaac to Moriah because God had commanded him to offer Isaac as a burnt offering. Isaac questioned his father, “Where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham responded to his child that “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” As Abraham was about to sacrifice his own son on the altar, God stopped him and provided a ram to take the place of Isaac.

Jesus is the Lamb that God provided to take away all sins. Abraham did not have to sacrifice his only son, because God chose to sacrifice his son to atone for our sins. Because of this, God views us in the way he viewed his son when John saw the Spirit descend from heaven upon him. He calls us, both men and women, his beloved sons, with whom he is well pleased (Matthew 3:17).

We no longer have to live in anxiety laboring to justify our existence. Our justification is in Christ, the perfect, spotless Lamb of God who took away our sins and the sins of the world.

Prayer:  God, our Father, we thank you that we are your beloved sons with whom you are well pleased. We pray that you will work deep into our being the truth that we no longer have to labor for our salvation, but we can find rest knowing our identity is in the Lamb of God. Give us an understanding of the depth of the sacrifice that was made to atone for our sin so we may fall more in love with you to grasp who we are and who we shall become. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

 

Lenten Devotional – The Fifth Sunday in Lent – Washing an Unclean Disciple

Lent 1 Key Bible Verse:  “… (Jesus said) ‘You are clean, but not every one of you.’ …”   –John 13:10b

Bonus Reading:  John 13:1-20

Jesus has preached His last message to the crowds. Now He spends one final night before His suffering and death with His disciples in the upper room, preparing them for what is about to happen.

In the middle of supper Jesus does something totally unexpected. Taking off His outer garments He goes around the table washing the disciples’ feet one by one, the way the lowliest slave in the household would. It is a demonstration of His absolute humility, love and care—a demonstration He will repeat for the whole world the next day on the cross.

For Peter it is too much. He objects and receives a firm correction from Jesus: “If I do not wash you, you have no share with Me.” Then Peter goes to the other extreme asking Jesus to wash all of him. Jesus points out that the one who has had a bath does not need to bathe again, only to wash the part of him that is unclean.

Jesus is pointing to Judas, the one who has abandoned his Lord and become unclean and is even now awaiting the chance to betray Him. The other eleven are forgiven, cleansed of their sins because they still walk in the light by faith; Judas has rejected that light and walks in darkness. Very gently Jesus reaches out to His lost disciple in an unforgettable demonstration of His love, forgiveness and acceptance. It’s a demonstration He wants Judas to remember when he is gripped by guilt and remorse for what he is about to do.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, forgive my wandering heart. Help me to see Your great love for me and remember what You have done to save me. Amen.

 

 

Daylight Savings Time Begins Today!

Daylight Savings Time 2016 - 2

Lenten Devotional – Day 28 – The Mourning

Lent 3  Zechariah 12:10-14:

Mourning for the One They Pierced

10 “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit[a] of grace and supplication. They will look on[b] me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son. 11 On that day the weeping in Jerusalem will be as great as the weeping of Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. 12 The land will mourn, each clan by itself, with their wives by themselves: the clan of the house of David and their wives, the clan of the house of Nathan and their wives, 13 the clan of the house of Levi and their wives, the clan of Shimei and their wives, 14 and all the rest of the clans and their wives.

Although Zechariah spoke these words, they were the words of the Lord. Yet how could this be? How could God say, “They look on me, on him whom they have pierced?” Could God be wounded? Even more puzzling, could God be “pierced” – which indicated a killing? In other words, could God die?

Jesus Christ fulfilled this prophecy. Not only was he fully God, he was also fully man. Moreover, as the prophecy predicted, Jesus was the “only child” and “firstborn” Son of the Father (John 3:16). He died and, on the cross, he was pierced: “One of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water” (John 19:34).

The prophecy, however, said more. It said that those who pierced him would mourn because God would pour out on them “a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy.” In other words, the Spirit would open their eyes to see what they had done and how grievous their sin had been. This mourning would be widespread yet intimate – “the land shall mourn, each family by itself.”

In part, this prophecy was fulfilled at Pentecost. Peter said to his listeners, “You crucified and killed [Jesus] by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23). Then, upon hearing the gospel, they were “cut to the heart” and 3,000 were saved that day (Acts 2:37-41).

Today, this prophecy is still being fulfilled. As the Spirit fills us with grace, we mourn over Christ’s death because we know that “he was wounded for our transgressions” (Isaiah 53:5). In our sorrow, however, we also rejoice because his death “brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

– By The Park Forum

Prayer:  Lord, we confess that our sin pierced Jesus. Thus, we mourn and ask you to pour out your Spirit of grace and mercy. In humility, we rejoice that your lovingkindness never fails – while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). In Christ’s Name, Amen.

Daylight Savings Time Begins Tonight!

Daylight Savings Time 2016 - 3

New Lenten Yard Cross

Central - New Lenten Yard Cross - 3-11-2016We now have a new six foot wooden cross in our front yard for Lent that replaces the old wooden cross that was finally retired over a year ago.

It has been our tradition in recent years to bring cut flowers on Palm Sunday to decorate our yard cross for Holy Week.

  • If you have any flowers that you would like to add to our cross, please bring them next week – Palm Sunday.  The intersection of the two beams on the cross will be fitted with a wire lattice to hold the stems of our flowers.

Lenten Devotional – Day 27 – The Coming King

Lent 3  Zechariah 9:9-10:

The Coming of Zion’s King

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
    Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
    righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
10 I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
    and the warhorses from Jerusalem,
    and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
    His rule will extend from sea to sea
    and from the River[a] to the ends of the earth.

In the Ancient Near East, a king entered cities riding on a warhorse in order to convey his military power, particularly when he was entering into newly conquered cities where his rule may have been regarded as illegitimate or met with suspicion or outright rejection. The exception to this custom was when a beloved king entered his own capital city. There he would ride in on a donkey — the benevolent king.

The prophet Zechariah speaks of a day when Jerusalem would see her king return. He would conquer the enemy once and for all, secure a lasting salvation and establish a new reign of peace for all. This hope of the true king, riding on a donkey, led the crowd to shout: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” when they saw Jesus riding into Jerusalem, yes, on a donkey.

And yet this crowd soon became the angry mob that cried for blood: “Crucify Him!” Jesus, who was once welcomed as the returning king, would be met with the violent rejection of a hostile people. The true king returned to his capital city to find that it had betrayed him. Yet still, he mounted a donkey, not a warhorse, and entered in peace.

And he won the ultimate victory for his treacherous people by submitting himself to their violence — our violence — confirming our guilt and achieving our forgiveness in one decisive victory. The enemy this king would conquer turned out to be us, and the cost of the victory we longed for was the death of our beloved king. And he did it. Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion. Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!

Prayer:  Lord, we rejoice and shout aloud that you would give your life to pay the price for our treachery. We praise you as our beloved king we have been waiting for. Come reign in our heart, our lives and our city. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

 

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 26 – The Treasure of the Nations

Lent 3Haggai 2:6-9:

“This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

The book of Haggai was written to those who had returned from Babylonian to rebuild the destroyed temple of God. It was an encouragement and a call to rebuild amidst rubble, hope despite desolation, and believe even during times of hardship and disappointment.

In verses 6 to 9, Haggai spoke of a time to come when the world would be shaken up as it had never been shaken before. Ironically, this was intended to be a comfort for people who were standing in rubble!

While this may seem difficult to understand at first glance, the writer of Hebrews took comfort in the shaking of this world, as it “indicates the removal of things that are shaken … in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain … a kingdom” (Hebrews 12:26-28).

At the heart of Haggai’s declaration that all of creation (v. 6) and all nations (v. 7) would be shaken, there is the promise that “the treasures of all nations shall come in.” “Treasures” is a Hebrew word that can function as a singular or plural noun.

In other words, not only will the treasures of the nations be brought to the house of God in tribute, but there will also be One, the true treasure, who fills the house and is to be prized above all the wealth of the world. For Haggai, it was only when the world was shaken that we could see what really will stand and which treasures will endure.

When your world shakes, are you shaken with it, or are you unshakable in spite of it? When the treasures of your heart disappoint you, does your heart fail, or does it take hold of the treasure of all nations?

Prayer:  Father, help me to hold onto your unshakable kingdom when my world is being shaken; to remember that Jesus Christ experienced the earthquake of the cross, so I would not be moved; and to remember that while treasures in the world may fail, you are the treasure of all nations. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

Lenten Devotional – Day 25 – The Good Shepherd

Lent 3Ezekiel 34:23-31:

23 I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. 24 I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.

25 “‘I will make a covenant of peace with them and rid the land of savage beasts so that they may live in the wilderness and sleep in the forests in safety. 26 I will make them and the places surrounding my hill a blessing.[a] I will send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing. 27 The trees will yield their fruit and the ground will yield its crops; the people will be secure in their land. They will know that I am the Lord, when I break the bars of their yoke and rescue them from the hands of those who enslaved them. 28 They will no longer be plundered by the nations, nor will wild animals devour them. They will live in safety, and no one will make them afraid. 29 I will provide for them a land renowned for its crops, and they will no longer be victims of famine in the land or bear the scorn of the nations. 30 Then they will know that I, the Lord their God, am with them and that they, the Israelites, are my people, declares the Sovereign Lord. 31 You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Sovereign Lord.’”

The image of the people of God as a flock of sheep occurs several times throughout the Bible. In the earlier part of Ezekiel 34, the current shepherds (rulers of Israel) are rebuked for their abuse of power (34:1-22). The prophet describes a situation where they had grown fat and wealthy at the expense of the very people they were supposed to care for. We are told that because of that, God would bring judgment on them.

The chapter changes in its focus as the warning turns into a promise for the future in the verses above. Not only will the Lord save his sheep, he will also appoint a king who, like David, will shepherd them in such a way as to bring lasting peace (v. 25). It was peace and rest which humanity lost through sin (Genesis 3:15; 4:8) and which prophets like Ezekiel had been pointing to ever since (Isaiah 9:6-7). This is where we lift our eyes to see Jesus, who is God’s ideal shepherd-king and the opposite of the corrupt leadership described in the earlier part of the chapter.

The gospel writers tell us that Jesus came to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind (Luke 4:18). It is Jesus who weeps over Jerusalem because they didn’t know what would bring them peace (Luke 19:41). It is Jesus who lays down his life for his sheep so that we might have peace with God and one another. And it is Jesus who will one day bring everlasting peace to the world through his return (Revelation 21).

In the meantime, there are seasons of disappointment and suffering that can sometimes make us lose hope that God will fulfill his promise. The injustice of the world around us can make us cynical. It is at those times that we must reflect on Jesus as our good shepherd and remember that because he laid down his life for his sheep, we will one day “dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, thank you for your love and care for your sheep. Thank you for laying down your life on the cross so that I might know your peace and be adopted into your family. During this season of reflection, in light of your love for me, help me to find ways to seek peace in my relationships and lay down my life for others. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 24 – The Branch

Lent 3

Jeremiah 33:14-18:

14 “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.

15 “‘In those days and at that time
    I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
    he will do what is just and right in the land.
16 In those days Judah will be saved
    and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it[a] will be called:
    The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’

17 For this is what the Lord says: ‘David will never fail to have a man to sit on the throne of Israel, 18 nor will the Levitical priests ever fail to have a man to stand before me continually to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings and to present sacrifices.’”

It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that God’s love and concern for us rise and fall according to how well we are doing in living the Christian life. After all, we ourselves frequently give and withdraw our love from others depending on whether they are living in a way that is pleasing to us. Thankfully, even though we are marked by inconsistency, God is marked by constancy.

Through the prophet Jeremiah, he reminds his people that they can count on his promises and that he will always be there for them. He promises his constancy and faithfulness: “David will never fail to have someone sit on the throne … nor will the priests ever fail to have someone offering sacrifices” (vv. 17-18). Ultimately, Jesus is the king who remains on the throne and who has offered himself as a sacrifice once and for all.

Jesus is the righteous Branch who offers us his righteousness so that we never fear being rejected by God. Because of that we can bring our own failures and faithlessness to God. Jesus will not turn his back on us. Each day we can bring our repentance and know he will receive it. We can count on God giving us a fresh start because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We all need that fresh start each day. If you come to him asking for it, God will be faithful to give it to you.

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, I thank you that your mercies are new every morning and your faithfulness is great. Give me grace to repent today of those things which are displeasing to you, counting on the fact that you will never leave me nor forsake me as I seek to walk in your ways. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

Daylight Savings Time – 2016

Daylight Savings Time 2016Remember to turn your clocks ahead one hour this Saturday night, March 12, 2016, in the United States or you’ll be late for Church on Sunday!

 

Daylight Saving Time is also observed in many other countries around the world.  This list displays a brief (but not complete) overview showing the countries and territories which plan to observe DST during 2016.

Countries Observing DST Clock Change Events 2016
Country Regions/States DST Start Date DST End Date
Afghanistan All locations No DST in 2016
Åland Islands All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Albania All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Algeria All locations No DST in 2016
American Samoa All locations No DST in 2016
Andorra All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Angola All locations No DST in 2016
Anguilla All locations No DST in 2016
Antarctica Most locations No DST in 2016
Some locations Sunday, September 25 Sunday, April 3
Troll Station Tuesday, March 1* Monday, November 7
Antigua and Barbuda All locations No DST in 2016
Argentina Most locations No DST in 2016
San Luis DST all year in 2016
Armenia All locations No DST in 2016
Aruba All locations No DST in 2016
Australia Most locations Sunday, October 2 Sunday, April 3
Queensland, Northern Territory, Western Australia No DST in 2016
Lord Howe Island Sunday, October 2 Sunday, April 3
Other DST all year in 2016
Austria All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Azerbaijan Most locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Nagorno-Karabakh No DST in 2016
Bahrain All locations No DST in 2016
Bangladesh All locations No DST in 2016
Barbados All locations No DST in 2016
Belarus All locations No DST in 2016
Belgium All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Belize All locations No DST in 2016
Benin All locations No DST in 2016
Bermuda All locations Sunday, March 13 Sunday, November 6
Bhutan All locations No DST in 2016
Bolivia All locations No DST in 2016
Bosnia and Herzegovina All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Botswana All locations No DST in 2016
Brazil Most locations Sunday, October 16 Sunday, February 21
Amazonas, Pernambuco, Bahia, Sergipe, Pará, Paraíba, Ceará, Amapá, Alagoas, Rondônia, Rio Grande do Norte, Piauí, Maranhão, Acre, Roraima, Tocantins, regions of Mato Grosso No DST in 2016
British Indian Ocean Territory All locations No DST in 2016
British Virgin Islands All locations No DST in 2016
Brunei All locations No DST in 2016
Bulgaria All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Burkina Faso All locations No DST in 2016
Burundi All locations No DST in 2016
Cabo Verde All locations No DST in 2016
Cambodia All locations No DST in 2016
Cameroon All locations No DST in 2016
Canada Most locations Sunday, March 13 Sunday, November 6
most of Saskatchewan, some regions of British Columbia, small region of Nunavut, small region of Quebec, small region of Ontario No DST in 2016
Caribbean Netherlands All locations No DST in 2016
Cayman Islands All locations No DST in 2016
Central African Republic All locations No DST in 2016
Chad All locations No DST in 2016
Chile All locations No DST in 2016
China All locations No DST in 2016
Christmas Island All locations No DST in 2016
Cocos (Keeling) Islands All locations No DST in 2016
Colombia All locations No DST in 2016
Comoros All locations No DST in 2016
Congo All locations No DST in 2016
Congo Democratic Republic All locations No DST in 2016
Cook Islands All locations No DST in 2016
Costa Rica All locations No DST in 2016
Cote d’Ivoire All locations No DST in 2016
Croatia All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Cuba All locations Sunday, March 13 Sunday, November 6
Curaçao All locations No DST in 2016
Cyprus All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Czech Republic All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Denmark All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Djibouti All locations No DST in 2016
Dominica All locations No DST in 2016
Dominican Republic All locations No DST in 2016
East Timor All locations No DST in 2016
Ecuador All locations No DST in 2016
Egypt All locations No DST in 2016
El Salvador All locations No DST in 2016
Equatorial Guinea All locations No DST in 2016
Eritrea All locations No DST in 2016
Estonia All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Ethiopia All locations No DST in 2016
Falkland Islands All locations No DST in 2016
Faroe Islands All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Fiji All locations Sunday, November 6 Sunday, January 17
Finland All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
France All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
French Guiana All locations No DST in 2016
French Polynesia All locations No DST in 2016
French Southern Territories All locations No DST in 2016
Gabon All locations No DST in 2016
Gambia All locations No DST in 2016
Georgia All locations No DST in 2016
Germany All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Ghana All locations No DST in 2016
Gibraltar All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Greece All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Greenland Most locations Saturday, March 26 Saturday, October 29
Some locations No DST in 2016
Ittoqqortoormiit Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Thule Air Base Sunday, March 13 Sunday, November 6
Grenada All locations No DST in 2016
Guadeloupe All locations No DST in 2016
Guam All locations No DST in 2016
Guatemala All locations No DST in 2016
Guernsey All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Guinea All locations No DST in 2016
Guinea-Bissau All locations No DST in 2016
Guyana All locations No DST in 2016
Haiti All locations Sunday, March 13 Sunday, November 6
Holy See (Vatican City) All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Honduras All locations No DST in 2016
Hong Kong All locations No DST in 2016
Hungary All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Iceland All locations No DST in 2016
India All locations No DST in 2016
Indonesia All locations No DST in 2016
Iran All locations Monday, March 21 Wednesday, September 21
Iraq All locations No DST in 2016
Ireland All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Isle of Man All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Israel All locations Friday, March 25 Sunday, October 30
Italy All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Jamaica All locations No DST in 2016
Japan All locations No DST in 2016
Jersey All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Jordan All locations Friday, April 1 Friday, October 28
Kazakhstan All locations No DST in 2016
Kenya All locations No DST in 2016
Kiribati All locations No DST in 2016
Kosovo All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Kuwait All locations No DST in 2016
Kyrgyzstan All locations No DST in 2016
Laos All locations No DST in 2016
Latvia All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Lebanon All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Lesotho All locations No DST in 2016
Liberia All locations No DST in 2016
Libya All locations No DST in 2016
Liechtenstein All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Lithuania All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Luxembourg All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Macau All locations No DST in 2016
Macedonia, Republic of All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Madagascar All locations No DST in 2016
Malawi All locations No DST in 2016
Malaysia All locations No DST in 2016
Maldives All locations No DST in 2016
Mali All locations No DST in 2016
Malta All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Marshall Islands All locations No DST in 2016
Martinique All locations No DST in 2016
Mauritania All locations No DST in 2016
Mauritius All locations No DST in 2016
Mayotte All locations No DST in 2016
Mexico Most locations Sunday, April 3 Sunday, October 30
Baja California, much of Chihuahua, much of Tamaulipas, much of Nuevo León Sunday, March 13 Sunday, November 6
Sonora, Quintana Roo No DST in 2016
Micronesia All locations No DST in 2016
Moldova All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Monaco All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Mongolia All locations Saturday, March 26 Saturday, September 24
Montenegro All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Montserrat All locations No DST in 2016
Morocco All locations Sunday, March 27* Sunday, October 30*
Mozambique All locations No DST in 2016
Myanmar All locations No DST in 2016
Namibia All locations Sunday, September 4 Sunday, April 3
Nauru All locations No DST in 2016
Nepal All locations No DST in 2016
Netherlands All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
New Caledonia All locations No DST in 2016
New Zealand All locations Sunday, September 25 Sunday, April 3
Nicaragua All locations No DST in 2016
Niger All locations No DST in 2016
Nigeria All locations No DST in 2016
Niue All locations No DST in 2016
Norfolk Island All locations No DST in 2016
North Korea All locations No DST in 2016
Northern Mariana Islands All locations No DST in 2016
Norway All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Oman All locations No DST in 2016
Pakistan All locations No DST in 2016
Palau All locations No DST in 2016
Palestinian Territories All locations Saturday, March 26 Friday, October 21
Panama All locations No DST in 2016
Papua New Guinea All locations No DST in 2016
Paraguay All locations Sunday, October 2 Sunday, March 27
Peru All locations No DST in 2016
Philippines All locations No DST in 2016
Pitcairn Islands All locations No DST in 2016
Poland All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Portugal All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Puerto Rico All locations No DST in 2016
Qatar All locations No DST in 2016
Reunion All locations No DST in 2016
Romania All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Russia All locations No DST in 2016
Rwanda All locations No DST in 2016
Saint Helena All locations No DST in 2016
Saint Kitts and Nevis All locations No DST in 2016
Saint Lucia All locations No DST in 2016
Saint Martin All locations No DST in 2016
Saint Pierre and Miquelon All locations Sunday, March 13 Sunday, November 6
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines All locations No DST in 2016
Samoa All locations Sunday, September 25 Sunday, April 3
San Marino All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Sao Tome and Principe All locations No DST in 2016
Saudi Arabia All locations No DST in 2016
Senegal All locations No DST in 2016
Serbia All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Seychelles All locations No DST in 2016
Sierra Leone All locations No DST in 2016
Singapore All locations No DST in 2016
Sint Maarten All locations No DST in 2016
Slovakia All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Slovenia All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Solomon Islands All locations No DST in 2016
Somalia All locations No DST in 2016
South Africa All locations No DST in 2016
South Georgia/Sandwich Is. All locations No DST in 2016
South Korea All locations No DST in 2016
South Sudan All locations No DST in 2016
Spain All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Sri Lanka All locations No DST in 2016
St. Barts All locations No DST in 2016
Sudan All locations No DST in 2016
Suriname All locations No DST in 2016
Swaziland All locations No DST in 2016
Sweden All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Switzerland All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Syria All locations Friday, March 25 Friday, October 28
Taiwan All locations No DST in 2016
Tajikistan All locations No DST in 2016
Tanzania All locations No DST in 2016
Thailand All locations No DST in 2016
The Bahamas All locations Sunday, March 13 Sunday, November 6
Time Zone All locations No DST in 2016
Togo All locations No DST in 2016
Tokelau All locations No DST in 2016
Tonga All locations No DST in 2016
Trinidad and Tobago All locations No DST in 2016
Tunisia All locations No DST in 2016
Turkey All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Turkmenistan All locations No DST in 2016
Turks and Caicos Islands All locations No DST in 2016
Tuvalu All locations No DST in 2016
Uganda All locations No DST in 2016
Ukraine Most locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
Auton. Republic of Crimea, Luhansk, Donetsk No DST in 2016
United Arab Emirates All locations No DST in 2016
United Kingdom All locations Sunday, March 27 Sunday, October 30
United States Most locations Sunday, March 13 Sunday, November 6
Hawaii, most of Arizona No DST in 2016
Uruguay All locations No DST in 2016
US Minor Outlying Islands All locations No DST in 2016
US Virgin Islands All locations No DST in 2016
Uzbekistan All locations No DST in 2016
Vanuatu All locations No DST in 2016
Venezuela All locations No DST in 2016
Vietnam All locations No DST in 2016
Wallis and Futuna All locations No DST in 2016
Western Sahara All locations Sunday, March 27* Sunday, October 30*
Yemen All locations No DST in 2016
Zambia All locations No DST in 2016
Zimbabwe All locations No DST in 2016
* Some locations have multiple periods of DST: the start of the first period and end of the last period are listed.

Lenten Devotional – Day 23 – The Spirit

Lent 3  Isaiah 61:1-3:

The Year of the Lord’s Favor

61 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.

In the last of our Isaiah texts we end with a hope-giving passage about Spirit-led transformation. The Lord’s anointed, who has been described in previous chapters as both a king and a servant, has come to announce good news for the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives and the imprisoned. This anointed one is both a servant who is filled with compassion for those in need and also a king who has the power to enact this transformation.

It’s hard not to read this passage without a sense of yearning, joy and hope. Our hearts are drawn to the hope that our mourning can turn into beauty, gladness, praise, righteousness and glory. Our lives are far different from the world of the exiled Jews, yet this passage speaks into the deep recesses of our disillusioned hearts. We resonate with the sense that we too are impoverished, brokenhearted, alienated and trapped by prisons of our own making.

We are searching for something or someone who can rescue us from the predicaments in which we often find ourselves because life is beyond our ability to control with our intelligence, money or sheer willpower. Who is this anointed one who leads us to believe that we are not alone, abandoned to our own pathetic and impotent devices?

Of all the Old Testament passages that he could have used to begin his public ministry, Jesus reads from this Isaiah passage and concludes with the audacious declaration, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).

As you consider the things that lead you to feel alone and powerless, remember that the hope of transformation presented in Isaiah has been accomplished, and Jesus is the long-awaited fulfillment of the yearnings of our hearts.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, you have accomplished through Christ, the anointed one, what I could never do in my own abilities. Yet, in the course of my day-to-day life I turn back to myself, instinctively putting my hope for change in almost everything but you. Help me to see more of the fullness of what Christ has accomplished so that I might place my hope in him and experience the greater healing, freedom and comfort that he graciously gives. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

Lenten Devotional – The Fourth Sunday in Lent – Our Resurrection and Life

Lent 1Key Bible Verse:  “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?’”  – John 11:25-26

Bonus Reading:  John 11:1-44

Jesus is about to do one of His greatest miraculous signs. He receives a frantic message to come to Lazarus who is gravely ill. But Jesus remains where He is. His disciples think Jesus is avoiding Jerusalem where the crowds had tried to stone Him a short time ago. But Jesus waits two days before finally heading out for Bethany, a small village near Jerusalem. Thomas tells his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.”

Jesus finally arrives after Lazarus has been dead four days. Martha says, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” But Jesus had a reason for His delay. Jewish rabbis believed a person’s soul hovered over the body for three days, and then finally departed when decomposition set in. By waiting for the fourth day, Jesus would be performing a miracle none of the Jewish leaders could deny.

Sometimes we get confused by the struggles in our life. Like Martha we plead with the Lord to help, but when we need Him most He seems to delay, or not to hear. But Jesus has a purpose and a plan for everything He does for us.

Jesus told Martha “I am the resurrection and the life.” Jesus proved that by raising Lazarus from the dead—and by His own resurrection on the third day. When we are discouraged, beaten down and depressed, we can look to Jesus and know our future is secure.

Prayer: Lord, give me confidence in Your victory during the dark days when I need You the most. Amen.

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 22 – The Waters

Lent 3  Isaiah 55:1-7:

“Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
    listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
    my faithful love promised to David.
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
    a ruler and commander of the peoples.
Surely you will summon nations you know not,
    and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel,
    for he has endowed you with splendor.”

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

In these verses, the Holy One of Israel is crying out through Isaiah, pleading with his people on the eve of destruction to return to the true fountain of life. It is an emphatic call to come without barrier to the eternal spring of living waters. Verses 2 and 3 make clear that this water is the word of God.

The invitation is to drink deeply: to receive the word, reason with it, delight in it, to listen to it like they had never listened before. “Listen diligently” (v. 2) is literally, “Listen-listen!” a call for undivided and sustained attention.

Ultimately, this word is meant to save them (v. 3), transform them (v. 7), and make them a blessing to the entire world (v. 5). They are being called into communion with their compassionate God (v. 7). But they refuse to hear him (6:9).

Lent is a time for us to admit the same tendencies displayed by Isaiah’s audience.

For reasons conscious and less conscious, we are prone to neglect God’s word, and ultimately, God himself. Given enough time apart from the Scriptures, a kind of spiritual amnesia sets in, where we forget the taste that is sweeter than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb (Psalm 19:10).

Lent is an invitation to see Christ as the woman at the well came to see him — as the pure, limitless satisfaction for our thirsty souls. It is our invitation to return to that well and drink deeply. Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life (John 4:14).

Prayer:  Gracious Lord, in compassion you call us. By your mercy, open our ears to hear your voice, and hearing you, to return. Remove the scales from our eyes and unveil for us the wonders of your word. Your glories are revealed there. Be our delight. Be our satisfaction. Awaken in us a new sense of expectancy, as those who put their trust in you will never be put to shame. Glorious LORD, we are yours. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 21 – The Suffering Servant

Lent 3  Isaiah 53:1-6:

Who has believed our message
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
    and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
    stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
    each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

Jesus was extraordinary in many ways. But if you were to judge his life by the standards of the world, by most accounts he would be considered a failure. He was poor, rejected, and died a difficult and shameful death. In the ways that others pursue comfort, power, and recognition, he did not.

Even in his outward appearance, there was no indication whatsoever that he was the creator and sustainer of the universe. He had no beauty or majesty that would have caused others to envy him, even though he was the very source of all beauty.

More than that, he was utterly rejected and despised, a man of sorrows, to the point that people turned away and hid their faces from him. He was stricken, afflicted, pierced, chastised, crushed and suffered beyond all comprehension. All this and he was the most innocent and righteous person who ever lived.

Jesus went through all these things in order that we would never have to. He experienced sorrow and grief in a way that we ourselves could never have endured. He was punished for sin, though he himself never sinned. The last verse tells us that we are all like sheep — foolish, helpless and desiring to go our own way, but the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all. Though he was rich, yet for our sake he became poor, so that we by his poverty might become rich.

Prayer:  Father, we marvel at the humility and compassion of your Son. It is only through his wounds that we are healed. Renew us daily in the joy of our salvation and help us to live in light of even greater things to come. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

 

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 20 – The Sinless Servant

Lent 3  Isaiah 50:4-9:

The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue,
    to know the word that sustains the weary.
He wakens me morning by morning,
    wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed.
The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears;
    I have not been rebellious,
    I have not turned away.
I offered my back to those who beat me,
    my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard;
I did not hide my face
    from mocking and spitting.
Because the Sovereign Lord helps me,
    I will not be disgraced.
Therefore have I set my face like flint,
    and I know I will not be put to shame.
He who vindicates me is near.

    Who then will bring charges against me?
    Let us face each other!
Who is my accuser?
    Let him confront me!
It is the Sovereign Lord who helps me.
    Who will condemn me?
They will all wear out like a garment;
    the moths will eat them up.

In these verses we observe the contrast between the obedient servant of the Lord and those who persecuted and abused him. Astonishingly, it is the obedient servant who is called to suffer on behalf of the disobedient people – to be struck, spat upon, and mocked. And yet, he “sets his face like flint” toward the road of suffering and will “not be put to shame.” He knows that his suffering is not in vain because by it his people shall be redeemed.

The writers of the New Testament recognized that the servant of the Lord, referenced in this passage, is none other than Jesus Christ. He “set his face” toward Jerusalem, knowing the pain that awaited him there (Luke 9:51). He was struck, mocked, and spat upon (Mark 15:19-20). He suffered, not because of his sin but because of ours, and his life was marked by perfect obedience, even to death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-9).

Through all of this, Jesus remained the sinless servant (Hebrews 12:2). How was Jesus able to endure such treatment and yet be confident that ultimately he would not be put to shame? The answer, in a word, is joy: for “the joy set before him, he endured the cross.” The joy that motivated Jesus was the fact that by his suffering his people would be redeemed.

We too have a great joy set before us today. Certainly there is pain and suffering on our journey, but being united to Christ by faith, we will not be put to shame! Let us take up our cross and follow Christ, the sinless servant.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, we thank you for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, our sinless servant. May this good news bring strength to us as we pursue joy in the midst of our pain and suffering. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

 

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 19 – The Servant Israel

Lent 3  Isaiah 49:1-6:

The Servant of the Lord

49 Listen to me, you islands;
    hear this, you distant nations:
Before I was born the Lord called me;
    from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name.
He made my mouth like a sharpened sword,
    in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me into a polished arrow
    and concealed me in his quiver.
He said to me, “You are my servant,
    Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.”
But I said, “I have labored in vain;
    I have spent my strength for nothing at all.
Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand,
    and my reward is with my God.”

And now the Lord says—
    he who formed me in the womb to be his servant
to bring Jacob back to him
    and gather Israel to himself,
for I am[a] honored in the eyes of the Lord
    and my God has been my strength—
he says:
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
    to restore the tribes of Jacob
    and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
    that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

How do we know God is good? Isaiah 49 begins as a letter sent out to all nations (v. 1, “the coastlands … and peoples from afar”), but it is being read and heard by the people of Israel. Therefore, the writer is essentially talking to everybody. The Jews had been taken into exile and longed to be brought back and they wondered where that salvation would come from. Isaiah makes the wondrous claim that “the servant” (v. 3), who has been prepared for this very hour, will be the one who brings the people back, but the manner would not be through military might, but through the power of his mouth (v. 2). That is, what he says and does will bring real salvation, not just physical deliverance.

The twist comes in the fact that this mysterious servant is named Israel (v. 3) — and while he is a person, he is the ideal person who embodies all the characteristics the nation of Israel should have had. For this text we need to remember that the nation of Israel was meant to have been a blessing to all nations (Genesis 12), a command they never fulfilled. Who will do so? This man would have to be perfect to be the ideal version of Israel, and then save not just the Jews — for God to be really glorified (v. 3), he will also have to be “a light to all nations” (v. 6).

We know God is good because he saw his own wayward people and all the rest of the world and brought them back into relationship with him (v. 5). How? Our translation says in v. 6, “that my salvation may reach the ends of the earth,” but the Hebrew grammar reads more plainly, “to be my salvation to the ends of the earth.” Jesus as the servant is not merely the means to God’s salvation but he is that salvation — through his death and life.

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, suffering servant and Redeemer, you have brought us back into relationship with you by being our salvation, purchasing us with your life, ransoming us from certain death. Give us hearts of flesh, warmed by the truths of your goodness found in the certainty of your love for us through your death and resurrection. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

 

 

Lenten Devotional – Day 18 – The Chosen Servant

Lent 3  Isaiah 42: 1-9:

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
    my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
    and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out,
    or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
    and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
    he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
    In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”

This is what God the Lord says—
the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,
    who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it,
    who gives breath to its people,
    and life to those who walk on it:
“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
    I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
    to be a covenant for the people
    and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
    to free captives from prison
    and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

“I am the Lord; that is my name!
    I will not yield my glory to another
    or my praise to idols.
See, the former things have taken place,
    and new things I declare;
before they spring into being
    I announce them to you.”

In previous chapters, God through the prophet Isaiah has been building a case; he says that though we pursue false idols, they continue to delude, enslave and ultimately fail us. In this passage, God’s chosen “servant” is called to bring about justice and free those bound in “the dungeons” (v. 7). This was the lesson for Israel and remains the lesson for us today.

The nature of idolatry is that we worship and serve that which does not deserve it. At the heart of the Christian message, however, is that Jesus Christ “the Chosen One,” who truly deserves worship, has served us first.

How can we know God’s pleasure in such a way that we begin to replace the idols in our lives with true worship?

In verses 1-4, we are taught to “Behold” the one in whom God himself “delights.” To behold means to both see and consider. Isaiah calls Israel to see and consider the Lord through his servant; appointed by God, and supported by his Spirit.

In beholding this servant we are able to clearly distinguish what is real from what is counterfeit, a “metal image” full of “empty wind” (Isaiah 41) to a Spirit-filled servant who has come in the flesh (John 1).

This servant, who has from afar long beheld us, knows that we are wounded and always on the verge of losing hope and will complete his task with the gentleness of a friend (v. 3). Behold the pleasure the Son found in serving the Father even unto death, for you. Then, “delight” in Jesus and be free.

Prayer:  Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we praise you that the fullness of the Godhead is at work and in full view here in this passage to bring an end to idolatry and the suffering that comes from it. We thank you for your word that we may gaze into it and ponder how you covenant with your people. We delight in you for sending a servant-king, Jesus Christ, who truly has “set the captives free” (Luke 18:4). In Christ’s Name, Amen.

 

 

Jennifer Garner says “Miracles from Heaven” led her back to church

 

Image: Good Morning Texas

“I grew up going to church every Sunday of my life,” the mom of three said during an interview to promote the film on Good Morning Texas. “When I did move to L.A. it wasn’t something that was just part of the culture there in the same way. It didn’t mean that I lost who I was. There was something about doing this film and talking to my kids about it and realizing that they were looking for the structure of church every Sunday. It was a great gift of this film that it took us back to finding our local Methodist church and going every Sunday. It’s really sweet.”

The movie, due out March 16, is based on a memoir by Christy Beam. Her daughter Annabel was diagnosed with a rare and debilitating intestinal disorder. Following an accidental fall from a tree, Annabel was found to be free from the disorder, a recovery that baffled doctors. Her mother calls it a miracle.

The movie was set in Texas but filmed here. Here’s the trailer:

“There’s a beautiful line in the movie that really resonates with me: ‘I don’t know where my faith is right now,’” Garner said. “I’ve struggled with faith and I’ve struggled without it and I’ll tell you it’s a whole lot easier with.”

Beam said she was immediately impressed at how Garner embraced her memoir at was at peace with being portrayed by the actress.

“Be encouraged that there is a bigger plan,” Beam said, asked for the message she hopes the movie will send. “It’s all mapped out and you don’t know the ending.”

Garner had inspiring words as well:

“Joy comes from the smallest things and if you don’t see joy in a perfect avocado or a great conversation or in running into a friend or getting a job .. if you don’t see joy in a perfectly beautiful tree in the autumn than you are missing your chance at happiness,” she said. “If you don’t find it in the small things and you only wait for big moments than you’ll just not be be a happy person.”

Jennifer Garner portrays Christy Beam in "Miracles From Heaven," which was filmed in metro Atlanta. Image: Good Morning Texas

Jennifer Garner portrays Christy Beam in “Miracles From Heaven,” which was filmed in metro Atlanta. Image: Good Morning Texas

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

One Great Hour of Sharing 4