Saturday, March 31, 2012

Holy Week: Palm Sunday

SundayTriumphal entry into Jerusalem.  Mk. 11:1-11,  Mt. 21:1-11, 14-17,
                                                                         Lk. 19:29-44, Jn. 12:12-19

Jesus enters Jerusalem to cheers and loud “hosannas.”  Many of the fickle crowd will later cry “crucify him!”  Are you the type of person who only loves Jesus when things are going well?  There are people who want God only on their own terms.  As long as the Lord lives up to expectations, prayers are answered, health is good, family is stable, finances OK, life is good, they can praise Him.  But when things go bad they want to blame God or wonder if He even exists.  These “fair weather” Christians go into spiritual hibernation in times of difficulty.

Holy Week is a week of contrasts: of great highs and lows, and so is life.  Our experience is filled with Palm Sundays, Maundy Thursdays, Good Fridays, and Easter Sundays.   We must understand that God is at work in all of these times.  What is the worst possible tragedy that you can think of?  Is it the death of God?  Well, that happened on Good Friday.  And it was all according to God’s plan!  Plus, resurrection was right around the corner!  We just cannot understand all of God’s ways.  What seems bad to us may turn out to be an ultimate blessing.

The bottom line is that the Lord wants us to love Him, trust Him, and serve Him all the time.   We cannot know God or His ways completely.  However, He has revealed to us that He loves us.  Holy Week is a demonstration of that love.  Jesus Christ, God’s Son, died for our sins and rose again on the third day and all who place their faith in Him have everlasting life.  But make no mistake about it;  He wants all of us at all times. 
In cathedrals the part where the congregation sits is called the “nave.”  That word is also the root word for “navy.”  The symbolism here is that the church is a ship of refuge as we go through the waters of life.  Sometimes the sea will be calm and other times it will be stormy with all sorts of conditions in between.  Sometimes we will be under attack and at other times we will hear a band playing and people cheering at a port.   At all times, however, we will be in the ship feeling safe from any real threat and enjoying the ride.  Like Noah, we may be in a storm, but we also will be in an ark.  That Ark is Jesus and He will bring us safely home. 

Let us examine our faith and see if it has the depth needed to withstand the disappointments and difficulties of life.  Can we praise Him in good times and in bad?  Let us lay down, not only our cloaks and palm branches but also our very selves as we worship Him and serve Him.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

HOLY WEEK DEVOTION


Starting on Sunday, April first I will be posting a blog each day of Holy Week  Some of you may have already read the tracks in past years.  Perhaps they can speak to you in a new and fresh way.
 This devotion guide is meant to help you experience God through the life of Christ from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday.  Each day, starting with the first Sunday, you may read in the scriptures the events of Jesus’ life.  The events in the Bible passages mentioned are generally considered to have occurred on the days of the week I have listed.  The chronology, however, is not the important point.  I hope that you will find in each scripture reference the comfort, challenge, or inspiration that the Holy Spirit wants you to have.   I hope that the devotional thoughts I have written will help enlighten your understanding of Christ and His Word.

You are encouraged to use these devotionals as you have time and as the Lord leads you.  The scriptures listed for each day come from the four gospels.   Many of the passages are repetitive from one gospel to another.  I recommend that you read at least one of the accounts for each day as a minimum.  If time permits, it would be helpful to read all of the references.  My thoughts for each day are based on the scriptures.  I hope you will read them and find strength in them but the most important thing is to prayerfully read the scriptures.  If time allows, read my thoughts and add your own as you listen for God’s voice in your quiet time.

The gospel references are abbreviated as follows:  Mk. (Mark), Mt. (Matthew), Lk. (Luke), Jn. (John).  I have listed Mark first on each list because this gospel was the first one written and Matthew and Luke often borrow from it.   The Synoptic Gospels (Mk., Mt., & Lk.) contain some events that John’s Gospel does not and vice-versa.  Therefore, where a reference is listed from John I recommend that you read it as well as at least one passage from a Synoptic Gospel.

Again let me encourage you to use this guide in whatever way God leads.  I hope that you will get as much out of reading this devotional as I have in writing it.  May the once-crucified but now risen-Lord Jesus bless you as you go through this Holy Week season.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

excerp from my book

Here is a portion of the book I am writing:   

The key to loving others is to fully grasp how much we are loved. In his book, What Is So Amazing about Grace, Philip Yancey recounts the story by Karen Blixen called “Babette’s Feast”:  In the 1800’s in a small fishing village in Norway a man led a Lutheran sect.   They were austere and other-worldly, simply enduring life on this wicked planet.  They ate a daily diet of boiled cod and gruel.  The leader of the group had two daughters who were very beautiful and had chances to marry but remained single to look after their aging father and because they felt that God did not want them to enjoy life.  After their father died the two women tried to hold the congregation together but lacked leadership skills.  Over time the group splintered.  One member bore a grudge against another over a perceived wrong.  There were rumors of a sexual affair between two members.  Two older women had not spoken to each other in ten years.  One night Babette showed up.  She  was a political refugee from Paris where she had been a chef in a famous restaurant.  They took her in and gave her food and lodging in  return for her being their cook and housekeeper.  They insisted she cook only the cod and gruel.   She had been there twelve years when she got word that someone had entered her name in the French lottery and she had won 10,000 Franks.  Babette asked if she could give the community a feast and the sisters obliged.   The members of the church, now numbering only eleven, decided to attend the feast but, because it was a “worldly pleasure”, they agreed not to comment on the food.   A cavalry officer showed up the night of the feast and joined them.  The food and drink was superb!  They had several courses of the finest fish, foul, meat, vegetables, fruit, bread and deserts washed down with the best wines money could buy.   The villagers, according to the agreement were silent during the meal but the General constantly praised the food and drink.  At the end of the evening he gave a message on grace.  “We have all of us been told that grace is to be found in the universe.   But in our human foolishness and shortsightedness we imagine divine grace to be finite…But the moment comes when our eyes are opened, and we see and realize that grace is infinite.  Grace, my friends, demands nothing from us but that we shall await it with confidence and acknowledge it in gratitude.”  The story ends with two scenes.  The members of the church have joined hands outside.  It appears that they have received the gift of the feast and it has inspired them to come together in love and gratitude.  They are seen singing the old songs with a new-found enthusiasm.   The last scene takes place in the kitchen as the two sisters’ comment to Babette that they enjoyed the feast and they are sorry that she will be leaving.   Babette informs them that she won’t be going back to France because she is out of money.  She spent the franks that she won on the feast.  For years these followers of Luther had heard sermons on grace yet had tried to earn God’s favor by their pieties and renunciations.   The feast brought grace to them.  It was “the meal of a lifetime lavished on those who had in no way earned it.”   Grace came to that community the way it always comes:  Absolutely free with no strings attached. When we fully experience God’s unconditional love through His amazing grace then we can give it to others.  We can forgive and lavish our love on people because it has been done to us. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The New Morality

The recent flap over The Georgetown University law student and her demand of  a right to free contraceptives has reminded me how far our nation has come in its view of  sex.   Most of us (including me) are repulsed by the rude comments made about her by radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh.   Yet this young woman seems to be admitting to sexual behavior that, while widely accepted as normal today, 50 years ago would have been seen by most Americans as immoral.  

The Bible clearly teaches that sex outside of marriage is a sin.  That view of immorality was the standard take in the western world for centuries until the last 50 years.  Gradually we have come to accept premarital intercourse as perfectly normal and acceptable.   Large numbers of people may have engaged in such activity but at least they knew and admitted that it was wrong.  It was a double standard but women who engaged is such activity were considered as being "loose."  Even most unmarried men who were sexually active would not have told their mothers.  No one would have gone before a congressional committee and testified to being promiscuous.  It was both a virtue and considered normal for people to wait until marriage.   Today such a view is thought of as "old-fashioned.".  Most of our churches are filled with couples living together.  Just a few short years ago such behavior was called, "shacking up". and if done, was done in secrecy.  We sure have come a long way!

Sex is a wonderful gift from God.    Unlike my Catholic brothers and sisters I believe that sexual intercourse is meant for both procreation and for pleasure.  But God clearly indented for this powerful act to be done only in a marriage relationship between a man and a woman.  Faithfulness to marriage and in marriage brings the most happiness in people's sex lives.   Sex is fun, otherwise so many people wouldn't be doing it.  But God knows that it is the most fun when restricted to the wedding bed.  And He knows that, when done outside of marriage, sex can be and often is very damaging.  To do things God's way is not old fashioned--it is as up to date as the eternal God of the universe.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Mission of the Church



 Jesus said, "As the  Father has sent me so I send you"(John 20:21)

Christ also said, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” (Jn. 3:17)  He spoke words of salvation, not condemnation.  He was a healer!  His harshest words were for the religious people.  He brought encouragement to the down and out.  And, in keeping with His incarnation, He adapted to the culture without giving up His godly nature.  He fit in.  He met people where they were.  He spoke their language.  When He preached, He used illustrations they could identify with and understand.   He used everyday language.   When He met the woman at the well (Jn. 4), He talked to her about water because she was there to get water and knew about the need for water to live.

Now, if Jesus has given us the same mission, then we must do it the same way.  If we are to bring this generation to Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit we must meet them where they are.  What worked forty, thirty, twenty, or even ten years ago won’t necessarily work today.  Our music, worship style, preaching, and programs must be appealing to people of today.  The gospel never changes but the way it is presented must always be changing.  We are not of the world but God has us in the world and, to be effective, we should live and minister incarnationally.

How will people know that we are the real thing?  One of the ways can be seen through the question that John the Baptist sent  to Jesus:  “Are you the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” (Matt. 11:3)  Jesus sent back this answer:  “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.  And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.” (Matt. 11:4-6)   If anyone should ask about your church:  “Are you the body of Christ or should I look somewhere else?”   What answer would you give?  Are there indications that healing and deliverance are coming to people?  Is the gospel (which means “good news”)  being preached to those who need it?   Do people see and hear the same things in our church’s ministry that they experienced with Jesus?  It is by our fruit that the world will know that we are the real deal!  It is good if we are keeping the ten commandments but are we also keeping the great commandment and the great commission?